Thursday, 25 August 2011

Second Thoughts for First Things

Over at First Things there is a brief but pungent rant about, among other things, the choice taken to render as 'the human one' the time honored term 'son of man' in the new Common English Bible.

Reviewer Matthew Cantirino hits every panic button within reach; political correctness, dumbing down, ideological bias...
[T]he CEB in general maims well-known expressions and sayings and renders Biblical language pedestrian to such a degree that Scripture becomes indistinguishable from ordinary speech. Pathos is drained utterly out of the text. This willingness to cater to society’s informality is a more subtle concession than the adoption of studied academic non-offensiveness, and it cannot as hastily be dismissed as a transparent ideological machination.

King James English, and most subsequent translations, are well known to flatter the Greek, which lacks much in the way of sophisticated literary quality.  Cantirino is jousting with a mirage.
The fundamental problem is that the translators of the CEB seem to believe Christianity should submit to all stylistic demands of the culture it finds itself in, even if those demands leave it shorn of much of its complexity, elegance, and history, if not its core truths. In charity, this is a debate over means. Does effective conveyance of the Gospel—even to our highly democratic society—really require the kind of bland prose found in the CEB? Can such a stripped-down language hope to stand apart from a world of text messages and formulaic business-talk? The answer, I think, is no.
Again, rubbish.  Complexity, elegance... these come to the text largely after the fact.  Cantirino is arguing from an anachronism.  Bland  prose, stripped down language; these are closer to the original qualities of most of the New Testament writings.  And strangely enough it was these rather rough, "pedestrian" documents that - in "ordinary speech" - both fuelled and forged the new faith.

Son of Man, or son of man?  A christological title or a statement asserting the essential humanity of Jesus?  It's hard to be dogmatic given the later redactors' intentions, but one thing is pretty certain, none of the New Testament writers were Trinitarians.  That interpretation - whether rightly or wrongly - came much later.  Even an appeal to Daniel 7:13 is unconvincing.  The NRSV reads: "I saw one like a human being coming with the clouds of heaven."  The Revised English Bible uses the identical expression.  The point seems to be that this exalted figure is something quite apart from the standard apocalyptic menagerie, appearing in plain human form, not as a winged lion, or something from the special effects in a Harry Potter film.

The reviewer is also offended to find that in the CEB Adam is referred to as “the human” while Eve is still called “woman.”  But as David Nickol points out in a comment, 'adam' is a generic term embracing both sexes.  That's not called political correctness, it's called accuracy, a truckload of hallowed tradition not withstanding.  The reviewer has no grounds for pouting.

If there's an ideological bias to be outed, perhaps Mr. Cantirino might have benefited from examining his own first.


  1. Yes, Adam is indeed an androgynous character in the Genesis text. But if Adam is somewhere inbetween man and woman and Eve is fully woman, wouldn't that make their offspring (and the rest of humandkind) more feminine than masculine?

  2. The title, "the Son of man", comes from the Jewish apocalyptic literature (the books of Daniel and Enoch) about a heavenly character who is to come and judge the world and destroy the wicked.

    The gospels calling Jesus "the Son of man" means that either Jesus thought of himself as being that character or Jesus was preaching about the coming "Son of man" and his followers misunderstood and thought he meant himself.

    Either way, Jesus was not that character, because he did not fulfill that prophecy. "The Son of man" in Daniel and 1Enoch does not get himself killed either, as a sacrifice or otherwise.

    That's probably the reason that Jesus was supposed to return as "the Son of man" and then fulfill the prophecy at a later time. The thing is though, that the fourth kingdom that "the Son of man" is supposed to destroy at his coming doesn't exist anymore.

  3. Every time a new Bible comes out there is pro and con. As long as they are reasonably the same, who cares?

    An individual has the right to choose which version of the Bible they are going to use. I like my version, but I have more than one. I have compared them and there is very little difference.

    Then there are the politically correct versions which translate man to mankind and give psychological value to women. But as long as they are not redacting vast amounts or replacing vast amounts, to each his own.

    I can't remember the name of the version, but I did read one that read like a modern english novel instead of "Holy Scripture".

    Why we need a new version? I guess it is because some "wise" elders get bored with the whole book after reading it for forty years and decide to get interested in words and translations and languages. Or it could be for the same reason we all go to work, ............a paycheck!

  4. There are a handful of issues which I believe all of us would like to see definitively resolved, and a new translation of the Bible, especially one involving unbiased scholars, would present an occasion to examine such issues anew.

    In discussions from the past, pro-trinitarians have quoted NT scriptures which attribute personal emotions, reactions, or feelings to the Holy Spirit. Non-trinitarians then introduce "personification", and cite Proverbs' personification of "wisdom". Notes in Proverbs in my study Bible equate "wisdom" with Jesus Christ, as the character traits are quite comparable.

    If the NT Holy Spirit verses are personification, I find myself wondering why they were inspired in this fashion, unless that was what we were intended to think. It's difficult to conceptualize the Holy Spirit as a force, when it is plain that He or It is interactive. It has been quite obvious to me that the Holy Spirit is not present or active in the groups which call Him a force.