<a href="https://biblicalmissiology.org/blog/author/seth-wilson/" target="_self">Seth Vitrano-Wilson</a>

Seth Vitrano-Wilson

Seth Vitrano-Wilson is a passionate advocate of faithful Bible translations in all languages. He was raised in the Mormon church, but God brought him to a biblically-based faith in Christ while he was living in Argentina. He has served cross-culturally in the Middle East and Southeast Asia for over 14 years, and holds an MA in Linguistics from Payap University in Chiang Mai, Thailand. He now serves as the Director of Biblical Translation for Horizons International.


  1. Douglas Hammond

    Excellent article, thank you for the insight into what lies ahead in the already vast, confusing maze of Bible translations.

  2. Jim Harries

    Generally, in my view, dynamic equivalence translation is not appropriate for intercultural context. This is because the meaning one translates for may only arise in the context of the language one is translating out of. Then to translate meaning, is to bring confusion. An example, if the Bible were to say: “Someone knelt bent forward with their hands clasped behind their back as they prayed.” In contexts known to me in East Africa, that position is widely taken by people considered possessed (Swahili pagawa ). Therefore, if one were to translate by dynamic equivalence from Swahili to English, one would want to make sure the English reader knew that this was a case of possession. Yet, the English reader may not realize this association at all. To them, if well informed, the assumption of being possessed would simply be an illegitimate addition to the text. So, what of the author’s critique of insider movements. What he sees, is translators intentionally going contrary to what we understand the Bible to say (e.g., Jesus is the Son of God) in order to make the message digestible. As I read him, this comes across as a ‘battle of the giants’ in bible translation circles, i.e., one consultant against another. I can here see good reason to side with the author. I wonder though, let’s say in the case of a Muslim context, what of a Muslim who became a Christian who ‘survived’ as a Christian simply because he communicated Jesus’ sonship in a particular way? Then, what if a church arose within that Muslim context, that did the same? Then, what if they were to set about translating the Bible in a way that reflects their comprehension? Would today’s professional bible translators seek to override, or undercut such translation? If so, on the basis of which authority? In other words: are today’s bible translators divinely appointed with unique universal rights to making the decisions? Or must they also listen to others’ views? An associated question: does the obligation to hear others’ views, extend to the need to hear them in indigenous linguistic (with its own categories etc.) and cultural context? Presumably it does, because otherwise one might be missing something. (Then ‘listening’ would require, say, 10 years of ‘participant observation’ including language learning.) If we take the question of whether Jesus had brothers, or not. I believe some churches consider that Mary as holy mother could not have given birth to any other children. Therefore Jesus ‘brothers’ were not biological children of Mary, but as ‘brothers’ are often understood to be in parts of Africa (and the Middle East?), i.e., sons of paternal uncles. In English, in this case, Jesus did not have brothers, but in Swahili he did have brothers. How would one translate functionally: 1. From Swahili to English. Presumably ‘Jesus had cousins’ (in English). 2. From English to Swahili. Presumably ‘Jesus had brothers’ (in Swahili). Now we have two English versions. The original English, and the Swahili-to-English. Translating back from the original English, the Swahili would say ‘Jesus had brothers’, but from the other English version ‘Jesus had (maternal) cousins.’ To prevent such error from occurring, word for word translation is preferable. Another example. The ‘lakeside’ is in some African circles known as a place in which sin and debauchery abounds. This is because young fishermen can quickly make big bucks if they fish all night. But these young men are not used to planning ahead (unlike farming, for example, fishing doesn’t require ‘planning’). The young men tend to squander their money. Say a young fisherman who fishes all night has a wife. He would like his wife to cook for him in the morning then sleep with him in the middle of the day. If the wife gets tired of having to stay up all night so as to sleep with her husband during the day when other social and economic activities are going on, she will resort to sleeping at night alone when her husband is fishing, then being ‘busy’ doing other things when her husband wants intimacy during the day. So, the fisherman-husband will utilise prostitutes (as we’ve said, he has money in his pocket). So, in African context if one would say ‘Jesus called fishermen’ a dynamic equivalence translation into English would be ‘Jesus called men whose context would make people think they were particularly likely to be sinful’. So – should that implication be included in English translations? If an observer to a non-English translation ‘checks’ it using English, or checks it without sufficient knowledge of the context of that non-English translation, when he would find it to be erroneous, and presumably condemn it. Is such condemnation justified?

