Conservative Bible Project

October 6, 2009

I was sent a link to the Conservative Bible Project – Conservapedia by a friend last night and then Sid tweeted about it this morning. It is an effort by political conservatives to correct what they view as errors in translation due to bias in “converting the original language to the modern one” by “retranslating the KJV into modern English”.

There are so many problems here that it might be easier to just start with what they have right. I will agree that there are certainly issues with the most popular translation, the NIV.  The primary issue, as I understand it, comes from the effort on the part of the translators to make it easier to understand and in trying to communicate what they believe that the original authors intended they did what is commonly called a “thought for thought” translation.  Other translations including the English Standard Version use a “word for word” approach.

A thought for thought approach, while commendable, has resulted in what many people consider to be a weaker translation theologiclaly speaking.  That by no means indicates that it is insufficient or unusable, but if what you’re looking for is something closer to the oldest manuscripts we have then you want to look elsewhere.  So if their goal is to make a more accurate translation (which doesn’t seem to be the case) then that’s commendable.  It’s already been done, but hey what’s one more translation, right?  Wrong.

If I were to take what they wrote at face value then it seems that they don’t want to do a translation at all.  If they are indeed “retranslating the KJV into modern English” then it’s really more of a paraphrase since translation implies moving from the original language into a different language.  Besides, if they just want that then there’s always the New King James Version which is essentially the KJV updated to modern English.  It uses the same manuscripts as the KJV but notes where other manuscripts differ.

But no, what they want to do here is take their political agenda and use “translation” to hammer God’s word into a shape that they find acceptable.  I’m really not okay with that.  Now I recognize that everyone on God’s green Earth has an agenda and that anyone who enters the field of translation is going to carry with them some sort of baggage.  We’re all human beings here.  The problem I have with this particular agenda is that it’s got nothing to do with trying to mine the word of God and divine what he is trying to say to us and everything to do with shaping the word of God to make something politically acceptable.

Let’s look at this point by point:

  1. Framework against Liberal Bias: providing a strong framework that enables a thought-for-thought translation without corruption by liberal bias – No what they want is a paraphrase of a translation acceptable to their constituents that’s corrupted by conservative bias.  That’s better somehow?  Oh and they admit that newer translations use more accurate manuscripts.
  2. Not Emasculated: avoiding unisex, “gender inclusive” language, and other modern emasculation of Christianity – I’d need some clarification here.  I’m aware of some translations that use more gender neutral terms to refer to God.  If that’s what they’re referring to then I might be okay with sticking strictly to the original language.  However, that’s got nothing to do with thinking that God is some big dude in the sky.  God is a spirit and possesses no gender, but chose to reveal himself in the masculine for specific reasons and hey why not stick with that?
  3. Not Dumbed Down: not dumbing down the reading level, or diluting the intellectual force and logic of Christianity; the NIV[3] is written at only the 7th grade level – So tempted to make a comment here about their target audience, but it’s not nice and not entirely true.  Instead I’ll just say that the NIV isn’t “written” at a certain grade level it’s translated and tool might place it at a certain grade level.  So what?  The KJV uses fewer English words and is only more challenging to read due to archaic language.
  4. Utilize Powerful Conservative Terms: using powerful new conservative terms as they develop;[4] defective translations use the word “comrade” three times as often as “volunteer”; similarly, updating words which have a change in meaning, such as “word”, “peace”, and “miracle”. – Language certainly evolves over  time.  Both the left and the right have “co-opted” language for their own arguments.  Still I’d like to know what the old meaning of peace is and what new “conservative” word they would use in its place.  This has got 1984 written all over it.
  5. Combat Harmful Addiction: combating addiction by using modern terms for it, such as “gamble” rather than “cast lots”;[5] using modern political terms, such as “register” rather than “enroll” for the census– In the OT casting lots wasn’t gambling, it was used as a divining tool by prophets.  Non-believers may still believe that it works out to be the same, but these guys don’t know what they’re talking about.
  6. Accept the Logic of Hell: applying logic with its full force and effect, as in not denying or downplaying the very real existence of Hell or the Devil. – It’s nice of them to admit that conservatives are more interested in using guilt to push our buttons and get us in line.  The focus of the Bible is and always has been more about communion with God and what that means that about what being cast out is like.  The NT mentions Heaven ten times more often than Hell.  Hell should not be our focus.
  7. Express Free Market Parables; explaining the numerous economic parables with their full free-market meaning– Honestly, I don’t know what to even say here except that these people, the ones who were living during biblical times didn’t have a free market as we understand it.  Jesus wasn’t teaching an economic model and if he were?  Our current model wouldn’t be it.
  8. Exclude Later-Inserted Liberal Passages: excluding the later-inserted liberal passages that are not authentic, such as the adulteress story– This is wrong on a number of levels.  I mean okay let’s assume that Jesus didn’t say “Let He who is without sin cast the first stone”, the idea of forgiveness and grace and that we are ALL sinners is pretty…. clear given the rest of God’s word.  They’re annoyed that “liberals” are using this as an anti-death penalty screed.  Guess what?  They’re wrong too.  Not the point of this passage.
  9. Credit Open-Mindedness of Disciples: crediting open-mindedness, often found in youngsters like the eyewitnesses Mark and John, the authors of two of the Gospels – No idea what to say here that wouldn’t be ad hominem.
  10. Prefer Conciseness over Liberal Wordiness: preferring conciseness to the liberal style of high word-to-substance ratio; avoid compound negatives and unnecessary ambiguities; prefer concise, consistent use of the word “Lord” rather than “Jehovah” or “Yahweh” or “Lord God.” – Okay so first they say that the liberal version is dumbed down.  Then this.  Make up your friggin’ mind people.

