Image: Andy Schlafly
Rich Schultz  /  AP
Andy Schlafly, founder of Conservapedia.com, at in his home office in Far Hills, N.J. The conservative online encyclopedia is hosting a project of amateur conservative readers that are putting together their own interpretation of the Bible, to counter what they say is liberal bias by scholars.
updated 12/4/2009 5:37:00 AM ET 2009-12-04T10:37:00

The Gospel of Luke records that, as he was dying on the cross, Jesus showed his boundless mercy by praying for his killers this way: "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do."

Not so fast, say contributors to the Conservative Bible Project.

The project, an online effort to create a Bible suitable for contemporary conservative sensibilities, claims Jesus' quote is a disputed addition abetted by liberal biblical scholars, even if it appears in some form in almost every translation of the Bible.

The project's authors argue that contemporary scholars have inserted liberal views and ahistorical passages into the Bible, turning Jesus into little more than a well-meaning social worker with a store of watered-down platitudes.

"Professors are the most liberal group of people in the world, and it's professors who are doing the popular modern translations of the Bible," said Andy Schlafly, founder of Conservapedia.com, the project's online home.

'Reworking scripture'
Experts who have devoted their careers to unraveling the ancient texts of the Scriptures, many in long-extinct languages, are predictably skeptical about a project by amateur translators.

"This is not making scripture understandable to people today, it's reworking scripture to support a particular political or social agenda," said Timothy Paul Jones, a professor at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, who calls himself a theological conservative.

Religious publishers already provide an alphabet soup of Bible translations for a range of theological outlooks, from the King James Version to the Revised Standard Version and beyond. The most widely used traditional translations were overseen by scholars who are considered the best minds in conservative Christianity.

"The phrase 'theological conservative' does not mean that someone is politically conservative," said Schlafly, who lives in Far Hills, New Jersey.

This liberal slanting, Schlafly argues, ranges from changing gendered language — Jesus calling his disciples to be "fishers of people" rather than "fishers of men" — to more subtle choices, like the 2001 English Standard Version of the Bible, which uses "comrade" and "laborer" more often than the conservative-friendly "volunteer."

Contributors to the project aren't arguing on ideological grounds alone. The discussion forum on the site is full of discourse on Greek grammar, along with arguments long familiar to Biblical scholars about the history of certain passages.

Take the famous passage from Luke: the Conservative Bible Project omits it not only because it's "a favorite of liberals," but because there's some dispute over its authenticity, based on the manuscripts it appears in.

Ancient debate
Jones, the professor, said while some early Greek manuscripts omit Jesus' words, others include them.

"There are so many factors to consider when looking at that, but here it gets boiled down to 'liberals put it in,'" he said. "You've got people who are doing this who have probably never looked at an actual ancient manuscript."

In some ways, the Conservative Bible Project reflects an ancient debate over Scripture. The Bible as it's known today more or less took final shape in the 4th century after hundreds of years of debate over which books were canonical.

The debate flared up again during the Protestant Reformation, when Martin Luther fruitlessly yearned to cut the Book of James because of its fairly explicit contradiction of his belief that salvation could be attained by faith alone.

"People have always done this with the Bible," said Philip Jenkins, a professor of history and religious studies at Pennsylvania State University. "Virtually everyone in a mainstream Protestant or Roman Catholic church in the United States is reading a doctored version of the Bible."

Jenkins is referring to the Revised Common Lectionary, a selection of biblical texts read in worship services that amounts to about a third of the full text.

'Every translator is a traitor'
Schlafly's project is distinctive, though, because non-experts collaborate Wiki-style on the Internet to produce their version.

"The best of the public is better than a group of experts," said Schlafly, whose mother, Phyllis, is a longtime conservative activist known for her opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment.

Jones says the project is a misguided effort to read contemporary politics back into the text.

"Ironically, there's a long tradition of the liberal twisting of scripture," Jones said. "Scholars have rightly deemed those translations illegitimate, and this conservative Bible is every bit as illegitimate."

