“Son of Man” or “Human Beings” in the NIV 2011: What Difference Does It Make?

In answer to the question: What makes a translation [of the Bible] accurate?

I said: “Its ability to preserve the way that later biblical authors evoke earlier Scripture.”

You can read my explanation at the BibleGateway Perspectives in Translation forum.

The NIV 2011 provides a perfect illustration of my point. Hebrews 2:6–8 is quoting Psalm 8:5–7, but the NIV 2011 has a problem with the text.

Here is Psalm 8:4 in the NIV 2011:

what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?[c]

Here is the quotation of Psalm 8:4 in Hebrews 2:6 in the NIV 2011:

“What is mankind that you are mindful of them,
a son of man that you care for him?

The problem here is not that Psalm 8:4 says “human beings” rather than “son of man.” Psalm 8:4 says “son of man.” You can come to your own conclusions as to why the NIV 2011 prefers to render the phrase “son of man” in Psalm 8:4 as “human beings.”

I would argue that in Psalm 8 David is describing his role as a new Adam exercising dominion over God’s creation (cf. Ps 8:6–8 and Gen 1:26–28) so that God’s name/glory will cover the dry lands as the waters cover the sea (cf. Ps 8:1, 9). This is in keeping with the promises that God has made to David in 2 Samuel 7, which are restated in Psalm 2.

So in Psalm 8 David refers to himself as “son of man,” then talks about how God made him ruler over the beasts of the field. In Daniel 7, in the context of a vision of various beasts who have taken over the rule God’s world, Daniel sees “one like a son of man” approach the Ancient of Days and receive everlasting dominion. Then Jesus refers to himself as “son of man” all over the place in the gospels, and the author of Hebrews, discussing Jesus, quotes Psalm 8 in Hebrews 2.

So is it important to render Psalm 8:4 “son of man”? Or can we render it “human beings”?

The answer depends on what you prioritize.

Apparently the Committee on Bible Translation prioritizes something that causes them to change the words “son of man” in Psalm 8:4 to “human beings.”

If the highest priority is to translate what the text says so that the interconnectedness of Scripture can be maintained, so that people can understand the whole Bible and see how everything fits together “according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and on earth” (Eph 1:9–10, ESV), then simple phrases like “son of man” should be translated simply “son of man.”

No small theological matter is at stake here. Does it matter whether Psalm 8 can be seen to be pointing forward to Christ, who fulfills the Davidic pattern as the new Adam who will exercise dominion and make the name of the LORD majestic in all the earth?

Postscript: I hope that this post is rendered irrelevant by the Committee on Bible Translation changing the phrase in Psalm 8:4 from “human beings” to “son of man.” I know they have “son of man” in a footnote, but “son of man” should be in the text not in a footnote.

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