An inside perspective on the Islamic-friendly Bible

You probably missed the comment on the Islamic-friendly Bibles post last week by David Harriman, who worked for the missionary agency that put out the translation in question.  (I continue to be amazed at who all reads this blog.)  He offered an insider’s perspective that I wanted all of you to see:

Dear Gene,

For 18 years I served as director of development/director of advancement for Frontiers, the ministry which produced this  Turkish translation of Matthew.  While I believe the workers behind this project have good motivations, I also believe they effectively rendered the text compliant with Islam.  While the volume in question thankfully included a properly-translated Greek to Turkish Interlinear, the purpose of the contextualized translation–and the related footnotes–is to cast a specific “Muslim friendly” meaning upon the text itself.

This translation, and others produced and advised by Wycliffe, SIL, and Frontiers, have been the subject of a recent petition organized by Biblical Missiology:  http://www.change.org/petitions/lost-in-translation-keep-father-son-in-the-bible

The petition Fact Check document (http://biblicalmissiology.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/LostInTranslation-FactCheck.pdf) shows how even the footnotes to this Turkish translation fail to properly convey Christ’s ontological Sonship:

“The focus of our concern is the text of the Matthew translation, not the Greek-Turkish interlinear. In the Matthew text, “Son” is rendered as “representative” or “proxy,” and “Father” is translated as “protector” or “guardian.” However, “Father,” “Son,” and “Son of God” should be translated literally in the text, with explanation provided in the footnotes—and not the other way around…

“One example will illustrate the problems with the Turkish translation. At the baptism of Jesus in Matthew 3:17, “Son” is translated as “representative” in the text. In the footnote to this verse, “Son of God” is defined in several ways, such as “God’s representative,” “the king, Messiah,” and “God’s beloved monarch.” The note incorrectly says the term “is synonymous with the title of Messiah.” Jesus is portrayed only in kingly terms, with no recognition of his divinity or actual Sonship. Needless to say, such explanations have the effect of obscuring the full and true meaning of “Son” and “Son of God,” even if the terms are translated correctly in the footnotes.”

To get a sense of how Christian witness to and among Muslims has changed profoundly in recent years, I would encourage all Patrick Henry students to read the following article by former Muslim Dr. Patrick Sookhdeo of the Barnabas Fund:  http://barnabasfund.org/Recent-Changes-in-Christian-Approaches-to-Islam.html

Patrick Sookhdeo’s piece shows the organic relationship between the ideas and assumptions behind certain interfaith dialogue approaches (such as the Common World and related Yale Response), and “insider movement” approaches to work among Muslim.

David Harriman

In correspondence with me, Mr. Harriman adds this:

I work with a lot of former Muslims and they are outraged by this approach to translation.  What you have, actually, is the spectacle of Western translators (actually, only a couple of highly-committed advocates, but who are acting with the support of senior WBT/SIL leadership) attempting to tell native speakers of Arabic, Turkish, and other languages what their languages actually mean.

There are other translations that are actually far worse — one is an Arabic translation of the Gospels and Acts in which Father is not rendered literally, in any instance, and in which Son, Son of God, and Son of Man is redefined by paratext and footnote.  Similar to the footnote I noted on your blog, the commentary portion of this volume (advised by SIL, but funded by Frontiers) describes Christ’s Sonship as metaphorical.

An audio “Stories of the Apostles” volume is in fact far worse than this — Son of God is translated “Caliph of God” — Caliph of course referring to religious/political rulers of Islam who defended and promoted Islam by force; “saints” is replaced with “umma”; Islamic honorifics like “upon him be peace” are used after the mention of Christ’s name (an Islamic prayer for the dead).  This audio “Bible” produced by WBT/SIL is still online, BTW.

The Jimmy Carter Study Bible

Zondervan has published a study Bible based on former president Jimmy Carter’s Sunday school notes:   :

Jimmy Carter, peanut farmer turned president turned globe-trotting humanitarian, now has another line to add to his business card: Bible commentator. Last week Carter published a Lessons from Life Study Bible, with the subtitle Personal Reflections with Jimmy Carter.

