Wycliffe Invokes Al Kalima, Al Kalima still Defends Removing “Father” from Trinity

Wycliffe Bible Translators USA is directing questions about an Arabic Bible mistranslation, The True Meaning of the Gospel of Christ, to Al Kalima website. Wycliffe claims, “Al-Kalima has a page answering questions about this translation” but the page raises more questions than it provides answers.

Al Kalima asks, “Is the translation directly translated from the Greek?” It answers emphatically, “Yes, the Greek text of the New Testament was the direct basis of the translation.” Al Kalima is not telling the truth. The first edition of The True Meaning substitutes “God” for “Father.” For example Matthew 28:19 in part reads, “cleansing them with water in the name of God, his messiah and his holy spirit.”

Wycliffe and SIL officials must be unaware Al Kalima’s revised edition still replaces “Father” with an Arabic term which does not mean “father.” So much for this translation using Greek text as “the direct basis of the translation.” Al Kalima—which includes Wycliffe, SIL and Frontiers USA members— on its page defends removing the equivalent of “Father” in the revised edition as follows:

The traditional term ab, even though often translated into English simply as “father,” is understood in Arabic to mean “biological father”. This is a problem for Arab readers when they read that Joseph, the husband of Mary, is called Jesus’ “biological father”, and so they assume that this means that Jesus was not born of a virgin. The problem is made worse when this word is applied to the relationship between Jesus and the Father, or believers and the Father. It is understood as a terrible insult to God, and misses the meaning intended in the Scriptures of a close relationship like that between a father and his son. While many Muslims are attracted to a relationship with God characterized by paternal intimacy, love, and care, they are also repelled by terms that would communicate a narrowly sexual meaning.

The first edition of The True Meaning uses various terms to express the meaning of the Greek word Pater. The second edition will feature a consistent translation of the Greek Pater using paternal terms, with an indication of the traditional word used to translate the Greek.

Al Kalima Editorial Committee has already decided on an Arabic word “walî” to replace “Father.” In a document it prepared in its defense during this controversy titled “Al Kalima Responses to Adam Simnowitz Criticisms,” and dated January 13, 2012, which was sent to people who had concerns about this translation, on page 7 Al Kalima claims:

The Greek word pater means social father, as discussed in the IJFM article “A Brief Analysis of Filial and Paternal Terms in the Bible.” Arabic does not have an exact semantic equivalent, so the question of “literal” is meaningless. The issue is which Arabic term is closest in meaning to pater, especially as used of God, without introducing an unbiblical meaning. The main choices are between a term for biological father and a term for paterfamilias, the man who provides the paternal care and authority for a family, whether they are all his biological children or not. This latter is very close in meaning to the Greek pater. The term for biological father means a father by virtue of sexual procreation, and this is not the meaning of God’s fatherhood, nor is it the meaning of the word pater when used of humans. One’s pater might be biological or not. The traditional Arabic translation uses the Arabic term ab, which means “biological father.” So it is not a literal translation of Greek pater. The True Meaning uses wali, which is the man who exercises paternal authority and care-giving (paterfamilias). The True Meaning explains all this in an article “The Relationship of Jesus to God,” which presents the traditional Arabic term and explains what the Greek term really means, especially in reference to God.

(Al Kalima claims in the same document The True Meaning was “produced in classical Arabic by our committee, which consists of Arab Bible scholars and clergy, professional translators, and authors of Arabic literature. It is intended for well-educated unchurched Arabs with little knowledge of the Scriptures who want to know the meaning of the Gospel.”)

I wrote a short post last week to show Wycliffe and SIL experts’ erroneous claims about “Father” if translated accurately from the original Greek into Arabic it would lead Arab Muslims to understand the beginning of the Lord’s Prayer as “Our Begetter who is in Heaven.” Arabic words Ab and waalid both mean “father.” Waalid is only biological while ab is both biological and social. You can read my post HERE.

Even the Qur’an in the original Arabic shows “walî” cannot in any shape or form exclusively mean “father” as a brother can also be a “walî.” Whatever happened to Wycliffe and SIL personnel employing dynamic equivalence in Scripture translation? It is not too late for them to repent and apologize to Christians whose trust they have betrayed. This Arabic translation is not worth defending.

There are examples of Arabic terms known to Muslims that Christians can use to defend translating “Father” as “Ab” in Arabic Bibles. Here are four examples:

  1. Abu Bakr—first Islamic Caliph who succeeded Prophet Muhammad. His name means “the father of the foal of the camel.”
  2. Abu Huraira—Prophet Muhammad’s contemporary, narrator of the Hadith. His name means “father of the kitten.”
  3. Abu Dhabi—the capital of the United Arab Emirates. Its name means, “father of deer.”
  4. Abu Ghraib—a city in Iraq known for its notorious prison bearing same name. Its name means, “father of little crows.”

No Muslim in his or her right mind can argue these examples show the use of “father” is biological.