A ‘Secular’ Translation of the New Testament? Nonsensical in the Extreme

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In a new essay at Bible and Interpretation Zeba Crook ‘imagines’ a secular translation of the New Testament.

What if one were to translate the Bible according to the same principles as we translate Homer, Aristotle, and Freud? What if we were to translate the Bible regardless of the faith of its potential readership, regardless of any investment in the question of whether the texts are right or wrong, and regardless of how the texts might be used to address contemporary faith? This paper does not seek to answer this question in full, but only to initiate a conversation on the matter.

I’m not sure what renditions of the NT Crook reads but surely he can’t think that translators are being so unfaithful to the Greek text that they are masking theological bias and misrepresenting the text itself. In fact, with his wish for a secular edition he is wishing to do exactly what he seems to be suggesting biblical scholars do- provide a translation based purely on ideology.  Except his ideology is the religion of secularism.

Further, a ‘secular translation of the bible’ is a grand contradiction.  The bible is a collection of theological texts.  They can no more be ‘secularized’ (for what else would a secular translation be but an attempt to secularize) than a leopard can become a toad.  Theological texts remain theological texts no matter which language they are rendered into.  The DNA of the Bible is theology.  DNA can’t be changed without changing the thing itself.

A ‘secular’ translation of the New Testament makes as much sense as a pig with wings.  And it’s just as real.

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7 thoughts on “A ‘Secular’ Translation of the New Testament? Nonsensical in the Extreme

    steph (pacifist) said:
    March 6, 2012 at 15:33

    Secular is a word I don’t like. It was used by atheists who hijacked humanism in the late twentieth century so called ‘secular humanist’ movements completely distorting the critical historical spirit and meaning of humanism. Applied to scholarship it’s plain misleading. Critical scholarship should be critical. Scholars can be religious or non religious or blinking swaying nowhere in between. They can be carnivores or fruiterians but hopefully not cannibals. That is personal, but all decent scholarship is critical. As far as translation techniques go, while my focus is on synoptic text translation, I haven’t seen any great differences between translations of scholars who happen to be religious and those who happen not to be. I’m a little concerned the secular thing is getting blown out of proportion and it’s reacting to apologetics and missing decent critical scholarship. And some waving the secular flag are not necessarily ‘critical’….

      Jim responded:
      March 6, 2012 at 15:37

      agreed on every point. ‘secular’ has become an empty rallying cry for those at war with faith. nothing more.

    Zeba Crook said:
    March 6, 2012 at 17:05

    Perhaps the two of you would like to give the article a careful and considerate reading before in “steph’s” case jumping to conclusions argued AGAINST in the article and in Jim’s case, making straw-man criticisms that are also directly addressed in the article. But that would be too much work, wouldn’t it. You folks are just too busy in your academic positions to actually read the article carefully, I guess. It’s not that the article is perfect, or beyond critique; it’s that these statements don’t in any way contribute to the discussion inaugurated there.

      Jim responded:
      March 6, 2012 at 17:18

      what? so what i quoted you saying isn’t what you said. how very odd.

    steph (pacifist) said:
    March 6, 2012 at 18:24

    I detect sarcasm. No. Surely not. :-) Of course there are biased translations, such as the all too familiar ‘virgin’ (which of course has also been translated more honestly as as ‘young woman’), and you point them out in your article. I am talking about critical scholarship translating texts from critical perspectives like Nestle Aland Synopses, Michael Goulder’s commentaries on Matthew and Luke, not to mention the work of James Crossley and Maurice Casey which I’m personally particularly familiar with. I think the epithet ‘secular’ is superfluous and pretending to be superior.

    Chuck Grantham said:
    March 6, 2012 at 20:55

    Haven’t Richard Lattimore and other Classical Greek scholars done this already?

    [...] religious believers may be concerned about, skewing the fidelity of translation in the process. Also potentially of interest are Jim West’s negative comments about the idea, which I think lo….What do others think? Is something like the phrase “son of God” essential to [...]

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