The new Bible translation, the “Common English Bible,” published by a variety of mainline Protestant denominations, is said to rival the New Revised Standard Version in accuracy and usage. As readers get deeper into the translation, however, some find a few nuances puzzling or regrettable.
One such nuance is the CEB’s translation of the traditional “son of man” title (which Jesus ascribes to himself throughout the gospels) to “the Human One.”
According to the CEB official website, the reason for this decision is that translators sought to evoke the meaning behind the Greek “idiom” rather than to translate the Greek literally. The Greek phrase, “oius tou anthropos,” is literally son of a human, and the translators followed suit.
By translating the phrase to “the Human One,” the CEB translators feel that readers can get to the heart of the Greek language, which is both gender neutral (anthropos means “human” moreso than “man”) and theologically accurate from the point of view of the Old Testament (the Aramaic or Hebrew phrase, which Jesus would have used since he was Jewish, simply means “son of the humans”; see Daniel 7:13 NRSV).
The CEB board, in short, feels that “Human One” rightly communicates a Greek idiom. This is no different than when Bible scholars translate the Greek phrase, “sons of the weddinghall” to “wedding guests” (Matthew 9:5).
With Christ the King Sunday coming up this weekend, we may do well to resurrect (no pun intended) the meaning behind the “Son of Man” title from Jesus’ own point of view. I think that the CEB missed the mark in its reasoning for translating this phrase to “the Human One.”
Unlike the reasoning behind the CEB board’s decision, Jesus was not merely referring to himself from the perspective of Daniel 7:13. He was not expressing a principle about his humanity; rather, Jesus used the specific title, “Son of Man” to declare that he was the one–God’s very son, in fact–whom Israel was anticipating as the coming Messiah.
The title “Son of Man” was actually in wide usage during Jesus’ lifetime. It appeared, for instance, in the book of Enoch, a book that many Jews believed foretold of the coming Messiah as a “Son of Man who gathers God’s people and eats with them” (my summarized translation). Also, “Son of Man” was the title given to many messiahs that claimed to know what God was up to.
When Jesus referred to himself as “Son of Man,” he invoked a specific vocation that was both messianic and political. Jesus was not merely a human one, he was the “Son of Man” who came to inaugurate God’s Kingdom, to embody God’s reign on earth “as it is in heaven.”
“The time is fulfilled,” Jesus declared, “Repent for the Kingdom of God is near” (Mark 1:15). The time of the true Son of Man had arrived.
Christ the King Sunday is a day that affirms Jesus’ ascension and his ongoing lordship. Jesus is alive and well and, more importantly, reigns over all nations. He is the King of Kings, and Jesus’ very Kingdom continues to break into our world “like a mustard seed that grows into a large tree.”
The text for Christ the King Sunday comes from Matthew 25: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his throne of his glory” (v. 31). The “Son of Man” title declares two important components of what God is doing in and through Jesus: God gives Jesus authority and makes Jesus judge over all nations.
Jesus does not get this privilege because he is the human one; he participates in this unfolding mission precisely because he is the “Son of Man” that Israel anticipated from the earliest history. Christ is the Son of Man and therefore king.