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:

 

 

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Comments

  1. Kelvin says:

    I appreciate the fact that people are concerned about Bible translation. There needs to be a balance between accountability, transparency, and longevity of translation personnel. For example, are you advocating that the names of translation personnel be posted on the Internet?!! Do you advocate jeopardizing their lives, and the lives of their family members? The work of Bible translation take years…

    I have a question for those critical of Bible translators – what are you doing to advance the gospel in your corner of the world? Someone was critical of D.L. Moody’s approach to evangelism. Mr. Moody then asked this person, “How do you evangelize?” The person’s reply was, “I don’t”. Moody’s response was: “I like the way I evangelize better than the way you don’t evangelize”.

    1. Adam says:

      Kelvin, you make two major assumptions in this response. First, that not literally translating Father and Son terminology, in addition to the other Islamic-accomodating features found in such productions, constitutes “translation” even though this is as far removed from the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek Bible manuscripts as one can get and where even Jehovah’s Witnesses have not dared to tread; and second, that critics of such translations do not evangelize Muslims. I very much appreciate Mike’s response to your latter assumption below.

  2. Kelvin says:

    The requirements you are outlining will create a huge administrative burden, and will stifle initiative.
    Are you willing to sit on one of those committees to provide oversight?
    What are your qualifications?
    Are you willing to give funds to sponsor such a committee?
    Do you realize that there are people alive today, who may die, never hearing an understandable presentation of the gospel in their heart language?
    Do you care?
    When was the last time you invited a Muslim person to your house for a meal?
    When was the last time you had a face to face conversation with a Muslim about the gospel?

    1. Mike Tisdell says:

      Yes, Kelvin I do understand what as at stake. And yes, I have had recent conversations and meals with Muslims and I have shared the Gospel with them. I have found that many Muslims are very open to hearing about the Gospel. One of the most exciting things about sharing with Muslims is the many firsthand stories that I have heard about the dreams Muslims are having that has allowed them to be far more open to the Gospel when it is shared. In the last year I have seen a number of Muslims come to Christ who all had dreams about Jesus before anyone shared the Gospel with them. God is truly working miracles among the Muslim people and many are embracing the Gospel. Interestingly enough, it is my MBB (Muslim Background Believer) friends who are the most upset about IM and MIT (Muslim Idiom Translations) because they have experienced Islam first hand and understand how different their faith in Christ is from the Islamic faith they left.

      1. Kelvin says:

        Mike, thank you for your response.
        I appreciate your frankness, and your involvement and concern for Muslim people. That is truly exemplary. Keep up the good work. It is great to hear that God is moving, and revealing himself to people in dreams, visions, and miracles. Thank you for your testimony from MBBs. I agree with your observations about their opinions about MIT for the most part.

    2. Adam says:

      Kelvin, your questions betray an unbiblical attitude towards translation (see Proverbs 30:5-6; 2 Corinthians 4:1-2), and for the record I am not a KJV-only person, nor am I advocating interlinear translations, two typical straw-man arguments used as a defense of the indefensible. Your questions are really ad hominem attacks against Mike. Considering that “Father,” in reference to God, appears 260 times, “Son of God,” in reference to Jesus, appears 45 times, and “Son,” in reference to Jesus, appears 79 times (All figures are based on the Nestle-Aland, Novum Testamentum Graece, 27th Revised Edition), to not literally translate this essentially terminology constitutes a major change in its message and immediately leads me to question what exactly you consider the “gospel” to be.

      1. Kelvin says:

        Adam, I was addressing Mike, and was very pleased with his answers. You don’t even know what I believe about the Gospel, but you are assuming the worst. I must confess that I made this mistake with Mike. I think I better stop participating in this forum.

  3. Mike Tisdell says:

    Kelvin, neither I nor anyone else I know is advocating that the names of translation personnel be posted on the Internet. What I am advocating is that there be the “balance between accountability, transparency, and longevity of translation personnel” that you say needs to be in place. Historically, there has been near zero accountability even to those who understand well the issues and the need for security. Most issues surrounding IM have become known only because they were discovered by other missionaries in the field and not because there has been any voluntary disclosure by those involved.

