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The Conservative Bible?

So apparently Conservapedia has decided to construct their own version of the Bible. Their argument and motivation for doing this goes something like this. Bible translators are, by and large, university professors. The majority of university professors are political liberals. Therefore, the Bible has been shaped over the years by politically liberal attitudes. The aim of Conservapedia then is to combat this liberal influence by constructing a more conservative-oriented translation.

Those not familiar with the issues involved in biblical translation might wonder how translators could shape the text in such a way so as to promote their own political agendas. So let me address a couple of those issues that translators face and where Conservapedia thinks they have gone wrong.

First, there is the problem of deciding which English words to use in place of their Greek or Hebrew (original) counterparts. This is a problem any translator faces of any text, whether they are translating Spanish to German, German to Greek, or Greek to English. Conservapedia blames “defective” Bible translations for using various liberal-biased wordings. For instance, instead of combating harmful addictions by using the word “gamble,” some translations use “cast lots.” This and various other changes of a similar sort are unconvincing, however. For one, it is not the job of a translator to combat addictions. For two, if the purpose of using “gamble” instead of “cast lots” is to combat addictions, that is clear evidence that one’s language choice is based upon the promotion of a particular contemporary agenda. Thus, far from solving the problem that they set out to solve, Conservapedia is actually just adding to it. And third, would the use of “gamble” really help combat addictions? If we replaced “cast lots” with “gambling,” this would seem to promote rather than condemn gambling in light of the fact that the people of God do this quite frequently in the OT.

Another “corruption” said to be contained within some modern translations involves the usage of gender inclusive language, such as “brothers and sisters” instead of “brothers” or “fisher for people” instead of “fisher for men.” (One might wonder why Conservapedia would so readily admit that the fight for gender equality that lies behind the decision to use gender-inclusive language was and is a fight instigated by liberals). For my part, I have no problem with including or excluding gender-inclusive language. Excluding it is certainly more faithful to a literal translation of the text, but then again, including it doesn’t affect much of anything, especially if the translators make note of when they are using it (as any good study Bible does). I should also mention here that Paul often uses “brothers” when referring to his congregations. But even he likely means “brother and sisters” seeing as he taught equality between the sexes in all facets of life. So in these instances, the gender-inclusive language is probably a more accurate rendering.

The second problem translators face is the problem of deciding what the original biblical manuscripts actually contained. For instance, we have over five thousand different NT manuscripts, some consisting of entire books, others consisting of small, hand-sized fragments. The problem is that these manuscripts are not the originals but copies of copies of copies, and so on. To compound the problem, these manuscripts do not agree with one another. When scribes copied these manuscripts, they often made unintentional mistakes and intentional changes. Translators have the difficult task of looking through all of these manuscripts and attempting to determine what the originals looked like and what later scribes added or subtracted. So when creating modern Bible translations, the translators have to make a decision whether or not to include a number of disputed passages. Any respectable Bible (usually study bibles) will always footnote or bracket the disputed passages.

Conservapedia’s claim is that liberal scholars encourage some of these disputed passages by including them in their translations. To use an example cited by Conservapedia, Luke 23:34a is a quote by Jesus that he says while looking down upon the crowd from the cross. The words are well known: “Father forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” This passage, they claim, is disputed and not found in some of our earliest manuscripts. That is true. But they then go on to claim that this passage is a favorite among liberals but don’t cite any evidence for this being the case or for why this would even be the case. Presumably, this is a favorite among liberals because it seems to support the view that people are ignorant of their evil deeds and should therefore be shown mercy and perhaps given a second chance. Of course, this is just silly. If liberals want to support that view using the Bible, they have plenty of other undisputed verses to choose from, many of them coming from the same author of the book of Luke. (cf. Acts 3:17; 7:60; 13:27; 17:30 for other instances of pardonable ignorance. It should be noted that the theme of pardonable ignorance found in Acts and the general character of Jesus found in Luke are actually arguments in favor of the authenticity of Luke 23:34a. Not to mention, this passage is found in some of our early manuscripts and may just as likely have been deleted by later scribes as it was added).

In any event, why is Conservapedia combating what they see as a form of deception (including disputed passages) by using a form of their own (not including the disputed passages)? Why not do what most study bibles do with disputed passages: mark them with a footnote or bracket and tell the reader that this or that passage is disputed?

One of the major problems of this entire project is the fact that it is not conducted by learned scholars who have worked with these various manuscripts for decades, who have studied the required ancient languages for decades, and who have conversed with one another for decades. Rather, this is a project conducted purely by amateurs: amateurs who will have to construct their newly revised conservative translation either by relying on the very English translations that they despise (which would be ironic) or by heavily utilizing Strong’s concordance.

As Timothy Paul Jones—professor at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky—put it, this is merely a misguided effort to read contemporary politics back into the text by a group of individuals “who have probably never looked at an actual ancient manuscript.”




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