There are bad ideas and then there are spectactularly bad ideas. Usually bad ideas are ones we recognize in hindsight. For some of you it’s that guy you dated. For others it’s that four-wheeler you bought instead of paying off your debt. Occasionally we recognize a bad idea the moment we execute it. Thinking you can test the temperature of the grill with your hand or thinking you can do just as good a job as a professional plumber are good examples.
However, some ideas are spectactularly bad. That is, they are bad on such a scale that they become a spectacle. They lodge in our recent memory and evoke public criticism, laughter or just embarrassment. Bad ideas like these fill the pages of People magazine: the decision to put John and Kate Goeslin in front of a camera or the decision to get the attention of a reality TV show by faking the abduction of your child by a balloon shaped like a 1970’s jiffy pop container (just to name a few). And just this week I came upon another spectactularly bad idea: The Conservapedia Bible Project.
Andrew Schlafly, son of the eviscerator of the ERA (itself a spectactularly bad idea) Phyllis Schlafly, has called for the use of Conservapedia, a collaborative wiki like Wikipedia (but supposedly without the liberal bias), to begin a new Conservative translation of the Bible. What are the reasons for this new translation? Well here are a few straight from the site:
- Utilize Powerful Conservative Terms: using powerful new conservative terms to capture better the original intent; Defective translations use the word “comrade” three times as often as “volunteer”; similarly, updating words that have a change in meaning, such as “word”, “peace”, and “miracle”.
- Combat Harmful Addiction: combating addiction by using modern terms for it, such as “gamble” rather than “cast lots”; using modern political terms, such as “register” rather than “enroll” for the census
- 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.
- Exclude Later-Inserted Inauthentic Passages: excluding the interpolated passages that liberals commonly put their own spin on, such as the adulteress story
There are some good intentions here. And setting aside use of good intentions as paving material for a certain road, making sure the concept of Hell isn’t watered down or that certain verses are not hijacked by agendas is admirable. The adulteress story is used to say Jesus was against capital punishment, instead of the point of the story which seems to be that while the officials were trying to trap Jesus between Mosaic Law (“stone adulterers”) and Roman Law (“no executions without prior approval”). Jesus himself is the God of the Law–forgiving and condemning as is his right.
Which brings me to my point–I just made commentary. Commentary is good–most of the time. Even if you disagree with me, we can argue about interpretation. Historically, Christians have dealt with attempts to twist scripture by making commentary explicit. They also have dealt with it by making creeds. You know those things that liturgical churches recite each week that remind them of the core beliefs of Christianity. Creeds are looked down upon by the Evangelical church because they smack of legalism or because if you say them every week, the Apostle’s Creed has about as much meaning as “two-all-beef-patties-on-a sesame-seed bun.” But itâ€™s a lot easier to change creeds than to start monkeying with Scripture.
But all of this good intention leads to spectactularly bad idea. It is just as bad an idea to let anyone work on the translation who has an internet connection as it is to leave unquestioned the efforts of a some translators just because they have letters after their name. We don’t remove passages because Leftists use them or because:
“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.”
Huh? Because translators have advanced degrees they can be expected to be liberal? Really? I get that the academy is rife with Leftist ideology but I didn’t know that’s because someone has an advanced degree in say Greek or Hebrew that they can be expected to be liberal and feminist. (I mean Bruce Walke and Kenneth Baker (both translators on the NIV) are to my mind neither feminist or liberal. If you can’t trust Dallas Theological Seminary Graduates, who can you trust?!?)
The Conservative project also suggests that we excise the words of Jesus when he says, “Father forgive for they know not what they do.” from Luke 23:34. here’s the explanation:
Is this a corruption of the original, perhaps promoted by liberals without regard to its authenticity? This does not appear in any other Gospel, and the simple fact is that some of the persecutors of Jesus did know what they were doing. This quotation is a favorite of liberals, although it does not appear in the earliest and best manuscripts of the Gospel of Luke. It should not appear in a conservative Bible, because in point of fact Jesus might never had said it at all.
There are so many exegetical fallacies in this that I hardly know where to begin. It is fallacious to decide authenticity based on whether or not some passage appears only in one Gospel. The same could be said for John 3:16. I won’t even start on the “simple fact” that the persecutors knew what they were doing. Okay. I will. You can know what you are doing without knowing who you are doing it to. The persecutors (and the nation collectively) had rejected the messiah. If they knew him and where he came from they would not kill him. (John 7-8). This is what I think Jesus meant. As John himself describes, “He came unto his own and his own knew him not.” But that’s just my commentary. You won’t be seeing it included in the MRSV (Miles Revised Standard Version–coming soon from What Were We Thinking Publishers.)
Bottom line: what seems driving this translation is an attempt to protect the scriptures from leftist interpretation. While admirable, itâ€™s also a spectactularly bad idea. It has created a spectacle. Steven Colbert has satirized the project. People with strong conservative credentials have denounced it as “insanse hubris.” Protestants turned Catholics has used this as one more reason to decry the democritization of Church authority. And I’ll add my irrelevant Evangelical support to the outcry. As to Conservatism, I was born a poor white Southern Baptist from Mississippi. As to my Evangelicalism I was ordained in the SBC in 1998. As to my zeal, I have persecuted the left with passion and no small amount of glee. I am no Liberal in the sense Andrew Schlafly calls scholars liberal. But this is a spectactularly bad idea. So in the spirit of another great Conservative. Mr. Schlafly, Tear down this project!