Warthogs at Wycliffe

13 comments Written on March 21st, 2012 by
Categories: Alumni, General

"Watch out for warthog holes!"  I wasn't sure what my friend meant as we drove across the savannah in Sudan, but I quickly found out. Warthog burrows are often hidden in the tall grass and as one of the wheels on my vehicle found it, I was suddenly at a dead stop with one wheel up to its axle in the ground and my journey had changed. Sometimes we could power ourselves out of the hole. Other times the hole was so big and deep, it took help from others to be extracted.

Watching War and Persecution

As missionaries with Wycliffe Bible Translators, Lynda and I have run into our share of warthog holes...some real and others metaphorical. Working in Sudan for 21 years, seventeen of which were during the civil war, we ran into all sorts of sudden life-changing events. Having to evacuate multiple times due to war, losing dear friends to lawlessness, and watching believers persecuted for their faith were a few of these journey-changing events. They were definitely unpleasant at the time.

We left Africa to work in Wycliffe's office in Orlando, but the warthog holes followed us!  At Wycliffe we are currently experiencing  a significant one right now. There are individuals in the American Church whom are questioning Wycliffe's commitment to Trinitarian doctrine due to a controversy over how terms like "Son of God" and "Father" are translated in a few language communities. With nearly 80 years of faithfulness, I would never have thought Wycliffe's evangelical orthodoxy would come into question. We're committed to the doctrine of the Trinity, the deity of Christ, and to translating the Word accurately and clearly so that others can know Jesus for who He is. This is a warthog hole we never saw coming and is too big to climb out alone.

Trinitarian Doctrine Controversy

Wycliffe is asking an independent panel of experts (theologians, Biblical Scholars, missiologists, translators, and linguists) from around the world to evaluate our translation practices in regard to translating these terms. We've committed to allow their decisions to guide our future translation work. We have put on hold any printing or distribution of Scripture for any of the languages touched by this controversy until this is resolved.

It's a really big warthog hole…and it took us by surprise. But it did not surprise the Lord. We believe that He has good things in store for Wycliffe as a result of this, even though at the moment it is very unpleasant.  We translate for His Glory and to make His name famous among the language communities of the world. We want to make sure our translation work is accurate and clear, so we welcome the opportunity to have this evaluated by the Church. After all, the great commission, of which Bible translation is a part, was given to the Church, not to Wycliffe. So warthog holes can be really good things—unplesantly good.

About the Author:

Russ (B.A. '78) and Lynda ('72) Hersman and their children (Pam, Erik and Amy) are all Multnomah University alumni. They joined Wycliffe Bible Translators in 1976. After 21 years in Africa, they live in Orlando, Florida now where Russ is the Senior Vice President at Wycliffe.

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13 comments “Warthogs at Wycliffe”

Thank you for the Africa illustrations, Mr. Hersman.
It is always a good exercise in dependency when help is needed. As a churchman I appreciated your comment “We want to make sure our translation work is accurate and clear, so we welcome the opportunity to have this evaluated by the Church. After all, the great commission, of which Bible translation is a part, was given to the Church, not to Wycliffe.”
Since the global church is composed of multiple people and multiple perspectives, I wonder if you are going to deliberately include representatives of the global church who “kind of forced the Wycliffe 4 x 4 ” into the warthog hole?
Another question, if I may. “Accurate and clear” seem to be words that are used a lot. They seem kind of disarming, but I wonder if you could tell me what they mean to a translator who has a philosophy of translation that leans very strongly to the end user as determining what is accurate and clear?
Oh, I found this neat quote by Nigel Turner. I am sure you know it. I am very curious how you would square this quote with the close to blasphemous and ‘new idiom’ stuff that I have read in the SIL influenced “True Meaning of the Gospel”?

“The Church today is concerned about communicating with the contemporary world and especially about the need to speak in a new idiom. The language of the Church had better be the language of the NT. To proclaim the Gospel with new terminology is hazardous when much of the message and valuable overtones that are implicit in the NT might be lost forever” From Nigel Turner, Christian Words (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1981), p. viii
.

Mr. Hersman:
Individuals who are opposed to Wycliffe’s translation practice in Muslim contexts, which removes “Son,” “Son of God” and “Father” from the Trinity are not just from the American church. They are not only from the global church but also are native speakers, Muslim background believers (MBBs), pastors, missiologists, linguists, Bible translators, and current and former Wycliffe employees. They are not just questioning Wycliffe’s commitment to faithfulness in Bible translation but they have evidence in print that shows an injustice Wycliffe has done to God’s Word. You told World Magazine in October 2011 of the 200 Wycliffe’s projects in Muslim contexts, 30-40 translations omit “Father” and “Son.” You have not answered, even when you had numerous opportunities, what these translations are. Remember, Biblical Missiology Society’s petition, Lost In Translation: Keep “Father” & “Son” in the Bible, only lists a handful of languages. Unless, Wycliffe answers this question and many others, Wycliffe’s self-dug warthog holes will continue to waste its resources that should have otherwise been serving worthy causes. What is the point of a review of Wycliffe leadership cannot even admit involvement in these mistranslations? Why can’t you answer questions?

