The Assemblies of God Gives Wycliffe a Deadline

The Assemblies of God (AoG) and Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) are the only Christian denominations that have taken a stand against Wycliffe Bible Translators and SIL’s involvement in Bible translations that removed ‘Father’ and ‘Son’ from the Trinity. PCA acted last year.

The AoG’s statement, “Essential Scriptural Integrity,” was on page 28 and 29 of the March 4 issue of the denomination’s magazine, Pentecostal Evangel. The statement, in part, reads:

For many years Assemblies of God World Missions has partnered in ministry with Wycliffe Bible Translators. While some missionaries are appointed by AGWM to do Bible translation for specific and unique reasons, most of those with a specific calling to Scripture translation are assigned to Wycliffe. The AG World Missions Executive Committee made this determination because of the highly specialized nature of Bible translation into other languages. Presently 35 AG missionaries work with Wycliffe.

In the last year the propriety of this long-held partnership has come into question for the first time. A major factor in this issue is how the Scriptures are translated for Muslim readers. Nearly every Muslim has heard the name of Jesus. Most even revere Him as a sinless prophet. But they think of Him only as a human being—not as God the Son.

Communicating God’s Word for Muslims presents challenges regarding their beliefs concerning the Trinity and Jesus as the Son of God. Consequently, some translations designed for Muslim readers remove familial terms, such as Father, Son, Son of God, Son of the Living God and Son of Man, from the text. In their place, alternative terms are used, such as “Beloved of God,” a familiar Arabic Muslim characterization often used when referring to Muhammad.

Wycliffe addresses its translation standards on its ministry website: “In certain circumstances, specifically where it has been demonstrated that a literal translation of ‘Son of God’ would communicate wrong meaning, an alternative form with equivalent meaning may be used.” The problem arises in what is meant by communicating “wrong meaning” and “equivalent meaning.”

AGWM missionary leaders, missiologists and scholars have met twice with leaders of Wycliffe and its partner ministry, Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL), to deal with the increasing disagreement concerning Bible translation practices.

Dr. Mark Hausfeld, director of Global initiative—Reaching Muslim Peoples, a ministry of AGWM, states, “Initially, familial language in the Bible is offensive to Muslims because the Qur’an and their religious instruction teach them not to apply such words as ‘Son’ and ‘Father’ to God. Our responsibility as followers of Jesus is to build relationships from which we can instruct Muslims in the truth of such familial terms from the biblical text as translated from the original languages. There is no need to change biblical language to try to help the Holy Spirit bring the Muslim to the understanding of the inspired text.”

Dr. Greg Mundis, AGWM executive director, says, “Our Fellowship is deeply committed to the integrity of Scripture. I believe we have done due diligence in researching, reflecting and searching both the Scriptures and our hearts. This places us in a position in which we cannot agree with Wycliffe/SIL’s stated and publicized position.”

AGWM has established a four-month review period until May 15, at which time a final decision will be made concerning its ongoing relationship with Wycliffe/SIL. The consequences could include asking AG personnel to leave Wycliffe/SIL, recommending that AG churches withdraw financial support for Wycliffe/SIL personnel, and engaging in translation ministry with other organizations holding a position on Bible interpretation comparable with AGWM convictions.

Dr. George Wood, general superintendent of the U.S. Assemblies of God, says, “Our Fellowship is unrelentingly committed to the authority and infallibility of Scripture. While we appreciate the challenges missionaries and translators face in intercultural communication, we will neither compromise nor dilute God’s eternal truth, nor change its intended plain meaning.”

In this challenging issue concerning Bible translation, AG World Missions leadership approaches this four-month time of review with fervent prayer and determination that our mission will neither compromise concerning the truth of God’s Word nor communicate inaccurately the nature of God the Father and His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ.

Emphasis mine. Wycliffe USA still has as its doctrinal statement on its website HERE, the statement at the center of AoG’s concern. I wonder how long it takes until Wycliffe leadership realizes this is not a minor issue.

