QUICK QUIZ: Do these lines appear in the Bible—or were they uttered by Captain American, Martin Luther King Jr. or George W. Bush? “We are experiencing all kinds of trouble, but we aren’t crushed. We are confused, but we aren’t depressed. We are harassed, but we aren’t abandoned. We are knocked down, but we aren’t knocked out.”
ANSWER: A Harris poll widely cited around the Internet at the moment indicates that 2 out of 3 Americans picked one of the three men as the source. In fact, those words are from 2 Corinthians 4:8-9 as rendered in the brand new Common English Bible, a carefully researched plain-language translation of scripture sponsored by an ecumenical coalition of Protestant denominations.
AMERICA’S LOVE OF BIBLE IS WIDE (But Our Knowledge Is Thin)
Pollster and author George Gallup Jr. famously described the problem this way, “In America, religion is miles wide and a quarter inch deep.” Boston University’s Stephen Prothero demonstrated the problem in another way—by publishing quiz results of incoming university students. Most of Prothero’s students couldn’t name the four Gospels and didn’t recognize the story of the Good Samaritan when it was referenced in a nationwide presidential address. Our biblical literacy is sorely lacking. We could go on and on with examples, but the evidence is overwhelming: Nine out of 10 Americans say they believe in God. Eight out of 10 Americans identify as Christian. The vast majority of American homes own a Bible. But, as a nation, we are woefully ignorant of what the Bible actually says.
OUR MOST POPULAR BOOKS OF THE BIBLE
We may be confused—but we do love The Good Book! A Gallup Poll ranks the overall popularity of the Bible’s books, based on Americans’ response to a Gallup question about naming their “most popular” book of the Bible: Topping the list is Psalms, followed by Genesis. Ranking third and fourth are the Gospels of Matthew and John. Then, Revelation, Proverbs and Job take slots 5-7. Luke ranks 8. Beyond the Gospel of Luke, Gallup couldn’t find even 2 percent of Americans naming any other “most popular” book in the Bible, which means Mark isn’t a very popular “go to” text for Americans.
TIME MAGAZINE REPORTS ON COMMON ENGLISH BIBLE
A recent Time Magazine news story neatly sums up the milestone that the new CEB represents: “In an effort not only to make the Bible more accessible to modern readers, but also to appease both conservative and liberal denominations, the multi-denomination publishers of the new Bible translation … didn’t just toss together a few catchy phrases. They took the task seriously. With more than 200 biblical scholars and church leaders representing more than 20 denominations, the commmittee translated straight from the original Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek texts. … When field-testing showed passages appeared confusing, project staff worked in modern phrasing.”
SAMPLES OF COMMON ENGLISH BIBLE
How clear is this new translation?
That’s the obvious question and the best way to check it out for yourself is: Order your own copy! There are many editions of the Common English Bible available via Amazon, but we recommend the CEB Common English Thinline Bible with Apocrypha with a Ribbon Marker and Leather-like Cover. So far, the CEB team has not published a Catholic Edition with the books of the Bible in their proper order for Catholic readers. However, the Bible with Apocrypha contains the complete collection of books used by Catholic and Orthodox Christians. That means you’ll also find 3 and 4 Maccabees, Psalm 151 and Bel and the Snake (better known as Bel and the Dragon) in this edition.
Here are some famous passages rendered in the new Common English Bible translation. We admit that it’s unfair to judge a new Bible entirely by famous passages, which most of us know by heart from earlier translations. (That’s why we suggest ordering a full copy, above.) Nevertheless, showing these common passages easily indicates the kinds of revisions you’ll see throughout this new Bible.
When God began to create the heavens and the earth—the earth was without shape or form, it was dark over the deep sea, and God’s wind swept over the waters—God said, “Let there be light.” And so light appeared. God saw how good the light was. God separated the light from the darkness. God named the light Day and the darkness Night. There was evening and there was morning: the first day.
THE TEN COMMANDMENTS
I am the LORD your God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
You must have no other gods before me.
Do not make an idol for yourself—no form whatsoever—of anything in the sky above or on the earth below or in the waters under the earth. Do not bow down to them or worship them, because I, the LORD your God, am a passionate God. I punish children for their parents’ sins even to the third and fourth generations of those who hate me. But I am loyal and gracious to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.
Do not use the LORD your God’s name as if it were of no significance; the LORD won’t forgive anyone who uses his name that way.
Remember the Sabbath day and treat it as holy. Six days you may work and do all your tasks, but the seventh day is a Sabath to the LORD your God. Do not do any work on it—not you, your sons or daughters, your male or female servants, your animals, or the immigrant who is living with you. Because the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and everything that is in them in six days, but rested on the seventh day. That is why the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
Honor your father and your mother so that your life will be long on the fertile land that the LORD your God is giving you.
Do not kill.
Do not commit adultery.
Do not steal.
Do not testify falsely against your neighbor.
Do not desire your neighbor’s house. Do not desire and try to take your neighbor’s wife, male or female servant, ox, donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbor.
The LORD is my shepherd.
I lack nothing.
He lets me rest in grassy meadows;
he leads me to restful waters;
he keeps me alive.
He guides me in proper paths
for the sake of his good name.
Even when I walk
through the darkest valley,
I fear no danger
because you are with me.
Your rod and your staff—
they protect me.
MATTHEW 5:3-9, OPENING OF THE “BEATITUDES”
Happy are people who are hopeless, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs.
Happy are people who grieve, because they will be made glad.
Happy are people who are humble, because they will inherit the earth.
Happy are people who are hungry and thirsty for righteousness, because they will be fed until they are full.
Happy are people who show mercy, because they will receive mercy.
Happy are people who have pure hearts, because they will see God.
Happy are people who make peace, because they will be called God’s children.
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Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online journal covering religion and cultural diversity.