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The Living Word for the Arab World
What Partners Say
What Partners Say
What Partners Say From the first word in this volume to the last, I was gradually overcome with joy, and after each page my astonishment increased and my heart and emotions were filled with amazement.
What Partners Say

Questions and Answers about
“The True Meaning of the Gospel of Christ”

Who started this translation project?

This project was started by Mazhar Mallouhi, a Syrian Arab novelist and writer widely read in the Middle East. Mallouhi seeks to bridge the chasm of misunderstanding between Muslims and Christians through his novels and practical theology by demonstrating how Christ can bridge the gap between the two communities. Building on the common Middle Eastern heritage the Christian faith shares with Islam, Mallouhi’s work illustrates the importance of removing Western cultural and religious trappings associated with Christ in the minds of most Arabs.

Mallouhi is the subject of Paul-Gordon Chandler’s book Pilgrims of Christ on the Muslim Road: Exploring a New Path Between Two Faiths, of which writer Philip Yancey writes: “I consider this an important book. What a life Mazhar Mallouhi has lived! He stands in an almost singular position as a bridge between two worlds which, alas, seem to be separated by an ever-increasing divide.”

Who is on the translation team?

The translation team for ‘The True Meaning of the Gospel of Christ’, a new translation into Standard Arabic, is made up of Muslim followers of Christ and Christians who love the culture and language of their Muslim neighbours. Two of the Christians are clergymen, and one of the others is also seminary-trained. Several Muslim scholars were invited to work on the contents of the volume alongside the committee, as is made clear on the cover of the volume and in the introduction.

The first volume, containing the Gospels and Acts, was published in Beirut in March 2008 under the title The True Meaning of the Gospel of Christ (المعنى الصحيح لإنجيل المسيح). It was published by Al-Kalima and printed by the Dar al-Farabi publishing house, featuring the translation of the text in modern literary Arabic, accompanied by footnotes providing cultural background information essential to understanding the text. There is also a collection of 26 articles on related topics of particular interest to Arab readers, as well as introductions to each of the Gospels and Acts, illustrations and maps.

Why another translation of the Bible into Arabic?

Most Bible translations in Arabic have been translated by Christians for members of the traditional Christian community, but these translations are almost incomprehensible for those not familiar with church traditions and language. Most of these translations are wooden and laden with ancient church terminology, much of which is borrowed from non-Arabic languages and is not understood by Arabic speakers. Based on a survey of ordinary readers done by the editorial team, it was found that existing Arabic Bible translations do not communicate well, and in many cases miscommunicate the intended meaning.

The goal of the project was a translation of the gospel message that would speak clearly and naturally to the hearts of Arabic speakers unfamiliar with church terminology and traditions.

Is the translation directly translated from the Greek?

Yes, the Greek text of the New Testament was the direct basis of the translation. The translation team also referred to Bible translations in Arabic and other languages, scholarly commentaries, and other exegetical references.

What kind of translation is this?

The title of this translation in Arabic clearly communicates to readers that it is a meaning-based translation instead of a word-for-word translation. Not only does the title communicate this well to Arab readers, but the introduction to the volume also points out this essential feature of the translation.

The distinction between word-for-word translation (‘formal equivalence’) and thought-for-thought translation (‘dynamic equivalence’) has been made since ancient times. Greek and Roman translators noted that one can translate meaning for meaning or word-for-word, but not both; they observed that one cannot preserve meaning in a word-for-word translation, which they called a metaphrase. Jewish scholars followed the practice of thought-for-thought translation in producing the Targums, which were a rendering of the Hebrew Old Testament Scriptures into Aramaic. In more recent times many English Bible translations follow the practice of translating thought-for-thought, such as the Today’s English Version, the Contemporary English Version, and the New Living Translation, among others.

Actually, no translation is ever able to be completely word-for-word, and most thought-for-thought translations at least sometimes lean more to a ‘formal equivalence’ in certain passages. The article on ‘Translation’ in Wikipedia notes in this regard: “Strictly speaking, the concept of metaphrase — of ‘word-for-word translation’ — is an imperfect concept, because a given word in a given language often carries more than one meaning; and because a similar given meaning may often be represented in a given language by more than one word.”

Both word-for-word and thought-for-thought translations are important because they meet different needs of readers of the Bible. The True Meaning is intended primarily for Arabic speakers with little to no knowledge of the Bible, so a thought-for-thought approach is appropriate for them, just as such an approach is good at communicating Scripture to any people who lack familiarity with its concepts and vocabulary.

What process did the translation team follow?

1) Surveys were conducted among 1000 Arabic speakers in North Africa and the Middle East.
2) Arabic Speakers Workshop. The survey results were analyzed at a workshop of native Arabic speakers. Participants identified words and concepts that were not understood in existing translations and proposed solutions.
3) Draft Translation. The translation team composed initial drafts.
4) Review and revision. The drafts were reviewed by team members, and then circulated for extensive community testing with readers in several countries representing the intended audience. Their feedback helped the translation team to revise the translation in several stages before publication.

Why is there so much explanatory material at the front of the book?

Al-Kalima’s previous works in this series have demonstrated the importance of including explanatory articles in the same volume as the biblical text. Articles allow the reader to explore biblical topics and concepts in depth. Articles also help the reader to understand important background information that is too lengthy to include in a footnote. The articles accompanying the present translation explain or develop particularly challenging concepts, such as the inspiration of Scripture, the nature of Christ, and the titles of Christ (such as ‘Son of God’). They are written by scholars, Christian clergy and experts in various fields.

Does this translation use words from the Qur’an?

