Friday, February 10, 2012

Wycliffe’s “Allah” Moment: Replacing the Name of God

As I was flipping through my emails the other day, checking out some links, articles, and messages I got from some friends and family about random things, I saw one article using the term “Muslim Friendly Bible”. Of course, that peaked my interest for obvious reasons, but I wasn’t too excited about it since I knew that all sorts of random material have been created for different branches of religious hierarchies and different sects of different denominations, or whatever else meets someone’s specific fancy.

Sure, maybe someone somewhere decided to cut out all references to Jesus’ incarnate nature and sole means to salvation like Thomas Jefferson did with topics like sin and Hell and the wrath of God, but people do all sorts of unfortunate and sinful things and it only makes me hurt inside for them since they will one day find out they were wrong.

Unfortunately, this article was not based on an individual or even a small organization that got some lucky national media attention. This article was sharing some actual quotations from a new translation of the Bible that came from one of the most respected Bible translation organizations in the world, Wycliffe Bible Translators.

Wycliffe is no newbie when it comes to linguistics and Bible translation. This year they will be celebrating their 70th year in operation, seeing more than 700 translations of the Bible come to fruition. When you do the math you can quickly see that they have been busy from the get-go, averaging about 10 translations a year.

It was in 1942 when missionary William Cameron Townsend founded Wycliffe after he was involved with evangelizing the Cakchiquel Indians of Guatemala. After discovering that they had no language in which they clearly understood the Bible, he set out to change that, and not just for the Cakchiquel Indians, but for every person in every language possible. He was a man with a noble mission and no small task before him.

Now, 30 years after his death, Wycliffe Bible Translators have, perhaps, made their most controversial translation yet…one that is meant for the Muslim communities.

The language that Muslims would need a Bible translated to is generally Arabic. There have been Arabic Bibles around for hundreds and hundreds of years, thought to be dated as far back as 924 AD, so what’s the big deal?

Well, specifically, Wycliffe is catching heat for certain passages in their new Bible that replace ‘God the Father’ with Allah. Even Jesus as the Son of God is obscured in key passages where the full trinity is referred to, like in Matthew 28:19, which says:

“Baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”

This new translation that Wycliffe is in the process of releasing, says:

“Cleanse them by water in the name of Allah, his Messiah and his Holy Spirit”

Believe it or not, Wycliffe defends their position of using Allah in this particular passage. While I do not have an actual manuscript of this Bible version to read from and verify myself, the evidence of the controversy and subsequent statements from Wycliffe indicate the very real fact that they have an important decision to make on whether or not to keep their translation in the printing.

All over the web, the accusations of Wycliffe removing the terms “God the Father” or “Son of God” from the Bible is being debated. What could the logic be behind using such a blasphemous word for God? Why would Wycliffe do something like this.

In a statement they posted on their website,, they responded to the “Son of God” controversy by stating the following:

“Wycliffe is not omitting or removing the familial terms, translated in English as “Son of God” or “Father,” from any Scripture translation. Erroneous information and rumors on the internet have recently raised questions concerning this issue.
“Wycliffe remains committed to the same objectives we've held sacred for 80 years: accurate and clear translation of Scripture. Wycliffe never has and never will be involved in a translation which does not translate these terms. The eternal deity of Jesus Christ and the understanding of Jesus’ relationship with God the Father must be preserved in every translation.

“Wycliffe personnel are committed to working alongside language communities and other partners to translate God’s Word with great care from the original languages of Scripture into the languages of the world’s people so that all may know the redeeming love and glory of God--Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”

Make no mistake that this answer does not in fact answer the real concern that is spreading across the internet amongst fellow believers who care about the sacredness of God’s Word. Wycliffe has only tried to affirm that they would never remove these terms from the Bible and that their real effort will only be in translating these terms. Well, that’s just the problem. Their elementary decision to translate God into Arabic is, in fact, Allah. To them, they have not removed ‘God the Father’, but only translated it. Yeah, ok.

Basically, the logic behind the translation comes from the fact that the term “Son of God” for Jesus carries the implication of a sexual relationship between God and Mary. Because of this, the translators wanted to use different terminology that would not indicate a sexual relationship producing Jesus, but still show the status of Jesus as the legal son of Joseph and Mary as well as the divine Son of God. Their answer to this was to replace God with Allah.

This logic has been confirmed by close acquaintances who work under Wycliffe in other translation efforts, so I am confident in the information I’ve been presented with.

Here is where Wycliffe has fallen into grave error in their effort to make the Bible more palatable to Muslims. They have essentially stripped the exclusivity of the God of the Bible, Jehovah, and replaced it with a vague and (by all modern accounts) blasphemous term for the god of the Muslims, Allah. Just because the Arabic term for God can be generally translated as Allah, does not mean that the God of the Hebrews carries the same connotation. This is not simply a matter of terms that can be swapped around with each other as needed. This is a matter of definition and they are not equivalent with one another at all.

Allah is specifically the so-called god that is worshiped in the Muslim world and it carries all of the implications that come with the Islamic religion. Allah is used specifically for their perception of God, but it is not a proper perception that is based on the truth of Scripture. Allah and the God of the Bible, Jehovah, are mutually exclusive.

Let’s take this a level deeper. Wycliffe is allegedly trying to overcome the notion that the term “Son of God” carries a sexual connotation in the Muslim community, which is, in fact, an unbiblical concept. However, this is the very reason that the doctrine of the virgin birth is so important and vital to any church of sound theological teaching.

