Is It a Real Translation or Just Radical Ideology?

183px-Phyllis-schlafly-2007-03_cc Most readers, at least those over thirty, have heard of Phyllis Schlafly. Mrs. Schlafly has been widely known in the culture wars for over fifty years. She is a strident, oft published, conservative activist. She became well known in the 1964 ill-fated Barry Goldwater presidential campaign. She became best known for her opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). Many believe she was the leading voice in helping to defeat the amendment when 30 of the needed 38 states had already voted to accept it. Personally, I have always found it quite ironic that when the U. S helped Japan write its constitution, following their defeat in World War II, we made sure they adopted an ERA. We wanted the idea of "equal rights" under the law built into their political DNA.

Until recently I did not know much about Mrs. Schlafly’s six children. I certainly knew nothing about her best-known son, Andy Schlafly. Andy is a staunch political conservative, just like his famous mother (who is now 85 years old). He advocates the principles held by his mother with as much fervor as she ever did. Like his famous mother Andy is also well-educated. He’s a graduate of Princeton University (with a major in electrical engineering), and Harvard Law School. (Phyllis was also a lawyer and feminists were right when they routinely said that she advocated for stay-at-home mothers while she had a major public career outside the home!) Andy is the founder of the website Conservapedia.com, which now boasts more than 100 million page views. The site offers a strongly conservative viewpoint on politics. What particularly interested me about this site is not the politics of the Andy Schlafly, which are to the far right of any reasonably modern conservative stance, but his entrance into religious issues. Phyllis Schlafly is a Roman Catholic and always expressed some connection between her faith and her political philosophy. She had a particular appeal to “Bible-believing conservatives.” Her son appears to be in the same place. Again this is not all that important since I gather the impact of the Schlafly family is relatively small these days. 

What should interest serious Christians, however, is the fact that Conservapedia.com is now sponsoring a new Bible translation project called the Conservative Bible Project. Anytime conservative groups talk about a new Bible translation they get my attention since I am much more interested in the Holy Scripture, and the integrity of how it is translated, that I am any political arguments under the sun.

The Conservapedia.com Bible translation project involves what has been termed open-source editing. New Testament scholar Dan Wallace writes that this project is an “open source of woe or comic relief, depending on your perspective.” Wallace, on his post at Parchment and Pen, writes:

The Tennesean.com reports that Gen 1.1 was changed by fans of Stephen Colbert as follows: “In the beginning, Stephen Colbert created the heavens and the earth”! The text was later fixed. Al Gore may have invented the Internet, but Colbert did not create the universe. Elsewhere, someone changed ‘Pharisee’ to ‘liberal’ to show that liberals were responsible for Jesus’ death. Schlafly changed it back to Pharisee but admitted to the Tennessean.com, “The possibility that Pharisees, which is a term that’s not familiar to most of us, could be better translated as liberal is intriguing. But we haven’t gone with that yet.”

Besides the fact that this translation is simply a really bad one the overriding problem here is found in the very project itself. How on earth can you translate the Bible according to a particular political agenda? My friend Douglas Moo, professor of theology at the Wheaton Graduate School, and chairman of the Committee on Bible Translation which oversees the NIV and TNIV, commented on the project to the Nashville Tennessean by saying: “Silly is probably as kind as I could be about it.” Schlafly responded to this reporting by saying that the TNIV was motivated by a liberal agenda, especially with regard to gender inclusiveness. Ah, here we go again, appeal to the "gender war" hot button and you throw more verbal bombs without having to deal with very real issues in the text of the Bible itself.

Wallace rightly notes about this gender inclusiveness charge: “This, frankly, is an uninformed argument. Moo wrote the first full-blown exegesis of 1 Tim 2.11–15, published originally in Trinity Journal, taking a conservative position on the role of women in the church. Moo also was for some time a member of the conservative Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.”

01_Andy_Schlafly What is going on here is rather obvious. Schlafly is using the word “liberal” to describe both politics and theology, mixing the two shamelessly. He even has ten rules for a conservative Bible translation and anyone who reads the rules will readily discover what I mean. Here are three to give you an illustration of my point:

1. "Framework Against Liberal Bias"

Schlafly argues for a "thought-for-thought" translation framework without the possible corruption of liberal bias. This is an utterly amazing first point in approaching Bible translation itself.

2. "Not Dumbed Down"

Here Schlafly attacks the NIV for using seventh grade English. The reason for this level of English is that the translators wanted a Bible that could be read and understood by ordinary readers of modern English. This principle is in perfect keeping with the way the original Greek text was written and is a principle rooted in the mission of Christ.

3. "Utilize Powerful Conservative Terms"

For a Bible that wants to avoid bias it seems clear to me the bias they want to a
void is anything that might
be seen as supportive of liberal political ideology. So much for being non-biased.

4. “Express Free-Market Parables”

While I respect and defend the free-market this principle in translating the Bible is so preposterous as to be beyond serious belief until I actually read it in Schlafly’s list.

A blog reader of Dan Wallace’s post comments on this subject in a way that sums up my response nicely: “The combining of ‘conservative’ and ‘translation’ creates an oxymoron because by definition any translation with an agenda, liberal, conservative, or other, is simply not a translation. Translations are supposed to represent the original text as closely as possible given the differences in language. Taking the Bible and translating the language to support your agenda rather than accurately translating the author’s intent is damnable idolatry (you are placing your beliefs in the conservative cause above God’s Word). I’m reminded of the quote that God created man in His image and man returned the favor.”

Andy Schlafly’s project looks and feels like the work of some kind of foolish person who knows absolutely nothing about how translation really works. The only problem with this conclusion is that it seems he understands enough to know better. If this is true then his problem is even worse than foolishness and ignorance. The good news is that almost no one will use this translation of the Bible. The bad news is that the kind of ideology that produces it in the first place is here to stay. Let serious, thoughtful and responsible Christians beware.