Changing Scripture to Suit

This news item disturbs me greatly, if it’s true. It seems that Wycliffe Bible Translators, who we supported for many years, has been producing Arabic and Turkish translations of the Bible with the words “Father” and “Son” replaced with “Allah” and “his Messiah”, so as not to offend Muslim readers.

I understand the need to reach Muslims with the Christian faith. But in my reading of history, changing the words of scripture in this way is always a bad sign. If this is true, and if we still supported WBT financially, we would certainly stop doing so.

Update: Per Wycliffe’s web site, the story isn’t true. This is a relief, as I did not enjoy thinking poorly of them.

Update: Looking deeper, there seems to be more to this story. If the organization Biblical Missiology is to be believed, they have had considerable dialog with Wycliffe about this, and they have what appears to be a record of it. If this record is accurate, WBT is maintaining that they are translating the terms accurately into various languages while avoiding connotations that would be weird to speakers of those languages, and Biblical Missiology is maintaining that they are going too far, so as to lose the original meaning—and in some cases unnecessarily. In this light, WBT’s statement, linked above, could simply mean, “No, we aren’t going too far.” There are a few examples in Biblical Missiology’s record; check it for yourself.

  • By Steven, February 1, 2012 @ 3:01 am

    He easily misinformation is spread, and how easy it would be to check.

  • By Will Duquette, February 1, 2012 @ 6:04 am

    Steve, this is why I emphasized, “if true”. There’s at least one current WBT missionary who reads this blog, and I figured he’d set me straight if the reports were mistaken. You simply got through the gate first. My point remains valid, however–messing with the words of scripture is always a bad sign.

  • By Mark Lambert, February 8, 2012 @ 3:27 am

    Are you referring to me? Being on the administrative side of the house, I am only aware of this controversy tangentially. It does not impact our work in Cameroon. Our director told us that, of the roughly 2,000 languages that we still need to begin work in, only 5% are directly affected by this, and only half of those are embroiled in the controversy. Much of the problem stems from our preferred method of translation (“dynamic equivalent”) which some conservatives see as compromising. But I speak from ignorance, so I’m not going to go further with this. Suffice it to say that we are doing our best to get God’s Word into the hands of people in a form that they can understand, and that we never have the intention of changing divine familiar terms without very good cause, if at all. Wycliffe’s work has been attacked in the past, and we’re still standing. And God’s Kingdom is advancing, to His eternal praise and glory.

  • By Will Duquette, February 8, 2012 @ 5:27 am

    Mark, of course I’m referring to you! What you’ve said here is the impression I got from reading Biblical Missiology’s statement that I linked to above: it’s at base an argument about how properly to do translations. WBT says that they are simply doing their best to translate scripture faithfully into the target languages, and not changing the text for political or ideological reasons; and Biblical Missiology is claiming that some of these translations are not faithful enough and is accusing WBT of being heterodox. Is that about the size of it?

    Not knowing anything about the languages in question, of course, I’ve no way of looking at the translations and judging for myself.

  • By Will Duquette, February 8, 2012 @ 5:29 am

    I might add that someone from Biblical Missiology posted a comment here last week, which I deleted as it seemed to shed more heat than light, and added nothing to the document to which I linked above.

  • By Mark Lambert, February 8, 2012 @ 6:40 am

    Yeah, this issue has generated a great deal of heat, mostly from people who haven’t a clue about what is required to do a proper, contextualized translation. Unfortunately, two major denominations (not named here) are simply refusing to listen to our arguments and are ready to withdraw all support from Wycliffe. The devil is having a field day. I will add that Wycliffe has sent a message to all members stating that translation work in the languages in question has been halted, and no approvals will be given for publication until they have been thoroughly examined and discussed with our partner organizations. We are taking this issue very seriously.

  • By Will Duquette, February 8, 2012 @ 7:10 am

    I’m glad to hear it.

    Translation is tough, no question. I’ve no doubt that WBT has made mistakes; that’s the human condition. But I’ll also give you folks credit for wanting to do it right. (This is a separate question from whether your philosophy of translation is problematic or not, but I have personal evidence of your sincerity and little basis for judging your translations. 🙂

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