Archive for ‘Bible’

April 9th, 2012

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?

October 11th, 2011

Are new Bible Translations Pandering to Muslims?

World Magazine has a new article, “Holding translators accountable,” in its October 8, 2011 issue, which covers Wycliffe Bible Translators and its agreement “to new standards in debate over contextualizing Scripture for Muslim settings.” World further reports, “The problem with translating “Son of God” and “God the Father” literally in Muslim contexts, translators say, is that it implies that God had sexual relations with Mary. Some translators have turned to non-literal renderings, like “beloved one of God.””

These new translations geared toward Muslims create more problems in Christian outreach to Muslims than Muslims’ problem with “trinity.” Muslims need to know the Qur’an erroneously accuses Christians of worshiping three gods: father, mother and son. The Qur’an even questions how the father could have a son without a consort (6:101.) If we Christians can’t articulate Biblical teachings which even ancient Christian creeds addressed long before the advent of Islam, we have a ginormous problem.

Some Christians have suggested adopting “interpretations” or “meanings” to refer to Bible versions since they are translations of original languages. Muslims came up with these excuses in order to downplay problems with the Qur’an. They even argue “one cannot discuss the Qur’an without knowing classical Arabic.” Are we going to argue Bible translations are not true renderings of original Greek and Hebrew?

If Muslims are offended and would not get saved because of the true rendering of the Scripture as it was in the original languages, it is not our fault. Remember He said, “All that the Father gives me will come to me…”

September 16th, 2011

The Genealogies of Jesus and Muslims

Muslims have asked me umpteen times about the genealogies of Jesus Christ. One of them persistently asked me recently, “can you answer the two geneologies [sic] of Jesus?” Like many Muslims I have encountered, my friend uses differences in Luke and Matthew’s accounts to dismiss Jesus Christ and the Bible.

One thing my friend balks at, while Jesus Christ has two genealogies, Prophet Muhammad has none in the Qur’an or the Hadith. So much for Muslims’ claim the Bible has been corrupted because it lacks mentions of Muhammad. Islam’s own sources fail them. So much for Muslims’ claim Islam is an Abrahamic faith. Muslims can’t even trace their beloved prophet’s lineage to Abraham. Even Islamic sources that were concocted centuries after the demise of Muhammad raise more questions about Muhammad’s genealogy than they provide Muslims with answers. There is even an unresolved mystery surrounding when Muhammad was actually born. Isn’t it about time they explain?

Authoritative Muhammad biographies claim Muhammad’s father, Abdullah, was married to his wife, Amina, the year before the year of the elephant. Muhammad’s paternal grandfather, AbdulMuttalib, was also married the same day to Hala.  AbdulMuttalib’s wife gave birth to a son, Hamza, the same year—the year of the elephant—Muhammad was born. Abdullah died before his son was born. Muhammad and Hamza were supposed to be the same age. Hamza was killed at Battle of Uhud in 625 CE when he was 59 years old, which was quite a discrepancy because Muhammad was supposedly to be the same age as Hamza. He died at the age of 63 in 632 CE. How did Muhammad end up 4 years younger than Hamza if he were born the same year as Hamza? Mark you; Muhammad’s father died the same year Hamza was born. Was Muhammad in his mother’s womb for four years? Instead of explaining these discrepancies, Muslims attack Jesus even when he has two genealogies that make perfect sense.

Muslims study the Bible in order to find ammunition to attack the Bible and true mission of Jesus Christ. Let us use their questions to bring them to the Light of the Gospel and a little dose of reality regarding Islam.

I enlist John Gilchrist to answer my friend’s Muslim question. You can read John’s entire answers HERE.

1.10     The Genealogy of Jesus in the Gospels

Muslim: The genealogies of Jesus in the Gospels give very different lines of descent. How do you explain this contradiction? Also, some of the women mentioned among his ancestors were very great sinners – how could the perfectly pure Son of God have been descended from such an impure ancestry?

Very often Muslim arguments against the Bible reveal little more than a serious lack of awareness of what Christianity is really all about. In answering these two objections Christians not only have an opportunity to clarify misunderstandings but also to witness to the Muslims who raise them of the saving grace of Jesus Christ. It needs to be emphasized again and again that every Muslim argument against the Bible should be seen as an open door to witness to its essential message.

