by Vern Poythress
Mar. 1, 2012
Several people have contacted me, independent of one another, to point out that my name is being cited in various blogs, emails, and discussions having to do with Bible translations in Muslim contexts. These citations go back to two articles:1
In 2005, “Bible Translation and Contextualization: Theory and Practice in Bangladesh,” available at <http://www.frame-poythress.org/poythress_articles/2005Bible.htm> (accessed Feb. 23, 2012).
In 2011, “Bible Translations for Muslim Readers,” available at <http://www.frame-poythress.org/poythress_articles/2011Bible.htm> (accessed Feb. 23, 2012).
The second article is a response to Collin Hansen’s article, “The Son and the Crescent,” printed in Christianity Today,2 in which I endeavor to clarify the implications of my article in 2005.
In view of the continuation of controversies, I am having doubts as to whether my articles–which were intended to be a help–are in fact helping. So let me clarify my intentions.
In 2005, I criticized translations that remove language for sonship in translating “Son” (Greek huios) in the New Testament. Language that explicitly indicates a sonship relation between Jesus and God the Father needs to be present in translations, both for accuracy and for the spiritual health of the church. The same goes for translating the word “Father” (Greek pater). The Father-Son relation is an important aspect of Trinitarian teaching, which needs to be communicated clearly in translation. As a framework for translation, we need to recognize that human relationships between human fathers and sons are analogous to theoriginal Trinitarian relationship. The Trinitarian relationship between the Father and the Son is foundational, rather than being, as some people allege, merely a culture-bound projection from human relationships.
I do not know details about particular languages or cultural situations, either in Bangladesh or in other countries where there may be translation difficulties. Nor do I know first-hand about the details in Bible translations that actually exist in the languages in question. How we may best preserve both accuracy and understandability in translation has to be determined by those with more knowledge than I concerning the languages in question. But it is worth emphasizing that, in all these endeavors, translators need to submit completely to Scripture, which is the word of God and therefore carries divine authority.
I am particularly distressed when I hear that people with first-hand knowledge of the languages and cultures disagree with one another over the value or danger of various Christian oral and written materials that are presently in circulation. These materials may include translations, paraphrases, or other representations of the biblical message. One of my concerns in my 2005 article was to encourage dialogue and consultation among those with first-hand knowledge, and to advise exercising care, so that we produce materials that adequately represent the full truth of the Bible and the Christian faith, and at the same time avoid dissension and division in the body of Christ.
Therefore, I apologize for any failings in my own writings that have hindered rather than helped, and I pray that those with better knowledge may be able to come together on these matters.
Vern S. Poythress
1 In addition, Dr. Rick Brown asked for my input on articles that he and his colleagues wrote: Rick Brown, Leith Gray, and Andrea Gray, “Translating Familial Biblical Terms: An Overview of the Issue,” International Journal of Frontier Missions 28/3 (April-June, 2011), <http://www.missionfrontiers.org/blog/post/translating-familial-biblical-terms> (accessed Feb. 23, 2012); and Rick Brown, Leith Gray, and Andrea Gray, “The Terms of Translation: A New Look at Translating Familial Biblical Terms,” International Journal of Frontier Missions 28/3 (April-June, 2011) <http://www.ijfm.org/PDFs_IJFM/28_3_PDFs/IJFM_28_3-BrownGrayGray-NewLook.pdf> (accessed Feb. 23, 2012). Quite properly, the articles courteously express thanks for my input, but my input was limited by my lack of direct knowledge concerning many of the linguistic details about particular languages that the articles discuss. Those limitations of mine are precisely what lead to this present statement.
2 Christianity Today (February, 2011), <http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2011/february/soncrescent.html> (accessed Mar. 1, 2012).