My thoughts on the WEA report

After reading the report and being involved in a number of discussions about this report since its release, here are my thoughts on the WEA report.

 

Things I think they got right:

1)      The report calls for much greater accountability for Wycliffe/SIL in the future.

  1. They must identify who sponsored the translation.
  2. They must identify who funded the translation.
  3. They must identify any of their staff involved in the translation.
  4. They must explain choices made about familial language in any translation where there is even a potential for controversy*
      1. They must form a committee that includes representatives from the local church and outside theologians.

2)      They must involve the local church body in the translation process.

3)      They must consider of how these translations affect secondary audiences (rather than just the target audiences) i.e. the local church; surrounding communities, etc…

4)      They must consider how MIT translations affect the Muslim perception that the bible has been corrupted.

5)      The committee recognized that Wycliffe/SIL has tried to do too much with their translations and they have recognized that bible teachers and/or commentaries are required to help people come to a correct interpretation of the text. The committee concluded that trying to mitigate all misunderstandings by manipulating the biblical text itself was a mistake.

 

Things that are still concerns:

1)      Despite the WEA’s original commitment to include Muslim Background Believers on the committee, no Muslim background believers were included. Because these issues affect them most, it is troubling that they were not permitted to have a voice.

2)      There are no clear guidelines regarding how the phrase “Son of God” should be translated and whether the offered explanatory phrases like “Spiritual Son” are sufficient to replace the entire phrase “Son of God”. Hopefully, the WEA committee will clarify this point.

3)      There are no clear guidelines regarding the use of phrases that might miscommunicate familial relationships i.e. “spiritual son”, “spiritual father” and how these phrases should be evaluated. For example, would a “spiritual son” have the rights of a true son, like inheritance, in the culture where this phrase is being used?

4)      There are no guidelines at all regarding the use of phrases that might validly describe Mohammad’s relationship with Allah. Phrases used to describe Jesus’s familial relationship with the Father should not also communicate the non-familial relationship that Mohammad had with Allah. This has been a problem in previous translations targeted for Islamic contexts.

5)      While they have made it clear that publications like “Stories of the Prophets” should not be called a “bible”, they have practically endorsed their continued use as long as they are not called a “bible”. Are these valid “books” to use in a fellowship in place of a bible? The report does not address this question.

6)      While the report recommends that committees be formed to deal with controversial translations, there no guidelines about public disclosure and very few guidelines about how them committees’ members are chosen. There appears to be a little too much room to form committees that serve only to add a stamp of approval to controversial translations.

7)      The only reference they cited in the report was a book about bible translation written by scholars from Fuller seminary that hold views fairly consistent with the practices that lead to this issue in the first place. Some of the recommendations in the report seemed to have been influenced by the ideology of this book; the report itself indicates this.

 

I am somewhat encouraged by Freddy Boswell’s response because he takes some responsibility for the past failures of SIL, I am less encouraged by Bob Creson’s response because in it, he still has taken no responsibility for Wycliffe’s past failures on this issue. Up until this point, there has been very little transparency about these practices within Wycliffe/SIL and this is reflected in the many recommendations for accountability in the WEA report. It is my sincere hope that Wycliffe/SIL truly takes responsibility for these issues and implements these recommendations in a way that truly holds them accountable to the churches in the communities where they are working. It would be tragic if Wycliffe/SIL interpreted this report only as license for doing business as usual. The response to this report will be much more important than the report itself. This is the conclusion of Biblical Missiology’s response found here.

 

Above all, let’s all remember to keep praying!

 

—–  Here are some additional resources:

 

 

Psalm 73

A song for Aseph[i],

 

Surely God is good to Israel and to the pure of heart.

The path of my feet waiver as one without direction[ii],

the steps of my life have been poured[iii] out as if they were nothing.

I am envious of those boast;

I see the tranquility[iv] of the wicked.

For they go through life without trouble

and they are never hungry[v].

They do not share in the toil of the common man,

and his struggles do not touch them.

Therefore they wear pride as a necklace,

and they are clothed in violence.

They look at the world through the lens of their abundance[vi],

their desires go beyond the imaginations of the heart[vii].

The mock and speak evil;

they speak oppressively from their high position.

They speak as if they command the heavens,

and their decree goes out to all the earth.

They bring back the people of the Lord

and beat them until every tear is drained from them[viii].

And then they say, “How does God know?”

and “Does the most high have knowledge?”

Behold, these are the wicked ones

and, forever at ease, they grow more powerful[ix].

