Friday, October 23, 2009

Conservative Bible might be a liberal translation

Lots of conservative Christians have gotten upset in recent years over attempts to "liberal up" the Bible. Now they've got something else they should be upset about: a Conservative Bible.

The New International Version, which has usurped the King James Version in popularity for at least the past two decades, attempted to put more gender-inclusive language in the text a few years ago. It didn't go over well.

Already words such as "brothers" had been translated "brothers and sisters" and "men" were called "people" when it was clear that both sexes were being represented.

But now the group that brought you Conservapedia as an antidote to Wikipedia is undertaking to translate the Bible with all the liberalism taken out. (They're doing this on the Conservapedia site at

Much like with Wikipedia, men, women, boys and girls can log in, and, if they feel confident in their ancient Hebrew, Aramaic, Latin and Koine Greek, can offer conservative translations of the text.

While I'm biblically conservative myself, I was skeptical of a project to purposefully translate the Bible in a conservative context. I've read several opinion pieces lambasting the idea, usually from people more liberal than myself. Leonard Pitts throws in the ad hominem that Conservapedia intends to "remake Jesus of Nazareth in the image of Dick Cheney." That's unnecessary. There's enough to attack this effort on, even from a conservative point of view, without resorting to cheap shots.

First, why set out to translate the Bible from a conservative point of view? Theological conservatives are typically biblical literalists, so if you truly believe modern translations have been corrupted from a liberal mindset, then you should correct it from the viewpoint of accuracy, not conservatism. (Of course, whether you be conservative, liberal or whatever, you consider your own viewpoint to be The Truth. Problem is, if you are biblically conservative, you also believe yourself to be "sinful," a Greek archery term for "missing the mark." So you're probably wrong about something, hence your need to pray regularly and seek God's guidance.)

But no, the Conservative Bible Project intends to reduce "liberal wordiness" and nine other such principals, a good many of them anti-liberal/pro-conservative rather than anti-error/pro-truth.

They've caught flak from liberals for wanting to get rid of the passage from John about the woman caught in adultery. They have good arguments for deleting it: It isn't in the oldest available manuscripts, and liberals themselves agree on this point. But the conservative Bible project wants it for that reason and because "liberals commonly put their own spin on" it.

Dudes, liberals can put their own spin on anything. And so can conservatives--which is exactly what you are trying to do with this project. The best translators try to overcome bias by using teams that include various points of view, thus reducing the chance of getting a conservative or liberal Bible, but one that is as close to the original texts as possible. The Conservative Bible Project is using only conservatives for it's project, and in fact, is trying to speed the process by having a single person translate each section -- not a team.

I hate to break it to Andrew Schlafly and the rest of the crew at the Conservative Bible Project, but "conservative" means not changing, while "liberal" means advocating some type of change. So, essentially, their Conservative Bible is theological liberalism.

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