Look what Mike found on the Internet: The Religion-Free Bible Project!
What’s a religion-free Bible, you ask? Here’s how the RFB team (or, as they prefer, tribe) breaks it down:
The Religion-Free Bible Project exists to inspire more love, peace, beauty, goodness, acceptance, compassion, justice and harmony in the world by offering humankind a paraphrase of biblical passages, which combine texts and images to creatively capture the spirit and meaning of the Bible, free from the bias and baggage of man-made religion.
I know the people behind this project mean well. I know that “man-made religion” has been an instrument of suffering, for individuals and communities. And I’m all for love, peace, beauty, goodness, acceptance, compassion, justice and harmony. But capturing the spirit and meaning of the Bible without the “bias and baggage of man-made religion”? Just not possible.
Every translation of the Bible is an interpretation. Every paraphrase of the Bible is even more of an interpretation. And when you just select certain passages to paraphrase . . . there is plenty of bias and baggage involved. It might be different than the bias and baggage other people bring to the text, but it is still there.
And in this case, it is pretty heavy stuff. For example, check out this “paraphrase” of John 11: 35, which is the shortest verse of the Bible:
“Anguish climbed from the bottom of his gut up through his chest and throat, and into his eyes with a power that even he could not contain. A lone tear quietly dropped from his eyelash and as it inched down his face, Jesus grieved the human condition, in which he was now inseparably a part. In the length of his face, the heartache of humankind washed through him like rain. Jesus knew full well the human experience and how it sometimes felt like your heart was being ripped right out of your chest. Life is beautiful. But life was also agonizing. That was the deal, and there was nothing Jesus could ever do to change that. Gravity had its way with this solitary tear and as it fell from his chin to the ground, Jesus was undone with sadness and compassion that seemed to stretch across every wound and scar that had ever been suffered. No divinity could save him now from his own human heart. Jesus wept.”
The literal translation: “Jesus wept.”
There’s paraphrase, and then there’s . . . fan fiction.
I don’t want to make fun of the RFB tribe (okay, yes I do, but I feel bad about it). It is not news that for many people, church has not been a welcoming place. It has not been a place where they’ve felt heard, or known, or loved. No church is perfect. No religion is, either.
But here’s what. Jesus does weep, and he does experience anguish. Sometimes, “life is agonizing.” But it’s wrong to say “that was the deal and there was nothing Jesus could ever do to change that.” In fact, it’s ridiculous to say that, because a few verses later Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead.
Sure, life can still be agonizing. Lazarus will still die. But Jesus does something about that, too. He does it with a cross, and with an empty tomb.
What is the point of a Bible that’s free of that good news?