Bible - Versions & Translations

Wycliffe's Islam-Friendly Bibles: The Abomination of Cultural Contextualization

By Dr. Paul M. Elliott
Postmodern Evangelicals show no fear of playing fast and loose with that which is most holy.

From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase

Postmodern Evangelicals show no fear of playing fast and loose with that which is most holy.

In January 2012 I was interviewed for an article on Bible translations by a reporter from The Christian Post. The interviewer contacted me, he said, "because of your ministry's reputation for advocating accurate and faithful translation of Scripture from authentic source texts." We praise the Lord that TeachingTheWord is gaining that kind of a reputation, and to Christ belongs all the glory. This news humbles us and drives us to our knees before His throne, and causes us to cry out with the Apostle Paul, "Brethren, pray for us!"

The Interview "Goes Viral"

Portions of the interview were first published in a January 21st Christian Post article titled "Biblical Translation: Leaving Cultural, Political and Theological 'Biases' at the Door". [1] I was also quoted in a January 30th followup article titled "'Father' and 'Son' Removed From Bible Translations for Muslims." [2] Those two articles "went viral" on the Internet around the world. They also subsequently appeared in at least a dozen other North American media outlets, and were quoted in newspapers in Australia, India, and the Middle East.

Wycliffe's "Islamacized" Bibles

The reporter questioned me about the growing movement toward what is called "cultural contextualization" in Bible translation. I said that it is entirely wrong. I commented specifically on recent work of Wycliffe Bible Translators and its affiliates in producing "Islam-friendly" Bible versions.

According to published sources, in deference to Muslim sensitivities Wycliffe is removing references to God as "Father" and substituting terms such as "Lord" - "Guardian" - "Most High" - and worst of all, "Allah." They have changed Matthew 28:19 - "baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit" - to read "cleanse them by water in the name of Allah, his Messiah and his Holy Spirit." "Son of God" is frequently mistranslated "Messiah of God," which is consistent with the Quran's title for Jesus, "Isa al-Masih" - "Jesus the Messiah," who in Islamic teaching is merely a human prophet inferior to Mohammed. [3]

I said this to the Christian Post reporter:

Wycliffe is doing translations for the Muslim world that instead of referring to Jesus as the Son of God, refer to him as God's 'uniquely intimate beloved Chosen one,' for example. This imposes a cultural interpretation that obscures and even denies the Bible's clear teaching of the deity of Jesus Christ, and His position as the Second Person of the Trinity.

One missionary observer has noted that these kinds of translations are producing false "Christians" who swell the ranks of missionary statistics and provide glowing "success stories" that stimulate fundraising in the United States - but in fact these people have been inoculated against the true Gospel:

I have consulted with the leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention on missions and evangelism among Muslims at various times... [Who] stated that there are tens of thousands of Isa al-masih jamaats, or 'Jesus congregations,' in northern Africa. But the members of these jamaats call themselves Muslims, do not believe in the Trinity and believe Muhammad is a prophet of God. Are they Christians or Muslims? Why talk about them in terms of missionary success? [4]

The Reporter Asks a Crucial Question

After I commented on these developments, the Christian Post interviewer also asked me this: "What are the key ingredients in producing a good translation of the Bible?" I answered:

The issue, first and foremost, is that we need to recognize that the Bible is not just another religious book. It is in fact uniquely the Word of God. It is a supernatural book. We do not have the right as human beings to do that kind of manipulation of the text. We need to be faithful and accurate in translating it from the original languages. It is not legitimate to do what is in fact not a translation, but an interpretation.

In order to produce an accurate translation of the Bible, we need to have the authentic source text, and I believe that the Received Text that was recovered at the time of the Reformation is that authentic text. Next, translators who come to the Bible and want to use a proper approach must be faithful and accurate in translating it, and must not impose our theological, political or cultural agendas upon the text.

I went on to say that these principles also emphasize the importance of careful expository preaching. The Scriptures do reflect the historical and cultural settings in which they were written. Part of the job of the expository preacher is to explain those elements when necessary in setting forth the meaning of the text and its application to the present day. But this is far different from imposing a cultural or religious bias on the source text itself during translation.

"Behold the Pig-Son of God"?

However, postmodern Evangelicals have long since departed from such principles. Islamacized "Bibles" are not Wycliffe's first venture into "cultural contextualization."

More than thirty years ago I sat in a church service in which a Wycliffe representative described their work on the first translation effort for a South Pacific island tribe. In translating the Gospel of John, he said, they had wondered how to translate "Lamb of God" because lambs were unknown in that part of the world. As the translators gained insight into the local culture, they came to understand that pigs were used as a bartering commodity within the tribe, and were considered to be the most prized of possessions.

So, he said, they had a brainstorm. They decided to translate John 1:29 thus: "Look! The Pig-Son of God, who takes away the sin of the world."

The Wycliffe translator who presented this information seemed quite proud of their ingenuity. He made it clear that this particular "translation" reflected the philosophy - cultural contextualization - in which they had been trained by Wycliffe's Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL).

Rather than presenting such a thing with pride to the church, they should have been on their faces before God in repentance. They had desecrated the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. One can only suppose that if and when the Wycliffe people got around to translating the passages pertaining to the sacrificial system of the Old Testament, Isaiah 53, and Hebrews, they would have followed the same pattern - substituting an unclean animal that was to be an abomination to the Jews for God's own type and symbol, running all the way from Genesis to Revelation, of a spotless Lamb sacrificed for sin.

The Evil of Cultural Contextualization

Dear friends, the evil of cultural contextualization is permeating the church. Postmodern Evangelicals, in the name of being "missional," are reinventing the church to look like the unbelieving world. They are reinventing - distorting - the Gospel into a message of the self-improvement of inherently good people, rather than the authentic message of repentance and faith in the righteousness of Christ on the part of totally depraved and helpless sinners. Postmodern Evangelicals no longer fear to even play fast and loose with that which is most holy, God's eternal Word.

But how can this surprise or shock us, when for the past 130 years the Evangelical church has departed ever farther from reverence for the authentic source texts of Scripture, and has redefined the doctrines of inspiration and inerrancy to remove their true meaning? [5] May the church repent of its evil ways.

References:

  1. Stoyan Zaimov, "Biblical Translation: Leaving Cultural, Political and Theological 'Biases' at the Door," in The Christian Post, as viewed at http://www.christianpost.com/news/biblical-translation-leaving-cultural-political-and-theological-biases-at-the-door-67601/. This author was somewhat misquoted in this article and the subsequent one. I have given accurate versions of what I said in the original interview in the body of this article.

  2. Stoyan Zaimov, "'Father' and 'Son' Removed From Bible Translations for Muslims," in The Christian Post, as viewed at http://global.christianpost.com/news/father-and-son-removed-from-bible-translations-for-muslims-68229/. See comment in footnote 1.

  3. Joel Richardson, "New Bible Yanks 'Father,' Jesus as 'Son of God'" published January 30, 2012 in World Net Daily, as viewed at http://www.wnd.com/2012/01/new-bible-yanks-father-jesus-as-son-of-god/print/

  4. Joshua Lingel, as quoted in the World Net Daily article. Lingel is the author of the book, Chrislam: How Missionaries Are Promoting an Islamized Gospel.

  5. See our series on these developments that begins with this article: What If America Treated Its Constitution the Way the Church Treats the Bible?

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