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.”

  • Sherry Weddell

    Kathy:

    None of these are “main line” Protestant groups. They are all strongly evangelical and part of the pioneering outreach to Muslims which is seeing the first real breakthroughs in 14 centuries. There are at least a million “Muslim background believers” in the world now and the numbers grow everyday and these “Muslim” friendly translations are for them since MBB’s are almost never welcomed into historic Christian communities in the near east as a not unnatural distrust that has built up between local Muslims and Christians over the centuries and because many historic Christian devotional practices and language strike these new followers of “Isa” as deeply pagan. (Think of the sensitivities of a classic American fundamentalist and then double it.) There are now, de facto, two Christian communities in parts of the Muslim world, one emerging from the Muslim world parts of which may not even call itself formally “Christian” and the centuries old historic churches.

    These MBB’s are being persecuted, abandoned by the families,lose their spouses and children, their jobs, and even give their lives for the name of Christ while sharing little of traditional Catholic understandings of the sacramental economy, the Church, etc. Some of them aren’t even baptized yet. Some Leaders among MBB’s believe that the Islamic friendly Scripture translations is key to this historic breakthrough but there is a wide-scale and passionate debate about the validity of this approach within evangelical missionary circles. But we really have to understand that this is not fueled by the desire to be politically correct but by the desire to see Jesus Christ known and loved by every one, no matter what religious tradition they were born into. If we try to evaluate this movement just in light of our own western culture wars concerns, we will really miss the significance of what is happening.

  • Sherry Weddell

    PS The summer Institute of Linguistics is the translation offshoot of Wycliff although now incorporated independently. Frontiers is one of the more free-wheeling missionary agencies focused on working with Muslims. I knew them when I was at Fuller. But this whole approach goes far beyond them. For more information, take a look at the St. Francis magazine forum on the debate over enculturation in Muslim missions.

  • Tapestry

    Protestants are a dying breed, they have watered down Christianity so much that
    if Paul came back and happened to walk into a Protestant church,he couldn’t hear anything
    he ever taught nor see any of the traditions.
    Maybe we have finally turned the corner, the Reformation has finally gasped its last.
    What is left is real Catholics, Anglicans aer returning in droves and a few die-hard evangelicals. The rest have wandered off the path to agonsticism or they have so many filters up to stop God’s grace and love they can’t feel or hearl it anymore.
    I am reading the Divine Comedy and realize things never changed since his time!

  • George

    What exactly is it that they are modifying?

  • http://catholicsacristan.blogspot.com Wendell

    These kinds of paraphrases or parodies of Holy Scripture will merely produce additional heretical sects. Such a work of fiction is no better than the Watchtower Society’s warped version. A better means of speaking to muslims is to present the text unvarnished and provide footnotes which explain orthodox christian belief so as to allow any person of goodwill the opportunity to use their God-given faculties to hear the Gospel without compromise. What is needed is sound catechesis, not watering down the Faith through misguided attempts to accommodate unrealistic sensitivities. One can imagine the following exchange if some people could have their way. Jesus: And who do you say I am? Peter: You are the proxy, the representative of the living guardian. Jesus: Right on! And you are the solid mineral material forming part of the surface of the earth and other planets.

    • Brother Rolf

      The Apostles including Paul are the models of evangelizing, speak the bold truth.

  • http://www.azoic.com/ Irenaeus of New York

    So they are watering down the message because the Truth might get them into trouble in some parts of the world. God save us from this kind of false wisdom. Ugghh.

    I like the gospel because it is right when the world is wrong, nobody is going to believe a gospel that is continually influenced by polls, or one that seeks to gain the approbations of the world.

    Do people really think we can grow the Church by giving a watered down Frankenstein gospel?

    You don’t end up with Christians by distorting the message out of fear. You end up with heretics who historically have been just as devastating to Christianity as Islam. Only the Truth will convert people and create deep roots.

