The Contemporary English Version

Barclay M. Newman, ed., Holy Bible: Contemporary English Version. New York: American Bible Society, 1995. The New Testament appeared in 1991.

Barclay NewmanThe Contemporary English Version is a simplified version of the Bible designed for children and uneducated adults (at a fourth grade reading level). It is similar to the Good News Bible previously published by the American Bible Society, though at a lower reading level. It was produced by employees of the American Bible Society (ABS) working under the direction of one of the Society's officers, Dr. Barclay M. Newman. Newman explained in an interview that he and his assistants "did a lot of research with children. We did a lot of research with persons who were not familiar with traditional biblical jargon, persons who are almost street people as a matter of fact, and then we tried to simply listen to the way that people speak ... We got it by their language, the way they speak, and do our translating accordingly." (1) In the Forward to the book Creating and Crafting the Contemporary English Version (1996), ABS President Eugene B. Habecker describes the origin of the version thus:

Work on the CEV began in 1984 when Dr. Barclay Newman, Ph.D., a distinguished biblical scholar who had provided several decades of service as a translations consultant in the Asia Pacific Region of the United Bible Societies, first began to apply his considerable knowledge to his own first language—English. He meticulously studied the language that people, and especially children, used and were exposed to on a daily basis through books, magazines, newspapers, the movies, and television. This eclectic and careful study helped him to understand what terms and sentence sructures were most understandable to people who used English in their day to day communication. He learned what sorts of constructions confused readers, and even more significantly, he learned which terms and grammatical constructions were likely to be misunderstood by people who heard texts being read aloud.

All of this knowledge guided Dr. Newman as he developed translation principles for the Contemporary English Version and as he prepared the draft of the first "test" publication in this translation. That book, published in 1986, was a collection of Scripture passages on the life of Jesus and was published as an illustrated edition for children. Response to this initial publication was warm, as expected. Children loved it. Teachers and parents loved it, too — many confessing that they enjoyed it for themselves. People asked when further publications would be available in this same translation. "When will you have the whole Bible? This is something I can understand!" (p. i.)

In Appendix A of the same book an account of "The Making of the CEV" is given, in which it is said that Newman "planned and organized the CEV project with the aid of Dr. Eugene A. Nida." Two other names are mentioned as members of the "core team of ABS translators" who did the translation work: Dr. Donald A. Johns and Dr. Steven W. Berneking. It appears, then, that the version is chiefly the work of Newman, Johns and Berneking, at a time when all of them were employed by the American Bible Society. In the paragraph quoted above Habecker describes Newman as a "distinguished biblical scholar," but he does not seem to have published any important scholarly work, and he is not well known outside of the American Bible Society and the United Bible Societies. The same is true of Johns and Berneking. Draft copies of the translation were distributed to various people who were asked to review and offer suggestions for improvements. The reviewers are described as "an international roster of biblical scholars — both Christian and Jewish — as well as linguists, English language experts, specialists in poetry and style, and denominational reviewers," and among them were "representatives of all the Bible Societies around the world with sizeable English-speaking populations, and a list of more than forty UBS Translation Consultants worldwide." The names of these reviewers are not given. The procedure outlined here differs from most other modern translation projects in that the actual work of translation is attributed to only three men, whose attention was focused primarily on the goal of making the text easy to understand. Ordinarily a committee of translators is comprised of a dozen or more scholars with significant academic attainments, and the comments of reviewers are used to improve the readability of the final product, not for scholarly improvements of the text. The CEV project was apparently modelled after the process followed in missionary Bible translation projects undertaken by ABS employees in undeveloped countries, where simple draft translations (often based upon simple English versions like the CEV) are gradually improved by ABS consultants who compare the work with the original language texts.

