<a href="https://biblicalmissiology.org/blog/author/adam/" target="_self">Adam Simnowitz</a>

Adam Simnowitz

Adam Simnowitz is a minister with the Assemblies of God. He lives in Dearborn, MI. He holds a M.A. from Columbia International University from their College of Intercultural Studies. His thesis is available on this website: "Muslim Idiom Translation: Assessing So-Called Scripture Translation For Muslim Audiences With A Look Into Its Origins In Eugene A. Nida's Theories Of Dynamic Equivalence And Cultural Anthropology: https://biblicalmissiology.org/2016/03/21/muslim-idiom-translation-assessing-so-called-scripture-translation-for-muslim-audiences-with-a-look-into-its-origins-in-eugene-a-nidas-theories-of-dynamic-equivalence-and-cultural-anthro/


  1. Adam S


    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

    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 http://wycliffe.org/sonofgod.aspx

    “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. Adam S.


    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

    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. Georges Houssney

    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

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

  7. Jeff Morton

    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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