In May 2012, the Assemblies of God and the Presbyterian Church in America released two papers addressing the astounding and growing phenomenon of specialized “translations” of Scripture for Muslims, the most prominent feature of which is the removal, substitution, and/or redefinition of the terms, “Father,” in reference to God, and “Son” and “Son of God” in reference to Jesus Christ. In the long history of the translation of Scripture into Arabic, dating back to the 8th century, there has been no precedent for specialized Scripture “translations” for Muslims that remove and/or redefine Father and Son terminology.
In contrast to this consistent historical witness of literally translating Father and Son terminology in all Scripture translations, in 1959, Eugene A. Nida, the father of “dynamic equivalency,” argued in his seminal article, “Are We Really Monotheists?,” for the elimination of Father and Son terminology in Scripture “translations” for Muslims. In the mid-1970s, missionary, anthropologist, and seminary professor, Charles Kraft, referencing Nida’s article, challenged Christian missionaries to Muslims to discard Father and Son terminology in evangelistic witness to Muslims. In 1977, Bible translators, Ariel de Kuiper and Barclay M. Newman, Jr., co-wrote the article, “Jesus, Son of God–a Translation Problem.” proposing non-literal, alternative renderings for Son of God in Scripture translations for Muslims.
In 2000, Rick Brown wrote the first of his several articles championing the use of “equivalents” for “Father,” “Son,” and “Son of God” in Scripture translation while his colleagues, writing under the pseudonyms of Leith and Andrea Gray, have joined him in singing this Siren call to fundamentally alter the message of the Bible, that, regardless of motive, accommodates the teachings of Islam about God and Jesus Christ. There is a great difference, however, between these last three people versus those just mentioned – Brown, Gray, and Gray are not merely proposing the removal, substitution, and redefinition of Father and Son terminology as an idea to be implemented but are in fact defending actual audio and written Scripture publications.
What has happened to us professing evangelicals? If the context were different, for instance, if the subject was not ministry to Muslims but the New World Translation of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, would evangelicals have such a difficult time in seeing the problems with the actual practice of removing, substituting, and redefining Father and Son terminology? What if the Mormons came out with a modified version of the King James Version that changed Father to God, Lord, and guardian, and Son and Son of God to Messiah, Beloved of God, and Spiritual Son of God? What if Muslims took the Bible and replaced Son of God with Caliph of God, that is, the military-religious leader of the entire community of orthodox Muslims? Would not professing evangelicals be alarmed? Would professing evangelicals be reticent in condemning this practice?
Many of our esteemed biblically-conservative scholars have rightly condemned the excesses of the TNIV in altering the masculine language of Scripture into “gender-neutral” terminology which has now been adopted into the 2011 revision of the NIV, the latter which was publicly denounced by the Southern Baptist Convention. Yet, because “missionaries to Muslims” coupled with organizations that have had a solid evangelical reputation are involved somehow we assume the best of intentions and refuse to judge this practice by what the Bible clearly states.
All Scripture is inspired by God – 2 Timothy 3:16
Scripture cannot be broken – John 10:35
But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. – 2 Peter 1:20-21
Every word of God is tested; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him. Do not add to His words lest He reprove you, and you be proved a liar. – Proverbs 30:5-6
The Bible makes it clear that its words are inspired by God. We can therefore trust that God communicates to us through Scripture what He wants us to understand about Himself. This is especially true with regard to the terminology of Father and Son [of God] which figure so prominently throughout the Bible, especially the New Testament. According to the 27threvised edition of the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament:
- “Father,” in reference to God, appears 260 times
- “Son of God,” in reference to Jesus, appears 45 times
- “Son,” in reference to Jesus, appears 79 times.
