In my last post I mentioned John 3:22 as a verse that is mistranslated in the NRSV, leading to problems; but the problems of interpretation are not that enormous there – the translators simply removed an internal inconsistency by the way they mistranslated the verse. This second problem, the subject of this post, is more severe. A mistranslation has completely altered the meaning of a passage; it is the result of a very good motive – to make the translation gender-inclusive. But motive has led to a very bad result in this case.
The policy of the NRSV was to render gender neutral statements in a gender neutral way. If a passage refers to humans in general, then it does not make sense to translate it as referring only to “men” (or only to “women” for that matter). And so instead of “man” the translators chose to use “person” or “human” or – if the mortality of people is the issue – “mortals” or … whatever; instead of “men” they used “people,” “humans,” etc. That’s fine and works well in most cases. (In a later post or two I’ll talk about issues of inclusive language more generally.)
For example, one of the most beautiful of the psalms, Ps. 8:
What are human beings that you are mindful of them, or mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than God and crowned them with glory and honor.
The terms in Hebrew, as it turns out, are singular, so that older translations read “What is man that you are mindful of him, or the son of man that you care for him…” etc. But the psalmist is not talking only about a male person; he is speaking of persons, who are made just a little lower than God.
And so I very much like the<
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