The Son of Man

I mentioned in a previous post that I have been occasionally using the newest version of the NIV translation in my Bible study to compare it to the earlier version published in 1984. I’m not pretending that I’ve made some kind of exhaustive study and compared every difference I find to the original languages of the verse in question. Instead, I’ve mostly been just reading and gathering thoughts as I go.

One of the most “controversial” aspects of this newest version of the NIV is its use of “gender inclusive” language in many parts. The stated goal of this is that some passages which in English use male pronouns or other words (like “man”) were never meant to have an exclusively male meaning, so the translation has been made to reflect this. For example, the older NIV for Psalm 1:1 states, “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked.” The translators for the newest revision of the NIV would argue that this verse doesn’t strictly refer to a male, but is a reference to any person. So the newest version translates Psalm 1:1, “Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked.”

A lot of these kinds of changes are initially jarring to those who know the previous version. But the more I think about many of them, the more sense they make. I wouldn’t want my children to someday read psalm 1 and come away with the idea that it is referring only to men. It’s not.

At the same time, I’m not sure every change like this has always been made for the better. There are a few times that I haven’t studied enough to know whether I truly agree that a change was justified. In other cases, such changes have obscured an important part of Scripture.

Take Psalm 8:3-5. Here it is in the NIV 1984 translation:

3 When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,

4 what is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?

5 You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor.

And here is the same passage in the newest revision of the NIV.

3 When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,

4 what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?

5 You have made them a little lower than the angelst
and crowned themt with glory and honor.

Did you catch the difference? It comes in verses 4-5. On one level, perhaps, the meaning hasn’t been changed. “Son of man” is a term for a human being, so changing it to “mankind” doesn’t change that. And this psalm does speak of God’s love in making all of mankind the crown of his creation. These verses, however, have more than one fulfillment. Jesus referred to himself most often as “the Son of Man.” These verses are also fulfilled in him, the Son of Man to whom his heavenly Father has subjected all things. Hebrews 2:5-9 uses these verses to refer specifically to Jesus, not just to mankind in general. The older version of the NIV allows for both fulfillments (or layers of meaning) in these verses in Psalm 8, the newest version of the NIV takes away the meaning that points to Christ. (Granted, there are footnotes in the new NIV at these verses that call attention to these changes.)

Any change that makes Christ harder to see in the Old Testament is a problematic change, in my opinion. Good pastors and teachers of the Word could of course explain the meaning behind the new translation and still teach the truth about Messianic prophecy. But will they? Do we really want a barrier in place that makes it more difficult to see Christ in the Word?

These are just my thoughts on these verses. This isn’t to say, again, that I am an expert on these translation issues and have the one right opinion on the matter. Nor is it to say that the newest NIV hasn’t also made some improvements over older versions (which I hope to have posts about in the future.) I just wanted to point this one possibly dangerous area out for your consideration. I’d appreciate your thoughts on the matter!



7 thoughts on “The Son of Man

  1. Psalm 1:1 also refers to Christ, the only one/man who never walked in the steps of the wicked. Blessed is that man. “Woman” is included in the English term “man” because “she was taken out of man.” (Genesis 2:23). “In the Lord … woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God. (1 Corinthians 11:11-12).

    • Thanks, Rick, good points! I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that Psalm 1 also points to Jesus, since he said that all Scripture “testifies about me” (John 5:39)! I also like the verse from 1 Corinthians you used talking about man and woman. Interestingly, the Hebrew for “woman” (ishah) also contains the Hebrew word for “man” (ish).

  2. I haven’t seen the new version but I wish they hadn’t decided to take the 1984 NIV off the market!
    It wasn’t hard to figure out where man means mankind after a pastor explained it. It took several years to understand that the whole Bible points to Christ. Seeing layered meanings in the Old Testament by myself is still tricky so it IS too bad that some passages will be even tougher to understand!
    The pastors I have met already do a phenomenal job of explaining scripture. I do wonder how hard it is for a pastor who grew up in a Christian home to see and correct all the wrong ideas an untrained mind gets from an innacurate understanding os Scripture.
    Whatever translation we wind up using in church, we know that the Holy Spirit will not fail us!

    • Hi Jenny, if you’d like to check out the newer NIV, you can find it online at places like or It’s either listed as just the NIV, or the NIV2010. The older NIV is usually called NIV84 or something like that. I’m not sure how long the older version will stay available once the new one gets printed in actual books (which I think will start some time this month if I heard correctly!)

      I think your comments about having a pastor help explain it are good, what a blessing to have pastors trained in the original languages who can be sure what the original said/meant at a given point! Definitely a plus in the worker-training system that I went through. And you’re right, a new translation won’t destroy God’s church; Jesus said the gates of hell would not stand against it! (Matt. 16:18)

  3. Thanks for this post! This is something that is being studied synodically (right now, COP-CICR-Seminary led). We’ll be hearing about it at conferences and I think at Convention.

    Our October pastoral study conference (South Central District pastors conference) will focus on reviewing this new NIV focusing on some major areas: means of grace, feminism/inclusive language, justification/synergism passages, translation philosophy, and I think also conversion/election, and OT Messianic prophecy.


    • Yes, I had heard that, too. Prof. Nass at MLC had mentioned some of that back in the summer when I was there for the Hebrew reading class. It really is a deep issue that affects everything we do. We need a good study on it; neither “seems okay to me” or “that’s different, I don’t like it” are good enough. I’d be interested to see what your conference comes up with for the areas you mention. I know I haven’t reached a conclusion in my own mind yet. It’s nice to know there are groups doing dedicated study on it.

      • Dear Chairman of the Colonial North Conference Steering Committee,

        Could we perhaps make a similar study during our 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 conferences/study clubs? Might want to contact our DP about what he’d recommend (especially since he’s on the English Translation Survey Committee), but I think it would be well-received among the brothers out here. Might want to check with our conference chairman too. Just a thought…

        In Christ,
        Ex-Chairman of the Colonial North Steering Committee and Current District Lackey

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