With the Common English Bible (CEB) officially entering a crowded translation market tomorrow, five mainline publishing houses producing the new version hope initial New Testament sales are a harbinger of the reception of the finished product.

After giving away 20,000 copies this summer, total distribution to sales channels is expected to surpass 100,000 this fall. Paul Franklyn, associate publisher for the CEB and the United Methodist Church's Abingdon House, calls the Bible's readability—forged through widespread use of translation team reading groups—a primary distinctive.

"We brought extensive field testing to bear on the process before it went to editors," Franklyn said. "That's starting to pay off."

The question is whether the public is ready for another translation when no one seems sure how many exist. The American Bible Society says there are 32 translations on the North American market, while Christian Book Distributors offers over 50. BibleGateway.com offers 23 English versions. In his research for a book on translations, Phoenix Seminary professor Paul Wegner identified nearly 100 English versions by 1950. He estimates there are twice as many now, although only a handful controls a dominant share of the market.

"We've probably reached the saturation point," Wegner said. "It may be doing more damage than good. It's gotten to the point that people are making money." In other words, profit may be prompting more translations than readability concerns demand.

Leland Ryken, literature professor at Wheaton College and a member of the translation oversight committee of the English Standard Version, labeled the CEB's title "ironic," saying numerous versions have created a lack of common understanding of Scripture. ...

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