There have been several published reports over the past few months raising concern about so called "Muslim-sensitive" Bible translations. On January 30, 2012, World Net Daily published a report written by prophetic end-times teacher, Joel Richardson, titled "New Bible yanks 'Father,' Jesus as 'Son of God,' Islam-sensitive project ignites controversy, online petition."
At the heart of this controversy is SIL International (formerly known as The Summer Institute of Linguistics), the translation group Frontiers, and Wycliffe Bible Translators. These groups appear to be at least partially culpable for producing up to 40 translations for Muslim countries (in Arabic and Turkish) that pervert key passages so as to be less offensive to Muslims.
For example, Frontiers and SIL have produced "True Meaning of the Gospel of Christ," an Arabic translation which removes "Father" in reference to God and replaces it with "Allah," and removes or redefines "Son."
A key verse that Christians use in relationship to world evangelism is Matthew 28:19 (the "Great Commission"). It now reads, "Cleanse them by water in the name of Allah, his Messiah, and his Holy Spirit" instead of "baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."
Incredibly, concerning the Turkish Gospel of Matthew translation, Turkish pastor, Carlos Madrigal, wrote: "I've been in Turkey for 27 years and I don't know any Turkish pastor or believer that likes this translation. On the contrary, I'm also a pastor, and I can say that I know every pastor and everyone I know are upset with this translation. . . the worst thing in this translation is that this "Matthew" started with a quote of the Koran and that the translation is full of footnotes with quotes of the Koran, as if it was the highest authority to decide what is true and what false. (emphasis added) (http://www.change.org/petitions/lost-in-translation-keep-father-son-in-the-bible).
Sanitized translations where phrases such as "God the Father" and "Son of God" have been removed are already circulating in several Muslim-majority nations such as Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Malaysia.
World Net Daily quoted Joshua Lingel of i2 Ministries as saying "Even more dramatic a change is the Arabic and Bangla (Bangladesh) translations. In Arabic, Bible translations err by translating 'Father' as 'Lord.' 'Guardian.' 'Most High' and 'God." In Bangla, 'Son of God' is mistranslated 'Messiah of God' consistent with the Quran's Isa al-Masih (Jesus the Messiah), which references the merely human Jesus." Lingel's group has spearheaded a petition drive to try to stop the production and distribution of the questionable translations.
In reading the rebuttals of some on the Internet who are defending Wycliffe, SIL, and Frontiers, it seems they think that we in the great unwashed masses don't understand the use of the word "Allah." This is simply not the case but I believe it only serves to divert attention onto their critics instead of where it belongs - on translations that misrepresent God's precious Word and whether they have participated.
In defense of changing some phrases, numerous translators say that using the words "Son of God" might be taken to infer that God physically impregnated Mary and that this is especially repugnant to Muslims. My response would be that yes, they are sensitive about this - but not because of any misconception about some sort of divine sexual encounter. Why then? It is because of their complete rejection of the idea that God had a Son!
The truth is that Muslims MUST be brought to an awareness that the Jesus of the Qur'an is NOT the Jesus of the Bible and, though the word "Allah" in Arabic could indeed refer to Jehovah, missionaries to Muslims MUST clearly and regularly define the two. If they do not, then how else will Muslims understand the monumental differences between Islam and authentic Christianity?
Another specific problem in dealing with those from Islamic backgrounds is that the Qur'an speaks of Jesus 97 times. But the Qur'an clearly never deifies this Jesus. The "Isa," or Jesus of Islam, is the same as the Allah of Islam - a counterfeit. Translations that leave the reader to imagine that somehow the prophet Isa of the Qur'an is the same as the Jesus Christ, Yeshua of the Bible, are unimaginably destructive, no matter who from Christianity or Islam may embrace them. This is true because these translators do not declare the absolute deity of Jesus Christ in contrast with the absolute bankruptcy of the Islamic Isa.
