Features

Regendering in Spanish?

National | From "hijo del hombre" to "el ser humano"

Issue: "There they go again," June 5, 1999

Back in February, a WORLD reader wrote with a concern. He had just bought a new Spanish translation of the Bible and observed that it was gender-revised, although it didn't say so on the cover. He reported that IBS held the copyright and Vida, a Zondervan subsidiary, published the Nueva Version Internacional.

This seemed improbable: Why would the two organizations turn around and do to Spanish readers what they were scolded for doing or planning to do to the NIV in America? But it turns out they went partially down the same road-and would have gone further, except that Spanish is more resistant to gender-tampering. As Moises Silva, a professor of New Testament at Gordon Conwell and member of the translating committee, put it, "Some of these more general terms like 'human being' sound unnatural in Spanish."

The main goal of the new translation was increased readability, not regendering. "It wasn't much of an issue," Dr. Silva said. The translators made gender changes if the reference in Greek and Hebrew "was to both men and women, and if it sounded natural in Spanish," Dr. Silva said. Instead of gender becoming the controlling factor in translating decisions, natural-sounding Spanish was, despite the prodding by several committee members to create a translation more in tune with feminist sensibilities.

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Nonetheless, a careful reader will notice changes, although not as many as in English regendered versions. In Genesis 1:26 and 5:1 the word translated "hombre" (man) in older Spanish translations is now translated "ser humano" (human being). Going from man to human being is a subtle shift in nuance away from the complex association of Adam (the man) and Adam (the human race). It fiddles with the idea of naming, which in Hebrew is fundamental.

In both Hebrews 2:6 and Psalm 8:4 the words traditionally translated "hijo del hombre" (son of man) have been changed to "el ser humano" (human being). This change masks the messianic meaning of the Psalm and in that sense represents a radical change in theology; even the NIVI (the English-language regendered version) did not change Hebrews 2:6 from "son of man" to "human being." (It did change Psalm 8 to read "what are mere mortals that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them.")

In Daniel 7:13 the Spanish equivalent for "son of man" has been changed to "con aspecto humano" (one with a human appearance), again masking the reference to Christ and blurring the connections between the Old Testament use of the term son of man and Christ's use of it to refer to himself in the Gospels.

In Acts 1:21 the Nueva Version makes it seem as though the apostles aren't choosing a replacement for Judas from among the "men" who followed Jesus, but from among "those" (uno de los que). This change suggests that the apostles could have chosen a woman to replace Judas.

Many other changes are evident, but other passages were not regendered, partly because readability was stressed and partly because the Spanish language has a neutral pronoun, se. This means that a common technique of English language regenderists-changing words from singular to plural so that "he" can be avoided, regardless of the change in meaning that results-is not as much of a temptation to Spanish translators.

Still, since publicity materials for the Nueva Version make no mention of its gender usage, many buyers may be surprised to discover the changes that are present. Others may have read the New Testament, which came out two years ago, and not noticed.

Whether Spanish-speaking Christians are willing to embrace a Bible that flirts with regendering and also opts for "natural sound" over word-for-word accuracy is yet to be seen.

Susan Olasky
Susan Olasky

Susan pens book reviews and other articles for WORLD as a senior writer and has authored eight historical novels for children. Susan and her husband Marvin live in Asheville, N.C. Follow Susan on Twitter @susanolasky.

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