Do we really think that the Muslims are unable to understand the virgin birth? Everyone has to be taught that Jesus was born of a virgin. Everyone has to be taught that the doctrine of the virgin birth is absolutely essential in order to understand the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy in both the legal and divine sense. Everyone has to be taught everything that the Bible claims in order for it to be understood in its proper context.

I’m positive that Wycliffe doesn’t think that Muslims are unable to understand these things, but I fear that they are acting as if they were by this theologically unsound translation of Scripture. Muslims are very capable of understanding the virgin birth, just like Americans, Russians, Australians, tribal people, etc. They just need to be taught from a translation of Scripture that holds true to the historical teaching of the apostles and teachers in the original languages.
Replacing “God the Father” with Allah, does no Muslim any good. It is a disservice to them and their proper understanding of Scripture. In all honesty, it only gives Satan a foothold in the area of biblical illiteracy, which is already a huge problem in the world.

Muslims need to learn about Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection and His sole means to salvation through faith and repentance just like anyone else. The beautiful thing about the Gospel is that it transcends all cultures and easily trumps all other false religions and schools of thought in its exclusive claims about Jesus as the Son of God, born of a virgin, fully man and fully God, the only way to inherit salvation through faith alone.

Muslims, like anyone else, need to hear these truths in order to understand that anything else is false and damning. Using Allah in Scripture, instead of “God the Father” only obscures the Biblical claims of who God really is and will only confuse some Muslims as to why evangelical Christians are saying they worship the same God as they do.

Jesus Christ is a great stumbling block for many people and their religious and philosophical thought. 1 Corinthians 1:18 says that “the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing…” Why? Because Jesus is the only way to Heaven. He is God. This flies in the face of Islam, in the face of the Jehovah’s Witness’, in the face of the Jews even--you name it.

1 Peter 2 explains this paradox so beautifully and is worth a quick reading, that Jesus is a stumbling block, but for those who are being saved He is the precious cornerstone. All at the same time, he is a precious stone to believers and a stone that causes others to fall. Why? Because you either believe and obey the message of the Gospel, or you don’t.

The Gospel transcends all cultural walls and boundaries and is capable of penetrating the hardest hearts. Only God can give the gift of faith to believe in Jesus for salvation. Only God can open the minds and hearts of people in order to understand the message.

In Matthew 16, Jesus asked his disciples: “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” The disciples indicated that many people thought he was John the Baptist, or Elijah, or Jeremiah, or some other prophet. Jesus got more pointed with his question: “Who do you say I am?” Peter answered: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon (Peter) son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.”

Note that they first admitted that some people were wrong in their thinking that Jesus could have been a man born of a sexual union between a father and mother, like John the Baptist who was born to Zechariah and Elizabeth. They also mentioned that people wrongly assumed he was just another prophet, or a great teacher.

All of these were wrong. They got it right when they said that Jesus was the Son of the living God, the Messiah. This claim is exclusive to historical, biblical Christianity. Anything that suggests otherwise is heretical and blasphemous.

Again, replacing “God the Father” with Allah only muddles the truth and either confuses Muslims, or perhaps frustrates them as even they know that Allah is not the same as the God of the Bible.

Islam will only recognize Jesus as a prophet, but not the Son of God--meaning He is God. Wycliffe is in danger of high treason if they choose to keep this translation in their rollout of this version. The stakes are greater than a simple translation. The stakes here threaten a real understanding of Jesus’ divinity, something the Muslims reject and something that the new Wycliffe Bible will be rejecting, should they persist.

A petition has been circulating the internet to keep “Father” and “Son” in the Bible, so that Jesus’ deity is not lost and so that Muslims will not be able to accuse Christians of tampering with the Bible in order to make it more palatable to the Islam religion. The link for this petition can be found here:

Jesus’ deity is what makes or breaks Christianity. Let’s not undo the efforts of the gospel writers who wrote such lengthy accounts of who Jesus was, so that people would know it. Like in Mark 15:39:

“When the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”


A few days ago, on February 7th, Wycliffe posted an update on their website regarding the “Son of God” controversy:

“Wycliffe USA is grateful to all those who have expressed their questions and concerns regarding reports that we have been removing “Father” and “Son” from certain Bible translations, particularly in Muslim cultures. Wycliffe USA is absolutely committed to translating the divine familial terms (Father, Son, and Son of God) clearly and accurately. The eternal deity of Jesus Christ and the understanding of Jesus’ relationship with God the Father must be preserved in every translation.

"While we have never intentionally sponsored a translation that neglects to properly communicate the divine familial terms, some observers have raised concerns about whether our methodology has consistently met our goal. We are listening to those concerns and are seeking God’s guidance as we re-evaluate our methodology and investigate to ensure that our commitment to accurate and clear translation is being reflected in every project. We are engaged in meaningful conversations with partner organizations, constituents, and church leaders to evaluate our standards, and expect to be prepared to issue a more complete statement soon. Thank you for your patience and prayer as we seek to fulfill our mission to make God’s Word accessible to all people.”

I am hopeful that they will correct the errors that are evident in certain passages of this new translation and I hope that you will join me in praying for a change of heart on their part. What may have started as a noble effort to evangelize the Muslim communities has turned into an effort that is relying more on man than on the power of God and His sovereignty in salvation to comprehend and respond in faith to the Gospel.

“…so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power” (1 Cor. 2:5).

In His Sovereign Grip,