The petition, Lost In Translation: Keep “Father” & “Son” in the Bible can be found here: http://www.change.org/petitions/lost-in-translation-keep-father-son-in-the-bible
Lost In Translation FAQs
- What prompted this petition?
- Given the years of debate over this issue, why was the petition started now?
- What are your concerns with the 2011 revisions to SIL’s policy statements?
- What are your concerns with the 2011 revisions to Wycliffe’s policy statements?
- What are your concerns with the October 2011 Wycliffe/SIL article?
- What are your concerns with SIL posting the Turkish translation?
- Wycliffe/SIL defends using alternative terms because of sexual implications connoted in Father-Son language. What’s your response?
- What about Wycliffe’s denial of a problem?
- What about SIL’s denial of a problem?
- What about Frontiers’ denial of a problem?
- These agencies refer people to their statements of faith, which affirm the Trinity and the deity of Christ. So why does Biblical Missiology still have concerns?
- What is the response of national Christians affected by these translations?
- Doesn’t this petition lead to unacceptable disunity in the Body of Christ?
The petition was started only after every effort had been made to persuade Wycliffe, Frontiers and SIL to accurately and faithfully translate “Father,” “Son,” and “Son of God.” Years of private exhortations, meetings with agency leaders, internal dissent from agency staff including resignations over the issue, criticism and earnest appeals from national believers most affected by the translations, group discussions, conferences of proponents and critics, missiological articles, and church and denominational admonitions, have all failed to persuade these agencies to retain “Father” and “Son” in the text of all their translations. See also: How the “Lost in Translation” Petition on Change.org Came to Be.
In the summer of 2011, a group of Insider Movement advocates and critics met to openly and respectfully discuss their differences. The issue of Muslim Idiom Translation was a major focus. At that conference, there were hopeful signs that progress had been made, including a commitment to faithfully translate familial terms. Then three things happened in the fall of 2011 to dispel those hopes. First, Wycliffe/SIL issued policy statements allowing the use of alternative terms. Second, Wycliffe/SIL leaders published an article that presented their rationale for these changes. Third, Wycliffe/SIL demonstrated their commitment to this translation practice by posting an online version of Frontiers’ translation of Matthew, which replaces “Father” with “guardian” and “Son” with “representative.” These concerns are explained further in the FAQs below.
While there is much to be commended in their statements, there are some deeply problematic phrases that allow these controversial translations to continue. As reported in Christianity Today, an SIL meeting in Istanbul resulted in a Best Practices statement that said translations “should promote understanding” of the term “Son of God.” It did not, however, include the more objective requirement that the term is translated faithfully and accurately in the text of the Bible. Lest there be any doubt that alternative language is permissible, the same sentence added, “while avoiding any possible implication of sexual activity by God” (emphasis added). That expansive statement subjectively allows the translators to use alternative familial terms in virtually any instance, depending on the reader’s impressions. After the petition was started, this phrase apparently was removed in their latest version of the Best Practices, but the guidelines still clearly allow for alternate language.
Wycliffe’s Translation Standards indicate that in Muslim contexts “where it has been demonstrated that a literal translation of ‘Son of God’ would communicate wrong meaning, an alternative form with equivalent meaning may be used.” Who decides what a “wrong meaning” of “Son of God” is? The reader? The translator? Why not translate the term accurately and faithfully, and offer explanation as needed? Further, the examples of an “alternative form with equivalent meaning” to “Son of God” deeply trouble us. For example, the controversial Turkish translation uses “representative of God” rather than “Son of God,” thus failing to convey Jesus’ deity and the familial relationship of a father to his son.
For years, SIL Translation Consultant Rick Brown has been publishing articles promoting alternative terms for “Father” and “Son,” arguing, for example, that
“Muslims have heard that Christians call Jesus the ‘offspring of God,’ and this has been presented to them repeatedly as exhibit A in the case against Christianity and its ‘corruption’ of the Bible. So there is a dire need to correct these misunderstandings and to invalidate the accusation in a timely manner. This can be done in communications of every sort, but by all means it should be done in the Scriptures” (emphasis added).
