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Norm six: biblical man and layers of meaning.

We now come to the last of the six Vatican norms on translating the Bible. Norm 6 is ultimately about the word MAN, which is a bugbear to feminists, but a major pole of Scripture from the creation of Adam and Eve.

Norm 6 speaks, in three parts, of more than man. It mentions layers of meaning, connotation, denotation, Christological meaning, and Christian anthropology. The conclusion will be, say man in English when you translate the word MAN from Hebrew or Greek (or Latin); don't say one of the sixty-plus "equivalents" thought up by feminist translators of the Bible. The article on this by Dr. Thaddeus Pruss (Oct. 1995, "64 Shadows of man") contributed powerfully to this discussion. See also his other essays, CI Jan. and Aug. '95 issues.

Part I of Norm 6 reminds us that God's words can have "layers of meaning," that is, more than one sense. This can happen, not only because God willed it, but also because a certain word has "connotations," that is, associated meanings or echoes of meaning. For example, the word man in the same sentence as God may express antithesis, such as between creator and creature, Holy One and sinner, strong and weak, and so forth. This antithesis can be important to the meaning or meanings of the passage and can be weakened or eliminated if man is translated lamely by a word such as mortal or human. Our norm here tells us, translate so as not to lose connotations.

Part 2 of Norm 6 instances the case of "Christological" texts, that is, passages frequent in the Old Testament that speak prophetically in some way of Christ. Now Christ (Messiah, Cristos) is in fact a man, is masculine. Feminist disdain for the masculine must not be allowed to alter the translation in a way that weakens or "precludes" the Christological meaning. The verb preclude means EXclude, the opposite of INclude. It is ironic that feminist care to include woman (as is alleged by feminist rhetoric) can result in excluding Christ.

The feminists' problem word

Part 3 (the last part) of Norm 6 finally zeroes in on the great sensitive problem word of feminism, the word MAN, which occurs literally hundreds of times in the Bible. Briefly, the rule is, say man when translating Adam (Hebrew) and anthropos (Greek). Likewise, for homo (Latin) if we are translating the Latin Vulgate Bible. These languages may have a different word (such as the Latin vir) when the meaning is a male individual. English, French, and Italian, to name three modern languages, do not have this special word for a male individual. Man, homme, uomo has to suffice for both meanings of man: general and male-individual. There was no trouble or debate about this sufficiency of man until feminist complaints began in the 1970s.

The Bible uses the word MAN fully two thousand and three hundred times. Almost all of these uses of MAN must be changed by the feminist translator to meet the new feminist Bible rules that forbid the word man except when it means a male individual. Professor Pruss in his brilliant and thorough essay (CI, Oct. '95) found 64 "shadows", that is, replacement words for MAN. They falsify the meaning of Scripture and betray the truth. For example, the substitute all that live (NRSV Prov. 8:4) could include plants and animals. Mortals suggests that man is essentially prone to death, yet God, made Adam and Eve immortal, and calls us all to everlasting life in Heaven. Another substitute our enemies (NRSV Ps. 124:2), is a term that dehumanizes the men concerned and lessens the horror. Moreover, it could include things, such as addictions, diseases, and devils, which were not intended by the author. The substitution of population for men reduces the sense of human responsibility. And so it goes. Patriarchy-hating feminists are corrupting the Word of God in the NRSV Bible, which is read to our people every day and week.

Why keep man?

What is the reason for this decision to retain the word man? The general reason is fidelity to the inspired text, as set forth in Norm 2, and repeated or implied throughout all the norms. The particular reason enunciated in Norm 6, is that "only this word man effectively conveys the play between the individual, the collectivity, and the unity of the human family." Then it immediately adds that this play or tension or connotation of Scripture about the human reality is "so important to Christian doctrine and (Christian) anthropology." Anthropology is the formal (academic) study of man.

The Gospel says that Jesus "knew what was in man" (John 2:25). Man here implies human nature, human weakness, the condition of fallen man, every human, and more besides. No word says all this better, more simply, more vividly and more faithfully than plain, ordinary man. Any explanation belongs not in the text but in the footnotes or commentaries.

Pontius Pilate, at the trial of Jesus, exclaims to the multitude, "Behold the man!" (Jn 19:15). Jesus says to the hostile Jews, "I do not receive glory from men" (Jn 5:41). The agnels at Bethlehem cry "Glory to God . . . and peace to men . . .!" (Lk 2:14). Jesus says to his disciples, "Blessed are you when men . . . persecute you "(Mt 5:11) None of these passages is improved or clarified by using another word for man/men.


Catholic Insight has concluded its commentary on the six Vatican Norms for Bible translation. It has appeared in five instalments, starting in September 1997, page 6, and continuing in March, April, November and December 1998. Let the reader be reminded that these Norms have not yet been published officially by the Vatican, and were leaked to the Catholic press in July 1997. When they do reach official public status, they may possibly show some modification or refinement. The Norms were made necessary by feminist pressure to change certain words and passages in the Bible to accommodate, at least partially, that powerful, secular and revolutionary ideology: radical feminism. One Bible so modifies was the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) published initially in 1962 and amended for inclusive language in 1989.

The Catholic Bishops of Canada adopted this Bible for their new edition of the Roman Lectionary published in 1992, but failed to request the necessary Vatican approval. Vatican disapproval of the NRSV Bible was announced in July 1994, after many pastors had bought the new lectionaries. The president and vice-president of the Canadian Bishops Conference met promptly with Vatican officials, including Cardinal Ratzinger, and on 9 November 1994 a statement appeared from the Canadian Bishops, bearing marks of a Vatican hand. The last sentence of that statement said the following: "It was also agreed that in the meantime there would be no change in the status of the Lectionary, which will continue to be used by English-speaking parishes in Canada."

This carefully-worded conclusion does NOT actually say that the NRSV Lectionary MAY be used, NOR that it is approved, even temporarily, by the Vatican. Its status, since the Lectionary was expressly disqualified by the Vatican letter of July 1994, "remains unchanged." In view of these documentary fine points, and considering the harmful invitation to so many Catholic ears by the feminist wordings and changes in the Word of God in this lectionary, it is to be hoped that the Catholic Church will soon be granted a new lectionary in English, using a Bible version that follows faithfully the six Norms.

Since probably all Bibles produced in the 20th century are infected to some extent with unfaithful trends and with falling short of the Six Norms, the present writer suggests that the Douai-Rheims-Challoner Catholic Bible would be the most faithful version, after suitable emendation according to the Latin Neovulgate version. This emendation should be done in the Vatican by English literary and Latin experts in collaboration with Vatican scripture authorities, and should be a product for all English-speaking lands and groups, not just for Canada. This would be an unprecedented and exceedingly faihful act of Catholic ecumenism. For this, may the Saints intercede.
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Author:Somerville, Stephen
Publication:Catholic Insight
Date:Dec 1, 1998
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