The Embarrassing Truth About the Bible: It’s STILL Being Edited
Posted by mattusmaximus on April 22, 2012
[**Update (8-16-15): While I’m pleased this is one of the more popular posts on this blog, it is important to see how this post fits into the larger fight by the “pro-life”/anti-choice movement against science. For more details on that, see this more recent post ]
As most skeptics and atheists (as well as a number of well-educated religious believers) know, the Bible is a work of humans. As such, just as any other book, it has been edited and revised quite a lot over the last couple of thousand years. It’s not the purpose of this blog post to go into the details of who wrote what parts of the Bible when, nor will I get into the question of the numerous inconsistencies and contradictions contained within this supposedly “divinely inspired” book. (Though if you’re interested in those topics, I suggest starting with a basic primer on textual criticism of the Bible.)
Rather, I would like to address something which is easily verified by anyone: the fact that the Bible, contrary to the claims of many fundamentalists, is actually STILL being edited. And sometimes these edits have made quite significant deviations from the “original” text. Further, some of these edits have been made for what appear to be contemporary political purposes.
“You mean… it’s NOT the same as it was only 45 years ago?!!” — Image source
In order to prove my point, I would like to reference an excellent article on this topic from the Slacktivist blog over at Patheos.com titled “Mischief follows in partisan Bible translations”. The basic point behind this article is that contrary to the claims of various fundamentalist factions that the Bible is unchanging and inerrant, it has in fact been edited quite recently. Specifically, the evidence proves that the Bible has been edited for partisan political purposes on the issue of abortion as recently as the late 1970s (which is within the lifetime of many readers here!) Read this excerpt from the Slacktivist article for more on this:
The New American Standard Bible is a popular English translation, a revision of the American Standard Version of 1901. It was completed in 1971 and then revised and updated in 1995. I want to highlight one major change in one passage of the NASB — a case in which the 1995 update alters — and is intended to reverse – the text of the 1971 NASB.
Those dates are important in understanding the reason for this change. …
Now, let us look at the analysis of come critical Bible verses which have been edited in the context of contemporary views on abortion:
… That brings us to the text I want to highlight here as another example of politicized distortion via translation: Exodus 21:22-25.
Here is how Exodus 21:22-25 read in the New American Standard Bible’s 1977 revision of its 1971 original translation:
“And if men struggle with each other and strike a woman with child so that she has a miscarriage, yet there is not further injury, he shall surely be fined as the woman’s husband may demand of him; and he shall pay as the judges decide. But if there is any further injury, then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.”
You can see how this fits in the context of the chapter. Here is another category of victim for which another set of punishments for violence is given. If a pregnant woman gets struck “so that she has a miscarriage,” but is not herself injured, then the man who struck her must pay a fine. But if the woman herself is injured, then the same rules and punishments for striking any other (non-slave) person apply — “life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, etc.”
But here’s the same passage in 1995 in the updated current version of the NASB:
“If men struggle with each other and strike a woman with child so that she gives birth prematurely, yet there is no injury, he shall surely be fined as the woman’s husband may demand of him, and he shall pay as the judges decide. But if there is any further injury, then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.”
“So that she has a miscarriage” has been replaced with “so that she gives birth prematurely.” [emphasis added]
Wait… what? Why the distinction between miscarriage and premature birth with no injury (presumably to the fetus/baby)? Because this change in the text fits with the new view on abortion which started to pervade U.S. politics starting in the late 1970s:
… But something changed between 1977 and 1995 — something that had nothing to do with scholarship, language, accuracy, fidelity or readability.
American politics had changed between 1977 and 1995. It had polarized and radicalized millions of American Protestants, rallying them around a single issue and thus, as intended, rallying them behind a single political party.
In 1977, the sort of American Protestants who purchased most Bibles couldn’t be summed up in a single word. But by 1995, they could be: “abortion.”
And for anti-abortion American evangelicals, Exodus 21:12-27 was unacceptable. It suggested that striking and killing an unborn fetus was in a separate category from striking and killing a “person.” Strike and kill a free person, you get the death penalty. Strike and kill an unborn fetus, you get a fine.
And so in 1995, like those earlier translators who invented and inserted “Junias,” the translators of the NASB reshaped this passage. “She has a miscarriage, yet there is not further injury” would, in consideration of the changes in American politics since 1977, henceforth be transformed into “she gives birth prematurely, yet there is no injury.”
Politics — specifically, the political desire to control women — shaped the translation of that text. The translators changed the words of the Bible to make it seem like it supported their political agenda. They changed the words of the Bible so that others reading it would not be able to see that its actual words challenged and contradicted their political agenda. …
So the Bible is the “unchanging and inerrant” word of God Almighty, according to these fundamentalists who “read the Bible literally”… until, apparently, it says something that they don’t like. And then, what’s the solution? Apparently, the solution is to change the text to say what they want it to say.
Can anyone say hypocrisy? If these so-called “literalists” are so willing to play fast and loose with the very text upon which they place to much emphasis, it’s almost enough to cause one to ask just how much of this sort of thing has been going on for the last 2000 years, and thus question the validity of much (if not all) of the Bible, isn’t it?