Wednesday, November 23, 2011

translating "Son of Man" as "The Human One"

Joel Green on this CEB translation choice:
The "Human One" Explained from Common English Bible on Vimeo.
From the CEB website:
Why Jesus is both human and divine Created by pfranklyn on 7/25/2011 6:31:48 AM

The following post first appearted in early 2010. The topic is in the news again so a repeat seems helpful to persons just discovering the translation. You will see that the editors of the Common English Bible made a decision about the translation of a common Semitic idiom, which is found often in the Old Testament and is translated literally into Greek in the New Testament. Nearly all English readers of the Bible don't notice this rendering in the Old Testament, but in the New Testament many churched readers of the Bible are surprised to see a fresh and more accurate translation.
ben adam (Hebrew) or ho huios tou anthropou (Greek) is translated as "human being" (rather than "son of man") except in cases of vocative address, where we render "Human" (instead of "Son of Man" [KJV] or "Mortal" [NRSV], e.g. Ezek 2:1). For the NT phrase, ho huios tou anthropou (e.g., Matt 9:6) we render "you will know that the Human One has authority on earth to forgive sins."
At the exegetical and linguistic level, the Semitic idiom, ben adam, occurs frequently in the Old Testament. (A linguistic analogy is bene yisrael, which means Israelites.) Biblical scholars, in a rare example of consensus, are certain that the Semitic idiom ben adam translates as "human being" or "human" in natural English. If we were creating a literal translation, which we inherit from the Septuagint Greek translation of the Semitic idiom, or more precisely from the KJV tradition for English readers, we would probably render "son of human." But we aim to avoid "biblish" where possible and translate such Hebrew or Greek constructions into a natural English idiom. In English we don't say or write "I was speaking with sons of Ben" or "I called children of Ben." Instead, in the target language we write, "I spoke to Ben's children."
Here's our explanation in the forthcoming preface to the CEB:
First, ben ’adam (Hebrew) or huios tou anthrōpou (Greek) are best translated as “human being” (rather than “son of man”) except in cases of direct address, where the CEB renders “Human” (instead of “Son of Man” or “Mortal,” e.g., Ezek 2:1). When ho huios tou anthrōpou is used as a title for Jesus, the CEB refers to Jesus as “the Human One.”
            People who have grown accustomed to hearing Jesus refer to himself in the Gospels as “the Son of Man” may find this jarring. Why “Human One”? Jesus’ primary language would have been Aramaic, so he would have used the Aramaic phrase bar enosha. This phrase has the sense of “a human” or “a human such as I.” This phrase was taken over into Greek in a phrase that might be translated woodenly as “son of humanity.” However, Greek usage often refers to “a son of x” in the sense of “one who has the character of ‘x.’” For example, Luke 10:6 refers to “a son of peace,” a phrase that has the sense, “one who shares in peace.” Another example: in Acts 13:10 Paul calls a sorcerer “a son of the devil.” This is not a reference to the sorcerer’s actual ancestry, but serves to identify his character. He is devilish — or, more simply in English, “a devil.” In short, “Human” or “Human One” both represents accurately the Aramaic and Greek idioms and reflects common English usage. Finally, many references to Jesus as “the Human One” refer back to Daniel 7:13, where Daniel “saw one like a human being” (in Greek, huios anthrōpou); using the title “Human One” in the Gospels and Acts, then, preserves this connection to Daniel’s vision.
Darrell L. Bock writes, "The key to this title and Jesus' use of it is the imagery of Dan. 7:13-14, where the term is not a title but a description of a figure who rides the clouds and receives authority directly from God in heaven. The Old Testament background to the title does not emerge immediately in Jesus' ministry, but is connected to remarks made to the disciples at the Olivet discourse and Jesus' reply at his examination by the Jewish leadership. The title is appropriate because of its unique fusion of human and divine elements. A 'son of man' is simply an expression that describes a human being. In contrast to the strange beasts of Dan. 7, this is a figure who is normal, except for the authority he receives. In riding the clouds, this man is doing something otherwise left only to the description of divinity in the Old Testament (Exod. 14:20; 34:5; Num. 10:34; Ps. 104:3; Isa. 19:1). In addition, the title was in Aramaic an indirect way to refer to oneself, making it a less harsh way to make a significant claim. Despite its indirectness, the nature of Jesus' consistent use of the term makes it clear that he was referring to himself, not someone else" (Jesus according to Scripture: Restoring the Portrait from the Gospels ,602-03).
We tested this translation with hundreds of readers. Several found the change jarring. One leader responded, "For me, at an emotional level it feels contrived. Unlike an onomatopoeia it feels empty and sterile; it is not a phrase that draws me into wanting to discover or explore or experience the meaning (and Person) that it represents. At a cognitive level it seems to cut off any sense of divinity to Jesus. I realize the Christology of Jesus is a challenging idea, but to call him the Human One seems to deny the possibility that he is the Son of God and God the Son."
The response of this reader mirrors what we heard in reading groups. We asked, "What do you think "son of man" means for Jesus? Many responded that "Jesus is divine." This confusion is similar to stating, "At a cognitive level [Human One] seems to cut off any sense of divinity to Jesus." The feedback is very clear evidence that many English speaking Christians confuse the meaning of two literal titles that are applied to their knowledge of Jesus: "son of man" is confused with the meaning of "son of God." Indeed, at a cognitive level many of us have a view of Jesus that is so transcendent that the incarnation is temporary, perhaps only while Jesus was a baby. In reading Matthew we see that the phrase "Son of God" or rather "God's Son" (as a title) is used frequently in the CEB translation. The CEB also refers to God as Father, accurately. So we have no agenda in the New Testament translation to deny the fully human and fully divine nature of Jesus, then and now. There is a preference in the CEB for clear English. Human One will become less of a surprise over time, but admittedly it is surprising to encounter it the first time if you memorized the KJV version. The act of reading a new translation makes you think about assumptions. Some Bible translators have further thoughts about this topic at
~~ Paul Franklyn
Associate Publisher  link

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