Will New Guidelines Solve Wycliffe's Two-Year Bible Translation Controversy?

A nearly two-year dispute that began in 2011 halted seven translation projects and led at least two denominations to publicly criticize Wycliffe Bible Translators for its translation practices. As of last week, though, Wycliffe partner SIL International released new translation guidelines for familial references to God, and Wycliffe hopes these practices will end the translation tensions.

The updated guidelines, which reflect the 10 recommendations of a 14-member panel convened by the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA), updates a best practices statement from late 2011 that affirmed the importance of recognizing the familial relationship between the divine Son and his Father, but left wiggle room for translators to use other language if needed in the cultural context.

The new statement mandates that the words "Father" and "Son" must "always be translated with the most directly equivalent familial words within the given linguistic and cultural context of the recipients." It also states that, when a language possesses multiple possible words for the relationships, "translators should choose the most suitable words in light of the semantics of the target language."

Bible translations referring to Jesus as God's son always have been problematic in Muslim contexts, and translators have experimented with looser translations in the past 15 years, said Warren Larson, scholar in residence at the Zwemer Center for Muslim Studies.

The translation tension also points to the broader challenge of communicating the gospel with Muslim cultures, Larson said. The Christian gospel directly contradicts Muslim teaching by saying that Jesus is also God, and there's no way to avoid that ...

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