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.[1] 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[2] 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.[3]

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 [4] 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.”[5]

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.[6]

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.



[1] Assemblies of God paper: The Necessity for Retaining Father and Son Terminology in Scripture Translations for Muslims ( Presbyterian Church in America paper: Like Father, Like Son: Divine Familial Language in Bible Translation (
[2] Rick Brown, The “Son of God”: Understanding the Messianic Titles of Jesus, International Journal of Frontier Missions, 2000, 17(1): 41-52.; Explaining the Biblical Terms ‘Son(s) of God’ in Muslim Contexts, Part I. International Journal of Frontier Missions, 2005, 22(3): 91-96.; Translating the Biblical Term ‘Son(s) of God’ in Muslim Contexts, Part II. International Journal of Frontier Missions, 2005, 22(4): 135-145.; “Why Muslims Are Repelled by the Term Son of God.” Evangelical Missions Quarterly 43:4 (Oct 2007) 422-29. Leith Gray (a pseudonum): “The Missing Father: Living and Explaining a Trinitarian Concept of God to Muslims.” Mission Frontiers (November-December 2008), 19-22.; Brown and Gray: Brown, Rick, Leith Gray, and Andrea Gray. “A New Look at Translating Familial Biblical Terms.” International Journal of Frontier Missiology 28:3 (Fall 2011), 105-120. Terms.”; Brown, Rick, Leith Gray, and Andrea Gray. “A Brief Analysis of Filial and Paternal Terms in the Bible.” International Journal of Frontier Missiology 28:3 (Fall 2011), 121-125.
[3] All figures are based on the Nestle-Aland, Novum Testamentum Graece, 27th Revised Edition, edited by Barbara Aland, Kurt Aland, Johannes Karavidopoulos, Carlo M. Marini, and Bruce M. Metzger in cooperation with the Institute for New Testament Textual Research, Munster/Westphalia, Copyright 1993 Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, Stuttgart. The figures for “Father” were exported from Logos Bible Software 4 and the figures for “Son” and “Son of God” were exported from BibleWorks 9.
[5] Bruce Waltke, An Old Testament Theology, Zondervan, 2007; p. 244.
[6] W.H.T. Gairdner, God As Triune, Creator, Incarnate, Atoner, pp. 4-5


  1. Seth,

    Thank you for your clarification.

    I appreciate your commitment to retaining Father and Son terminology. Even though you feel I am mistaken regarding my reference to this article, I maintain that Nida, at the very least, is implicitly arguing for the removal of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit terminology here. Yes, I have been influenced by other things that he wrote which I feel corroborate this but they have only confirmed what I felt when I first read this article without knowledge of his other writings sans a few quotes; but even within the article itself, his comments on the “symbolic nature” of language, classifying these Biblical witnesses to the eternal identity and nature of God Himself as figurative, and the strong emphasis on Muslims misunderstanding these terms (which in this case is a specific example of his beloved receptor-response criteria for “faithful” and “accurate” translation), it seems clear to me that he is aiming for the elimination of these terms in Muslim contexts – why else would he have written this article? It certainly does not bolster confidence to retain Father, Son, and Holy Spirit for Muslim audiences! It may not be as outwardly blatant as Rick Brown and “Leith Gray” articles in IJFM and Mission Frontiers, but Nida had his own ways – very successful, I may add – of shielding himself and his theories from being ostracized and debunked, respectively, among Evangelicals.

    Charles Kraft, Nida’s most famous protege, also advocated for NOT using Father and Son terminology in witness to Muslims and positively references the Nida article under consideration, using similar arguments.

    I am not afraid of the straw men arguments that I am a “pure literalist.” I know something about how languages work and have been able to communicate in 4 other languages than English in varying degrees including Arabic on a consistent basis. I do find it ironic that while various WBT-SIL personnel want to hold me and others to a strict linguistic standard of clearly-defined terminology they promote and defend their translators’ “rights” to linguistic latitude of the most egregious kinds!

    For whatever reasons, criticizing Nida, I am told, including what you have stated, is going to be a mistake in this effort to bring attention to the WBT-SIL role in producing mistranslations for Muslims, because I fail to understand him or his DE/FE theory. Au contraire!!! I urge you again to start reading up on the man who helped lay the foundation for your organization. Mistranslations for Muslims are in keeping with Nida’s principles.

  2. Seth Vitrano-Wilson on

    Let me clarify, Adam–by my last sentence, I was referring to what Nida wrote in that particular article, not what he wrote in general, since as I had acknowledged I don’t know what else he wrote. I assumed that since you were quoting from that particular article to justify the claim that Nida advocated for the removal of Father-Son terms, that the “Monotheists” article was the best example of Nida advocating their removal, and I see nothing of the sort in the article. It may be that in other places he argues more clearly for their removal–if so, I’d be interested in knowing those sources, so I know for how long SIL & Wycliffe have been inflicted by such nonsense.

