CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Gospel of Luke records that, as he was dying on the cross, Jesus showed his boundless mercy by praying for his killers this way: “Father, forgive them;for they know not what they do.” Not so fast, say contributors to the Conservative Bible Project.
The project, an online effort to create a Bible suitable for contemporary conservative sensibilities, claims Jesus' quote is a disputed addition abetted by liberal biblical scholars, even if it appears in some form in almost every translation of the Bible.
The project’s authors argue that contemporary scholars have inserted liberal views and a historical passages into the Bible, turning Jesus into little more than a well-meaning social worker with a store of watereddown platitudes.
“Professors are the most liberal group of people in the world, and it’s professors who are doing the popular modern translations of the Bible,” said Andy Schlafly, founder of Conservapedia.com, the project’s online home.
Experts 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.
“This is not making Scripture understandable to people today, it’s reworking Scripture to support a particular political or social agenda,” said Timothy Paul Jones, a professor at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., who calls himself a theological conservative.
Religious publishers already provide an alphabet soup of Bible translations for a range of theological outlooks, from the King James Version to the Revised Standard Version and beyond. The most widely used traditional translations were overseen by scholars who are considered the best minds in conservative Christianity.
“The phrase ‘theological conservative’ does not mean that someone is politically conservative,” said Schlafly, who lives in Far Hills, N.J.
This liberal slanting, Schlafly argues, ranges from changing gendered language — Jesus calling his disciples to be “fishersofpeople”ratherthan “fishers of men” — to more subtle choices, like the 2001 English Standard Version of the Bible, which uses “comrade” and “laborer” more often than the conservativefriendly “volunteer.”
The Rev. Buddy Cooper of St. Paul United Methodist Church in Columbus said the church “has always struggled with the fidelity of the text.” He listed some of the various translations out there, including the Living Bible and Bibles for Calvinists and Bibles for Methodists — all with varying theological edges.
Though not aware of this particular effort, Cooper added: “I have a real problem with projects like this. ... They operate under an assumption of a cultural vacuum. I’m not impugning their motives but the idea that the text is corrupt is a false assumption. The Bible contains the word of God, and history has shown that if you read the book, it’s living; it’s beyond human hands.”
The Rev. Sharon Billins of The Remnant Church and Palm Tree International Ministries in Columbus agreed.
“There are many translations but when I research things, the foundation I use is the King James Version, and then I go to the other standards. As it says in the book of Revelation, I am a believer in not adding or subtracting from the word of God.
“The Bible was written by the unction of the Holy Spirit,” she continued, “and I think there was a purer form of anointing on these menthanwhatwehavenow. They had not been diluted as much in their thinking. There are so many philosophies out there and even in the church, we have diluted who Jesus Christ is. ... My opinion is leave well enough alone.”
The Rev. Buddy Lamb of Schomburg Road Baptist Church, though not aware of the project, would not be for the gender-neutral language of more-modern translations.
“I am really very conservative and I want the translation to be as close to the original language as possible,” Lamb said, “and then I take it and add to it the biblical context. When you read the scripture, you keep in mind the three C’s: content, context and culture.”
One contextual difference between history and now, he pointed out, was a woman’s secondary role in society, when words such as “humankind” weren’t even used.
“I am extremely conservative when it comes to scripture,” said Lamb, who most often uses the New American Standard Version and often consults Greek roots of words in study. Group’s arguments
Contributors to the project aren’t arguing on ideological grounds alone. The discussion forum on the site is full of discourse on Greek grammar, along with arguments long familiar to Biblical scholars about the history of certain passages.
Take the famous passage from Luke: the Conservative Bible Project omits it not only because it’s “a favorite of liberals,” but also because there’s some dispute over its authenticity, based on the manuscripts it appears in.
Jones said while some early Greek manuscripts omit Jesus’ words, others include them.
“There are so many factors to consider when looking at that, but here it gets boiled down to ‘liberals put it in,’” he said. “You’ve got people who are doing this who have probably never looked at an actual ancient manuscript.”
In some ways, the Conservative Bible Project reflects an ancient debate over Scripture. The Bible as it’s known today more or less took final shape in the fourth century after hundreds of years of debate over which books were canonical.
The debate flared up again during the Protestant Reformation, when Martin Luther fruitlessly yearned to cut the Book of James because of its fairly explicit contradiction of his belief that salvation could be attained by faith alone.
“People have always done this with the Bible,” said Philip Jenkins, a professor of history and religious studies at Pennsylvania State University. “Virtually everyone in a mainstream Protestant or Roman Catholic church in the United States is reading a doctored version of the Bible.”