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Thursday, April 05, 2007

His days are as grass

One of the things that I have wanted to rescue, to redeem, from the barrage of issues in Bible translation, is the sense that I had, in reading as a child and teenager, in many languages at once, that there was a creature called the human. That this was important and that the human stood at the bottom of a heap of supernatural beings and forces - not near the top. Next stop before God.

In the Iliad and the Odyssey, in Greek tragedy, in the Hebrew scriptures as they appeared to me in the KJV, there were beings called humans - who were at the mercy of the universe. (I think these creatures also existed in French literature as well.) These creatures were frail, mortal, vulnerable, and not in control; they tried, they had pride, they failed.

They were anthropos.

So I was surprised to see that this word anthropos, so full of meaning for me, is not always understood and translated as such in English. I certainly understood that 'man' in the KJV was the same as the Greek anthropos. Man was the human.

However, in this verse anthropos is not translated at all now.

    God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one (ουδεις ανθρωπων) has seen or can see. 1 Tim. 6:15-16 TNIV (ESV is similar)

    the King of kings, and Lord of lords; Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man (ουδεις ανθρωπων)hath seen, nor can see: KJV
I would think from reading the Greek that anthropos could be translated as the 'mortal'. No mortal has seen the immortal.

However, there is already a significant shift in translation philosophy in other passages. Here is Psalm 8:4 in the TNIV.

    what are mere mortals that you are mindful of them,
    human beings that you care for them?

    Or what is a human being that you are mindful of him,
    a son of man that you care for him?
The TNIV website provides this commentary,

    It is clear that Psalm 8 is not speaking about one particular "man" but about humanity in general, about humanity's place in the scheme of things, in the order of creation. When the psalmist asks "What is 'enosh? [traditionally rendered "What is man?"], he uses a generic word for humanity that hints at human frailty.
The Hebrew is as follows,

    מָה-אֱנוֹשׁ כִּי-תִזְכְּרֶנּוּ;
    וּבֶן-אָדָם, כִּי תִפְקְדֶנּוּ
Then I started looking for confirmation that 'enosh אֱנוֹשׁ does have the sense of human frailty. The lexicon says little about this, although related words have the sense of' illness.

My only good clue so far is that I found this article, which I can't access but I hope that isn't a problem - that I have not misunderstood. The title has this phrase in it "as for man his days are as grass" from Psalm 103:15.* According to google, the article contains this quote,

    Thus, in the psalm and in Isaiah, the speakers. emphasize that humans (’enosh, flesh) are mortal and that their fragile existence ...
Surely we can recapture this sense of human frailty and give anthropos a rich and full meaning without worrying about gender. I am curious. Does 'enosh really imply frailty and do others have the same sense of anthropos that I have?

HT: Rick and Larry who reviewed and compared the NASB and the NRSV in a series of posts on This Lamp. I enjoyed the full series.

* Psalm 103:13-17 KJV

Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear him.
For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust.
As for man, his days are as grass: as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth.
For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone; and the place thereof shall know it no more.
But the mercy of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him, and his righteousness unto children's children;


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