Another Perspective

Is Your Bible Too Liberal?

To make things right, the Conservative Bible Project wants some Scripture left behind.

By 10.8.09

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Has "liberal bias" made its way into modern Bible translations? According to certain individuals contributing to the "Conservative Bible project" over at Conservapedia, a "conservative family-friendly Wiki encyclopedia," the answer is yes. And so these members have launched a "Conservative Bible Projectto combat the alleged liberalism to be found throughout Scripture. A Bible translated by conservatives, for conservatives.

The exact grievances of the translators can be found here. Should serious students of Scripture and professing believers be alarmed at the inherent liberalism of the Bibles in their homes and churches, and switch over to the Conservative Bible? The claims of the Conservative Bible Project notwithstanding, it's probably safe to say that sticking to mainstream translations won't turn you into a socialist anytime soon.

One complaint of the Conservative Bible proponents is that modern translations contain language that is problematic and can be interpreted as having "liberal" connotations. They express disapproval and displeasure at translations they accuse of reflecting an ideological agenda. Yet they also call for the removal or altering of terms that run counter to their own political and ideological agendas.

According to the post, “the conservative word ‘volunteer’ is mentioned only once in the ESV, yet the socialistic word ‘comrade’ is used three times, ‘laborer(s)’ is used 13 times, ‘labored’ 15 times, and ‘fellow’ (as in ‘fellow worker’) is used 55 times.

When the Apostle Paul referred to Philemon as his "fellow-worker" (NIV) or "fellow-laborer" (KJV), it is highly doubtful anyone suspected he was promoting a sinister political agenda. While many on the political Left have tried to use Scripture to serve their own agendas, there has been no large movement of leftists citing Philemon 1:1 and Paul’s use of the phrase "fellow-worker" to support Marxist or socialist thought.

In the original Greek, and as conveyed through English translations, Paul is simply describing Philemon as a partner in the gospel. There’s no reason to find a political agenda here unless one is looking for it in a hypersensitive fashion. However, according to the Conservative Bible, the proper translation is "Paul, in prison for Jesus Christ, and our brother Timothy, say to our friend and fellow volunteer Philemon…" (Emphasis mine.)

What is their reason for using the word volunteer in place of "fellow-worker" or "fellow-laborer"? The translators explain, "Fellow-labourer is misleading today, and falsely connotes socialism.”

Also suspect are allegedly "liberal verses" that need to be purged from the Bible. One that is given honorable mention is Luke 23:34, where Jesus says during His crucifixion, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." Now it is true that most early Greek manuscripts omit this saying in Luke’s Gospel. Almost every modern Bible translation indicates this in a footnote. But what evidence is there that this was inserted a couple of hundred years after the discovery of Luke’s Gospel for politically and theologically "liberal" purposes?

Regarding this passage, the Conservative Bible Project states, “This does not appear in any other Gospel, and the simple fact is that some of the persecutors of Jesus did know what they were doing. This quotation is a favorite of liberals but should not appear in a conservative Bible.”

Whether or not a given passage belongs in Scripture has nothing to do with modern political ideology. While the existence of this passage in the original text is certainly debatable, the above critics are misinterpreting the verse and the spirit behind it. A normal reading of the text shows that Jesus' persecutors knew what they were doing in the literal sense. Christ’s alleged words, however, indicate they were operating out of spiritual ignorance.

Regardless of the authenticity of this passage, the theme of grace and forgiveness is found throughout the New Testament. This includes loving one’s enemies (Matthew 5:43-48) and being graceful towards people who have made clear mistakes (Matthew 21:23-27). Does this make the Bible and Christ Himself "liberal"? Should these passages also be viewed suspiciously by good Bible-believing conservatives? Time will tell, since the Gospel of Matthew has not yet been re-translated on the Conservative Bible page.

Authors of the Conservative Bible also declare they want to eliminate other "liberal" words like "government" and replace them with "more accurate substitutes." While a staple of modern conservative and libertarian thought is a belief in limited or minimal government, it is quite novel to want to purge the word itself from one's vocabulary, or from Scripture itself. This is especially puzzling when the best Bible scholars holding high views of Scripture in every single translation ever published have used the word and decided it is most faithful to the original Greek text.

However one defines conservatism, it has never been perceived as something to promote a reverse political correctness, or in this case "conservative correctness." The goal of any faithful modern translation is to stick closely to the Biblical text in its original languages.

This means you follow the text where it takes you, and the rendering of words must based on what the Biblical author meant, not what modern ideologues want to hear. It is not philosophically consistent for conservatives to lambaste feminists for playing fast and loose with the Biblical text and then commit the same kind of errors.

Liberals and conservatives have long been trying to claim Jesus as one of their own. Michael Moore's new documentary, Capitalism: A Love Story, devotes an entire segment to portraying Jesus as a spokesperson for liberal causes and interviews priests sympathetic to Moore's views. Others have attempted to make Jesus a spokesman for various right-wing causes.

The fact of the matter is that Jesus said and did enough to annoy both those reading on the left and right today. For conservatives, the best approach is letting the ancient Scriptures, properly interpreted, speak for themselves. The old and traditional approach of examining a given Biblical text, deciphering what the original author meant when he wrote it, and then applying it for today, still works.

It’s also, well, pretty conservative.

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About the Author

Bill Barnwell is a pastor and writer from Michigan and holds Master's degrees in theology and ministry.