Wycliffe USA, faced with the possibility of losing support from the 3-million-member Assemblies of God, pulled one controversial Bible translation from circulation in February and halted publication of several others. In March, it agreed to an external audit of its translation practices by the World Evangelical Alliance.
Critics have faulted the audio translation Lives of the Prophets, among others, for translating "Son" in reference to Jesus into the Arabic equivalent for "Messiah." Muslims object to Christian teaching that Jesus is the eternal Son of God.
Wycliffe says it withdrew support for the audio translation and a few other translations last summer in accordance with new policies concerning divine familial terms. However, since Wycliffe international partner SIL is not the publisher, copies continue to circulate through other sources. As recently as January, Wycliffe and SIL denied that any of their translations omitted familial terms. Then in February, Wycliffe released another statement acknowledging that observers questioned the veracity of this denial.
"We are listening to those concerns," Wycliffe said in February, "and are seeking God's guidance as we re-evaluate our methodology and investigate to ensure that our commitment to accurate and clear translation is being reflected in every project."
Wycliffe says literal translations of divine familial terms should be preferred, but its translation policy continues to allows for non-literal substitutes where translators determine the literal phrasing creates inaccurate meaning.
Wycliffe's statements followed two meetings with Assemblies of God (AG) missionary leaders, missiologists, and scholars regarding disagreement over its Bible translation practices. Assemblies of God World Mission (AGWM) leaders announced in February that they would spend the next four months reviewing their relationship with Wycliffe/SIL.
"Our fellowship is deeply committed to the integrity of Scripture," said Greg Mundis, AGWM executive director. "We have done due diligence in researching, reflecting, and searching both the Scriptures and our hearts. This places us in a position in which we cannot agree with Wycliffe/SIL's stated and publicized position."
Currently 35 AGWM missionaries work with Wycliffe in a partnership that goes back 25 years. But AGWM leaders say they will determine by May 15 whether they will continue approving personnel to serve with Wycliffe/SIL and endorsing the groups' support in more than 12,000 AG churches.
After a series of public statements from Wycliffe in February, an AG spokesperson told CT, "Our stance on the use of familial language in Scripture is unchanged, and we cannot compromise our position on this issue. We are gratified by recent expressions from Wycliffe, assuring us that they are seeking God's guidance and reevaluating their methodology in Bible translation. Dialogue between [AGWM] and Wycliffe leadership is ongoing."
Last summer the 347,000-member Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) general assembly approved a statement declaring "as unfaithful to God's revealed Word, insider movement or any other translations of the Bible that remove from the text references to God as 'Father' (pater) or Jesus as 'Son' (huios)." Such removals, the denomination said, "compromise doctrines of the Trinity, the person and work of Jesus Christ, and Scripture."
PCA moderator Dan Carrell appointed a study committee that could recommend the denomination's 1,750 churches withdraw support from Wycliffe/SIL.
SIL has suspended the approval and publishing of criticized translations. Both Wycliffe and SIL have agreed to a formal review of their translation practices facilitated by the World Evangelical Alliance. The quadrennial meeting of SIL staff worldwide is scheduled for early May in East Asia. SIL confirmed that translation concerns will be addressed and discussed by delegates. Freddy Boswell, executive director of SIL, told CT the groups hope to complete the review, which will guide their future translation efforts, by the end of 2012.
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Previous Christianity Today articles over the debate on how to translate "Son of God" include:
Wycliffe, SIL Issue Guidelines on Translating 'Son of God' Among Muslims | The Term 'Son of God' should be retained, but not at the expense of comprehension, translating groups say. (October 13, 2011)
Missionaries to Muslims Agree to Soften Criticisms of Each Other | Ten years after 9/11, the heated debate over contextualization is about to get more civil. (October 13, 2011)
The Son and the Crescent | Bible translations that avoid the phrase "Son of God" are bearing dramatic fruit among Muslims. But that translation has some missionaries and scholars dismayed. (February 4, 2011)
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