With many Democrats embracing the language of faith in recent years in an attempt to win back so-called values voters from the Republican column, Carter’s intense faith life is a good reminder that hardly all Democrats are new to the pew.

Since he returned to Plains, Georgia, from Washington after losing his re-election bid to Ronald Reagan in 1980, Carter has taught Sunday school at the local Maranatha Baptist Church, “about 685 times so far,” he says.

His notes in the new study Bible pull from years of Sunday school lessons. “Like the disciples, we should not be proud, seek an ascendant position or argue about who’s the greatest among us,” he notes in reflecting on a passage from the Gospel of Mark in which Jesus’ followers are debating who among them is the greatest. . . .

Christian publishing house Zondervan compiled the study Bible, which combines Carter’s teachings and notes with the New International Bible Study Bible.

via Jimmy Carter Publishes Study Bible, Discusses Faith-Filled Life – National News Story – WCVB Boston.

Here is the editorial description at Amazon:

The NIV Lessons from Life Bible takes Mr. Carter’s years of teaching Sunday school lessons at Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, GA, and meshes them with the text of the NIV Bible. Through ‘In Focus’ articles, ‘Bible in Life’ notes, in-depth studies and insightful observations and reflections, President Carter’s teachings in this Bible provide fresh insights for you to study and contemplate. Features: * The full text of the clear, accessible NIV translation * Foreword by Jonathan Reckford, International CEO of Habitat for Humanity * Bible in Life notes: short, application-oriented notes on particular verses * In Focus Articles: longer articles on particular topics * Short prayers of application on select passages * Reflections: brief one-sentence sayings and quotations by Jimmy Carter * Presentation page

Why?  Who would buy this?  Is there reason to think that the former president has any special knowledge about Scripture?  I also would not buy a Ronald Reagan Study Bible.  To look to a politician as our expositor of Scripture gives me major cognitive dissonance.

Islamic-friendly Bibles

Many missionary groups in Islamic countries are using Bible translations that avoid offending Muslim sensibilities, getting rid of phrases such as “the Son of God” and “God the Father.”   All in the name of church growth.  And yet Christians in these countries, beleagured as they are, are strenuously objecting to these translations.  Mindy Belz of World Magazine reports:

A team of translators with Frontiers helped produce the disputed translation of Matthew in Turkish, and SIL said some of its consultants helped at certain points in the process. Sabeel Media, a partner organization of SIL, published the translation in August 2011, printing it in book form and posting it online. In the Turkish Matthew, the “alternative form” for “Son of God” is something along the lines of “representative of God,” according to Turkish speakers, and “God the Father” has become “great protector.” A footnote explains the alternate terms: “According to the Jews, ‘God’s Son’ means ‘God’s beloved ruler’ and is equivalent with the title ‘Messiah.’”. . .

The translators emphasize their desire to promote evangelism. Bob Blincoe, the U.S. director of Frontiers, cited in an email lack of growth as one reason for the translation: “The big problem is that church planting among the tens of millions of religious Muslims in Turkey has not been successful; it has not even begun.” Turkey is 99.8 percent Muslim, according to the CIA World Factbook. Turks estimate that their country has about 5,000 Christians now, but when Bocek became a Christian in 1988, he was one of a total of 80 Protestants in the country. “One significant barrier may be the existing translation of the Bible,” Blincoe wrote in an email: “These are paraphrases that help a conservative Sunni Muslim audience know what the Bible really says.” . . .

Thomas Cosmades, a Turkish Christian who translated the New Testament into Turkish from the original Greek, mailed a letter to Frontiers at the end of 2007 after he saw a copy of the Turkish Matthew. (Several hundred were printed before the official publication in 2011). Cosmades died in 2010, at age 86, just after he published a new edition of his New Testament. In his letter he wrote that he was “highly disquieted” by the paraphrased Matthew and proceeded to analyze the debatable phrases in detail.

“This translation is not seeking to emphasize the value of the incarnation,” he wrote. “Should the trend continue, who knows where it will lead the coming generation? If Athanasius of old would have encountered such departure from biblical Christology he would have placed these redactors far below the Arians.” . . .

