Dec 3, 2009

Is the Bible too Liberal?

I was amused today, as I walked on my treadmill, when I saw a news story on television. The question raised by the news blurb was: Is the Bible too liberal? That was pretty hilarious to me as my friends have hammered me with their “factoid world” that reminds people like me that the Bible is not only too conservative, but out of touch with the world of Western Enlightened thought and highly sophisticated people like us.

The Baltimore Sun (3 December 2009) carried the story about amateur translators working on Conservative Bible Project to collaborate Wiki-style on the Internet to produce their version of sacred texts. The project’s creators argue that modern scholars have inserted liberal views and a-historical passages into the Bible (much like similar complaints about the Jesus Seminar people), turning Jesus into little more than a well-meaning social worker with a store of watered-down platitudes—like “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”—now there is a well worn platitude.

Andy Schlafly, founder of Conservapedia.com, the project’s online home is the brains behind the project and if his name is familiar it is because his mother, Phyllis, is a longtime conservative activist known for her opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment.

As you might guess many biblical scholars who have devoted their careers to unraveling the ancient texts of the Scriptures, many in long-extinct languages, are predictably skeptical about a project by amateur translators. Timothy Paul Jones, a professor at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville calls himself a theological conservative. He told the Baltimore Sun newspaper: “This is not making scripture understandable to people today, its reworking scripture to support a particular political or social agenda.” Jones also said this—a telling line—“You’ve got people who are doing this [project] who have probably never looked at an actual ancient manuscript.”

I have read Frank Matera for three decades and he is a first-rate scholar. What Matera writes always carries a lot of weight with me:

“The Bible’s roots in a dizzying variety of ancient manuscripts require a lifetime of dedication to master,” said the Rev. Frank Matera, a professor at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., and a former president of the Catholic Biblical Association of America. There’s a little Italian proverb, “Every translator is a traitor,” Matera said. “Most Bible translations are usually done by a group of scholars, precisely so they can balance out each other. It’s not something that everybody can do.”

Timothy Paul Jones, who as a Southern Baptist can hardly be labeled a liberal, reminds us that “the project is a misguided effort to read contemporary politics back into the text.”

Stay tuned.

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