An Analysis of the Paraphrased New Testament by FRONTIERS
By Thomas Cosmades
In the last forty years the Holy Spirit has been fulfilling his sovereign design and objective in ancient Asia Minor – present-day Turkey. For the first time in the history of Turkey and the Turkish people, several thousand men and women have been converted from Islam, fellowships have been established in many areas of the country and Turks have become undershepherds of their flocks. There is much cause for rejoicing and thanksgiving for what God has been doing for the witness of his dear Son and the extension of his kingdom in the hearts of Turkish people.
On the other hand, the New Testament, God’s inspired account of the life of Christ, his teachings and miracles is under subtle and distressing onslaught. About a year ago the so-called ‘Jehovah’s Witnesses’ (Russelites) produced their own version of the New Testament which was steered by their generally known touch-ups of their common doctrine. One of their many hazardous flings was the arbitrary introduction of the name ‘Yahweh’ in the New Testament, rendered for the word ‘Kyrios’. Other usages of ‘Kyrios’ which in their thinking don’t deserve to be translated as ‘Yahweh’ are rendered as ‘Efendi’, meaning ‘Master’. There is a worthwhile critique in Turkish of this translation by Sarkis Pashaian, who is very knowledgeable of the doctrine of the mentioned group.
Such as this insolent deviation were not enough, there is a more disturbing paraphrase being worked on at this time. The goal of the former was to bring out a New Testament version bound to their doctrinally peculiar stance. Very likely, you are familiar with the classical altercation by the devotees of Islam that the Christian Scriptures have been abrogated.
A group in Turkey associated with a society called ‘Frontiers’ have been enthusiastically involved in paraphrasing a Turkish New Testament with Islamic intonation. This attempt is already stirring wide controversy and audible alarm among young Turkish pastors, ordinary believers and most of the missionaries. I was informed that this venturesome pursuit has its advocates in some circles. The argument for this new trend is that certain elements and phrases in the New Testament are offensive to Muslims. Therefore, the reasoning goes, it ought to be rendered in such a way as to present it in friendly modulation. Some designations in the New Testament are being jettisoned in favor of non-offensive and more acceptable terminology. Among these are the appellations ‘Father’, ‘Son’, ‘Son of God’, ‘Lord’ for ‘Jesus’, ‘Church’, ‘baptism’, and reaching all people in the world with the message of Christ.
A copy of the paraphrased Matthew came into my hands a few days ago. The sender, a Turkish pastor, asked me to study it and express my opinion. After going through this disputable text I was highly disquieted. I wrestled with my own soul about whether I should add my critique as a person who knows the Turks, as well as the Turkish and Greek languages. Actually, I translated the New Testament from the original Greek into Turkish a number of years ago which I have now revised and it is about to be reprinted. I am a person on whom God’s Word and historic Christian theology have a firm hold. Therefore, by the aid of the Holy Spirit I am inclined to formulate this letter for which I feel there is a call. I am approaching my eighty-fourth birthday, God permitting. I thank him for his bestowment of a sound mind and clear speech at this stage of my life. I am still preaching, writing and counseling, with the Lord’s help and mercy.
The contextualized paraphrase of the New Testament which pursues the goal of making it friendly to Muslims is a lamentable and hazardous wager. The harm to be caused by it will far outweigh any argued benefit. You certainly won’t wish to have a verse-by-verse, even chapter-by-chapter critical analysis of this new text and the abundance of its explanatory footnotes. I shall briefly refer to a few of the astounding deviations of the renditions in Matthew, of which the main consideration is to be Muslim-friendly and make it acceptable to them. In these alarming times political Islam has forced the whole world to keep step with its own agenda. It is deplorable to see its influence reach even to the inspired Christian text of the New Testament which was circulating six centuries prior to the appearance of this religion now in vogue. According to what I hear, the representatives of Frontiers have employed Muslims to produce this paraphrased Turkish version. I won’t hesitate to say that the aim of such people is not to promote the message and uniqueness of Christ, but to serve the line of their own religion. The group involved in this paraphrased translation is seeking suitable ways to appeal to the feelings of their targeted audience.
The name given to Matthew’s gospel is no longer the Evangelium of Matthew, but ‘Sura’ of Matthew. The one hundred fourteen divisions of the Quran are called ‘Suras’. The meaning of ‘Sura’ in Arabic is image, form, shape, countenance, face. ‘Surat’ in Turkish derives from the same root. I draw your attention to the concept of the Quran with its Suras according to the Islamic view. Their belief is that the Quran is eternally existent and all Suras are an image of what always existed. One can logically ask, how can such a view be reconciled with the word Evangelium (Good News)? To call the twenty-seven books of the New Testament Suras is a total misnomer. According to Islamic teaching, the New Testament has been ‘abrogated’. Now, as if to prove their point, we are changing the designation of Evangelium to Sura. There are very extensive explanations at the bottom of each page of the text, which are beyond the concept of mere footnotes.
