How the meaning of 'Father' and 'Son' has led to a split among Bible translators in America

Bible translators are split over how to translate key words.Wycliffe Bible Translators

Organisations devoted to translating the Bible into new languages have split over how far they should adapt translations to local conditions.

US-based Wycliffe Associates, originally set up to support Wycliffe Bible Translators but now a separate body, has announced it is leaving the Wycliffe Global Alliance (WGA), the international network of translation bodies.

Its president Bruce Smith said it was committed to supporting "only Bible translations that use literal common language for Father and Son of God" and that "The Wycliffe Global Alliance includes Bible translation agencies that do not include Father and Son of God in some translations of the Scriptures." 

In a later press release it removed this allegation, which was denied by WGA.  

The controversy refers to a small number of translations in which other words for "Father" and "Son" were used to refer to God and Jesus as a way of making them more accessible to readers who would assume the words implied a sexual relationship between God and Mary.

An internet petition against Wycliffe Global Alliance ensued and WGA invited the World Evangelical Alliance to appoint a panel to assess its translation criteria. The panel said that while a literal translation of the word 'son' might not be appropriate or possible, the concept of sonship had to be included. WGA now has a system of protocols in place ensuring that potentially questionable translation terms are referred to the WEA.

Wycliffe Associates also said it was committed to providing resources to its church partners to further accelerate the work of Bible translation and supports local church authority for translation quality. Last year it launched what it claimed was a new system for Bible translation, Mobilized Assistance Supporting Translation (MAST), which relied heavily on the local church to provide bilingual translators. It claimed half the New Testament could be translated in only two weeks, a huge advance on traditional methods in which translations could take years.

However, a peer-reviewed assessment team from the Maclella Foundation observed a MAST programme in Ethiopia, information that was posted on WGA's website. The report found serious failings with the programme and said that "the rate of progress and the quality achieved clearly do not substantiate the widely publicized claims made for the accelerated rate of translation that can be achieved through the MAST methodology".

WGA said that Wycliffe Associates had been in discussions regarding "deepening relationships and changing structures" and that its leadership was encouraged by their progress. However, it said, Wycliffe Associates "decided to end affiliation with the Alliance and made their decision public before informing us. Their publically stated reasons for leaving were not among the issues under consideration.

"Translation that faithfully communicates the meaning of Scripture has always been and continues to be a foundational principle for all of the more than 100 organizations that are part of the Wycliffe Global Alliance."