Translations & Missions

Two church denominations have rejected the practice of using words other than “Father” and “Son” when translating the Bible into languages into Muslim-dominated parts of the globe.

That’s according to a new report from Biblical Missiology, which has been raising the issue because of translations by the missionary groups Wycliffe Bible Translators, the Summer Institute of Linguistics and Frontiers that remove or modify terms that may be offensive to Muslims.Two church denominations have rejected the practice of using words other than “Father” and “Son” when translating the Bible into languages in Muslim-dominated parts of the globe.

The translations have altered references to God as “Father” and to Jesus as the “Son” or “the Son of God.” One example 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 “baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” to “cleanse them by water in the name of Allah, his Messiah and his Holy Spirit.”

Biblical Missiology issued 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.”

Today, Biblical Missiology released a report that said Assemblies of God USA and Presbyterian Church of America study committees have released reports that will be used by their denominations to review the issue.

The Assemblies of God document said: “Our fellowship is unrelentingly committed to the authority and infallibility of Scripture. While we appreciate the challenges missionaries and translators face in intercultural communication, we will neither compromise nor dilute God’s eternal truth, nor change its intended plain meaning. We, therefore, urge all believers to reject these and any other Scripture translations, whether for Muslim or non-Muslim audiences, for both public and personal use, that do not literally translate Father and Son terminology.”

Like the AOG document, the PCA study team’s recommendation refers to Biblical Missiology’s materials on the subject.

The PCA team recommends: “Bible translations geared for Islamic contexts should not be driven by concerns that Muslims may recoil from biological terms applied to God or Jesus. That revulsion originates primarily out of religious conviction, not any communicative limitation of the terms themselves. The essentially biological terms (Hebrew, ben and ab; Greek, huios and pater) are divinely given and therefore should be translated into comparable biological terms. Footnotes, parentheticals and other paratextual comments may be used to explain the biblical and theological riches of Scripture, while never subverting the important truths embedded in the biological contours of Scripture’s words.”

The Biblical Missiology report said the PCA will discuss the study’s findings at its annual meeting in June. The Assemblies of God will postpone any decision until the end of 2012 to await a review by the World Evangelical Alliance.

Both reports, Biblicial Missiology said, “affirm the ministries that have ‘faithfully and sacrificially translated the Holy Scripture” but have reservations about current events.

Biblical Missiology reported earlier that the new translations also were being rejected by the Alliance of Protestant Churches in Turkey.

A statement from the Turkish church leaders said: “As leaders of local Protestant churches, the misleading translations of these very important and foundational New Testament terms to be wrong and extremely adverse. We most certainly cannot approve of it.”

WND previously reported that Wycliffe Bible Translators, which says it changed some references to “Son of God” and “Father” in an Arabic Bible translation for accuracy, is allowing an outside review of its translations in the Muslim world.

Wycliffe agreed to a review of its policies by the World Evangelical Alliance, a network of evangelical church alliances in 128 nations, which plans to set up a panel of experts on the issue.

WND broke the story earlier about the dispute 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.”

Wycliffe has defended the changes, saying, “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.”

Many evangelical mission leaders, former Muslim converts and indigenous Christians from countries where the translations are being used were indignant. After numerous appeals were rejected, a petition was launched calling for the end to the translations.

Biblical Missiology said the Turkish organization of Christians was not the first to object to the translations.

“The Bengali church has taken a large stance against the Islamized translations and the Insider Movement that Islamizes the church,” the organization reported.

Malaysian Christians has also made a statement opposing the new changes.

“As a church in a Muslim majority country, we are concerned that there are currently movements to remove all reference to God as ‘Father’ and His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ as ‘Son of God’ on the translation of the Holy Scripture to the local language,” said a letter from Moko Chen Liang, the general secretary of the Presbyterian Church in Malaysia, to Presbyterian leaders.