The hardest problems in biblical translation aren’t about the English, they’re about the Greek or the Hebrew, according to one Episcopalian involved in production of the new Common English Bible.
Firstly, said the Rev. Dr. William F. Brosend II, translators have to agree on which Hebrew or Greek text to use, and even after that choice is made, questions arise because scholars disagree on some of the words in those manuscripts.
“That’s probably where most conversation happens, not which English word to use,” Brosend said of translation work in a recent interview.
Brosend, associate professor of homiletics at the University of the South’s School of Theology, was one of 17 Anglicans and Episcopalians, among 120 scholars drawn from 24 denominations, involved in the project. More than 500 readers in 77 groups later field-tested their work. Two of those groups were led by Episcopalians. The complete list of translators and group leaders with their denominational affiliations is here.
The 4-year, $3.5 million project was run by the Common English Bible Committee, whose goal was to create what it calls a “denomination-neutral” Bible. The translation was funded by the Church Resources Development Corp, which allows for cooperation among denominational publishers in the development and distribution of Bibles, curriculum, and worship materials. The committee is an alliance of five publishers that serve the general market, as well as the publishing arms of the Disciples of Christ (Chalice Press), the Presbyterian Church (Westminster John Knox Press), the Episcopal Church (Church Publishing Inc.), the United Church of Christ (Pilgrim Press) and the United Methodist Church (Abingdon Press), according to a press release.
And, because of the technology available today, nearly all of the translators’ work was done virtually.
“I never went to a meeting,” Brosend said. “It was all done using [Microsoft] Word and a heavy-duty lot of ‘track changes’ so that in the passing back and forth, by the time we were looking at being ready to sign off on our work, there was more on the side in the track changes [area] than there was in the text.”
Translators worked in small teams on individual books of the Bible. Brosend was paired with Duane F. Watson of the Malone University Department of Theology and Emerson Powery of Messiah College (http://www.messiah.edu) to translate Jude and 2 Peter. They were assigned those epistles based on the fact that they have done work on those books in the past, he said.
While Brosend said that translators have most of their conversations about which Hebrew and Greek words to translate, he said that there are times when they have to decide how to translate those words into English.
New Testament-only print editions of the Common English Bible were released a year ago. The complete translation debuted online and on 20 digital platforms in June. Paperback formats became available in mid-July. The entire translation is now in its third printing. Six other editions, including one with the Apocrypha became available in August.