Do conservatives need their own Bible translation?
posted at 3:35 pm on October 6, 2009 by Ed Morrissey
Rod Dreher at Crunchy Cons notices a new effort to create a “conservative” translation of the Bible at Conservapedia. The project promises to correct what Conservapedia sees as the “single biggest distortion” in modern biblical translations — liberal bias. However, it seems that the backers of this project don’t want to correct for bias by getting more accurate translations, but by improving the Bible by playing around with words that sound better politically to the Right. They suggest the following techniques for rewriting all existing translations:
- identify pro-liberal terms used in existing Bible translations, such as “government”, and suggest more accurate substitutes
- identify the omission of liberal terms for vices, such as “gambling”, and identify where they should be used
- identify conservative terms that are omitted from existing translations, and propose where they could improve the translation
- identify terms that have lost their original meaning, such as “word” in the beginning of the Gospel of John, and suggest replacements, such as “truth”
As an alternative, they also suggest going to the original source material and doing their own translation. While that seems to be the only way to legitimately approach the subject in a scholarly fashion, it’s forgotten in the very next paragraph, which suggests a “conservative word-for-word” translation from existing versions for “word improvement,” followed by a second stage of “conservative thought-for-thought” translation.
Dreher believes this displays an “insane hubris”:
“The liberal style of high word-to-substance ratio”? Hoo-wee! Elitists like to use words, and lots of ’em! “Unnecessary ambiguities”? But how are you going to abide by the conservative mandate to avoid “dumbing down” Holy Writ while at the same time avoiding big words liberals use?
More seriously, the insane hubris of this really staggers the mind. These right-wing ideologues know better than the early church councils that canonized Scripture? They really think it’s wise to force the word of God to conform to a 21st-century American idea of what constitutes conservatism? These jokers don’t worship God. They worship ideology.
It depends on how one considers the Bible. If a person just views it as a series of parables with immense wisdom on life and truth but written by men for their own purposes, then a “conservative version” is as objectionable as making 10 Things I Hate About You from Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew — which is to say that the offensiveness depends on the final version. (For the record, I liked 10 Things, which I thought was both a clever and goofy take on the Bard, so that’s not a dig.)
However, if one believes the Bible to be the Word of God written for His purposes, which I do, then the idea of recalibrating the language to suit partisan political purposes in this age is pretty offensive — just as offensive as they see the “liberal bias” in existing translations. If they question the authenticity of the current translations, then the only legitimate process would be to work from the original sources and retranslate. And not just retranslate with political biases in mind, but to retranslate using proper linguistic processes and correct terminology.
The challenge of Christian believers is to adhere to the Word of God, not to bend the Word of God to our preferred ideology. Doing the former requires discipline and a clear understanding of the the Bible. Doing the latter makes God subservient to an ideology, rather than the other way around.
Update: Tommy Christopher covers the controversy for Mediaite. Be sure to read his roundup.
Update II: I sent this to The Anchoress, thinking that she’d have something incisive to add, and she doesn’t disappoint:
The “Conservative” Bible is an attempt by some who are clearly “enthralled” with their ideology to wrestle an age to the ground and conform it to Eternity. But the Age is fleeting; it is already a passing illusion. An attempt to re-translate the Bible to suit one’s worldview is to belong too much to the world, itself, and to worldly solutions. Translate the Bible to gain a wholistic world view, and you may very well forfeit yourself.
These busy bees might best serve themselves, their cause and their Lord by withdrawing a little bit from the world and taking some “time in the desert” away from the television, the radio, the gathering crowds. They need to break away from “enthrallment” to “detachment” or they will become all they despise.
That’s just a taste. Be sure to read it all.