New Bibles: VB vs. CEB

Yet another new Bible translation has been published: “The Voice Bible” (2012) [HT: VJack].  New translations keep coming out.  A while ago, I received a different new translation: “The Common English Bible” (2010).  To illustrate a few interesting principles, rather than discuss the truth or falsity of Christian scriptures, I will discuss translation issues below.

Most Christians have not read the whole Bible yet alone know the controversies behind translations.  And probably most Atheists aren’t familiar with Bible translation issues either — nor should they be.   But the issues are fascinating for those interested.  As a former translator (Japanese-English), I was aware of some of the issues — and even more since I have been blogging on religion.  Presently, for instance, I see the same difficulties as I explore various translations of the Hindu Ramayana — another ancient text.  Both Hindu and Christian translators face the issues I discuss below but in this post I will illustrate them using the two new translations: “The Voice” (VB) & “The Common English Bible” (CEB).

Here are two things important issues to understand about translations:

(1) Translation Sources

Here is a diagram I did illustrating sources of NT translations. VB is from the Byzantine Text Types via the Textus Receptus which is same source for the KJV. However, the CEB is from the Alexandrian text-type which is the source of the RSV and the NIV. Perhaps you may know, the Alexandrian translations and the Byzantine translations are not the best of friends in Christian circles.

(2) Translation Types

The VB & the CEB are both dynamic equivalence translation which seek to express the supposed original intent of the authors rather than word-for-word translations with some feeling that the original phrasings are important even if difficult to understand.   Of course most translations contain some mix of both types but one intent usually predominates a given translation. I made a diagram here illustrating these choices and how bias inevitably enters both methods.

So below are four side-by-side translations part of the Lord’s Prayer from Matthew 6:9-12 for your comparative reading pleasure.   If readers know better verses to illustrate their differences, let me know. Remember, The RSV & CEB are the same family (Alexandrian) and the KJV & the VB are the same family (Byzantine). Also note, this wiki article explains the history of some variations in the Lord’s Prayer.

The King James Version:

  • Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.
  • Thy kingdom come,  Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
  • Give us this day our daily bread.
  • And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
  • And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil:
  • For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.
The Voice Bible:

  • Our Father in heaven, let Your name remain holy.
  • Bring about Your kingdom. Manifest Your will here on earth, as it is manifest in heaven.
  • Give us each day that day’s bread—no more, no less—
  • And forgive us our debts as we forgive those who owe us something.
  • Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
  • [But let Your kingdom be, and let it be powerful and glorious forever. Amen.]
The Revised Standard Version:

  • Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.
  • Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven.
  • Give us this day our daily bread;
  • And forgive us our debts, As we also have forgiven our debtors;
  • And lead us not into temptation, But deliver us from evil.
The Common English Bible:

  • Our Father who is in heaven, uphold the holiness of your name.
  • Bring in your kingdom so that your will is done on earth as it’s done in heaven.
  • Give us the bread we need for today.
  • Forgive us for the ways we have wronged you, just as we also forgive those who have wronged us.
  • And don’t lead us into temptation, but rescue us from the evil one.

Questions to Reader:

  • What is your favorite translation of the Bible and why? If you include the issues I discuss above, you get extra points for your comment! 🙂
  • Do you have any favorite texts from another language where you have seen the importance of these translations issues?  Again, extra points if you tell us which text, what issues and your favorite translation.


Filed under Philosophy & Religion

31 responses to “New Bibles: VB vs. CEB

  1. CRL

    Which version is the standard Our Father from? The KJV is almost the same, however, the version I learned had, “Forgive our trespasses, as you forgive those who trespassed against us,” rather than, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”

    I’ve been reading Harry Potter in Italian to practice the language, as reading a story I already know allows me to learn new words without constantly turning to a dictionary. My favorite translation weirdness: a threat of, “Do this, or else,” got translated into, “Do this, or I will break every bone in your body.” In another great translation error, the Italian word vaffanculo, literally a contraction of, “go do it in the ass,” but pretty much equivalent to “fuck you,” was subtitled, “screw you,” in an Italian movie I was watching. So, general pattern: things are censored in translation for English speaking audiences, while de-censored in translation for Italian audiences.

  2. @ CRL,
    Great examples of the Italian — very fun. Thank you.
    Concerning the prayer you are familiar with:
    This wiki article will answer your question — meanwhile, I have decided to write more on the Lord’s prayer after reading that article — so you may see more later.

  3. I like the NASB, it was intended to be an attempt for as close as a word for word translation as you can get and still make sense in english. My opinion is it is better to have the closest to the original words as possible and try to understand that, than rely on a translations interpretations.

