The battle for accurate Bible translation in Asia

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

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

Naaman said "contextualizing" the gospel for the local culture is fine: "Christ himself came to us, and was born as a human. ... He is the founder and the basis of contextualization." He is nevertheless worried about the consequences of contextualized translations for the church in Pakistan: "Many of the pastors don't even know that this curse is being imposed on us. ... Then they will have to face the repercussions."

The Pakistan church at large may not know about the debate, but the Pakistan Bible Society (PBS) does. After 20 years of work together, the Bible society and SIL are parting ways over the issue, which is a blow to SIL because now it must operate without the imprimatur of the premier local publisher. SIL said in a statement that the decision not to work together on one project was mutual, the result of "translation style differences," not just the debate on divine familial terms.

But the general secretary of the Pakistan Bible Society, Anthony Lamuel, wrote in a letter on Jan. 26 that the issue of altering terms for target audiences was central in the decision, and added that such translations have resulted in the "water downing" of Christian concepts: "We the Pakistan Bible Society will not promote experiments with the translation at the cost of hurting the church."

A woman working on another translation project in Central Asia, who asked for anonymity for the sake of her work, said the debate on the "Son of God" issue in her translation team has deadlocked their project and stirred confusion among local believers who don't have a Bible in their own language as a reference: "It has eroded their faith in the authority of the Word of God and in us as foreigners who are supposed to be the 'teachers' but can't seem to agree on some basic truths of who Christ said he was. ... Sadly it raises doubts and endless discussion, wasting a lot of time."

Anwar Hussain, the head of the Bangladesh Bible Society, has been at the forefront of efforts in his country the last few years to repel Bible translations from various groups that change divine familial terms. Hussain grew up Muslim, and when he professed Christ as a young man, his family cut ties with him. Edward Ayub, another Christian of Muslim background, is the moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Bangladesh and-alongside Hussain-has vigorously opposed the translations. "I want to die for the Bible," not a misleading translation, Ayub said. "The harm they are doing now for the church will be long-lasting."

Back in Turkey, Bocek recalled meeting a young Muslim who was in school in Izmir, and who planned to train for jihad. He offered the young man a Bible, and the man took it, saying he would prove "the Bible is a corrupt book." The young man read through the whole Bible and met with Bocek regularly to talk about it over the course of almost a year. "He started saying he saw the real corruption," Bocek said. "He realized his heart was corrupt." When the man became a Christian, his parents sought to kill him, and the church had to hide him for two years. "These are the kinds of things that happen," Bocek said, "when they say there's no fruit."

(Editor's note: The article has been corrected to reflect new details concerning the three Christians who were murdered in Malatya, Turkey, in 2007. Early reports of the murders included other details and those reports have been repeated since, but individuals who saw the bodies confirmed to WORLD that those early reports were inaccurate.)

Emily Belz
Emily Belz

Emily, who has covered everything from political infighting to pet salons for The Indianapolis Star, The Hill, and the New York Daily News, reports for WORLD Magazine from New York City. Follow Emily on Twitter @emlybelz.


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