  • Scott

    You can read the full story at Biblical Missiology, http://biblicalmissiology.org/category/translation-issues/
    or on the petition site they sponsored, asking these agencies to retain “Father,” “Son,” and “Son of God” in Bible translations, at http://www.change.org/petitions/lost-in-translation-keep-father-son-in-the-bible
    This latter site has many resources documenting the concerns, including those of Muslim Background Believers who are incensed by what Western agencies are promoting in their own countries. This short video by Bengalis attests to their concern: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LzPK93pI65I

    Muslims indeed are coming to faith in Christ in extraordinary numbers, but it has been through the faithful and full witness of the gospel. Let’s not deny that work through experimental translations that remove or replace “Father,” “Son,” and “Son of God.”

  • Ken Fast

    The article here is unfortunately very misleading, implying that “the scriptures are being changed”. In fact, SIL has always held to an orthodox belief in the Trinity. (As someone who was raised in Latin America within SIL, I am very acquainted with the organization, its approach, its theology).

    It’s important to realize that a literal translation can actually distort the meaning of a term, imply things which are not true and heretical. For starters, please see this link. http://www.sil.org/translation/divine_familial_terms.htm

    • Scott

      The petition FAQ has a good response to your comment that an orthodox statement of faith is sufficient:

      The agencies’ statements of faith, as well as the personal beliefs of any staff member, have not been questioned by Biblical Missiology. It is their practices, not their beliefs, that we are challenging. It is all too easy for a Christian, church or agency to affirm biblical beliefs, while acting in a way that is contrary to those convictions.

      Regarding whether to use “literal” terms, there are of course many times that terms can’t be translated literally–but not so in the case of the divine, eternal terms for God like “Father” and “Son.” The Turkish Church is aghast at a Bible being introduced into their own country that translates “Son of God” as “representative of God.” Jesus is not simply God’s representative, he is his Son. The Turks are deeply upset by outsiders making their work harder for them by these translations that do not affirm Jesus is the Son and God is the Father. Let’s listen to the nationals, whether they are Turks, Arabs, Bengalis, etc.

  • Mac

    seems that you have a yellow streak up your back-who cares if the towel hdead are offended?

    • Doug

      Well, Mac, some of them do kill “infidels”. Just ask the South Park folks. :-)

  • Sherry Weddell

    I’m fairly certain that I”m the only person in the conversion who has a specialized background in Bible translations around the world (I compiled a global foreign language catalogue as one of my first jobs out of college and had to categorize the age and translation approach of each one.) The issue of question of exactly how to translate God’s name is many centuries old and reoccurs from culture to cultue and language to language. I just want readers to be clear that this is a perennial challenge, not an expression of 21st century culture wars and that it has been an issue in all three major Christian traditions: Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox in culture after culture. The exact terms of the argument differs from culture to culture so I recommend that you make an effort to understand the full nature of the debate as far as 21st century Muslims in the specific language are concerned.

    Tapestry:

    Actually certain part of the Protestant world are growing 2 – 4 x faster than Catholicism and Orthodoxy is steadily declining. Right now, Catholics make up almost exactly 50% of all Christians but that is changing fast and by 2050, the Atlas of Global Christianity estimates that Catholicism will only make up 45-46% of the world’s Christians. Orthodoxy are expected tol continue to decline in numbers and evangelical/charismatic/Pentecostal Protestants will have almost caught up with Catholics. Protestants were always a minority in world Christianity although they loom large in our imagination because they have dominated English language Christianity for nearly 5 centuries. Unless the current trends change and we start to seriously evangelize, Protestants may well make up the majority of Christians for the first time a century from now.

  • http://catholicboyrichard.wordpress.com Richard G Evans

    GOD THE WHO??? HIS WHAT??? AND WHOSE SPIRIT??? Let’s just start baptizing people in the name of Reese’s, M and M’s and Skittles so as not to offend the Easter candy industry. As a person who has a great love and concern for all people, hopefully, including God’s beloved Muslims, sharing less than the truth as we see it within Christianity does no one any favors. It just makes us look really, really stupid. And stupid does not win converts.

  • http://www.wycliffe.org Kathy

    As a member of Wycliffe Bible Translators, I urge readers to seek out the facts before jumping to wrong conclusions based on rumor and speculation. Please see our website and responses to this issue.

    http://www.wycliffe.org/SonofGod.aspx

  • George Kadlec

    Some G. K. Chesterton quotes:

    “The riddles of God are more satisfying than the solutions of man.”