It has been for nothing that I have kept my heart pure

and I have kept my hands clean.

I have been stricken all day

and my reproof comes every morning.

If I had said these things,

I would have betrayed a whole generation of your children[x].

As I considered this,

I was troubled.

When I came to the sanctuary of God,

I then understood the end of the wicked[xi].

Surely you allowed them to be flattered[xii],

you caused them to fall into deception.

How will they be destroyed so suddenly?

In terror they meet their demise.

As one being awakened from a dream,

Lord you will wake up and despise their image.

When my heart was embittered

and my soul was pierced.

I was stupid and did not know it,

I acted like a beast with you.

But I am always with you

and you took hold of my right hand.

With your council you lead me,

and afterwards you will honor me.

Who do I have in the heavens but you?

When I am with you, there is nothing on earth I desire.

When my body and the beat of my heart has come to an end,

the protection of my heart and my portion is God forever!

Behold, the ones far from you will be destroyed,

You will annihilate those who commit harlotry against you.

It is good for me to be near God,

I made the Lord God my refuge, a place where I can speak about all your works.


Note: this is a difficult Psalm to translate because of its frequent use of vivid imagery that is not fully understood today. It is one of the most picturesque of all the Psalms; something that is obscured in most English translations.

[i] Asaph was a prominent leader of worship; he was appointed by David and he and his sons after him served as leaders for many generations.1 Chr. 6:2,1 Chr. 9:15, Chr. 15:17, 19,1 Chr. 16:5, 7, 37,1 Chr. 25:1-2, 6, 9,1 Chr. 26:1,2 Chr. 5:12,2 Chr. 20:14,2 Chr. 29:13, 30,2 Chr. 35:15,Ezr. 2:41,Ezr. 3:10,Neh. 7:44,Neh. 11:17, 22,Neh. 12:35, 46,Ps. 50:1,Ps. 73:1,Ps. 74:1,Ps. 75:1,Ps. 76:1,Ps. 77:1,Ps. 78:1,Ps. 79:1,Ps. 80:1,Ps. 81:1,Ps. 82:1,Ps. 83:1

[ii] The phrase in the Hebrew texts literally reads, “and I as little, my feet swerved/stretched;” it is picturesque language that is used only here and is not well understood.  The NIDOTTE states that “Often, however, the issue of quantity is inseparable from a notion of quality and can have important theological underpinnings. Deut. 7:7; Hag. 1:9; Pr. 37:16.” The Hebrew root נטה means to stretch (“an outstretched arm”, Ex. 6:6, Duet. 4:34; “he stretches out the heavens”, Ps. 104:2) or incline/turn/swerve (“do not turn to the right or the left”, Pr. 4:27; “have not turned aside”, Job 23:11). This root appears 216 times in the Hebrew OT and is translated as “slipped” only in this verse. I think it is much more likely that the picture the author envisioned was one of wondering aimlessly (turning aside/swerving) than it was of one “slipping.”

[iii] NIDOTTE states that “the verb form [of ashur (step)], a cognate to Ugar. ‘sr, occurs in the q.., pi., and pu. stems, usually in a figurative sense of pursuing a course of life.”  The idiom used here, lit. “as nothing my steps were poured out” is used no were else in the OT or early Hebrew literature. I think the intent was to give a picture of how meaninglessness the steps of life (good or bad) that have already been taken appear from the perspective of one who is in despair. Much of this Psalm emphasizes how distorted our perception is when we look at the situation around us rather than looking to God for the answers.

[iv] The word used here is “shalom” and is most frequently translated as “peace,” although it has a much broader semantic range of meaning i.e. peace, complete, success, whole, secure. The root from which this word is derived can mean “to reward, to repay, to complete, to be safe, to be peaceful.” While it is conceivable to translate this as “prosperity” as done in a number of versions, to do I believe misses the thrust of what was intended i.e. it is the peace, security, and tranquility that comes from riches and power that the author is alluding to here and not the wealth itself.

[v] This verse reads lit. “for there is not torment to their death and their bellies are fat.” The NIV, NET, NRSV, NLT, ESV have interpreted the phrase “to their death” properly as “throughout their life until their death” i.e. their whole life is painless. Other versions, like the KJV, NKJV, JPS, NASB have focused on the moment that death comes and in doing so have misunderstood the idiom and context of this verse.

