A man—without any theological training, without any expertise in the original languages of the Bible, without any formal education in the history of the church—thinks he knows what the Bible ought to say and is translating the Bible into a new version.
The man, Andy Schlafly, is behind the Conservative Bible Project (CBP) that aims to remove the alleged liberal corruption from English translations of the Bible, to restore masculinity to the text, to refigure the parables of Jesus to be free-market teachings and to replace perceived socialist words with conservative ones.
No, seriously. Schlafly is attempting to recreate the Word of God because he believes no conservative Bible exists.
Schlafly’s Conservapedia, a reaction to Wikipedia, even labels the fundamentalist Southern Baptist Convention’s Holman Christian Standard Bible as having “several liberal twists.”
While most Christians see the Bible as a window to the will of God, Schlafly sees the Bible as a mirror, reflecting his own political image. And that’s why CBP is a flawed idea.
But it isn’t the only reason this project should be jettisoned to the fringes of faith. Consider only a few of the differences between CBP and other translations of the Bible.
One is time. CBP believes it can translate the Bible in a year. Other translations have taken years.
A second difference is text. CBP relies on a version of the Bible released in 1611, named the King James Bible after King James I of England. Other versions of the Bible go back to the ancient documents, the “original” books, written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek.
A third dissimilarity between CBP and other Bible versions is scholarship. Almost all Bible translations result from teams of highly specialized linguists and theologians who work diligently and seek peer commentary. That’s clearly not the case as evidenced by CBP’s online presentation.
A fourth divergence between Schlafly’s project and other translations is intent. From the most theologically conservative to liberal versions of the Bible, the intent of translators has been to serve the church. Schlafly’s intent is to advance his ideological agenda.
When Clarence Jordan, a Greek New Testament scholar with a doctorate, translated the New Testament into the Cotton Patch Version, he wanted to make it more accessible to church members in the South. He renamed cities: Jerusalem became Atlanta; Rome became Washington, D.C. He changed the word “crucifixion” to “lynching.” He wanted the Bible’s grittiness to be heard by contemporary Christians.
That is not what Schlafly is doing. He thinks the Bible’s “liberal agenda” needs to be replaced. He wants to dump Jesus’ statement in Luke about forgiveness because Schlafly favors punishment. He wants to substitute the word “tyranny” for the word “government,” which will make rather weird the reading of Romans 13 where Christians are instructed to be obedient to the state.
Schlafly is imposing his ideology on the biblical text to validate his political agenda. And he does so with such prejudice and dishonesty.
“The translations get increasingly liberal…Each successive translation gets more and more liberal,” said Schlafly in a radio interview. “These people, who are retranslating the Bible already, are people who voted overwhelmingly for Obama and the liberal agenda. They are professors at universities, the most liberal class of people in society.”
Claiming successive translations get more liberal is false. The SBC’s Holman Christian Standard Bible was completed in 2004 and translated by a host of conservative professors.
Asserting that Bible translators are university professors who voted for Obama is unprovable and fictitious, especially for Clarence Jordan who wrote in a small “shack” in rural Georgia and died in 1969. How could his work have reflected an ideological commitment to Obama’s agenda?
As for Schlafly’s reinterpretation of Jesus’ parables as free-market teachings, that is also laughable. The free market is an offspring of late medieval Europe, not ancient Palestine.
Regrettably, Schlafly hasn’t allowed the Bible to speak to him—a well-worn Christian practice of studying a text, seeking to understand its message and searching for how to be faithful to the word. He is less interested in listening to the Bible than making the Bible record his voice.
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics. This editorial appeared originally on the editorial page of the Tennessean in a shorter version.