    Most “translations” like the Voice, or the Amplified bible, Good News, the Living Bible, and others are not actual translations from Greek to English, they are interpretations on the Greek. And to their detriment, they try to water down the message and soften the more difficult passages.

    Some, like the newer genderless bibles, which replaces the masculine terms with gender neutral words actually do a disservice to the reader. There are reasons for why what was written, was written the way it was theologically speaking.

    I hate specialty bibles which pander to demographic populations.

  4. Thanx for your thoughts, John Barron:
    (1) I will have to put the NASB on my chart — it is indeed popular among evangelicals I think.
    (2) Concerning word-for-word (w4w) vs. dynamic: If you were reading the Ramayana without understanding Sanskrit and some history and some textual issues you’d find the w4w unbearably long, repetitive and confusing. So, for the reader without such desire for deep research, a dynamic translation is incredibly helpful. And so, for the Bible, similar pros and cons present themselves. A naive reader of a w4w Bible who, without background, uses the Scriptura Sola method and ignoring traditions and work of others interprets as they see fit, will making glaring erroneous conclusions. So the choice is tough.

  5. Steve Schuler

    Hey Sabio!

    I don’t know if you are familiar with the Gullah Bible
    , but it is my personal favorite New Testament translation even though Gullah is not my native tongue. Here is a example in Gullah
    of Matthew 6:9-12:.

    ‘We Fada wa dey een heaben,
    leh ebrybody hona ya name.

    We pray dat soon ya gwine rule oba de wol.
    Wasoneba ting ya wahn, leh um be so een dis wol
    same like dey een heaben.

    Gii we de food wa we need
    dis day yah an ebry day.

    Fagib we fa we sin,
    same like we da fagib dem people wa do bad ta we.
    Leh we dohn hab haad test
    wen Satan try we.
    Keep we fom ebil.’

    I find that it is much more intelligible (and fun!) to read it out loud employing my deepest and most resonant voice, although it takes several attempts to approximate a mellifluos rendition.

    My first attempt at hidden links. Hope it works!

  6. @ Steve Schuler,
    Wow, I had never heard of the Gullah nor their Bible. That was fascinating. I fixed your links — you have to be careful to copy the URL carefully between the quote marks. Good try — you almost had it.
    Thanx for the Gullah info — fascinating.

  7. TWF

    I’ve latched on to the New International Version (NIV), which is generally the w4w approach, and the Bible Gateway site has great search capability for that version (plus other versions, but you have to select specific non-NIV).

    For people indoctrinated into Christianity from birth, w4w is all they should be looking at, but I can appreciate the dynamics. And if a nice Christian wants to use dynamic interps., I don’t hold it against them.

    Interesting point you make about the Ramayana in the reply to Barron. I was reading Plato’s The Republic, and the thoughtful editor/interpreter made footnotes when he varied from other interpretations. Usually in was benign, but sometime it was meaning-changing.

  8. @ TWF,
    Yeah, as long as it is the quaint myths of Greeks, Indians, Celts or such, we don’t care about translations — we trust them enough, because it is fiction anyway. But actually, Indians fight over translations of the Ramayana also, just like Christians do.

  9. Just a quick couple thoughts, Sabio

    As to a w4w translation of Ramayana w/o understanding history or the language, the reader may be lost or misunderstand, and or do some research to fully understand the context: Us Christians say the same thing, but without garnering the same amount of grace you do. The Old and New testaments didn’t record events in the 20th century and use modern idioms or modern biographical and event recording methods, but for some reason they are held to modern journalistic standards. Whenever we say something akin to “historical context…” or “here’s what the original words meant back then…” it’s seen as excuses. Go figure.

    But also as to the length, I wouldn’t be concerned with the length of a text as a “true believer”. After all, wouldn’t it only serve to show who was serious about the whole thing, and not just in it for the fashion or fad of it, right?

  10. @ John Barron,
    I agree, many atheists want Christians to accept the Bible w4w and not allow nuanced historical, contextual elaborations — it is an easier target that way. Yet those atheists are also rightfully frustrated when those same Christians can’t delineate exactly what counts as literal, historically-constrained or figurative. Many Christians thus form very different forms of Christianity based on their exegesis methods which are invisible, confusing or contradictory. The conversation is difficult.
    I have seen Christians attack Mormons, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhist scriptures with the same simplistic “I-must-be-all-literal” cheap shot that you are protesting happens to you. Dialogue about ancient texts and how we use them is a complicated issues for many reasons — greatest of which is investment.
    Concerning Length: I assume you don’t know the problem with Hindu and Buddhist texts which have repetative, formulatic chanting structures, which for many readers, are unnecessary to understand the text’s meaning. Perhaps you did not understand me on this issue.