    I do agree that the article raises some questions and puts things at times in a way that people after Nida could use to justify removing Father-Son terms, and I’m sure they have done so. (On the other hand, I’ve also seen Nida quoted and used within SIL in _opposition_ to the removal of Father-Son terms.) So I can see how Nida’s work clearly opened the door for more radical approaches to follow, but I have not yet seen the evidence that Nida himself walked through that dangerous door. He very well may have, but I think it is an untenable position to say that he does so in the “Monotheists” article you quote, whatever the article’s other failings and eventual negative influence may have been.

    Ultimately, I acknowledge that this is mainly a distracting side issue. Who cares what Nida said? What matters is, what did JESUS say? What does the Bible say about itself? I only raise the issue because I know that the Wycliffe & SIL leadership are using critiques of Nida as justification for their claim that opponents of their current practices are “literalists” who don’t understand the need for “meaning-based translation.” See for instance

    “The point being contested (in a debate that has gone on in various forms for centuries) is whether accuracy of meaning is more important or less important than the exactness of a word.”

    This is clearly a misrepresentation of the debate. Many, many people, including many SIL translators, believe that using anything but common, natural terms for father and son leads to incorrect _meaning_, not just “inexact words.” A son is more than a prince, a father more than a patriarch.

    Since I haven’t read much of Nida’s other work, I can’t say whether or not further critiques of his translation philosophy are justified. They very well may be. However, I do think it is worth recognizing that attacks on “meaning-based translation” as a whole–whatever its failings or proneness to abuse–are read by many as advocating for pure literalism, which may undermine the very strong meaning-based argument against terms that fail in crucial ways to give the biblical meaning of “father” and “son.”

    I just want to say in closing that I am so glad that you are raising these issues, and that whenever these unbiblical practices and ideas started–whether with Nida or later on–I pray that their end will be swift and final.

  3. Seth,

    Thank you for your response and for taking the time to read the article by Nida.

    I understand your point and will grant that Nida does not explicitly argue for the elimination of Father and Son terminology in Scripture “translations” for Muslims within the confines of this article but I argue that it is implicit. Because I have read some of his other writings, I can see that this is a subtle argument for the elimination of Father and Son terminology among Muslim audiences (think “receptor”), implicit for those who were “tracking” with him, but nothing so explicit as to raise an immediate outcry against himself. I am currently working on an article – that will take me some time to complete – and can show by direct quotes from Nida how he specifically approves the use of “guardian” for “Father”, “man” for “Son [of God]”, and even “power of God” instead of “Holy Spirit”, depending on the receptor/audience for whom the “translation” is being made.

    I want to let this article stand as it is since it was read at a conference and I do not want to deny what I read. Although Nida uses a lot of verbage which I feel obscures his real points, there are a number of problems with his article of which I mention the following:

    1-From the introductory summary paragraph it is obvious that Nida is broaching the subject of using other terminology for Father and Son. What is not known to most, is that in the other journal that he started, The Bible Translator, as part of the editorial board, he allowed the reprint of an article in Jan. 1953, originally written by D.A. Chowdhury, “Should We Use the Terms ‘Isa’ [i.e. the quranic name for Jesus] and ‘Beta’ [i.e. “Son”]? The original article appeared in News and Notes from the Missionaries to Muslims League in June 1927. In the original article, the author defended his use of “Isa” and for not using “Beta” (i.e. Son) in his booklet on the life of Jesus, arguing that an initial presentation of Jesus to Bengali-speaking Muslims should not set up the immediate barriers of using a name for Jesus that they would not recognize and presenting Him as the Son of God (I am not agreeing with his arguments, only summarizing his main points). CHOWDHURY WAS NOT ARGUING FOR THE REMOVAL OF “SON” IN BIBLE TRANSLATION. In the original publication, there was a parenthetical subheading: “A question for workers in India”. In The Bible Translator reprint that same subheading was changed to: “A question for translators in Muslim areas.” This is shocking, inexcusable and reprehensible for its blatant dishonesty.

    2-The title itself is an indication that something is wrong – why pose such a question? Instead of building up Christians regarding their belief in the Trinity it forces the reader to feel ashamed of this great teaching of Scripture, specifically that there is one God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (e.g. Matthew 28:19). It forces the reader to doubt and is a form of question-begging.

    3-Nida’s categorizing Father and Son as “symbols”, “metaphors”, and “anthropomorphisms.” If you read his theory of Dynamic Equivalency (DE), later renamed to Functional Equivalency (FE) you will find that what he deems figurative language in the original text/language should not be retained by literal translation into the receptor language but rather rendered in “common” and “clear” language based on the receptor audience for whom the translation is being made. Everything needs to be “explicit” and elicit a positive reaction from the receptor. Faithfulness to the original text is secondary to “clear communication.”

