Wycliffe/SIL Bible Translation Scandal Resulted from its Experts’ Confusion of Natives’ Languages and Cultures

One reason Wycliffe/SIL experts give to justify pursuing alternative terms for “Father” and “Son” is because, they claim, Arabic and Turkish do not have “social familial terms” for “father” which “convey a non-procreated familial relationship.” (Before you read any further, please bear in mind this article appears on Wycliffe Global Alliance website, an umbrella organization that represents all Wycliffe Bible Translators organizations worldwide.) Wycliffe/SIL’s experts Larry Ciccarelli** and Darrell Richard (Rick) Brown explain their reason why Arabic and Turkish languages do not have a term equivalent to “father” in English that does not carry a biological relationship. They claim in the article adoption and step-relations are not even recognized in these cultures.

As for Turkish, I do not read or speak the language. I consulted one of my friends who is a native Turkish speaker, an MBB and a pastor who holds a Master of Divinity degree from a seminary in the United States. He says Turkish only has one word for “father” and it is “baba,” which is pronounced “buh-buh.” He told me Muslim parents in Turkey can adopt children and the term for stepfather is “üvey baba.” (By the way, Islamic teachings do prohibit adoption. However, adoption was legal in Islam until about 626 A.D. after Prophet Muhammad married his then adopted son Zayd bin Haritha’s wife Zaynab. For more information, please read Sam Shamoun of Answering Islam’s detailed post HERE.)

I was satisfied with my friend’s answer but I still wanted concrete proof that adoption is indeed recognized in Turkey. That was when I turned to the US Embassy in Ankara for more information. The embassy states on its website:

According to current rules and regulations, Turkish families are given preference in adoption of children between the ages of 0-6.  According to the 21st/b section of the “Children’s Right Agreement” every child has right to be raised in his or her own environment, culture and religion.

So, adoption is legal in Turkey, which means Wycliffe/SIL experts claim about the term “stepfather” not in existence in Turkish is false.

As for the Arabic language—a language I can read and write and speak partly—there are two terms for “father.” Ab and waalid. Ab can apply both as a biological or social term for “father.” For example, one of the most known Muslims during the times of Prophet Muhammad was nicknamed Abu Hurairah. Almost every Muslim knows his name because he collected several thousand of aHadith—sayings of Prophet Muhammad—that Muslims use today. Abu Hurairah means, “father of the kitten,” because he owned a kitten as a child. No Muslim in his or her right mind would claim Abu Hurairah “beget” a kitten.

On the other hand, waalid is strictly biological. When the Qur’an in Suratul Al-Ikhlas (chapter 112 of the Qur’an) says, Allah cannot “beget,” the Arabic word used is “yaalid,” a variant of waalid. Yaalid, which means “beget” in Arabic, obviously is biological and has nothing to do with ab. Wycliffe/SIL experts appear to confuse these two terms. (Ciccarelli has quoted and argued against using “Ab” for “Father” in Bible translations into Arabic HERE.)

Arab Muslims would have minimal struggle reading a Bible version in Arabic that translate “Father” as “Ab.” A little explanation in a footnote might clear their confusion. Translators should do their part and leave the Holy Spirit do His Work.

As for translating the “Son of God,” it is even easier. Terms Wycliffe experts have suggested as equivalent for translating mean created being to a Muslim. The Qur’an says “Messiah” is a created being. “Beloved of God” is a term Muslims exclusively use for Prophet Muhammad. I assume this was not the intention of Wycliffe/SIL to bring Jesus Christ to the same level with Muhammad.

New Testament scholar Dr. Vern S. Poythress once argued for these two terms as equivalent to “Son of God.” Wycliffe/SIL invoked him to justify some of its mistranslations. It still does HERE in the footnote. I talked with him about Muslim views and he has since issued a statement calling for “Son of God” “to be communicated clearly in translation.”

Wycliffe/SIL translations in the current controversy came to fruition because of Ciccarelli and Brown’s faulty reasoning. How Wycliffe/SIL can justify expending its financial resources which Christians have sacrificially given on these translations, which even facts do not support, is beyond me. Turkish and Arabic both have multiple modern translations of the Bible already available and Wycliffe claims “209 million people [still] do not have any Scripture in their language.” Shouldn’t the latter be Wycliffe’s priority?

If you are unfamiliar with this scandal, please read the petition that was started to hold accountable Wycliffe, SIL and Frontiers USA HERE.

** Larry Ciccarelli also goes by Larry Chico, Leith Gray, Mansour Ciccarelli.