It has been some time now since the first pdf file was made available to us showing the Gospel of Matthew in the new Common English Bible. The first reaction many of us had to some of the renderings was a sense of stunned surprise. For some of us it meant automatic rejection of the CEB. For others of us it meant caution, and a time of research and reason.
Most of us on these biblioblogs are familiar by now with the CEB’s rendering of “ben ‘adam”, “bar ‘enash”, and “huios anthropos” as “the human one”, instead of the more traditional “Son of Man”. Until yesterday I hadn’t heard anyone articulate any well-reasoned reason to reject that rendering. It was said that the phrase simply meant a son of man, or someone who is human, and that certainly sounds like a reasonable argument. Then I heard a man preaching on the phrase “son of man” and a light came on in my mind.
The thing is, “Son of Man” was a well known and accepted title in the Old Testament for the Messiah. Whenever the OT scriptures talked about the Son of Man, or even “a son of man”, it was understood that it was referring to the Messiah. Hebrew scholars had come to that unequivocal conclusion. So when Jesus came along, referring to himself as the Son of Man, the Pharisees and Saducees and all the experts in the scripture knew…they KNEW…that he was saying “I am the Messiah”, just as when he claimed to be the “I AM” they KNEW he was claiming to be the eternal God. The original Hebrew and Aramaic made it clear that it was the “son of…” and not just the term “human being”. Jesus spoke Aramaic as well, and even when “bar ‘enash” was translated into Greek for the Gospels, it was “huios”, or “son of…”.
We saw it in the NRSV, a tendency to translate the phrase, at least in the OT, as “the human one” or “one who appears human”. Now many of us had some hope that the CEB might be a more “evangelical” translation, but now those hopes are dashed. If we accept the CEB’s rendering “the human one”, then we are missing, if not outright rejecting, the scriptural authority that equates the Son of Man with the Messiah.
It could be that the translators of the CEB plan to insert a footnote wherever the phrase occurs. But I ask you, is a footnote good enough?
My own thoughts on this are that we need to try and convince the translators of the CEB to restore the rendering “Son of Man”, maybe with a footnote explaining that it is synonymous with the Messiah, and drop the rendering “the human one” entirely as completely inadequate. The translation team at the CEB have made it clear that the translation at this point is not yet set in stone, so to speak, so some changes could still be made.
This, however, is a change we probably can’t realistically expect them to make. So then we will have to decide for ourselves if we want to use the CEB or not. I think that many, after recovering from the shock of that particular rendering, will accept it and move on with it. But if it’s not changed, I will personally not be using it as my regular Bible, nor will I be recommending it.
Is it a deal breaker? Will the fact that the CEB says “the human one” cause anyone to lose their salvation, or not come to the Lord in the first place? It probably won’t affect anyone’s salvation, but it could affect a person’s understanding of God, and salvation, and many other theological concepts. I have to conclude that by simplifying the wording of this Bible they are losing some very important understanding that could be there if it were translated as it should be, “son of man”. I recommend caution on the part of Bible scholars, teachers, pastors, and anyone else to whom people look to for Bible recommendations.