Cutting through Wycliffe’s Verbiage in Bible Translation Controversy

Wycliffe Bible Translators and Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL) leaderships have not really answered any questions. Perhaps they are hoping for Christians to forget their organizations are involved in translations of Scripture that remove “Father,” “Son” and “Son of God” from translations geared toward Muslims.

There is so much that has been lost in this discourse and I would like to clarify it before I tackle two of Wycliffe and SIL’s attempts at putting this controversy to rest.

First, a Wycliffe member is an automatic SIL member outside of his or her sending country.

Second, Wycliffe/SIL consultants do not work independently. I know it because I was involved in Bible translation in Kenya. I have also heard from current and former Wycliffe/SIL employees that a consultant cannot work on a project without Wycliffe/SIL’s approval. And if there is travel involved, he must file months in advance of his travels.

Third, Darrell Richard (Rick) Brown and Larry Ciccarelli (who also goes by Larry Chico, Leith Gray, etcetera) are the two missiologists and linguists who are responsible for this controversy. It is quite troubling when only two experts are involved and yet Wycliffe has changed its “Answers to Commonly Asked Questions” several times as if Brown and Ciccarelli have not been forthcoming.

The following are two statements on Wycliffe’s “Answers to Commonly Asked Questions” page that have gone through several changes.

Wycliffe asks:

HAS WYCLIFFE USA USED THE TERM “ALLAH” FOR “GOD THE FATHER?”

Wycliffe answers:

Wycliffe USA did not sponsor the project titled The True Meaning of the Gospel of Christ, which in the first edition used the equivalent of “God” in certain places for the term “the Father.” One Wycliffe USA member, seconded to SIL International, served as a consultant on this project, which was organized and led by Al-Kalima.

Based on user feedback and discussion, the local translation committee made the decision to revise the first edition and include the traditional divine familial terms at the recommendation of the SIL consultant. Since Wycliffe USA does not sponsor this project, but only serves in consultation, we do not control its publication, distribution, or revision; nor do we control the content of Al-Kalima.com or other websites where the first edition may still be available. Al-Kalima has a page answering questions about this translation at their website.

What has been lost:

  1. Wycliffe/SIL was never accused of sponsoring this project.
  2. Wycliffe has yet to admit this Arabic translation also removes “Son” and replaces it with “Messiah.” For example, the latter part of Matthew 28:19 reads, “cleanse them with water in the name of Allah, his Messiah and his Holy Spirit.” This substitution clearly robs Jesus Christ of his divinity in this translation. The Qur’an is unequivocal that “Messiah” was a created being.
  3. The supposedly revised first edition that now includes “the traditional divine familial terms at the recommendation of the SIL consultant” still substitutes “walî” for “Father.” Even Wycliffe/SIL consultant Ciccarelli—who writes under pseudonym Leith Gray—knows “walî” is an Arabic word which means “helper, supporter, friend, relative patron, protector, legal guardian,” etcetera. He writes in an article “The Missing Father” for the November-December 2008 issue of the Mission Frontiers magazine and in it he gives a dictionary definition for “walî” I have quoted above. Apparently to Wycliffe this new revision contains “the traditional divine familial” term in Arabic for “Father” when clearly it doesn’t. I will write more on this subject later this week when I review Al Kalima’s page responding to this controversy.

Wycliffe asks:

WHAT WAS WYCLIFFE’S OR SIL’S INVOLVEMENT IN INJIL SHARIF (ALSO KNOWN AS THE BENGALI BIBLE)?

 (Updated March 30, 2012)

Wycliffe answers:

The Bengali Injil Sharif translation was produced by Global Partners and included a non-SIL consultant.

 Neither Wycliffe USA nor SIL had official involvement in the translation.

 The translation team for Injil Sharif decided to use the equivalent of “Messiah” in place of “Son of God” in their first edition based upon their understanding of published articles written by an SIL consultant. In 2005, the team sought advice from the SIL consultant who had published the articles. The SIL consultant recommended that they stop using “Messiah,” and instead find a word or phrase that conveyed the divine familial relationship. After more than two years of discussion and testing in the local community, the team settled upon a phrase that when translated back into English, reads, “God’s Intimately-Unique Loved One.”

What has been lost:

  1. Wycliffe USA President Bob Creson sent a letter to the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) in 2011 acknowledging Rick Brown consulted on this Injil Sharif project.
  2. In the letter Wycliffe defended this Injil Sharif translation.
  3. Mr. Brown himself admitted consulting on this Injil Sharif translation in a post on SIL’s internal wiki “insite” on February 18, 2011 after Christianity Today published an article “The Son and the Crescent” in early February 2011 where he was interviewed extensively about Bible translation in Bangladesh. Wycliffe USA also cited his internal post in the letter to the PCA.

The allegations against Wycliffe and SIL in this controversy are not unfounded. Two of their experts are involved in these two projects and yet Wycliffe and SIL have not been forthcoming. When are they going to answer questions?