This is a translation of the Bible into Arabic, which is the language in which the Qur’an is written, so of course it uses many of the same Arabic words. All Arabic Bible translations use many of the same words that are found in the Qur’an, but this translation avoids archaic words that are no longer in use or no longer have the required biblical meaning, whether those words are in the Qur’an or in other Bible translations.

The translation avoids any words or phrases that convey the wrong meaning. For example, the Arabic term rasuul or ‘sent one’ is a correct representation of the form of the Greek apostolos (‘apostle’), but it is normally understood by most Muslim readers to mean a prophet. Rasuul is the preferred title of Muhammad among Muslims. The traditional translation for the Holy Spirit, al-ruh al-qudus, is understood by most Arab readers to be the name for the angel Gabriel. Another term, kaahin, used to refer to a Jewish priest, has the sense of ‘soothsayer’ in the Qur’an, but in popular understanding it means ‘sorcerer’.

These examples illustrate how important it is to use comprehension testing in order to determine exactly what is being communicated to the intended audience. This can be done by asking readers to paraphrase what they have understood from the text they have just read or heard. By doing this, the translation team can see whether the text has been accurate and effective in communicating the meaning of the inspired Greek and Hebrew texts. Such testing is essential in any Bible translation project, whatever the intended audience. We must know how a normal speaker of the language would understand the words we have used in that context.

How does it deal with common misunderstandings of Father and Son terms?

The Bible uses familial terms (father, son, sons, children) to describe relationships that are not merely biological. This can be confusing for Arab readers who are accustomed to using certain familial terms as primarily biological, and do not use these terms to refer to a relationship with God. Therefore, the True Meaning translation uses a variety of tools to communicate the biblical meaning of these terms.

The committee felt it was critically important to explain traditional terms used for Father and Son in order to help both the audience and Christians who are accustomed to using them, and to explain that the intended sense was social and relational, not sexual or biological reproduction. For this reason, the first edition of the Gospels and Acts had extensive articles and glossary entries explaining the meaning of the inspired text. Among the articles dealing with this subject are “The Meaning of Son of God’”, “The Incarnation of the Word of God” (a summary of St. Anselm’s Cur Deus Homo), and “The Relationship of Christ to God”. Readers, both Christian and Muslim, have found these articles and the footnotes and glossary to be very helpful in overcoming misunderstandings of biblical teaching.

In May 2011, the editorial committee for The True Meaning translation recognized that in light of insights gained from work on the New Testament epistles, as well as feedback from users of the translation, it was necessary to revise the Gospels and Acts volume. The committee revised the translation with the input of professional Bible translation consultants and scholars to make it more regular and concordant with the Greek. Articles and footnotes were also revised to incorporate recent recommendations. These revised terms (i.e. for ‘Son’ and ‘Father’) were positively assessed at the inaugural meetings of the Divine Familial Terms Oversight Group appointed by the World Evangelical Alliance, held in Oxford, England, on 19-20 December 2014, and are used in all our audio, digital and print publications.

How is the term ‘Son of God’ translated?

The second edition of The True Meaning uses the expression al-ibn ar-ruuhi lillah (the spiritual Son of God). The expression is concordant to the Greek term throughout the New Testament. The rendering breaks up the taboo and misunderstood term ibn allah, and uses an adjective to help readers to see that this does not indicate biological procreation from God. Audience testing and feedback indicates that the term communicates biblical meaning well.

How is the term ‘the Son’ translated?

In most contexts this is rendered al-ibn ar-ruuhi (the spiritual Son). Normally at the first occurrence in a biblical context, it is necessary to say the full expression ‘the spiritual Son of God’ or ‘His spiritual Son’. Afterwards the referent is clear and the expression ‘the spiritual Son’ can be used.

How is the term ‘Father’ translated?

The traditional term ab, even though normally translated into English simply as ‘father’, is understood in Arabic to mean ‘biological father’. This is a problem for some readers when they read that Joseph, the husband of Mary, is called Jesus’ ‘biological father’, and so they assume that this means that Jesus was not born of a virgin. The problem is made worse when this word is applied to the relationship between Jesus and the Father, or believers and the Father. It is understood as a terrible insult to God, and misses the meaning intended in the Scriptures of a close relationship like that between a father and his son. While many Arab readers are attracted to a relationship with God characterized by paternal intimacy, love, and care, they are also repelled by terms that would communicate a narrowly sexual meaning.

So for ‘Father’, the True Meaning uses the traditional familial term al-ab, ‘the Father’, with an appended adjective, As-Samad, ‘the Eternal’ or Ar-Rahman, ‘the Compassionate’, or the related term Ar-Raheem. There are 13 verses in the True Meaning that use the term Walî (custodial parent/guardian) as the only non-concordant renderings of the Greek term patēr. These passages in Greek refer to both God and others, and deliberately play on the broad sense of patēr. The Arabic term Walî is a term employed in Arab society for human parents, as well as for God.

The True Meaning also has two articles explaining biblical language that especially relates to God as Father, titled “The Relationship of Jesus to God” and “On Spiritual Fatherhood”.

How do readers react to this translation?

The True Meaning has been well-received by readers throughout the Arab world, both Christian and Muslim. The late director of the Bible Society of Lebanon said that he read the volume all through the night, weeping with joy over the fulfilment of a dream he had had for years. He said that the True Meaning is what the Arab world needs today, and that it was marked by creativity, the best thing that he had laid hands on in all his years as director of the Bible Society. The main translator of the Arabic Living New Testament wrote, “This text is clear, flowing and expressive, communicating the Biblical meaning with accuracy and elegance, and with clarity, simplicity and depth. It is academic research and literary elegance that are rarely joined, which you find here mingled in one book.” And there are many testimonies from ordinary readers who have been gripped by this translation of the Word of God in understandable language.

The translation committee welcomes constructive input from users of the volume. Submit feedback.