Turkish Translation

I got this letter this morning:


As a student, I get the chance to read here frequently, but not daily. I respect the tasteful and measured discussions presented. I am curious about scholarly thoughts on this new Bible translation issue presented here:


As a servant of the global Kingdom with skin in the game, I can see the merit of a new translation more suitable to a given audience.

My question is this : are we addressing an issue of cultural anthropology or is this a theological boundary not to be crossed?

My question is genuine. I seek answers.



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  • The article seems unnecessarily antagonistic towards Muslims. It’s almost as if the author sees them as an enemy to be opposed rather than neighbours to be loved and pointed towards the Kingdom.

    While hiding the Sonship of Jesus makes me uncomfortable, I recognize that it’s so that Muslims don’t reject the Gospel out of hand because they think it entails God having sex. Once Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection is embraced, the specifics of the Trinity can be more readily digested. I guess working this out might backfire though, as some Muslims might take this as a stealth tactic to deceive their brothers into becoming Christians (much like how we notice how Mormons avoid mentioning a plurality of Gods when they do their outreach).

  • Ben Thorp

    This was reported with a bit more background in Christianity Today back in October.


  • Scot, I blogged a response last night, not knowing you would also post about this. The claims in the article are very unfair. Hopefully, we can set the record straight. My blog post is here: http://betterbibles.com/2012/01/30/translation-of-divine-familial-terms/

  • After looking at merely the title of the linked article above I am reminded of two verses in the bible:
    first: 2 Timothy 3:16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness
    Second: Revelation 22:19 And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.

    I don’t think it helps those of other religions to try to bend Christianity to meet their beliefs. Their beliefs need to bend to meet the truth of the Word of God.

  • Andrew

    Not to nitpick, but I presume your inquirer meant “other scholarly thoughts,” as most of those drafting SIL’s best practices statement are linguistics scholars with PhDs, not just missionaries focused on reaching the widest audience possible. As a recent Wycliffe recruit myself, I’m especially eager to hear what your well-educated readership thinks of this issue, Scot.

  • Steph

    I will quickly make a comment only about the last paragraph of that article. Unfortunately, the “sexual connotations” are not baloney to Muslims, and it is a common criticism of Christians from the Muslim viewpoint. They (Does he mean Muslims? indigenous Christians?) are not “coming up with something untoward” because of the translators. That false understanding of what Christians teach is already out there.

    When passages of the Bible are translated, is the only relevant concern to be for those born and raised in the church, the indigenous Christian community, or is there also concern for those who might be added to it, against all odds?

    I can’t answer the question you posed but think the statements by Wycliffe, SIL, and Frontiers should be posted, if possible.

  • Jeremy

    My initial knee-jerk reaction is that fiddling with the familial relation of Jesus to the Father is gutting the single-most important point of the Christian faith. After a little reflection, it seems that it’s the sort of thing we need to see in practical execution rather than vague guidelines.

    Though I wonder if it would really help. If I understand it correctly, the idea of divinity made flesh is repulsive in itself. Being sensitive to the sexual connotations of a Father/Son relationship isn’t really going to get around the problem of God becoming a fully human person.

  • Steph

    Andrew, #2, I’m a little confused. I’m assuming there really is no question about how these passages should be translated, that the word for word translation would be “father” and “son.” Is that not correct?

    So the real question is one of theology? The scholars would be theologians? Or linguists in the sense of linguists who have worked in a Muslim context and understand the audience the language must be made real for?

    I don’t think it’s fair to missionaries to describe them as “focused” on reaching a wide audience. The audience comes by ones and twos and engages with the Christian in discussion after discussion, and the focus of the missionary would be in helping the Muslim properly understand who Christ is. They’re not dismissing theology in the interest of “winning” but are actually deeply concerned about the theology’s being properly grasped. The audience is not wide but small and the theological work intense.

    I note the biographical info you included about being a Wycliffe recruit, and I realize this ought to influence my guess at your meaning, your point here. I see, of course, that missionaries are going to have the “audience” clearly in their sight. However, the focus is going to be to get the audience to the right theology, and though father doesn’t have to be interpreted as sexual originator, in that context, it already is, and that interpretation is already attached to the understanding of Christ as God’s Son. So, what of that? What do we do? I’d like to know why SIL, Wycliffe, and Frontiers settled on that particular approach. (I’ll go read the Christianity Today link now.)

  • Steph

    Yes, but, Jeremy #5, it seems to me that there is more danger of false doctrine or confused thinking arising out of the concept of Sonship, in light of the already strong Muslim misunderstanding of Christian teaching here, than there is of any false doctrine arising out of the concept of God as intimately concerned with His creation, to the point of coming to earth and becoming fully human. (Well, okay, there have been a lot of problems in understanding fully human and fully divine…… But if the problem is merely its being repulsive, God made flesh, He did become flesh, and it’s central. It may be repulsive because of the misconception that God had sex with Mary. In that case, He didn’t, and that’s central too. I just suspect that you can arrive at correct doctrine without the words father and son, but that what you will lack is a shorthand for the concept. If the shorthand is flawed though, in that community, well, that’s a problem to address.)

