Monday, October 19, 2009

Conservapedia Bible Project - Free of Corruption by Liberal Untruths?

Conservapedia is a parallell to Wikipedia, founded in November 2006 by Andy Schafly. The idea behind the project is to create an encyclopedic resource on the internet "free of corruption by liberal untruths" (in contrast to Wikipedia). The website has now received over 100 million page views. One of the Conservapedia endevours, the Conservative Bible Project, is to create a new Bible translation. According to Conservapedia 20% of the New Testament is now complete. There is a news article in The Tennessean on this project.

The translation is aided by open-source editing. Conseqently, when news of the translation project reached The Colbert Report, some fans inserted their host so that Gen 1:1 was changed to, "In the beginning, Stephen Colbert created the heaven and the earth." Someone else apparently changed "Pharisee" to "liberal." This changes have been corrected.

The founder of Conservapedia, Andy Schafly, says that "translations like the New International Version have added socialist ideals to the Good Book." Schlafly thinks a conservative Bible should be masculine, and not use inclusive language. It should also avoids terms like laborer or comrade, and it should put a free market spin on the sayings of Jesus. For example in Mark 10:25 where the KJV has "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God" the Conservative Bible replaces "a rich man" with "a man who cares only for money."

However, the Conservative Bible Project has drawn a massive amount of criticism from all camps, including biblical scholars. Douglas Moo at Wheaton College, one of the scholars behind the New International Version, is very skeptical about the Conservative Bible Project: "Silly is probably as kind as I could be about it," . . . "Any serious people working on Bible translation know that you have to leave as much ideology at the door as possible to do a good job."

The Tennessean reports that "the most radical change in the Conservative Bible might be dumping two passages of familiar Scripture." However, these are not radical changes from the viewpoint of New Testament textual criticism since they are the Long Ending of Mark, and the Pericope of the Adulteress. Schafly refers to the lack of attestation in the best manuscripts. On the other hand he explains that the adultery story should be cut because it portrays Jesus as being soft on sin; "It's a liberal addition, put in by people who wanted to undermine the reality of hell and judgment."

The article further refers to Jennifer Knust of Boston University who has been studying the origins of the adultery story for years. She points out that it was liberal scholars who began to question its authenticity in the 1800s: "It was the liberals who wanted to take the story out and the conservatives who wanted to keep the story," she said. I don't know if Knust really said that the story was universally accepted until the 1800's, as the article says, because that is of course not true. It is safer to say that it was generally accepted in the West, although it did survive also in the Greek tradition. Jennifer and I have written an article due for publication in Harvard Theological Review on these issues, specifically on the subject of what Jesus wrote on the ground. See here.

Probably, many conservatives today will like to keep this story in their bibles. However, Dan Wallace is not one of them. He has said that modern translation's inclusion of the story is the result of "a tradition of timidity." See more about this debate in the article in Christianity Today "Is Let Him Who Is Without Sin Cast the First Stone 'Biblical'?" See also Dan Wallace comments on the Conservatibe Bible Project on his blog.

Today I am trying a new feature on the blog, mostly for fun. It is the first poll ever: "Should the Pericope of the Adulteress be included in our bibles?"


  1. Ironically, based on your description, it seems that their policy of editorial control and their method of translation (e.g. of 'rich') is anything but conservative. Political conservatism must be distinguished from conservatism in translation method.

  2. It's not a "conservative translation" in the ordinary sense of the word (either word, actually). It's a politically right-wing modernized paraphrase of the KJV. The text itself is rife with interpretive stretches, grounded in a theory that Greek was somehow inadequate to express what the authors really intended. I have in mind, specifically, the case where Herodias' daughter is in Mk 6:22 described as a "girl", which becomes "temptress" in this work, with a note attached suggesting that they might want to change this to "bimbo" instead. This is since changed, but through the wonders of Wiki history, it's still visible in versions from a couple weeks ago.

    There are also frequent reminders that the "translators" at Conservapedia would do well to concentrate on mastering English before engaging in a project of this magnitude. It's hard not to laugh at the irony of a work that claims "not dumbing down the reading level" as one of its guiding principles, when its "translators" haven't quite mastered person-number agreement on verbs or capitalization conventions for quoted speech in English.

