Thursday, September 23, 2010

CEB: The Human One

Probably one of the most obvious and risky translation decisions the Common English Bible committee went with was translating ben adam (Hebrew) or ho huios tou anthropou (Greek) as "the Human One" throughout the Old and New Testament. I certainly give them credit for taking this risk, but does it work?
Here is a long quote from the CEB blog about why they made this decision. It is worth taking a look at:
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."
The Aramaic equivalent to ben adam in Daniel 7:13 is bar enosh. The book of Daniel anticipates that the Messiah will be "like a human being." This text is the probable source (along with 1 Esdras) for the messianic expectation that is rendered in the New Testament title for Jesus huios to anthropou, which meant to Jewish readers in the first century that Jesus is a human being, just as they expected about the Messiah.
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.
Couple points I would like to start this discussion out with:
1) Yes, it is tough to see how changing an important Christological word like "Son of Man" can be justified. That title has been used the lexicon of theological discussion for 2000 years.
2) I do appreciate the fact that they will be translating it consistently throughout the Old and New Testament. One of my big beefs with the NRSV is that it is inconsistent in how it translates this title from both Old to New Testament, but also withing the New Testament itself (see Hebrews 2). The fact that the NRSV does contain the textual notes indicating this change does remedy this to some degree however.
3) This change is certainly jarring when you first come upon it.


Francesco said...

Jarring indeed! Even though its the Bible I grew up with, I've never gotten used to the CCB's use of "the human one" for "the son of man".

I can't imagine how the folks in the pews will take it if they decide to use this during worship services.

Diakonos said...

Francesco - If by CCB you mean the Christian Community Bible then we must have different editions. I have long used the CCB: Catholic Pastoral Edition (c. 2003)and both OT and NT passages translate it as "son of man".

Francesco said...

Diakonos -

You're right! I guess I'm such an avid reader of the CCB's notes that I must have switched the term in the footnote (which does say "the Human One") in for the verse from Daniel. It was so ingrained in my mind that I was about to write to say that the 2003 version must have changed from my 1996 version.

What edition do you have? Mine is the 17th edition.


Timothy said...


I was wondering if you would be interested in writing a guest review/summary of the CCB for this blog. While I do have a copy, I would certainly like to hear from someone who is more familiar with this translation. You seem to be the perfect person to ask. If so, just send me an email and we can talk.
mccorm45 (at) yahoo (dot) com

Diakonos said...

Francesco - I am fortunate to have received the CCB:CPE in a genuine leather zippered binding (don't think its any longer available), 34th edition, copyright 2003. I am not familiar with other editions but this one has fantastic appendices, study articles, elaborate timeline summaries of biblical events and Catholic teaching, two ribbons and colored art (though not a lot).

I have used it as my primary Bible ever since though not exclusively. I havemet a good number of "solid Catholics" who scoff at the CCB and it amazes me. I often ask if they have read it or its notes. Usually the answer is negative. I know it has been a preferred version of the Bible in some orthodox Charismatic communities (along with the Jerusalem Bible).

I use it more for the notes than the translation, though I do like the translation. I find it odd that some of these Catholics scoff at it because in my 7 years of use (though I haven't read everything in it) I have found the notes and articles to be much more in line with the Catholic Tradition than those I have read in the NAB Study bible, NOAB, and even the NJB. I suppose the emphasis upon social justice might be what turn them off. While the notes do bring out many academic aspects they are certainly waymore oriented (as the CCB says) to nurturing a "catechism of christian living".

Anonymous said...

I am sure that the nun's who run around my parish saying things like, "centering prayer" and "authentic self" and "inner healing" will soon be calling Jesus "the Human One." eg "If one will only give one's self in centering prayer, one will discover the authentic self in the phenomenon of the Human One and find there inner healing and transcendent peace." Sounds like a great new example of "common English" to me!

Anonymous said...

Have had the New Testament for several weeks now and have read some of this new translation every day. I feel there are many "jarring" changes in this translation. I am not sure I could become comfortable with this translation to use on a daily basis for devotion and studying.
Sharon in Waxahachie

Timothy said...


Yes, I am really not too sure what to make of the CEB. There just seems to be too many jarring changes as you said, plus I am not sure if the style of language used will hold up for 20 or 30 years into the future. I am just not sure.

Anonymous said...

I really like and enjoy the CEB, which I am using in a small group study. The group has discussed this translation, and we seem to agree that this version is much simpler to understand.

I have used the RSV, the Good News, the NIV, and King James. I think the CEB is far superior to any of them. And, perhaps, it is the KJV of our time. A bible designed for we "common folk".

I am certainly looking forward to the Old Testament in Common English.

By the way, "the Human One" surprised me when I first encountered the phrase, but I quickly understood its meaning, and familiarity with continued reading has had the effect of Making it comfortable for me. We humans are adaptable.