    Up until a year and a half ago, almost all who were critical of the translation practices were very involved themselves in ministry and translation; many who have been vocally critical are themselves translators working for the very same organizations where these problems have occured. This is because these issues were almost unknown to those who were not directly involved. One of the most vocal critics of these translation practices has been Georges Houssney who lead the translation effort of several modern Arabic translations of the bible; his translations are the standard Arabic bible used by Arabic churches today. He has been raising his concerns for decades. I point this out because one of the most frustrating aspects of this whole issue has been the “straw man” argument that keeps being raised in different forms by those promoting IM i.e. those opposing IM are just ignorant, uninvolved, etc…; the truth is that up until very recently most who have raised concerns have been very involved.

    1. Kelvin says:

      Mike, I have given your response much thought, and I must say that I have tremendous respect for Georges Houssney. I met him in 1990, or so, I believe. My concern for Georges Houssney and Fikret Böcek is that they do not become embittered. “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”. It seems that in this debate, there are people who are “out for blood”. What is their goal? Retribution or Restoration? Do they “love” their opponents? Are we demonstrating the love of Christ as we fight for the honor of Christ? Somebody said recently, “One of Satan’s main tactics to disrupt the work of the church is set the workers against each other.”

      1. Mike Tisdell says:

        Kelvin, Georges is understandably very passionate about this topic (as I believe he should be) but I have never known Georges to be “embittered” or “out for blood” but rather deeply saddened by the compromises to the Gospel that some missionaries have made. I have personally witnessed Georges demonstrate grace and love over and over again in his involvement with this issue. I do agree with you that one of Satan’s tactics to disrupt the work of the church is set the workers against each other but I think it is important to realize that this is not his only tactic. If Satan can convince us to set aside the truth of the Gospel for the sake of unity then he has won an even bigger victory. The call for the body of Christ to demonstrate love and unity is something echoed over and over again in Scripture but never at the expense of the truth. One of my bigger frustrations about how some have handled this issue has been the way the “unity” card has been played in order to silence those who have expressed their concerns. I think we need to remember that love without truth is not really loving just as truth without love is not really truth; Jesus fully embodied both and so should we.

      2. Adam says:

        Kelvin, willfully mistranslating God’s Word is the real satanic issue at hand. Jesus said that the Devil is the Father of Lies (John 8:44) and in Genesis 3:1, Satan’s opening line to Eve was a distortion of God’s Word, meant to inspire doubt. On top of this, you are defending something which gives “proof” to the false claim by Muslims that Christians have willfully changed the text of the Scriptures (unless of course you consider Jehovah’s Witnesses to be Christians). MITs have made a stench of the Christian witness among Muslims unless of course one follows the thinking of the paper written by Henk Prenger, “Missiological Reflections for SIL,” in which he states: “In our limited understanding we need to point people to salvation through Jesus Christ, but we do not want to presume to limit the saving power of God.
        There is a tension in that previous sentence, and that tension is welcome. We regard our involvement in mission as an adventure and we are prepared to take risks. We are anticipating surprises as the Holy Spirit guides us into fuller understanding. Our ultimate goal is to become participants in the mighty works of God (Missio Dei).” then perhaps we come closer to one of main motivations behind MITs: the lack of conviction in the exclusivity of salvation from sin through faith in Jesus Christ.

  4. Kelvin. I am not sure I know who you are. You have mentioned my name so I am writing you to ask you to engage me. Don’t you think it is right to speak directly to the person you are publicly speaking about? How can you both respect me and think I am bitter etc…? I welcome your private email if you have any issues with me. Write at georges@horizonsinternational.org. I appreciate your concerns. God bless.

    1. Kelvin says:

      Georges, I’m sorry that I implied that you were bitter. When I mentioned some people “out for blood”, I did not mean you at all.

      Why do I respect you? I respect the prodigious number of articles that you kept churning out, your determination, your longevity – you kept the ball rolling. Well done! I’m sure I only know the half of it.

      I only met you briefly around 1990 at an International Student Conference.

