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 Muslims.
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 neighbors. 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?
Muslims make up 95% of the Arabic speaking world and yet most Bible translations in Arabic have been translated by Christians for members of the traditional Christian community. 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 Muslims 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 Muslim 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 when the Greeks described word-for-word translation as metaphrasis and thought-for-thought translation as paraphrasis. In ancient times the Jews 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 and revised many times before publication.
Why are there so many articles?
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 the Son of God). They are written by scholars, Christian clergy and experts in various fields.
Does this translation use words from the Qur’an?
Words that are found in the Qur’an or Islamic tradition can be found in all Arabic Bible translations. It would probably be impossible to translate the Bible into Arabic if one avoided such words. Unfortunately, in many cases the terms used in Arabic translations of the Bible do not accurately give biblical meanings to most modern readers. Here are some examples. When these translations use the Arabic term rasuul or “sent one,” it is a correct representation of the form of the Greek apostolos (“apostle”), but it is normally understood by most Arab 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 Muslim 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. 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 familial terms?
The Bible uses familial terms to describe relationships that are not only biological. This can be confusing for readers who are accustomed to using familial terms as primarily biological, and not in reference 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 divine familial relations 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 narrowly sexual. For this reason, the first edition 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 Jesus 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 plans to revise the translation to make it more regular and concordant with the Greek, in order to provide transparency and clarity about which Arabic terms represent which Greek ones. In addition, the articles and footnotes will be revised to incorporate recent recommendations. This will be done with the input of consultants and scholars, following the Best Practices guidelines that Bible translation organizations have developed.
While the explanatory articles are based on current evangelical scholarship, the committee plans to completely review them, and is open to input in revising them to ensure complete accuracy and confidence of users.
How is the term “Son of God” translated?
The “True Meaning” uses the traditional term for “Son of God”. Many readers new to the Bible misunderstand this traditional translation of the Greek as indicating that God had sexual relations with Mary. Therefore, in the True Meaning the traditional term is followed by an explanatory term in parentheses (“Loved One of God”) to indicate close social familial relations, helping readers to see that this does not indicate biological procreation from God.
The True Meaning also has several articles and footnotes on this important subject.
How is the term “the Son” translated?
The committee chose in the first edition to avoid using the traditional Arabic term for “the Son” because it does not accurately give the sense of the Greek term. The term ho huios was usually translated with an explanatory term “the Loved One” or “the Loved One of God”. In some contexts it is understood by scholars to be a contraction for the fuller title “Son of Man” and was translated in this way. In the first edition “his Christ” was used to translate ho huios in Matthew 28:19, based on the Trinitarian reference to baptism in 1 Corinthians 6:11. The same Trinitarian formula is found in Romans 15:16, Romans 15:30, 2 Corinthians 3:3, 2 Corinthians 13:13, Hebrews 9:14, 1 Peter 3:18, and 1 John 4:2.
In the second edition, this term will be translated to distinctively and consistently reflect the underlying Greek terminology. There will also be clear indication of the traditional term for readers. Matthew 28:19 will be translated using the traditional rendering along with an explanation, following the model of Acts 13:33 in the first edition.
How is the term “Father” translated?
The traditional term ab, even though often translated into English simply as “father,” is understood in Arabic to mean “biological father”. This is a problem for Arab 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 Muslims 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.
The first edition of The True Meaning uses various terms to express the meaning of the Greek word Pater. The second edition will feature a consistent translation of the Greek Pater using paternal terms, with an indication of the traditional word used to translate the Greek.
The True Meaning also has an article explaining divine familial language that especially relates to God as Father, titled “The Relationship of Jesus to God”.
How do readers react to this translation?
The True Meaning has been well-received by Muslims throughout the Arab world and by many Arab and Western Christians as well. 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 Islamic 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 Muslim 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.