And a little “it” shall lead them

And a little “it” shall lead them

That’s what was bothering me last Sunday. Something about the Gospel reading for this past Sunday (Mark 9:35) always bothers me and it is the way that the Lectionary, taken from the USCCB-approved New American Bible, of course, refers to the child Jesus places before the apostles as “it.” I always thought that was a strange pronoun to use, but seeing it next to other translations I realized the problem: Referring to a child as “he” would “damage” the psyche of little girls and “disenfranchise” women.

Jeff Miller and Custos Fidei noticed it too:

RSV (Catholic Edition)
And he took a child, and put him in the midst of them; and taking him in his arms, he said to them,

And taking a child, he set him in the midst of them. Whom when he had embraced, he saith to them:

Taking a child he placed it in their midst, and putting his arms around it he said to them,

Does anyone, especially Catholics, ever refer to a baby as an “it”?

Nothing like de-humanizing children in order to make a gender-neutral, politically correct point.

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  • Actually, this is a bit more complicated than the NAB’s simply being faddish.

    The Greek word utilized by St. Mark is “paidion,” which means, according to NT Greek lexicons:

      1.  a young child, a little boy, a little girl
          a. infants
          b. children, little ones
          c. an infant
              i. of a (male) child just recently born
          d. of a more advanced child; of a mature child;
          e. metaph. children (like children) in intellect.

    Now the passage is unclear as to the gender of the child, so by context one cannot immediately infer “him” as the pronoun.

    Additionally, the point of the pericope is that a disciple’s service should always be to the least powerful, and frankly, the use of “it” carries the implication of nothingness.

    In sum, I think that there is an able case to be made for the NAB’s translation of the pronoun “autos” as “it” rather than “him,” and it’s not necessarily attributable to eagerness for so-called inclusive language.

  • If a child is referenced with a neuter pronoun, and English has a neuter pronoun, what is wrong with translating the neuter pronoun as a neuter pronoun?

    Because English does not use the neuter pronoun to refer to an individual.

    Here’s a thought experiment. Try replacing “child” with “adult”: “Taking an adult he placed it in their midst, and putting his arms around it he said to them…”

    That sound even more stilted. We just don’t do it and it’s more disturbing that it’s less jarring when done with “child.”

    In the past such emotional distancing when referring to children may have been mental self-preservation because of the high child mortality rate. But today it’s a completely different reason.

  • If it’s such a good translation why does the RSV use “him”?

    The NAB is almost universally acknowledged as being burdened with politically correct translations while the RSV is lauded as being faithful, yet here people are suddenly defending the NAB translators as paragons of detached academic scholarship. Curious.

  • Dom-

    I hate the political correctness gender nonsense as much as you do.

    And maybe that is what the translators were up to here.

    But ‘child’ is neuter in English, and “it” has been used, at times,  as the pronoun for “child” since way before the gender police started patrolling. Similarly for “baby.”  (That baby dropped its bottle. You can’t tell if it is a boy or a girl because it isn’t dressed in gender specific clothes.) How about “This child can’t find its way home.” ?  “That child doesn’t know what to do with itself!”  I can hear this as correct, and then it shifts and I think it should say “he.”  But the “it” is the older usage, I believe, and predates the gender police. My very grammatically correct father taught me this before 1960.

    What about the old adage “It’s a wise child who knows its own father.”? I have also heard this said with “his” however. 

    If the word being translated is neuter in Greek and therefore has a neuter pronoun to agree with it, there is a fair argument for translating it with the equivalent in English. 

    Susan Peterson

  • Dom – nobody can accuse me of being an apologist for the NAB or its translators OR the USCCB.  However, I agree with Mike that this particular pericope is not the one to hang your hat on making a case for bad translations.

    Perhaps it sounds infelicitous to our ears, and perhaps it seems suspiciously like political-correctism run amok, but in fact, it’s not necessarily either of those.  As others rightly point out, the neuter pronoun has been used priorly, and as I pointed out, the neuter pronoun is particularly apt for the meaning of the pericope (not to mention that it’s that way in the Greek!)

    So try not to be too hard on us.  You can count on me most always to be anti-NAB, just not this time.