The Pakistan church at large may not know about the debate, but the Pakistan Bible Society (PBS) does. After 20 years of work together, the Bible society and SIL are parting ways over the issue, which is a blow to SIL because now it must operate without the imprimatur of the premier local publisher. SIL said in a statement that the decision not to work together on one project was mutual, the result of “translation style differences,” not just the debate on divine familial terms.

But the general secretary of the Pakistan Bible Society, Anthony Lamuel, wrote in a letter on Jan. 26 that the issue of altering terms for target audiences was central in the decision, and added that such translations have resulted in the “water downing” of Christian concepts: “We the Pakistan Bible Society will not promote experiments with the translation at the cost of hurting the church.”

A woman working on another translation project in Central Asia, who asked for anonymity for the sake of her work, said the debate on the “Son of God” issue in her translation team has deadlocked their project and stirred confusion among local believers who don’t have a Bible in their own language as a reference: “It has eroded their faith in the authority of the Word of God and in us as foreigners who are supposed to be the ‘teachers’ but can’t seem to agree on some basic truths of who Christ said he was. … Sadly it raises doubts and endless discussion, wasting a lot of time.”

Anwar Hussain, the head of the Bangladesh Bible Society, has been at the forefront of efforts in his country the last few years to repel Bible translations from various groups that change divine familial terms. Hussain grew up Muslim, and when he professed Christ as a young man, his family cut ties with him. Edward Ayub, another Christian of Muslim background, is the moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Bangladesh and—alongside Hussain—has vigorously opposed the translations. “I want to die for the Bible,” not a misleading translation, Ayub said. “The harm they are doing now for the church will be long-lasting.”

via WORLDmag.com | Translation battle | Emily Belz | Feb 25, 12.  (Subscription required to read full text.

What connections do you see between this particular tactic on the mission field and the church growth movement here?

Harold Camping admits he was wrong

Finally Harold Camping accepts the plain words of Matthew 24:36 (“of that day and hour knoweth no man”):

After numerous failed doomsday predictions, Family Radio founder Harold Camping announced this month that he has no plans to predict ever again the day of God’s Judgment. He also issued an apology to listeners, admitting that he was wrong.

“We have learned the very painful lesson that all of creation is in God’s hands and He will end time in His time, not ours!” a statement on Family Radio’s website reads. “We humbly recognize that God may not tell His people the date when Christ will return, any more than He tells anyone the date they will die physically.”

Camping, 90, has made predictions about Judgment Day, Christ’s return and the end of the world for the past few decades – with the May 21, 2011, forecast receiving the most media attention. Each time the date passed, he did not admit to mistaking the timing but instead reasoned that the events happened “spiritually” rather than physically.

But once Oct. 21, 2011 – the day Camping said the world would be destroyed physically – came and went, the Christian broadcaster began to reevaluate his views about being able to calculate and know the exact date of the apocalypse.

“Even the most sincere and zealous of us can be mistaken,” Camping and Family Radio staff stated in their March letter. “We realize that many people are hoping they will know the date of Christ’s return. In fact for a time Family Radio fell into that kind of thinking.

“But we now realize that those people who were calling our attention to the Bible’s statement that ‘of that day and hour knoweth no man’ (Matthew 24:36 & Mark 13:32), were right in their understanding of those verses and Family Radio was wrong. Whether God will ever give us any indication of the date of His return is hidden in God’s divine plan.”

via Harold Camping Admits Sin, Announces End to Doomsday Predictions, Christian News.

Hopefully he will now  admit his other errors and accept other plain words of Scripture.  For example, another finding of his odd interpretation of the End Times is that we have entered a dispensation in which all organized churches have become apostate.  Thus, people should stop going to church.  Instead they should just listen to his radio program.  Maybe he could now announce that he is now taking Hebrews 10:25 to mean what it says and that his followers should now start going to churches again.

