Translations on hold, investigation underway

By March 19, 2012

USA (MNN) — Maybe you've heard about it. Maybe you haven't. If you have, you may have already formed an opinion. If you haven't this may be new news to you. But, there is a controversy brewing about translating Scripture into the Muslim context. And now, Bible translations in these areas of the world are on hold.

Three Bible translators — Wycliffe Bible Translators, the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL), and Frontiers — are being criticized from Christian groups for what they claim is a watered-down Gospel for the Arabic and Turkish Bible translations.

Some of the translations' changes allegedly include references to God the "Father" replaced by "Allah," the Arabic word for "god," and Jesus the "Son of God" replaced with "Messiah." In Matthew 28:18, "Baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" becomes "Cleanse them by water in the name of Allah, His Messiah, and His Holy Spirit."

Senior Vice President of Wycliffe Bible Translators Russ Hersman says it may appear that it's watered down to us, but when you consider who the translations are being written for, it's not so cut and dry. He says one people group has a different view of the words, "the son of god." In the language of that people group, "it just means somebody with ESP. For example, if somebody said to him, 'Do you think it's going to rain tomorrow?' he would say, 'What am I, the son of god?' Jesus is so much more than that."

Hersman told about the translator's response to this criticism. "He works in a place — it's a dangerous area of the world — and he has family. They're at risk over there. He said, 'I would not put my family at risk for a watered-down version of Jesus.'"

However, Wycliffe is concerned that they get it correct. Hersman says, "The work of the Great Commission and of Bible Translation, God gave that to the church. He privileged Wycliffe to be a part of that, but it was really given to the church. So we want to allow the church to speak into that."

That's why the three organizations are asking the World Evangelical Alliance to organize a review of their work. "We've asked them to call together a group of world-class theologians, biblical scholars, linguists, missiologists, translators–people from the whole global church: Muslim background believers and Arabic speakers," Hersman says.

The review will take until the end of the year. Hersman says, "In the places in the world where translations are impacted by how these terms are translated, we've actually put them on pause. Nothing can be approved for publication or distribution until this process is finished."

In the mean time, Hersman is asking Christians to pray. "You can pray that God would select just the right people to be on that [review]."

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