Wednesday, October 03, 2012

What Should We Think of the New International Version 2011? (Part 2)

A frequent problem with some new translations of the Bible is that, in their effort to use language that is more "gender neutral," the translation becomes less accurate; and, in the translation of some passages, loses theological integrity.  This is particularly true in the translation of the theologically significant phrase "Son of Man."

Consider Psalm 8:4-6 from the 1984 NIV:
4 what is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?
5 You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor.
6 You made him ruler over the works of your hands;
you put everything under his feet
In the 2011 NIV Psalm 8:4-6 becomes:
4 what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?
5 You have made them a little lower than the angels
and crowned them with glory and honor.
6 You made them rulers over the works of your hands;
you put everything under their feet
What can be seen in verse 4 is a rich parallelism between man (or mankind) in the first half of the verse with the Son of Man, the Messiah, in the second half of the verse.  This passage, which is widely considered a Messianic reference, now has that reference obscured by being translated as only referring to human beings (plural) throughout.

Students of the Bible will recognize that Jesus may have had such passages in mind when he referred to himself as the Son of Man.  Not only that, but the (inspired) writer of the Letter to the Hebrews obviously considered this passage from Psalm 8 to be a Messianic reference when he quotes it in Hebrews 2:5-9,
5 It is not to angels that he has subjected the world to come, about which we are speaking. 6 But there is a place where someone has testified:

“What is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?
7 You made him a little lower than the angels;
you crowned him with glory and honor
8 and put everything under his feet.”

In putting everything under him, God left nothing that is not subject to him.  Yet at present we do not see everything subject to him.  9 But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.
In the 2011 NIV this passage from Hebrews becomes:
5 It is not to angels that he has subjected the world to come, about which we are speaking. 6 But there is a place where someone has testified:

“What is mankind that you are mindful of them,
a son of man that you care for him?
7 You made them a little lower than the angels;
you crowned them with glory and honor
8 and put everything under their feet.”

In putting everything under them, God left nothing that is not subject to them.  Yet at present we do not see everything subject to them.  9 But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.
The distinction is that, in other translations and for most biblical scholars, everything from the latter half of verse 6 and following is arguably a Messianic reference.  In the 2011 NIV, only in verse 9 does the passage begin clearly to refer to the Messiah.  The whole thrust of verses 7 and 8 has been switched from the Son of Man (the Messiah) to human beings; and "the son of man" (a reference to the Messiah) in verse 6 becomes "a son of man" (a reference to a human individual) in the 2011 NIV.

I have to confess that the first time I read verses 7 and 8 in the 2011 NIV I was impressed at what a nice, clever, and insightful translation it was.  (Actually the word that came to mind was that it was a very "slick" way to handle the translation of this passage.)  But then, recognizing the enormous shift in the focus of the verses, I quickly regained my senses and realized that the test of any Bible translation is not whether it is a nice, clever, or insightful (or slick) translation, but is it a truthful and accurate translation?

While I am somewhat sympathetic to the aims of a dynamic equivalence translation, I believe readers can only be assured of the truthfulness and accuracy of theology-laden passages like the one from Psalm 8, quoted in Hebrews 2, if we translate what the writer actually said rather than what we think he might have meant, or what we would prefer to have him say to our contemporary ears.

3 comments:

The Underground Pewster said...

So what did they do to the son of man reference in Daniel 7:13?

Mark said...

Thanks for posting this. It reminds me of a very similar error in the NRSV.

I've ranted, I mean, posted about this now myself:
http://wannabeanglican.blogspot.com/2012/10/the-2011-niv-goes-off-rails.html

Robert S. Munday said...

Underground Pewster,

The 2011 NIV leaves the "son of man" reference in Daniel 7:13. I suppose that the translators might say that, since this is a prophetic vision, it is all right to mention the Son of Man. I guess, for them, Messianic references only occur in prophetic visions, and that seemingly ordinary passages cannot also be prophetic or contain Messianic references.