I really wish all translations would have translation notes like the NET Bible. I would love to understand what they were thinking, why they made the decisions they did, and even what resources helped them come to their conclusions. The Common English Bible (CEB) is no exception. I’d love to see their reasoning behind some of the odd and questionable readings, as well as the why they went with some of the readings I really like.
The Sermon on the Mount is a primary, crucial, fundamental, vital (or choose any other similar adjective you like) portion of not only the Gospels, but of the New Testament and Bible as a whole. In Matthew’s “Sermon,” the CEB translators probably had David Crowder Band on the brain.
Happy are people who are downcast . . .
Happy are people who grieve . . .
Happy are people who are humble . . .
Happy are people who are hungry and thirsty for righteousness . . .
Happy are people who show mercy . . .
Happy are people who have pure hearts . . .
Happy are people who make peace . . .
Happy are people whose lives are harassed because they are righteous . . .
I can’t say I’m all that happy with happy. While happy is one of the words that fits the meaning of makarios, I don’t see it working in this passage. We tend to understand happiness as an emotion, something that changes with our mood, reactions, circumstances. Happy conveys a smile, a cheeriness. And though in a sense there’s truth to the happiness in connection with what Jesus said (grieving, the harassed; is “downcast” really a good translation?), it’s not what he meant.
I think it will cause more confusion than anything.
Later in Matthew’s text, when Peter proclaims (his misunderstanding of?) who Jesus was, the CEB reads:
Then Jesus replied, “Happy are you (makarios ei), Simon son of Jonah, because no human has shown this to you.” Mt. xvi.17
Happy doesn’t make sense to me here. Take the phrase, “Happy are you.” I’ve never said that. I’ve never read that. I’ve never heard anyone else say that. It doesn’t come off as normal, common English. And Jesus was definitely not telling Peter that the disciple was really happy and giddy.
I want to look at another example. Even later in Matthew’s text we run into this passage:
“Who then are the faithful and wise servants whom their master puts in charge of giving food at the right time to those who live in his house? Happy (makarios) are those servants whom the master finds fulfilling their responsibilities when he comes. I assure you that he will put them in charge of all his possessions.” Mt. xxiv.45-47
Happy here brings the focus of the sentence on the servants. And that’s not the point; the focus is on the master and what he is doing. While most translations render makarios here blessed, not straying from how they translated the word in Mt. v, I think it’s easy to see the idea of favor in this passage. And favor is one of the translation options for makarios.
In fact, while most translations of Revelation i.3 use “Blessed,” “God blesses,” or some other variation of blessed, the CEB has
Favored (makarios) is the one who reads the words of this prophecy out loud, and favored are those who listen to it being read, and keep what is written in it.
While I can see favored here in Revelation as a good rendering, I don’t believe “Favored is the one” makes a compelling case for “common English.” There has to be an easier, less awkward way to put the phrases together. And, although favored I think fits better in Mt. xxiv than happy does, neither works out well in the so called Beatitudes.
Someone might consider it a trivial issue. But, I find the Sermon on the Mount so critical to Christianity that we need a clear reading of the text available. There is no need to be watering down or confusing a reader.
But, I must say I appreciate the translation of Mt. v.48:
Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete.
I like the added explanation, “in showing love to everyone.” That should definitely clear up the confusion.