No, my title for this post is a good one, and fair. Michael Sean Winters, writing at the In All Things blog, has drawn readers’ attention to the "Conservative Bible Project" (CBP). The project is perhaps worse than he suggests. The CBP first came to my attention through an e-mail sent by my colleague David Landry to the theology department at the University of St. Thomas a few weeks ago. I went to check out the CBP and sat, mouth gaping, as I surveyed the site. I, initially, did not believe it was serious, but some sort of Onion type satire. But, unfortunately, I believe the promulgators of this translation are deadly serious. Nevertheless, it is still a joke, even if unintended.
First of all, you need to be aware that "liberal bias has become the single biggest distortion in modern Bible translations. There are three sources of errors in conveying biblical meaning are (sic!), in increasing amount: lack of precision in the original language, such as terms underdeveloped to convey new concepts introduced by Christ; lack of precision in modern language; translation bias in converting the original language to the modern one." For a conservative project, I find it odd that the first source of error is the "original language." Is the suggestion that the evangelists and the Apostle Paul, for instance, chose improper words? What does this suggest with respect to the inspiration of the text? Inspiration, of course, is a complex issue - is each word inspired, are the human authors inspired, is the whole of the canonical text inspired? Each of these questions is an intriguing one, but to state that the original language is "imprecise" either suggests that the authors "could have done better" or that Jesus himself could have spoken more clearly or directly. This is an odd "error" for a conservative project as it implies that we will have to "fix" the language of the revealed text according to modern "conservative" principles. Why does this seem more in line with liberal Protestant theology of the early 20th century than "conservatism"? Come on Jesus, why so imprecise?
The second error, "Lack of precision in modern language," is hardly a conservative/liberal issue, but one known as "translation." It is a constant issue for those who translate, whether from a modern language or an ancient one, as to how to best render terms in the translation language. Does one choose "dynamic equivalence" or a "word for word" translation? How does one express the nuances of any language in the vocabulary of another? How does one express the multitude of meanings associated with Logos - Reason, reason, Word, a word - and its philosophical history amongst Greek philosophers such as Heraclitus and the Stoics, not to mention Hellenistic Jewish thinkers such as Philo of Alexandria , by translating it as "Word"?
The big issue for the CBP, though, is the third error: "translation bias in converting the original language to the modern one." Let’s just suppose that there is bias in modern translations, all of which are liberal in character. Apparently, the best way to combat bias is with more bias. This is a fascinating move to relativism, or postmodernism for the CBP. There is no "correct" or "best" translation, just those that reflect my bias or your bias. This is a move that is bound to place the word of God not in the realm of revealed texts, but of crass ideology. It is also to accept that my ideology transcends the truth of the word of God. Each person has biases, but to state that we cannot transcend them is to accept that truth is not possible.
The CBP is so stupid that it is hard to express it in strong enough terms. I probably feel such a revulsion because I would identify myself as a "conservative" scholar, but how American capitalism became identified as the Truth that trumps Scripture, the word of God, is beyond me. It is also terrible scholarship, but I will get to that some other time. I have had enough for a day.