The Bible's roots in a dizzying variety of ancient manuscripts require a lifetime of dedication to master, said the Rev. Frank Matera, a professor at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., and a former president of the Catholic Biblical Association of America.

"There's a little Italian proverb, 'Every translator is a traitor,'" Matera said. "Most Bible translations are usually done by a group of scholars, precisely so they can balance out each other. It's not something that everybody can do."

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Writing liberalism out of the Bible?

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    >> the tibetan leader.

    >>> a group of conservatives say the bible is too liberal. they want to change it.

    >> change the bible ? the conservative bible project wants to adjust the text back to what the group claims are its right-wing roots. here's some of their guidelines for making the bible more conservative. the group wants a strong frame work that enables a thought for thought translation without corruption of what they call a liberal bias . to avoid what they call a bible emasculated they suggest avoid avoiding unisex language. the group also wants more powerful conservative words like using the word volunteer to replace the word comrade which the group calls a socialist word. the group also wants to eliminate the word government. the conservative group also advocates more acceptance of hell and says it's a mistake to deny or down play the existence of hell or the devil. joining us now, the reverend joe watkins of christ evangelical loo lutheran in philadelphia. joe , you're republican. you're a conservative. what do you make of this? does the bible need changing? does it need to be more -- is the bible too liberal, joe ?

    >> well, the truth of the matter is that before i'm a republican or anything else, i'm a christian person . and as a person of faith, what i do know is that the bible knows not democrats or republicans. or conservatives or liberals. the bible is a wonderful book. many of us believe it's the inspired word of god and it speaks to everybody.

    >> then what are they talking about, joe ?

    >> this is nothing new. this has happened before . they are people, of course, from time to time, that want to interpret the bible and change some of the language. we have lots of translations. there are tons and tons of translations. anybody can go on the internet and see all the different translations there are of the bible . you can pick one that suits you best. so this is nothing new. but at the end of the day the bible speaks to all people. it says what it says. sometimes it cuts both ways.

    >> hallelujah. but, joe , what does it say about where we are that people are trying to politicize -- and they've always done so. i mean, religion has been used to impress but also certainly used to uplift and hopefully make your life a little bit better. this group is trying to call it liberal. what does that say about where we are?

    >> well, what it says about where we are is that we're in an awful place, polarizing place. we have not yet arrived in the post partisan era that the president has talked about so kindly. and the bible is not about politics. and the bible is not politicized. it ought to speak to people and tell people what god says and what we're supposed to do in response to god. god basically wants him to love us with all our heart, mind, soul and strength and love our neighbor as we love ourselves. we still have a lot of work to do. i think we err when we get to the point where we divide people politically or as social conservatives or social liberals . the bible speaks to everybody, whether you're a liberal, conservative, moderate, whether you have no political party standing at all. it speaks to everybody's. that's the beauty of god's word.

    >> here a couple passages in the bible conservatives like to cite. home mo sexual exodus 35:2. if you want to go back to the original word, the country and our society is going to change a lot, right?

    >> well, at the end of the day, the bible is a wonderful book. it's made up of -- you've got the new testament. and for those people who believe in the new testament, christian people, we believe we've been freed from the burden of the law as such. now we're under the law of love. and so we aren't worried as much about all the laws that were explained --

    >> but to the level of the extent --

    >> i'll say -- what christian people believe, and there are christian people who have all different kinds of people with understandings of different sorts in their families. what we do know is this. we're supposed to love everybody and hate nobody. god loves us all. god doesn't love everything we do. god does not love every behavior we exhibit. also god is unchanging. whereas we have our own understanding of society in the 21st century that may be different from the understanding we had in the 20th century or 19th century , god doesn't change. his word says what it says. sometimes i cuts. but that's god's word. that's the beauty of it. that's the power of it.

    >> reverend joe watkins , joe , thank you very much. interesting topic there. now i don't have

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