So the October 2011 article in Missions Frontier entitled “Translating Familial Biblical Terms“ was not in itself surprising. What was surprising is that this article came out after a June 2011 conference between advocates and critics of Insider Movements, in which these translations were debated. Critics left the conference with some assurance that SIL would commit to translating familial terms accurately and faithfully, and were told to expect an article outlining corrections to past articles and positions. This article was carefully reviewed and approved by multiple agency leaders, for it would be understood as Wycliffe/SIL’s response to the translation controversy. While the article did state in a single sentence that “Christ” or “Messiah” should not be used to translate “Son,” no corrections to past statements were offered. Instead, the article offered a lengthy and novel justification of alternative terms to “Father” and “Son.”
In the Turkish text of Matthew, “Son” is rendered as “representative” or “proxy,” and “Father” is translated as “protector” or “guardian.” Turkish Christian leader Thomas Cosmades expressed in a 2007 letter his deep concerns of the Frontiers translation, describing it as a “lamentable and hazardous wager.” While the Frontiers translation had been produced years ago in hardcopy, it was SIL’s decision to post it online that confirmed their commitment to publishing Bible translations that remove “Father” and “Son” from the text.
Wycliffe/SIL justify using alternative terms to Father and Son because they say Muslims cannot hear these terms in relationship to God without inferring that God had sex with Mary, a blasphemous notion in Islam–and Christianity as well. There are at least two problems with this justification: it is not true and it is not biblical. The justification is not true in that native speakers of Arabic, Turkish, Bangla, and other languages say their words for “Father” and “Son” do not have these sexual implications–and certainly not any more than other languages. For example, the Qur’an itself uses the phrases “son of the road” in reference to a traveler, and “son of Mary” in reference to Jesus, born of a virgin. No Muslim thinks “son” in these cases is a result of sexual intercourse. Other Arabic speakers reject the notion that their commonly used terms are inadequate. As Jihan Husary says, “Arabic is my native language so I can affirm that there is no valid reason to change those terms in Arabic.” Second, the justification is not biblical in that we do not have the authority to change the eternal terms for God, for any reason. Muslims’ common obstacle to these terms is theological, not sexual. It is indeed blasphemous in Islamic thought that God could have a Son. But a Muslim’s theological objection of blasphemy is a misunderstanding, which would not justify changing the terms. If translators have never replaced familial language because of actual theological objections, why suddenly should perceived sexual objections justify doing so? Objections or misunderstanding should be addressed in the footnotes.
On February 8, 2012, Wycliffe released a statement saying, “Wycliffe is not omitting or removing the familial terms, translated in English as ‘Son of God’ or ‘Father,’ from any Scripture translation.” It may be helpful to ask Wycliffe what they mean by this statement. “Father” is indeed removed/replaced/missing in the text of True Meaning of the Gospel, for example. If Biblical Missiology were mistaken, it would be very easy for Wycliffe to produce a translation of True Meaning that shows “Father” in fact appears in the text. But Wycliffe has not–because it can not. Assuming Wycliffe’s statement is neither a semantic squabble over the meaning of “remove” nor an outright lie in view of the documentation in our Fact Check, the most gracious interpretation of Wycliffe’s statement would be that “translation” in their sentence above refers not only to the text but also to explanatory material, such as footnotes, introductions or inter-linears. Regardless of whatever is actually said in the footnotes–which itself has been controversial–our focus is that in various ways, “Father,” “Son,” and “Son of God” do not appear in the text of some translations. Rather than offering denials, why will Wycliffe not simply “commit in writing that your agency will not support any translation that replaces or removes ‘Father,’ ‘Son,’ or ‘Son of God’ from the text, when referring to God the Father or God the Son,” as the petition letter asks?
