Last year we raised the issue some translators in Isalmic contexts have faced in deciding how to translate the divine familial terms.
The World Evangelical Alliance convened an independent panel to consider the issue. The panel has just completed their report, which you can download from their webpage.
If you’re interested, it’s worth checking out the whole report. I’ll quote here its first three recommendations (in depth rationales for these are given in the report):
- The WEA Panel (hereafter referred to as “Panel”) recommends that when the words for “father” and “son” refer to God the Father and to the Son of God, these words always be translated with the most directly equivalent familial words within the given linguistic and cultural context of the recipients. In the case of languages that have multiple words for “father” and “son,” translators should choose the most suitable words in light of the semantics of the target language. (This recommendation pertains to the SIL Best Practices statement 0.6, 1.5.1, 1.5.2, 3.2.)
- The Panel recognizes that there is significant potential for misunderstanding of the words for “father” and “son” when applied to God, and that in languages shaped by Islamic cultures, the potential is especially acute and the misunderstandings likely to prove especially harmful to the reader’s comprehension of the gospel. Therefore, in case of difficulties, the Panel recommends that translators consider the addition of qualifying words and/or phrases (explanatory adjectives, relative clauses, prepositional phrases, or similar modifiers) to the directly-translated words for “father” and “son,” in order to avoid misunderstanding. For example, as the biblical context allows, the word for “father” might be rendered with the equivalent of “heavenly Father” when referring to God, and the word for “son” might be rendered with the equivalent of “divine Son,” “eternal Son,” or “heavenly Son” when referring to Jesus. The Panel also encouragestranslators to use paratextual material to clarify and avoid misunderstanding in these cases. (This recommendation pertains to the SIL Best Practices statement 1.5.4, 3.2.)
- The Panel recognizes that the phrase for “Son of God” has varied nuances in its different New Testament contexts, especially in light of the Old Testament background to those contexts. In the case of most languages, the biblical context should enable the reader to discern the nuances of the phrase for “Son of God,” and translators need not make adjustments to the translated text, although they may want to indicate nuances of meaning in paratextual material. But, when and if necessary, the Panel recommends that translators convey nuances of meaning from the biblical context in the translation through the addition of qualifying words and/or phrases (explanatory adjectives, relative clauses, or prepositional phrases). For example, the phrase for “Son of God” in a context of Messianic kingship might be rendered with the equivalent of “anointed Son of God” or “royal Son of God.” (This recommendation pertains to the SIL Best Practices statement 0.4, 0.7, 1.1, 1.5.4, 3.2.)
SIL Executive Director Freddy Boswell also explained how this will impact SIL translations.