General Characteristics of the Version

The character of the CEV is largely determined by its attempt to put the Bible into words "widely used in everyday speech" by modern readers who are "unfamiliar with typical church language" (Creating and Crafting, pp. 26, 27). This inevitably leads to a great deal of interpretation being worked into the text and some problems of inaccuracy, because the books of the Bible were not written for modern children or for adults who are uninitiated. They were written for adults in ancient times who were already familiar with the religious traditions of ancient Israel. The authors of the New Testament assume that their readers are Christians who are already familiar with the Old Testament books, and also familiar with the "insider's jargon" of the Church. (The language of the New Testament is heavily infuenced by the vocabulary and grammar of the Septuagint, which is a hybrid of Greek and Hebrew.) Even intelligent and well-educated adults of the present day will have some difficulty understanding the Bible if they lack the appropriate kind of education—the education gained by years of faithful attendance at a church where the Bible is expounded by seminary-trained ministers. Many of the difficulties that the Bible presents for uninitiated English readers of the present day are not caused by unfamiliar words, but by a lack of background knowledge. Any neophyte of ancient times would have encountered the same kinds of difficulties in trying to understanding the original text itself. For instance, the Bible begins with the statement "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." Now, an uninitiated person in ancient times would have stumbled right there, because this sentence assumes that there is one God, and although this may be a very familar idea for most non-Christians today, it was not a commonly held assumption in ancient times. The ancient reader, if he was not a Jew or a Christian, is likely to have been a polytheist, and likely to have misundertood Genesis 1:1 as a statement pertaining to one of the gods or perhaps a group of gods. In order to understand the text it would have been necessary for the reader to be a Christian, or a Jew, or at least someone who is familiar with Judaism or Christianity. It is unrealistic to think that an accurate translation of the Bible could be prepared which removes all potential difficulties like this. A translator cannot approach his task with the idea that the readers are completely unprepared to understand the text. The question is, how much background knowledge, how much interpretive assistance, and how much native ability to figure things out, can be assumed in the readers? The CEV sets the bar very low. An example of this may be seen in the CEV's handling of "through" expressions in the text, as explained in the Creating and Crafting volume:

The use of through with persons or abstract nouns has been rejected by the CEV translators because doing something "through someone" is an extremely difficult linguistic concept for many people to process. This is why the CEV does not render the opening verses of Hebrews in the manner of one modern translation which says "through the prophets ... through his Son ... through whom." Instead this passage is rendered as follows: "Long ago in many ways and at many times God's prophets spoke his message to our ancestors. But now at last God sent his Son to bring his message to us. God created the univese by his Son, and everything will someday belong to the Son." (p. 17.)

Yet it is obvious that when we translate the idiom literally here, "God spoke to our fathers through the prophets," this says much more than the CEV's "God's prophets spoke his message to our ancestors." In the Greek text (not merely "in the manner of one modern translation") it is God who speaks, and the prophets are merely his instruments. This was the view of Scripture held by the author of Hebrews, in full agreement with the contemporary Jewish understanding. But in the CEV this concept is deliberately expelled from the text because the translators have decided that it is too difficult for the uninitiated. In the CEV the prophets speak for God, but it is not God who speaks through them. Surely the difference will be noticed by anyone who cares about the accurate representation of the biblical authors' view of Scripture. The decision of the CEV translators here, and their opinion that this expression is "extremely difficult" for "many people" to understand, is certainly open to criticism. For it does not seem likely that people of ordinary intelligence would find this so hard to understand. That God does things through the agency of human beings is, in any case, an important teaching of the Bible, and whether or not this is found to be difficult by some readers, it must not be obscured in translations. Rather, people should learn this Biblical concept from the translation. The same is true of the key theological concepts traditionally expressed in the English words grace, justification, righteousness, sanctification, redemption, atonement, repentence, and covenant, all of which are absent from the CEV and dismissed as gobbledygook in chapter three of the Creating and Crafting volume (p. 25). The fact is, these linguistic "biblicisms" are practically indispensible for an understanding of the Bible, because when key terms like this are avoided with circumlocutions, the concepts embodied in them become less substantial. The lack of an adequate set of technical terms tends to hamper learning and clear thinking in any field of study, and religious teaching is no exception to that rule.

It is interesting to note that in the paragraph quoted above the author speaks of "doing something through someone" as a "concept," although he modifies it with the adjective "linguistic." Ultimately concepts cannot be divorced from the words used to express them. Concepts are not like ghosts that flit around outside of words, they are born into and take shape in a matrix of language, and they cannot be expressed apart from the shaping influences of language. That is why Christians have traditionally held that the Bible is verbally inspired, and have favored translations which give the most literal renderings possible.

