The Bible and Culture

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Just when we thought it was safe to assume that we already had enough Bible translations, and even some decidedly ‘conservative’ ones ot note that have appeared recently (see the ESV) we now have, thanks to the efforts of Andy Shlafly, the son of Phyllis of conservative polemics fame, ‘The Conservative Bible Project’. Now this Bible project reflects a concern that the Bible might not actually support major pillars of conservative theory in America, pillars like free market economics and the like, unless that is it is translated by people who don’t have the dreaded disease— ‘liberal bias’. Here are the listed ten so-called guidelines for avoiding liberal bias in translation—As of 2009, there is no fully conservative translation of the Bible which satisfies the following ten guidelines:[3] 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 feminist distortions; preserve many references to the unborn child (the NIV deletes these) 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[4] 4. Utilize Powerful Conservative Terms: using powerful new conservative terms to capture better the original intent;[5] 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”. 5. Combat Harmful Addiction: combating addiction[6] by using modern terms for it, such as “gamble” rather than “cast lots”;[7] 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 Inauthentic Passages: excluding the interpolated passages that liberals commonly put their own spin on, 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.” And who, you may ask, will be doing this translation??? We are told by Andy that it will be and is ‘the best of the public’ (read arch conservatives who are rather ticked off with translations that tend to challenge some of their cherished conservative economic and gender theories and principles). Shoot, anyone can pull this off just by clicking on the ‘Strong’s Concordance’ button and understand instantly the Greek or Hebrew background to various English terms. Thus far the project has completed the following books—Old Testament:Genesis • Obadiah • HaggaiNew Testament:Matthew • Mark • 1 Timothy • Philemon • Jude • 2 John • 3 JohnRevelation.You can see in the clip I have posted above what some ‘liberal’ media may think of this project. But I wish to raise objections to it on a whole different series of grounds. If you are following along with the new series I am doing on my book Jesus and Money, you will already realize that reading modern economic theory back into the Bible is not only anachronistic, its historically impossible. Jesus and friends are not advocates of free market capitalism as we know it today. They lived in a world which largely involved a barter economic system, and literal ‘slave labor’. Secondly, the attempt to eliminate gender inclusive language entirely from the translation of the Bible ends up falsifying the various passages where both men and women are addressed, since of course in modern English brothers refer to men, and sisters to women. Exclusively male language is no longer all inclusive language as it was in a more patriarchal era of the English language. If the goal of translation is to translate the sense of what is said into the receiver language which is a living and ever-changing language then the translation need to be regularly revised to suit the state of ‘modern English’. I call this the incarnational principle— namely the notion that God speaks to us where we are in our cultural and human history. God does not address us as if we lived in 1611, thank thee very much. But perhaps the most troubling notion about this whole project is the belief that people without knowledge of the sender languages— Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek can provide us with a good, accurate modern English translation. This project could be relabeled– the Bible for Amateurs. But the biggest elephant in the room of course is that whilst replacing certain kinds of so-called liberal bias in this process, what has been substituted for that is a modern western patriarchal conservative bias— and frankly the Bible doesn’t fit neatly into all those pigeonholes. It challenges the very foundations of various aspects of both modern liberal and conservative thought— over and over again. The last thing we need about now is a Bible translation that baptizes all American conservative person’s tendencies and biases and calls them good and Biblical. We need this even less than we need a ‘liberal-bias’ Bible. Why? Because especially conservative Christians above all, need to be reminded over and over again that their cultural preferences are not necessarily identical with the Biblical absolutes. They need to be reminded that critical scrutiny, self-evaluation, and judgment begin with the household of God.Which brings me back to Andy Shlafly….he seems to believe that ‘vox populi, vox Dei’. I do not believe this. I believe that a good translation involves scholars, and more to the point scholars from various traditions and points of view precisely so bias in translation can be avoided. I believe the voice of God is what comes and critiques all of our biases, whatever they may be. And when you begin to whittle off the hard and challenging bits in the Bible that accost some of your fundamental assumptions in life, even some of your conservative economic assumptions, you are in fact censoring and muting the Bible so that you do not have to change your culture-bound preconceptions and ways, so you can just say ‘God bless my standard and way of living’. And this friends is not necessarily the voice of God at all. It is the voice of ingrained cultural bias, in this case conservative American cultural bias.

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