Wash and be clean

At church last Sunday we had texts on Naaman the Leper (2 Kings 5:1-14) and the leper who begged Jesus for healing (Mark 1:40-45).  The former, thinking to buy healing, came with $400,000 worth of silver and $4 million worth of gold (I appreciated how Pastor Douthwaite translated the ancient weights into their modern equivalence an worth).  The latter came with nothing but desperation.  God ended up healing them both, though not as Naaman expected.  Pastor Douthwaite’s sermon, all of which is worth reading, built up to this:

Sorry, Naaman! Who you are and what you got makes no difference – go, wash, and be clean. And sorry, Joe [the "ordinary Joe" in Mark]! Who you aren’t and what you don’t have makes no difference – I will; be clean. What makes the difference is not anything in these two men – what makes the difference is who our Lord is and what He has come to do. . . .

And now also for you. Also to you Jesus has said, I will; be clean. To heal you from the leprosy of your sin. For sin is the incurable nightmare that afflicts us. Sin is our death sentence, robbing us of life, separating us one from another. Satan doesn’t want you to think sin is so bad, and so he belittles sin in order to belittle our Saviour. He doesn’t want you to think you sin is so bad, and he wants to convince you that you can cover it up with the good you do. But that’s like putting make up on leprosy – you may look okay on the outside, but the disease is still eating you away. . . .

And so Jesus has provided a water of cleansing for you, that like Naaman, you may go, wash, and be clean; that like Joe, He may touch you and cleanse you. And when you are baptized, that’s exactly what happens. All your uncleanness washed away in the forgiveness of your sins. Not because the water is so great – that was Naaman’s objection, remember? What’s so great about the Jordan? What’s so great about the water in the font of baptism? Well, nothing. It’s not the water, but the Word and promise of God attached to the water, that if Naaman washed in the Jordan, that if you wash here, you will be touched by Jesus and you will be clean.

That’s why infant baptism is such a great thing! Babies bring nothing to the font, they can’t even bring themselves – they have to be carried. But that’s exactly the point. It was all the Lord with Naaman, it was all Jesus with Joe, and it is all Jesus here. All the work of the Lord. It is His touch, His washing, His healing, His giving spiritual life. All the baby, and all we can do, is receive it. For that is why Jesus came. To come to us sinners with His: I will, be clean. . . .

Now, there are plenty of modern-day Naamans, who say water can’t do that; that’s it’s empty; that it’s just water. Many who want something more spectacular and awe-inspiring. But what can be more precious or great than this? That our Saviour puts Himself here for you. That His life is here for you, and for your children, and for all who are far off. As Naaman’s servant said: This is a great word. A simple message, a simple washing, but a great salvation.

So despite how these two men may have been quite different, in the end, what mattered most is what made them the same – they were dying and needed life. And that is what makes all of us the same as well. And for all the same, the Lord of life has come. So that whether you’re a Naaman or a Joe or somewhere in between, you have a merciful Saviour – the Lord of life who came to die, so that the dying have life. The holy one come to become unclean, so that the unclean be holy.

via St. Athanasius Lutheran Church: Epiphany 6 Sermon.

A Valentine’s Day meditation on Scripture

In honor of the noble martyr Valentine, whose day we celebrate today, I would like to propose a meditation on Ephesians 5: 22-33.  In this text we learn that a husband plays the role of Christ and the wife plays the role of the Church (or, to put it even more strongly and in vocational language, the husband is a mask of Christ and the wife is a mask of the Church).

When this passage is usually contemplated, the discussion stops at “submission,” that just as the Church submits to Christ, the wife should submit to her husband.  But it seems to me that there is much more to the parallels than this.  I propose that we discuss the passage bracketing the question of who has to obey whom and focusing on the other implications.

Here is the passage:

22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.[a]28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

So how are wives like the Church and how are husbands like Jesus?  For those of you who are married, how does this manifest itself?

Wives are told to submit to their husbands while husbands are told to be like Jesus in sacrificing Himself for the Church.  Don’t both of these involve denial of the self on behalf of the other person?  What are the similarities and the differences between submission and self-sacrifice?

What do verses 26 & 27 ask of husbands?

What does it mean for two people to be “one flesh”?


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