    4-Nida states: “Though we cannot find Biblical symbols which ‘picture’ the unity of God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit , we do find abundant evidence of the identity of function.” It is striking that he does not write “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit”, which by the way is essentially the same way that the Baghdadi version of Lives of the Prophets (later renamed in English to Stories of the Prophets), a Wycliffe Bible Translators-SIL production which according to Rick Brown is an “audio panoramic Bible for the 10/40 Window” renders Matthew 28:19 as: “baptize them with water in the name of God and His Messiah and the Holy Spirit.”

    Another problem with this statement is his claim that the Bible does not “picture” or reveal God’s unity (or actual nature), only the “identity of function.” This is modalistic language! Nida is stating that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, along with all other words are symbolic and in no way indicate the eternal identity of God’s nature. According to Nida’s theory of language and translation, words themselves are replaceable, malleable “forms” and can only approximate reality or convey partial truth (i.e. “function”). Thus the stage is set for the jettisoning of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, which are simply human symbols (not God-inspired language) that only dimly convey the ineffable truth of God’s ultimately unknowable nature (so Nida). Combine that with the relativistic and subjective idea that a translation is only “faithful” and “accurate” if it creates a positive response from the receptor, in light of the Islamic rejection of the biblical teaching that there is one God who is Father-Son-Holy Spirit, and, voila, you end up with the perversion and mutilation of God’s Word, aka, “Muslim-idiom translations”, “transformational translations,” “meaningful translations”, “Jesus translations”, “religious-idiom translations”, ad nauseum.

    I would encourage you to read what Nida wrote. He has single-handedly remade Bible Translation in his own image as a founding member of SIL and one of its primary teachers for almost 20 years, a founding member of Wycliffe Bible Translators, Translations Secretary for the American Bible Society, a founding member of the United Bible Societies, a founder of two journals, The Bible Translator and Practical Anthropology/Missiology, author of hundreds of articles, numerous books, including “Translators Helps” which are often more closely adhered to in foreign language translations than the orginal-language biblical texts of Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek (!); and in addition to all of this has played a key role in subverting Christian mission from being based on the Bible to being based on cultural anthropology, especially as his ideas were so systematically taught through some of his more popular books as well as by erstwhile Fuller Seminary professor, Charles Kraft, for some 25 years, and continue to be taught, accepted, and tolerated by the hundreds who sat under his teaching, which number has multiplied to the thousands.

    Seth, in light of you admitting that you do not know the work of Nida very well, I am surprised by your final statement. I would argue that if one cannot see that Nida argued for the elimination of Father, Son, and even Holy Spirit terminology – depending on the receptor – is an indication that one has NOT read enough of Nida or perhaps fully understood his arguments.


  4. Seth Vitrano-Wilson on

    Adam, I very much appreciate your criticism of what is happening in modern Bible translation circles. As a member of SIL, I am appalled by the willingness of so many leaders in the organization to promote changes to Father-Son terminology that fail to accurately communicate the full meaning of the inspired original Greek texts. I pray the WEA panel meeting currently will bring an end to such practices.

    One minor point that I do think needs correcting in your article, which I have seen quoted elsewhere as well, is the idea that Eugene Nida “argued…for the elimination of Father and Son terminology”. I just read the article you quote, “Are We Really Monotheists?”, and Nida in this article says absolutely nothing about how to translate Father or Son terms. What he _does_ say in the article is that we should not replace the “forms” of Biblical images and metaphors with their “functional” equivalents, since we cannot know whether the form or function is more important for any given image, and that Jesus Himself used symbols and images abundantly in His teaching (even though, I might add, that caused many people to misunderstand Him–apparently Jesus thought the use of such symbols important enough to use them despite, or perhaps even because of, their confusing nature).

    I don’t know the work of Nida very well, so there may be other problems with his approach to translation that have led, directly or indirectly, to the mess we see today. But anyone, proponent or opponent, who says that Nida argued for eliminating Father-Son terminology has simply not read what he wrote.

  5. Adam, your article should be read by every Bible translator inside and outside Wycliffe and by every missionary inside and outside Frontiers. I never thought I would live to the day when the those who typically preached the gospel to the nations, are now ravaging the Word of God with their humanistic philosophies of relativism.

    Thank you Adam for being one of those still holding on to the truth of the Word of God.

  6. David Irvine on

    Superfluous to those who create a new gospel in the image of receptor religions – well done Adam

  7. It’s hard to believe we need an article like this, as simple, clear, and forthright as it is, but when certain translators–some, and by no means all of them–take it upon themselves to actually alter how God has revealed himself, then we need an article like this. Too bad those who need to see it will not.

    Thanks Adam.

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