Greetings once again. I forgot to include an African proverb I once heard.
“When in the village of the one-eyed men be sure to cover your right eye.”
In this village every one-eyed man is convinced that he sees both accurately and clearly and will poke out of the extra eye of the two eyed person who challenges them. Clearly it will take an outside source to demonstrate that their vision is impaired because of the lack of stereoscopic vision.
The Bible is the “outside source” that tells us what is accurate and clear. This is a theological truth before a linguistic one. If God decides that Paul should use a long sentence in the first chapter of Ephesians, then a long sentence is accurate. If God decides that he calls himself Father, then the word is clear.
Please, for the integrity of the Word, use Biblical constructs to decide what is “accurate and clear.” I realize that this could be a hard pill to swallow in an organization that prides itself on its linguistic prowess.
Recall, getting out of a warthog hole requires one to swallow their pride at times
Shalom.

Dear Russ,

With all due respect, the “few language communities” in which Wycliffe has produced or advised Muslim-idiom translations include Arabic (452 million speakers) and Turkish (51 million speakers). That represents an enormous portion of the Muslim world — the single largest block of unreached peoples worldwide.

Moreover, in the October World Magazine article you admitted that Wycliffe had produced some 30-40 translations that employed “alternate renderings” of divine familial terms — all of these in Muslim contexts. How many people speak these languages? I think it is safe to say that “a few language communities” can very quickly morph into a very large percentage of the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims.

Moreover, why would you be surprised that Wycliffe’s 80 years of faithfulness and evangelical orthodoxy is not an adequate safeguard to error? What is 80 years? I grew up in New England in the theologically liberal (and unashamedly so) United Church of Christ (UCC) — a church which traces is heritage to none other than Jonathan Edwards.

Ironically, the true theological liberals which led the National Council of Churches — of which UCC was and is still part — also produced the Revised Standard Version of the Bible. God used the RSV to help me see my need for Him. Their theology and interpretation was terrible — but these theological liberals still produced a basically reliable translation. My hat is off to them.

Russ, your Sabeel Media subsidiary is still promoting the Al Kalima site, which markets the Arabic Gospels and Acts, otherwise known as “True Meaning of the Gospel of Christ” advised by SIL (“Leith Gray”) but produced and funded by Frontiers. You are well aware of the dynamics of this translation, in which every instance of “Father” in relation to God is removed and replaced, generally with three alternate words (God, Lord, or guardian/protector) and in which “Son” and “Son of God” is redefined by paratext and footnote — and in which Christ’s Sonship is described as “metaphorical” in the companion commentary notes.

In fact, the reasoning behind this translation can be seen here, in this 2008 Mission Frontiers article by the SIL advisor to this project, Leith Gray:

http://www.missionfrontiers.org/pdfs/30-6-the-missing-father.pdf

The tragedy is that the 600 Frontiers donors who invested more than $214,000 to produce this translation were never told of these changes. They never knew. I never knew — and I was the Frontiers fundraising director who promoted and endorsed this project. “Leith Gray” felt free to explain and promote his thinking in the academic press — no such courtesy was extended to Frontiers’ donors.

This is not transparent.

David Harriman

You should not be surprised that One might reasonably conclude that these a very substantial portion

Dear Russ,

With all due respect, the “few language communities” in which Wycliffe has produced or advised Muslim-idiom translations include Arabic (452 million speakers) and Turkish (51 million speakers). That represents an enormous portion of the Muslim world — the single largest block of unreached peoples worldwide.

Moreover, in the October World Magazine article you admitted that Wycliffe had produced some 30-40 translations that employed “alternate renderings” of divine familial terms — all of these in Muslim contexts. How many people speak these languages? I think it is safe to say that “a few language communities” can very quickly morph into a very large percentage — perhaps a majority — of the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims.

Moreover, why would you be surprised that Wycliffe’s 80 years of faithfulness and evangelical orthodoxy is not an adequate safeguard to error? What is 80 years? I grew up in New England in the theologically liberal (and unashamedly so) United Church of Christ (UCC) — a church which traces is heritage to none other than Jonathan Edwards.

Ironically, the true theological liberals which led the National Council of Churches — of which UCC was and is still part — also produced the Revised Standard Version of the Bible. God used the RSV to help me see my need for Him. Their theology and interpretation was terrible — but these theological liberals still produced a basically reliable translation. My hat is off to them.

Russ, your Sabeel Media subsidiary is still promoting the Al Kalima site, which markets the Arabic Gospels and Acts, otherwise known as “True Meaning of the Gospel of Christ” advised by SIL (“Leith Gray”) but produced and funded by Frontiers. You are well aware of the dynamics of this translation, in which every instance of “Father” in relation to God is removed and replaced, generally with three alternate words (God, Lord, or guardian/protector) and in which “Son” and “Son of God” is redefined by paratext and footnote — and in which Christ’s Sonship is described as “metaphorical” in the companion commentary notes.