    “Fallacies do not cease to be fallacies because they become fashions.”

    “Be careful not to be so open-minded that your brains fall out.”

    “I want a church that moves the world not one that moves with it”
    “Moral issues are always terribly complex for someone without principles.”
    “What puzzles the world, and its wise philosophers and fanciful pagan poets, about the priests and people of the Catholic Church is that they still behave as if they were messengers,” wrote the British Catholic convert G.K. Chesterton in The Everlasting Man. “A messenger does not dream about what his message might be, or argue about what it probably would be; he delivers it as it is.”

    Some other quotes:

    “Today, having a clear faith based on the Creed of the Church is often labeled as fundamentalism. Whereas relativism, that is, letting oneself be tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine [Ephesians 4:14], seems the only attitude that can cope with modern times. We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s ego and desires.” — Cardinal Ratzinger (before he became pope)

    George Orwell stated “During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.”

    George Orwell stated ” Political language — and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists — is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”

    “Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword. For I have come to set a man ‘against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s enemies will be those of his household.” (Matt 10:34-36)

    Hillaire Belloc stated “It is a nice question whether ignorance or stupidity play the greater part in human affairs.”

    Jesus Christ offended many people by what He had to say. In fact, John 6:61, KJV, states “61When Jesus knew in himself that his disciples murmured at it, he said unto them, Doth this offend you?” Yes, it did offend those who heard and many walked away as John 6:66 states “66From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.”

    Jesus Christ let them walk away – He did not run after them and say “Wait a minute, let me use some other language to discuss this.”

    As G. K Chesterton stated above “A messenger does not dream about what his message might be, or argue about what it probably would be; he delivers it as it is.”

  • Sheila

    Since when do Muslims read the Bible?

    • Doug

      Muslims consider themselves, Jews, and Christians to be “people of the Book”, that is, what is commonly called the Old Testament.
      Muhammad himself, although illiterate, talked to many Jews and from them got information about Jesus as well as Judaism (such as it was). Many Arabs trace their ancestry back to Abraham via Ishmael; Jews do the same via Isaac. Both sons of Abraham received promises from God to become ‘fathers of great nations’.

  • Ken Fast

    I think it’s important to also note that Wycliffe works in partnership with the Catholic church in many areas to produce translations that are accurate, dynamic, and reflect the concerns of the historical church. In Canada, Africa, the United States, and Latin America, the Church has been involved in the process, sometimes in a major way where the situation permits. We are all best served by not jumping to conclusions (as Kathy & Sherry state), but by demonstrating trust and good will, and investigating the facts.

  • Michael B Rooke

    In the second century there was a heretical sect called the Ebionites.
    They denied the Divinity and the virginal birth of Christ; they clung to the observance of the Jewish Law; they regarded St. Paul as an apostate.

    Some scholars think it was Ebionites that gave Islam its ideas of “Christianity” that do not correspond to Catholic and mainstream Christianity.

    Below are appended a link to the online 1909 Catholic Encyclopaedia New Advent on the Ebionites
    http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05242c.htm
    and a link to the wiki on the same subject.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ebionites

    John Paul II mentions them in a Conciliar Definition of Christ
    http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/audiences/alpha/data/aud19880309en.html

    and Benedict XVI makes a passing reference in a sermon on St Paul.
    http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/audiences/2009/documents/hf_ben-xvi_aud_20090204_en.html

  • Antonio A. Badilla

    I don’t see how these “translators” can even call themselves “Christian.” Cowards, perhaps, but Christian? Give me a break! The Muslims would never change the words of the Koran to appease anyone, let alone Christians.
    I aslo find it difficult to comprehend Evangelical Protestants are involved in this ridiculous exercise to deny the fundamentals of the Christin faith. This heresy seem to be coming from some main line Protestant denominations or even from Anglican translators.

  • Deblette

    I am pretty sure that all languages have a word for “Son” so if they have to alter the Trinity and exclude that, they are doing it on purpose. This is what you get when you walk too far away from God’s Church. The 30,000 protestant sects out there have all walked away, it is just a matter of how far. Just more heretical teachings.

