Guest Blogger: Jason Helopoulos
The PCA erected a study committee to examine the Insider Movement in foreign missions and Bible translation. This movement has sought to use language that is less offensive and more culturally sensitive to particular people groups (particularly Muslim) when translating the Scriptures. The key issue has been the translation of words related to Christ’s Sonship. The PCA study committee reported the first half of their report at this year’s General Assembly. This is from the conclusion of the report:
“Indeed, to change or substitute non-familial or social familial terms with the common biological terms in Scripture is to move in a direction contrary to Scriptural intent. Therefore, if a translator seeks to find a more “culturally responsible” or “culturally sensitive” form because the word in the target language arguably contains primary or secondary nuances that differ from the original language (Greek), this aim does not warrant the translator’s selecting a less than explicit term for the Son of God. The biological sonship term may need to be explained, but it cannot be substituted without compromising the revelation of Christ’s person. Translation decisions that violate these parameters functionally eclipse the perspicuous verbal authority of Scripture regarding the Son of God. By truncating the identity of Christ in the minds of the reader, replacement terms can even distort the gospel.
No matter our motivation, there is no pure Gospel apart from the ontological and incarnational sonship of Jesus Christ. Some will protest:sonship and messiah-ship are functionally interchangeable. To be sure, the redemptive-historical theme of Scripture interweaves Christ’s kingly and messianic functions with his sonship status. But the Christological fabric becomes unraveled when we rip the messianic warp from the filial woof. We cannot speak of Christ as Messiah apart from understanding that regal and redemptive functioning in light of him being the Son of God. We also cannot speak of his exalted Sonship apart from his reign as King. Sonship and regal redemptive reign are mutually informative and indivisible; but though the ideas share referentiality, their meanings are not identical.So when the biblical authors employ language laden with such distinct qualities, we have no interpretive right to regard that language as negotiable.
And it is because Jesus is Son of God that we must speak of Christians as adopted sons and daughters of God. We must express Gospel truth in a way that honors the true familial expressions of Scripture, and avoids compromise by unintentional truncation or even well intended yet obstructive contextualization. We cannot speak of the true Gospel apart from the filial character of our union with Christ, for we are united to the Son of God and no one else. The filial and familial language of the Gospel then is not contextually optional; it is transcendently central. Paul’s warnings in Galatians 1 ought give us terrifying pause. Removing familial language eclipses the Christ of the Gospel and it distorts the Gospel of Christ. Ultimately an incognito Christ is a misrepresented Christ. A misrepresented Christ is a false gospel. A false gospel is the turf of the sons of darkness. . . . Some may be mercifully rescued; others will die in their sins. The stakes are that high.”