Pushing Thirty

and shedding pretentions

The Gospel According to Wiki

If you haven’t yet heard, the open source information site Wikipedia has begun a translation of the Bible. The translation is already underway, conducted in the same manner that all information is accrued on the site: lay “experts” post their information and it stands as the entry for their topic unless it is challenged by someone else. If it is challenged, minutia can be debated for page after page in the subtext (just look up your choice of hot-topic on Wikipedia for an example).

Now, I like Wikipedia. A lot. It’s the most convenient source of cursory information on the net, which is exactly what you’d expect from an Encyclopedia. The other day, for example, I was reading about the emergent third world that flowed from a fateful conference in Bandung. Where’s Bandung? Well it only took a nano-second to find out: first stop google search-bar, second stop Wikipedia. I didn’t need, in this instance and many others, Wiki to supply an in depth examination of the statesmen that emerged from the conference, or an analysis of neo-colonialism, or the history that lead up to or flowed down from the Bandung Generation. For that I’ll go read a book. Not only that, I’m not in the least deterred by the varried opinions that get duked out in the sub text: history, people, and places have always been open to interpretation (google “biography Abraham Lincoln” if you don’t believe me).

All that to say, just by the nature of what encyclopedias are supposed to do, I think Wikipedia has overstepped its bounds with the Bible Translation project. A translation isn’t much like a brief overview. Its a highly involved process that takes teams of experts decades to accomplish. With that in mind, its a wonder that there are so many fantastic translation at any Christian bookstore. Oh yeah, and they’re all available for free already on a number of online bible websites.

But that isn’t even the biggest problem in my mind. Bigger than the jurisdiction issue is what I call the Tolstoy Principle. English versions of this Russian novelist’s books are already available, and there would be nothing exciting about inviting amateur language scholars into the process. But more than that, you wouldn’t want a translation by even a gifted scholar who thought that Tolstoy was a hack. Translation necessitates passion, a prerequisite love for the author in order to represent his brilliance in the greatest possible terms. When we open up the Bible translation to the whosoever, we’re inviting critics to share the floor with critiques, and give the cynics a voice as loud as lovers.

And by this means we have stumbled into the only possible motive for an open source translation, however well guised. The only reason for such a translation would be to subject the Bible to any layman’s scrutiny, to rend it from the hands of the rapt scholars and toss it to the wolves. If you forget that the Bible has implications for who we are as people and the knowledge of God, the open source translation is only puzzling. But if you don’t forget, then the translation takes on sinister overtones. All that we’re doing is rehashing the exercise of one of this nation’s Founding Fathers, Thomas Jefferson, who with scissors paired down the Gospels to a message of his own fancy. And with the scissors in the right (or wrong) hands, the book can say anything you want it to say.


July 16, 2008 - Posted by | Christ, Religion, writing


  1. i agree. and do they even mention what their motive is? or is it as obvious and arrogant as it appears, that all they want to do is just to steal the power of translation from the hands of scholars, even if they can’t wield the power themselves?

    but this is why i think wikipedia as a whole is flawed – why let lay people at all talk about things they’re not qualified for? lay people are good at pop culture. on topics that go beyond the scope of this, professionals should be the ones to provide the facts.

    side note: what was thomas jefferson’s summary of the bible? im curious because i just finished reading some of Thomas Paine’s stuff, who was a contemporary and friend of jefferson, who was as much an opponent of Christianity as it sounds Jefferson might have been.

    Comment by Travis | July 17, 2008 | Reply

  2. TJ just chopped out all miracles and anything, by his discretion, that Jesus wasn’t likely to have said (I am the way and the truth and the life, etc).

    I guess by that measure you could call him an opponent to christianity, though the age of reason turned many heretics into acquaintances by my estimation.

    Comment by TheMav | July 18, 2008 | Reply

  3. […] – bookmarked by 2 members originally found by NicoleXGaara on 2008-08-18 The Gospel According to Wiki https://pushingthirty.wordpress.com/2008/07/16/the-gospel-according-to-wiki/ – bookmarked by 5 […]

    Pingback by Bookmarks about Wiki | September 7, 2008 | Reply

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