CEV is praised by linguists like Wayne Leman because, he says, it is written “in the most natural English of any version.” Perhaps that’s true, but natural English is not enough. CEV cannot be said to be faithful to its source text in many cases. In the process of simplification, too much is lost. Here is an example:
Romans 3:21-22, with sense-units numbered:
(1) νυνὶ δὲ χωρὶς νόμου
(2) δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ πεφανέρωται
(3) μαρτυρουμένη ὑπὸ τοῦ νόμου καὶ τῶν προφητῶν
(4) δικαιοσύνη δὲ θεοῦ διὰ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ
(5) εἰς πάντας τοὺς πιστεύοντας
(6) οὐ γάρ ἐστιν διαστολή
A rough-and-ready translation:
(1) But now, independently of law,
(3) though the law and the prophets bear witness to it,
(2) God’s restorative justice has become plain –
(4) God’s restorative justice received through faith in Christ Jesus
(5) by all who have said faith –
(6) all, without distinction.
Here is CEV:
(2) Now we see how God does make us acceptable to him.
(3) The Law and the Prophets tell how we become acceptable,
(1) and it isn’t by obeying the Law of Moses.
(6) God treats everyone alike.
(4) He accepts people
(5) only because they have faith in Jesus Christ.
CEV contains an outright falsehood: “The Law and the Prophets tell how we become acceptable, and it isn’t by obeying the Law of Moses.” That isn’t what Paul says, nor can such a teaching be found in the Law and the Prophets. It goes downhill from there. CEV avoids any reference to God’s justice. The result is gross inaccuracy. “The justice of God” is a phrase steeped in the language of the Psalms. Not any old justice is envisioned, but Robin Hood justice, restorative justice, the kind that rips prey from the jaws of a lion. “Justice” and “judgment” for those who have none are experienced as restoration and vindication. For the purposes of this post, I translate δικαιοσύνη accordingly.
Rightly understood, the exercise of justice involves providing help to those who are defenseless before the elements or enemies. It is logical on this understanding that Paul equates God’s “justice” and “saving power” (Rom 1:16-17). Paul references God’s help experienced in his day by Jews and Gentiles alike who trusted in Christ. The help consisted in salvation from the wrath to come, the power of sin, and the elemental structures of this world. By eliminating all reference to God’s restorative justice, CEV severs Paul’s argument from its roots in the terminology of biblical prayer. In the following examples, restorative justice glosses צדקה = δικαιοσύνη in the Septuagint. Traditionally, the term is translated righteousness. The Latin equivalent is iustitia.
יְהוָה נְחֵנִי בְצִדְקָתֶךָ
הַיְשַׁר לְפָנַי דַּרְכֶּךָ
Lead me as befits your restorative justice
in answer to my foes,
straight your way before me.
בְּךָ יְהוָה חָסִיתִי
In you, Lord, I have taken refuge,
may I never be put to shame!
Rescue me in
accord with your restorative justice.
הִנֵּה תָּאַבְתִּי לְפִקֻּדֶיךָ
וִיבֹאֻנִי חֲסָדֶךָ יְהוָה
How I long for your decrees!
As befits your restorative justice, grant me life.
Let your love come to me, Lord,
your salvation in accord with your promise.
For another critique of CEV and NLT, go here.