Bleaching the Bible

“Go ye therefore into all the nations, baptizing them in the name of Allah, his Messiah and his Holy Spirit.”

In an over-reaching gesture of solidarity that boggles the mind, some mainline Christian organizations are changing their Holy Scriptures to avoid offending Muslims.

Three well-known Christian translation organizations—Wycliffe Bible Translators, Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL), and Frontiers—have decided that, rather than risk offending adherents of Islam, they should modify the Christian Bible to make it more palatable to nonbelievers.

For a Muslim, the Trinitarian formula of prayer is potentially offensive because they consider it blasphemy to attribute human characteristics to God. Also, they believe that God—or rather, Allah—could not have a “Son” because that would mean that he had had sexual relations with Mary, a misunderstanding that brings offense to the Muslim mind.

But changing the name of God? What of Jesus’ own words, in Matthew 10:33: “But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father who is in heaven.”

It wasn’t long ago that the Catholic Church clearly emphasized that the use of gender-neutral terms which were cropping up in some circles—identifying the members of the Trinity as the Creator, the Redeemer and the Sanctifier—were not permissible in a Baptismal ceremony and use of these names for God would, in fact, invalidate the Sacrament.

Other denominations have joined the Catholic Church in rejecting any reinterpretation of the Trinity to appease people of different cultures. Bible translators, pastors, and church leaders have come together, led by Bible Missiology, a ministry of Boulder, Colorado-based Horizon International, to circulate a petition asking the translators to retain “Father” and “Son” in the text of their Arabic translations.

But the problem persists:

  • Wycliffe and SIL have published an Arab-language text titled “Meaning of the Gospel of Christ.” In it, the group translates Matthew 28:19 (the Great Commission) as “Cleanse them by water in the name of Allah, his Messiah, and his Holy Spirit.”
  • And a new Turkish translation of the Gospel of Matthew produced by Frontiers and SIL uses Turkish equivalents of a “guardian” for “Father” and “representative” or “proxy” when they speak of the “Son.”

The fear, of course, is that the translators, in trying too hard not to offend Arab sensibilities, actually relinquish part of the meaning of the Holy Scriptures.

Satirist James Thurber had a good point when he said, “You might as well fall flat on your face as to lean over too far behind.”

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