  • Rocky

    Wycliffe has been translating the Scriptures for decades. They are the professionals at this task, and have not done what they do in secret. Now bring in the non-professionals and they act as if they know how to suddenly translate better than those who have trained for years and have decades of solid research to gleen from.

    For instance, many church leaders are just saying, “Simply translate the divine familial terms accurately”. Well what do you think Wycliffe translators are trying to do? Why do you think they are in heavy dialogue with many denominational leaders on this subject? If it were simply a matter of translating literally or “word for word”, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. Over-literal translations can damage the meaning (depending on the audience) just as much as overly dynamic translations. If a literal translation is completely misconstrued by the majority of the speakers, it is simply not an accurate translation — and it is not a good strategy to think that simply educating the majority to accept the translation is what needs to be done.

    • http://www.cracksinthecrescent.com Hussein

      Wycliffe has been spinning the truth. You can read for yourself HERE.

  • Abigail Teh

    This controversy highlights once more the limitations of human language to communicate the essence of who God is. The Bible uses a lot of metaphorical or analogical language to communicate who God is, otherwise we would not understand Him at all.

    Think for a while what we mean when we say Jesus is the Son of God. We don’t literally mean that Jesus is a child of God just as we are of our parents. Jesus is the second person of the Godhead–co-equal with God, of the same essence. It’s metaphorical language to show the close intimacy of Jesus with God and that he came from God.

  • Michael D. Millier (M.A. Bible Translation, Jerusalem University College, Jerusalem, Israel)

    What has happened in recent times among Bible translators is that more and more of us are forgetting that the Bible was never intended to just be read. It has always been intended to be **taught** (E.g. Psa 119:99; Pro 5:13; Act 13:1; 1Cor 12:28; Eph 4:11; Heb 5:12; Jam 3:1). Forgetting this foundational truth has forced translators to feel that they need to take on the role of teachers and either add too much information or take away information in their Bible versions, depending on audience expectations. I say translate fairly concordantly (literally), leaving audiences feeling as if they’re reading a translation of a Jewish book (Rom 3:1,2; 15:27). Because they…you…we…are! Muslim readers must still be taught that when the Bible calls Jesus “the Son of God” etc, a sexual union between Allah and Mary is not implied. This (and other such distinctions) is the job of Christian teachers. Not Bible translators.

  • Verna

    Satan will do what he must because his time is short. Let us pray for the Godly Men & women who search the scriptures & Gods way & His will. Thank God for Godly men & women..Verna

  • David Burton

    The Gospel is offensive by its very nature to all people of whatever religion, be it Islamic or atheistic until they have been born again of the Spirit of God. It is the work of God’s Holy Spirit to open the eyes of the blind to their sin, need to repent, turn to Jesus Christ, the Son of God the Father, and believe in Him as their only hope of salvation. To try to water down the offence of the cross to make it more acceptable to a particular group of people by removing words and ideas which might offend them is to play fast and lose with God’s own revelation of Himself. Remember Revelation 22:18,19. Whether this verse is seen as referring to the whole of Scripture or just to Revelation, a simple reading of the book, even with all its symbolism, ch 14:1 speaks of the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and much of the weight of John’s Revelation speaks of our Lord Jesus as God Himself, the eternal one, the creator of all things.

  • Pingback: Turkish National Church Stance Against Translation | Biblical Missiology

  • Linda B

    Today I am proud to be a member of the Assemblies of God and to know this denomination will not tolerate error from the Truth.

    • http://www.cracksinthecrescent.com Hussein

      I am very glad the AoG put the pressure on Wycliffe. It weren’t for them and the PCA, Wycliffe and SIL would have still continued with their efforts that remove ‘Father’ and ‘Son’ from Bible translations in Muslim contexts.

  • Jim

    Wasn’t Sobhi Malek, an assemblies of god missionary, involved in the Injil Sharif (Arabic New Testament)?

    • http://www.cracksinthecrescent.com Hussein

      Yes, but his Arabic translation retains Father, Son, and Son of God.

      • Jim

        From IJFM: “Sobhi W. Malek’s ‘Allah-u Akbar Bible Lessons,’ for example, use Muslim terms and forms of expression wherever possible. Of special note is an Arabic ‘Life of Christ’ (Sirat alMasih), based on a harmony of the Synoptic Gospels but using quranic idiom and style.”

