Contemporary English Version

From: Edward Hobbs (
Date: Tue Nov 28 1995 - 15:07:09 EST

        While I have no brief to make for the CEV (Contemporary English
Version), having barely examined it off and on for the last three years (and
never having seen the OT portion), and while I have no tis to the American
Bible Society with insider knowledge, perhaps I could respond to a few minor
points in the posts by Bruce Terry and Tim Staker,
        The TEV was NOT written at a 6th or 7th grade reading level. The
criteria for translation only required that vocabulary and forms not in current
and widespread use be avoided, and that such matters as weights, measures of
size, distance,and area, and hours of the day, as well as currency and the
like, be given in terms understood by present-day English-speakers without
recourse to a Bible dictionary. The resultant text was generally regarded as
completely understandable by anyone with a high-school education, though that
was not their target audience. My suspicion is that a couple of generations
ago, typical 6th or 7th grade students would have understood it; but today?
I'm dubious.
        The CEV criteria included "children" and speakers of English as a
second language among the target audience. I don't know if this is 3rd grade
or not. It does not sound ANYTHING like the kind of English I read in books
for 3rd-graders; it reads about like the Boston Globe or Washington Post news
stories (with New York Times sounding more like the TEV).
        I have never seen, or even heard of, the International Children's
Version, but I know that a 1986 publication would not have been early enough to
forestall the CEV, since I was reading drafts of early translation-segments in
1978 (sent to me by former Ph.D.-students who were working on portions of it).
So it must have been started before 1978; a 1986 version would be a minimum of
eight years too late to have pre=vented work on the CEV from starting.
        Now: Was the CEV "produced just to have a translation that was
politically correct on a supposed anti-Semitism in the New Testament"? Aside
from the use of "politically correct" to label what was described in the news
release (I would have supposed "theologically correct" to be more germane, even
if still mistaken), the fact that not a word of this was uttered in the four
years since the NT-CEV came out, until now, makes the answer "No." The use of
"the Jews" in John has a clear enough meaning when read in its first-century
context: it refers to those Jews who rejected the Messianic claims made by the
Jesus-movement-Jews; it is clear that John knew that Jesus was a Jew, the
Twelve were all Jews, the Beloved Disciple was (probably) a Jew, etc. But
today, that isn't at all clear to most readers, and in fact it hasn't been
clear during most of Christianity's history of oersecution of the Jews.
        I didn't mean to get involved in the merits of this translation; but it
seems to me that this issue is just like the issue of male-chauvinist
translation. I personally am opposed to translating the Biblical text to
change clearly patriarchal texts to unisex language;but much of the problem
isn't in the Greek or Hebrew. "Patres" is ancestors or parents, not a multiple
of fathers; unmarked plurals are just that, and only the fact that "siblings"
sounds so sociological has forced "brethren" as a translation of adelfoi in
Paul's letters. That is, my own belief is that we should try to accurately
represent what the text meant in its orignal setting, neither adding to nor
subtracting from its perceived flaws, whether dealing with women, Jews, or God.
Not everyone agrees with this, and I'm now far too many years beyond wanting to
waste my time debating the topic; but having posted the original news elease, I
felt I had to come clean as to my own opinion.
        And I don't believe the release "used the theology of Paul (Eph. 2:14)
to correct the terminology of John." [I'd rather say, "the theology of Paul's
greatest student", myself!] Instead, it quoted Barclay Newman to the effect
that Paul's insistence that Jesus' death had broken down the wall of hatred
between Jew and Gentile "is a witness against those who would use any portion
of the New Testament as a weapon or warfare to incite anti-Jewish sentiments."
That is a far cry from "using Paul to correct John" (and it certainly doesn't
rob Peter to pay Paul!).
        End of Acts: 28:19 has "Jewish leaders". Not sure what else is a
translation problem.
        1 John 2:22; 5:12 -- Surely these are not anti-Jewish statements, but
intra-Christian formulas. See Ray Brown's work, or even my own Ph.D.-son, John
Bogart's work on 1 John. (John is now retired; as Helmut Koester was saying to
me on Thanksgiving, "It's very upsetting to have your own students retire ahead
of you!" Helmut is just two months younger than I am. (Parse that as "than I
am young.")
        As for Hagar and Sarah in Galatians: This isn't a translation issue,
but of meaning. And of course, the meaning has nothing to do with Jews versus
Christians, but of Gentile-legalists versus Gentile Paulinists, or of Law
versus Gospel (NOT = Jew vs. Gentile).

        Incidentally, the ABS has had no trouble getting the rights to ANY
English translation. They issue their own printings of NIV, for example, as
well as RSV and NRSV, New King James, New American Standard, New Jerusalem
Bible, etc. In fact, their $3 NRSV Bible was the ONLY edition in the first
year of the NRSV which did not have a number of errors and omissions, including
a serious omission in Revelation. The reason was simple: They actually
proof-read the entire text, reading aloud to each other, thus catching errors
which were on the discs sent out by the NRSV committee (discs simply printed
out by other publishers). In any case, their non-issuance of the ICV cannot
have been because they couldn't get permission.

Edward Hobbs

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