Wycliffe Woes

The problems afflicting Wycliffe Bible Translators (WBT) are continuing to run over the concerns that basic words such as ‘Father’ and ‘Son’ have been removed in order not to offend Muslims.


Unheralded1While the biblical principal of being ‘all things to all men’ is not an issue, an increasing number of believers – both in the West and in Asia – are concerned that missionary organisations are going too far in order to accommodate the cultural sensitivities of non-Christian groupings and other religions.

Since earlier this year the well-known Wycliffe organisation has found itself at the centre of the debate and has stood accused of removing key words and concepts from the Bible so as not to cause offence and difficulty when working amongst the followers of Islam.
To those involved in outreach to Muslims and those of other faiths ‘Contextualisation’ and the ‘Insider Movement’ are familiar terms which, broadly speaking, relate to the need to make allowances for different cultures when engaged in evangelism.

The Contextualisation C5' model is formulated around the view that believers remain legally and socially within Islamic community. Aspects of Islam incompatible with the Bible are rejected or if possible, reinterpreted. Believers may remain active in the mosque. Unsaved Muslims may view C5 believers as deviant and may expel them from the Islamic community. If sufficient numbers permit, a C5 "Messianic mosque" may be established.

Giving credence to the concerns are the voices of indigenous Asian believers who judge that their efforts to propagate the Gospel amongst their own people are being undermined by Western missionaries.

In a media statement in February this year the point was made: “
Any Wycliffe Bible Translators UK members who are potentially involved ...do not work directly under the auspices of Wycliffe Bible Translators UK, but are seconded to a partner organisation, SIL International.”
Eddie Arthur, the Executive Director of WBT commented: “
“Bible translation decisions are often controversial and it is not uncommon for people who speak the same language to disagree strongly about the way a translation is carried out, as anyone who is familiar with the recent history of English translations will be aware. Our colleagues in SIL are taking a brave step in suspending the publication of Scripture in parts of the world where controversy has been stirred up and we look forward to the outcome of their period of global consultation.”

Since then, and as a further response, WBT has commissioned an independent review of its principles of translation to be undertaken by the World Evangelical Alliance. However the former is now being accused by one blogger of seeking to populate the review body with Wycliffe-friendly persons. The 'Cracks in the Crescent' blog suggests:
"This translation controversy is not going away soon, especially when there are serious ethical questions about how it is being conducted.

The Presbyterian Church of America (PCA) has joined the Assemblies of God in expressing serious reservations in its document about Wycliffe's translation philosophy. The PCA's General Assembly last Thursday approved resolutions that criticize Wycliffe Bible Translators while the Assemblies of God World Missions has threatened to sever ties if "Father" and "Son" are not translated literally.

1. WBT Press Release
2. Wycliffe Bible Translators is an interdenominational organization mandated to making a translation of the Bible in every living language in the world, especially for cultures with little existing Christian influence. Wycliffe was founded in 1942. The organization, with branches in over 50 countries is named after John Wycliffe, who was responsible for the first complete English translation of the whole Bible.
3. Contextualisation: Attempts to communicate the Gospel in word and deed and to establish the church in ways that make sense to people within their local cultural context, presenting Christianity in such a way that it meets people's deepest needs and penetrates their worldview, thus allowing them to follow Christ and remain within their own culture.

Christians Together, 28/06/2012

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Guest (Guest) 29/06/2012 15:46
Just out of interest; did you contact Wycliffe and the WEA for their point of view on these stories before publishing your critique?
Editor 30/06/2012 11:04
Regarding Wycliffe I had a personal approach from the organisation some weeks ago and I also spoke with the organisation at that time. Most recently I spoke to Wycliffe just before publishing the article. The response was that as WEA were 'adjudicating' that it would not be appropriate for Wycliffe to make any further comment at this time.

Regarding WEA, they have made press statements which are available on line.
WEA cannot be expected to comment at this stage as the organisation has stated: "The intention is that the panel’s final report will be delivered by the end of the year 2012."

Ed PS. I am making an exception in this case in responding to a question from an anonymous source.
I would normally expect people with honest questions to either (a) give his/her name or, if not, (b) contact me directly by e-mail.
John Miller 30/06/2012 11:06
Our church fellowship supports a young couple who are engaged in this work in Nigeria. I have emailed them asking for clarification but have not so far received a reply.
Editor 30/06/2012 14:31
Following from the above I copy below a response from Wycliffe dated 28/06/12 just before the article (above) was published.

Thank you for your call enquiring about the Son of God issue.

There’s no update to give at this time. The issue is the subject of a review panel that is being chaired by the World Evangelical Alliance. You can read the WEA’s statements about this at:
http://www.worldea.org/news/3934 [27th March]
http://worldea.org/news/3978 [9th May]
The WEA would be the organisation to give an update on the progress of this. We don’t think it would be appropriate to comment more until the conclusion of the review towards the end of this year.
Mike Tisdell (Guest) 02/07/2012 21:27
FYI - when I began discussions with a colleague of Rick Brown's and was presented with the claims made by Rick Brown I began making inquires to Wycliffe. That was over four years ago, and so far Wycliffe has not answered one question I have asked.