        • http://www.cracksinthecrescent.com Hussein

          And what is your point? This MIT translation does not remove ‘Father,’ ‘Son’ and ‘Son of God.’ Wycliffe, SIL and Frontiers USA’s translations do. I doubt the AoG is opposed to using ‘Allah’ for ‘God’ in Arabic translations. They have an issue with Wycliffe ‘doctrinal beliefs and standard’ which states, “In particular regard to Bible translations done for Muslim contexts we affirm that in the majority of cases a literal translation of “Son of God” will be the preferred translation. In certain circumstances, specifically where it has been demonstrated that a literal translation of “Son of God” would communicate wrong meaning, an alternative form with equivalent meaning may be used.” So far, none of Wycliffe’s “alternative form” has an “equivalent meaning.”

          • Jim

            So you are not against Muslim Idiom translations?

          • http://www.cracksinthecrescent.com Hussein

            Yes, I am not opposed to all MITs.

          • Jim

            So, in your opinion, if a Bible translation uses Muslim terminology like Injil, Isa, Allah, and the names that the Koran uses for other Bible characters (like Ibrahim), it’s OK? Is the only problem you have with MIT that some are not translating “son of god” as literally as you feel it should be done?

          • http://www.cracksinthecrescent.com Hussein

            I have no problem with Arabic terminologies like Injil, Allah and other titles that have the same meaning in the Gospel, being used in Arabic translations in Muslim contexts. Allah is an Arabic word for God, which predates Islam. In my opinion it should not be used in a language that already has a term for God. Isa is a different story. The title ‘Isa’ does not predate Islam because Arab Christians always referred to Jesus as Yesu and it has a meaning (Matthew 1:21). I don’t think Isa has a meaning. For more information, please read Dr. Mark Durie’s explanation on Answering Islam.
            Renderings for ‘Father,’ ‘Son’ and ‘Son of God’ in this controversy do not even come close to being literal. In the Arabic translation ‘Son’ is replaced with ‘Masih,’ who is a created being in Islam. ‘Son of God’ is replaced with ‘Beloved of God,’ which is a title Muslims exclusively use for Prophet Muhammad. Also, ‘Caliph of God,’ which brings Jesus to the same level as Adam. The Turkish translation is the most ridiculous with Jesus Christ having about 1% of Allah’s attributes.
            I am totally opposed to all MITs in this controversy because they are very far from being literal.

          • Jim

            I don’t read Arabic or Turkish, but I was wondering, have you read Sobhi Malek Arabic translation? If you have, can you share how he has translated Matthew 28:19 in his arabic translation? What about this other product, the Allah-u Akbar Bible Lessons. How has he translated son of god there?

            What of the other translations have you read? What does each one actually say?

            I’m just trying to understand this better.

          • Jim

            What about English translations? Do you see the pitfalls of some translations like Eugene Petersen’s The Message? Do you think some of our English translations might be heretical?

            Some people don’t feel like the NIV or the NLT are literal enough. What do you think? Could these translations in English be problematic in your opinion?

            Of course, some people are really committed to the KJV or the NASV because they feel those are most literal. Do you think these are better?

  • Mike Cahill

    In light of the extensive commentary on the Wycliffe website (wycliffe.org), it is obviousl that Wycliffe leadership HAS realized this is not a minor issue.

    • http://www.cracksinthecrescent.com Hussein

      Wycliffe USA leadership has not been forthcoming. Some major questions have gone unanswered. Senior VP Russ Hersman told the World Magazine 30-40 translations use alternative meaning based renderings for “Father” and “Son.” Christians need to know what these translations are. Just convening a review session is not enough.

      Wycliffe and SIL has been infiltrated with proponents of Insider Movement. Wycliffe does not take a position in this unbiblical ideology. The global church is mostly uninformed about IM. Wycliffe, Frontiers and SIL must submit to a full disclosure and repent because they have betrayed the trust of the church of Jesus Christ.