Many versions have translated the phrase “their bellies are fat” as “their bodies are strong and healthy;” however, I think this is a little misleading to English readers because we picture the body of an athlete when we hear phrases similar to this. While it is true that the idiom “their bellies are fat” in Hebrew doesn’t necessarily bring to mind the picture of a “fat man” to those who lived in the ancient near east like it does in English, neither does it preclude the idea of a “fat man” like the phrase “their bodies are strong and healthy” does in English. This idiom communicates the idea that a person has had no want of food (or money) i.e. their hunger is always satiated and, in the mind of the ancient near eastern people, this really could have been a “fat man.”

[vi] This phrase literally reads “their eyes go out from their fat;” the ESV translates this very literally but entirely misses the imagery of this verse. Similar to Vs. 4, the idea of “fat” is a symbol of abundance and prosperity. Idioms about “seeing” are frequently associated with “the eyes going out or being carried” in the Hebrew OT; a similar usage can be seen in Ps. 17:2 lit. “your eyes will go out to see right.” This focus is on what was seen and not the eyes themselves. The NET translate vs. 7 as “Their prosperity causes them to do wrong” and the NIV translates it as “From their callous hearts comes iniquity;” both of these translations better capture the intent of the author but I think they are overly interpretive.

[vii] This phrase literally reads “imaginations passed heart;” the ESV and NRSV miss the imagery of this phrase by focusing on the overflowing folly of the wicked man; something that while true, is not inherent in the imagery of this phrase. The NKJV captures the idea well in its translation “They have more than heart could wish”

[viii] This is the most difficult verse in this Psalm to translate and no English version completely follows the Hebrew text of this verse which literally reads “therefore [he?] will return his people here and waters of fullness they will drain to/for them.” There are a number of difficulties in translating this verse; first is the question of whether “his people” the subject or object of the verb “to return?” i.e. did the wicked cause the people to return or did the people choose to return to the wicked? Grammatically, either is possible but treating “his people” as the subject in most circumstances would make better grammatical sense (as has been done in the ESV, NIV, NASB, etc..); however, the context of this verse makes this treatment difficult because it causes this verse alone to shift away from the excesses of the wicked and suggests that the wicked gave abundantly to the common people.  The NET has followed M. Dahood’s proposed emendations (Psalms [AB], 2:190) and reads the Hebrew text as follows: לָכֵן יִשְׂבְעוּם לֶחֶם וּמֵי מָלֵא יָמֹצּוּ לָמוֹ (“therefore they [the wicked] are filled with food, and waters of abundance they suck up for themselves”). While this emendation is reasonable, there is no textual evidence to support it in any known manuscripts. Both the LXX and the Targums diverge considerably from the Hebrew text strongly suggesting that the Hebrew text of this verse may have been corrupted very early. I have chosen to follow the Aramaic Targum because I believe it fits much better with the context of this passage; while I believe the NET version also fits well in the context of this verse, I don’t think there is enough evidence to support the Dahood’s emendation of the text.

[ix] The Hebrew word used here (חיל) is the word used for “solder” or “army” and is used frequently to describe power and strength. While it can sometimes be used to convey a sense of “wealth,” when it is used this way, it always carries a sense of power that comes from wealth.

[x] The reference here to “a generation of your children” appears to be a reference to the younger generation that still has its innocence; the author indicates that to speak aloud the words of pessimism from the first section of this psalm would be to betray the innocence of the next generation.

[xi] Lit. “their end”

[xii] חלק can either describe something smooth or metaphorically describe flattery i.e. smooth words.

Psalm 40

To the music director, a song for David

I eagerly wait[i] for the Lord,

he has reached out[ii] to me and heard my cry.

He brought me up from the watery pit,

from the mud and mire.

He has placed my feet on the rock,

he has steadied my steps.

He has given me a new song[iii] to sing,

a praise song for our God.

Many see and fear,

and put their trust in the Lord.

Happy is the mighty man[iv] whose trust is in the Lord.

He does not incline himself towards prideful men

or men who deceive[v].

You have done many wondrous things, Lord my God!

Your wonders and your plans for us are beyond compare.

I will speak and proclaim them,

they are too numerous to count.

You do not desire sacrifices or offerings,

(your words have pierced my deaf ears[vi])

You did not ask for burnt or sin offerings.

Then I said, “I came with the scroll written about me[vii]

My God, I desire to do your will

and your Law is deep within me[viii].

I will proclaim your justice[ix] in the great assembly,

my lips will not be restrained.

Lord you know that I did not conceal you your justice!

I have spoken about Your faithfulness[x] and your salvation that are within my heart.

