Translating “Divine Familial Terms” Among Muslims

Greg Strand – February 6, 2013 2 Comments

Question:

I am trying to find out something about the new Muslim friendly translation to be done by Wycliffe/SIL (Summer Institute of Linguistics). What is this about, and do you have any information about this?

Response:

This is an important question. It is very important to note that there are two interconnected issues, and we must extricate them so that we can appropriately respond to each individually and then also the two together, because they are related. The one issue is that of ministry to Muslim Background Believers (MBB) and the Insider Movements (IM) focusing on contextualization (C1-C6). The second is focused on the question you raise, that of translation, specifically the divine familial language.

First, a translation for Muslims has already been done for part of the Bible that attempts to be culturally sensitive to translating “Divine Familial Terms,” such as “God the Father” and the “Son of God.” What has happened is that due to numerous questions and concerns and people/churches pulling their financial support from Wycliffe they have stopped promoting and translating so that their translation theory can be appropriately addressed by experts.

Second, most from Wycliffe/SIL who have been a part of this up to this point are missiologists, not biblical scholars or theologians. Though they may understand the dynamics of translation and though they may understand the importance of understandability of translations in the receptor language, they are often less sensitive to the importance of a word and the use of a word across the canon. “God the Father” and the “Son of God” are such words/expressions.

Third, the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) has put together a panel to serve as an Independent Bible Translation Review with the following task:

In the light of certain controversies about Bible translation, the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA), as a respected and trusted global evangelical association, has been asked to form a panel to independently review Wycliffe and SIL International’s translation of “God the Father” and the “Son of God.” The panel’s mandate includes reviewing SIL’s translation practices; setting boundaries for theologically acceptable translation methodology particularly in Muslim contexts; and suggesting how to practically implement these recommendations.

The Panel consists of the following scholars/experts:

  • Milton Acosta, Old Testament
  • Donald Fairbairn, Early Christianity and Historical Theology
  • Atef Gendy, New Testament
  • Ida Glaser, Biblical and Islamic Studies
  • Rob Haskell, Systematic Theology
  • Karen Jobes, New Testament
  • Ghassan Khalaf, Biblical Studies and Theology
  • Melba Padilla Maggay, Social Anthropology
  • Scott Moreau, Intercultural Studies
  • Kang-San Tan, Mission Studies
  • Roland Werner, African Linguistics & Theology
  • Dudley Woodberry, Mission Studies
  • Robert Cooley, Panel Moderator

This Panel met in November 2012, is scheduled to meet a second time early this spring, with an anticipated final report due in April of this year.

Finally, D. A. Carson has written a book on this issue: Jesus the Son of God: A Christological Title Often Overlooked, Sometimes Misunderstood, and Currently Disputed (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012). As with most everything Carson writes, it is excellent.

Greg Strand

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Affectionately called “Walking Bible” by his youngest daughter, Greg Strand has a ministry history that goes back to 1982. Since that time, he has served in local church ministry in a variety of ministry capacities: youth pastor, associate pastor of adult ministries and senior pastor. He is currently the EFCA's Executive Director of Theology and Credentialing. Greg reads voraciously and never stops learning — a passion reflected in the overflowing bookshelves that spill from his library to multiple offices. And he could tell you about each of those books! His hunger for learning pales in contrast to his great love for God and for teaching the Word of God.

2 responses to Translating “Divine Familial Terms” Among Muslims

  1. I am currently working with a missionary family who is struggling with working with SIL due to this issue and others related items. Thank you for raising these issues (of Insider Movements and other topics of ministering to Muslims). It is important that a wider Christian audience be aware and look into these things and not just leave it for the “professionals” to deal with.

    • Thank you for your response, Adam. I appreciate the affirmation of these posts. We agree – it is important for the people of God, the church of Jesus Christ, to be aware of these important matters of the Christian faith.

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