Examining the “Conservative Bible Project” – Mark 1:8

Maybe it’s the fact that I’m reading Robert Alter’s The Art of Bible Translation or that I’m in love with the Gospel of Mark, but reading through the translation of the Markan Gospel over at Conservapedia has got me fired up. Setting aside the lunacy of trying to translate biblical texts in a “conservative” or “liberal” manner, the Conservative Bible Project makes so many errors in their translation that it reveals either a lack of concern about what the Greek text underlying Mark says, a lack of appreciation for how Mark told his story, a lack of knowledge on how to conduct proper translation, or all of the above.

Let’s consider the CBP’s translation of Mark 1:8.

Mark 1:8 (cf. Mark 1:10, 12)

Greek Text

Conservative Bible Project

My Translation

ἐγὼ ἐβάπτισα ὑμᾶς ὕδατι, αὐτὸς δὲ βαπτίσει ὑμᾶς ἐν πνεύματι ἁγίῳ. “I have baptized you with water, but He shall baptize you with the Divine Guide.” “I baptized you in water, but he will baptize you in the holy Spirit.”

The most obvious difference between the CBP and my translation is that I have chosen to render πνεύματι ἁγίῳ as “the holy Spirit” as opposed to “the Divine Guide.” A first semester Koine Greek student would recognize that πνεύματι means “spirit” and ἁγίῳ means “holy.” So what in the world inspired “Divine Guide” as the translation? The talk page reveals the thought process of Andy Schlafly, the project’s manager.

First, there was debate over “Holy Ghost” versus “Holy Spirit.” Then there was some consideration of the word “force” for πνεύματι since such a word might appeal to teenagers and “the physics-students-headed-for-atheism crowd.” Then Schlafly revealed he wasn’t tied down to the word “holy” and thought “divine” was a decent substitute. But apparently “Divine Force” sounded too much like something you’d find in the literature of Jehovah’s Witnesses and so it was abandoned for “Divine Guide” which is what appears as the translation for πνεύματι ἁγίῳ in CBP.

I appreciate the fact that all translation, by its very nature, is interpretation. But rendering πνεύματι ἁγίῳ as “Divine Guide” is just bizarre. There is nothing inherently divine about ἅγιος. In Schlafly’s translation of Matthew 27:53 he renders τὴν ἁγίαν πόλιν not as “the divine city” but as “the Holy City.” And shouldn’t we expect ταῖς χρείαις τῶν ἁγίων in Romans 12:13 to read not “the need of the saints” (CBP) but “the needs of the divine ones” or “the needs of the divinities”?

Also problematic is the inconsistency of Schlafly’s work. For example, in Romans 5:5 he renders διὰ πνεύματος ἁγίου not as “by the Divine Guide” but “by the Holy Spirit,” the more traditional way of translating the phrase. And in Matthew 3:11, a passage that parallels Mark 1:8, the CBP says that Jesus would baptize the people “in God’s will,” despite the fact that the Matthean construction of ἐν πνεύματι ἁγίῳ is identical to the Markan!

Finally, “Divine Guide” obscures the allusion to passages like Ezekiel 39:29 and Joel 2:28-29 that predict the eschatological pouring out of God’s “spirit” (רוּחַ) upon his people. Since Jesus was proclaiming the impending reign of God into the world, the Markan author through the character of John the Baptist was connecting these ancient texts to the work of Jesus.

I went to a very conservative Christian college and it was in that context I received my Greek training. Had I on a Greek translation quiz rendered ἐν πνεύματι ἁγίῳ as “with the Divine Guide” I would have received negative marks and maybe even had my salvation questioned! “Divine Guide” isn’t a conservative translation of πνεύματι ἁγίῳ. It is, however, a bad one.

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.

6 thoughts on “Examining the “Conservative Bible Project” – Mark 1:8

Add yours

  1. If the translation is correct then why would it matter if it happened to sound like something the JWs would say? That seems like a terrible rationale for such a decision. But, more importantly, what is there of unique value that can be extracted from these writings besides the odd historical fragment?

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    1. For those interested in seeing how ancient writers viewed Jesus and his story or for those interested in Koine Greek these issues are important. And for non-specialists who have no training in Greek but are forced to rely on an English translation, accurate translation (as much as possible) is vital.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I suppose so. I guess I’m more interested in what people believe about the Bible now, with all its many accumulated errors because that’s what affects me most. But in the interest of full knowledge of our world, I have to concede that knowing the original meaning has a lot of value. That can give us some insight into how cultures evolve.

        Liked by 1 person

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