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Make yourself heard

Keep "Father", "Son" and "Son of God" in Bible translations.

Western missions agencies Wycliffe, Frontiers and SIL are producing Bibles that remove FatherSon and Son of God because these terms are offensive to Muslims.

Read and sign this petition.  Then pass it on, facebook, blog, retweet.

Also...

For Brits, here's an e-petition to put the world-wide persecution of Christians on the map for our government.

12 thoughts on “Make yourself heard

  1. The Orange Mailman

    Glen, this would be quite unfortunate (unblessed). But do you have a reliable news source on this? Wycliffe has been very orthodox in the past. I followed the links but all I found was the petition against it.

  2. Paul Blackham

    There is a very helpful video at - http://biblicalmissiology.org/2011/08/01/indigenous-believers-speak-out-against-c5insider-movements/ - explaining the objections of local Christians in Muslim majority nations against the imposition of translations and mission paradigms from Western para-church agencies.

    Please take time to listen to this because it puts many of the issues into the concrete context of the local churches who are suffering these decisions that are made by Western agencies.

    On the other hand, Wycliffe repented of their earlier views of translating "Son of God" and issued new guidelines in mid-2011 after pressure from local churches in Muslim majority nations. It was a great answer to prayer that this happened, and Christian Today has an article all about this change -
    http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2011/octoberweb-only/son-of-god-translation-guidelines.html

    The translation question is not strictly the same as the Insider Movement problem, but the two are often deeply connected. Please, if you have not yet thought through the Insider Movement questions, please take some time to do so. There are many articles about this online.

    Can a person be a Muslim follower of Jesus? Is 'Christianity' an essentially Western religion or is there a clear get of beliefs and practices that give rise to specific cultural forms in all the different nations and cultures of the world? If somebody is a Muslim follower of Jesus, what would that mean for their culture, the community they commit to, church or mosque, dress, religious practices, festivals, Quran or Bible [are both to be received as divine?], and [critically] doctrine - especially the doctrines of God, church and salvation?

    In one sense this is a theological crisis that really belongs to the rising church in other parts of the world, but it is important for us to think about these questions too - if only so that we do not make life more difficult for our brothers and sisters in Muslim majority nations.

  3. Glen

    Hi Orange - Paul's links are a good start - especially the Christanity Today article. I agree that Wycliffe do wonderful work.

  4. Paul Blackham

    Sam, thanks for that. What a fascinating document from Adam Simnowitz. I sincerely hope that the change of guidelines from Wycliffe last year means the end of this kind of project. It was especially chilling to see Jesus presented as talking to His Father as "Lord" or "God" rather than "Father". I imagine most of us can see how the relationship between Jesus and His Father would be very hard to understand if a Muslim was presented only with these 'translations'. It was also strangely unnerving to see the Lord's prayer without "our Father".

    This debate has been happening only among specialists in the Western world and churches in the Muslim majority world. It will be helpful if the voice of the wider Western church can also help to sound the alarm about this.

  5. Matthew Weston

    After passing on this petition on Twitter last night I was emailed by a friend who works for Wycliffe, who pointed me in the direction of various counters to the above petition. I was assured, with no qualifications, that Wycliffe would never issue a translation that does not translate the term "Son of God". See Wycliffe's policy on translating the term "Son of God" in the following, for example:

    http://www.wycliffe.net/resources/missiology/Bibletranslationandmission/tabid/96/Default.aspx?id=2213

    Or Vern Poythress' article here:

    http://www.missionfrontiers.org/blog/post/bible-translations-for-muslim-readers

    The end of the following journal article (http://www.missionfrontiers.org/pdfs/34-1-Translating-Familia-Biblical-Terms.pdf) also seems pertinent. It explains that a translation issue arises in languages where there the term for "Father" by necessity includes a physical sexual relationship (i.e. the word for father means and can ONLY mean "biological father"), and there is no direct equivalent for the category of "social father", necessitating a change in translation method:

