For the vast majority of Christian history, the ordinary person could neither read or hope to gain hold of the words of Scripture. Such knowledge was the preserve of the scholarly priests, who dispensed nuggets of spiritual truth to their congregations. It was only after the momentous events that led to the Reformation beginning in 16th century Europe, before the common man or woman could begin to read the words of God in his or her own language; first in Spanish, English, and German, and later in a panoply of other languages – many thousands in all – spoken across the world today. In the 21st century, we live in a golden age of Bible scholarship, where it has never been easier to access Biblical truth. Yet, at the same time, there are so many distractions in the full-on materialistic world in which we live, that many have lost touch with much of its truth claims, to the extent that what many- perhaps the majority – believe and hold as morally acceptable is often totally at odds with the mores laid down in the Bible. Indeed, it is this author’s impression that the rapid decline in western civilization we are now in the midst of is at least in part attributed to the uncoupling of our societies from Judeo-Christian values, and with truly disastrous consequences.
Reading the Bible has become for me an essential part of everyday life. As the world becomes entrenched in ever more evil and immoral practices, only Biblical truth can keep me on the straight and narrow path. Indeed, reading the Bible is one of the best ways I can recommend to keep sane in a world that is becoming more insane by the day. And while we all have our favourite translations that we can return to again and again, I really enjoy reading the various versions of the Bible to gain as much theological insight as possible. Here I would like to provide my impressions of a most unusual translation of the Scriptures; the Complete Jewish Bible, the brainchild of the Israeli-American Messianic Jew, David H. Stern (b 1935).
Stern has an interesting background. Born and brought up in Los Angeles, California, he is the great grandson of the first diaspora of Jews who put down roots in the city. Dr Stern earned his PhD in economics from Princeton University, serving as a professor at UCLA. But he also displayed a passion for mountain climbing and surfing(authoring a book on the subject), as well as establishing a number of health food stores. In 1972, he came to faith in Jesus Christ, which led him to study theology and the earning of a Masters in Divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary and further graduate work at the University of Judaism. After marrying a fellow Messianic Jew in 1976, he was enrolled in the establishment and delivery of the first course in Messianic Judaism at Fuller, which led to a number of published works exploring the rich and deeply interconnected relationships between Christianity and Judaism, including the Messianic Jewish Manifesto, Restoring the Jewishness of the Gospel and a Message for Christians.
Dr Stern and his family made aliyah in 1979, settling in Jerusalem, where he has played an active part in progressing the cause of Messianic Judaism in Israel. But arguably Stern’s greatest work is the Bible he gave birth to, which was first published in 1998 and which aimed to restore the Jewishness of the Old and New Testament. Since then the Complete Jewish Bible has gone from strength to strength, being used by many faithful Christians and Messianic Jews the world over.
Though I’ve covered other Messianic Jewish Bibles before, the Complete Jewish Bible(CJB) integrates Biblical Hebrew into the Scriptures far more extensively than anything I have studied before. Whereas translations such as the Tree of Life Version(TLV) uses Hebraic terms sparingly and rather selectively, Stern’s translation is far more ambitious and makes no apologies for doing so. Here you will find many more transliterated Hebrew words that really bring the Scriptures to life in ways that genuinely impressed me. Where the TLV presents the books of the Old Testament in the traditional Jewish Way, the individual books therein are headed by the names most Christians are familiar with. Not so with the CJB. Upon opening the Book of Genesis, we see B’resheet, Exodus becomes Sh’mot, and Leviticus is headed as Vayikra etc.
The CJB introduces many more Jewish terms and names than the TLV. Abraham is presented as Avraham, Joseph is Yosef, Moses appears as Moshe, Sha’ul is Paul, Isaiah is Yesha’ yahu, Solomon is Shlomo, Yochanan is John, and 1st & 2nd Peter becomes Kefa 1 & 2. Unleavened bread is ma-tzah. The word ‘Lord’ is replaced by Adonai. Re-introducing such names would be viewed by many Christians as rather trivial, but Dr Stern’s ambitions go much further still. For example, all of the Jewish feast days have their transliterated Hebrew names restored in this text, as are the names of towns and cities. God’s glory is revealed as Sh’khi-nah. The city of the Great King is referred to as Ye-ru-sha-la-yim and the tower of Siloam, replaced with Shi-lo-ach. The word ‘Pharisee’ is referred to by P’rushim and the ‘Saducees,’ Tz’du-kim. You’ll not find any mention of Jesus’ (Yeshua) disciples in the New Testament either. They were His talmidim. When first engaging with the text and all the new words, the reader will very likely need to have permanent bookmarks placed in the glossaries at the back of this Bible.