      1. Mike Tisdell says:

        Kelvin,

        Maybe I can help you understand Adam’s and Georges’ responses a little better. One of the uglier aspects of this whole issue has been the way many of those involved have repeatedly dismissed those who have raised concerns by claiming that the concerns being raised were due only to ignorance. It has been a mantra that has been repeated over and over again. For many years, those involved were often not even willing to discuss the concerns people were raising. One of the best illustrations I can provide of what I am trying to describe can be seen in an official press release by Wycliffe in March 2012, it read “some people who do not understand the principles of accurate and meaningful translation, and are working strictly from English source texts rather than the original Greek, are levying unprincipled, untrue attacks against our organization and our closest partner — attacks that are stirring up a great deal of concern among well-meaning people looking for answers.” The problem with that statement is that in March of 2012 knowledge of this issue was only beginning to be known by those outside of the mission’s community. Most of those who had raised their concerns at that point were very involved with missions and the majority were fluent in the languages where these translations were being produced and/or fluent in the biblical languages. When this press release was made people like Georges Huessney, D.A. Carson, etc… had been raising their concerns about Wycliffe/SIL’s translation practices for many years. This was a slanderous accusation for which, as far as I know, Wycliffe has never issued an apology. Unfortunately, this is reflective of the typical kinds of responses made by those involved in IM and over the last year and a half these kinds of responses have only increased. One of the ironies of this particular example is that very few Wycliffe/SIL translators know Hebrew, Greek, or Aramaic well enough to translate directly from these languages; Wycliffe/SIL actually publishes an English translator’s bible to aid their translators in understanding the nuances of the original languages. And these translators have varying proficiency in the languages for which they are producing bibles but almost none have the proficiency of the native language speakers who have been among the loudest critics of their translations. (See Notes below).

        Additionally, it has been costly to many (including me and my family) who have raised their concerns over these issues. I personally know of people who are concerned but unwilling to speak out because they do not want to incur the backlash that inevitably comes to those who do speak out. Many of us know and love men and women who are making decisions about missiology that are frightening and it has been absolutely heartbreaking to see them, as graciously as I can say it, walk away from the Christian faith they once so boldly proclaimed. I personally am still struggling to understand how those I have known for decades have been able to walk the path they have chosen. This article might give you a little insight into some of the things I have personally experienced.

        With that being said, your first few posts echoed the same kinds of groundless accusations that many of us hear over and over again. And while I know (and appreciate very much) your apology for jumping the gun, I think that the initial comments rubbed enough salt into some very deep wounds that it became harder to see the change of tone that was developing. Please have a little grace and recognize that this issue has been very painful for many who have been involved the longest and both Adam and Georges have long histories of involvement with this issue.

        Note: I am not criticizing Wycliffe/SIL because the vast majority of their translators do not read biblical Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic. With the tools Wycliffe/SIL does provide, a reasonably good translation can be produced without knowing the biblical languages and making this a requirement would practically halt bible translation. My concern is not that Wycliffe’s translators typically do not know these languages, my concern is that Wycliffe’s leadership has implied numerous times over the last year and a half that these are languages that their translators know and their critics do not and the reality has been quite the opposite. To hear Wycliffe leadership repeatedly make these kinds of statements, without apology has been very troubling.

        1. Elijah the Saudi says:

          Kelvin.

          I read the entire thread of responses and posts up until this point. I do appreciate your apology regarding some of the comments. I do not mean to prolong this issue beyond what has been addressed. However, I wanted to make a simple contribution to this discussion thread. I am, as the name hinted, a former Muslim from Saudi Arabia, who came to know The Lord through the faithful witness of believers who shared the Gospel from the Bible without any need to change any familial terminologies as related to Father or Son of God. By the Grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit, I am today a believer in our Lord and Savior. As an MBB I do not appreciate any attempt to manipulate the word of God or water down the Gospel message for the sake of winning body count Rather than souls. Muslims are indoctrinated to believe that Christians have corrupted their bible and are deceitful people. The IM approach and the MIT bible confirms to the Muslim people both suppositions!
          I pray that my input and insight will be helpful.