What’s Good for the Goose…

The NAB is a decent Bible translation, but it’s much too much a product of its times (the 1970s) and gives too much weight to “progressive” theological movements. I’ve complained about this before, but was amused by it on Sunday.  One of the pet peeves of feminist Biblical criticism is the fact that in Greek, the usual term for “people” is literally “men,” and the term for “one” (as in, “an individual) is “man.”  The reason is the Greek word anthrōpos, from which we get words like anthropology, is actually masculine noun.  Feminist scholars see sexism encoded into the language. Perhaps.  But it strikes me as absolutely natural, like saying “you guys” to a group of men and women, or “let men, there songs employ,” when meaning humans.

It’s so natural, in fact, that English — which didn’t start out that way — ended up adopting the same thing Greek has, where the default word for “males” and “humans” were the same.  In English, the opposite of a woman was a werman (this prefix is where the word werewolf comes from, fyi).  “Men” meant both males (wermen) and females (women).  Ironically, this means that saying “men” to mean both sexes is the non-sexist option, as well as the most historically accurate way to use the term. But honestly, as long as no one is saying “the only humans are men,” (which no one is), I don’t really care either way.  Listeners realize that “you guys” and anthrōpos effectively have two different meanings, and are smart enough to know which meaning is intended.

All that said, it strikes me that in addition to being a pointless battle for feminism, it’s also a hypocritical one.  In the most ridiculous forms of the approach, all references to God are neutered so women won’t feel offended that God self-identifies in the masculine. But the devil?  He can stay a male.

Yesterday’s Readings emphasized the absurd double standard beautifully.  The Gospel was from Matthew 4, in which Jesus says to the devil, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God’ (Matthew 4:3).  The NAB neutered the passage to One does not live on bread alone,but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.’ The word in question, as you might have guessed, was anthrōpos. It literally means “man,” but Jesus obviously means this to apply to both men and women.

But right before that, we heard the Second Reading, from Romans 5, in which St. Paul wrote, ‘Through one man sin entered the world,and through sin, death,and thus death came to all men, inasmuch as all sinned’ (Romans 5:12).  Here, Paul’s using the exact same wordanthrōpos, only in its plural form (literally “men,” not “man”).  And like Jesus, Paul’s using it to mean both men and women.  The only difference is that here, it’s negative.  So, I kid you not, this was read as “death came to all men,” not “death came to all people.

As an extra twist, I discovered in writing this post that the NAB itself neutered both — its version of Romans 5:12 is “Therefore, just as through one person sin entered the world, and through sin, death, and thus death came to all, inasmuch as all sinned.”  Perhaps someone in the USCCB realized how poor of a translation that is.  Is it really necessary to avoid calling that “one person,” Adam, a man?  His name means man.

And ultimately, this is the problem with trying to neuter Scripture.  You either do it all the way (like the NAB) until chunks of the Bible become unreadable, for fear that somewhere, a woman will be offended; or you do it randomly (like the USCCB) and come off looking hypocritical, like it’s “person” when it’s good, and “men” when it’s bad.  There’s an obvious solution, of course.  Leave Scripture alone.  Translate the word “men” as “men,” without trying to guess for each passage whether it’s just as accurate to translate it “people.”  Readers are smart enough to get that phrases like “men” and “mankind” are often used to mean males and females alike. Stop playing politics with the word of God, and just translate it accurately.


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