  3. The "conservative" Bible translation project is self-evidently a parody, not a real project.

  4. I've seen this "project" get mentioned a lot lately. I think before it gets too much attention given to it, the whole thing should be taken with a grain of salt. Is this an actual project that is going on now with a publisher behind it? Or is it just some guy's idea that he posted on a website that anyone who signs up there can post on? I would take any random comment posted on the ETC blog more seriously than I would that conservapedia article. As I see it, it's not a serious enough thing to get the attention, or even the mockery, that it's already gotten.

  5. Eric, I guess a website that has had 105,000,000 page views must be taken seriously since it apparently will have impact. Thus far, it is ranked 52750 by Alexa. (This blog btw has traffic rank 918692).

  6. For those who think the Pericope of the Adulteress should not be included in modern Bibles, do you think it should be included in a lengthy footnote or not at all? Most versions these days have many textual notes. Does the story have enough intrinsic/historical value to be among those included in the notes?

    Then there is the possibility that the story is actually authentic and removing it from Bibles (including the notes) would mean throwing something similar to the size of 2 or 3 John out the window. What if the passage's removal is really an ancient Orthodox Corruption, similar to what Augustine suggested. It is obvious from 4th century Fathers that the passage was by then well established in many manuscripts in its canonical place (7:53-8:11), indicating at least the antiquity of the story that appears in so many later manuscripts. Indeed, its "inclusion" on a canonical level is hardly much removed in time-space from the "inclusion" of 2/3 John or 2 Peter, so what's the fuss?

    The earliest manuscripts may preserve real orthodox corruptions, such as the removal of εικη in Matt 5:22 (cf. D. A. Black, "Jesus on Anger: The Text of Matthew 5:22a Revisited," Novum Testamentum 30:1 [1988], 1-8, of which Bart Ehrman not surprisingly suggests his approval in one of his works). Perhaps the removal of the Pericope of the Adulteress is simply one whopper of an orthodox corruption!

    Jonathan C. Borland

  7. I would have liked an option on the survey that said include it in a footnote.

    I voted include it with brackets, but I think that is too strong.

    It still has historic significance even if we believe it was not originally part of John, so I wouldn't want to loose it altogether, but I also don't think we should continue to pretend that it was originally part of John.


  8. Can't access the poll.

  9. One of the liberal falsehoods Andy Schafly is trying to eradicate is that girls are just as smart as boys:

  10. Anon: "Can't access the poll."

    I don't know what the problem is. Can you see the question and a gray button in the right sidebar?

  11. If someone thought long and hard it would be difficult to come up with a better way to make conservatives look silly that this "Conservapedia" nonsense and its pitiful excuse for a Bible translation.

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

  12. Papias seems to have known about a story concerning Jesus' interactions with a woman who was caught in many sins. It is possible that Papias got this story from the author of the Gospel of John himself. Regardless of whether the account in the Gospel was originally there, it may well represent a true story that could have also been known by the author of the Gospel.

    Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History 3.39.16 or look here:

  13. My primary motivation for wanting to keep it in the Bible is that one of my friends has 8.11 tattooed on his chest. I would hate for it to be removed after all that anguish.
    But I still don't think that is a good enough reason to keep it.

    1. Who are we to say what God should or shouldn't include in His Word?

  14. Andrew Wilson10/21/2009 7:34 pm

    You'll have to adjust the settings on the poll, Tommy. I've voted four times now (not all for the same option, mind you). As long as it is a few hours apart, you can vote early and often.

  15. Andrew, I don't know how to do that. I am still learning.

  16. I voted for square brackets.

    On a text critical level I'm persuaded that it was not part of the "original text" (however that is defined).

    However, the story is, to my mind, likely authentic Jesus tradition, and at any rate has definitely established itself on, if not a textual base, certain a theological and canonical one.

    Critical editions, e.g. NA27, should definitely square bracket it to indicate its text critical status. The average English bible, however, does not serve a critical purpose, but a theological one, and so I see know problem in including it there.

  17. Andrew Wilson10/22/2009 11:15 am

    I don't know how to do it either, not having used the Blogger system, but I know other ones that allow you to mess about with all sorts of options on the back-end.