How Stupid is the Conservative Bible Project?
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 Oniontype 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.
Seriously now. Do the people behind this Conservative Bible Project really think Jesus's teachings were just mis-translated?
Many American conservatives are fundamentalists and/or evangelicals. They are likely to be very hostile to the radical alteration of Scripture (even if the work is done by other, self-described political conservatives) and won't respond well to the removal of certain passages which are offensive to right-wing ideology. I don't think Southern Baptist semiaries and other conservative American seminaries will be embracing this new "translation."
All of that said, I won't be surprised if these folks find a publisher, get more publicity, and take in a hadfull of angry. alienated, and gullible souls. This "Conservative Bible" will probably appeal to some of the Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck types.
This "conservative" approach to Bible "translation" is antithetical to the Catholic understanding of Divine Revelation (I am mindful of "Dei Verbum," the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, from Vatican II and Pope Pius XII's encyclical "Divino Afflante Spiritu" from 1943 which addresses Bible translation). I wish our USCCB would advised Catholics not to be involved with this "Conservative Bible Translation."
I do wish Catholic laity were more Scripturally literate. There was an Extraordinary Synod in 2008 (World Synod of Bishops) which focused on Scripture. Hopefuly, a encyclical or some sort of papal document will be published about this important Synod.
I don't think it is too harsh or unfair to call this so-called Conservative Bible Project "stupid." Your use of the word "stupid" is congruent with the teaching of Saint Jerome who said, "Ignoratio Scripturarum ignoratio Christi est" ("Ignorance of Scripture is igorance of Christ."). The willfull mutilation, alteration, deletion, and distortion of Holy Scripture for temporal, political ends reveals an arrogant and heretical form of human stupidity (fueled by hubris) and, sadly, manifests a modern day ignorance of Christ. At Vatican II, the study of the "Sacra Pagina" ("Sacred Page") was described by the Council Fathers as the "very soul of sacred theology." No Catholic should affirm the distortion of the Bible for political ends. No American political party or political philosophy totally and completely represents and sets forth Catholic social teaching (contrary to the statements and claims on behalf of the GOP made by George Weigel, the late Richard John Neuhaus, the late Robert Novak, et. al.). We should be suspicious of any political party or politician who claims to embody totally the "Christian" viewpoint. The idea of manipulating Holy Scripture to make it agreeable to neo-conservative philosphy seems blasphemous to me, sort of a modern day Pelagianism (the human race will find salvation via the legislative efforts of neo-con philosophy without any need of grace and redemption. And concepts like reconciliation, charity, and hope are discarded as "outmoded liberal innovations."). In recent history, another far-right political movement (German National Socialism of the 1930s and 40s) developed and promoted (what they called) "Positive Christianity" to attempt to "Nazify" Protestant and Catholic Christianity. Sadly, the Nazis (using the fear of Communism) managed to corrupt esteemed German theologians like Gerhard Kittel, Paul Althaus, and Emanuel Hirsch. Modern Scripture scholars still use Kittel's (pre-Nazi) work "Theological Dictionary of the New Testament." Kittel's (a great mind, a wonderful scholar of Hebrew and Greek) seduction into the Nazi movement was a terrible tragedy. The Nazis seemed to be dabbling in religious syncretism. In the same way, I can "hear" Ayn Rand's Objectivism (and even Nietzche's "Also Sprach Zarathustra" - Jesus as a harsh, unforgiving, materialistic conservative übermensch) in the syncretist "work" of the Conservative Bible Project. The Conservative Bible Project is trying to use fear of Islam and a nebulous fear and loathing of "Obama as Marxist" (and even "Obama as crypto-Muslim") to gain support for their "work." I don't think that the Conservative Bible Project will gain enough mainstream traction to merit a reaction from the USCCB. And I hope that no modern Bible scholar will be corrupted by these folks. I do think it would be very helpful for bishops (in diocesan publications) and parish priests (from the pulpit and via catechesis) to reaffirm Catholic teaching about the Bible. John, I agree that this sinister project does need to be addressed by church leadership. Lay Catholics need to fall in love with the Bible, study the Bible, and practice lectio divina. I am, by the way, a layman. I read, study, and love the Bible. If you are a layperson, please (at the very least) read, pray about, and study the upcoming Gospel text for Sunday Mass. Each year of the three-year lectionary, laity might consider studying, i depth, the Gospel "of the year" (Matthew Year A, Mark Year B, Luke Year C and or John used in al three years of the Eucharistic lectionary). I wish every parish had a Bible study group. There are many wonderful resources for Catholic Bible study (ask your parish priest for recommendations). In anticipation of the upcoming Year of Luke's Gospel, I just ordered Luke Timothy Johnson's Sacra Pagina Commentary on Luke. Perhaps the editors of America will review and recommend some Scripture study resources, too?
At first, I simply couldn't fathom the idea this was serious. Like Mr. Martens, it could only be satire, I thought. Someone's funnin' with us.
Expressing the "free-market principles of the Bible"? Using the modern conservative lingo as an improvement on the translation of biblical scholars??? Where would this authority come from?
It can only be summed up in a word that Mr. Winters and Mr. Martens have already emoyoyed, in their wisdom...stupid.