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"Fishers of Men" to "Fishers of Persons": New Spanish Roman Catholic Bible Updates Translation

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If you’ve been a Christian any length of time, you’ve no doubt run into the issue of choosing which translation of the Holy Scriptures you want to use. There are few Christians who don’t have a preference, and many are adamant about using one, and only one, particular translation.

Amongst Protestants, there’s the King James, the New King James, the New American Standard Bible, Young’s Literal Translation, the English Standard Version, The Message, and more. Each has its staunch supporters and detractors, with plenty of arguments being made for the validity and accuracy (or lack thereof) of each version.

Amongst Catholics there are also plenty of options, including the Revised Standard Version, the New Revised Standard Version, the New American Bible, the New Jerusalem Bible and the Jerusalem Bible — and it’s the most recent edition of the Spanish Jerusalem Bible that’s causing quite a stir.

The change that’s getting the most notice in the updated version is that the very well-known verse from Matthew 4:19 (“I will make you fishers of men”) has had a word swapped out (“I will make you fishers of persons”).

Of course, in Spanish that’s the word for man, “hombre,” being changed to the word for person, “persona.”

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Given the current cultural climate, at first blush, the edit appears to look like a result of cowing to the social pressure of wokism, and many have used it as another opportunity to bemoan the state of the Roman Catholic church.

But the issue is far more complicated than a modern surface reading would suggest.

To begin, the translation itself: Unlike other Catholic versions of the Bible, which have been translated from the Latin Vulgate, the Jerusalem Bible (which is the most popular translation outside of the United States) translates directly from the original Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek, according to Aleteia.

The publisher of the Jerusalem Bible, the Desclée De Brouwer publishing house, maintains that the newest revision has nothing to do with bowing to gender-neutrality pressures of the modern world, but a return to the actual, ancient meaning.

Managing Director Javier Gogeaskoetxea told ACI Prensa, Catholic News Agency’s Spanish affiliate, that while this looks like a change, it’s actually a correction, and they have determined “persons” to be a more accurate translation of the original Greek than “man.”

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“The change is due to the fact that the Biblical and Archaeological School of Jerusalem seeks above all fidelity to the original texts,” Gogeaskoetxea said, according to CNA. “It so happens that in the original ‘Greek’ text the word used does not include gender. Therefore the translation possibilities should not include it either: person or human being.

“If I were to put ‘man,’ we would be lacking in fidelity to the original text because the Greek word is neither man nor woman.

“I understand that there is an attempt to ‘polemicize’ by attributing ‘inclusive’ language to the translation. But nothing is further from reality, the reason is fidelity to the original text.”

In the original Greek, the word “ánthropos” does translate to a genderless term meaning “‘human being’ regardless of sex.”

The translation for the word offered on the website Bible Study Tools offers a range of meanings, each with a slight — but crucial — difference, generally dependent on context: “a human being, whether male or female”; “generically, to include all human individuals”; “to distinguish man from beings of a different order” (animals/plants, God, angels); “with reference to the two-fold nature of man”; and many others — including, in one instance, a definition that means “with reference to sex, a male.”

At some point, the issue seems to be that the “update” from “man” to “person” was simply unnecessary.

Part of the reason for the change being unneeded is that many readers of the Bible have understood “fishers of men” to mean “fishers of mankind” as a whole, not “fishers of only men and not women.” In practice, the term was already accepted to mean “persons” in a general, genderless sense — however, the timing is certainly bad with regard to the conformist push for gender-neutral language in our society.

There has certainly been pushback against the revision from within the Catholic community as well, with some experts saying that the change was not wrong but not useful either, some calling into question the validity of the translation and some opposing the change on a more semantic level.

“It doesn’t seem right to me, but I think it has the importance that we give it,” said Fr. Antonio María Domenech Guillén, a priest of the Diocese of Cuenca, according to CNA. “If we read Holy Scripture every day, we would have realized long ago that the Jerusalem Bible translation is not the best option.”

“The term that translates, anthropos, refers to a ‘human being’ regardless of sex,” added Fr. Jesús Silva, a Spanish priest and graduate in Patristic Theology.

“However, the translation as ‘persons’ has its problems. To what persons was Jesus referring: human, angelic or divine? Well, in the text, thus translated, it is not excluded that Jesus is calling the disciples to evangelize the angels or God himself.”

Silva suggested “human persons” or “human beings” might appear to be better, more specific terms, but they come with their own potential pitfalls that ultimately lead to the word “man” actually being the better, more fitting, more accurate choice — making the Jerusalem Bible’s “update” irrelevant.

“[T]o avoid misunderstandings that occur with words like ‘person,’ ‘human being’ or ‘human earthling,’ and adopting the principle of the economy of language, we could translate the word ánthropos as ‘man’, which includes all of the above,” he explained.

“[I]n this new translation of the Bible, more adapted to our time, and guided by a principle of inclusion, as well as fidelity to the text and the intention of Jesus, let us translate the phrase in a new way as ‘I will make you fishers of men.’ You’re welcome.”

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