  • Deblette

    Sherry, you may be the only person with a background in bible translations, but there is only one bible and it is the one the Catholic Church, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, assembled. Anything else is the work of man. Protestant bibles do not even include all the books of the canon and that includes books that the Lord Jesus and the Apostles quote from, in the Gospels. Luther inserted that man is saved by faith alone because he wanted to believe that. Teaching people from false teachings is bad enough, but warping them to exclude the Trinity would kind of be doing the work of the enemy. No one comes to the Father except through Jesus Christ. If you eliminate the son, you won’t get to the Father.
    The Catholic Church is the keeper of the faith and the Truth that Jesus Christ gave to His Apostles and they handed down. All other “churches” are creations of men and have some of the truth and mostly none of the Sacraments the Lord graced us with. We can only pray that those who come to knowledge of the Lord through a protestant denomination, will ultimately search for the Truth and find their way to the Church Christ established on this earth so that may find out what true union with Jesus Christ can be, while still living on this earth.

    • InformedAndFree

      Amen! Amen!

  • Captain Kirk

    Here is Wycliffe’s official response to some of these questions…

    http://www.wycliffe.org/SonofGod.aspx

  • http://www.azoic.com/ Irenaeus of New York

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

    Is the example above really what is conveyed for those cultures? Without the relationship of the divine persons, I can’t see how criticism is not warranted or unexpected.

  • Doug

    Kathy Schiffer wrote “In an over-reaching gesture of solidarity that boggles the mind, some mainline Christian organizations are changing their Holy Scriptures to avoid offending Muslims …”

    My first thought on reading was: If there is a God* he/she/it/they should be capable of defending him/her/it/themselves.

    The scripture ‘being bleached’ is at Mt 28:**
    “And Jesus coming, spoke to them, saying: All power is given to me in heaven and in earth. Going therefore, teach all nations: baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you. And behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world.”

    Please note these scriptural points relevant to the OP:
    (a) The Catholic and ‘mainline Protestant’ view is that the new language weakens the Trinitarian view that Jesus=God=Holy Spirit. Yet the “God-man” Jesus says “all power is GIVEN TO ME”. This is at least a suggestion that one should understand that ‘the greater gives instructions and privileges to the lesser’. I.e., not equal.
    (b) “Jesus” is properly the only proper name in the passage. This makes Ms Schiffer’s 4th paragraph, beginning “But changing the name of God?”, not relevant, at least until we answer the questions begged, which are …
    (c) … ‘Just what ARE the proper names of the other two Gods/parts of God? Can we properly claim that these proper names have been changed before we know what they properly are?’ A non-Muslim skeptic might be forgiven for so asking.
    (d) The Son has a name: Jesus. (Mt 1:16 e.g.) The Father has a name: Yahweh. (Isa 42:8 Jerusalem Bible, e.g.) and Jehovah (Isa 42:8 American Standard Version e.g.) The Holy Spirit has NO personal name in scripture. (Nor in the “magisterium” AFAIK, unless someone here can point me to it.) Therefore investigation gives us exactly TWO names ‘in which to baptize’, not one, not three. Exactly the wrong number. We’ve asked our hypothetical skeptic to believe in three-in-one, but his brow is still furrowed. ***
    (e) Often and often I see this passage referred to as a “Trinity proof” or similar. I teach in the local school system. I recall teaching third-graders, at least, that a sentence that begins like “Going therefore, teach …” is in the imperative form: it gives a command. The command is, ‘Go; preach’. Go where? ‘Go everywhere, even to Gentiles.’ Teach what? “to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” I know not of the word “trinity” in Our Lord’s teachings. I do know that from the first, he taught his disciples about the importance of his Father’s kingdom, AND his Father’s name: “Thus therefore shall you pray: Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Taking THIS as a command (“Thus … SHALL you pray …”) this and Mt 28 should also beg the question, ‘Just what is this kingdom of God. And what’s in it for me?’ That could be asked by any, regardless of faith, who are currently under any of the imperfect kingdoms (governments) on earth. (“…on earth, as it is [already] in heaven”)

    Our hypothetical skeptic has an anonymous Muslim colleague, BTW. It’s reported of him that, when long-ago Jesuits attempted to teach him the Trinity- Father & Son & Holy Spirit, he thought the names should be Allah, Jesus … and Mary! Natural enough when we note that Hebrew and Arabic are closely related, and that “spirit” is feminine in both.

