Where is Wycliffe Headed?

More than a year ago, a visitor to Walk with the Word noticed that one of the organizations we encourage Christians to financially support was Wycliffe Bible Translators. They wanted to know how we could support an organization which was purposely mistranslating the Scriptures for Muslim people groups so as not to offend them. Those of us directly connected to Walk with the Word not only have had tangible involvement in missions organizations, but long-time personal friends and ministry contacts at Wycliffe. Truthfully, we rejected this assertion out of hand and politely rebuked the submitter for making an accusation without providing tangible evidence to support it. To our dismay, we were then provided a host of documents and presentations which sort of politely rebuked us right back. As it turned out, not only had members of Wycliffe/SIL published mistranslated Scripture so as not to offend Muslim-centric people groups when it comes to the issue of Jesus “the Son of God” and “God the Father”, but there were executives actually advertising this “advancement” as part of their recruiting presentations to enlist new translators to the ranks. Since then we have become aware of a host of websites, blogs and online forums all devoted to this issue.

To be fair, the issues at this time seem to be limited to people associated with the UK arm of SIL. In other words, it does not appear that everything and everyone is corrupted or even aware of what has taken place. When first contacted, our friends at Wycliffe USA dismissed it outright, testifying not only that they knew of no translator who would be tolerated within their ranks if they did these unthinkable things, but that it was such an obvious violation of both their own written guidelines and the more than eighty years of strictly adhering to them by every translator they ever knew or heard of. But after sending them the materials provided to us, and engaging in their own internal discussions, they were surprised to learn that there did, indeed, appear to be a problem within other branches across the Atlantic. At that time we were informed that Wycliffe leadership was taking a very hard look at what was going on. What we expected was a purging and repudiation of both the individuals and the materials published contrary to Wycliffe’s guidelines and history; instead, what has just occurred is even more disturbing.

In what appears to be a general letter to past and present donors dated May 20, 2012 from Bob Creson, President of Wycliffe Bible Translators USA, one of the introductory statements to what will follow is:

“Translating accurately from one language to a dramatically different one is hard, even when the subject matter is common, everyday activities. But translating accurately about deep spiritual truths is much harder.”

This introductory statement, in our view, testifies to a much deeper spiritual compromise that is taking hold at Wycliffe. The main issue, as will be highlighted later in the letter, is whether it is acceptable to NOT literally translate “God the Father” and “God the Son” into materials which will be distributed to countries and people groups with substantial Muslim populations. If it was just a matter of “translating accurately”, there is no issue! Simply translate the original text as is! But we can see from this statement an obvious compromise with the truth when he re-casts the issue as, “But translating accurately about deep spiritual truths is much harder”. When “translation” become confused with “interpretation”, much less cultural compromise, we would offer you are not a Bible “translator” anymore.

“You may have heard in recent media reports that Wycliffe Bible Translators and our strategic partner organization SIL, are wrestling with the translation of words that refer to the relationship between God the Father and God the Son, particularly in some languages in Muslim contexts. The discussion has been going on for years, but it has recently become more public…we remain deeply committed to the accurate translation of Scripture, the Holy Word of God.”

This is deeply disturbing because the representations made to us up to this point in past communications with Wycliffe was that this issue “suddenly” came to Wycliffe USA’s attention over just the past year or so, but now the President of the organization admits that private discussions of the problem have been “going on for years”. He seems more concerned that it is now in the public eye than the more disturbing fact that they have even entertained such notions privately for years!

In case you do not know, the problem is not actually about “guidelines” at this point, but the fact that members of SIL have actually published and distributed materials which ALREADY completely violate their hitherto published “standards” on this issue. In other words, in our opinion, Bible “translators” have materially mishandled the Word of God and instead of correcting the error, leadership seems to have chosen a path to “discuss” accommodating something in direct violation of their own standards, something that has the potential to institutionalize and and wholly incorporate the error, not stand against it. What hope is there of recalling the heresy that has already been published if they are pursuing a path to legitimize it? What kind of “wrestling” can there be when it comes “to the relationship between God the Father and God the Son” for ANY language or people group, much less “particularly…in Muslim context”?

