By Joel Richardson
In the world of questionable and sometimes downright silly Bible translations, one would think that it couldn’t get any worse.
After all, we’ve seen the “In da beginnin’ Big Daddy created da heaven an’ da earth” Ebonics Bible, as well as the “Apostle’s Log” Star Trek English paraphrase Bible. In a more serious effort, the New Oxford Annotated Bible was created in part by pro-“gay” and feminist scholars in order to set forth a more “gay” revisionist interpretation of Scripture.
But now there is a major controversy developing as the latest altered Bibles are being created by organizations that most would think of as being more conservative and reasonable. At the forefront of the controversy are the Wycliffe Bible Translators, the Summer Institute of Linguistics and Frontiers, all of which are producing Bible translations that remove or modify terms which they have deemed offensive to Muslims.
That’s right: Muslim-friendly Bibles.
Included in the controversial development is the removal of any references to God as “Father,” to Jesus as the “Son” or “the Son of God.” One example of such a change can be seen in an Arabic version of the Gospel of Matthew produced and promoted by Frontiers and SIL. It changes Matthew 28:19 from this:
“baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit”
“cleanse them by water in the name of Allah, his Messiah and his Holy Spirit.”
A large number of such Muslim-sensitive translations already are published and well-circulated in several Muslim-majority nations such as Bangladesh, Indonesia and Malaysia.
According to Joshua Lingel of i2 Ministries, “Even more dramatic a change is the Arabic and Bangla (Bangladesh) translations. In Arabic, Bible translations err by translating ‘Father’ as ‘Lord.’ ‘Guardian.’ ‘Most High’ and ‘God.” In Bangla, ‘Son of God’ is mistranslated ‘Messiah of God’ consistent with the Quran’s Isa al-Masih (Jesus the Messiah), which references the merely human Jesus.”
In response to these translations, many within the evangelical missions movement as well as many former Muslim converts and indigenous Christians from countries where these translations are being used, are indignant. After numerous appeals have been rejected, a petition has been launched to call for the end to the translations.
More than 3,000 already have signed up.
While the organizations that are promoting these translations are adamant that replacing such terms as Father with Lord or Master best conveys the inspired meaning of the text, many of the indigenous Christian leaders from the countries where these translations are being promoted are broadly rejecting the translations.
The indigenous believers see the introduction of these American-made translations with which they so strongly disagree as a form of American cultural imperialism or colonialism.
According to Turkish pastor Fikret Böcek, such new translations are, “an all-American idea with absolutely no respect for the sacredness of Scripture, or even of the growing Turkish church.”
According to the testimony of one leader from a church in Bangladesh, one of the most problematic aspects of this development is that it gives fuel to the often-heard Muslim claim that Christians are liars who change their Bibles to deceive Muslims. Once a Bible translation is well established within any country, the introduction of such radically different translations reinforces the Muslim charge and undermines trust in the Christian community.
According to Lingel, who can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, the crisis in translation methodology is largely due to “a postmodern literary bias” that has crept into some translation circles in recent decades. Such translations would seem to demand that the divine author of the Bible change rather than the Muslim reader.
“But Jesus demanded that many of his listeners change,” says Lingel, explaining that instead of demanding that Muslim readers change their understanding of God, these translations seem to convey that God must accommodate the religious prejudices of Muslims.
“Lingel is also the co-editor of a new book, “Chrislam: How Missionaries Are Promoting an Islamized Gospel,” which represents the first major response against Muslim-sensitive translations as well as the larger movement often referred to as the “Insider Movement” or “Chrislam.”
According to reports, of the roughly 200 translation projects Wycliffe/SIL linguists have undertaken in Muslim contexts, about 30 or 40 remove the terms father and son with reference to God and Jesus.
Lingel’s response is quite direct, “These projects need to be defunded.”
Yet according to a recent Forbes “200 Largest U.S. Charities” report, the Orlando-based Wycliffe Bible Translators USA is the third most well-funded religious charity in the states.
Proponents of the Insider Movement claim that this method of reaching Muslims is bearing great fruit. Opponents, however, point out that the so-called converts within the Insider Movement remain “hidden” within their Muslim culture, continue to attend mosque, pray like a Muslim, acknowledge Muhammad as a prophet, the Quran as inspired, and make the Muslim credal confession, known as the “shahada.”
Some now claim that there are as many as 300,000-1.2 million new “Insider believers” in Bangladesh. But one former Insider who left the movement and speaks out in Lingel’s Chrislam book reports that the number of insiders couldn’t be more than 10,000. According to this source, many of the claims are greatly exaggerated so as to bring in more funding from wealthy American missionary organizations.
“Other former Insiders have reported publicly that many Insiders are really Muslims who will do whatever it takes for the jobs and money they are offered by pro-IM ministries to feed their families,” Lingel says.
Further questioning the funding and support of well-known Christian organizations of this movement, Lingel recounts, “I have consulted with the leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention on missions and evangelism among Muslims at various times… [Who] stated that there are tens of thousands of Isa al-masih jamaats, or ‘Jesus congregations,’ in northern Africa. But the members of these jamaats call themselves Muslims, do not believe in the Trinity and believe Muhammad is a prophet of God. Are they Christians or Muslims? Why talk about them in terms of missionary success?”
In response to what many Christians see as a heretical movement based on deception, Lingel’s i2 Ministries is in the process of completing a video-based university called Mission Muslims World University, with 40 of the most experienced professors from around the world teaching courses in Muslim ministries, Islamic Studies, apologetics, evangelism and discipleship.