It has been made evident over the past few decades that we are living in the midst of a very polarized political climate. There are very well-defined characterizations of two different points of view, generally deemed the politically “liberal” perspective and the politically “conservative” perspective. There are many in this country who look at all manner of events through these lenses, and many ideologues who will stop at nothing to defend their particular point of view.
It is therefore not too surprising that the Bible itself would come under political/ideological scrutiny in this type of climate. The online conservative wiki encyclopedia Conservapedia has recently begun the “Conservative Bible Project,” an attempt, in their minds, to rid the Bible of “liberal distortions” by using “conservative principles” to provide a better translation (Conservative Bible Project). Their goal is to make a “thought-for-thought” translation that reflects their “conservative” principles.
This project represents an alarming and most unwelcome intrusion of political ideology into the text of the Bible. The difficulty is not principally in the idea that the project involves “conservatives” against “liberals,” but that it would use political ideology as any form of standard to translate or adapt what the Bible teaches.
Consider the “ten guidelines” for which the persons behind the project feel that there is no “fully conservative Bible translation” that “satisfies”:
Framework against Liberal Bias; not emasculated; not dumbed down; utilize powerful conservative terms; combat harmful addiction; accept the logic of hell; express free market parables; exclude later-inserted liberal passages; credit open-mindedness of disciples; prefer conciseness over liberal wordiness (ibid.).
Please notice that these standards are not being upheld to preserve the Bible’s integrity or to provide the most accurate and faithful rendering of the Bible: instead, they are designed to reinforce a politically conservative worldview.
The methodology and approach of this project is highly suspect. The project desires to come out with a “thought-for-thought” version, akin to the New International Version (NIV). “Thought-for-thought” translations are not nearly as accurate or as faithful as “word-for-word” translations, and are much more open to interpretive bias. A “conservatively biased” Bible that distorts the original message is no better than a “liberally biased” Bible that does the same.
The project’s specific criticisms seem more ideologically motivated than substantive in fact. “Defective” translations are criticized for using the term “comrade” over “volunteer,” as the ESV does in Judges 7:13-14, 22. Yet, in context, the translation is appropriate: soldiers are speaking to their fellow soldiers, and “comrade” is more consistent with such than “volunteer.” Criticism is given regarding the use of “cast lots” in passages like John 19:24 and Acts 1:26: the “conservatives” prefer to call it “gambling” in an attempt to “combat harmful addiction” (ibid.). Yet, especially in Acts 1:26, “casting lots” is not really akin to gambling, but represents a mechanism to make a decision, somewhat similar to drawing straws or a coin toss, and the casting of the lot in these cases was believed to be divinely directed (cf. Acts 1:23-25). Furthermore, since this casting of lots was divinely inspired and an approved example, if it were translated as “gambling,” it would give many people the impression that gambling was justified and an acceptable practice before God! These are excellent reasons to show why the translation of the Bible should be based on textual, and not ideological, grounds.
Many other aspects of this project are troubling. The people behind the project provide an example of “liberal falsehood” in Luke 23:34a:
And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”
The people behind the project insinuate that this verse is a “liberal corruption of the original,” based on the fact that it is not found in many ancient manuscripts, it did not appear in the other Gospels, and the statement that some of the persecutors did know what they were doing (ibid.).
It is true that some of the ancient manuscripts do not include this statement, and most modern versions make a note of that. While it does not appear in any other Gospel, the concept is similar to what Stephen will say in similar circumstances in Acts 7:60, and there is no argument regarding that passage. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 2:8, makes it clear that the world rulers did not know God’s wisdom, for if they had, they would not have crucified Jesus– thus demonstrating that the Romans did not truly know what they were doing. Finally, the idea that the insertion of this verse would be a “liberal corruption” is itself preposterous– even if it were “inserted,” it would have been done 1700 years ago, before either the modern “liberal” or “conservative” movements.
Since these arguments are extremely shallow and specious, it is evident that the real reason for the concern over this verse is the fact that it is a “favorite quotation of the liberals.” This represents the real difficulty with the “Conservative Bible Project:” it is attempting to force the Bible to fit the conservative worldview, as opposed to allowing the conservative worldview to be informed by the Bible.
Let us consider Paul’s warning in Colossians 2:8:
Take heed lest there shall be any one that maketh spoil of you through his philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.
The “philosophies of the world” are not limited to things like Platonism, modernism, or postmodernism: they also can include political philosophies. Political philosophies can be just as seductive as modernism and postmodernism and the like. Just as some truths can be found in general types of philosophy, so also can some truth be found in political philosophies. On the other hand, there is no general or political philosophy that is entirely consistent with Christianity. That is why Paul tells us to not be taken captive by philosophy: we must allow the truth of Christ to reign supreme in our lives, and allow all other views to be conformed to that truth, and not the other way around.
A “conservative” Bible, therefore, is just as misguided and as dangerous an effort as a “liberal” Bible would be. The Bible does not endorse the entirety of either the “liberal” political ideology or the “conservative” political ideology. Therefore, both “liberals” and “conservatives” will find parts of the Bible that are to their political liking, and other parts that provide challenges to their ideologies. In the end, however, the Bible rises above these competing worldviews and proclaims God’s Kingdom and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33). Since the Bible is translated by fallible men, there certainly may be some biases present– but there is no good reason, aside from partisan prejudice, to assert that the Bible has been hopelessly “perverted” in one direction or another. Let us elevate the Bible above partisan politics– its message is too important to be left to any ideologues!
Ethan R. Longhenry