As I have discussed this issue with others, I have found that many have also been able to answers from Wycliffe about this issue. Wycliffe has simply ignoring the concerns that people have been raising for years until Biblical Missiology brought this issue into a much more public light.

Even since that time, many of the statements released by Wycliffe have been misleading or downright dishonest. One of the most glaring examples is from an official press release made by Wycliffe that contained the following quote "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." Who would guess, based on this statement, that prominent bible scholars who read fluently the Greek and Hebrew texts of the bible, native speakers from churches in the countries where these translations are being produced, etc... have been trying to address these issues with Wycliffe/SIL for many, many years.

One of the most troubling aspects of this entire issue is that when inquires are made by people unfamiliar with this issue, Wycliffe has release misleading statements like the one mentioned above. When someone familiar with the issues makes an inquiry to Wycliffe, they ignore it.

Note: Rick Brown is one of the Wycliffe/SIL translation consultants at the center of this issue
Malcolm Gardiner, Kyle (Guest) 04/07/2012 13:21
I represent Wycliffe Bible Translators (WBT)on a voluntary basis in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, and have had an interest in the work of WBT, and been following their progree for over 40 years. It saddens me to see Christians attacking Christians within WBT who have done much good work over the past decades bringing accurate translations of God's word to many different language groups across this world, and teaching them to be able to read God's Word and write etc. I wonder what many of those who attack the work of WBT have actually done to make a difference to different people groups around this world, in the spread of the gospel.
WBT is a large organisation and has thousands of people working under their umbrella. They all sign up to the Wycliffe basis of faith, which you can find on the WBT website, and their belief in the Son of God is unequivocal. It has to be possible at times that any Christian might make an error of judgement (I would challenge anybody who is part of 'Christians Together' to say that they have never made such an error since becoming a Christian), and hence it is impossible for WBT to categorically say that perhaps an error of judgement has been made in this situation. As I understand it, WBT have done the correct thing, in suspending work in the areas concerned, and are reviewing the situation with other evangelical bodies to determine if there are serious errors being made, and whether the translations concerned can be done in a way to not give the incorrect impression as to who the Son of God is. I understand that Muslims widely believe that Christians believe that God had some form of sexual relationship with Mary in order for Jesus to be born, and naturally any translation of the 'Son of God' must avoid giving this impression.
One of my son-in-laws has parents who work for WEC, and they have been involved in their work in Yemen in recent times. They called and saw us recently and chatted about the huge difficulties that there are in accurately conveying the concept of the 'Son of God' to Muslim communities, so that wrong impressions are not conveyed.
May I strongly urge that CHRISTIANS TRULY DO WORK TOGETHER in seeking to support one another and seek to resolve these very difficult issues, and not attack each other and give victory to the enemy!
I am very disappointed in the 'Christians Together' website indulging in such attacks which can do nothing but harm much of the good work that WBT has done over the years, and would suggest that the spirit of what the Lord Jesus taught in Matthew ch 18 vs 15 to 17 is adopted.
AnneDroid 05/07/2012 10:55
Well said, Malcolm Gardiner.

Editor 05/07/2012 15:40
Just a note to say that I am scheduled to meet shortly with a senior and knowledgeable Christian leader who understands the issues; and who first spoke to me about his concerns some years ago.
He has said that he has tried - over a period of years and working 'behind the scenes - to express the concerns that the article raises. There are several 'big name' ministries involved.
Mike Tisdell (Guest) 06/07/2012 05:32
Malcolm Gardiner,

The problem has been that Wycliffe/SIL had refused to make any correction regarding these translation issues for many years despite many people coming forward and speaking with Wycliffe about this issue (and the related “insider movement”). The current suspension was put in place only after this issue was made public after many years of discussions behind the scenes had failed. Even after the suspension was put in place Wycliffe has still made many misleading statements about what has happened and how long they knew about this issue.

Additionally, the problem is not only with the bible translations themselves but with the methodologies being employed by those advocating these Muslim idiomatic translations. These new translations are being used primarily by those advocating the "insider movement" methodology i.e. they tell Muslims that they should remain Muslims and remain in the Mosque when they “come into the kingdom of God.” They teach that it is wrong for them to convert to Christianity. These new versions of the bible are being used alongside the Qua’ran (Which is still seen as the primary source of truth) by “believers” who often reject a belief in the divinity of Christ and his atoning work on the cross. They see the western church as an apostate church because we reject the Qua’ran as Scripture and Mohammad as a true prophet of God. Many Christians (including the established churches in these countries) are rightly concerned that this is not a valid expression of faith in God, but a new and dangerous form of syncretism.

Yes, there are many good and thriving ministries within Wycliffe today (I believe the majority) that are not involved in this mess, but new Wycliffe missionaries are being taught to adopt these new practices and when the current generation of missionaries retire, Wycliffe will be a very different place if something does not change soon.

ginger1000@att.net (Guest) 25/11/2013 00:47
what do you think paul would say about the"mistake of taking Jesus(Son of God) out of the bible and out of the mouths of evangelists.


The bible is the #1 best seller every year. Its a MONEY MAKER, BUT ONLY IF YOU CHANGE THE WORDS OR TAKE WORDS OUT OR ADD WORDS IN.

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