Thursday, October 08, 2009

Conservative Bible Project.

Here is an article from Sojourners on the Conservative Bible Project.

The Conservative Bible Project seeks to eradicate "liberal bias" from English translations of the Biblical text. Though that would be a good thing for someone to do (although considering the plurality of translations we have at hand, I don't know where I can find any verse that is thoroughly biased in English) I'm afraid that this project has failed to do so without Bias of their own. As I read more about the project, the less and less seriously I was able to take the project. Even now I debate whether it's worth my time to even write this post.

The Project's criteria for translation are filled with what I would call "conservative Bias" including such criteria as "Not Emasculated: avoiding unisex, 'gender inclusive' language, and other modern emasculation of Christianity." The problem with this is modern language is gender inclusive whereas it didn't used to be, therefore gender inclusive language is not biased but simply the best reconstruction of the original thought. If a general term is grammatically masculine, in Greek as well as in Spanish (consider the term ellos) and other languages, it can still and in some cases must still be inclusive. Unfortunately, not enough translations are inclusive enough so the Conservative Bible Project is taking a step backwards in the pursuit of a more precise translation.

Another Criteria among the many listed is, "Express Free Market Parables; explaining the numerous economic parables with their full free-market meaning" and since what we know as the Free Market did not exist in the first century, this is an obvious eisegetical and "conservatively" biased mistake. Eisegesis, actually, can't even be considered truly conservative. There's no way any first century author could have promoted a Free Market system when it was a culturally foreign concept. Perhaps some of the principals do translate into modern day Free Market theories but sure some principals (like Acts 4:32) can also be translated into modern day socialism.

And the last example of their biased criteria I will address is "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." The problem here is that the text is inherently ambiguous on this subject due not only to the fact that different authors thought different things about hell and Satan, but also because the biblical teaching on these topics is caught up in quite specific social/cultural narratives of the specific time during which they were written, making the best translation, in many instances, none too specific and none too logically forceful.

Perhaps it's best not to take the Conservative Bible Project too seriously... I doubt you'll ever hear much about it after this post. perhaps it's best just to have a laugh about the whole thing because it is, after all, just another misguided, oversimplified, and one-sided approach to the Bible, and God knows we've dealt with far too much of that already. but this may also be a good opportunity for us to search ourselves for our own biases, to confess when we have set our interpretations in stone when in fact they shouldn't have been. Perhaps we should search ourselves too see when we have oversimplified things or have taken a one-sided perspective.

1 comment:

Rudy said...

Wes, as I may have mentioned to you, I was a Biblical Languages Major for my undergraduate program. Though I do not assume a complete grasp of translation I am not entirely ignorant on the subject. Translating (or at least accurate translating) is an attempt to identify what the author's intent to his specific audience was. Once this is found/understood, the task then comes to the translator to find/understand what the corresponding phonological forms (fancy for- words we speak that mean the same thing)and match them. The entire process is grueling and difficult. The positives include lots of cultural and linguistic study (for nerds like me at least) and the obvious--translating from a dead or inactive language. The reason these languages are identified as "dead" is that they are no longer used and its meaning is essentially "locked in time." The English language is "alive" or "active." This means that we are currently using a language that develops with time, teenager slang, new colloquialisms, and events which shape the "new meanings." For instance... One used to say, "Follow hard after." Whereas we would now say, "Follow close behind." Nothing wrong with the previous, but it no longer means what it meant. The translators of this new conservative bible (if you can call it a bible) is what you said, "Going backward." In ancient Hebrew the word for children of a different people group was literally, "sons of." This loosely translates into "ites" or "tians" in most Bibles. The original meaning to the audience did not exclude the feminine gender. They were equally included in the meaning. But due to OUR current change in the use of our phonological forms, we would translate it "children/people of/sons and daughters." For this reason we are to keep making new and better translations based on the current English language. As we get further and further away from the time bound written word of God, we are forced to do more and more study of the culture, ideas, and language of the people who penned this ancient book. What we should never engage in is the reversal of this process. The authors/translators of the "Conservative Bible Project" are trying to rewind the clock of usage on the English language and imprint their own 21st century meaning on the text. A tragedy and horrible thing this is. I pray the Lord's frustration of their efforts. Thanks for the post.