What is the over-arching effect of restoring all of these Hebraic terms? For one thing, it gives the reader a crash course in Biblical Hebrew, reminding us that Christianity had its roots in the Jewish community who gathered in synagogues, after which it spread across the vast Roman Empire to the Gentile(or pagan)nations(Go-yim). We, as Gentile believers are grafted into God’s Olive Tree and not the other way around. All in all, the CJB shows us that God chose the Jewish people above all others to reveal His glory to humankind. Most importantly, the reader will begin to see clearly that in removing nearly all references to the spoken language of the Jews, conventional English Bibles helped to cement and foment the erroneous notion that God has finished with the Jewish people. That might have seemed appropriate in the days of Martin Luther(a radical anti-Semite), but the re-birthing of the modern state of Israel in 1948 and its flourishing as a vibrant and wealthy democracy in defiance of its many enemies, is proof enough that God will come to the aid of the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the closing years of human history, when all of the goat nations of the world attack Israel.
In addition to the re-introduction of many Hebrew words, the CJB is peculiar in a number of other respects. The word ‘faith’ is not to be found, only ‘trust’. You can also see that Dr Stern has considerable respect for the most famous of English Bible translations, the Authorised King James Version. For example, in Genesis Chapter 47 we hear echoes of the KJV in phrases like, “when I sleep with my fathers” (Genesis 47:30). In Romans Chapter 2, the text bursts into the memorable language of the KJV:
“Thou shalt not steal.
Thou shalt not commit adultery.”
You can also see the influence of the KJV in the opening chapter of the Gospel of Luke:
“My soul magnifies Adonai” (Luke 1:47)
Dr Stern also takes a few liberties with the text, as evidenced by the rendering of the closing passages of Isaiah 66, where, instead of ending in a rather gloomy note in verse 24, he repeats the more reverent words of verse 23:
Each book of the CJB has a brief introductory text that provides the reader with some of the relevant historical background and the themes developed within the text.
In terms of translation philosophy, the CJB is firmly in the camp of dynamic equivalence rather than being ‘word for word.’ But it reads very smoothly and is, in my opinion, suitable as a stand-alone Bible, even though it is the work of a single author. I especially enjoyed reading through Genesis, Deuteronomy, Isaiah, Romans and Revelation. I’ve not found a single typographical error in this work either – quite an achievement in my estimation – and in contrast to a few modern Bibles I’ve read through, even though these texts were laid out by a team of Bible scholars! The CJB does not use gender neutral language either; surely a good thing, as the Bible was never meant to be politically correct.
Another eminently useful feature of the CJB is its use of bold print when referring to Old Testament phraseology appearing in the New Testament;
Maybe you’ve heard something recently about the movement among some false teachers, who have suggested that we should uncouple the Old Testament from the Bible? Well, as these bold printed references attest to, Jesus Himself used the writings of the prophets of old in his teachings and so did St. Paul, so there’s no getting away from it! Indeed, the Old and New Testaments are a seamless whole, and totally incomplete one without the other. Indeed, Dr Stern cleverly reminds the reader of this by not mentioning the terms Old or New Testament at all! The text goes straight from 2 Chronicles to Matthew as it ought to!
Another neat and rather amusing feature of the CJB is Stern’s inclusion of hand-written texts at the end of some of St. Paul’s epistles, where he emphasises that they were written by his own hand. Check out this presentation at the end of 1 Corinthians:
All of these subtle and not so subtle renderings of the Scriptures really adds to the vibrancy of the Bible as a living, breathing record of God’s unchanging words and morals, challenging the reader at every turn of the page.
The CJB is available in Kindle format for those who like having access to the Bible on their phones and other electronic devices. It is also available in a hard back format(see the the right hand-side Bible in the opening photo of this blog). I also acquired a very nice giant print version in a flexisoft edition, which is very easy to read but not exactly practical for mobile use. It is Smyth sewn however so should last many years of use. Those interested in more expensive renditions of the CJB can also purchase it in real leather if that floats your boat. There is also a CJB study Bible published by Hendrickson which uses a modified(gender neutral?) version of Dr. Stern’s excellent text complemented by additional background information for the curious student of historical Biblical knowledge.
In summary, I would highly recommend the CJB to all Bible believing Christians. It provides an excellent grounding and reacquaintance with the culture and language of the original Jewish authors of the Bible, and provides a fresh and lively ‘thought for thought’ reading of the Holy Scriptures. With the rise of antisemitism across the world, the CJB will help the reader re-engage with our Jewish brothers and sisters and better understand the demonic nature of the political world’s hatred for Israel and the Jewish people. This is especially prescient, as we are now seeing the alignment of Satanic forces allied against the Christian world and the imperilled nation of Israel, now that its historic ally – the United States of America – with its radical far-left government – has turned its back on them.
Neil English is the author of seven books in amateur and professional astronomy.