Wycliffe to implement Bible translations to cater for Muslims

(Image: Wikipeida)Beginning of the Gospel of John from a 14th century copy of Wycliffe's translation

Wycliffe Bible Translators are to implement the recommendations of a panel that reviewed its practices regarding the translation of the divine familial terms "God the Father" and "Son of God," in an effort to quell a debate over its work to Muslims audiences.

Wycliffe asked the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) to step in and review its approach to translating these terms to Muslims due to criticism of its methods.

The group formed a panel of scholars.

The panel issued 10 recommendations of April 29.

The organization has been under fire in recent years because of its attempt to contextualize the words so they do not offend people with Islamic backgrounds.

Translations aimed at Muslims have tried to avoid using the terms "God the Father" and "Son of God" because they are unclear to them and blasphemous, according to Christianity Today (CT).

In its report, the WEA panel recommended that Wycliffe always translate the terms "father" and "son" with the most directly familial words within the given linguistic and cultural context of the recipients.

It also recommended that translators use qualifying words and/or phrases to the directly translated terms "father" and "son" in order to avoid any misunderstandings.

The president and chief executive officer of Wycliffe Bible Translators USA, Bob Creson, issued a statement expressing gratitude to the panel.

"We received the panel's report and will work with our strategic partner SIL International to take steps to implement these recommendations as soon as possible," he said.

SIL (Summer Institute of Linguistics) does research, translation, training and materials development.

In its cover article in February, 2011 entitled "The Son and the Crescent", CT reporter Collin Hansen noted that the term "Son of God" is not only blasphemous to some Muslims, but also a word that can bring on a curse.

"Muslims reject the possibility that God could have produced a son through sexual relations with Mary", wrote Hansen.

The Wycliffe Bible

Even though Christians reject this as well, believing that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary, Hansen said that Muslims do not grasp this concept.

He said that "this distinction is lost on many Muslims who lack the theological context for understanding nuanced Christian teaching on the Trinity".

Hansen noted how Wycliffe's use of the dynamic equivalence method to translate terms caused dismay among some missionaries and scholars at the time.

The method translates the Bible's source languages into other tongues with the goal of producing a stylistic and semantic equivalent.

For example, the term "Christ" has been used to replace "Son of God" in Islamic Bibles. Some scholars do not agree that these terms are equivalent.

Also at issue is what opponents see as the loss of the relational aspects of the Trinity in the Wycliffe translations.

While many who have criticized Wycliffe's methods appreciate their attempts to share the Gospel with Muslims, they believe that the failure to use the literal familial terms amounts to creating heretical translations of the Bible.

Attempts by Wycliffe to clarify the issue have been unsuccessful.

Two denominations, the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) and the Assemblies of God, have publicly rebuked Wycliffe, even after it issued a statement saying that the familial terms should be used when at all possible.

In early 2012 Biblical Missiology, a consortium of individuals and ministries which responds to mission trends in the Muslim world, put out a petition calling for Wycliffe to use familial terms in its translations.

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