Blessed, or Happy?

My Life in Pictures: Day 246 - New Bible

Image by walker cleavelands via Flickr

I just received a copy of the new Common English Bible. A couple of years ago I made a commitment to update my library of translations, and this translation is pretty much “hot off the press.”

I have not had an opportunity to do an in-depth analysis of the translation, just checked a few passages to see how they handle the ones that tend to give certain individuals or groups heartburn (Isa. 7:14, various passages regarding baptism, Ps. 23, Gen. 1, you get the idea). I really like certain aspects of the translation and publication – for example the publishers chose to print all O.T. quotations in the N. T. in italics. When you get to a writing (such as the book of Hebrews) that is so rich in O.T. quotations that is a tremendous benefit. I also like the short sentence structure that the CEB uses. This calls for a greater use of the Dynamic Equivalence translation philosophy, but it greatly improves the readability of the text (compare Rom. 1:1-7 with the NASB, for instance.)

However, I do have a few bones to pick with the translation, and after a more in-depth study I may have more. I turned to Matthew 5:3-11 and almost started crying. Here the section heading reads, “Happy People.” In place of the theologically pregnant word “Blessed” the CEB reads “Happy.” Not only is this a gross distortion of the meaning of the Greek word makairos, it inverts the message that Jesus was communicating. The beatitudes are not about a cheesy, tiptoe-through-the-tulips kind of emotional high. Jesus was teaching about the deep, inward, life changing and life renewing gift of blessedness that only God can give and has absolutely nothing to do with our outward circumstances.

(At least the translators are consistent – the Hebrew word for “Blessed” is likewise translated “Happy” in Psalm 1. That does not relieve my heartburn.)

In our Western culture we have completely lost the concept of blessing. By cheapening the word to “happy” this distortion is compounded. The biblical concept of blessing refers to the gift of an assurance of God’s love and providence in spite of the ups and downs of human existence. People who are poor in spirit (CEB – “hopeless”) are not necessarily happy, but they can be deeply blessed. People who mourn over their sins and the sins of others are clearly not happy, but God can and will bless them with spiritual comfort. “Happy” simply destroys the meaning of the entire context.

I really like several aspects of the new CEB. But this “happy-clappy ain’t you glad God is your pappy” is just wrong. It is not the gospel. God wants all men and women everywhere to be blessed, and he will bestow blessings on everyone who truly seeks him in obedient faith. But God never said he wanted everyone to be happy.

Otherwise, the Minnesota Vikings would win every Super Bowl, I would catch a fish with every cast, my garden would never have a weed in it, and I could play Vivaldi on my guitar flawlessly every time I picked it up.

Every translation has it strengths, every translation has its weaknesses. The CEB is no exception. I will not disregard this important addition to biblical studies because of my issue over the translation of one word. But I do encourage everyone to read carefully – whatever translation you use. Better yet, use as many as you can. That way all the weakensses of each translation can be evened out.

I may not be happy, but I can be truly, deeply and wonderfully blessed. I wish the same for you.

About Paul Smith

Paul was born in Santa Fe, NM. He graduated from high school in Albuquerque, NM, and has lived and worked in NM, TX, OK, and CO. He is married to Susan and father to Kylee. Paul has a BS degree in Youth Ministry, a MS degree in Biblical and Related Studies and an M.Div. degree, all from ACU. He is currently enrolled in a D.Min. degree from Fuller Theological Seminary. Paul has served as a youth minister, preaching minister, hospice chaplain, and as a flight instructor and professional pilot for a freight company.

Posted on September 14, 2011, in Exegesis, Hermeneutics, Language and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

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