    And I really ought to leave the fray so I’ll go read the article linked in number 1.

  • Andrew


    I look forward to giving your questions their due attention when I’m not on the clock at work. Please know that I intended nothing whatsoever disparaging about the missionary enterprise. Wycliffe’s work is both “missions” and scholarly. My goal was rather simply to point out that those making these decisions are actually scholars in their own rite, so this would be a discussion amongst scholars rather than a weighing-in by scholars on issues previously addressed only by non-scholars.

    I would encourage you to read both the Christianity Today article and the SIL and Wycliffe statements linked to in said article. I will do the same. This way, our conversation will be more balanced and better informed.

  • Hector

    Re: However, the focus is going to be to get the audience to the right theology, and though father doesn’t have to be interpreted as sexual originator, in that context, it already is, and that interpretation is already attached to the understanding of Christ as God’s Son.

    The sexual connotations are there for a reason. The Aramaic speakers of the third century who began referring to Jesus as God the Son, and the Greek speakers of the fourth and fifth century who codified exactly what that meant, were aware of the sexual connotations. They’re important because sex is the best analogy we can think of for a process by which one being originates another being of the same kind. There are others, of course- a fire serving as the origin of another fire, for example- but none of those examples is personal. The terms ‘Father’ and ‘Son’ were used precisely because they remind us that God the Son, and God the Father, are two persons with one nature, and one essence. That’s why we say God the Son is ‘begotten, not made’ of God the Father.

    I have a friend who worked for a year or two for SIL/Wycliffe, and I’m disappointed that they’re buying into this politicially correct denaturing of the Gospel. The faith isn’t supposed to be dumbed down so that it’s inoffensive, it’s supposed to be handed down as it was received from our forefathers.

  • There is an article by Vern Poythress that is relevant to this issue.http://www.frame-poythress.org/poythress_articles/2011Bible.htm

  • Steph

    Andrew in #10 (sorry, my numbers were messed up earlier): Thanks, I understand your point now. I read the CT article and am following some of the other links that have shown up here as well.

    Hector, I do think, regarding the word “begotten,” that I haven’t given it enough thought, what its implications are. I am confused by what you said, though, because you use the phrase “God the Son,” and talk about what has been handed down from our “forefathers,” and that sounds to me like you are speaking about the formulation of the doctrine of the Trinity (or the beginnings of it, “God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit”) and not the Scriptural passages referring to Jesus as Son of God. As Gary shows in #4, some of the anxiety here is about changing the very words of Scripture and then (also) about doctrine. But it seems to me that if the translators changed the wording of the Scriptures and removed Son of God, put a note in to explain the way the text actually read, and then also put in a whole appendix to explain the Sonship, still the critics would not be pacified even though text (in the margins) and doctrine (in the appendix) would both be preserved.

    Back to the letter that was posted: This is the “theological boundary” at stake, isn’t it? Editing the text itself? And the “cultural anthropology” is not “let’s not offend, and let’s dumb down” but “let’s not mislead” where an a priori belief, namely, that Christians do teach that God had sex with Mary, makes it almost inevitable that the words “Son of God” would be misunderstood.

    There’s no good reason I can think of for my being allowed to venture into the realm of theology. I am grateful for having been allowed into the conversation. I entered it because, when I clicked and read the article linked to in the letter, like commenters 1 and 3 I thought the article was “unfair” and “antagonistic.”

    I have a question that I believe is related enough to the discussion that it is reasonable to ask it. I read somewhere recently that the phrase Son of God was actually common back then, that several people used it of themselves, around the time of Christ. I was very surprised. Is that so? And what do we learn from the words “Son of God”? If it really is a sexual analogy, as Hector says, then doesn’t it seem to imply that Christ had a beginning rather than eternally coexisting? I’m not sure that thinking of those words as sexual analogy improves my understanding. And the familial relationship, well, there is perfect love and perfect communion between God the Father and God the Son, but I don’t get that merely through the words, and if I stretch the family concept too far, a son and father are merely related and not in very nature the same. And though sonship might at one point have reflected the fact that the Son does the Father’s will, do we still understand that today from those words in the Western world?

    Are these the kinds of questions scholars consider, or are they far out in left field? Christ does refer to himself as the Son of God. Why? (Maybe how you answer the why determines how you evaluate what the translators are doing.)

  • Andrew

    I highly recommend Vern Poythress’s excellent article posted by Richard (#10). It goes into greater depth than the CT article or even the Wycliffe/SIL statements, and helps us all appreciate the difficulties of finding rough equivalents between two languages as they may have different categories for familial relationship terms, with different associated connotations — regardless of Islam. He’s said things far better than I could.

