Elihu listened to days and days of speeches, enough to make anyone antsy. When he’d heard all he could stand, he spoke himself. As it turns out, the young man was the only one who knew what he was talking about.
A short summation of the Book of Job, the ancient exploration of suffering: Job, the account goes, was a wealthy and honored man, deservedly so. But he ran into very hard times. In short order, he lost possessions, family, and health. He exiled himself from the city and waited to die. Only he didn’t die. He just suffered.
News gets around, and Job receives three visitors who, rather than empathize, keep watch vulture-like for days. When they finally speak, it’s not to console the sick man, but to condemn him! Job has only himself to blame, they point out, because he’s been such a skunk, and so God is getting payback.
Only, Job has not been a skunk. He’s really been a good man. So he defends himself. Vehemently. He has to, because his visitors become more and more vicious, furious that their words should not be taken to heart. They keep goading him, by degrees, till Job, too, shoots off his mouth: Nobody’s ever been more worthy and free from blame as he, and nobody’s ever suffered more at the hands of an unjust God, who must be unjust to pick on him this way, when He surely ought to be able to find better things to do with His time.
This is when Elihu, up till now silent, speaks. He’s steamed. But who is he steamed at?
Against Job his anger blazed, because he justified himself rather than God; and against his three friends too, his anger blazed, because they had found no answer, and yet they had pronounced Job wrong. Job 32:2,3 Berkeley Version
Most Bible translations agree with the last phrase: …they had pronounced Job wrong. But the New World Translation and a few others, render it that God is the one who’d been pronounced wrong!
That’s a significant deviation. What accounts for it?
Since papyrus and vellum, like paper today, disintegrates over time, and yet the scriptures were preserved for centuries, someone had to have copied and copied and copied. Before Christ a class of scribes called the Sopherim were charged with this work. They did nothing but reproduce manuscripts, maintaining accuracy. After Christ, a class called the Massorites did the same thing. The latter made copious notes in the margins, mostly things to ensure correctness, for example counting individual letters per line to make sure their maunscript didn’t vary from that they were copying. But there’s a few places where they note that the earlier Sopherim had tweaked the Scriptures a bit, to improve readability.
Job 32:3 is one of those tweaks. It apparently says, originally, that God was pronounced wrong. But scriptures were read aloud in the synagogue on Sabbath day, and the notion of God being made wrong struck those scribes as so offensive that they changed the subject to Job, who could be wrong as rain without causing any harm! The Massorites note the substitution and give a margin footnote: this is one of the 18 emendations of the Sopherim. [Google the expression] Only, after they recorded the number, they found a few more, so the 18 emendations is really more than 20. They are scattered throughout different manuscripts.
Thus, we have political correctness way back in ancient times!
Which rendering really fits: Job or God?
Sometimes when translating, and there is a genuine choice of terms, you use context to determine which one fits. Oddly, for Job 32, both renderings will do.
Job fits, for his pals clearly accused him of vileness, without giving any evidence. They did pronounce him wrong. If you’d read Job only up to this chapter, you might prefer this rendering.
But God fits too, and seems more likely in view of what Elihu goes on to say….he speaks up in defense of God, not Job. And the three pals did level wrong charges against God, for example, telling Job that his goodness was meaningless to God, since there was no pleasing Him anyway.
At any rate, writers of the New World Translation concluded that, since over-pious scribes took out the subject God, they should put it back in. The large print edition explains the decision in appendix 2B
Job 15:15; 42:7