In Revelation 22:10-11 we see how the CEV deals with a saying in the Bible that many people have found hard to understand. An angel is speaking to John:


10 And he said to me, Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near. 11 Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy.


10 Don't keep the prophecies in this book a secret. These things will happen soon. 11 Evil people will keep on being evil, and everyone who is dirty-minded will still be dirty-minded. But good people will keep on doing right, and God's people will always be holy.

The ESV gives an accurate translation of the verses, in which we see the imperative mood of the verbs. Here the angel announces God's solemn and frightening decree of reprobation upon the evildoers, and his command to the saints who must endure the calamities written in the book. The imperatives sound one of the key notes of John's apocalyptic vision—its grim determinism, in which the dreadful fate of sinners unfolds as the decrees of God march to their fulfillment (compare Rev. 2:21, 9:20, 16:9-11, and Ezekiel 3:27, 20:39 in a literal translation). Readers who are not familiar with biblical theology will find this hard to stomach, if they understand it at all, because it is so out of keeping with prevailing beliefs about the nature of God and the freedom of the human will. But the CEV has removed the difficulty by changing the imperatives into indicatives, as it does also in Ezekiel 3:27. This is another example of how the CEV has made the Bible easier not merely by using easier words with the same meaning, but by removing difficult and offensive concepts from the text.

Surely all Christians will be in sympathy with the American Bible Society's desire "to make the Bible available to every person in a language and format each can understand," but this does not change the hard fact that there is no royal road to understanding of the Bible, and no way to get this knowledge without having one's mind stretched with words and concepts high above the level of the average American fourth-grader. This idea would never be entertained by people in other fields of knowledge. An attempt to translate a college textbook into the idiom of a child would be seen as an absurd and pointless exercise, though of course elementary textbooks are written for children also. And this is essentially what we are faced with in regards to biblical education. The Bible is an anthology of texts comparable to a college reader, being written for adults, and the children need elementary educational materials such as Bible story books and catechisms, in which a digest of age-appropriate stories and fundamental ideas is presented. This has always been recognized by Christian educators. It would be a rare Sunday-school teacher who would see fit to read the epistle to the Galatians to her class of elementary students, or encourage them to read the Revelation of John, or Ezekiel, or any such text, by themselves at home. There are many things throughout Scripture—even in the Psalms—which are not suitable for children, and which are likely to confuse and upset them if they were to read them, and it is very questionable whether they should be encouraged to read the whole Bible in the way that the translators of the CEV apparently wish to encourage. What will a child think after reading the end of Psalm 137 in the CEV?

Babylon, you are doomed! I pray the Lord's blessings on anyone who punishes you for what you did to us. May the Lord bless everyone who beats your children against the rocks!

Here is retribution upon the children of God's enemies. Not many children are really prepared to understand this, and probably few adults can read it without stumbling. It requires a good deal of theological maturity to interpret it properly.

In the description of the origins of the CEV quoted above, it is said that as a test for his version Newman published "a collection of Scripture passages on the life of Jesus" with illustrations. It was of course no accident that he chose to test the acceptability of his version with such a publication, but surely he knew that there would be little interest in a children's version of the complete book of Joshua, or Jeremiah, or most of the other books of the Bible. We do not need to ask whether the illustrations of Jesus included a picture based on the following description in Revelation 1:12-17:

When I turned to see who was speaking to me, I saw seven gold lampstands. There with the lampstands was someone who seemed to be the Son of Man. He was wearing a robe that reached down to his feet, and a gold cloth was wrapped around his chest. His head and his hair were white as wool or snow, and his eyes looked like flames of fire. His feet were glowing like bronze being heated in a furnace, and his voice sounded like the roar of a waterfall. He held seven stars in his right hand, and a sharp double-edged sword was coming from his mouth. His face was shining as bright as the sun at noon. When I saw him, I fell at his feet like a dead person. (CEV)

John's vision of the risen Lord is so terrifying that he faints. He sees Jesus as the Lord of Lords coming to judge the living and the dead. Here we are very far from that "gentle Jesus, meek and mild" portrayed in children's storybooks. But there is a good reason why children are shown only the mild and benevolent side of God in their books, and are not presented with pictures of Jesus with his eyes flaming and a sword of retribution coming from his mouth. This picture is not suitable for children. Even within the Gospels there are some passages which few parents would read to young children without caution. To a lesser extent this is true also of poorly-educated and impressionable adults, who are likely to misunderstand the purpose of some narrative or some teaching in Scripture, or perhaps be repelled by some passage. This problem must be taken seriously, and not brushed aside by some unrealistic notion that the whole Bible should be read independently by all sorts of people at all ages.

