The Battle of Bible Translation

by Dr. Elizabeth Mitchell on February 25, 2012

World Magazine: “The battle for accurate Bible translation in Asia . . . the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God” (1 John 4:14–15).

A battle is raging in the world of Bible translation, and the issues are more complex than they at first appear. The questions involve fundamental issues of vocabulary and culture, linguistic accuracy and doctrinal purity, the integrity and availability of God’s Word.

The problem involves translation of Father and Son, in reference to God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is co-eternal with the Father, as indicated in the opening verses of John’s Gospel. And in John 10:30 we learn the Son is also one with the Father. The theological concepts of the Trinity and the Incarnation of Jesus Christ—fully man yet fully God—as well as the willingness of God the Father to give His only begotten Son for the sins of mankind (John 3:16) are key Christian doctrines—and no one involved in this controversy disputes them.

In some languages, including many used by Muslims, the common words for father necessarily imply a sexual relationship with a mother. To imply a sexual union between God the Father and the virgin Mary is blasphemous. So how can Bible translators accurately provide a Bible in languages where available vocabulary suggests an outrageous falsehood?

Some Bible translators, believing Muslims are slow to accept Christ because of this misunderstanding, have begun substituting non-familial words for Father and Son.

Some Bible translators, believing Muslims are slow to accept Christ because of this misunderstanding, have begun substituting non-familial words for Father and Son. They resort at times to words with meanings like “great protector” and “representative of God.” Bob Blincoe, U.S. director of Frontiers, asserts, “There is no cause for anyone to be alarmed by the accuracy of this translation,” adding “These are paraphrases that help a conservative Sunni Muslim know what the Bible really says.”

Fikret Böcek, a long-term Turkish pastor and church planter, disagrees. He says he and his fellow pastors deal with this problem by explaining what the terms really mean. He is operating on the principle illustrated in Acts 8:30–31 in which Phillip asks the Ethiopian man reading from Isaiah, “Do you understand what you are reading?” and the man replies, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” Then Philip, we learn in Acts 8:35, “beginning at this Scripture [the confusing one], preached Jesus to him.” Böcek writes that the new translation “does not help Muslims see that Jesus is the only way to God.”1 He adds, “God’s Word is mighty and powerful to save. We do not need to be ashamed of the claims of Christ.”2 When Caiaphas demanded, “Tell us if You are the Christ, the Son of God!” Jesus affirmed, “It is as you said” (Matthew 26:63–64).

Böcek and others fear doctrinal truths vital to Christianity will be lost in these new translations. The late Thomas Cosmades, himself a Turkish translator, acknowledged these translators “have given much of their valuable time, probably meaning well,” but wrote, “This translation is not seeking to emphasize the value of the incarnation.”

Furthermore, attempts at clarification may actually reinforce the Muslim belief that Christians are “manipulating” the Word of God, which “is exactly what the Qur’an accuses People of the Book [Christians] of doing.”3 Thus, attempts to fix one problem magnify another.

The Bible itself, read by a person under the convicting power of the Holy Spirit, may be the only “missionary” many people ever see. The Bible says, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17). Fearing the slippery slope of creating culturally modified, politically correct Bibles, Biblical Missiology—which is circulating a petition to call attention to the problem—maintains, “We simply do not have the authority to make such significant changes to God’s revelation of himself,” adding, “Any possible misunderstanding of ‘Father’ and ‘Son’ should be cleared up in the footnotes, with an accurate, orthodox, biblical explanation. The text must not be changed.”4 For over 1,300 years, Muslims have heard the gospel of Jesus as the Son of God preached and, according to a native speaker, understood that responding to the gospel involved “a decision to follow THE SON” (emphasis his).5He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36).

The linguists, theologians, missionaries, and pastors working on this complex problem share the goal of making the gospel available to people in every tongue. And Biblical Missiology praises Wycliffe and the other translation groups for their many “faithful translations.”6 Let us pray for God to give all involved the wisdom to communicate His Word clearly while they “contend earnestly for the faith” (Jude 3).

For more information:


Remember, if you see a news story that might merit some attention, let us know about it! (Note: if the story originates from the Associated Press, Fox News, MSNBC, the New York Times, or another major national media outlet, we will most likely have already heard about it.) And thanks to all of our readers who have submitted great news tips to us.

(Please note that links will take you directly to the source. Answers in Genesis is not responsible for content on the websites to which we refer. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.)

Footnotes

  1. biblicalmissiology.org/2012/01/16/fact-check-biblical-missiologys-response-to-wycliffes-comments-on-lost-in-translation/
  2. biblicalmissiology.org/2012/01/16/fact-check-biblical-missiologys-response-to-wycliffes-comments-on-lost-in-translation/
  3. Atif Debs, native speaker quoted in “Fact Check: Biblical Missiology’s Response To Wycliffe’s Comments On ‘Lost In Translation’” (PDF), linked from biblicalmissiology.org/2012/01/16/fact-check-biblical-missiologys-response-to-wycliffes-comments-on-lost-in-translation/
  4. “Fact Check: Biblical Missiology’s Response To Wycliffe’s Comments On ‘Lost In Translation’” (PDF), linked from biblicalmissiology.org/2012/01/16/fact-check-biblical-missiologys-response-to-wycliffes-comments-on-lost-in-translation/
  5. “Fact Check: Biblical Missiology’s Response To Wycliffe’s Comments On ‘Lost In Translation’” (PDF), linked from biblicalmissiology.org/2012/01/16/fact-check-biblical-missiologys-response-to-wycliffes-comments-on-lost-in-translation/
  6. biblicalmissiology.org/2012/01/16/fact-check-biblical-missiologys-response-to-wycliffes-comments-on-lost-in-translation/

Recommended Resources

Newsletter

Get the latest answers emailed to you or sign up for our free print newsletter.

See All Lists

Answers in Genesis is an apologetics ministry, dedicated to helping Christians defend their faith and proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ effectively. We focus on providing answers to questions about the Bible—particularly the book of Genesis—regarding key issues such as creation, evolution, science, and the age of the earth.