But here is the real kicker:

“That’s why, after extensive research and discussion of translation standards for phrases like ‘Son of God’ and ‘God the Father’, we reached out to the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) and asked them, on behalf of the worldwide Church, to help us determine the best policies and principles to follow for translating these key terms.

“The WEA is convening an independent panel of experts to consider the issue. Last week they announced that Dr. Robert E. Cooley, president emeritus of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, will serve as chairman and assemble the rest of the panel…This panel will review current translation practices in light of sound theology to set guidelines for acceptable translation of these key terms. We have agreed to abide by their decisions.”

We could write a book on the number of things wrong, again in our opinion, in these two paragraphs, beginning with the irony that a Bible translation organization is apparently incapable of rightly dividing the Word of God for itself, an 80-year old organization apparently cannot stick to its own founding principles, or the even more alarming thought process of allowing the WEA as the final authority “on behalf of the worldwide Church”. The President of Wycliffe does not know the answer which nearly every rank-and-file translator in his organization instinctively and scripturally knows? He cannot adhere to the founding principles of his own organization?

We have seen so many denominations, ministries and prominent individuals fall from seemingly unshakable faithful commitments to God’s Word and His Kingdom to sometimes precarious if not outright apostate resting places, but this is still quite shocking whenever it occurs. We continue to believe that there are many good and faithful members of Wycliffe working in the trenches who are unaware of the full extent of these things, but it is apparent that the corruption is not limited to the UK side of things as originally presented, and that there is a problem at the very top of the organization which will eventually permeate the whole. What will the “good” people in the rank-and-file of Wycliffe do when/if the WEA and company render a decision which violates the foundational principles on which Wycliffe was founded and has operated by these past 80 years? What will they do when what they signed on for no longer exists?

I am reminded of Jacob Prasch’s teaching about the two pots in Scripture. In the case of Elisha’s pot in 2 Kings 4, the problem was that the stew within the pot was poisonous and Elisha threw in the grain to neutralize the poison. It is a metaphor of the harmful effects of false doctrine (the poison) and the remedy of correction with the true teaching of the Word (the grain). It is in alignment with the teaching of the leaven of sin and false teaching which can work its way through the whole even though it is introduced in such a small amount. What is in an otherwise good container can be rescued.

But then there is Ezekiel’s pot in Ezekiel 24. No matter what is put into the stew, the poison cannot be removed because the problem is that the pot itself has become permanently corrupt. No matter how good and pure something is when it is placed into the pot, the deterioration of the pot is so far gone that it becomes the source of the poison for everything placed into it.

The question is whether the pot is still fit so that the stew within it can be rescued, or if the corruption has attained to the pot itself and the opportunity for correction has passed.

If the President of Wycliffe led the effort to purge the individuals responsible, recalled the materials already published and pledged to halt their further spread, and made the commitment to hold his organization responsible to the biblical principles by which it has historically operated, we would be inclined to look toward the metaphor of Elisha’s pot. But when it turns out that it has not only been tolerated privately for far longer than represented, and instead of standing up for their own principles they seek an outside opinion to justify what appears to be their hiding behind a course which is being actively pursued already, it is not difficult to wonder if they are already acting in the character of Ezekiel’s pot.

As with all things in the Last Days, we have arrived at a time when everything has to be judged on an individual basis. Most financial assistance to Wycliffe is raised through its individual members. It is very likely that you may be supporting someone you personally know at Wycliffe, someone whom through their progress reports and personal contact you know to be carrying out the work of the Lord dutifully and faithfully. They need our prayer and support more than ever, because like the faithful who once belonged to other godly organizations, movements or denominations which no longer are, they will be faced with the dilemma of whether to stay and fight or leave and continue elsewhere.

Where is Wycliffe headed?

In Him,

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