Schlafly, the son of arch-conservative political activist Phyllis Schlafly, is an acorn who didn’t fall far from the tree. He’s probably best known for starting Conservapedia, a user-written alternative to Wikipedia that is designed to cover all subjects from a conservative point of view — an approach that inherits all the potential problems of the wiki approach while eliminating the advantages.
Now Schlafly has decided that politically conservative laymen who know nothing about the Bible’s original languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek) can do a better job of translating the Bible than those people who devote their lives to the study of language and the intricacies of translation.
The effort is a prime example of hubris on parade.
Schlafly takes as his point of departure the assumption that all modern Bible translations are tainted by liberal bias, so he’s begun a project to produce a new “translation” of the Bible that with an intentionally conservative bias.
The problems with this are myriad. In the first place, Schlafly’s contention that all modern translations have a liberal bias is simply unfounded. Part of the problem has to do with vocabulary: Schlafly’s brand of conservatism brands anything to the left of a radically right-wing political approach as “liberal.” In this, Schlafly and other supporters of the ill-conceived project have already shown a willingness to distort and redefine the English language: why should anyone think they can do better with Greek?
I take Schlafly’s point that some modern translations have sought to be more “politically correct” by inserting specifically gender inclusive language when it’s not specified by the text, but his barely-veiled implication that such translations promote Communism by occasionally using the term “comrade” are just plain ridiculous (while other translations are certainly possible, his comparison of usage for “comrade” and “volunteer” is ridiculous).
To see just how over the top Schlafly’s project is, take a look at his “ten guidelines” for biblical translation. Schlafly instists there should be a “thought for thought translation without corruption by liberal bias” that is neither “emasculated” by gender-inclusive language or “dumbed down” for the masses. Furthermore, Schlafly wants contributors to “utilize powerful new conservative terms” in the translation, adopting code words that have been redefined by the right.
A suitable translation, Schlafly says, should “combat addiction” by using words like “gamble” instead of “cast lots” — though how he’ll do that with relation to the Old Testament priests casting lots to determine God’s will is a mystery. Also, even though the Old Testament has no concept of hell as a place of torment, Schlafly says contributors must “accept the logic of hell” and not downplay “the very real existence of hell or the devil.” What this will do to the Hebrew Bible’s references to Sheol and to “the satan” character in Job 1 is obvious.
As if that weren’t enough, Schlafly wants to interpret Jesus’ parables “with their full free-market meaning,” imposing a modern economic theory on stories that were told for an entirely different purpose. If anything, Jesus’ parables intentionally undermined the notion that believers should be motivated by the accumulation of wealth, but in Schlafly’s version Jesus will be a strong proponent of free-market capitalism.
In a bit of a surprise, Schlafly wants to excise from scripture “later inauthentic passages” such as the story of the adulteress to whom Jesus offered forgiveness in John 7:53-8:11, which Schlafly thinks is too soft on sin. The amazing thing is that Schlafly quotes responsible translators like Bruce Metzger to support the late inclusion of the text, while accusing him and other scholars of corrupting modern translations with liberal bias.
Since the project takes a narrow-vision approach, it’s even more surprising that Schlafly says translators should “credit open-mindedness” to “youngsters like the eyewitnesses Mark and John” — until you realize that he’s using “open-minded” as the opposite of “skeptical.”
Schlafly’s last guideline calls for conservative “conciseness” as opposed to “liberal wordiness,” a straw man apparently constructed so he could have ten guidelines, rather than nine — and in some tension with his earlier insistence that translations not be “dumbed down.”
What’s even worse is Schlafly’s method: when would-be translators go the wiki, they can click on a word and get the “Strong’s number,” supposedly allowing them to understand the underlying Hebrew or Greek word, before submitted their proposed “translation” of a text. Strong’s numbering system was developed first published in 1890. Developed by James Strong, it assigns a number to Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek words, then keys them to the words of the King James Version of the Bible. The system has allowed countless preachers who don’t know Hebrew from a hole in the ground to pretend that they are scholars. The irresponsibility of such a system can be seen in the work of a Florida pastor who used Strong’s numbers to support his ridiculous idea that Jesus identified Barak Obama as the antichrist, sparking a wave of fear-mongering email forwarding.
It should be apparent to anyone with a modicum of intelligence that Schlafly’s project will produce nothing more than a radically biased rewriting of the Bible slanted toward an extremely conservative political point of view and designed to reinforce that particular worldview. The One who inspired the scripture needs no re-interpretation of divine revelation.
Pardon my liberal wordiness.
Professor of Old Testament at Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek, North Carolina, and the Contributing Editor and Curriculum Writer at Good Faith Media.