Avoiding Offense

In the introductory volume quoted several times above, the authors conclude their description of the review process with the observation that "the CEV's development over the past decade is a clear example of the truth that translation work is never carried out in a vacuum." This is true, and it may be truer than the translators realized, for the version has obviously been affected by certain modern currents of thought. One of the areas in which this is especially noticeable is the treatment of passages pertaining to sexual ethics in the version.

The CEV is very careful to steer readers away from the "sexist" interpretations found in all English Bibles prior to their generation. Besides the regular use of the new gender-neutral language (e.g. avoiding translation of "man" and "he" in thousands of places), it features many dubious renderings that obscure the teachings of the Bible concerning the role of women in the family. Galatians 3:28 is given an egalitarian spin with the rendering "Faith in Christ Jesus is what makes each of you equal with each other, whether you are ... a man or a woman" (the original text says "In Christ there is no ... male or female" with respect to salvation, but there is no statement that all Christians are made equal in any other respect). In Genesis 2:18, Eve is called not a "helper" but a "partner" of Adam; in 1 Peter 3:1, Colossians 3:18 and Ephesians 5:22 women are advised somewhat ambiguously to "put their husbands first" rather than told to "submit" to them (the word ὑποτάσσω certainly does mean "submit," and it is adequately rendered "obey" elsewhere in the CEV); in 1 Corinthians 11:10 the CEV says a woman should wear a head covering not merely as a "sign of authority" (i.e. her husband's authority, nearly all commentators agree) but "as a sign of her authority." The tendency in all this is clear enough—an attempt is made to tone down the 'patriarchal' element in the Bible, and so readers are prevented from understanding these passages in ways that are likely to be offensive to many modern women.

Regarding Genesis 2:18, the idea behind the rendering "partner" as opposed to "helper" was explained by Newman in an article published in the ABS Record. Newman first of all dismisses the idea that the narrative is a factual account, saying that it "offers no hint that the narrative of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden ... was intended literally as a 'true' story. On the other hand, the evidence is overwhelming that it should be understood figuratively as a 'truth' story." He then suggests that the idea concerning the role of women that might be gathered from the meaning of the Hebrew word 'ezer ("helper") is wrong, because he believes that "to maintain that women must remain 'helpers' instead of 'partners' of men on the basis of Genesis 2.18 abuses both the biblical text and the entire human race, as well as the Creator," and "to argue for the inferiority of one gender on the basis of Genesis 2.18 is tantamount to affirming the inequality of persons within the Trinity." (2) So with such dubious arguments, and in order to head off interpretations that are not in agreement with modern egalitarian ideas, he substitutes "partner" for "helper." This is despite the fact that the word 'ezer does mean "helper," and not "partner." Now, it is true that the word 'ezer in itself does not imply a subordinate status; but in this context, where the purpose of Eve's creation is being described, it does tend to suggest that helping the man is her designated role. Newman's use of "partner" here is an attempt to steer the reader away from the natural and traditional interpretation of the whole passage by using a word that suggests an equal partnership view of marriage instead of a hierarchical view. This is an inaccurate and manipulative rendering, and Newman's explanation for it clearly shows the influence of feminism and liberal hermeneutics in general.

