Our first thought on encountering The New Testament and Psalms: An Inclusive Version was “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” Or perhaps we should say “Father-Mother, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” That, anyway, is how the half-dozen scholars and “educators” who edited and translated this volume for Oxford University Press have chosen to render the famous passage from the Gospel according to Luke.
“Educators”? “Re-educators” is more like it. What these latter-day scribes and pharisees have crucified in this “undeniably progressive” volume is not Christ but his words and the words of those who sought to commemorate him. One naturally hopes that God in his mercy will, in the fullness of time, forgive them; no honest biblical scholar will be able to. Nor will anyone concerned with intellectual accuracy and truthfulness. For Oxford’s latest foray into Bible publishing is not a translation at all; it is a breathtaking exercise in political correctness and religious bowdlerization undertaken in the name of “inclusiveness.”
Indeed, Oxford admits as much, speaking in a press release of its “revolutionary new version of the Bible that attempts to do what has never been done before” by addressing “a wider range of agendas” than any previous translation. “Agendas” is definitely the mot juste—perhaps the only one to appear in connection with this project. If the book had been published on April 1—or if Oxford University Press had a reputation for levity—we might have suspected some sort of joke. It would at any rate take a wit of prodigious accomplishment to produce a more outrageous parody of political correctness in action. But while the Oxford New Testament and Psalms may be said to constitute a species of hoax—especially when perpetrated upon the unwary, who might mistake it for a legitimate translation—the plodding grimness of the work convinces us that it is meant in earnest.
One reads in the Acts of the Apostles that God is no respecter of persons. The up-to-date team that Oxford employed to produce this egregious work has taken that principle a step further: they are no respecters of language. It clearly does not matter to them what the Bible in fact says: their mission is to tell the world what it should have said if only its authors had been as enlightened as … well, as they themselves are, or believe themselves to be.
The one thing that can be said for this sort of political correctness is that it is gratifyingly predictable. Independent thinking, critical discrimination, informed judgment: all those complicating intellectual habits are superfluous. Only unswerving allegiance to the preordained agenda remains. It makes for a wondrously simple, if stupefying, itinerary. Knowing that the Oxford New Testament and Psalms is echt correct, even a novice can predict its contents. All it takes is a glance at the roster of contemporary political shibboleths. What do the feminists tell us about “gender”? What do other members of the virtue police tell us about race, physical disabilities, familial relations, etc.? Just make a note of their proscriptions and the rest is painting by number.
We have already seen how God the Father was sent to Sweden for surgery and emerged as God the hermaphroditic “Father-Mother.” His—Her? His-Her?—sense of diction seems to have been tampered with, too, for he no longer refers to “Himself” but to “Godself.” This apparently is what the editors mean when they tell us that they have “improved” [sic] the “God language” of the Bible. Other corrective procedures follow suit. Once upon a time we were enjoined that, “if thy eye offend thee, pluck it out.” Now the right hand must go as well, because mentioning it might offend the left-handed among us. So instead of sitting down “on the right hand of the Majesty on high” in Hebrews, Christ now sits down “beside the Majesty on high.” The Greek word in question is δεξιος , which does not mean “beside” (παρα) but “right” as distinct from “left.” Presumably, if Paul had meant to say “beside,” he would have said it. But of course such niceties as what words actually happen to mean are secondary and expendable when one is engaged on a crusade to bring virtuousness to the benighted.
Does Christ regularly refer to himself as “the Son of Man”? No problem. It is the work of a moment for Oxford’s “scholars and educators” to transform ο νιος του ανθρωπυ—which any first-year student of Greek will tell you means “the Son of Man”—into “the Human One.” Not only is this bad translation: it also has the effect of rendering Christ more distant and alien. We all know what a son is; how many of us have encountered a “Human One?” (To our ears, this sounds rather like referring to the pop star Michael Jackson as “the Gloved One.”) In a question-and-answer sheet Oxford provided with advance copies of the book, one member of the editorial committee overseeing the new translation explained that “the Greek and Hebrew words translated ‘man’ are in fact the words for ‘human being,’ not the words for ‘male’.” Exactly. But the English word “man” does not refer exclusively to the male sex, either; God made us male and female, but we all belong to the family of man.
