Wednesday, November 4, 2009
Both read the Bible day and night,
But thou read’st black where I read white.
—William Blake, The Everlasting Gospel
The Pope is not the only person keeping religion in the news. His efforts to do so by inviting Anglicans to join his congregation, are almost overshadowed by a less well-known but more ambitious project being undertaken by none other than Andrew Schafly, son of the well-known conservative activist, Phyllis Schafly. Andrew, Harvard Law and Princeton undergraduate who majored in electrical engineering, has decided to use his skills as engineer and lawyer to fix something that many people did not realize was broken-the Bible.
Andrew created Conservapedia which is the conservative’s answer to Wikipedia, an on line encyclopedia that Andrew believes has a liberal bias. Conservapedia, however, is more than a conservative encyclopedia. It has undertaken the translation of the Bible that will correct the liberal infusion of thought that now permeates that book. This it turns out, is no minor task because the King James Version (KJV) and the New International Version (NIV) have so many examples of a liberal bias that correcting them is an enormous challenge. Although its work has just drawn attention, it is already well underway. As of this writing, of the 8000 verses in the New Testament 30% or 2400 verses have been translated. (The word “translate” has a different meaning for Conservapedia than for most scholars. KJV is the baseline text used for “developing a conservative translation” rather than the “original Greek or Hebrew”.)
The work is being done by very sophisticated people who are able to translate verses from the KJV that make the verses more understandable to the contemporary reader while, simultaneously, removing the liberal influence. Two newly translated verses make the point. In Matthew 4:19 and 20 the KJV has the following confusing passage that displays a distinct liberal bias. It reads as follows: “And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. And they straightway left their nets, and followed him.” The new, much clearer and less liberal translation by Conservapedia reads as follows: “And he told them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men. And immediately they left their fishing nets behind and followed Him.”
Although the translations were done by highly sophisticated translators, Mr. Schafly recognizes the importance of public input in such a significant project. Thus, in the description of the project that lists which Gospels have been completely translated, it notes, parenthetically next to the name of the Gospel that has been translated: “improvements welcome.” That is egalitarian, suggesting, as it does, that coming up with a better translation of the KJV or the NIM is not limited to a few pointy headed scholars but can be assisted by the likes of you and me, even if we know nothing of Hebrew or Greek.
Defining the scope of the project, Conservapedia says there are three major sources of error. The most significant is that Greek and Hebrew lacked the words to adequately “convey new concepts introduced by Christ.” A footnote embellishes on this, explaining that “Christianity introduced powerful new concepts that even the Greek and Hebrew were inadequate to express, but modern conservative language can express well.” The second source of error (apparently contradicting the first) says the rewriting is necessary because of the “lack of precision in modern language.” The truth of that is demonstrated by reexamining the passage from Matthew quoted above. Finally, there was a translation bias in converting the original language to modern language. The three errors are, says Conservapedia, easily addressed.
The first error is cured by using experts in ancient language (and you and me by letting us suggest improvements). Linguists are able to cure the second type of error. But the “third—and largest—source of translation error requires conservative principles to reduce and eliminate.” A footnote to that sentence observes that professors and higher education participants were involved in the NIV and could be “expected to be liberal and feminist in outlook” thus producing a Bible influenced more by political correctness and other liberal distortions than by genuine examination of the oldest manuscripts.”
Conservapedia sets out 10 guidelines that a conservative translation of the Bible will satisfy. They include providing a “thought-for-thought translation without corruption by liberal bias”, avoidance of “gender inclusive” language and “other modern emasculation of Christianity”, not “dumbing down the reading level”, and use of conservative terms to capture the “original intent.” (That is similar to adhering to the “original intent” of the U.S. Constitution favored by Antonin Scalia.) One way of getting back to original intent is to “utilize “powerful new conservative terms. . . .Defective translations use the word ‘comrade’ three times as often as ‘volunteer’.”
It is impossible in a few words to do justice to Mr. Schafly’s effort. It is worth going to the website linked above in order to enjoy the full flavor of this very important work by a few dedicated Christians. Some of my more creative readers may even want to accept the invitation to offer their own suggestions on how this new Bible can be improved.