In late January 2012, SIL released a statement saying, “SIL restates emphatically: SIL does not support the removal of the divine familial terms, ‘Son of God’ or ‘God the Father’ but rather requires that Scripture translation must communicate clear understanding of these terms.” On a first reading, that sounds acceptable. But given other statements that explicitly allow alternative terms, SIL likely means that in some cases they will relegate the terms to the footnotes or introductions. To us, that is still removing them from the text. Note that rather than explicitly committing to keep “Father,” “Son,” and “Son of God” in the text, they instead promise to “communicate clear understanding of these terms.” That is a subjective commitment that in practice has led to translations such as Matthew 28:19 in Arabic, “Cleanse them with water in the name of God, the Messiah and the Holy Spirit,” which is not a faithful or accurate translation of the verse. If Biblical Missiology were mistaken, it would be very easy for SIL to produce a translation of True Meaning that shows “Father” in fact appears in the text. But SIL has not–because it can not. Rather than offering denials, why will SIL not simply “commit in writing that your agency will not support any translation that replaces or removes ‘Father,’ ‘Son,’ or ‘Son of God’ from the text, when referring to God the Father or God the Son,” as the petition letter asks?
When reached for comment, Frontiers’ director Bob Blincoe defended the Turkish translation stating, “If it has the Turkish-Greek interlinear, it is faithful to the original Greek.” When pressed further how “protector” and “guardian” could be equivalent to “Father,” and “proxy” and “representative” could be equivalent to “Son,” Blincoe said, “It has the original Greek, it is true to the exact Gospel of Matthew.”  We disagree. Attaching an interlinear (a separate document matching Turkish words with biblical Greek) still leaves the Turkish text replacing “Father” with “guardian.” Senior Turkish pastors and Christian leaders opposing the translation have signed the petition, including Engin Duran who says, “I am a Turkish Pastor and I don’t wan’t to use this wrong translation in my church. How dare they can publish such a wrong translation and distribute it in my country? Already Muslims in my country believe that the Bible is changed by men and these mission agencies are making it harder for us!”
The agencies’ statements of faith, as well as the personal beliefs of any staff member, have not been questioned by Biblical Missiology. It is their practices, not their beliefs, that we are challenging. It is all too easy for a Christian, church or agency to affirm biblical beliefs, while acting in a way that is contrary to those convictions.
The reaction of national Christians is overwhelmingly and strongly negative. Bangladeshi Christians have produced a short video expressing their concerns. The Pakistan Bible Society severed ties with SIL after 20 years of working together, due to SIL’s commitment to alternative words for God’s divine familial terms: “We the Pakistan Bible Society will not promote experiments with the translation at the cost of hurting the church.” Additionally, church leaders in places like Iran, Turkey, and Malaysia have called for an end to these translations, but to no avail.
It is the translations that have led to deep division; the petition is merely a response, after all other efforts have failed. Christians in places where these translations are appearing are aghast at what Western agencies are promoting in their own country. Agency staff have resigned over this issue. Thus, a division existed long before the petition. Jesus indeed longs for his people to be one, and we must do everything we can to promote unity within the body of Christ. That is why all of our efforts to date have not been public. But all of those efforts have failed to obtain the biblical and reasonable outcome that the agencies would simply commit to retaining “Father,” “Son,” and “Son of God” in the text. But the agencies have made no such commitment. So if truth must never be compromised, who do we unite with? Those who produce inaccurate and unfaithful translations? Or our national brothers and sisters most adversely affected by these translations? Biblical Missiology unapologetically and unreservedly stands with our national brothers and sisters in the global Body of Christ.
 “Explaining the Biblical Term ‘Son(s) of God’ in Muslim Contexts,” International Journal of Frontier Missions, 2005, 22(3) p. 95. http://www.30-days.net/reveal/wp-content/uploads/91-96brown_sog.pdf.