Bible translations that avoid the phrase “Son of God” are helping to convert Muslims to Christianity. But the translation has some missionaries and scholars dismayed:
These and many other Muslims live in places where Bible translations have been available in their languages for decades, even for more than a century. So why the sudden surge of interest in Scripture? Some translators attribute the response to the new Bible versions that use religious vocabulary familiar to Muslims. And that’s precisely the problem, according to other translators and missionaries who work among Muslims.
They charge their colleagues with compromise that undermines belief in Jesus Christ as the pre-existent, only begotten Son of God. Both sides eagerly long to take the Good News to the nations and make it discernable to Muslims in their heart languages. Both respect Muslims; neither wants to alter Jesus’ message. Yet a dispute over the most faithful and effective way to render the common biblical phrase “Son of God” is dividing missionary from missionary, scholar from scholar, in a time of evident mistrust between Western Christians and Muslims.It also underscores how few Christians in the West themselves understand this common biblical title for Jesus.
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Muslims so commonly misunderstand the phrase “Son of God” that many evangelists and missionaries refrain from using it. Bible translators, however, cannot avoid it. They must make a decision about how to render the phrase in a way that faithfully reflects the original Greek or Hebrew text and also makes sense to readers. And this phrase is anything but clear to Muslim readers. The Qur’an explicitly states that God could not have a son. In Arabic, the word ibn (“son of”) carries biological connotations. Muslims reject the possibility that God could have produced a son through sexual relations with Mary. Christians confess that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. But this distinction is lost on many Muslims who lack the theological context for understanding nuanced Christian teaching on the Trinity.
The problem, however, far surpasses a theological argument between Muslims and Christians. In fact, the Qur’an (At-Tawba 9:30) says God curses anyone who would utter the ridiculous blasphemy that Jesus could be ibnullâh (“a son of God”). Not only do Muslims disagree with Christians about the identity and nature of Jesus, they also incur a curse for even mentioning the phrase “Son of God.”
Is this a legitimate linguistic compromise to avoid a missional stumbling block?
(Via: Justin Taylor)