Biblical Missiology wishes to acknowledge the work of the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) in their recent review of Wycliffe/SIL’s translation practices. We appreciate that translation is a challenging task, and writing guidelines is almost as difficult. We continue to pray for the review panelists and for Wycliffe/SIL.
There is much to affirm in this report, including the opening recommendation that “Father” and “Son” in reference to God should “always be translated with the most directly equivalent familial words within the given linguistic and cultural context of the recipients” (pg. 6). If Wycliffe/SIL publications were to directly translate “Father” and “Son” so as to uphold the biblical revelation of God eternally existing as Father, Son and Spirit, we would have much to celebrate. But if translators were to use certain qualifications in the report, e.g. the “linguistic and cultural context,” as license to use alternative language over the objection of national believers, then we will remain deeply concerned. The same guidelines in the hands of different translators may produce very different results.
The real issue, then, is not so much written guidelines but in unwritten trust. So while we hope and pray for meaningful change on the part of Wycliffe/SIL, experience has taught us to be cautious. Many statements have been issued over the years that seem to uphold the importance of retaining “Father” and “Son” in the Bible, only to be followed by articles and publications that promote alternative terms for God. The intentions of the WEA report and the opinions of Biblical Missiology are, at most, a distant second to the actual practices of Wycliffe/SIL. Indeed, the “proof is in the pudding.”
Thus, we see this moment as a critical time for Wycliffe/SIL. It is our sincerest hope they will produce faithful and accurate translations of God’s Word and thus regain the trust of the global Church. In an effort to help restore that trust, we offer the following:
- We call upon Wycliffe/SIL to acknowledge past errors in translating, including the specific identification of publications and terms. We ask this graciously, in that owning the problem is the first step in meaningful change. Such acknowledgment will also indicate how Wycliffe/SIL has understood WEA’s report: do they see it as a corrective, and thus an opportunity to change? Or do they see it as a confirmation of past practices, and thus permission to continue?
- We call upon Wycliffe/SIL to reach out to the national Church, especially those in Muslim lands and those from Muslim backgrounds, who have raised the strongest objections to alternative terms. We ask them to listen and to seek restoration.
- We call upon Wycliffe/SIL to withdraw publications that are understood or presented as Scripture, in which alternate terms are used for “Father” and “Son.”
- We call upon Wycliffe/SIL to meet with their critics, to seek reconciliation, to assure them of their return to faithfulness in translation, and to hear any concerns over the possible interpretation of WEA’s guidelines.
And may the global body of Christ be a faithful witness, for “we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.” (1 John 4:14–15)
April 30, 2013