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Bible Versions: What is the Best Bible Translation? by David Malcolm Bennett

However, this agenda runs into great difficulty when it comes to the important phrase “Son of Man”, which was our Lord’s main way of referring to Himself. While it is clear that Jesus was a man, so “Son” is necessary, when trying to translate inclusively there is an obvious difficulty over “of Man”.

The NRSV has a multi-pronged approach to this problem, which, in my judgment, is most unsatisfactory. In Ezekiel the Hebrew ben ’adam, which is frequently used of the prophet, is translated in most versions as “son of man”. In the NRSV it is translated “mortal” or “O mortal”. Then in Dan. 7:13, the Aramaic phrase translated in the NIV as “one like a son of man” the NRSV translates as “one like a human being”, with a footnote stating that the Aramaic says, “one like a son of man”. The justification for the NRSV Daniel rendering is that the Aramaic phrase “clearly means just that” (that is, “one like a human being”). Yet the figure pictured in this verse is, presumably, male, as the footnote seems to concede. What is the point in hiding it? Then in the Gospels the NRSV translates the particular Greek expression as “Son of Man”, because there the term “often functions as a title.”11

In other words, what the NRSV translators have done is to translate Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek phrases, traditionally all translated “son of man” (see, for example, both KJV and NIV),12 in three different ways. This would seem to erect an unnecessary barrier to those seeking to understand our Lord’s meaning of the phrase in the light of its Old Testament background. This approach, frankly, is rather clumsy.

Now, it would be a mistake to condemn the use of inclusive language because of this.13 Other translations have adopted it in, shall we say, a more moderate way. The 2011 revision of the NIV has done so with, in my opinion, better results.14 For example, “But the man who loves God is known by God” (1 Cor. 8:13) has become “But whoever loves God is known by God.” Most regular readers of the NIV would read that revision without realizing that there had been a change, and few would raise an objection to it if it was pointed out. However, this revision still uses the words “man” or “mankind” for the whole human race, as the translators argue that these terms are still commonly used in that way. It has also kept the “son of man” quotations uniform.

Inclusive language? You may like it or you may not like it, but it has become part of today’s English, and Bible translators must respond to that.


So which is the best Bible translation? Well, we may never know in this life, though we will all have our preferences. But we are fortunate in having some very good ones. Make sure you regularly read at least one of them and encourage others to do so.




1 The New English Bible: New Testament (London: Oxford & Cambridge, 1961), vii-x; F.F. Bruce, The English Bible (London: Methuen, 1963), 224-30.

2 For those wishing to study this further see, James D. Price, Complete Equivalence in Bible Translation (Nashville: Nelson 1987), for the literal side, and Barclay Newman, et al, Creating and Crafting the Contemporary English Version: A New Approach to Bible Translation (New York: American Bible Society, 1996) for the dynamic. D.A. Carson also has a chapter on translation in The King James Version Debate: A Plea for Realism (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1979), 85-102. The United Bible Societies and Wycliffe also have a number of books on the principles of Bible translation.

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Category: Biblical Studies, Pneuma Review, Spring 2013

About the Author: David Malcolm Bennett, Ph.D., is an Anglo-Australian Christian researcher and writer with over 15 books in print. They include The Altar Call: Its Origins and Present Usage, The Sinner’s Prayer: Its Origins and Dangers (companion website:, The Origins of Left Behind Eschatology, Edward Irving Reconsidered: The Man, His Controversies, and the Pentecostal Movement, and The General: William Booth. He is also the transcriber, editor and publisher of The Letters of William and Catherine Booth and The Diary and Reminiscences of Catherine Booth.

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