    "Contrary to what some people imagine, the use in translation of non-biological expressions for Father and Son
    - is not imposed by outsiders, but is decided by believers in the language community;
    - is not limited to languages spoken by Muslims but is a challenge for any language in which the normal kinship terms are biological in meaning and imply procreation;
    - is not intended to lead audiences into any particular form of church, whether Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, or “insider”;
    - does not itself constitute an “insider” translation or even a “Muslim-idiom” translation;
    - is not contrary to normal translation principles but seeks to follow them, by using phrases to translate the meaning of Greek and Hebrew terms that lack a semantic counterpart in the target language, and by explaining the meaning of the terms in the paratext;
    - is not limited to “dynamic” translations but is used in more “literal” ones as well;
    - is not contrary to how conservative Biblical scholars interpret the Greek and Hebrew expressions but rather seeks to follow their scholarship;
    - is not intended to change or obscure the theological content of Scripture or make it more palatable to the audience, but seeks rather to convey it as accurately as possible;
    - does not hinder the audience’s perception of Jesus’ deity but rather facilitates it;
    - does not stem from liberal or unorthodox theology on the part of translators or from a liberal view of Scripture, but from interaction with the interpretive and theological tradition of historic Christianity and the results of contemporary conservative scholarship, with the goal of communicating the verbally inspired message of the Bible as fully and accurately as possible."

    If there are translations that are systematically removing the Father/Son relationship from Scripture, then of course I agree with you. But if the majority of these examples are just a case of a literal translation of the English term "Son of God" or "Father" being impossible due to there not being equivalent words in the target language, but that the meaning is nonetheless kept, then it's a translation issue that I'm not qualified to comment on. I'm assured that the final decision in any Bible translation of these terms goes to local believers, who would seem more qualified than me to make a call on translating into their language.

    I have a document that my friend at Wycliffe has passed onto me which does a good job of explaining the translation issues for non-linguists, if anyone's interested.

  6. Glen

    Thanks for those links Matthew. I know nothing of translation issues really, and it's great to hear these perspectives.

    Rick Brown makes a huge amount over the distinction between biological and social fathers saying:

    "The biological father is the one who begets the children"

    In which case English (and, I'd guess, every other human language) counts as a problem target language - at least for the phrase "only begotten Son of God." Here is a phrase that is, in every human instance of its use, implying biological generation. Brown even uses "begetting" as an example of biological language in the article.

    The fact we know Jesus is not biologically generated does not come from any linguistic clues - everything linguistic would make us think biological.

    All of which makes me think this *is* an issue about Muslim reception (rather than simply linguistic reception). But I might be wrong.

  7. Paul Blackham

    Matthew, thanks for posting that full response from Wycliffe. Some very helpful points in there. As we all know Wycliffe is a wonderful organisation with deep commitment and passion for the Bible - yet this debate is going on within Wycliffe itself.

    The mission statement at http://www.wycliffe.net/resources/missiology/Bibletranslationandmission/tabid/96/Default.aspx?id=2213 is especially useful here because it indicates the kind of theological questions that are at the heart of this debate - and why so many Arabic speakers are upset about it.

    In the section dealing with "Son of God" the initial assumption is made that the English phrase "Son of God" "is a tremendously meaningful term in English. It carries a critical message about Christ, the Messiah, the second Person of the Trinity." However, I would suggest that this is only the case among the minosrity Christian community. The English phrase "Son of God" no longer communicates the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity to general English speakers. Many English speakers feel that such a phrase either does imply some kind of procreation or else it is polytheistic or even simply incoherent. I constantly come up against massive misunderstandings of "Son of God" in English - but I'm not convinced that we need to use a different English vocabulary to deal with this. Notice the kind of discussions and arguments about the Trinity that are increasingly common in English culture. We have to constantly and carefully explain and define what we are trying to say with these words.

    My Arabic friends tell me that the new words and phrases do not convey the ontological Trinity and they do not reflect the full deity of Jesus as the original languages do. I have to take their word for that becuase my own Arabic is too weak to grasp the nuances. BUT, for us English speakers, try the same experiment. If we want to avoid all the misunderstandings that "Son of God" has acquired, what alternative words or phrases could we use? Can we think of words or phrases that are genuinely equivalent to Father/Son that contain the same relationality and ontology? If we say that Jesus is "the specially loved one from God" or the "unique messenger"... do those phrases do the job? Would those phrases lead us to see how Jesus is the eternal Word/Son/Angel of the Father/Ancient of Days? The Bible itself uses different words and phrases to express the Trinity... and yet if we lose the Father/Son language from the pallette then can we properly understand the other terms correctly?

