A few months ago copies of the Contemporary English Version of the Bible were sent to many churches across the country for their inspection and use. The purpose of the translators was to achieve a "'user-friendly' and a 'mission-driven' translation that can be read aloud without stumbling, heard without misunderstanding, and listened to with enjoyment and appreciation, because the language is contemporary and the style is lucid and lyrical." This brief, introductory statement closes with its own description: "the Word of God now as never before!"
Of the four goals stated above, the first one is the only one which may succeed. Due to the ambiguity of some of the words used in the translation's text, there would certainly be some misunderstandings, and those who have already studied the Bible could certainly not enjoy the deliberate misrepresentations (examples will be provided shortly). As to the last claim, if this were the first modern speech version, we might say, "Amen! The Bible certainly never has been so translated." But, alas, the sad fact is that the Scriptures have been treated this poorly a number of times (NIV, Living Bible, Good News, Easy to Read Version, etc.).
The CEV might appropriately be entitled the DDV (Dumbed Down Version) or the SEV (Something for Everyone Version). An example of the latter is their translation of Acts 2:38. They probably knew that members of the Lord's church would look there first because we can usually use that verse as an indication of how the entire translation is done. And it reads well!
Peter said, "Turn back to God! Be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, so that your sins will be forgiven. Then you will be given the Holy Spirit."
Some would undoubtedly object to "the Holy Spirit" being substituted for "the gift of the Holy Spirit," but the necessity of baptism is clearly seen in this verse.
But the CEV totally undermines this verse by the way they handle Acts 22:16. Just to highlight the difference, consider some other translations (even "dynamic" equivalents and paraphrases) along with the CEV.
And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord (KJV).
Although some other paraphrases have come perilously close to such an inappropriate rendering, this is the first time such a perversion of this verse has been so blatant. The "translators" appear to be suggesting that a person should be baptized, then have his sins washed away through prayer, which doesn't even make good nonsense. Since baptism is in water (Acts 8:36-38), why would anyone associate "washing away" sins with prayer rather than baptism? Furthermore, Paul had already been praying and fasting for three days (Acts 9:9, 11); if prayer alone could have saved him, he would have already been rejoicing in his salvation when Ananias arrived. It is obvious that baptism was the part of salvation that was missing, not prayer.
So in Acts 22:16, according to the CEV, sins are washed away by praying. But in Romans 10:9-10 the reader finds a sincere confession is sufficient.
So you will be saved, if you honestly say, "Jesus is Lord," and if you believe with all your heart that God raised him from death. God will accept you and save you, if you truly believe this and tell it to others.
These verses are greatly abused by the CEV; if taken at face value, they not only deny having sins cleansed by prayer (which they set forth in Acts 22:16), but they have negated any role for repentance, also. An accurate rendering of the passage is given below, in which it can be seen that confession brings one to the point of salvation without excluding baptism, which Paul had previously emphasized in Romans 6:3-7.
Speaking of repentance, the word must be one of those that is too difficult for modern men to understand; so it has been dumbed down to "turn back to God." Consider the following verses, which avoided its usage.
He [John] said, "Turn back to God! The kingdom of heaven will soon be here" (Matt. 3:2).
This last passage is difficult to recognize-not only because of the absence of the word repentance, but because these two verses have been soundly butchered. Paul is making a contrast between godly sorrow (that which brings about change in one's life) and worldly sorrow (that which brings pain by being caught). What an unfortunate and inaccurate impression passages like these will leave upon the reader who is not familiar with the text.
There are dozens of verses to choose from to illustrate the point that the translators seem to get carried away trying to "simplify" the meaning. They not only rob the Bible of its majesty, but those who do not already know what those various verses teach would never be able to even guess what God communicated to us.
Instead of the noble "I am debtor," the CEV has "I must tell the good news to everyone" (Rom. 1:14). In place of "I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ," the CET gives "I am proud of the good news!" (Rom. 1:16). Rather than the familiar "There is none righteous, no, not one," there is the misleading "No one is acceptable to God!" (Rom. 3:10). God sounds ruthless and implacable-if we do not know the reason we fail to please Him.
"By the mercies of God" in Romans 12:1 is changed to: "Dear friends, God is good." Desiring that the sinful brother "be taken away from among you" (note the passive voice) has been replaced by "you ought to feel bad enough to chase away (active voice, gws) anyone who acts like that" (1 Cor. 5:2). Not being ignorant of Satan's devices has been rendered "We all know what goes on in his mind" (2 Cor. 2:11). The sobering words of Paul, "Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men" has been weakened to "We know what it means to respect the Lord, and we encourage everyone to turn to him" (2 Cor. 5:11). Where is the striking emphasis which is so apparent in most translations?
"Let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit" should not be watered down to "stay away from everything that keeps our bodies and spirits from being clean" (2 Cor. 7:1). Being "thoroughly equipped for every good work" is hardly captured by doing "all kinds of good deeds" (2 Tim. 3:17). "Zealous for good works" is scarcely being "eager to do right" (Titus 2:14). These and many other "dumbed down" verses sap the Word of its great power.
(To be Continued)
*Send comments or questions concerning this article to Gary Summers. Please refer to this article as: "A REVIEW OF THE CONTEMPORARY ENGLISH VERSION (1) (9/22/96)."