Translating the Trinity for Muslims by Sarah Yardney

Translating the Trinity for Muslims by Sarah Yardney.

Islamophobia continues to haunt the Christian religious scene in the US.

This time the debate is around Wycliffe’s decision to use dynamic equivalent solutions for the translation of the biblical terms ‘Father’ and ‘Son’ in certain Islamic contexts.

The Biblical Missiology website accuses Wycliffe that they have done that in order to avoid ‘offending Muslims, which makes us wonder if the core commitment of the group called ‘Biblical Missiology’ is to adamantly offend Muslims. I have no idea how is this compatible with biblical thinking, but it seems that for this group the end justifies the means.

Sarah Yardney argues, correctly I think, as follows:

First, the claim that the Wycliffe translations fail to represent the Trinity is somewhat disingenuous. The Christian doctrine of the Trinity, which states that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one and the same God, does not appear in the Bible. Although inspired by biblical texts (most importantly Matt 28:19 and 2 Cor 13:14), the doctrine did not take the form familiar to modern Christians until the Council of Constantinople in 381. Strictly speaking, therefore, a translation of the Bible can neither represent nor fail to represent the Trinity because the Trinity is not in the Bible. It is a concept that developed later.

Second, it is problematic that the whole debate, at least at the public level, is taking place in English. Biblical Missiology charges that instead of “Father” and “Son,” Wycliffe is using terms like “Guardian” and “Representative.” Clearly in English “Father” and “Guardian” are not synonymous, nor are “Son” and “Representative,” but that is irrelevant. What matters is whether the terms Wycliffe has used in its translations are good equivalents for the Greek pater and huios, not whether Wycliffe’s terms would be rendered into English in the same way the Greek is. A conversation about Wycliffe’s translational choices cannot happen responsibly using only English equivalents; it requires precise discussion about the meanings of the Greek terms and the meanings of the terms in the target languages. Otherwise we simply do not know what we are talking about.

* * *

If anybody wonders who is behind the Biblical Missiology website, HERE is the list of some leaders.

To be fair, I am not impressed in any way of the academic credentials of the people listed there, nor of the (mostly fundamentalist) track record of organisations represented. They are like dwarfs in comparison to Wycliffe.

This slandering campaign seems to me a desperate attempt to gain media attention on the back of Wycliffe.


Author: DanutM

Anglican theologian. Former Director for Faith and Development Middle East and Eastern Europe Region of World Vision International

3 thoughts on “Translating the Trinity for Muslims by Sarah Yardney”

  1. I agree that a meaningful debate cannot take place using only English equivalents; it requires both Hebrew and Greek and a decent exegesis as a minimum requirement for every serious investigator.
    For example, Isaiah 63:7-11. Knowing Hebrew is a MUST in order to separate the tree distinctive Entities from this pericope.


    1. Indeed, but this is, it seems, irrelevant, for the ideological and mainly marketing-driven actions of this group. Typical American, I would say. I mean, a classic example of American capitalist version of Christianity.


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