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01 May 2013

WEA issue Bible translation recommendations

WEA issue Bible translation recommendations

In March last year, in light of a Bible translation controversy, Wycliffe and SIL International approached the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) to independently review best practice in the translation of "God the Father" and the "Son of God".

These terms, known as 'divine familial' terms were the subject of keen debate when it was alleged that the two organisations had changed words describing God and Jesus to make them more Muslim-friendly.

The review panel have issued a 33-page report with 10 recommendations for improving SIL International's practices for translating these terms. Made up of 12 diverse scholars, it was chaired by Dr. Robert E. Cooley. They divided into three working groups for specific study: biblical theology, cross-cultural communication, and reader reception processes, meeting in Canada and then Turkey. Their mandate was to review translation practices, setting boundaries for theologically-acceptable translation, particularly in Muslim contexts.

At the time of the controversy, Bob Creson, president and CEO of Wycliffe, explained: "We are partnering with the Church. As some legitimate critics from the evangelical church have come forward, we want to honour that. We feel like it is the right thing to do to take a pause."

For the duration of the review Wycliffe decided not to publish the translations concerned and committed to following the wisdom and guidance that the review would produce.

The recommendations include guidelines on when to use the familial terms, suggesting that, if there is potential for misunderstandings, qualifying or additional words or nuances might be considered such as "heavenly father".

WEA challenges Wycliffe and SIL to seek to engage other mission agencies in the global missiological issues raised by the report's recommendations and consider how to better publicly disclose translation decisions and considerations.

"The WEA agreed to facilitate this independent review because of the vital importance of Bible translation," said Dr Geoff Tunnicliffe, secretary general of the WEA. "We pray that the outcomes of the review will contribute to many people hearing and understanding the Bible's trinitarian message of deliverance, in their heart language."

Wycliffe Bible Translators, the UK's biggest Bible translation organisation, works with partners worldwide to ensure that every community around the world has access to a Bible in a language that they can fully understand. In a statement issued yesterday they said they are profoundly grateful for the hard work and commitment of the WEA's independent panel.

"We, as Wycliffe in the UK, offer our full support to SIL through this process, as well as committing to ensure that these recommendations are implemented in full. Bible translation is a major priority of world mission and the responsibility of the worldwide Church. We are delighted and humbled to have received input to this process from such an esteemed panel of scholars representing so many nations. We believe that the peoples of the world will be well served through the panel's recommendations.

"It is our ambition to be clearer in our communication, while still maintaining the safety of our colleagues who work in sensitive contexts. We are asking our partners, supporters and all those concerned to see God's word available in every language to pray with us and for us during the weeks to come."

The WEA's statement and final report

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