Common English Bible: Happy or Blessed?

The blog for the Common English Bible has some interesting entries and responses to criticism.

One issue that I’ve heard – and experienced – is unhappiness with the use of “happy” instead of “blessed” in the Sermon on the Mount. Here’s what the CEB folks say about that issue:

Several readers of the CEB have written to say that they do not approve of the term happy in this passage.  We don’t get good reasons why this word is wrong, other than some like the KJV word, blessed.  Perhaps some Christians are suspicious of words that evoke human emotion because they prefer a faith that is based on fact or reason. Perhaps others mistakenly assume that happiness as a human condition is about human self esteem and not something that God does or wants.

We might concede that it is possible to trivialize the meaning of happiness in our culture, to mistake happiness for personal self gratification, but the CEB editors are not willing to let a trivial misapplication of the word derail the correct use of the meaning from the Greek.  First, the use of the term in this way is not an innovation. The NRSV uses the term happy throughout the Old Testament for macarisms like these in Jesus’ sermon.  The TEV translation used the term happy with the same beatitudes in Matthew. Second, the first sense given the term in the BDAG Greek Lexicon is “fortunate, happy.” Makarios actually belongs to a large semantic domain in Greek, reflecting Greco-Roman discussion about what constitutes genuine happiness. Third, contemporary happiness studies identify happiness in terms of growth, integrity, and well-being (flourishing and contentment).



3 thoughts on “Common English Bible: Happy or Blessed?

  1. I appreciate their response but it amounts to “other translations are doing it so we did too.” Blessed means something different than happy in times of perseverance and I believe that all of the references in the Sermon on the Mount are to people who persevere not who relish life as it is.

  2. I’m hearing this as more of a dispute between scholars and religious folk (end users, if you will). The scholars are correct in their domain. But really, now, how many religious folk in the US (the primary audience for this translation) have ever spent much time learning about the Greek philosophical or current scholarly discussions about happiness and its connection with virtue?

    Blessed also communicates happiness– and in a domain that IS widely understood across both philosophical and religious domains.

    The whole point of translation is to make something accessible for its readers or hearers.

    While I don’t disagree with the scholars, I do disagree with their choice for this translation. “Happy” just doesn’t communicate to the intended audience what “blessed” does.

  3. On a positive note, this issue did get me to look up the etymology of the words “happy” and “blessed.” I may not know Greek and Hebrew, but I can study the English words we used.

    I did not know that the original word “happy” was essentially a word for “having good fortune” or “being lucky.” That certainly casts an interesting light on “the pursuit of happiness.”

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