Common English

When I preach somewhere as a lay speaker, I base my sermons on the Revised Common Lectionary – a rotating three-year schedule, used by several Protestant denominations, of Bible readings. Each week, the Lectionary has a Psalm, a reading from one of the Gospels, another Old Testament reading and another New Testament reading. There may be a common theme to the readings. A good preacher can work several of the readings into the same sermon; amateurs like myself usually pick one of the readings on which to focus.

Some of the small, rural churches where I’m called upon to speak have preachers that don’t use the Lectionary, and even at the churches where it is used the congregation may not be aware of it and certainly wouldn’t be bothered if a guest speaker preached a non-Lectionary sermon. But I find the Lectionary to be good discipline – it keeps me from only preaching on topics I like or in which I am interested.

Normally, when I get ready to write a sermon, I go to Vanderbilt’s online lectionary, download the readings for the Sunday in question, and paste them into a LibreOffice document. Eventually, as the sermon takes shape, I delete the readings to which I won’t be specifically referring.

The Vanderbilt site uses the New Revised Standard Version, which until recently had been the version of choice for a lot of United Methodist publications. Lately, though, I’ve noticed more use of the Common English Bible, which was released last year. This morning, sitting in on a Sunday School class at my father’s new church, I noticed that “Adult Bible Studies,” the ubiquitous Sunday School literature published by the United Methodist Publishing House, has switched to the CEB, and even has an ad for the Bible on its back cover trumpeting the fact.

I had jumped on a free Kindle download of the CEB a while back, and I’m taking a closer look at it now. (The download is still available, but no longer free.) So far, I like what I see.

For those of my readers who aren’t theologically literate, there are scores of different Bible versions available nowadays. They fall into two groups: translations and paraphrases. Translations like the NRSV are done by teams of scholars, and their first priority is accuracy to the best available original texts. (Strangely enough, we now have access to older, and presumably less-corrupted, manuscripts than were known about in the days when King James commissioned a standard English translation of the Bible.) Paraphrases, like Eugene Peterson’s justly-popular “The Message,” are usually the work of one individual. They put an emphasis on readability and contemporary English.

Both translations and paraphrases have their place. A translation is essential for serious study or theological discussion. A good paraphrase, however, makes the scripture come alive in a way that more formal translations usually don’t.

The Common English Bible, while still a translation involving scholars from multiple denominations, has made a special effort to enhance readability, giving it a little of the informality of a paraphrase.

Anyway, I was setting up the lectionary passages today for my sermon next Sunday at Ransom UMC and I decided to replace the NRSV with the passages from CEB, which I looked up, cut and pasted from the official CEB web site. I think this may be my habit going forward.