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Sunday, November 30

What’s wrong with a “dumb man”? (Matt 9:32)

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.