    A minor but not insignificant correction to the author of the Turkish article: Wycliffe is headquartered in Singapore, not North America.

    Also, why must cultural anthropology and Biblical theology be in conflict? They should inform one another!

    (P.S. I’m embarrassed to note my typo above: “in their own rite” should be “in their own right.”)

  • Steph

    There is another Christianity Today article, an earlier one, from February 2011, that explains more about the Muslim context in approaching a phrase such as Son of God. If you read the Vern Poythress link (very good, about the complexities of translation) in number 12, this is the article he refers to when he says his position was not accurately represented in a CT article. It’s called “The Son and the Crescent.” http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2011/february/soncrescent.html
    With the two articles together, you get a very good picture of the linguistic difficulties, the particular translations that were proposed, and how it all appears to someone straining to see from a Muslim context. The article says, among other things, that a Muslim moving towards Christ will accept the fact of the Incarnation faster than the phrase Son of God. In light of that, I just don’t see why saying, for example, “spiritual Son of God” (one of the proposed translations) is problematic. It’s a road signal to indicate how to understand Son of God as you read. And also, the article says that many Westerners (me!) have only a fuzzy understanding of what Son of God means ….. Pretty sure I demonstrated that above. Obliged.

  • Percival

    One thing we often overlook in these discussions is that the term “son of God” did not have trinitarian overtones until after Jesus. Adam, David, and Solomon were all called a son of God. When disciples confessed, “you are the Christ, the Son of God,” they were confessing his messiahship and God’s regency through Jesus. I doubt if they had any idea that he was God incarnated.

    So, my point is that even when we have the “right words” to read, we often read them wrongly. Son of God may not even be a good English translation of the semitic idiom. I agree with Poythress that a footnote is probably the best way to handle this. It avoids any charges of trickery and corruption of the text.

    It is ironic that translations/tafsiir of the Qur’an are often ‘cleaned up’ for western ears, but then again, deception is permissible in Islam when it comes to propagation of the faith. However, WE should avoid any shadow of deception whenever we can because their assumption is that deception, buying converts, and extreme pressure are normal ways people spread their faith.

    So much more to say, but no time now.

  • Hector


    I don’t agree. It’s clear from John’s Gospel, and from his Letters that the Apostle John, at least, was aware that Jesus was God. He mentions that ‘the Word was God’, and He has Thomas express the divinity of Jesus as well. It’s equally clear that the author of the Apocalypse knew that Jesus was God, there are references to His divinity throughout the book. St. Matthew refers to the Magi worshipping Jesus (which is an unambiguous term), and St. Luke refers to the disciples worshipping him as God after his ascension. I don’t remember about Mark. But it’s clear, anyway, that Jesus was acknowledged as equal to God the Father right from the beginning.

    What ‘son of God’ meant in the Aramaic idiomatic speech of the time is an interesting question, but not really relevant to how we should translate it today. We have a fuller understanding of who and what Jesus was than the people of first century Palestine did, and our translations should reflect that.

    Yes, Muslims don’t accept the Trinity, that’s pretty clear. That isn’t a reason for us to dumb down our faith, it’s a reason for us to be even more vociferous about the points where we disagree, so that they are made aware of exactly what the Trinity is. It’s important for us not to give the impression that God the Son is in any way less than, or inferior to, God the Father. St. John of Damascus was around when Islam was first getting started, he saw the incipient new faith for what it was, and his response was to be even more emphatic about the basic articles of the Christian faith, and to assert things like the Trinity, the Incarnation, and the veneration of icons, against the Islamic threat.

  • Percival

    I’m sorry my point wasn’t clear enough. I can see how my comment might be read that way.

    It’s not that the disciples did not eventually realize that Jesus was God incarnate, it is just that usage of the term ‘son of God’ predates that realization. You are right that the Gospel of John clearly claims that Jesus was divine. And while the term Son of God took on that meaning, it was not always so.

  • Percival

    By the way, ‘Islamic threat’ is sort of a loaded term that maybe should be avoided. A threat to whom exactly? It might be said that Islam is a threat to the soul of Muslims, but all my neighbors are Muslim and I am not under threat.

  • Percival

    Sorry, but one last thing. You said that the Magi worshiped him, which is an unambiguous term. Actually, it is quite ambiguous in my Arabic Bible. They “prostrated themselves before him.” Again, I think the Semitic idiom is often more faithful to the original than the English one.

    You said,
    “But it’s clear, anyway, that Jesus was acknowledged as equal to God the Father right from the beginning.”

    Right from the beginning? That’s not how I read it. And could you clarify that passive construction? Acknowledged by whom? By angels? Possibly. By the disciples, I doubt it.