I will not hide your steadfast love and truth before the great assembly.

You Lord will not restrain your tender love[xi] from me,

your steadfast love[xii] and truth[xiii] continually protect me

Because evil beyond measure surrounds me,

and my transgressions overtake me,

I am unable to see.

There is more evil than there are hairs on my head

and the courage of my heart has left me.

Lord, please deliver me!

Lord, hurry and help me!

Those seeking my life will be ashamed and humiliated;

those desiring to harm me will be driven back and put to shame.                             .

The ones who mock me [xiv] will shudder because of their shame,

but all who seek you will rejoice and be happy in You.

Those who love your salvation

will continually say “The Lord is great!”

I am poor and needy

but the Lord is concerned about me

You are my helper and my deliver,

You are my God,

do not tarry.


[i] The Hebrew verb QVH conveys the meaning of hope as much as it does waiting and it is doubled here for emphasis; the idea is that one eagerly waits with longing like a child waiting for the coming of Christmas morning.

[ii] The Hebrew verb נטה means ‘to stretch out’ is commonly used to describe one stretching out their arm, or stretching out a tent covering when setting up a tent.

[iii] Lit. “given a new song in my mouth.”

[iv] There are three words commonly used for “man” in Hebrew, adam, ish, gever. The latter word is used in this text. It is the word from which we get the name Gabriel (mighty of God) and it is typically used of a warrior or hero. This is the word used in Ge. 6:4 for “mighty men” (ESV) or “Heroes” (NIV).

[v] “men who deceive” is literally “ones who are involved in lies.” The NIV’s “those who turn aside to false gods” is a little too interpretive and I believe artificially limits the meaning of this phrase.

[vi] This idiomatic phrase (lit. “ears you have pierced for me”) is only found here in the OT and the meaning is uncertain. The likely meaning is “you have caused me to hear” and it is sandwiched in between the two declarations about God lack of desire for sacrifices and offerings. There is a sense of hyperbole here i.e. God is not condemning the sacrificial system of the OT but rather showing that a right heart attitude must accompany every sacrifice and offering. We see this same theme in Samuel’s declaration to Saul, “Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams (1Sa 15:22 NIV)” and in Hosea’s declaration (quoted by Jesus) “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings (Hos 6:6 NIV)”

[vii] This is most likely a reference the scroll of the law that was to be copied by each king according to the command in Deuteronomy:

When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the priests, who are Levites. It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the LORD his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees and not consider himself better than his brothers and turn from the law to the right or to the left. Then he and his descendants will reign a long time over his kingdom in Israel. (Deu 17:18-20 NIV)”

[viii] Lit. within my inward parts; most frequently intestines. Many translations use the word ‘heart’ hear but that is not in the text.

[ix] The Hebrew word tsadiq, translated here as “justice,“ carries a sense of both “justice” and “righteousness;” see “Justice and/or righteousness: A Contextualized analysis of Sedeq in the KJV (English) and RVR (Spanish)” by Stevem Voth for a fuller treatment. Some translations translate this word here as “deliverance” with the idea that God’s justice in this case was deliverance; this in my opinion is overly interpretive.

[x] The Hebrew root for “faithfulness” is the same root from which we get the word “Amen.”

[xi] The Hebrew root RHM conveys a sense of the love, mercy, and compassion a mother feels for her children. The noun formed from this root is the word for a Mother’s womb (a place of security, protection, and love). For this reason I have chosen to translate this as “tender love.”

[xii] The Hebrew root HSD is the root most commonly used to convey the idea of God’s covenantal love and is translated here as “steadfast love.” In Hebrew poetry, like this passage, synonyms emphasize sameness rather than draw are attention to the differences. In both of the cases here we should understand the idea of a protective love.

[xiii] In Scripture, the ideas of truth and love are often seen as indivisible. There is a sense conveyed in Scripture that neither can stand apart from the other; truth without love is not really “truth,” and love without truth is not really “love.” Both are seen in perfect balance in Jesus; in John 1:14 we are told that Jesus came “full of grace (love) and truth” and throughout the Gospels he demonstrates this over and over again.  Ultimately culminating in the cross where God’s love and his justice (truth) were displayed in perfect balance.

[xiv] Literally this says, “the ones saying to me “ha’ach, ha’ach;” the Hebrew word “ha’ach” is difficult to translate. It is used in this passage to express malicious joy i.e. the joy of one who is reveling in the distress or downfall of another person.