I would hope that all of those who are involved in translating the Bible for distribution in Muslim lands understand that, according to the Qur'an, the "Isa" of Islam is someday going to return to earth and force every person to convert to Islam. How silly - and sinister - to confuse the two. Equally ridiculous is the notion that Muslims would ever agree to changing the Qur'an to be more Christian or Jew friendly. Even casual observers can't fathom that. However, the confusion concerning the compatibility of Islam and Christianity, the deities they worship, and the Jesus they refer to is nothing new.
In trying to get to the bottom of this, in early March, 2012, Jan Markell and I held a conference call with Wycliffe senior vice president, Russ Hersman. Shortly thereafter, we also interviewed him for Jan's national syndicated "Understanding the Times" radio program. In response to my questioning, Hersman assured us that Wycliffe does not hold to the idea that Jehovah is the Muslim Allah. Hersman also told us that both Wycliffe and SIL have put on hold every translation that could be brought into question over this controversy. The Wycliffe official told us that they would not move forward on any of these projects until a formal review takes place by respected theologians, biblical scholars, translators, linguists, and missiologists from the "global Church." I know I sound cynical but, as much as I was heartened by Hersman's spirit and comments, a "global Church review panel" is just another way to spell "trouble" in the day we live in, especially considering that the makeup of such a panel can be stacked to ensurea particular desired outcome.
The fact is that trying to make the Bible (and authentic Christianity) palatable to everybody is an impossible task. Our responsibility is to simply and lovingly lay out what the text states without trying to sanitize it in such a way that WE think we're helping God out. He didn't make any mistakes and in His foreknowledge knew that the Word of God itself can be and would be an abrasive and controversial thing.
"Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name's sake. And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another. And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come."
- Matthew 24:9-14
WHAT IS REALLY HAPPENING HERE?
World Magazine reported on the growing translation controversy in the October 8, 2011, edition. In an article called "Holding Translators Accountable," Emily Belz writes about a couple who had applied to become missionaries for Wycliffe but who became disenchanted during the process and withdrew from Wycliffe before they actually began work. Belz and I discussed this and also the division that exists between translators and local pastors in Muslim areas over the new translations. Hear my interview with her, which will air on Take A Stand! Radio.
In the World article, Belz reported that Wycliffe is requiring prospective workers in Muslim regions to read a book titled Muslims, Christians, and Jesus, by Carl Medearis. I know this to be factual as I am in possession of an email dated September 9, 2010, from SIL/Wycliffe West Eurasia Group Director, Henk Prenger, which announces that Medearis' book is indeed required reading for all new Wycliffe members. What is disturbing is that Medearis, among other things, is an advocate of several ideas associated with the "Insider Movement."
If you have never before heard the term "Insider Movement," or don't know who Carl Medearis is, don't feel bad. However, regardless of how reassuring Wycliffe VP Russ Hersman was as he attempted to downplay this to us, this single fact indicates that people working on translations meant for Muslims have been infected -and thus the largest and most prestigious and trusted translation organization in the world has been infected - with and is at least to some extent sympathetic to the notion that Muslims can acceptably remain inside Islam, read the Qur'an, worship in the mosque, etc., after they have had some sort of an experience with or an acknowledgment of the biblical Jesus.
The "Insider Movement" generally questions the need for outward "conversion" to Christianity as long as someone has a personal relationship with Christ. It "contextualizes" Christian teaching and practice for Muslim cultures by finding common ground between the two. Muslims are encouraged to stay in the mosque, read the Qur'an, practice the Islamic Five Pillars, pray the Salats (the daily call to prayer), and heed the Imam. However, the question must be asked, which Jesus is being embraced by those in the Insider Movement? Even if it is the biblical Jesus and not Isa, the Islamic counterfeit, how can one grow in true faith and be anything more than a secret-service believer as an "I.M.er"? Perhaps more ominous is the question, how can individuals in the Insider Movement not be guilty of idolatry? This, and any number of other issues, should be troubling to "I.M." advocates. The phrase "come out from among them" from II Corinthians 6:17 comes to mind.
