Posts tagged ‘The True Meaning of the Gospel of Christ’

April 19th, 2012

Wycliffe, SIL and Frontiers’ Translation Controversy and the Ahmadiyya Sect

Al Kalima Editorial Committee—which includes Wycliffe/SIL and Frontiers USA members—has been trying to weather mounting criticisms over mistranslations in The True Meaning of the Gospel of Christ. It has gone as far as claiming the translation “was produced in classical Arabic.”[1] Al Kalima also claims The True Meaning is in “Standard [sic] Arabic.” These statements do not add up. Classical Arabic and standard Arabic are not the same but this contradiction is trivial compared with some of its bold claims.

I have some serious concerns about Al Kalima’s rationale behind translating “Father” as the issue is not linguistics in nature but theological. When I read through Al Kalima Responses to Adam Simnowitz’s Criticisms, I was particularly interested in Islamic sources the committee had used to make the case for substituting “Allah” (“God” in Arabic) for “Father.” By the way, I am not opposed to translating “God” as “Allah” in Arabic translations.

Al Kalima claims:

It is true that Muslims are attracted to an intimate relationship with God. And that is an advantage of using a more accurate term that presents the fatherhood of God in terms of his paternal care rather than in terms of sexual procreation. The renderings rabb and wali found in The True Meaning help the reader understand that intimate relationship, whereas the traditional biological term hinders understanding of that intimacy by communicating inaccurate meanings. (The revised edition will regularize the usage to wali.)

There are several errors in the English translation here. First, the term rabbuna in Arabic has the sense of a paterfamilias. Muslims explain its usage in reference to God as meaning he is our “Cherisher and Sustainer.” One source notes: “In their commentary on this sura, Md. Abdul Hakin and Md. Ali Hassain write thus: ‘the real or root meaning of rabb is father.’”[2]

(Rabbuna appears about 14 times in the Qur’an and every time Muslim scholars have rendered as “our Lord.” Wali also appears in the Qur’an and it does not mean “father.” You can read more about wali HERE.)

Al Kalima Source Footnote

The reference to “rabb is father” is on page 8—last page, footnote #5—of Al Kalima Responses to Adam Simnowitz’s Criticisms and has this link to Unchanging Word website. (This website tries to explain the term “Son of God” in Arabic very well. However, I disagree with its claim the title is figurative.)

Al Kalima did not even use the primary source for this quote. When you go to the article on Unchanging Word, the preceding sentence reads, “The first Sura of the Qur’ān, Sura Fateha, begins with the words Bismillah Rabbil Alamin.”

Al Kalima Editorial Committee's Source

First error: This phrase “Bismillah Rabbil Alamin” is not in the Qur’an. Al Kalima committee seems to know so much Arabic and Islam and boasts of rendering The True Meaning in classical Arabic yet it could not even catch how this post misquotes the first verse of the Qur’an. A devout Muslim recites this verse at least 17 times a day.

Second error: Even if this post had quoted the first Qur’an verse correctly, the interpretation is wrong because orthodox Muslims do not interpret “Allah” or “Rabbi” as “Father.” I had thought Wycliffe/SIL and Frontiers USA were coming up with this translation to reach practicing Muslims. Shouldn’t they at least have chosen orthodox Muslims’ interpretation?

Surprises: What is equally telling, first, the quote about the Arabic argument for Allah as “Father” only appears online in one other place and it is on a website run by proponents of Insider Movement.

Second, the Islamic scholar quoted belonged to Ahmadiyya, which is a sect orthodox Muslims consider heretical and even kill its adherents especially in Pakistan and Indonesia. It has “tens of millions” of members worldwide.

A Muslim website dedicated to exposing Ahmadiyya/Qadiani translations and interpretations of the Qur’an states:

Khan, Mohammad Abul Hakim, The Holy Qur’an, (Patiala, 1905), 2 edns. Subtitle: ‘With short notes based on the Holy Qur’an or the authentic traditions of the Prophet (pbuh), or/and New Testaments or scientific truth. All fictitious romance, questionable history, and disputed theories have been carefully avoided. A physician by profession, Abul Hakim Khan was not thoroughly versed in Islam. Initially he had Qadyani leanings which he later recanted. His translation is more of a rejoinder to the anti-Islam missionary propaganda rife in the day than a piece of sound Qur’anic scholarship. Contains scant notes. His translation is badly marred by literalism.” [Emphasis mine.]

Al Kalima quotes a Muslim who was not a scholar of Islam but someone who was just trying to respond to Christian missionaries early in the 20th century. He was a Pakistani not an Arab, and reputable Christian organizations are now using his expertise in Arabic and Islam—while totally ignoring other Arab Christians (Lebanese, Saudis, Iraqis, etc)—to change God’s infallible Word.

Al Kalima is pressing on with the revised edition of The True Meaning and Wycliffe supports this revision, which still removes “Father” from the Trinity:

[T]he translation team decided in May 2011 to proceed with a complete revision of the Gospels and Acts on the basis of friendly user feedback and insights gained while translating the New Testament epistles. The plan is to regularize the usage so that the Arabic translation is concordant with regard to key terms, in order to provide transparency and clarity about which Arabic terms represent which Greek ones. This will include the consistent use of al-wali for the Father. In addition, the articles and footnotes will be revised to incorporate the latest insights. This will be done with the input of approved Bible translation consultants, Arab specialists in Arabic, and Bible scholars, both Arab Bible scholars and others.

However, Simnowitz’s critiques are laced with significant errors and misrepresentations of The True Meaning, the Arabic language, and Muslim culture and practices. We believe it would be best for him to withdraw these documents and consider presenting criticisms that are valid and well-meaning.

The Church of Jesus Christ should be thankful for Adam Simnowitz. Had it not been for his efforts, Wycliffe, SIL, Frontiers USA and Al Kalima wouldn’t have slowed down.

Please, keep on putting pressure on these organizations until all these mistranslations of Scripture that are in print are destroyed and the project scrapped. There are already about a dozen modern Arabic translations of the Bible. Why are these organizations wasting their resources—Frontiers USA spent $214,900 through 2009 on this project—when “about 350 million people” worldwide do not have any portion of Scripture in their languages?

You can read Adam’s criticisms that elicited Al Kalima Editorial Committee’s response at the links below:

  1. “Son” as rendered in The True Meaning of the Gospel of Christ
  2. “Son of Man” as rendered in The True Meaning of the Gospel of Christ
  3. “Son of God” as rendered in The True Meaning of the Gospel of Christ

[1] Al Kalima Editorial Committee, Responses to Adam Simnowitz’s Critique Of Familial Terms in The True Meaning, January 13, 2012.

[2] Unchanging Word,

April 17th, 2012

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.