Monday, October 05, 2009

Thoughts on the "Conservative Bible Project"

Via TPMCafe, and then BeliefNet, I found out about "The Conservative Bible Project."

According to the Project, the goal of the Conservative Bible Project is to create a Bible which satisfies the gollowing ten guidelines:


(1) Framework against Liberal Bias: providing a strong framework that enables a thought-for-thought translation without corruption by liberal bias

(2) Not Emasculated: avoiding unisex, "gender inclusive" language, and other modern emasculation of Christianity

(3)Not Dumbed Down: not dumbing down the reading level, or diluting the intellectual force and logic of Christianity; the NIV is written at only the 7th grade level[3]

(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".

(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

(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.

(7) Express Free Market Parables; explaining the numerous economic parables with their full free-market meaning

(8)Exclude Later-Inserted Liberal Passages: excluding the later-inserted liberal passages that are not authentic, such as the adulteress story

(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

(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."


So what do I think?

Well, let's deal with this one piece at a time.

(1) It's a good idea to the extent that the goal is to avoid a bias which reinterprets passages away from what they are intendend to mean. However, the goal ought to be to neutralize bias as much as possible to get the the original meaning, not just to eliminate bias in a particular direction; one gets the concern that the goal here is not merely to remove any liberal biases but to add a conservative bias. To the extent that the goal is accuracy, which is what the goal ought to be, one should be less concerned with eliminating any particular bias and should attempt to sort through all of the biases from all directions in order to correctly interpret the Bible. Specifically looking for bias from one direction practically guarantees a bias in the opposite direction.

This is not to say that any translation may not have some biases in it, but one should not deliberately seek to impose their bias on scripture.

(2) Avoiding unisex terms is a good idea if it follows the translation; that is to say that it is a good thing not to unisexualize things that were not originally written as unisex. So this is a good idea (unless of course the translators decide to insert gender into some passage where it isn't mentioned.

Unless there is some inappropriate gender neutralization in the King James Version about which I am unaware, it seems to me that this is simply a matter of not going the route of the more liberal modern translations. It does not require any drastic reinterpretations or re-translations, as this has only been an issue in Bible translations recently.

(3) I agree that the Bible should not be dumbed down. Translations should strive to keep the original nuances to the extent possible.

(4) As with #1, this is a good idea only to the extent that one is trying to correct mistranslations or to clarify translations to get closer to their original meaning. It is also not a bad idea to re-translate terms if the meaning of the terms has changed since the last translation. However, again I think there is a problem in that the goal here is not so much to translate the words correctly as to make certain that the translations are charged in the "correct" way. This could spell trouble.

Moreover, sometimes some terms are best expressed by giving the word a context-dependent meaning; for example, I believe that the reference to Jesus as "the Word," or "logos" has particular overtones in Greek. It may be better to try to understand the Greek concept of "the Word" and to understand that it has a meaning all its own rather than to try to find a more precise English word and then to assume that the new word completely captures the concept being referred to.

(5) There are problems here in that in some cases, using modern terms may help to clarify what is being discussed, but in others, the specific terms and idioms being used are necessary for understanding the context. Substituting "gambling" for "casting lots" may make a passage more understandable, but if "Casting lots" referred to a specific game, we lose some precision.

(6) Accepting the logic of Hell just means not watering down what the Bible already says. We don't need a new translation for that, most modern translations that are not explicitly watered down accept the logic of Hell. This is hardly a universal problem.

(7) Explanations of the parables beyond what Jesus says is best done in commentary. It is a bad idea to try and add interpretation into the text, or to deliberately re-translate a parable with the goal of adding in your political philosophy.

(8) While there is some merit in trying to determine whether some of the disputed passages ought to be included or not, it would be, I think, a mistake to put such passages as the story of the adulterous woman in the same category as modern liberal revisions of the Bible. Put another way, the passage "he who is without sin" should not be regarded in the context of whether it is "liberal" or "conservative." Even if you argue for its exclusion, to label it "liberal" immediately suggests that you are leaving it out for reasons other than scholarship.

(9) I'm not certain what "crediting open-mindedness" means. If he is saying that we need to point out that the disciples were convinced by Jesus' actiosn and that their faith was maintained by his faithfulness rather than by cult loyalty, well, while that is true, I'm not certain why we would want to continually assert references into the text. If there is some other, arcane, policial meaning - well, I have no idea what it is, but I would be cautious about trying to ascribe any modern political stance to the disciples.

(10) The last one is definitely a bad idea. Other than the contradiction with #3 (also pointed out at TPMCafe and by Dreher at BeliefNet), the fact of the matter is that wordiness creates nuance. Yahweh/Jehovah, Adonai, Elohim, all of this terms have different connotations when referring to God. Attempts to make passages concise could distort or remove meaning.

In short, while I am not averse to re-translations of the Bible aimed at improving accuracy and precision and at removing previous distortions, I do not think that doing so should be done explicitly politically, so the general idea of a "Conservative Bible" is very dangerous.

That is all.

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