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.
- They must identify who sponsored the translation.
- They must identify who funded the translation.
- They must identify any of their staff involved in the translation.
- They must explain choices made about familial language in any translation where there is even a potential for controversy*
- 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:
- The Gospel Coalition speaks about the WEA report.
- Greg Strand speaks about the WEA Report
- Biblical Missiology speaks about the WEA Report