And so it goes. The blind and the halt are no longer referred to as such but as “people who are blind,” etc. Children need not “obey” but, more gently, merely “heed” their parents, while wives—at last!—needn’t “submit” to their husbands as long as they are “committed” to them. Meanwhile, the “Kingdom of God” has been closed until further notice: it has been replaced by the “Dominion of God” because “Kingdom” (the Greek is Βασιληια, from Βασιληυς, “king”) was found to be “blatantly androcentric.” For the same reason, the King himself had to be deposed and replaced by a less gender-specific “Ruler” or “Sovereign.” And where we might once have been cast out into the darkness, our sophisticated awareness of racial connotations demands that “darkness” be occluded by various circumlocutions and mistranslations. So it is that the speaker in Psalm 107 no longer sits “in darkness and in the shadow of death” but “in captivity and in gloom.” In Chapter Nine of the Gospel of John, we read that “the Jews (Ιουδαιoi) did not believe.” According to the editors of The New Testament and Psalms, this is one of many passages in the New Testament that allows “for an anti-Semitic interpretation.” We can’t have that, of course, so the Jews are banished and replaced with “Religious Leaders.”
There’s more. If political rectitude often demands that things deemed offensive be excised, it sometimes requires that racial, sexual, and other sorts of quotas be filled. Hence the Bible’s incantatory genealogical formulae must be brought up to date. It used to be that “Abraham begat Isaac; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat Judah and his brethren.” But poor Matthew wrote before affirmative-action regulations went into effect; today, the beginning of his Gospel must be rewritten with an equal number of starring female roles. Now, according to the Oxford New Testament and Psalms , “Abraham and Sarah were the parents of Isaac, and Isaac and Rebekah the parents of Jacob, and Jacob and Leah the parents of Judah and his brothers.” One big happy non-discriminating un-patriarchal extended family unit. No doubt they’re non-smoking, too.
In one of the several glowing blurbs that bedizen the dust jacket of this book, a professor from Harvard describes The New Testament and Psalms as being “of the utmost significance not only for the churches, but also for the public discourse of a truly democratic society.” Translated from Newspeak, “truly democratic” here really means “rigidly egalitarian and politically correct.” Just how important The New Testament and Psalms would be in such a society—were we so unfortunate as to witness its coming into being—is an open question. Cleverer ideologues could surely produce something less clumsy and blatantly ham-fisted.
But it is worth keeping the grandiose terms of that blurb in mind as one ponders Oxford’s New Testament and Psalms. It is completely consonant with the extraordinary moral and intellectual arrogance displayed by the “scholars and educators” responsible for this volume. Attempting, as they blithely inform readers, to “anticipate developments in the English language,” what they have produced is a grotesque caricature. In their introduction to the translation, the editors suggest that they are only following the progressive tide of history: if they look askance at the masculine pronoun and so on, they are only responding to that liberating trend that requires enlightened people to speak of “the policeperson’s ball” and that regards replays of the first moon landing as dated because the astronauts spoke of “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” But of course this is true only in the hothouse confines of academia and other breeding-grounds of political conformity. Elsewhere, a “policeperson’s ball” is something out of a stand-up comic’s routine and “humankind” is regarded, correctly, as a silly piece of academic jargon.
We are told that the aim of this translation was to achieve “universal inclusiveness.” What we have been given, however, is a book that subverts the genuine universality of the Bible by substituting a narrow program of contemporary ideological demands for the more difficult wisdom of the original. Gone are the magnificent sonorities of the King James translation. Gone, too, is any effort to achieve textual fidelity. What we are left with is a pretentious blandness that would be downright comic if it were not, in fact, malevolently absurd.
A press release informs us that the Oxford Bible Sales Director believes that this book will be a “best seller.” Perhaps he is correct. But that does not alter the fact that the banner of “inclusiveness” is an idol, the latest Golden Calf erected by the smug and self-righteous to coddle their sense of superiority. And it is worth remembering that Jesus Christ, for one, does not seem to have been much of a partisan of this new Oxford “inclusiveness.” Many, he said, are called, but few are chosen. Which was why, in Matthew 25:33, he “set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.” The sheep made out all right. But the goats? “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire.” Not an “inclusive” sentiment, exactly, but then, pace Oxford, the Bible was not written as a manual to encourage self-esteem.
This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 14 Number 2, on page 1
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