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No.  Honestly, I can’t think of a more damaging action than the translation attempts some groups are making in predominantly Muslim countries.  Dropping the familial language “Son of God” or “God the Father”:

1. Undermines the perceived integrity and reliability of the Scriptures;

2. Robs the Church of centuries of theological reflection and meaning, including Trinitarian orthodoxy, Christology, and more;

3. Betrays the radical sacrifices that believers are making in these lands for these truths; and,

4. Tends toward a denial of the uniqueness of the gospel witness itself.

World Magazine’s current article, “The Battle for Accurate Bible Translation in Asia,” hits all the issues on the head.  I heartily commend it.  Here’s the opening paragraphs:

Fikret Bocek says that Turkish quince, a fruit like a pear, takes a long time to grow and ripen, but it’s delicious. Patience is key for good quince, he says, and also for the salvation of his fellow Turks, most of whom are Muslim like he once was.

Patience was key when the Turkish police arrested and imprisoned him for 10 days in 1988, when he was beaten, verbally abused, and tortured with electrical shocks. The police ordered Bocek, then a teenager and a new convert to Christianity, to recite the shahada, “There is no God but Allah.” Despite a crippling fear, he found he could not physically open his mouth to say it, which he attributes to divine intervention.

Patience, a fierce patience, was key in 2007 when a group of Muslims brutally murdered a close friend of his and two other Christians while they were meeting for a Bible study in Malatya, Turkey. The Muslims, who had pretended that they were interested in Christianity, disemboweled and then dismembered the three men in a two-hour torture session the killers filmed. They finally slit the Christians’ throats from ear to ear.

Bocek points to the naked pragmatism and concern for visible results driving these moves:

Bocek, 40, now a pastor and church planter in the coastal town of Izmir, Turkey, tells Western mission agencies to be more patient for faith to ripen in Muslims in his country, and not to alter key biblical phrases in translations for the sake of outreach. The phrase “Son of God” is offensive to Muslims because it seems to imply that God was a physical father to Jesus through a sexual union with Mary, so some translators have sought to find alternate terms to describe that relationship. “They get involved in these translations because they see that there is no fruit,” Bocek said. “We have results. But you have to be patient and take it really, really slow.” He and his fellow pastors address the offensive connotations of “Son of God” by explaining what it really means. “For centuries,” he said, “that’s the way it went.”

The entire article is well worth reading.  It includes responses from proponents of the translation approach.  But on balance, I think the piece nails the issues and reveals the great danger of tampering with the Lord’s revelation of himself in Scripture.


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17 thoughts on “Should We Drop “Son of God” in Bible Translations for the Sake of Reaching Muslims?”

  1. Jessica says:

    Its sad that they would even consider that. Jesus being the Son of God is a necessary part of Christianity. Remove that and you have a different Jesus and a different gospel.

  2. Jason Brown says:

    Amen. We can’t compromise the Scriptures. Period. If you do that, you have no foundation, no authority, no power, and no hope.

  3. Chris says:

    I recommend visiting the Wycliffe website where you will learn that, thankfully, this story is made up. No reputable Bible translation is being neutered in this way. Also read the thoughts of an actual translator at

    1. Salaam Corniche says:

      Chris. Look at the facts that are presented in Brother Anyabwile’s post of February 26. Then look at the comments from those people who have no vested interest to “protect” their translations. Might I enlighten you just slightly? This is the work of an SIL translator who worked as a consultant for the “True Meaning of the Gospel of John.” His initials are LC.
      Ask our brother Anyabwile how he would read this as a former Muslim. I think he would say, “Read them and weep.”
      [my comments are in brackets prefaced by the word comment. The rest is LC’s wording verbatim]

      Footnotes for Gospel of John
      for Special Audiences
      (Comment-say what? What kind of special interest translation is this. The Pakistani church called this a “convenient translation.”)

      [1:12-13] This is a metaphorical expression, and indicates that God has chosen these people to be part of his people [umma], but not on the basis of racial descent. (Comment-part of the Islamic fraternity, the umma? What nonsense, when it clearly says that these chosen are part and parcel of the adopted, privileged children of the Heavenly Father.)

      [1: 14] This expression will be repeated many times and it is literally “son of God,” but it absolutely does not indicate a physical sonship. God forbid! Rather, this title is metaphorical, indicating the chosen king who must come from the line of the prophet David. (Comment-metaphorical? Not. It is his ontology, his being. The chosen king? Note the small letters. This could be any old Jo? Nothing about divinity here. How special!)

      [20:23] This is one of the results of the preaching of the message of Christ (pbuh)… (JS–so Jesus needs the prayer of blessing and peace for the dead prayed upon him? The one who is the source of all blessings–God the blessed and only ruler- I Tim 6:15–and the Prince of Peace–Isaiah 9:6–needs this prayer? Not only that for Muslims this is the prayer most often found on their lips when mentioning Muhammad. Like It or not, this footnote has brought Jesus down to the level of Muhammad.)

