When Politics Influences Bible Translation

I stumbled across this and I am horrified.

It’s a sad sight when the Bible is translated according to an agenda. We see it with the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ terrible New World Translation, which systematically removes references to Christ’s deity and a host of other teachings; we see it with the TNIV, which did everything from obscuring messianic prophecies to using plural pronouns to translate singular ones in the original languages in order to be “gender-neutral”; and now, there is this.

An unbeliever with a taste for politics would probably look at my opinions on political matters and put me somewhere to the right of Attila the Hun. I hold conservative or libertarian positions on most hot-button political issues. I’m the very constituency these guys think they are serving!! But my allegiance to Christ is what drives those opinions, not the other way around. Put in the context of this reprehensible project, I try to form my political positions and opinions, like my actions and thoughts about every other area of life, from the biblical text. I don’t read the biblical text through a political lens (or, knowing I’m not perfect, I do make every effort to self-consciously avoid doing so).

This project is bad from pretty well any way you look at it. First, it’s hypocritical, because it is doing exactly what it accuses politically liberal translations of doing. They want to free the Bible from being a wax nose for the other side only to secure for themselves the privilege to use it the same way. Second, from a political perspective, it simply feeds the (somewhat justified) perception of many that the broader North American evangelical church is increasingly politicized and in many ways a branch of the Republican (or Conservative) Party. So it does great damage to their own political credibility. Third, it won’t change anyone’s minds. They freely talk about bringing in a conservative philosophy as they translate; it’s something presupposed as they approach the text. The result will be preaching to the choir.

Finally, and most importantly: anyone who is serious about expressing what the true meaning of the biblical text is will seek to translate every word according to the intentions and meanings of the original author. A literal translation philosophy simply seeks to express the author’s intention. This is, therefore, not a literal approach at all, as it seeks to express the biblical text in ways that emphasize a politically conservative viewpoint; in other words, the author’s intent will inevitably be colored by and, possibly, replaced by the translator’s political bias.

Here is a clear example of what I am talking about:

‘prefer concise, consistent use of the word “Lord” rather than “Jehovah” or “Yahweh” or “Lord God.”‘

Right there they prove that they either don’t read Hebrew (in which case they have no business doing a translation) or they just don’t care what the text says (in which case they have no business doing a translation). In English Bibles, LORD translates, in the Old Testament, the name of God – the Tetragrammaton, composed of the Hebrew letters yod-he-vav-he. We sometimes write this word as YHWH, or Yahweh. I actually think modern translations are needlessly superstitious on this point; since I want the English text to reflect the Hebrew, I would far rather it said Yahweh than LORD. But my point here is that these guys do not care what the original language actually says, according to their own “ten guidelines” of conservative translation.

What this means is that these people are lying in their claim to be translating what the Bible actually saysThis politically-motivated “guideline” forces them to avoid saying in English what the Hebrew actually says.

Bottom line: this project needs to be condemned by Christians in the strongest possible terms. And its supporters need to ask themselves what truly is their highest authority: the Word of God, or their political perspective?


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