Even though Wycliffe Bible Translators says it changed some references to “Son of God,” and “Father” in an Arabic Bible translation for accuracy, it now has confirmed it is allowing an outside review of the project that drew heated criticism from several quarters.
According to a report in the Washington Post, Wycliffe has agreed to a review of its policies by a group called the World Evangelical Alliance, which is planning to set up a panel of experts on the issue.
The report said Wycliffe, which is working on hundreds of translation efforts in dozens of countries around the globe, also decided to withhold publishing materials that are in dispute until after the panel reports on the situation.
WND broke the story about the criticism and then reported again later when Wycliffe said, through Wycliffe Global Alliance American consultant Mary Lederleitner, that the issue “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 controversy involves Wycliffe, 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.”
Critics included Biblical Missiology, which set up a petition stating that Wycliffe and the others, “are producing Bibles that remove Father, Son and Son of God because these terms are offensive to Muslims.”
Wycliffe responded earlier 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.”
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.”
Critics within the evangelical missions movement as well as many former Muslim converts and indigenous Christians from countries where these translations are being used were indignant. After numerous appeals were rejected, a petition was launched to call for the end to the translations.
Worldview Weekend President Brannon Howse said 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.
The Post report said the Anglican bishop of Tasmania, John Harrower, said inaccurate translations make his outreach work harder. The report said the president of Horizons International, a Christian group that works with Muslims, is concerned that the message is lost.
“If you remove ‘son,’ you have to remove ‘father,’ and if you remove those, the whole thread of the Scriptures from Genesis to Revelation is unraveled,” he said.