Probably one of the most obvious and risky translation decisions the Common English Bible committee went with was translating ben adam (Hebrew) or ho huios tou anthropou (Greek) as "the Human One" throughout the Old and New Testament. I certainly give them credit for taking this risk, but does it work?
Here is a long quote from the CEB blog about why they made this decision. It is worth taking a look at:
ben adam (Hebrew) or ho huios tou anthropou (Greek) is translated as "human being" (rather than "son of man") except in cases of vocative address, where we render "Human" (instead of "Son of Man" [KJV] or "Mortal" [NRSV], e.g. Ezek 2:1). For the NT phrase, ho huios tou anthropou (e.g., Matt 9:6) we render "you will know that the Human One has authority on earth to forgive sins."
At the exegetical and linguistic level, the Semitic idiom, ben adam, occurs frequently in the Old Testament. (A linguistic analogy is bene yisrael, which means Israelites.) Biblical scholars, in a rare example of consensus, are certain that the Semitic idiom ben adam translates as "human being" or "human" in natural English. If we were creating a literal translation, which we inherit from the Septuagint Greek translation of the Semitic idiom, or more precisely from the KJV tradition for English readers, we would probably render "son of human." But we aim to avoid "biblish" where possible and translate such Hebrew or Greek constructions into a natural English idiom. In English we don't say or write "I was speaking with sons of Ben" or "I called children of Ben." Instead, in the target language we write, "I spoke to Ben's children."
The Aramaic equivalent to ben adam in Daniel 7:13 is bar enosh. The book of Daniel anticipates that the Messiah will be "like a human being." This text is the probable source (along with 1 Esdras) for the messianic expectation that is rendered in the New Testament title for Jesus huios to anthropou, which meant to Jewish readers in the first century that Jesus is a human being, just as they expected about the Messiah.
Darrell L. Bock writes, "The key to this title and Jesus' use of it is the imagery of Dan. 7:13-14, where the term is not a title but a description of a figure who rides the clouds and receives authority directly from God in heaven. The Old Testament background to the title does not emerge immediately in Jesus' ministry, but is connected to remarks made to the disciples at the Olivet discourse and Jesus' reply at his examination by the Jewish leadership. The title is appropriate because of its unique fusion of human and divine elements. A 'son of man' is simply an expression that describes a human being. In contrast to the strange beasts of Dan. 7, this is a figure who is normal, except for the authority he receives. In riding the clouds, this man is doing something otherwise left only to the description of divinity in the Old Testament (Exod. 14:20; 34:5; Num. 10:34; Ps. 104:3; Isa. 19:1). In addition, the title was in Aramaic an indirect way to refer to oneself, making it a less harsh way to make a significant claim. Despite its indirectness, the nature of Jesus' consistent use of the term makes it clear that he was referring to himself, not someone else" (Jesus according to Scripture: Restoring the Portrait from the Gospels ,602-03).
We tested this translation with hundreds of readers. Several found the change jarring. One leader responded, "For me, at an emotional level it feels contrived. Unlike an onomatopoeia it feels empty and sterile; it is not a phrase that draws me into wanting to discover or explore or experience the meaning (and Person) that it represents. At a cognitive level it seems to cut off any sense of divinity to Jesus. I realize the Christology of Jesus is a challenging idea, but to call him the Human One seems to deny the possibility that he is the Son of God and God the Son."
The response of this reader mirrors what we heard in reading groups. We asked, "What do you think "son of man" means for Jesus? Many responded that "Jesus is divine." This confusion is similar to stating, "At a cognitive level [Human One] seems to cut off any sense of divinity to Jesus." The feedback is very clear evidence that many English speaking Christians confuse the meaning of two literal titles that are applied to their knowledge of Jesus: "son of man" is confused with the meaning of "son of God." Indeed, at a cognitive level many of us have a view of Jesus that is so transcendent that the incarnation is temporary, perhaps only while Jesus was a baby. In reading Matthew we see that the phrase "Son of God" or rather "God's Son" (as a title) is used frequently in the CEB translation. The CEB also refers to God as Father, accurately. So we have no agenda in the New Testament translation to deny the fully human and fully divine nature of Jesus, then and now. There is a preference in the CEB for clear English. Human One will become less of a surprise over time, but admittedly it is surprising to encounter it the first time if you memorized the KJV version. The act of reading a new translation makes you think about assumptions.
Couple points I would like to start this discussion out with:
1) Yes, it is tough to see how changing an important Christological word like "Son of Man" can be justified. That title has been used the lexicon of theological discussion for 2000 years.
2) I do appreciate the fact that they will be translating it consistently throughout the Old and New Testament. One of my big beefs with the NRSV is that it is inconsistent in how it translates this title from both Old to New Testament, but also withing the New Testament itself (see Hebrews 2). The fact that the NRSV does contain the textual notes indicating this change does remedy this to some degree however.
3) This change is certainly jarring when you first come upon it.