The Two Different Genealogies

The Hebrew line of Jesus’ descent is recorded in both Matthew 1:2-16 and Luke 3:23-38. There is no difference between these two records from Abraham to David but thereafter they diverge considerably. Matthew traces the line of Jesus’ genealogy through David’s son Solomon while Luke takes it through his son Nathan. From there on the two accounts are very different. Muslim writers have summarily concluded that they are contradictory and cannot be reconciled. The following points should be raised in reply whenever Muslims raise this issue:

1.   Every Child has Two Genealogies

It is hardly necessary to say that every man on earth has two lines of ancestry, one through his father and another through his mother. The one obvious thing about the two genealogies in the Gospels is that each is traced to a common source, David, and from there consistently to Abraham. What the two lines reveal, upon a close study of their context in each respective Gospel, is that Joseph, the legal guardian and registered father of Jesus (although not his natural father) was descended from David through Solomon while his mother Mary was descended from the same ancestor through Nathan. Thus there is no contradiction between them.

2.   Matthew and Luke Clearly State their Lines of Descent

It is not a convenient assumption that these two Gospel writers are recording the paternal and maternal sequences of Jesus’ ancestry respectively. Matthew makes it plain that he is recording the line of Joseph (Matthew 1:16) and throughout the first two chapters of his Gospel we find Joseph to be the central character. Each appearance of the Angel Gabriel recorded here is to Joseph. In Luke’s Gospel, however, Mary is always the central personality and only the appearance of Gabriel to her is mentioned.

3.   Luke Deliberately Qualifies his Genealogy

Luke himself states specifically that Jesus was the son, “as was supposed”, of Joseph (Luke 3:23) and it is in this little expression that the key to Jesus’ genealogy in his Gospel is found. Unlike Matthew he mentions no women in Jesus’ ancestry and, to maintain the general practice of outlining the masculine order only, Luke records Joseph as the supposed father of Jesus. He very carefully qualified Joseph’s role so that it would be clear that he was not recording the genealogy of Jesus through his representative father but rather his actual genealogy through his real mother Mary.
The Four Women Named in Matthew’s Genealogy

Muslim writers have often tried to discredit the absolute purity of Jesus as the Son of God by referring to the four women Matthew names in his record of Jesus’ ancestry. They are Tamar, who committed incest with her father Judah from which Perez was born as a forefather of Jesus; Rahab, the prostitute and Gentile woman who helped Joshua and the Israelites at the conquest of Jericho; Ruth, the wife of Boaz who was also a Gentile; and Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah who committed adultery with David and from whom Solomon was born.

It is obvious that Matthew has deliberately named the very four women who disturbed the genealogy of Jesus by having moral or ethnic defects. He, clearly, did not think he was undermining the dignity of Jesus in doing so. Had there been any stigma attaching to such an ancestry he would assuredly have named some of more famous Hebrew women from whom Jesus was descended like Sarah and Rebecca. Why, therefore, did he specifically name the four women who supposedly unsettled the “purity” of his ancestry? The Apostle gives the answer himself. He records that, when the Angel Gabriel came to Joseph, he said of the child to be born:

You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. Matthew 1:21

It was precisely for people such as incestuous Tamar, Rahab the harlot, Ruth the Gentile and Bathsheba the adulteress that Jesus came into the world. He descended from the holy portals of heaven and took human form in a sinful and decaying world so that he could save his people from their iniquities and make his salvation available to all men and women, Jew and Gentile alike. In another passage recorded in the same Gospel we find Jesus making his purpose very clear:

Those who are well have no need of a physician but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice”. For I came not to call the righteous but sinners. Matthew 9:12-13

Jesus did not come to set an upright example for pious, religious people to follow. He came, primarily, to save all who turn to him from their sins and to make it possible for them to receive the Holy Spirit so that they might have power to live genuinely holy lives. Here it is obvious how effectively an argument against the Bible can be turned into a very good opportunity for witness. Whenever a Muslim challenges the Bible on a point such as this it is essential that we look not only for ways of refuting the objection but also for openings to share what our faith is really all about.

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