The rest of that page frankly just pisses me off. The whole idea is ridiculous on its face and does NOTHING, accomplishes NOTHING more than adding fuel to the notion that Christians are just a bunch of morons that want to use the Bible to accomplish some right-wing agenda. Are their Christians like that? Sure. Not all, or I hope and pray even most.

Okay that’s enough for now. I need to take my blood pressure meds.

17 Responses to “Conservative Bible Project”

  1. Wow.

    These people will attack anything that refutes their prejudices, but this goes farther than I thought possible.

    It sorta strikes me like an animal caught in a trap, gnawing its own leg off to get out.

    Just kind of highlights the hypocrisy, doesn't it?

  2. It does paint it in big, bold letters.

  3. From my experience, most “conservative” Christians are more conservative than Christian.

  4. Heh, yeah. Of course there are liberal Christians that fall under that too.

  5. Good article. If we are to be one then we should have one word and I dont mean one translation. They main issue for me is anyone using wescott and hort for anything. They worked with “modern ideology” of truth is discovered and not revealed which lead them to make some very odd decisions. The KJV onliest tho are just whacky if they think the Holy word of God can only exist in one language. Anyway I agree with the point of your article: Let the word stand and let the Holy Spirit translate.

    Personally I like the net bible. Earnest scholarship by earnest non agenda scholars.

  6. All scholars have an agenda.

  7. I find myself telling people lately: the whole point of legalism is to construct a longer list of reasons why someone is far superior to someone else. If these modern Pharisees can come up with more rules that they conveniently already adhere to, then they can prove that they art more holy than thou art. This is just another example of such a thing.

    I consider myself to be pretty conservative, or at least I have until recently. I would call these extremists- perhaps even terrorists. And of course, since the media will happily be all over this, all Christians will be painted with this stripe. How embarassing. and enfuriating.

  8. Compared to Jews living 2,000 years ago these guys would be liberals. That's all, nothing more to say.

  9. Depends on which group you're talking about.

    The Essenes were very anarcho-socialist in their economic structure, and were so pacifist that they wouldn't allow weapons into their settlements.

