At the risk of biting off more than I can chew, and offending some wonderful brothers and sisters in Christ, I would like to address the issue raised by the new Common English Bible, that of how the title, usually rendered “Son of Man”, should be translated.
Now I’m no Greek scholar, nor am I a Bible translator. In some circles that would automatically disqualify me from even speaking to this issue. But I am a serious Bible scholar and taught adult Bible studies in my local church for 18 years. And since this is my blog, and you all can take it or leave it as you wish, here than are my most recent thoughts on this idea that “the Human One” is a more accurate translation for today’s Bible readers.
In the Old Testament we sometimes see the term “son of man” being used. The original Hebrew words are “ben adam”, meaning “son of” for “ben”, and “man” for “adam”. This is taken by the translators of the CEB to be a reference to that person’s humanity, and I agree that it certainly may be the case. However, since it clearly refers to someone being the “son of” somebody, that person logically would be male, a son. A female would not be called a son in Hebrew, I don’t think. I would assume that a woman would be called a “daughter” or something along that line.
Another point to be made would be that the Jewish scholars and priests, for many, many years, had come to recognize the term “son of man” as a title for the Messiah. “The Human One”, on the other hand, could refer to anyone who is human, any person, male or female. I’m not sure I can agree that using the term “the Human One” as a substitute title for the Son of Man legitimately makes it so.
When Jesus walked the earth, he referred to himself as the Son of Man, not as the Human One. The words he spoke in Aramaic, “bar enosh”, is also correctly translated as “son of man”.
You see, the point of “Son of Man” is not the humanity of that person, but his “Messiah-ship”, the fact that he is the Messiah, the Anointed One of Israel, the Savior sent from God to save His people from their sins. Yes, he was human. In fact, he was not the son of a man at all. He was the son of God, placed in the womb of the woman Mary … he was the son of God and human at the same time, as one of the Creeds says, “fully God and fully man”. He was God “incarnate”, God in human form, with all the attributes necessary to be both. And because his humanity was not the point of the title, it is my opinion that the translators of the CEB have erred in using the term “The Human One” to translate the words Jesus was quoting.
Polls show that a large number of people, when they see the term “Son of Man”, and asked what that means, say it means that Jesus was the Son of God. You and I know that’s not what it means, but does that make it necessary to translate the term “incorrectly” in order to try and correct the interpretation of the uninformed and untaught? Wouldn’t it be better to translate the term as “Son of Man” and leave it up to teachers and preachers to teach the people what it means? How many of us developed our own theology in a vacuum, apart from the teaching of other theologians?
As a Protestant, I certainly tend to shy away a bit when people say the church should do the teaching; or as the Catholics would say, you can’t develop your theology on your own, you need the church to teach you what it correctly means. But even though we believe a person can read and interpret the scriptures for himself, there are still guidelines that need to be involved in our thinking. A person educated in the scriptures will be able to read and understand. Most won’t.
But does that mean the translators should interpret for those people who don’t understand, so they can simply read the Bible and understand it? If we understand anything about Bible translation we can agree that there is great danger in such an approach, because the translator can inject his own interpretation into the verses, and people will come away with an incorrect interpretation.
It almost goes without saying, at least for this crowd, that all translation is interpretation. The translator must interpret the original words in order to make them meaningful in the target language. But seriously, there must be a limit to how much interpretation is done. A line must be drawn, which no translator can cross. Some translations do this better than others.
One point in which translators are sorely tempted is when the writers of scripture have written ambiguously. The translator will often want to make the passage in question clearly understandable to the reader. But once again they run the risk of interpreting the scripture incorrectly for the reader, so perhaps it would be much wiser to leave the ambiguous sections ambiguous, and allow the Holy Spirit to do the interpreting.
In my humble opinion, the translators of the CEB do exactly these things when the decide to render the “Son of Man” as “the Human One”. They cross that invisible line which leads them to interpret the scriptures for the reader, too much, and incorrectly.
This is an issue that may not have a big impact on new believers; on the other hand, it may be just one of a number of issues that cause the new believer to go astray as they use the Common English Bible in their own Bible study. I have to recommend, therefore, that the CEB not be used as a person’s single, main Bible translation, but they should use it in comparisons with other, well-established translations, like the NRSV, the NASB, the ESV, and the new NIV.