In fact, the reasoning behind this translation can be seen in a 2008 Mission Frontiers article titled “The Missing Father” by the SIL advisor to this project, “Leith Gray.” (I will not include the link here, as the presence of a link may require moderator approval, but the article can be found by a simple internet search.)

The tragedy is that the 600 Frontiers donors who invested more than $214,000 to produce this translation were never told of these changes. They never knew. I never knew — and I was Frontiers’ fundraising director. “Leith Gray” explained his reasoning to the missions community in the Mission Frontiers article, but no such courtesy was extended to Frontiers’ donors. This is not Wycliffe’s fault of course, but it does highlight the cloak of secrecy — and very real controversy — which surrounds these projects.

Your subsidiaries are still promoting and distributing translations which do not meet even your own revised standards. Equally important, these translations beg the deeper question of “why?” — especially as native speakers of Arabic and Turkish reject your basic rationale for this approach.

David Harriman

Thank you Russ for the wart hog description. My wife and I also found ourselves with all four wheels stuck in wart hog holes on our way to a part of the world whose language I speak and that I grew up in. We were excited to be a part of your 80 years of faithful ministry in getting the Bible into the mother tongue languages of those that do not have it. The wart hog holes that stopped us dead in our tracks were not from the outside. They were from within SIL and Wycliffe. We, as new members of a team to a very difficult country, were required to read a book by Carl Medearis. That led to very direct questions about theology, missiology and resulting Muslim Idiom Translations being done by Wycliffe and SIL (ironically in several languages that already have Bibles). As a result of the unbending defense of this missiology and the requirement of members in that part of the world to support such a shift in theology and resulting translations my wife and I resigned. It is not “individuals in the American church whom are questioning Wycliffe’s commitment to Trinitarian doctrine due to a controversy over how terms like “Son of God” and “Father” are translated ” as you say above, it is mother tongue believers in the very countries and languages Wycliffe is mistranslating God’s word, who are questioning Wycliffe’s work. Please listen to them.
David Irvine

Good Job, Russ. This Warthog hole reminds me of the only KJV movement around the late 70″s. God is faithful and he will see us through the whole thing. You are doing a super job. We try to view, listen and read whatever we can regarding this subject. Keep up the good work!

Gentlemen,

I hope you will not mind a response to all of you at one time since I know you are all acquainted with each other.

Thank you for your passion and concern.

There’s another African proverb that I believe is also relevant to this discussion, “When you want to go fast, go alone. When you want to go far, go together.” That’s is precisely why we are looking forward to this global review of these translation practices. Our desire is that the work of Bible translation will continue to go far, that is to everyone of the roughly 2000 language groups who this day still do not have a word of Scripture in their language. And yes, we want it to be accurate and clear, which is precisely why we are submitting ourselves to this independent, external evaluation.

I know you all have seen the Wycliffe USA February 15th statement, but I will put in the link for the benefit of any others who are interested:

http://www.wycliffe.org/SonofGod.aspx

We are grateful that this review will be led and controlled by others and that it will include a balanced, broad spectrum of the global evangelical church, including believers from Muslim backgrounds and those who we already know hold a different translation position than Wycliffe.

Thank you for your prayers as this goes forward. We hope that as early as next week to be able to update the public with additional details about the review.

For His glory!

Well spoken!

It’s neat how God uses our efforts to help build His church around the world. The seed of God’s Word changes lives. Multnomah helped us have a Biblical foundation and basic knowledge of Greek. SIL / Wycliffe helped us have the tools for language work and translation. Our national coworkers helped us understand and write their language in a culturally appropriate way. Consultants reviewed and affirmed our work. We helped with the Longuda NT in Nigeria (1971-77) and the Duruma NT in Kenya (1987-92, final NT 2000 with help of others). The national translators whom we trained are now working on the Old Testament for their people.

Two communities / “nations” impacted for eternity. Changed and transformed lives a testimony to God’s saving grace in Jesus Christ to Muslim and traditional members of these groups.

To God be the Glory! Great things He has done, is doing and will do! Join the fun and adventure! John (G-1973 part time) and Bonnie (G- 1968) Wycliffe retired

Well spoken Russ in your original article!!! :) John and Bonnie Newman Wycliffe retired

Russ, jambo bwana! Hey, i was trying to figure who the guy in the photo was until i saw your name! (no more red hair!) Me? A voice from the past: SIL 1983-87… please send your email address. “Whoever is without sin, let them throw the first stone.” – Cary

Hello to Russ and Lynda!

This is Trish – remember me? Lynda’s roommate from freshman year at Multnomah long, long ago!

I am sorry we lost touch. I’ve been married now 35 years with 5 children and 10 grandkids. God is good. It was great to read your article and you both look well!

Take care,
Trish