What’s Wrong With a “Dumb Man”? (Matt 9:32) — Mondays with Mounce 241
One of the benefits of working with Joni and Friends is that I have developed some sensitivities to the disability community. What I once dismissed as political correctness is now an important shift in thinking.
Take the NASB translation of Matt 9:32. “a mute, demon-possessed man.” What is wrong with that? It is certainly better than the KJV, “dumb man.” Just because the person has a disability does not mean he is “dumb.” Of course, back then “dumb” meant “mute,” but the KJV today is using a word whose meaning is no longer correct.
The Greek is actually pretty straight forward. ἄνθρωπον κωφὸν δαιμονιζόμενον. The man has two characteristics: he cannot speak and he is demon possessed. But what is wrong with the NASB?
Hint: The ESV partially corrects the error: “demon-oppressed man who was mute” (cf. NRSV, NLT), See also “demon-possessed man who was unable to speak” (HCSB).
Do you see it? By listing the disability first, it defines the man by that disability. But a disability does not (or should not) define a person. A person is a person whether they are sighted or blind, able to talk or mute. The disability does not make him more or less a person and does not define him.
This is why the NIV is a better translation a this point: “a man who was demon-possessed and could not talk.” See also the NET: “a man who could not talk and was demon-possessed”.
So let’s be sensitive to those around us who are as much a person as we are, even though they have a different set of circumstances.
William D. [Bill] Mounce posts about the Greek language, exegesis, and related topics at Koinonia. He is the author of numerous works including the recent Basics of Biblical Greek Video Lectures and the bestselling Basics of Biblical Greek. He is the general editor of Mounce's Complete Expository Dictionary of the Old and New Testament Words. He served as the New Testament chair of the English Standard Version Bible translation, and is currently on the Committee for Bible Translation for the NIV.
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