Wycliffe Bible Translators is firing back at an allegation that it is softening the language of the Bible it prepares for Muslim countries in order not to offend the Muslim majorities there.
WND reported earlier on the developing controversy that involves Wycliffe Bible Translators, the Summer Institute of Linguistics and Frontiers, all of which were reported producing Bible translations that remove or modify terms which they have deemed offensive to Muslims.
Involved 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.”
While the Bible teaches throughout about God the Father, Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit, Muslims are told in the Quran that God has no children. They perceive Jesus as another prophet.
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.
Thousands have signed up.
Now Wycliffe Global Alliance American consultant Mary Lederleitner, while not saying whether the new translations actually say “Cleanse them by water…”, reveals the groups are searching for the best way to communicate the truth of who God the Father is so that the truth can be understood.
“Using a web-based system called change.org – a petition went live aimed at SIL and Wycliffe which expresses disagreement with the way the divine familial names are handled in the SIL Best Practices document and Wycliffe USA policy,” the statement said.
“At the heart of this controversy is a difference of position – one that hinges on whether or not one believes that using the most common term in a receptor language in translating the familial terms for God (Father, Son of God, Son) is the only acceptable translation or whether – in the minority of cases when the most common term conveys inaccurate meaning – there are times when other terms (terms which maintain the concept of familial relationships but are not the most common term) can be used,” the statement said.
“In their commitment to a position which does not allow for this second option, a group of individuals have created a petition to convince Wycliffe and SIL to take their position. In order to gather their stated goal of 5,000 signatures, they have used messaging of their position that falsely accuses our organizations of ‘producing Bibles that remove Father, Son and Son of God because these terms are offensive to Muslims,’” the statement said.
The petition by Biblical Missiology states that Wycliffe and two other Western mission agencies, “Are producing Bibles that remove Father, Son and Son of God because these terms are offensive to Muslims.”
The Wycliffe response says that’s not quite right.
“The titles are not removed, but are preserved in a way that does not communicate incorrect meaning. The issue is not that the Greek term is offensive to Muslims, rather the issue is that – unfortunately – for some readers, traditional translations may imply that God has sex with women, and give readers the impression the translation is corrupt.”
The petition further states that, “Frontiers worked with an SIL consultant to produce True Meaning of the Gospel of Christ, an Arabic translation which removes ‘Father’ in reference to God, and removes or redefines ‘Son.’”
In response, Lederleitner provided the following statement from the Summer Institute of Linguistics, a partner with Wycliffe Bible Translators.
“In response to various recent public accusations, SIL restates emphatically: SIL does not support the removal of the divine familial terms, ‘Son of God’ or ‘God the Father’ but rather requires that Scripture translation must communicate clear understanding of these terms,” the statement said.
“Without reservation, SIL’s Scripture translation practice is to use wording which accurately communicates to the intended audience the relationship of Father by which God chose to describe Himself in relationship to His Son, Jesus Christ, as is stated in the original languages of Scripture. SIL affirms the eternal deity of Jesus Christ and insists that it be preserved in all translations,” the statement said.
“SIL appreciates assistance in dispelling the falsehood that ‘SIL supports the removal of the divine familial terms.’ Campaigns of misinformation can be damaging if left unchallenged, so SIL encourages readers to take time to investigate the erroneous information that has been written elsewhere,” the statement said.
Worldview Weekend President Brannon Howse says that his major concern is that groups that try to be culturally correct often miss the text’s meaning.
“My fear is that isogesis is often used in Bible teaching and translating. Isogesis is when we bring our subjective opinion, feelings or cultural beliefs onto the text,” Howse said.
“Christians, Bible teachers, and translators need to be committed to exegesis which is the study, teaching, and translating of the Word of God in context which includes using Scripture to interpret Scripture,” Howse said.
Howse points out that there is a way to accomplish a cultural explanation that is sensitive to the target group, but maintain the exact wording of the text.
“Thus, if there is a cultural confusion as to the meaning of a text, use the Scripture to confirm the meaning of the text to those living with in that culture. Translators can insert notes as well as cross references to assist the reader in understanding the text in context instead of relying on a cultural understanding to interpret the text,” Howse said.
“Speaking on a broader level to the issue of contextualizing; I believe a large part of contextualizing is the attempt to be politically correct,” Howse said.
“Contextualization is not preaching the Biblical gospel that transforms people living in the culture but the preaching of a politically correct gospel by people who were transformed by the culture,” Howse said.
Howse adds that he’s concerned that this movement is tied to a broader cultural trend that attempts to appease Muslims rather than tell them the truth of the Gospel.
“I am troubled by the trend to appeal to Muslims through political correctness. In 2007, Rick Warren, Bill Hybels and others signed the Yale Document that says that Muslims and Christians worship the same God,” Howse said.
“A Yale Document speaks of ‘one God’ when it declared ‘We applaud that A Common Word Between Us and You stresses so insistently the unique devotion to one God,’” Howse said. “Muslims and Christians do not worship the same God; that is blasphemy. Allah, as described in the Qur’an, matches many of the descriptions of Satan in the Bible.”