    *For the record, I do believe in God.
    **UOI, all quoted scriptures are from the Douay at newadvent.org.
    ***The Wycliffian “in the name of Allah, his Messiah, and his Holy Spirit” has the same problem. “Allah” is a not-proper noun; it’s the Arabic for the scriptural Hebrew el’oah, the way of saying “God” in another part of speech. That matters not to the firmly-believing Muslim: To him “there is NO God but Allah”, so a proper name would be irrelevant. Christians, of course, know that other people and things ARE worshipped as Gods by us imperfect humans. 1 Cor 8:5, “For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,)” KJV
    (Like Latin and Greek, word endings in Hebrew make significant changes to the root; more so than, say, the plural “s” of English.)

    Comments?

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  • J.P.

    I won’t speak to the changing of the terms of the Trinity, but it seems to me that if it’s being translated into Arabic, for an Arab readership, then it makes 100% sense to use Allah instead of “God.” Allah IS the Arabic word for what we Germanic-based English-speaking people term “God.” God is the modern Anglo-Saxon version of “Gott.” Which term itself probably comes from something older. If we wanted a more accurate version of His name, we would use the Latin, ancient Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, or maybe even Old Persian word, would we not? But even a scholar of those languages will tell you that those are not the original names of God either: the real Name of God, according to Kabbalist philosophers (and they would know, since the Old Testament is their book originally, let’s not forget) is the entire Written Torah, the black letters and the white page that allows them to be read, and the Unwritten Torah, that is kept in Heaven and the mankind can not read. Some schools hold that every one of us has one letter of the true Name of God written in our heart, and at the time of the Judgement every one of us will pronounce our letter all at once, thus finally mankind will utter God’s true Name.
    It also seems to me that this is not, as some have pointed out, a PC-motivated move, but a way to communicate with those whose starting point is rather different. Why throw that away over some mundane merely human quibbles? We’ll only know the real truth when we meet God “face to face,” as it were. “Be excellent to each other!”

  • RoderickA

    I suppose we have to presume the reason for these translations is first and foremost to bring the Gospels to Muslims with the hope to convert. The very first problem I see is with the proper formula of Baptism. Any Baptism done in the name of “Allah (or guardian), his Messiah (or representative/proxy) and his Holy Spirit” would be invalid. And to even call it a “cleanse” instead of a baptism changes its meaning entirely.

  • Jon D

    Question: Why would Muslims read the Christian Bible or go to a Christian Church? The reasoning escapes me.

    • Doug

      Jon D asks:
      “Question: Why would Muslims read the Christian Bible or go to a Christian Church?”
      It’s an article of Muslim faith that Jesus was a prophet of the same God as Muhammad: The God of Abraham.
      Many are dissatisified with their secular lives, as are many non-Muslims, and they often respond to the message of a perfect government of God, under his appointed king, Christ Jesus. Read Ps 45 and 72 for a glimpse of that.

  • http://www.azoic.com/ Irenaeus of New York

    The problem is not with substituting Allah with God. The problem is with losing the filial relationship conveyed by Father and Son when translating Father as Allah/God and Son as Messiah.

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  • Richard Marquis

    The Wycliffe and SIL formula of “In the name of Allah, his Messiah, and his Holy Spirit” stands in unfaithful, stark contrast to the heroic witness to Faith Christ demands, to the point of judgment. I recall hearing about a Catholic man who had his hand cut off in a Muslim country for making the sign of the cross in public; this took place within Islam’s court system and in accordance with Sharia Law–the very same sentiments these pc publishers are falling all over themselves to appease. What cowardice?! God has given us all warning: In Revelations 21:8 “cowards” are the very first ones damned to Hell on the Last Day. God spare humanity from its folly and lead all souls to heaven. May we never count the cost until Eternal glory with the Father, whose will we take upon ourselves in imitation of Christ Crucified. +So Be It+


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