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Beliefs Bias Bible Translation

Open Bible

Unlocked Literal Bible Translation

Anyone who knows two languages well realises that translation from one language to another is fraught with problems. Most people who read the Bible do so in translation, and most who read it place great weight on it – treating it as God’s Word. So translating the Bible is a task not to be taken lightly.

Scholars who translate the Bible must take great care that what they wished was written there does not bias what is actually written there. Otherwise, rather than reading what God has given us, we will be reading what we wished God had given us.

Unlocked Literal Bible is a new kid on the (frankly) over-populated-English-Bible-Translations block. I have already been recommended it – and I am concerned.

This translation acknowledges:

We use a three-level, Church-centric approach for identifying the fidelity of translated Biblical content:

Level 1: internal — Translator (or team) affirms that translation is in line with Statement of Faith and Translation Guidelines.

Let me just reinforce this: for a draft to get to “Level 1” (the lowest possible level of “quality assurance”) the translation has to be “in line with Statement of Faith”! This completely reverses what I would hold – a statement of faith has to be in line with the Bible – rather than the other way around. However inconvenient a Biblical text is, contrary to the approach taken by this translation, it needs to be translated as accurately as possible, not filtered through and biased by the translators’ belief views. That’s not even going down their actual statement which I certainly would not sign up to. Nor could I agree that Baptism, and what they call the “Lord’s Supper“, are “peripheral” to the Christian faith.

Psalm 3
Psalm 3

A Flawed Text

On being recommended the translation, one of the first places I looked was how it dealt with the Psalms. On a quick skim, I immediately spotted the error in Psalm 3: “lifts” written with the letter “l” twice!

And the site claims that this has passed their highest level “Checking level 3“. That means it has passed the doctrine police (level 1), has been independently checked and confirmed by the language community as well as three church leaders not on the translation team (level 2), and checked and confirmed by leadership of at least three Church networks with native speakers of the language, or a translation consultant in coordination with a Church network (level 3). And after all this supposed checking of theirs, I spot a mistake at a glance within the first minute. The simplest word-processor would not let such a basic error through.

A Biased Text

The translation of the complex, problematic concept ἱλασμός (and ἱλαστήριον) loses any multifaceted interpretation by being seen through the limiting lens of the Statement of Faith. When it comes to the theory of salvation presented by this translation, there is no room for a variety of models in the great multi-faceted jewel of our redemption – it is “propitiation” all the way home.

For God provided Christ Jesus as a propitiation (ἱλαστήριον) through faith in his blood; (Rom 3:25)
He is the propitiation (ἱλασμός)for our sins (1 Jn 2:2)
In this is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation (ἱλασμός) for our sins. (1 Jn 4:10)

The debatable, tiresome-topic-du-jour also is “solved” by translating with an English word that only relatively recently has been introduced to translate the Bible’s difficult-to-translate ἀρσενοκοῖται.

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not believe lies. The sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, those who practice homosexuality (ἀρσενοκοῖται), …—none of them will inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Cor 6:9-10)
we know this, that law is not made for a righteous man, but for a lawless and rebellious people, for ungodly people and sinners, for those who are godless and profane, for those who kill their fathers and mothers, for murderers, for sexually immoral people, for homosexuals (ἀρσενοκοίταις)… (1 Tim 3:9-10)

An Inconsistent Text

Sometimes texts are rendered gender-inclusive. At other times the exact same word is rendered exclusively masculine in English.

Just as water reflects a person’s (אָדָם ‘adam) face,
so a person’s heart reflects the person. (Proverbs 27:19)

In Genesis 2, the translation makes no distinction made between אָדָם ‘adam (which there is translated as “man” rather than the “person” of Proverbs) and אִישׁ ‘iysh (which actually does mean “man”).

Furthermore, we know that the plural Greek word ἀδελφοί refers to siblings (“brothers and sisters”) in a family. And the context is clear that all believers, men and women, are being addressed. But that doesn’t stop this translation from inconsistency – so much so that one could be forgiven for concluding that Romans and 1 Corinthians are by different authors.

Now I urge you, brothers (ἀδελφοί), by our Lord Jesus Christ, and by the love of the Spirit, that you strive together with me in your prayers to God for me. (Romans 15:30)
About spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters (ἀδελφοί), I do not want you to be uninformed. (1 Cor 12:1)

Absolutely the exact same word is translated one way in Romans, and differently in the letter to the Corinthians – both by the same author! And both have been checked to Level 3. The translators are being irresponsible. The Bible is not a play-thing.

Conclusion

Of all the constantly-increasing plethora of translations of the scriptures, this one must be one of the shoddiest. At least this appears not to be a money-making venture. And to their credit they are clear that they are biasing this translation to fit in with their particular predetermined beliefs. What is most disturbing is the intention to produce similar translations in every language.

The danger with my writing this post is that there is no such thing as bad publicity. Yes, if you want or need a God who requires propitiating, if you prefer a Bible that fits in with rather than challenging your preconceptions, if you want a Bible that condemns committed-same-sex couples (a concept obviously unknown in the context of the original), if you want a Bible that is more misogynist than the original – then this just might be the translation for you.

For those of us who prefer a more rigorously honest translation, this is just one more in a growing list of distortions.

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15 Responses to Beliefs Bias Bible Translation

  1. Thanks for the worthwhile article which has come in advance of some of my congregation investing in this. I will be able to advise properly now.

  2. I’m probably more sympathetic than you to some of the doctrinal positions held by this group of “translators,” but I’m with you all the way that accuracy of translation must come first and the doctrinal statements follow.

    • Thanks, Trevor. I also am ‘sympathetic to some of the doctrinal positions held by this group of “translators”’. Whether your score of ticking those boxes is higher or lower than mine is not the point. You and I both agree that the horse comes before the cart, not after it. Blessings.

