I am certainly not the first to comment on Andy Schafly’s project to rewrite the Bible along conservative ideological lines, nor indeed will I likely be the last. This project, being undertaken at the Conservapedia website is truly one for the books. Apparently not finding the current translations of the Bible sufficiently free from “liberal bias” (it’s translated by professors don’t you know?) these good folks have decided to rewrite the Bible themselves, to better reflect their particular world view.
Now before any of us get too indignant on what I think would have been considered heresy in a more “conservative” day and age, it should be noted that the composition and text of the Bible has always been a matter of heated debate. When the Bible as we currently know it came into being as a result of a series of councils among the so-called “fathers of the church” in the late fourth century. During this period there were a number of works purporting to be scripture lying about and not all of them ended up incorporated into the canon (Hence the existence of outliers, such as the Gospel of Judas, the Pseudepigrapha, and the hesitantly included, though later removed by Luther, Apocrypha.) The reason for the exclusion or hesitant inclusion of a number of these works, was that they did not conform to the definitions of orthodoxy laid out by these early Christian leaders. Nor indeed were all the “Fathers” perfectly comfortable with all of the books we currently accept in the canon, after all the Apocalypse of St. John (a.k.a. the Book of Revelation) was not officially accepted into the canon until the Council of Trent in 1563!
Nor has the Bible been immune to partisan tinkering of one sort or the other over the years. Martin Luther famously removed the Apocrypha from the Bibles used by the Protestant sect he founded, creating a difference between Catholic and Protestant Bibles that persists to this day. Similarly, he advocated the removal of the Epistle of James, “that straw epistle” as he derisively called it, because it directly contradicted his doctrine of salvation through grace alone. Finally, lest Biblical rewriting be seen as wholly the province of theologians, Thomas Jefferson had a version of the Bible printed for his personal use in which all of the supernatural or miraculous events recorded within had been redacted, leaving only the teachings and the doctrine.
Hence, while one can surely strongly disagree with both the motives and principles of the Conservapedia editors, it cannot be argued that what they’re doing is unprecedented, they’re just joining a long-running and extremely cynical tradition of altering holy writ to suit their own personal, doctrinal, or ideological designs. So, having noted the above, what exactly is different in the new “conservative Bible?”
Consider the following examples, courtesy of Yahoo! News:
King James: In that hour Jesus rejoiced in spirit, and said, “I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes: even so, Father; for so it seemed good in thy sight.”
Conservative Bible Project: With that Jesus rejoiced, “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for withholding Truth from the intellectuals while revealing it to common man, as this pleased You.”
King James: Even as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.
Conservative Bible Project: Furthermore, Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities around them whose people also gave themselves over to sensuality, and homosexuality and bestiality, were made examples of, and suffered the vengeance of eternal fire.
King James: And all that believed were together, and had all things common.
Conservative Bible Project: Everyone who believed was together and shared values, faith, and the truth.
As a practicing Mormon, I find the final example here particularly offensive, as it directly contradicts that which, both tradition and Latter-day revelation affirm, in favor of an approach that does not offend free-market sensibilities. One wonders why they didn’t just go whole hog and make Jesus a full-blown Libertarian who, instead of healing the sick, tells them to “lift themselves up by their own bootstraps” and be well? Perhaps most disturbing is the absolute omission of one of Christ’s most poignant utterances from the Cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34) While Conservapedia scholars defend this decision in part through arguments that this statement is in some ancient texts and not in others, they also freely argue that the statement makes Jesus appear “too liberal” for their tastes.
Jesus as too liberal? As much as the preceding examples show that tinkering with the Bible is nothing new, this new project resembles less the editing attempts of Thomas Jefferson or Martin Luther, than a far more recent and sinister attempt to make Biblical text conform to ideological scruple: The Deutsche Christen movement of the Third Reich. This group sought to remodel Christianity along the racialist lines of Nazism. As part of their scheme, resisted vehemently by men such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Niemoller, they sought to purge the Bible of its “Jewish” elements. This meant the removal of the entire Old Testament, as well as the collected epistles of Paul, and the rewriting of the Gospels, to give Christ’s teachings a far more “Aryan” cast. Hence a Nazi could openly profess Christian belief, without the inconvenient guilt that came of slaughtering millions of innocents.
While I would not go so far as to call Mr. Schafly and his cohorts Nazis, I do believe that they suffer from the same theological disorder as the Deutsche Christen. In a religious sense, they want to “have their cake and eat it too.” They want to retain the moral authority of Christian faith, while not having to be subject to any of its politically inconvenient principles. (Charity, forgiveness, etc…) In essence they have decided to rewrite the New covenant on their terms. In doing so, they ought to remember the warning of another ancient prophet: “…Behold, the scriptures are before you; if ye will wrest them it shall be to your own destruction.” (Alma 13:20)