Wycliffe’s Director of Communications’ Take on Bible Mistranslations

Wycliffe Bible Translators USA leadership has taken to the airwaves trying to mitigate the damage its linguists and missiologists have brought upon this reputable organization. So far, none of the lingering questions Biblical Missiology has raised has been answered. I will share more tomorrow.

I would like to share with you what a colleague brought to my attention a few weeks ago. It is a blog entry by Dawn Kruger, who is the Director of Communications for Wycliffe International Asia Pacific and SIL International Asia area. Here is what Dawn writes about the current controversy. Since she is in charge of communications, I am surprised she wrote this entry four days after Wycliffe USA admitted it was involved in an Arabic translation, which removes ‘Father’ and ‘Son’ from the Trinity. Wycliffe had denied for seven straight weeks it was involved in this translation. Dawn writes:

So I showed you the fun parts of traveling to England. But why were the meetings significant?

The topic discussed was critical to our organization. You may have seen online that Wycliffe and SIL have been the targets of unscrupulous attacks against the principles and practices used in translating certain key terms in the New Testament. Because our goal is meaning-based translations rather than transliterations (which would be utterly meaningless if taken directly from the original language sources), translators often need to carefully search for meaningful ways of expressing difficult concepts in other languages. For example grace, mercy, atonement, sanctification [sic], etc., are often difficult to express in other languages. Even in our own Bibles, Greek terms have been adjusted to carry meaning to English-speaking readers.

But the current attacks are being levied against translations that found culturally appropriate ways of expressing the relationship between God the Father and Jesus the Son without using familial terms. In some contexts, using the terms father and son can ONLY[sic] imply a family relationship based on the father having sired the son through a physical relationship with the son’s mother. There can be no other understanding of the term. So in deference to the holiness of God and in reverence to the relationship between the first and the second persons of the Trinity, in some translations, terms were used to denote the sacredness of the father and son relationship without using those exact words.

In response, some people who do not understand the principles of accurate and meaningful translation, and are working strictly from English source texts rather than the original Greek, are levying unprincipled, untrue attacks against our organization and our closest partner — attacks that are stirring up a great deal of concern among well-meaning people looking for answers.

I contacted Dawn two weeks ago and she has not responded yet to my comment. I hope she realizes Christians who are opposed to these mistranslations are missiologists, native speakers of languages  where mistranslations have happened, pastors, linguists—some have resigned from Wycliffe and SIL, Bible translators and others who are still with these organizations. (Bold emphasis is mine.)

  • Benelchi

    When I read a press release from Wycliffe’s director of communications a few months ago that said “some people who do not understand the principles of accurate and meaningful translation, and are working strictly from English source texts rather than the original Greek, are levying unprincipled, untrue attacks against our organization and our closest partner — attacks that are stirring up a great deal of concern among well-meaning people looking for answers” I was deeply troubled because I knew that many of those who have been critical of these translation choices over the years are well qualified biblical scholars and translators (some within SIL’s own ranks) and/or native speakers from the countries where these translations where these translations were produced.

    Ironically, since the release of this press release, Wycliffe global alliance released this video (https://vimeo.com/40098055) where their “expert” demonstrates that he cannot read “the original Greek” (about 8:10 into the video) i.e. the very accusation that Wycliffe fallaciously made against those who oppose their translation choices in their press release presents itself in the presentation of those Wycliffe is relaying on to support their case. After he presents the Greek text of Jn. 3:16, Hart Wiens then goes on to present the unsubstantiated claims made by Rick Brown (Wycliffe/SIL) about the meaning of familial terms in some predominately Islamic contexts; claims that have been strongly refuted by native speakers living in those same contexts. He then presents the idea that the opposition to Wycliffe is mostly from Americans. Really? Could he really be completely unaware that for decades the objections to Wycliffe’s translations have come primarily from the native churches in the countries where these bibles are being produced? Does he, “an expert on bible translation,” really not know that some foreign bible societies in these countries have already ended relationships established decades ago with Wycliffe because of this very issue? Is this video a result of ignorance or a deliberate attempt to mislead?

    *Note: One of the things that has surprised me over the years since I first learned of this issue is how few Wycliffe/SIL translators actually know any Greek or Hebrew. Most work from a Wycliffe produced “Translators Bible” (it is kind of like an amplified version of the bible with commentary). This is not a criticism of Wycliffe/SIL because finding Hebrew and Greek scholars who are also willing to also tackle linguistics and work with remote people groups would be a goal that would almost stop bible translation completely. Allowing translators to translate from English (from a bible with a lot of commentary by Hebrew and Greek scholars) into the language of their people group removes an almost overwhelming obstacle. What does bother me is when Wycliffe (knowing the reality of what their translators do) makes a press release like the one I provided above or releases a video where a Wycliffe/SIL translator pretends to explain the Greek text that he really cannot read.

    • http://www.cracksinthecrescent.com Hussein

      Thank you for your insightful comment. I did not know about the Wycliffe video. I am going to watch it and comment. I believe Wycliffe and SIL leaders and experts were ignorant when this controversy unfolded and now are just too proud to admit they are wrong. The evidence of pride is their approaching the World Evangelical Alliance to do an “independent audit” when clearly it wasn’t necessary. They are proud not to admit any wrongdoing and have refused to commit in writing-per Biblical Missiology’s petition-that “Father,” “Son” and “Son of God” should always be translated accurately in the text of Scripture. Now Wycliffe’s own internal document shows the “independent audit” panel is led by a personal Wycliffe recommended, who would participate in the audit from a position “favorable” to Wycliffe and SIL’s.

      • Benelchi

        You might also find this video interesting. It also comes from onebook (A Wycliffe Global Alliance partner) but it doesn’t carry the Wycliffe Global Alliance insignia like the other video so it cannot be said that this video espouses a broader Wycliffe endorsement. That being said, it does appear to strongly support the “insider movement” agenda. In the video the speaker says “We teach them how they can use the bible, the content, the verses, the passages in the bible and make their own songs according to the cultural methods. We want them to have their own music, their own instruments, their own theology, their dance, everything that is a part of them that is a cultural identity or cultural marker to celebrate the living God with it. We call this redeeming culture.” One item in their list of “cultural makers” demonstrates the heart of the problem; it explains why the translation issue is what it is today and why this issue is far bigger than just the issue around translation. Does it scream out as loudly to you as it did me?

  • Katie S

    Hi Hussein,

    You are doing a great job of keeping us informed. Thanks for all your work and your articles.

    • http://www.cracksinthecrescent.com Hussein

      Thanks, Katie!