  11. I understand the repetative nature, even the Qur’an could be almost a third shorter if it didn’t repeat itself so much. But my point was that anything worth reading, is worth reading in its entirity

  12. @ John Barron,
    I disagree. If a person wanted to read the entire Buddhist canon, they would have to spend a few lifetimes — yet it is certainly “worth reading”. Likewise with Shakespeare — much can be gained from reading only a few of his works. I’m not sure why you want to stick to the “Anything worth reading, is worth reading in its entirety.” stance?

    I did a post on length here. They Mahabharata is >200,000 verses while the Christian New Testament is <8,0000 verses. Condensed versions can be very helpful in a world full of religious texts. Most Christians don't read their Bibles, yet alone any other texts. Condensed texts may help dialogue which would otherwise be impossible.

    Have you read any of the Mahabharata, Ramayana or significant portions of the Buddhist Canon (Tibetan, Chinese or Pali?)? Wouldn't you find condensed or partial selected readings helpful in these cases?

  13. If it can’t all be read, how do you know you aren’t missing something important?

  14. Good point, John. Here are my thoughts:

    (1) I don’t read any ancient documents in search of one that can be my perfect life guide without contradiction. Heck, I don’t expect that of modern documents either.

    (2) But if you were looking at documents that way, I see a few problems:
    (a) Reading them all of the worlds’ ancient religious documents offering a choice would be a problem. How don’t you know you missed a better one — for I am sure you have not read them all and probably a minimal to completion. So by your standards you have made a sloppy choice.
    (b) Or maybe you feel you could read through a document and give up once you find something you thought was wrong. But without the same skills you think help Christians from misunderstanding their ancient documents, what makes you think you haven’t done the same without reading all the way through theirs and getting all the necessary background.

    So, the task seems huge if one is suppose to be a sincere seeker when they are using your standards when looking for an all-comprehensive, perfect moral/ spiritual guiding ancient document.

  15. You didn’t leave much of an opportunity for a non-believer to really address this post, Sabio.

    I suppose the reason for all of the newer translations is to pander to a specific demographic or a generally less intelligent audience.

    Never mind all of the versions since the early twentieth century, these days you don’t have to look very far to see much of the bible as a picture book.

    As for reading all of any ancient text, including the bible, how does one make the determination what text is actually pertinent or not? Does it depend only on what previous churches, committees or councils deemed to be inclusive? You could spend (waste, IMO) an entire lifetime reading every sacred text from every religion and still not reach a conclusion without controversy.

    I’m not saying that none of them are worth reading. What I am saying is that there should be more criticism for any text that requires faith in order to believe it.

  16. I agree with Z when he says:
    I suppose the reason for all of the newer translations is to pander to a specific demographic or a generally less intelligent audience.

    Never mind all of the versions since the early twentieth century, these days you don’t have to look very far to see much of the bible as a picture book.

    Newer translations which claim to help clarify, or deepen an understanding, is pandering to a demographic. This I think doesn’t take the texts seriously and treats the Bible as more of a self-help book.

    One doesn’t need to take as authoritative councels, church boards, or some other body of authorities to determine what “applies”. Over the centuries councels et al. have commented and people take agree with their findings, but it isnt necessary. (unless you’re Roman Catholic, or a Jehovah’s Witness)

  17. @ John Barron,
    If you get a chance, now that you addressed Z, I’d love to hear you address the issues I just said in my last comment. I think they are pretty obvious objections and I am sure you have thought about them.

  18. I think it would be smart to read as many as you could. I think the issue of God is important enough to familiarize yourself with many views. I don’t object to reading commentaries of texts, or even shortened versions. Just that the “full-versions” shouldn’t be excluded.

    (without taking this too off track) some religious views are philosophically impossible by positing views which cannot possibly be true. There isn’t much need to read those. For example, any religion which would claim all religions can be true, or that all religions lead to God cannot be true and can be excluded.

  19. zqtx,

    Sorry, Dude, I was just kind of interested in the idea of translation for this post. Keep reading other posts, I may give you more stuff to work on later. 🙂

    Translation of the Ramayana also pander to different audiences. Translations are like that. But if you expect something to be the unchanging word of a God, people are pretty touchy about translating. Muslims are incredibly sensitive about it. They don’t want translations – they won’t call it the Qur’an if it is translated.

    Yes, I agree, reading every religious text FULLY (as John would have us do) seems unreasonable. But I suspect John has answer to that question. I am waiting till he gets some writing time.

