Adam Simnowitz makes an important contribution to missiology with his recent thesis regarding Eugene Nida’s influence on Muslim Idiom Bible Translations (MITs). I believe that in future decades people will look back on Simnowitz’ research as a turning point—a hinge in restoring biblical principles to Bible translations in Muslim contexts. As a Muslim-background Christian, I am particularly thankful for this commendable thesis.
Adam Simnowitz’ research on MITs and Eugene Nida breaks new ground in two significant areas. First, Simnowitz rolls up his sleeves and uncovers a vast amount of primary source documentation regarding MITs. While many theses and dissertation feature “literature reviews” laden with easy-access reviews of online journals and staple books, Simnowitz worked tirelessly to access rare documents and papers, including those of Dr. Nida himself. In fact, simply perusing Simnowitz’ footnotes will make for an enlightening read! This type of importunate digging regarding MITs has been long overdue; its belated advent may explain to some extent why MITs have “flown under the radar” for so long.
Second, Simnowitz’ research deals not merely with the symptoms of a phenomena—in this case, MITs—but uncovers a main root cause of the malady. The author shows how Eugene Nida coupled a low view of Scripture with an early form of postmodern linguistic flexibility bordering on verbal anarchy. The resulting disaster will lamentably take years to clean up. But with God all things are possible.
For example, the notion of “dynamic equivalence” has assuaged the fears of many evangelicals, but Simnowitz shows that MITs are quite heavy on the dynamic (as in changing the sacred text) but appallingly light on equivalence to the original. In other words, MITs amend the Bible to make it more acceptable within an anti-biblical Islamic theological genre. Simnowitz writes:
Islamic denials of essential biblical teachings are reflected in a number of the Qur’an’s technical terms. To employ such technical terms in Scripture “translations,” coupled with non-literal renderings of distinctive biblical terminology that clashes with Islamic doctrine, inevitably gives them an Islamic coloring. Such “translations” obscure the message of the Bible to the point of making them Islamic primers (p. 52).
Many evangelical Christians, including some who unwittingly financed MITs, only woke up to the severity of this crisis in the past five years as news hit the press that direct translations of “Father” and “Son” terminology had been jettisoned in many MITs. Indeed, Simnowitz rightly traces this crisis back to the middle of the twentieth century and Nida’s experimentation. The heirs to Nida’s teaching, MIT authors such as Jeff Hayes and Rick Brown, have opened the faucets of cascading heresy, regardless of their intentions.
In conclusion, I believe Adam Simnowitz’ research will be one of those rare gifts that keeps on giving. I particularly recommend Simnowitz’ Chapter 5 on the life and translation philosophy of Eugene Nida, replete with quotes of many of Nida’s colleagues. I certainly hope those interested in ministry to Muslims, as wells as Bible translator trainees, will study his thesis closely.