In 1 Timothy 2:15 there is interpretive problem that the CEV does not handle very well. The CEV's rendering is, "But women will be saved by having children, if they stay faithful, loving, holy, and modest," and in the margin for "saved by having children" it gives the following alternative renderings: "Or 'brought safely through childbirth' or 'saved by the birth of a child' (that is, by the birth of Jesus) or 'saved by being good mothers.'" The problem here is that none of these renderings express the most likely meaning of the verse, in which the preposition dia is the dia of attendant circumstance. (See Blass-Debrunner, Greek Grammar of the New Testament, § 223.3, and compare with Romans 2:27; 14:20; 1 Corinthians 3:15; 16:3; 2 Corinthians 2:4; 3:11; 6:8; 1 Timothy 4:14; 1 Peter 3:20). The idea here is not that women are to be saved by some meritorious childrearing, nor by the birth of the Christ child (this would apply to men as much as women), nor brought safely through the dangers of childbirth, but that they will be saved in the course of fulfilling their ordinary duties as wives and mothers, the roles in which Paul urges them to remain. They are warned against trying to take the initiative (like Eve) in spiritual matters, as teachers, or aspiring to leadership positions belonging to the men. This is the interpretation found in most modern commentaries, and the CEV completely fails to express it even in its note on the verse. One has to wonder about the reasons for this failure in a version that purports to accurately interpret the text for the reader. And if we continue reading into the third chapter we find that Paul's instructions for the officers of the church have been gender-neutralized:


It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do. 2 An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not addicted to wine or pugnatious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. 4 He must be one who manages own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity 5 (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?)


It is true that anyone who desires to be a church official wants to be something worthwhile. 2 That's why officials must have a good reputation and be faithful in marriage. They must be self-controlled, sensible, well-behaved, friendly to strangers, and able to teach. They must not be heavy drinkers or troublemakers. Instead, they must be kind and gentle and not love money. 4 Church officials must be in control of their own families, and they must see that their children are obedient and always respectful. 5 If they don't know how to control their own families, how can they look after God's people?

Does anyone really think that when Paul gives these instructions regarding the officers of the church, his use of the word aner ("man" or "husband") and all the other masculine singular forms are merely an accident of his style, without any significance? Even if the word aner were not used in 3:2, it seems hardly likely that he intended this passage to be interpreted in a gender-neutral way, especially after his instructions regarding the women in chapter two. By deliberately avoiding the male-oriented language of the original the CEV is really presenting a false interpretation here. This is the kind of thing that gives 'dynamic equivalence' a bad reputation.

The CEV also makes an attempt to tone down the anti-Judaism of the New Testament by avoiding the word "Jews" wherever it is used in reference to opponents of Jesus. Instead of "the Jews" it has "the people" (John 6:41, 8:48, 10:19, 31, etc), "the people of Judea" (Mat. 28:15), "the crowd" (John 18:31, 19:7, 12, 14, etc.), "in public" (for "among the Jews" in John 11:54), "some men" (Acts 26:21), "some of them" (Acts 9:23), "the leaders" (John 5:18, Acts 25:9), "the Jewish leaders" (John 7:1, and frequently elsewhere). (3) In a 1993 article David G. Burke, the director of the ABS translation program, says that the purpose of this was to combat anti-semitism. Burke acknowledges that the use of the expression "the Jews" in the New Testament is significant in that it "carries a bias that was born of the increasingly heated struggle for credibility between two strains of first century Judaism," but as a translator he cares more about "its effect on the poorly informed modern reader" than about accurate translation of the phrase:

The problem is not how well the English locution reflects the Greek text or the escalating polemical realities of the first century situation, but rather its effect on the (poorly informed) modern reader. Few modern readers are equipped to sort out that "the Jews" opposing Jesus and the Jesus movement are in many cases just other Jews who happen not to have accepted Jesus's identity as Messiah—whether these are individuals, groups, local leaders, or religious or political authorities. Given the way the overall picture is painted, it is difficult for the modern reader to think this through in terms of real-life ambiguities that would have applied then as now; that is, to consider that many of these "enemies" may have been acting, in the events of the early (pre-synagogue expulsion) years, in order to be responsible and faithful to the tradition as they understood it by resisting and being suspicious of what they may have perceived as another of those Messiah claimants that get everyone worked up then fade away. (4)