      Funny—no tragic, that the all wise SIL commentator with the initials LC forgot to include any commentary on John 20:31. Oops. “But these are written that you mayn believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”


  4. Kris says:

    I’ve been following this for a while, thanks for your thoughts!

  5. Marlon Hollis says:

    The question for me is, where does it stop once we sacrifice the title “Son of God?” There are plenty of other scandalous things about the gospel that we could get rid of to please local sensibilities. When does it cease being the gospel, after an omission there, or maybe an addition here? Besides it’s not our gospel to make major changes that change the core of its message, in this case, the idea that God became incarnate in the person of the Son of God. Without that, I don’t see how you get to why only Jesus, in both His humanity and Deity, could be the one to pay for our sins.

  6. John says:

    Ok, now to go back and read the article…

  7. Prishy says:

    Altering the scriptures to suit Muslims? What guarantee do they have that once they remove the ‘offensive’ words, that Muslims will accept Christ? Does it mean that the hearts of muslims are not naturally hostile towards God like every other human being? The Gospel is offensive to those who are perishing,whats being said here is ‘God, u r not transforming these souls as fast as we would like. So, this is what we will do to help you where you have failed’. I pray such literature may never see the light of day!

  8. david says:

    in fact just drop everything that is not the Koran and it would be easier to reach Muslims, of course then it would not be the gospel “good news”

  9. David Harriman says:

    To all who have posted comments on Thabiti Anyabwile’s 23 February blog post:

    This issue is not made up.

    My name is David Harriman. I served with Frontiers for 18 years as director of development/director of advancement (1991 to 2009).

    The Arabic translation of the Gospels and Acts (also known as True Meaning of the Gospel of Christ) was undertaken by a member of Frontiers with advice and counsel from SIL member “Leith Gray.”

    Some 600 Frontiers donors contributed more than $214,000 to publish this volume, in which “Father” is not rendered literally, in any instance, and in which Son, Son of God, and Son of Man is redefined by paratext and footnote. Verse-by-verse changes to the language of scripture can be seen here:

    Moreover, the rationale behind these changes can be seen in this paper by SIL member Leith Gray:

    All of this is publicly available information. Frontiers has been engaged in Muslim-idiom translation activities in Arabic, Turkish, Indonesian and other languages. In the case of the Arabic translation I am describing donors were never informed of these changes. This is not transparent. In fact, it was only in 2011 that I learned of these changes to the very text of scripture. There is no way in which these changes can be described as insignificant; they are in fact a direct violation of Frontiers’ commitment to full verbal inspiration:

    David Harriman

    P.S. If wish to know more, see my second comment posted under Thabit’s post from today (27 February 2012).

  10. Abdul Asad says:

    Please see my blog post on Circumpolar and you will understand how this petition does not accurately portray the reality.

  11. Steven Fortt says:

    Scripture tells us time and again that it is the *LORD* Who adds to the number of those that are being saved. Our job is not to convince anyone or dress it up so that it appeals to someone specifically; it is simply to go into all the world and tell it the way the Master taught His disciples to tell it, and the Spirit of the Living God will bring whomsoever the LORD has called out.

    To take the author up on this proposal is to be revealed as something other than a doulos of Christ.

    “For am I now trying to win the favor of people, or God? Or am I striving to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a slave of Christ.” Galatians 1:10

    That verse is preceded by a stark warning from Paul that to change the Gospel message, be it from man or angel, is to bring damnation upon that person.

    So no. The writer is going to get his neck fitted for a millstone if someone reads that trash and is led astray because of it.

  12. I can’t even believe that this is a question!

  13. JRD says:

    From a field worker of 10 years among Muslims…I agree that familial terms should be preserved. However, I would offer two additions

    1) It is irresponsible in the Muslim context to ONLY translate the familial terms without significant help to readers to understand its meaning as anything but “God and Mary hooked up and had Jesus (talk about blasphemy)” AND it is irresponsible to change the terms without noting clearly that the actual terms are familial (which both the Turkish and Arabic do among others). We have made one mistake for a few hundred years, and now we are making the other. Meanwhile, my friends are going to hell because nobody is willing to clearly communicate the meaning.

    2) While I agree that familial terms should be preserved, I am horrified at the tone and attitude of the petition against Wycliffe and Frontiers. The more that I learn of it (I am quite near the discussion and know many involved on both sides), the more I am horrified and embarrassed that people who name the name of Christ are using political change websites to communicate issues with other believers. I pray every day that the petition would stop so that some actual helpful discussion can take place. It is easily to the place where outside peacemaking help is needed to ensure protection from slander of both sides. Nothing good can come until the petition is stopped and trust can be restored.

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Thabiti Anyabwile

Thabiti Anyabwile is a pastor for Anacostia River Church in southeast Washington, DC and a council member of The Gospel Coalition.

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