As one starts reading the genealogy according to Matthew, he will not fail to recognize that the names have been Islamized. Jesus Christ is constantly referred to in the explanations as ‘Prophet Jesus’ or ‘Hazreti Isa’ i.e., ‘the venerable Jesus’. ‘Son of God’ is dropped entirely in favor of ‘Vekil’, i.e., ‘representative’. The word ‘Son’ is rendered as ‘son’ when it has to do with Abrahamic or Davidic lineage. In the footnote explanation referring to Matthew 1:22-23 support is brought from Sura Ali-Imran (The Cow, S. 2) which verse says that the venerable Jesus was created ‘as Adam was’. This is a blatant offense to proper Christology and the doctrine of the Incarnation. Many of the footnotes are mere exegeses to the liking of the compilers. The footnotes under 3:17 and 10:23 seek to justify the removal of ‘the Son’ on one hand and ‘Son of man’ on the other. ‘God the Father’ becomes ‘Mevla’, a Sufi mystic Arabic word which is sometimes used for Allah. It means ‘owner’. Among other definitions denoted by ‘Mevla’ is ‘liberated slave’. One wonders how the redactors have reached this substitute for ‘Father’. I am borrowing a word (redactor) which in the past was used to describe scholars who attempted to classify the texts of the Old Testament.
In the plethora of footnotes unimaginable gimmicks are employed to give the impression that all these explanations are requisite to support the paraphrase of the text. Moreover, an abundance of Quranic verses are incorporated to explain areas in which the Muslim mind entertains doubt. In the thinking of the redactors the footnotes will help to clarify the text of the New Testament apologetically. It seems that the objective is a wide readership and not to preserve the genuineness and reliability of the original text.
The footnote explanations are presented apologetically when a certain item in Matthew seems to need a particular description. Bending over backwards to appease Islamic opposition is obvious throughout the many footnotes. In the explanation on the footnote under 14:33, the redactors go on to define that the Father-Son relationship is not a physical one, with the vociferation: God forbid! Then they proceed to explain that the appellation ‘God’s Son’ is referring to the Ruler-Messiah selected by Allah. After this comes the earth-shaking definition: “In this translation we found it suitable to use the word ‘Vekil’ (representative) rather than ‘Oğul’ (son).” The definition continues by adding that “according to the Jews, the term ‘God’s Son’ means the ruler whom God loves and it is equivalent to ‘Messiah’”. No Hebraic reference to this explanation is offered. Another parody is the rendition which explains ‘the Son of man’. This is translated throughout as ‘Insanoğlunun Efendisi’, i.e., the Master of the Son of man. This is a totally unintelligible and artificial rendition which will not make sense to any Turk.
A reference ought to be made to the very important name, ‘Kyrios’. Like the JW arrangement, Jesus Christ is referred to as ‘Efendi’, i.e. ‘Master’. The appellation ‘Rab’ (Lord) is used only for God as in 1:20, 24; 4:7, 10; 5:33; 9:38; 11:25; 22:37, 45; 27:10; 28:2. In two places the word ‘Kyrios’ is rendered as ‘Allah’; 1:22 and 21:9. In one place, as ’Hojam’ (my teacher) 8:21, and the rest as ‘Efendi’ which noun is used whether it refers to Jesus Christ or to an ordinary person.
The whole paraphrase is replete with Arabic words, many of which will not be understood or make much sense to the modern Turkish reader. One of the most unacceptable renditions is found in Matthew 16:18, where Christ addresses Peter: “You are Peter and I will build my ‘umma’ (community) on this rock.” Unbelievably, the word ‘ekklesia’ is done away with in favor of the strictly Islamic term ‘umma’. In 18:17 ‘ekklesia’ is translated as ‘jemaat’. The reader of this analysis knows that ‘umma’ in Islam has to do exclusively with the community of its devotees. The second usage of ‘ekklesia’ translated as ‘jemaat’ means ‘congregation’. To replace ‘ekklesia’ with these two words, especially ‘umma’, is a gross violation of the concept of the doctrine of ecclesiology. In 11:27 the authoritative and compelling words of Christ have been altered to a hodge-podge collection of disconnected words and names. In 26:2, ‘Passah’ has been re-shaped into ‘Kurban Bayramı’. Most readers of this analysis are well aware of the concept of this Muslim ritual. Can anyone suggest that there is even a remote resemblance between ‘Kurban Bayramı’ and the true meaning of ‘Passah’? An issue of less importance is the use of the word ‘sema’ for heaven. This is a word for the visible sky. The word for heaven is ‘gökler’.