Burke's apology for those who "happen not to have accepted Jesus' identity as Messiah" is understandable in the context of a modern inter-faith dialogue, but it must be said that this muffling of the antagonistic language of the New Testament is a deliberate attempt to play down a meaningful element of the text. In the New Testament we do not see Jews who "happen not to have accepted Jesus' identity as Messiah," but rather mobs of Jews who were determined to kill the Christians if possible. It was not long before the Christians became so disaffected and alienated from the Jewish community in general that it made no practical difference to anyone that most of the Christians were Jews by birth. They had been cast out of the community, just as Christ foretold. In these circumstances it was appropriate enough for the apostles and their disciples to begin speaking of "the Jews" as if they were not of that people. In a very real sense they were no longer Jews, but now children of the God who is Creator and Father of all men. They were an Israel of God that transcended the old Jewish bonds of blood and soil. That is apparently how they understood themselves, having repudiated the narrow ethnic identity which was so much a part of Judaism in the first century. (5) In some places it is obvious that "the Jews" refers only to the leaders (e.g. John 7:11, 19:38), and so "Jewish leaders" is referentially quite accurate; but it rather obscures the fact that the Christians were quickly isolated from Jewish society, and the attempt to keep drawing a distinction between the "leaders" and the main body of the Jews really goes against the grain of the narrative. The frequent use of the expression "the Jews" in John's Gospel and in the book of Acts is perhaps the most telling indication of how deeply separated from Judaism the Christians had already become in the first generation of the Church, and it seems improper to remove this from the Bible, because it has great theological significance.

As a matter of principle we must object to the tendency to avoid offending non-Christians in a translation of the New Testament. There are, after all, many other things in both the Old and the New Testament which are bound to offend someone or other. Most of the Old Testament, in fact, is probably quite offensive to Muslims and Arabs in general, because it makes mention of their ancestors in some very unfavorable ways, and foretells their ultimate prostration before the sons of Israel. We might mention hundreds of potentially offensive texts along this line, such as Psalm 137:9 (quoted above), in which a blessing is pronounced upon those who will massacre the infants of Babylon. It is impossible to remove the potential for ethnic offense in such verses while remaining true to the original. We cannot become expurgators of the Word of God while claiming to be faithful translators of it. If we are concerned to help children to avoid misunderstandings and misapplications, the best course would be to present them with such curriculum materials that will achieve this without expurgating the Bible itself.

Exegetical Incompetence

Regarding the ability of the translators to understand the text, we find many reasons to doubt their competence. Some of the renderings are absurdly wrong, as in Acts 9:22.


But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ.


Saul preached with such power that he completely confused the Jewish people in Damascus, as he tried to show them that Jesus is the Messiah.

The Mission of the American Bible Society

I will close this review of the CEV with some remarks about the mission of the ABS. A statement of purpose that has often appeared in ABS publications reads as follows:

The purpose of the American Bible Society is to provide the Holy Scriptures to every man, woman and child in a language and form each can readily understand, and at a price each can easily afford. This purpose, undertaken without doctrinal note or comment, and without profit, is a cause which all Christians and all churches are urged to support. The Society is a member of the United Bible Societies, a partnership of Bible Societies throughout the world cooperating to make Scriptures available to people everywhere in their own language. (6)

A more complex statement of "The Mission & Vision of the American Bible Society" (7) is found on the Society's website:

From the American Bible Society's founding in 1816, we have been focused on translation, publication and the distribution of Bibles to as many people as possible.

Our mission today is to make the Bible available to every person in a language and format each can understand and afford, so all people may experience its life-changing message.

The American Bible Society carries out its mission by:

The vision of the American Bible Society is to meet its continuing challenges with creativity and innovation under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Among the opportunities presented in the third millennium are:

