THE PROBLEM OF THE NRSV TRANSLATION. PART II. PARTICULARS

THE SON OF MAN

THE PROBLEM OF THE NRSV TRANSLATION. PART II. PARTICULARS

This text appeared anonymously on my desk in 1992. Given its style and scholarship, I suspect it originated in Rome. One might guess at the Author. If requested I would gladly acknowledge the Author's rights.

(Note: The RSV text is shown to contrast a literal translation using classical English with what has been done in the NRSV.)

1 GEN. 1: 26-27

RSV: Then God said, "Let us make man (Adam) in our image, after our likeness and let them have dominion" So God created man (ha 'adam) in his own image in the image of God he created him (oto); male and female he created them (otam).

NRSV: Then God said," Let us make humankind in our own image, according to our likeness; let them have dominion, So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

COMMENT : Use of the collective term "humankind" for Adam obscures the play between the first man Adam and the human race inherent in the term Adam, the play between the individual and  collectivity ( implying a unity in diversity or a type of corporate personality) , and the fact that each man is created in his image. In addition, the use of "man" is very appropriate in view of the long theological tradition which interprets the image of God in Christ as the man par excellence, both singularly and corporately, because he is the image of God par excellence.

2. PSALM 1:1

RSV: blessed is the man (ish) who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers.....

NRSV: Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers......


PSALM 1:3

RSV: He is like a tree planted by streams of water- In all that he does, he prospers.

NRSV: They are like trees planted by streams of water....In all that they do they prosper.

COMMENT. The "General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours" presents the liturgical tradition of the Church's use of the Psalter as her prayer:"The Fathers , and the Liturgy itself, could legitimately hear in the singing of the psalms the voice of Christ crying out to the Father, or the Father conversing with the Son.....a Christological meaning is by no means confined to the recognized Messianic psalms but is given also to many others"(109).Throughout her history, for example, the Church has seen this psalm with which the Psalter begins as reference to Christ at prayer, in whose name, and in imitation of whom she prays continuously. But the NRSV does not allow this traditional liturgical sense of the Church praying the Psalms with Christ when it changes the singular person of the Hebrew original text to the plural, a means of providing an "inclusive" English version.

PSALM 1:1
Eusebius:"The tree is at once the Son of God - and the just man......

Hilarion: "The tree of life is Christ..............

Gregory the Great:" In Holy Scripture the tree symbolises sometimes the cross, sometimes man (just or unjust), and sometimes incarnate Wisdom."

Hippolytus: "In place of the wood (the forbidden tree of Paradise), this wood (the Cross) takes root...."

Psalm 1:3

Origen: "What better beginning for the Psalter than this prophecy and this praise of the Perfect Man in the Saviour!"

Eusebius: Every man desires bliss; that is why this first psalm describes " He who" is truly happy. The first blissful One is the Saviour .This psalm concerns Him Who is the "Bridegroom of His Church."

Augustine: Jesus Christ had not gone off following the way of the wicked one. He refused an earthly kingdom..."

A smaller point: it might be noted that in Verse 1 of the NRSV in addition the contrast between the virtuous man who seems to stand alone and the undefined mass of sinners is lost.

3 DANIEL 7:13

RSV: I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man (bar enash) and was presented before him......

NRSV:  As I watched in the night visions, I saw one like a human being coming with the clouds of heaven.....

Comment: In the New Testament synoptic gospels, the title "Son of Man" is the most common one used of Jesus; he even uses it of himself. Its use is unexpected and has been the subject of much theological reflection, and it is a factor in our understanding of the development of the Christology of the New Testament. In accord with the classic principle of theological interpretation of the Scripture
(Novum latet in Vetere, Vetus patent in Novo) , Catholic theology necessarily considers how the phrase "Son of Man " is used throughout the Scriptures, and how the New Testament authors may have seen it applied to Jesus in the light of its Old Testament antecedents.

One finds the classic texts for this theological discussion in John 3:13-14 and Mark 13:26. John 3 says:"No one has ascended into heaven bur He who has descended from heaven the Son of Man. and as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up - that whoever looks upon Him may have eternal life." Mark 13 says:"And then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. And then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the Earth to the ends of heaven."  The citations are from the RSV, but the NRSV is not different here.

However, note the NRSV translation of Daniel 7:13 (cf. above), the Old Testament text which is commonly understood as the antecedent to which these texts allude. The NRSV inserts an interpretation about what the phrase "son of man" means in the Old Testament Book of Daniel, instead of giving the actual English translation of the phrase. The passage from Daniel is important for a full understanding of the Christological title "Son of Man" as used in the gospels. In the NRSV translation, that full understanding is impeded for English- speaking readers, since Daniel no longer refers to the "son of man".

Finally in the context of a translation which as a rule suppresses the generic use of "man, allowing it to remain only occasionally such as in the time honored title "son of man" could give rise to confusion. For now it would come to mean not son of man (homo) but son of man (vir).


PSALM 8: 2-5

RSV:When I look at thy heavens , the works of thy fingers, the moon and the stars which thou hast established; what is man (enosh) that thou art mindful of him, and the son of man (bar adam) that thou dost care for him? Yet thou hast made Him little less than God, and dost crown him with glory and honour.

NRSV: When I look at your heavens, the works of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honour.

COMMENT: A loss of correspondence between Old and New Testaments occurs again here. The Letter to the Hebrews which quotes Psalm 8 begins by saying that -

RSV: .....in these last days God has spoken to us by a Son... He sat down at the right hand of the majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels and the name he has obtained is more excellent than theirs. For to what angel did God ever say "Thou art My Son?"....

The logic is continued in Chapter 2:5:

RSV: for it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking. It has been testified somewhere, "What is man (anthtsopos) that thou art mindful of him or the son of man (huios anthropou), that thou carest for him? Thou didn't make him for a little while lower than the angels; thou hast crowned him with glory and honour, putting everything in subjection under his feet. Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. As it is we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, crowned with glory and honour because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

Note, however, the NRSV version of Hebrews 2:6ff:

NRSV: But someone has testified somewhere, What are human beings that you are mindful of them, or mortals that you care for them? You have made them for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned them with glory and honour, subjecting all things under their feet." Now in subjecting all things to them, God left nothing outside their control. as it is we do not yet see everything in subjection to them , but we do see Jesus, who for a little  while was made lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honour because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.
It would seem clear from this comparison that there are serious implications for a proper doctrinal understanding of Son of Man" Christology.












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