    On the other hand, the Zealots were violent anti-tax rebels, so that group might fit better.

    You really can't talk about “Jews living 2,000 years ago” without being more specific.

  10. Yeah there were perhaps as many different schools of thought in Judaism then as there are Christian schools of thought today. If not exactly as many, perhaps percentage wise.

  11. And about as violent with each other as well.

  12. just a note on their claim about the adulterous woman claim. It is true that there is some question about where the story really fits into the gospel. But they fail to mention that very few scholars question that the story is authentic to Jesus. In fact it is one of the earliest stories they have manuscripts for. See
    “That Papias (ca. 125 CE) knew the story means that it existed ca. 100 CE already. This again makes it quite probable that the story contains a genuine Jesus tradition.” This has been twisted by notes dating back from Wescott and Hort who would only include this in their work with the footnote “Not included in the earliest and best MSS”. This statement taken without the additional evidence that the story was a true story of Jesus (even if it wasnt originally in John) is very misleading.

  13. Just what the kingdom of God needed 🙂

  14. “The primary issue, as I understand it, comes from the effort on the part of the translators to make it easier to understand and in trying to communicate what they believe that the original authors intended they did what is commonly called a “thought for thought” translation. Other translations including the English Standard Version use a “word for word” approach.”

    Hey Uncle Scott, if I might weigh in on this discussion, my background as you know is Classics major in college (i.e. Greek and Latin) and a master's degree from Duke in theology/religion. What you refer to as a thought for thought translation is known as dynamic equivalence and it is just as accurate and sometimes more so than a wooden word for word translation, especially if one tries to use the same English word every time a Greek or Hebrew word is used. Even if a word for word translation were possible, and as someone who studied French you should realize the impossibility of that, there is no guarantee that a word for word translation would even make sense at times. Translation is an art, whatever approach one takes and a good translation will make that which is translated as easy to understand as possible.

    As far as the rest of the blog goes, we all come to translation, and every thing else for that matter, with a bias. I have a problem with either the liberal or conservative abuse of the art of translation for political/social agendas. I do not translate in a vacuum, but I would hope that I take into consideration viewpoints that are different from mine and try to address issues that may arise because of my personal opinions. Obviously I am not totally successful, but effort is there. I actually think that if one reads the Bible with an open mind, one sees a definite “liberal” bias as does an organization such as Sojourners, a strongly evangelical organization.

  15. You're, of course, right. Thought for thought does not necessarily lead to a less “accurate” translation. But what they're trying to do isn't even a translation.

  16. “The committee in charge of updating the bestselling version, the NIV, is dominated by professors and higher-educated participants who can be expected to be liberal and feminist in outlook. As a result, the revision and replacement of the NIV will be influenced more by political correctness and other liberal distortions than by genuine examination of the oldest manuscripts. As a result of these political influences, it becomes desirable to develop a conservative translation that can serve, at a minimum, as a bulwark against the liberal manipulation of meaning in future versions.”

    This is a quote from the conservapedia site, I actually knew one of the translators of the New Testament and while he did indeed have a Ph.D., I am not sure that I would be able to call him a liberal or one who was particularly inclined to political correctness. I don't know any of the others who did the translation work, but if the gentleman I knew is an example of the quality of the translators, then I think that this is an erroneous presupposition on the part of the author.

    The gentleman spoke to one of my Greek classes and he discussed the issue of vocabulary and there was an effort to use words that an 8th grader would be expected to know, but there was no sense in which the translators were dumbing down the NIV. Also, the translators used the oldest and best manuscripts available, and while there is always debate as to which manuscripts are best, they used the American Bible Society's 3rd edition as the basis from which to work which has been accepted by most evangelicals as the most accurate Greek text available. Where there are discrepancies between Greek texts, these were noted in footnotes of most NIV Bible, at times explaining the reasoning behind certain selections by the translation committee.

  17. And about as violent with each other as well.

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