The folks who brought us Conservapedia – the alternative online encyclopaedia free from all that pesky liberal bias and concern for what’s actually true – have started a new project. It’s the imaginatively-titled Conservative Bible. Presumably Deutronomy 13 wasn’t conservative enough for them.
In reaction liberal Christians and some more knowledgeable atheists have been enthusiastically quoting all those “Don’t change the Bible” verses. One favourite being:
“You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you.” – Deuteronomy 4:2
The many comments in response to WorldMag.com’s article on the new translation are along the same lines: “Leave the Bible alone”.
No doubt the conservatives behind this project will argue that theirs is the more accurate translation, while liberals have, over the years, polluted the original meaning of the Bible.
They’re not the first and will probably not be the last. For example, the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, translated and authorised by the Jehovah’s Witnesses includes some subtle but important changes. When I spoke to them last year, the JWs played down the differences and claimed it was just a slightly more accurate translation. Here are a couple of examples – what do you think?
In the KJV of the Bible, 1 Chronicles 16:30 reads:
Fear before him, all the earth: the world also shall be stable, that it be not moved.
While the same verse in the New World Translation favoured by Jehovah’s Witnesses reads:
Be in severe pains on account of him, all YOU people of the earth! Also the productive land is firmly established: Never will it be made to totter.
It looks like the NWT was translated with an intention of making the Bible say what they’d like it to say. In the first case, the original KJV translation “stable… not moved” is clearly at odds with modern science which tells us that the Earth not only rotates on its axis once every 24 hours, but orbits the sun once a year. The NWT tries to hide this glaring inaccuracy by translating the Hebrew to “productive land” rather than “earth”.
In the KJV Isaiah 45:7 reads:
I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.
Which the NWT translates as:
Forming light and creating darkness, making peace and creating calamity, I, Jehovah am doing all these things.
Again, the idea of God creating evil is completely at odds with other parts of the Bible and subsequent theology which describes him as good in every way. I’ve even heard that “god” and “good” have similar etymological roots. The NWT use the alternative translation of “calamity”, which is still not exactly benevolent, but not quite as clear cut as “evil”. Ebonmuse discusses this discord in detail as part of his Little Known Bible Verses series.
I’m not claiming to know what the original authors of the Bible really intended. But whatever the truth about these kinds of claims there’s a danger inherent in any kind of investigation, be it scientific or linguistic which aims to “discover” a particular, predetermined outcome, rather than work out what is true. It’s a kind of wishful thinking. I can imagine Conservapedia translators saying, “We’d like the Bible to be more conservative, so when we re-translate it, we’ll make sure that is what we find!”.