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