In particular I want to examine the meaning of the phrase "without doctrinal note or comment" in the first statement, and "Producing materials that avoid endorsing or advocating any doctrinal positions" in the second. It seems to me that some of the statements made by officials of the ABS in publications quoted in this review must be described as doctrinal comments, and as endorsements of doctrinal positions. And whether they care to admit it or not, I think it is impractical for an organization that publishes such highly interpretive Bible versions as the CEV to claim that the versions do not incorporate interpretations that impinge upon any "doctrine." In its earlier days, when the ABS published only cheap editions of the King James Version without notes, it was reasonable for them to claim that their publications included no "doctrinal note or comment," (8) but now that they are creating new versions of the Bible that include a large amount of interpretation in the text itself, it really is pointless to speak about the absence of doctrinal notes in the margin, and to claim that by omitting such notes the versions avoid "advocating any doctrinal positions." Any teaching of the Bible is a "doctrine," and interpretive translations of the Bible cannot avoid taking positions on various biblical teachings. In this review I think I have shown that the CEV does take certain positions on controversial questions of biblical interpretation, and it does so in a way that is much more objectionable than the printing of notes in the margin—it presents the interpretations in the text itself, and without alerting readers to the fact that it has done this. Evidently it is now the goal of the ABS to provide versions which interpret the Bible for the "poorly informed," who are very much in need of orientation and guidance as to the meaning of the Bible. There is no use pretending that such help can be provided while avoiding any theological bias, and in fact the ABS has not avoided this. They would do well to revise their mission statement to reflect the reality of what they are now doing.

Michael Marlowe
September 2005

1. Quoted from the transcript of an interview with Elizabeth Farnsworth, on the PBS Online Newshour, "Interpreting the Word," broadcast 4 April 1996.

2. Barclay M. Newman, "Gender and Genesis: Adam and Eve in the Garden of Truth," American Bible Society Record, February/March 2001.

3. They seem to have overlooked 2 Cor. 11:24 ("Five times the Jews gave me thirty-nine lashes"), and in some places the rendering "the Jewish people" (e.g. Acts 12:3) seems no different from saying "the Jews."

4. David G. Burke, "Translating Hoi Ioudaioi in the New Testament," TIC TALK 24, 1993. An expanded version of this article later appeared as "Translating 'the Jews' (hoi Ioudanioi) in the New Testament: Pertinent Passages in Recent Versions," in Removing the Anti-Judaism from the New Testament, edited by Howard Clark Kee and Irvin J. Borowsky. (Philadelphia: American Interfaith Institute, 1998).

5. Regarding which, see especially Joachim Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1969), Part Four, "The Maintenance of Racial Purity" (pp. 269 ff). Jeremias demonstrates that "the whole community of Judaism at the time of Jesus was dominated by the fundamental idea of the maintenance of racial purity." (p. 270.) Other peoples of ancient times were much less concerned with racial kinship. Cf. the attitude of Isocrates: "Athens has brought it about that ... the name Greek is no longer a mark of a race, but of an outlook, and is accorded to those who share our culture rather than our blood." (τὸ τῶν Ἑλλήνων ὄνομα πεποίηκε μηκέτι τοῦ γένους ἀλλὰ τῆς διανοίας δοκεῖν εἶναι, καὶ μᾶλλον Ἕλληνας καλεῖσθαι τοὺς τῆς παιδεύσεως τῆς ἡμετέρας ἢ τοὺς τῆς κοινῆς φύσεως μετέχοντα. Panegyricus, c. 380 BC).

6. Quoted from the masthead of the American Bible Society Record, June/July 1995.


8. For an interesting history of this policy see Roger Steer, "'Without Note or Comment': Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow," in Sowing the Word: the Cultural Impact of the British and Foreign Bible Society 1804-2004, edited by Stephen K. Batalden (Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2004), pp. 63-80.


The Making of the CEV

From Barclay M. Newman, ed., Creating and Crafting the Contemporary English Version: A New Approach to Bible Translation (New York: American Bible Society, 1996), Appendix A, pp. 80-82.

Process and Personnel

The drafting, reviewing, editing, revising, and refining the text of the Contemporary English Version has been a worldwide process extending over a period of slightly more than ten years. It has involved a wide variety of persons beyond the core team of ABS translators and the consultant experts who have worked closely with the team. The creative process has also involved scholar consultants and reviewers representing a wide range of church traditions and with expertise in such areas as Old Testament, New Testament, Hebrew language, Greek language, English language, linguistics, and poetry. In all, this process involved more than a hundred people in the various stages of the text creation and review process. And it is this process, carried out in constant prayer for the guidance of the Spirit of God, that guarantees the accuracy, integrity and trustworthiness of the CEV Bible.