For the record, during the "Understanding the Times" broadcast Wycliffe VP Hersman simply said that there may have been a "suggestion" that prospective workers read Medearis' book. When I related the content of Henk Prenger's email during the interview, Hersman stated that he was unaware of any mandatory requirement concerning Medearis' book. Jan, Jill Martin-Rische (daughter of the late Dr. Walter Martin and who was assisting in the on air interview with us), and I were all taken aback that Hersman treated this revelation as insignificant. It seemed to be no big deal. But it IS a big deal.
The discovery that Wycliffe was and perhaps still is mandating that new workers read Madearis' book is a possible key to understanding why the organization would produce or help disseminate Bible versions to Muslims that weaken or at best down- play essential truths of Christianity.
What makes me think that? Because Carl Medearis is unabashedly pro-Muslim, pro-Insider Movement, pro-Palestinian, and as can be deduced from reading his own blog posts, is a staunch advocate of "Replacement Theology" and Dominionism - all of which aligns with the deception of Chrislam. In short, Medearis is a purveyor of all things postmodern. (For more, read David Irvine's review of Muslims, Christian, and Jesus at www.ericbarger.com/irvine.medearis.book.htm. Note that Irvine and his wife, Deana, left Wycliffe just before going to their assignment to work in the Muslim world. The reason: they were forced to read Carl Medearis' book.)
Knowing that Muslims, Christians, and Jesus is recommended reading for all SIL/Wycliffe workers and required reading for new members, it is no wonder that translations that soften the hard edge of the Bible's truths are being produced by these once-trustworthy organizations. It's the postmodern way to be non-confrontational, politically correct, accepting of divergent ideas (whether fatal or not), resistant to absolutes, and to cover doing so with the veneer of "love."Medearis doesn't even believe that a Christian should evangelize the lost (http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2011/07/24/my-take-why-evangelicals-should-stop-evangelizing-2/)! No. Refusing to push back against false religion doesn't help anyone and just gives Satan's strategy breathing room at the expense of God's truth.
As with so many throughout the Church today who refuse to draw the conclusion that false religion is, well, false and thus useless, it appears that Medearis may understand some aspects of biblical truth but it's just not in his nature - or his theology - to declare it authoritatively. Instead, he'd rather mock those who teach end-time prophecy and decry the atrocities he claims Israel is perpetrating.
Admittedly, as I write I have not quite finished reading Madearis' book, but somebody at Wycliffe has and somehow they made it mandatory reading for new workers. This is a guy who is a signer of "A Christian Response to 'A Common Word Between Us and You,'" the basis of which declares that Islam's Allah is really our Jehovah.
Whether Madearis uses the term "Chrislam" or not, I can tell you that it is this kind of philosophic slurry that has fostered and spread the idea that Islam and Christianity can find religious coexistence, and the leadership inside Wycliffe and the others appear to be nurturing it.
The result of Chrislam is a false conversion at best. It's a mixing of light with darkness - something clearly and completely forbidden by the New Testament.
Besides all of that, this is simply insulting to God. It is as if some translators are saying that they know better how to communicate to Muslims than God does, that God didn't see our current state of affairs coming, or that God made a mistake.
The point must be made that this is exactly the mindset of Emergent leaders concerning the presentation of the Gospel in our day, contending that it is outdated and will never be accepted in a postmodern culture. It is easy to imagine how that mindset could transfer over into the translation community and into so many other arenas.
Now that the cat is out of the bag concerning all of this, it remains to be seen if the organizations in question will take steps to uproot proponents of the Insider Movement and Chrislam from their midst. If they do not, I suggest that the highest leaders are advocates of these destructive ideas and this tragically brings into question everything they are doing, at least in the Arabic/Muslim world. A bigger, more disturbing question is, how deep and into how many other languages and translations for other people groups have compromises such as I've outlined here burrowed over the years?
I am praying that pressure from the recent press coverage and petition drives will cause Wycliffe, SIL, Frontiers, and others to completely reevaluate and then pull the faulty translations. We need also to pray that the untold number of dedicated, godly translators, missionaries, and workers who are being ill-affected by all of this will rise up against the tide of postmodern thinking and lead the charge to eliminate any influences from their organizations that are contrary to the sound, complete, and historical presentation of the one true Gospel.