  20. Fav Bible: Big fan of the NRSV: Another look at the Greek/Hebrew/Aramaic/Persian/etc languages in the Bible and a scholarly comparison through the frames of textual and historical criticism. Yet it takes out the high english “thees, thy’s and thous” which were left over from the Victorian Era. Also like the Message for it’s common language use and it gets more right than wrong… and when it’s wrong I have a perverse love of yelling at it. 😉

    Fav. texts from another language: Of the various interps of the Tao Te Ching, I like the Jonathan Starr version. Feels clearer to me, but then again, I can’t read the originals (only passing in Greek, awful in Hebrew but feel I can understand those translation/cultural issues that I can ancient China). Also a fan of the author Paulo Coelho, the Brazilian lyricist and novelist, and how he readily plays with and uplifts the problems of translation in many of his blog posts.

  21. Love your comment on “05/22/2012 at 6:39 am” where the issue of taking cheap shots over form criticism (believers are all literalists, atheists are all ignorant) the real issue of investment. Well stated.

  22. @ John Barron
    I still think your position is very problematic.

    (1) You feel you can dismiss other faiths if they say something you disagree with but how did you establish those criteria about what to exclude?

    For example, why would Hinduism automatically be wrong if it said all religions can lead to God?

    (2) So, have you read the whole Buddhist canon before you dismissed it, or do you have some aprior criteria (that is, not using the Bible) to dismiss it out of hand before you even read a small part of the canon. How did you decided not to read the whole Buddhist canon?

  23. @ Luke Lindon,

    Yeah, the Dao de Jing has lots of translations and all are rather controversial in Daoist circles. For people who are uninvested, they often the pick the easiest, funnest read. And I don’t blame them.

    thanx for the info on Coelho’s blog — I will look into it.

  24. @ Luke,
    oooops, I just went to Coelho’s blog and his post today says,

    “if we are following our dreams, things will come to us in the exact timing.”

    That is New Age tripe! It is arrogant and ignores the horrible, meaningless suffering of others and ourselves. There is not Universe or God that cares for us enough to make things work out for us. I couldn’t go any further with his blog especially after I read all his New Age readers chiming with about synchronicity and such. Arggghhhh. Optimism is wonderful until it stings you.

  25. As a fan of Shakespeare, it’s the KJV for me. I think the word choice is far more poetic than any of the other modern translations.

  26. Hey Bart Mitchell,
    To understand European and American literature prior to 1970s (shamelessly pulling a date out of thin air), familiarity with both the Christian religion, the Bible (KJV specifically) and Greek religion helps immensely.

    If you read any literature by Indians (from India), familiarity with the Mahabharata and the Ramayana is essential too. Understanding many Japanese anime without understanding the Japanese mix of Buddhism and Shintoism means much will go over your head.

    Oh the list goes on. I love tasting new experiences, so the homework becomes daunting! 🙂

    I agree with you.

  27. Oh yeah, beware the new age tripe on PC’s blog. He does write about the translation issues, i’ll see if I can find a little story and send it your way. Haven’t found the one I like called “Sending Roses” or something similar.

  28. I tended towards the NRSV for the reasons Luke gave above. When I was studying the Bible heavily I would often have several versions open on the table in front of me. I also own a Greek parallel version, with the Greek text and several other translations side by side.

    I also enjoyed paraphrase versions like the original Living Bible and The Message. Sometimes they could really flesh out some of the verses and make them more poignant. Sometimes not so much. I’ll never forget the Living Bible’s rendering of Genesis 25:30 “Boy am I starved! Give me a bight of that red stuff there!” I shied away from paraphrases when it came time for serious study though.

  29. Oh, and a fun “translation” project is the LOLCat Bible.

    Below is your passage as presented there.

    Ceiling Cat Prayerz n stuffs

    9 u pray leik dis: Ceiling Cat, who r watchin us, u can has cheezburger.10 Wut yu want, yu gets, srsly.11 Let us dis day has our dalee cheezburger.12 And furgiv us for makin u a cookie, but eateding it, same as we furgiv teh kittehz taht maked us cookiez, but eated tehm.13 An leed us not into teh showa, but deliver us from teh wawter. Cuz all our base n teh pwnage n teh +1s r belong 2 U 4eva&evah, srlsy kthxbai.

    14 if u sais sry Ceiling Cat will be leik s’ok iz kewl.15 if u donut sez sry Ceiling Cat will pwn u.

  30. @ Mike & Luke,
    OK, here is a mission for you (should you decide to accept it). does not offer RSV or NRSV as one of the translation options even though they offer NIV, KJV, The Message, The Amplified Bible and the ASV. What is that all about?

  31. My guess would be licensing issues. I think they did have the NRSV for a while, I’m almost positive.

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