Creative Core

At the core of the CEV development process has been the team of translators assembled by the American Bible Society specifically for that purpose. This creative core, a team of three translators and an editorial associate, has been responsible for producing an accurate translation in a style appropriate for the designated audience. Dr. Barclay M. Newman (Ph.D., Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, a biblical scholar with several decades of experience as a United Bible Societies Translation Consultant in the Asia Pacific region) planned and organized the CEV project with the aid of Dr. Eugene A. Nida, a Special Consultant to the ABS. Beginning in 1984, Newman carried out research in preparation for this project, initiated the translation work that ensued, and throughout the next decade guided the overall project to its publication targets, with the New Testament appearing in 1991, the Psalms and Proverbs in 1992, and the Bible in 1995. An edition of the Bible with the Deuterocanonicals/Apocrypha was published in 1998. The rest of the CEV team has consisted of Dr. Donald A. Johns (Ph.D., St. Louis University), Dr. Steven W. Berneking (Ph.D., Union Theological Seminary), and Mrs. M. Jean Newman, who has served as editorial associate throughout the project, handling a variety of the editorial and stylistic responsibilities as part of the CEV team.

Scholarly Scrutiny

Every attempt was made to produce a text that is faithful to the meaning of the original. In order to assure the accuracy of the Contemporary English Version, the Old Testament was translated directly from the Hebrew and Aramaic texts published by the United Bible Societies (Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia, fourth edition corrected). And the New Testament was translated directly from the Greek text published by the United Bible Societies (third edition corrected, compared with the fourth revised edition as it came into existence during the time the CEV New Testament was being developed).

If translation is the faithful and systematic communication of meaning from one language to another, then it becomes absolutely necessary to have a diverse array of scholars assigned to check the translation for faithfulness and accuracy. As the drafts of the individual books of the CEV emerged from the core team, they were checked for faithfulness to the Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek texts, as well as for style, accuracy and effectiveness as a translation, by an international roster of biblical scholars — both Christian and Jewish — as well as linguists, English language experts, specialists in poetry and style, and denominational reviewers. This process involved the worldwide circulation of draft texts for review and critique, and the subsequent editing and refinement of drafts in the light of the responses received. At times this required extended discussion of issues that had been raised among the members of the ABS Board's Translations Subcommittee, or lengthy telephone conversations and correspondence with reviewers, but no text was recommended for publication until every concern that was raised had been discussed and resolved.

The process involved sending out copies of the CEV drafts in their earliest stages for review and critique by all the biblical scholars, theologians, educators and specialists on the ABS review list, representing a wide variety of church traditions. At its broadest scope this list included representatives of all the Bible Societies around the world with sizeable English-speaking populations, and a list of more than forty UBS Translation Consultants worldwide, whose collective experience and expertise in a variety of scholarly disciplines is most significant. Final approval of texts, book by book, was given by the ABS Board of Trustees, upon the recommendation of the Program Committee and its Translations Subcommittee.

It must be acknowledged that the CEV's development over the past decade is a clear example of the truth that translation work is never carried out in a vacuum. The regular input and critiquing of the drafts by various representatives of different church traditions was both substantive and valuable to the development and final shaping of the translation. At all the review and check-points along the way it was most important to have received reactions from the reviewers who could signal how the CEV would work (or work better) from the viewpoints of various traditions. The CEV benefitted immeasurably from the collective vision and sensitivity of reviewers at this level. From the outset Dr. Eugene A. Nida served as a special consultant to the team. Ms. Evelyn R. Tower served as a special consultant on poetry and style Dr. Erroll F. Rhodes provided close exegetical review for the books of both Old and New Testaments, as did the late Dr. Dewey M. Beegle, Old Testament specialist, and Dr. Howard Clark Kee, New Testament specialist. And the members of the ABS Board's Translations Subcommittee — its scholarly review committee — also made a notable commitment to immersing themselves in the review process with dedicated scholarship.

While it would be easy to give credit only to the translators who prepared the original drafts of the CEV and who are the creative care of the translation effort, it is important to remember that the process truly represents the cumulative effort of all those involved at every level of the process. And for that reason the ABS is deeply grateful to God, and to all who participated in the process.