If these three designations can be substituted with other words and phrases ultimately these terms are superfluous to understanding God and Jesus Christ. In theological terms, the belief in the verbal-plenary inspiration of the terms Father, Son, and Son of God is lost! But before we jettison the historic, orthodox understanding of Father and Son terminology let us consider the significance of the following: “Son”:
- at Jesus’ birth (Lk. 1:32)
- at Jesus’ baptism (Mt. 3:17)
- the Mount of Transfiguration (Mt. 17:5)
- a clear claim to divinity (Jn. 5:16-26; 10:24-39)
- in the Trinitarian baptismal formula (Mt. 28:19)
- in Old Testament prophecies of Jesus (Ps. 2:12; Is. 9:6)
“Son of God”:
- at Jesus’ birth (Lk. 1:35)
- even Satan and demons recognized this fact about Jesus (Mt. 4:3ff; 8:29)
- was Peter’s great confession of faith (Mt. 16:16)
- Old Testament revelation concerning the Creator’s nature (Pr. 30:4)
- the only way Jesus addressed God in prayer with the exception of His quoting Ps. 22:1 while on the cross
- the way believers should address God in prayer (Mt. 6:9)
- the way God desires to relate to people (Mt. 5:45; Prodigal Son: Lk. 15:11-32)
- points to the believer’s intimacy with God (Rom. 8:15; 2 Cor. 6:18; Gal. 4:6)
- points to the unity and intimacy between God the Father and Jesus the Son (Mt. 11:27; Jn. 1:18; 10:30; 17:21)
- in the Trinitarian baptismal formula (Mt. 28:19)
The biblical witness of saving faith in Jesus Christ is inextricably tied to the belief in and confession of Jesus specifically being the Son of God:
but these have been written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name. (John 20:31, emphasis added)
Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. (1 John 4:15, emphasis added)
And who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? (1 John 5:5, emphasis added)
These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, in order that you may know that you have eternal life. (1 John 5:13, emphasis added)
This teaching is so important that the denial of the Sonship of Jesus Christ, and its necessary corollary, the Fatherhood of God, is severely denounced in the some of the strongest language used in all of the Bible:
10 The one who believes in the Son of God has the witness in himself; the one who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed in the witness that God has borne concerning His Son. 11 And the witness is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. 12 He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life. (1 John 5:10-12, emphasis added)
22 Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son. 23 Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; the one who confesses the Son has the Father also. (1 John 2:22-23, emphasis added)
We understand from these passages that the witness of the Holy Spirit within the believer, the presence of God in the believer’s life, overcoming the world, having genuine belief in Jesus Christ, possessing eternal life, and enjoying a relationship with God the Father are all contingent on the belief, acceptance, and confession of Jesus Christ as the Son of God. To reject Jesus Christ as the Son of God is to charge God with lying, be devoid of eternal life, be devoid of the Father, and be branded the antichrist!
Dr. Bruce Waltke, Distinguished Professor of Old Testament and Hebrew at Knox Theological Seminary  has ably addressed this outstanding witness of Scripture:
“[God] identifies himself as Father, Son, and Spirit…Jesus taught his church to address God as ‘Father’ (Luke 11:2) and to baptize disciples ‘in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matt 28:19)…It is inexcusable hubris and idolatry on the part of mortals to change the images by which the eternal God chooses to represent himself. We cannot change God’s name, titles, or metaphors without committing idolatry, for we will have reimaged him in a way other than the metaphors and the incarnation by which he revealed himself. His representations and incarnation are inseparable from his being.”
One of the greatest missionaries to Muslims, Temple Gairdner (1873-1928), who ministered with the Anglican Church in Cairo, Egypt, had this to say over 100 years ago:
…still undoubtedly this doctrine of Fatherhood and Sonship is an enormous stumblingblock to Muslims. Their repugnance is so instinctive, so engrained in their very constitution, that it may be really questioned whether Christians do well to give such prominence to terms which are so capable of being misunderstood, and which, were perhaps only used at the first to shadow forth the ineffable substance of eternal truth. If they only succeed in doing the exact reverse of this–namely, suggest error–why not drop terms of so dubious utility and seek fresh ones to shadow forth in a more fruitful way the truth (if so be) which lies beyond? If the whole point of terminology is to facilitate explanation, what is the use of terminology which itself needs so much explanation? Why not drop it?
The answer to this is: Because we have no right to play fast and loose with expressions that God has sanctioned with such tremendous emphasis; because their continued existence in Holy Writ and use by His Church are like the preservation and employment of a standard which we cannot afford to lose. Depend upon it, if this terminology were banished from religious usage to-day, a great deal more would go too. Sooner or later the reality, to which these expressions are a continual witness, would be utterly lost sight of. And, if the idea of the Fatherhood of God were lost to us, many of us would lose interest in all religion.
By the authority of the Bible we call people to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God. We also, on the basis of our testimony, or the work of God the Holy Spirit in us as individuals, in agreement with the witness of the Bible, have come to understand that Jesus Christ is the Son of God (1 John 2:24-27; 5:10), can only testify to what we have “seen and heard” (Acts 4:20). We, therefore, reject any attempt to hide, obscure, and/or eliminate the biblical witness of God as Father and Jesus Christ as the Son of God in any way, especially and most importantly in the translation of the Scriptures which are the foundation for all evangelism and discipleship. On the other hand, we uphold the witness of the biblical manuscripts in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek to Father and Son terminology. Let us then uphold the literal translation of these terms which is the only way to accurately and correctly translate them.