Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Removing "Father" and "Son of God" from the Bible Part 3

Lost In Translation: Keep "Father" & "Son" in the Bible

Please read Part 1 and Part 2.

2 Corinthians 4:2

2 But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God's word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone's conscience in the sight of God.


A good friend of mine and brother in missions has an adopted son. When he takes his son to hockey practice, he doesn't say to him, "Now, when you are at hockey practice don't call me Dad, because I don't want the other kids to think I'm married to your mom, because that isn't true. Why don't you call me Guardian instead." How would his son feel? Does that accurately reflect their relationship? Obviously this analogy isn't wholly accurate, but it does reveal some of the issues at stake here.

I'm not an enemy of contextualization. Contextualization is a positive thing and when led by the Holy Spirit is uniquely powerful to reach someone's heart. I'm not an enemy of being tactful or appealing to Muslims first on what they already recognize as true, such as the eternal, incorruptible nature of God's Word. But tampering with God's word is deceptive and dangerous to evangelistic efforts and to new believers.

I understand the issue. I sympathize with the translator's concerns. If there was a way to translate "Father" or "Son of God" in an accurate, inoffensive way, I would suggest we take it. But there has been no alternative suggested that does not rob the essence of the Father/Son relationship, the doctrine of adoption and undermine the deity of Christ as proclaimed in Scripture.

Wycliffe and SIL have responded by stating that the accusations against them are false, but they have failed to state anything specific. They have repeatedly made it clear in what they have published and what their translators have published that they believe that these choices do accurately translate the terms. Those making these appeals to Wycliff, SIL and Frontiers are not sensationalists out to make a name for themselves or to run these often admirable organizations through the mud. They are published Bible translators, linguists and missionaries to Muslims who see these translations as damaging to the work of Christ among Muslims. I have interacted with some of them in person and I have been greatly blessed by many of their training materials. Simply reading the articles written by SIL linguists should establish that these appeals have a basis and merit.


SIL International Statement of Best Practices for Bible Translation of Divine Familial Terms
Translation of the familial terms of God in Scripture has unfortunately generated considerable controversy. We want to clearly state our position on this important subject.
In SIL, we strongly affirm the eternal deity of Jesus Christ and require that it be preserved in all translations. Scripture translations must promote understanding of the term ‘the Son of God’ in all its richness, including Jesus’ relationship as Son with God the Father.
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, in the original languages of Scripture.
There are some cases in which it can be shown that a word-for-word translation of these familial terms would communicate an incorrect meaning (i.e. that God had physical, sexual relations with Mary, mother of Jesus; not only does this communicate obvious wrong meaning, but can also give readers the impression that the translation is corrupt). In these situations, the translations convey the accurate meaning by using terms that clearly have familial meaning but do not imply a procreative relationship. Where necessary, Scripture translations should include an explanation of the meaning of divine familial terms. This may be in an introduction, in one or more footnotes, or as a glossary entry, as seems appropriate to the situation.
Bible translation is complex work carried out by translation teams of highly skilled and dedicated people. In SIL, all personnel subscribe to a statement of faith which affirms the Trinity, Christ’s deity, and the inspiration of Scripture. SIL is committed to translating the Scriptures in the best way possible to preserve and not distort these truths. Respecting well-established Bible translation principles and practices, translation decisions are always made in consultation with other partners and the host communities, in order to achieve the best possible translation of God’s Word.
January 2012

I strongly disagree with their conclusions and feel that their statements regarding the debate are misleading. The charts below, taken from a presentation by Jay Smith and Bill Nikkides (available here), show some of the choices being made. Click on the images to view a larger size. For a full treatment of this subject and more thorough charts read: Chrislam: How Missionaries are Promoting an Islamicized Gospel.

Biblical Missiology has created a page to track media exposure of the issue and response from Wycliffe and SIL. I urge you to view the page, read the petition and sign it.











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