The paraphrased translation employs the word ‘mushrik’ for ‘ethnikos’. Compare 6:7; 18:17. As for the Greek word ‘ethnos’ this is rendered with a multitude of words: ‘yabancı’, ‘kavim’, ‘Yahudiler dışında’, ‘Yahudi olmayan’, ‘milletler’, ‘uluslar’, ‘halk’, etc. Likewise, this translation employs the word ‘kâfir’ for ‘poniros’, cf. 5:45; 13:49; and several other places. The word ‘kâfir’ means ‘blasphemer’. In Islam’s belief, people who deny the strict oneness of Allah are ‘kâfir’. Its connotation is ‘küfr’, which means blasphemy. As is in the case of ‘mushrik’, the word ‘poniros’ is also rendered variously. Everywhere in the Quran ‘shirk’ and ‘mushrik’ are used for those whose creed is considered contrary to the rigid oneness of Allah. The following piece of information will be of help: “But the unbelievers among the people of the Book, and among the Polytheists, shall go into the fire of Gehenna to abide there for aye. Of all creatures, are they the worst!” (El-Beyinne : 6). The title in English of the mentioned Sura is ‘Clear Evidence’. It is a known fact that according to Islam those who believe in the triune godhead throughout history are mentioned as ‘kâfir’ (blasphemous, or infidel). Tathlis is the most terrifying sin. All sins can be forgiven, but from the Islamic viewpoint, attributing any partner (Shirk, Ishrak) to Allah or making someone equal to him can never be forgiven.”
The designations used for Jesus Christ are tainted with Islamic language which serves the purpose of satisfying their concept of him. By this the name of Christ is denigrated. This venture will only supply fuel to Muslims to go on arguing about the abrogation of the İncil. It is utterly disturbing to hear that the same venture is already in progress in Indonesia, about which line of policy an article appeared in the pages of the October 2007 issue of the Evangelical Missions Quarterly. This translation is not seeking to emphasize the value of the Incarnation. Should the trend continue, who knows where it will lead the coming generation? If Athanasius of old would have encountered such departure from Biblical Christology he would have placed these redactors far below the Arians.
It is evident that the focus of the redactors is to present an Arabicized-Islamized New Testament. Their goal is apparently to make this paraphrase a widely-accepted New Testament version with the aim of its circulation to surpass previous translations and I dare say including the production of the Bible printed by the Bible Society. Furthermore, and a very important point: This is not a faithful translation from the original Greek text. It is an accepted principle that any Greek word should be translated to bring out the shade or nuance of meaning for a particular passage. Conversely in this paraphrase, Greek words are arbitrarily and haphazardly translated, apparently to produce the meaning desired for a particular passage. I don’t know whether it is the lack of knowledge of the Greek and proper Christian theology, or deliberate departure from the original text which leads them to resort to this practice.
An alarming mistranslation is that of the awe-inspiring authoritative Great Commission, commanded by the Savior himself at the close of Matthew. The Great Commission is reduced to a jumble of meaningless language. The word ‘ethnos’ (nation) is done away with; the distinctively defined Holy Trinity has become a collection of puzzling sobriquet. Any logical person will laugh if not weep, at the change of the historic Biblical definition of baptism, which ordinance is a bold step of being identified with the Savior. In undermining of the value of Christ’s words (28:18-20), baptism is reduced to a passive form of ‘being washed’. It gives the impression that people are commanded to be washed in some manner. By whom he/she is to be washed and for what purpose is totally unclear. In this translation, ‘nations’ becomes ‘all people’ who are to undergo some sort of bathing.
Undoubtedly the people who are working hard on this paraphrase have given much of their valuable time, probably meaning well. I wish I had a positive word concerning their efforts, but I regret that this is not the case. In this paraphrase the stakes are high; the pitfalls dismal. At this point I must mention my deep worry of how they will approach the hard theological sections so intricately detailed in John’s Gospel, the epistles, and even in the book of Revelation. I am tempted to refer them to a word by the mighty prophet of the Old Testament, Jeremiah: “If you have raced with men on foot, and they have wearied you, how will you compete with horses? And if in a safe land you fall down, how will you do in the jungle of the Jordan?” (12:5).
Thomas Cosmades -- December 2007