    The final paragraph of the article on the Mission Frontiers website with the summary points is a clear statement of the translation practices, but they don't quite solve the problem that has been at the heart of the debate. The problem is that the words "father" and "son" in English, and in Greek and in Hebrew, basically "are biological in meaning and imply procreation". Yes, father/son can also have other non-biological meanings in specific contexts, but to ENTIRELY escape those natural connotations means a serious danger of losing the ontology that is so vital for the doctrine of the Trinity. All languages struggle to grasp this aspect of the Trinity. The normal usage of these words is in terms of procreation. Think of the long lists in the Bible of this man begot that son etc... and yet with all those long lists defining "begetting" in such normal, biological ways, yet the Holy Spirit still used the 'begetting' word to describe how the Father and the Son relate. It seems a bit too risky for Him to do that... yet by doing it that way we see how the Son is of the very 'substance' of the Father rather than any emanation or creature. The Son is of the very being - "of the same stuff" as the Father... and no matter how messy or complicated it is to get our minds around this in a non-sexual and non-chronological way, yet anything less than that understanding of the Son is a serious problem.

    The article by Rick Brown on the Mission Frontier website almost perfectly expresses the problem. He does a great job of clearly and simply setting out the reasons why the new translations have selected words and phrases that are more like "Lord" or "God" for the Father and "Messiah" or "uniquely Loved One" for the Son. Rick seems to quite genuinely believe that the "social" understanding of father/son is more appropriate in most contexts than a biological one.

    On page 29 Rick acknowledges the ontological dimension of the Father/Son relation, but then goes on to say - "Bible scholars suggest that the mediatorial meaning is the most prominent in many contexts of Scripture, but they also recognize that the Bible uses the phrase with six additional components of meaning: familial/relational, incarnational, revelational, instrumental, ethical and representational."

    Might I suggest that far more of the Bible's usages of Father/Son language are to do with ontology than some may allow.

    That assumption about replacing 'biological' father/son words with equivalent 'social' ideas of father/son is precisely why there have been these protests over recent years. The deep concern from the Arabic churches is that if Muslims and new Muslim background believers read a version of the Bible that does not articulate, in the main text rather than in footnotes, the ontological Trinity, then how can they get to grips with the reality of the Trinity?

    Round the world, in all kinds of cultures and languages, for hundreds or thousands of years, there has been that wrestling to understand and express the rich complexity and wonder of the One God who is the Spirit who proceeds from the Father who begets His Son - all in an eternal, non-successive and non-sexual but ontological way. Look at how careful and nuanced we try to be In English... and in every other language. Remember how the ancient Greek theologians had to invent and adapt and superintend words and language to articulate what the Bible means by Father and Son.

    Rick suggests that people in polythesistic cultures might struggle to understand the relation between the Father and Son - yet, it was precisely in the polytheisic culture of Greek and Roman gods on the one hand and the philosophical culture of the Platonic One who was too pure to have any contact with material things on the other hand that the classic creedal formulations of the Trinity arose. We might look back and wonder how they managed to avoid both the sexuality of the pagan gods and also the untouchable transcendance of the Neo-Platonic One, so beloved of Arius.

    To try to short-cut or even entirely avoid this wonder and glory may have profound consequences not only in the short-term understanding of this generation of Muslim background believers but also in the longer term theological health of the emerging churches around the Islamic world.

    For those of us who have been involved in this debate, especially over the past 5 years, the points that Rick so clearly make actually underline why there is such concern among Arab speaking Christians. The strongest protests against these new translations are from Arabic speakers because they claim that the family or ontological connection between a father and a son is such a vital aspect of the relationship between Jesus and the Father.

    The 'problem' with the father/son language is part of the basic fabric of the Bible itself. When we go back to the church fathers of the 2nd and 3rd centuries, they too are wrestling with how God the Father begets/begot God the Son yet without physical procreation or chronological succession. It is not as if we can simply import an analogy to solve it because the ontological connection between God the Father and God the Son is so essential.

    The alternative words and phrases cause so much upset with many Arabic Christians precisely because to use words like "Lord" or "God" instead of Father or to replace "Son" with words like "Messiah" or "Uniquely Loved One" do not contain the ontology that is so vital to a Biblical doctrine of God.

    Yes, there is a massive and common misunderstanding of the Trinity among most of our Muslim friends - yet, this misunderstanding [focussed on the idea that God the Father had sexual union with the human Mary in the way that the Greek/Roman gods would do], still continues among Muslims who speak English as their first language. Look at Islamic websites that engage with the Trinity - in any language. Many commonly discuss the idea that Christians believe that the Trinity is the Father, Mary and Jesus. This is not simply a matter of words but doctrine.

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