TRANSLATORS of the Bible must use "the most direct equivalent
possible" to render "God the Father" and "Son of God" in other
languages, despite the "depth of the Muslim abhorrence to the idea
of God possessing a son", an expert panel has concluded.
Last year, Wycliffe Bible Translators and SIL International
commissioned the World Evangelical Alliance to facilitate an
independent external review of the translation of these terms,
after Biblical Missiology, a network of missionaries, translators,
and church leaders, said that the terms had been excised from
translations to avoid offending Muslim audiences (
News, 10 February 2012).
A panel of 12 scholars, including representatives from countries
with majority-Muslim populations, was assembled to conduct the
review, and the final report was published last month.
The report notes that: "Good communication will take place only
if significant attention is given to understanding the receptor
audiences, in this case various Muslim groups, and their cultures.
Most are influenced by Qur'anic views, e.g. the belief that for
Jesus to be God's son would require God to have a sexual consort or
that Christians believe that Jesus and Mary are gods beside God.
These beliefs make the translation of divine familial terms an
especially sensitive issue in Muslim contexts."
Nevertheless, the first recommendation is that when the words
for "Father" and "Son" refer to God the Father and the Son of God,
they be translated "with the most directly equivalent familial
words within the given linguistic and cultural context of the
recipients". The panellists argue that the terms are "among the
most important ways the New Testament conveys the central truth
that Jesus is and has always been in relationship as Son to his
Father", linking believers to Jesus, but distinguishing them as
adopted sons and daughters. The panellists also argue that
father-son relationships are "universal in human experience", and
that translating the terms in less direct ways could "add substance
to the Muslim claim that Christians have corrupted the Bible".
The report notes the "depth of the Muslim abhorrence to the idea
of God possessing a son", and recommends that translators may need
to consider the addition of "qualifying words and/or phrases", such
as "heavenly Father", to the directly translated words, to avoid
misunderstandings. It also suggests that the challenges cannot be
overcome by translation alone, and that translators may wish to use
On receipt of the report, Wycliffe issued a statement
acknowledging that it had "not always involved the Church in making
decisions about Bible-translation strategy and work" nor "always
been open and transparent about our translation practices". It had
an ambition to be "clearer" in future.