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The battle for accurate Bible translation in Asia

"The battle for accurate Bible translation in Asia" Continued...

Issue: "Medical care circus," Feb. 25, 2012

As a Sunni Muslim himself, Bocek also found the phrase "Son of God" offensive: "I could not accept Jesus being the Son of God or God being the Father or the deity of Christ. ... Basically God just worked in my heart." Bocek grew up in Istanbul and the Turkish national television had one channel and showed one movie a week, he said. One day it showed Ben Hur, which depicts Jesus' crucifixion. That began his search for answers about Jesus. He eventually found an international church and spent months studying the Bible from beginning to end, until he had "nothing else left" but to accept faith.

Bocek, trained in linguistics at a Turkish university, then studied at Westminster Seminary California, graduating in 1998 and returning to Turkey to plant a church in 2001 with his wife. During the process of translating Matthew, a Frontiers missionary consulted with Bocek about the book. Bocek said he objected to the alterations to the familial terms, but that wasn't the only problem with the translation: He said the Turkish was unnatural and contained grammatical errors. A Turkish translation of the Bible exists already, but the Frontiers translators explained to supporters that they needed another translation to reach conservative Muslims.

"There is no cause for anyone to be alarmed by the accuracy of this translation," said Blincoe, the Frontiers director. He said the petition against the Turkish Matthew amounts to "slander" and is "like yelling, 'Fire!' in a theater." The petition "has been a great disservice to the peace and unity of the church," he said. He emphasized that the Turkish-Greek translation on the left-hand page preserves the literal terms for Son of God and God the Father. When I said that Turkish speakers say the translation on the right-hand page alters those familial terms, he responded, "You and I don't know what the paraphrase says."

But then Blincoe said the translation team doesn't have plans to translate the other books of the New Testament, so I asked why not if he thought this was an important tactic to reach unreached people. He said that was simply what workers in the field had told him: "Let's give it a chance to do its work." In an email he added, "The team believes that if Turks do not take ownership, the project will just fade away, as the teacher Gamaliel commented about human efforts in Acts 5."

Blincoe said Frontiers has contacted a number of local pastors in the last few weeks and urged them to read the translation for the first time (implying that critics hadn't read it). He said many approve. Bocek countered that many Turkish pastors have read the translation, and still disapprove. He and the other Protestant pastors he knows oppose it-not just Reformed pastors like himself, but also those at "extreme charismatic" churches. "They're not listening," he said about the missions agencies: "They come with theories and they leave with theories. ... We are going to be the ones who are going to be sweeping up all their mistakes."

Thomas Cosmades, a Turkish Christian who translated the New Testament into Turkish from the original Greek, mailed a letter to Frontiers at the end of 2007 after he saw a copy of the Turkish Matthew. (Several hundred were printed before the official publication in 2011). Cosmades died in 2010, at age 86, just after he published a new edition of his New Testament. In his letter he wrote that he was "highly disquieted" by the paraphrased Matthew and proceeded to analyze the debatable phrases in detail.

"This translation is not seeking to emphasize the value of the incarnation," he wrote. "Should the trend continue, who knows where it will lead the coming generation? If Athanasius of old would have encountered such departure from biblical Christology he would have placed these redactors far below the Arians." He continued: "Undoubtedly the people who are working hard on this paraphrase have given much of their valuable time, probably meaning well. I wish I had a positive word concerning their efforts, but I regret that this is not the case. In this paraphrase the stakes are high; the pitfalls dismal."

Blincoe couldn't answer whether the translation had been changed in response to Cosmades' critiques before its official publication in 2011, but Bocek said, "The kinds of words [Cosmades] said they're using, it's still there." Cosmades' wife Lila also signed the petition condemning the translation of Matthew.

Everyone interviewed who was critical of the translation said they believe a small minority of individuals in these mission agencies is pushing these translations in Turkey and other countries, and most missionaries are faithful to the Bible. "Missionaries give their lives for us," said Samuel Naaman, a Pakistani believer who now teaches at Moody Bible Institute: "You're hearing from a person who came to Christ through the power of missionaries' prayers for 18 years. I was discipled and trained by the missionaries."

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