  3. Douglas Pirkey

    There was some years ago a “Jesus in the Quran” conference at a local church near us. The conference was somehow related to Common Path Alliance whose mission statement states, “We exist to unite people who have been divided by religion by seeking our common path to God.” They attempt to achieve commonality via syncretism. I wrote a refutation of their theological chart, and in the process, the anti-Christ intentionality of the spirit of the age become woefully more evident. In sermons, I sometimes interject that which pertains to Bible translation today, the holy and the unholy, to inform the church.

    I appreciate your article very much, Seth. Your approach reminds me of how Paul dealt with the Corinthians and their allegiances and preferences for their cultural norms over and against the saving foolishness of the preaching of a crucified Messiah. Paul engaged them at the point of their worldliness and natural-mindedness and used it to present the truth. May the Lord continue to build in you the wisdom of the person of Jesus Christ; and may the Holy Spirit continually perfect God’s power in your willing-weakness to follow faithfully, giving you the counsel of His mind by which to disabuse those who will repent of this worldliness.

    God bless you, Seth!

  4. Adam Simnowitz

    Seth, thank you for this article. You bring up many important points which need to be addressed. A large part of the problem is that the terms “form” and “function” were introduced into Bible translation by Eugene Nida. He took them from Franz Boas’ ideas about anthropology, which include what has become the discipline known as Linguistics. Nida was a faithful student and disciple of Leonard Bloomfield and Edward Sapir, both of whom were mentored by Boas, and the founders of the branch of Linguistics known as “American Structuralism” or “Descriptivism.” One of their foundational premises was cultural relativism which also applies to language. Such a belief teaches that there is no super-cultural truth that can ever be expressed by language. Language, especially according to Bloomfield and Nida, is a meaningless medium on the same level as the grunts and sounds that animals make. Words, so they taught, only derive meaning based on non-verbal actions. Such thinking precludes belief in the divine inspiration of Scripture. Compounding this unbiblical idea of language and translation, is that a number of the decision-makers within Bible translation organizations and the Bible societies give no evidence that they believe in the exclusive claims of the Gospel. In some cases, they have written articles, published and unpublished, that there is more than one way to God other than through faith in Jesus Christ as taught in Scripture. Finally, there is the issue of money. Following Nida’s lead, the “need” for multiple translations for various audiences within a given language and the “need” to revise them every five to ten years because language is “dynamic” creates a potentially, never-ending source for fund raising. For any significant changes to take place in Bible translation, there has to be a proper understanding among translators of what Nida taught and an outright rejection of his cultural relativism, including its loaded terminology. As long as this loaded terminology is used in teaching about Bible translation, there will always be cover for those who are committed to applying cultural relativism in Bible translation to work with those who are true biblical conservatives.


    The Bible is meant to be expounded, and its central message, the Gospel is expounded in clear passages of Scripture such as in Romand 10, First Corinthians 1,w, 15, and in Galatians.

    I spent 36 years expounding the Bible in Arabic on a daily basis from Radio Station, ELWA, Monrovia, Liberia, TWR of Monte-Carlo, and CBC, in Nicosia, Cyprus. I received responses from Eastern Christians and Muslims from every Arab country and from the Diaspora. I sent follo-up books and booklets in Arabic to those who requested the materials.

    Nowadays, the Gospel is proclaimed in Arabic on YouTujbe and Satellite TV statioons, accompanied by conversations in Arabic between broadcaster and listener. The Arabic Bible known as the Smith-VanDyck translation is loved by the converts who memorise it as they had memorized the Qur’an before they had crossed over from Islam to the Lord Jesus Christ. This translation functions as the Wordf God by which they were converterdf. No need for more translatikons into Arabic, please.

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