MAXWELL:  Bibles for, and of, the people

9/17/1995 – Printed in the PERSPECTIVE section of the St Petersburg Times Newspaper


“Now when the Almighty was first down with His program, He made the heavens and the earth. The earth was a fashion misfit, being so uncool and dark, but the Spirit of the Almighty came down real tough, so that He simply said, “Lighten up!’ And that light was right on time.”

Compare the following version with the one above: “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light’; and there was light.”

Obviously, these passages depict portions of the Creation. The first comes from the 1993 Black Bible Chronicles: A Survival Manual for the Streets; the second, from The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version.

While critics reject the propriety of the Bible Chronicles, P.K. McCary, who revised the Old Testament books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, ably explains his purpose: “The Black Bible Chronicles is an attempt to put the most important message of life into the language of the streets. This is in keeping with the very origins of the Bible. The New Testament was originally written in Koine Greek, the street language of the people. Subsequently, Martin Luther and others translated the Bible into the language of the people of their day. The Black Bible Chronicles stands in this tradition, bringing the Word to our younger generation in contemporary language.”

As far-out as the Chronicles may seem, it is part of a legitimate movement to make the Bible more broadly accessible. After all, we are in the age of “inclusiveness,” so obsessed with political correctness that God would have a hard time pleasing most of us.

“So let there be PC Bibles,” the new faithful are saying. And publishers are complying, as Bibles roll off the presses like manna. Over the years, 400 translations and revisions too numerous to count have appeared, representing almost every group and lifestyle.

The latest entry, which hits the shelves this week, is called The New Testament and Psalms, An Inclusive Version. It surpasses the 1994 New Testament of the Inclusive Language Bible and the breezy Contemporary English Version of the Bible in being politically correct.

God, for example, is depicted as the androgynous “father-mother,” and Christ becomes the more incarnate “human one” and “child of God.” Dying on the cross, the human one says, “Father-mother, into your hands I commend my spirit.”

Other changes are equally interesting. For instance, the 17th century King James Bible shows Jesus teaching the disciples to pray thusly: “Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth.” But the new inclusive Scriptures present God saying: “Father-mother, hallowed be your name. May your dominion come.”

The new PC Bible, moreover, bowdlerizes most of the familiar King James expressions and customs by neutering references to the sexes, by tidying up politically incorrect references to people with disabilities and people of color and by empowering women. Wives, for example, should be “committed” instead of “submissive” or “subject” to their spouses. “Black” and “dark” no longer represent evil. And references to the “right hand” of God become the “mighty” hand, so as to respect the feelings of left-handed folk.

Again, the PC Bible’s attempt to reflect contemporary attitudes is not new. In the 1950s and 1960s, thousands of Southerners delighted in Scriptures called The Cotton Patch Version of Paul’s Epistles and The Cotton Patch Version of Luke and Acts: Jesus’ Doings and the Happenings. Sarcastic, earthy, intense and funny, these slim volumes are the handiwork of the late theologian Clarence Jordan, founder of Koinonia Farm in Americus, Ga. This pioneering cross-racial agricultural colony, where the seeds of Habitat for Humanity took root, was integral to the civil rights movement.

Here is Jordan recreating a scene in Acts 14:19, where Jewish agitators persuade a group of locals to stone Paul and get rid of him: “Some good white folks came down from Vicksburg and Natchez, and got the people on their side. They beat the tar out of Paul and then dragged him out of town, leaving him for dead. While the Christians were hovering over him, he got up and reentered the city.”

Jordan had a good reason for placing Jesus and the disciples among rednecks, Crackers and poor blacks: “By stripping away the fancy language, the artificial piety, and the barriers of time and distance, this version puts Jesus and his people in the midst of our modern world . . . alongside the rest of us.”

Jordan thoroughly enjoyed the Bible, unlike many of the uptight, dolorous revisionists who came before and after him. The editors of yet another version of the Good Book aimed at blacks, The Original African Heritage Study Bible, for instance, clearly think too much of themselves and their product: “Afrocentricity, the idea that Africa and persons of African descent must be understood as making contributions to world civilization as proactive subjects within history, is the methodology with which the (Heritage Bible) endeavors to reappraise ancient biblical history.”

Are such PC revisions good for the Bible, for religion? I think so. If nothing else, they are fun. Furthermore, inclusiveness is a noble goal, even when misguided.

And none of us should worry that God (father-mother) is being discounted. Moses, the cool homeboy in Black Bible Chronicles, deftly reassures us that God’s omnipotence is safe, that humans cannot disrespect God: “Don’t diss the Almighty, brothers. You ain’t got the strength to beat Him.”


Bill Maxwell is an editorial writer and columnist for the Times.