If you have attended our 5 p.m. Sunday service you may have noticed that the scripture readings sound different from what we are used to hearing. This is because we are using a different translation of the Bible: the Common English Bible which was completed in 2011. This translation was sponsored by the publishing houses of the Disciples of Christ, The Episcopal Church, The Presbyterian Church U.S.A., the United Church of Christ, and the United Methodist Church. The translators stated their purpose as:
The goal of the Common English Bible is to make the Bible readable and understandable for everyone. This new translation combines modern language and exceptional scholarship to bring the scripture to people of all ages and experiences for a transforming interaction with God's word.
This translation is one of fourteen authorized by the Episcopal Church for use in worship among the traditional King James Version and the New Revised Standard Version which we use in our morning service. Besides a lower average reading level, probably the most noticeable difference in the Common English Bible is the use of contractions. Overall, this translation sounds more informal and closer to how we speak. The effect can be jarring as we are used to hearing the Bible in a reverential, academic tone. Listening to the sacred words in casual English may somehow feel disrespectful or inappropriately commonplace.
So, why the change? If it isn't broken, why fix it?
The first part of the answer is the design of the 5 p.m. liturgy. We are hoping to make the service a place of inclusion for people of all ages; a holy space where all feel welcome and invited into God's presence. Part of this effort has been using prayers and scripture that are more accessible linguistically. We have drawn on more modern Anglican prayer books which use the language of the people to accomplish the work of the people. The Common English Bible and the Common Worship Psalter we have been using for the Psalms fits better into this ethos than what we are used to hearing.
The second part of the answer is an attempt to be true to the original Greek of the Christian Scriptures. The majority of the New Testament is not written in academic Greek, but in the Greek of the marketplace–the everyday person's Greek. With the exception of the Letter to the Hebrews which is written in an academic style and, to a lesser extent, Paul's letters, the language used is ordinary, plain, and accessible to an original audience without formal education. There are idioms, slang, grammatical constructions that would have been considered improper by the contemporary academy, and the language is written as it would have been spoken. The Common English Bible in many ways better reflects the quality of the original Greek in a new and exciting way.
The third and final part of the answer is about formation. We believe that what we do in worship forms and shapes our spiritual selves and this includes the choice of Bible translation. If we choose the King James Version, that might teach us that our faith is grand, historical, and proper. But it might also teach us, that our faith is archaic, not about our everyday lives, or that we have to inhabit a different language to encounter God. Our hope in choosing the Common English Bible for the 5 p.m. service is that it teaches us that our faith is not just for the parts of us dressed in our Sunday best, but that it's for the parts of us that use contractions, that speak in slang–the normal, everyday parts of ourselves. That our relationship with God is not just for rarified, transcendent moments, but for when we are driving in the car, sharing food with friends and family, or binging Netflix on a weekday evening.
Among our choices, I do not think there is a right or wrong translation of the Bible. All have their strengths and weaknesses and are appropriate for different occasions. I encourage you to take a look at the various translations of the Bible and discover which one speaks to you.