  3. All considered, Bosco; it’s perhaps as well that, at a point in time, ‘The Word became flesh and lived among us, full of grace and truth”. The Presence of Christ Himself, in the midst of the scripture readings, becomes, for me, the focus of my attention.

    Hopefully, our actual experience and reception of Christ – mediated by the Spirit in the Mass – enables us to more fully understand what has been said about God-in-Christ in the scriptures that are read, energises us to perform the mission that Christ (therein) commissions us to do.

    The ‘reading, marking and learning of scripture’ can only be completed by the ‘digestion’ of The Word – in the Eucharist.

  4. After some thought, the most un-circular interpretation of “Level 1” I can come up with is that their statement of faith is based on their interpretation of the original texts. For example, if they believe that baptism is only valid by full immersion, and this belief is based on their understanding of βαπτίζω, they might require an English translation to use a more specific word than “baptise”, such as “dip”.

    • Thanks, Marnanel. There is, of course, no acknowledgement of your point – a further layer of belief even above their statement, and I’m not sure how “dip” is “more specific” than “full immersion” – in NZ English that would be less specific. Blessings.

  5. More reasons why the seminary where I teach should never have dropped the Greek and Hebrew requirements for the M.Div…. Traduttore traditore, and all that.

    I find it very interesting that “statements of belief” of this kind are proliferating among conservative evangelical Christian groups — the same groups who would never in a year of sabbaths endorse subscription to one of the historic creeds. The idea that there is anything to fear in trying to figure out exactly what the human authors of the scriptures *meant* is most revealing.

    It’s also interesting that all such statements of faith seem to begin with some variant of “the Bible as the uniquely revealed and infallible Word of God.” I am not well studied in the question, but I imagine that these ultimately descend from the 1646 Westminster Confession of Faith, whose first ten articles are about Scripture. By contrast, the other classic statement of Reformed thought, the Heidelberg Catechism (1563), follows the “Guilt, Grace, Gratitude” triad. Neither of those precise and learned documents is anything so crass as the back-of-an-envelope statements one sees nowadays, which function more as shibboleths than teaching tools.

    I rather prefer the Prayer Book catechism, which begins with thanksgiving for our spiritual rebirth in baptism and goes on to its own triad of belief (Apostles’ Creed), obedience (Ten Commandments), and spiritual nourishment (Prayer and Sacraments).

    • Thanks and agreed, Jesse. The Otago (post-graduate) BD used to require two years of Greek and two of Hebrew (when I started it – I switched to a 5-year Melbourne College of Divinity degree when I went to seminary, but maintained the commitment to biblical languages). That requirement, too, has been dropped. Those who are mono-lingual often do not understand the complexities involved in translation, nor how much our thinking is shaped by language.

      I am reminded, in your triads, of Pope Francis’ recentThe Church’s first duty is not to hand down condemnations or anathemas, but to proclaim God’s mercy, to call to conversion, and to lead all men and women to salvation in the Lord (cf. Jn 12:44-50).”

      Blessings.

  6. Are you familiar with the Orthodox Study Bible? It uses within it’s footnotes all of the various translations for important words and phrases from Aramaic to Greek? I find it an awesome tool. Many people I know have used it in their non-denominational Bible study groups and found it very useful.

  7. How do you find the OSB translations? In your humble opinion, of course. I am the child of two generations of clergymen who lived a life in the Church most of my life and found it quite helpful. And yes, I was raised as an Eastern Orthodox Christian.

    • Thanks, AJ. The Orthodox Study Bible uses a translation of the Septuagint for the OT (obviously), and the New King James for the NT. It would take more than a comment to review both those translations. My own starting point would be NRSV. Using that alongside the OSB may seem one good way forward. Blessings.

  8. I have met the men and women doing this work. I have worked with them on other projects. I have prayed with them. I have seen their hearts and know their intent.

    Did you read the statements of faith or the translation guidelines? You cast aspersion and doubt on their sincerity to accurately translate the Bible without giving a clear picture on what you object to. https://unfoldingword.org/quality/ This is where your source is located and you have completely misrepresented these folks. I can only surmise by your careful editing that it is intentional.

    Typo’s are a shame, yes. Are they sinful? Do they somehow detract from the truth spoken? How many revisions did your favorite translation go through before it became acceptable? Is your favorite version perfected yet? More importantly, Wycliffe Associates has already acknowledged and publicized the fact that this is a draft available for download https://www.wycliffeassociates.org/who-we-are/for-the-press/press-release/644

    Bias is easily proven when you take one verse out of context from those supporting it. Ignore the fact that several more mature translations also phrase Rom 3:25 in the same way, ULB mentions Christ’s redemptive works within 3 words preceding this verse.

    Consistency is an interesting concept in translation work. For those of you who haven’t been exposed to translation work, let me illustrate a point. The passage “Those who labor without the Lord, labor in vain” is particularly hard to translate in many African languages. This is because the cultures don’t understand the concept of laboring in vain. If they work and achieve nothing for it, it is expended energy without replenishing, which is FATAL. They won’t approach labor that may not yield a return. So, how do you translate that concept literally and consistently when there are no words to translate to? In your examples, the message isn’t changed one iota. The phrasing is, but the meaning is not.

    As you have mentioned a perceived bias by the translators, let me show you your clearly expressed bias:

    “The danger with my writing this post is that there is no such thing as bad publicity. Yes, if you want or need a God who requires propitiating, if you prefer a Bible that fits in with rather than challenging your preconceptions, if you want a Bible that condemns committed-same-sex couples (a concept obviously unknown in the context of the original), if you want a Bible that is more misogynist than the original – then this just might be the translation for you.”

    Finally, I leave you with this. Rom 14:4
    Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

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