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The Journal

of the International Society for

Frontier Missiology

Int’l Journal of Frontier Missiology

Scripture in Context
59 From the Editor’s Desk  Brad Gill
Context matters.

61 Articles
61 A Further Look at Translating “Son of God”  Michael LeFebvre and Basheer Abdulfadi
An irenic call for patience in the midst of swirling controversy.

75 Living Letters: The Arabic Script as a Redemptive Bridge in Reaching Muslims 

Murray Decker and Abdu Injiiru
Does “script” really affect Scripture impact?

83 Bible Translation and Small Languages in the Pacific: Ten Years Later  Karl J. Franklin
Are Bible translation ministries in need of a new paradigm?

91 Part I: Reconsidering Our Biblical Roots: Bible Interpretation, the Apostle Paul and Mission Today
  Larry W. Caldwell
Did Paul play fast and loose with the Old Testament?

102 Book Reviews

102 Searching for Heaven in a Real World: A Sociological Discussion of Conversion in the Arab World 104 The Necessity
of Field Research

106 In Others’ Words

106 Ethnê to Ethnê Global Network of Mission Structures

April–June 2012

The Ralph D. Winter Story

How One Man Dared to Shake Up World Missions
Legendary American missionary strategist Ralph D. Winter
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to train local Christians resulted in the powerfully effective
Theological Education by Extension movement (TEE).
The book shows how Winter grappled with the theological
meaning of the bone-marrow cancer that eventually killed both
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design” provoked new ways of thinking, fresh controversy, and
a unique initiative—the Roberta Winter Institute, which focuses on the wide open field of
disease eradication for the glory of God.
The Ralph D. Winter Story: How One Man Dared to Shake Up World Missions, published by William Carey
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Harold Fickett is a critically acclaimed author of novels, biographies, and works of spirituality, including
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Ralph Winter was one of the most important and creative mission thinkers of the late 20th century. He was also a fervent
supporter of the whole church taking the whole gospel to the whole world. This biography will be inspiring and challenging.
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Harold Fickett Our Price: $12.79
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Context Matters April–June 2012 Volume 29:2

ontext always complicates the culture-bridging journey of Scripture. Editor
Hopefully we’ve gotten smarter about it in our mission efforts Brad Gill
over the past twenty centuries. The emerging emphasis on orality, Editor-at-Large
Rory Clark
Scripture relevance, indigenous translators and the de-Westernization of
Consulting Editors
theology betray an increasing acuity. Each of these articles reflects some aspect Rick Brown, Gavriel Gefen, Herbert Hoefer,
of Scripture in context. Rebecca Lewis, H. L. Richard, Steve Saint
Graphic Design
The importance of context was crystal clear in a pair of dialogues that came Jennifer C. Swain
across my desk earlier this year.1 Both discussed the translation of familial terms Secretary
(“Father”/“Son”) among Muslim populations. As you probably know, this whole Karen Watney
debate surrounds a contextual problem: Muslims can be repulsed when Scripture Publisher
Bradley Gill, representing the student-level
uses familial terms that trigger connotations of divine sexual activity (see Brown meeting at Edinburgh 1980.
2011, 105-125).2 Whatever one’s opinion on terminology, this pair of articles 2012 ISFM Executive Committee
illustrated how linguistic contexts vary across the Muslim world. Greg Parsons, Brad Gill, Rory Clark,  
Darrell Dorr
The first dialogue from the Arabic context discussed a new term being
considered in the translation of “father.” It was not the usual term used by a Web Site
son for his father, and it seemed to fail the test of filial relation we expect for

this term in Scripture. It carried the idea of patriarch, provider, guardian and Editorial Correspondence
protector, and not an immediate sense of parental intimacy. But this debate 1605 E. Elizabeth Street
from the Arabic context sparked another discussion in the Indonesian context. Pasadena, CA 91104
(734) 765-0368,
Apparently there is a choice of three terms for “father” in Indonesian. Two of
these terms are used by children for their father, but the third term has more Subscriptions
the idea of a royal fatherly overseer (a little like the meaning of the Arabic One year (four issues) $18.00
Two years (eight issues) $34.00
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chosen for “father” in over 350 years of Indonesian Bible translation. Note that Single copies $4.00, multiple copies $3.00
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today by those who read the Indonesian Bible. IJFM
1605 E. Elizabeth Street
These still unpublished dialogues encourage at least three important Pasadena, CA 91104
perspectives on this matter of context. First, the context in contextualization Tel: (626) 398-2119
Fax: (626) 398-2337
requires that our missiology be more anthropological, not less.3 Any necessary
critique of older and insufficient social science concepts must not cause us
IJFM (ISSN #2161-3354) was established
Editorial continued on p. 60 in 1984 by the International Student
Leaders Coalition for Frontier Missions.
It is published quarterly.
The views expressed in IJFM are those of the various authors and not necessarily those COPYRIGHT ©2012 International Student
of the journal’s editors, the International Society for Frontier Missiology or the society’s Leaders Coalition for Frontier Missions.
executive committee.
60 From the Editor’s Desk, Who We Are

to retreat in theological reaction, the effective transmission of Scripture. from November 2012 appears in the
but provoke us to find better But there’s more that contributes book review and In Others’ Words
anthropology and better theology. to these prejudices than simply the sections of this April-June 2012 issue.
culture or worldview of a Muslim We apologize for any inconvenience
Secondly, any real missiological under-
people. Each Muslim context is loaded this may cause.
standing will demand more serious
with issues of power, religious identity
research in the actual context. In this In Him,
and geo-politics. With the pressures
issue, Greer speaks to the inferiority
of globalization, war and migration,
of our logical and “motivated reason-
Muslims are being forced to renegoti- Brad Gill
ing” when it fails to include voices
ate their identities or to express new Editor, IJFM
from the actual context (p. 104). My
religiosities in order to cope with deep
friend Dwight Baker said it succinctly:
insecurity. Katherine Kraft captures a Endnotes
“There’s a big difference between a These dialogues were lifted from a
lot of this dynamic in her new book on small forum called “Bridging the Divide,”
contextualization done FOR a people
conversion and identity among Arabs which is presently discussing issues of Mus-
and a contextualization done BY a lim contextualization.
(p. 102). It’s the context that can skew 2
people.” Field experience and anecdotal Rick Brown, L. Grey, and A. Grey.
how Muslims hear and understand the 2011. “A New Look at Translating Biblical
observations will not suffice where we Scriptures. [As a point of comparison, Familial Terms.” International Journal of
need disciplined and grounded research the selection of Hangul script did not
Frontier Missiology 28 (3):105f.
among unreached populations. Robert Priest makes this appeal for
carry a Buddhist or Confucian asso- new anthropological theory in the “After-
Thirdly, we need to analytically dis- ciation in the Korean context (p. 78) word” of Howell and Zehner (eds.), Power
and Identity in the Global Church (William
tinguish between an understanding of And these Muslim contextual factors Carey Library: Pasadena, CA, 2009), 185.
culture and context.4 This is especially also seem to disappear when you read 4
Ibid., 1-26.
crucial in handling Scripture in the Franklin’s article on the tribal lan-
Muslim world. The selection of ter- guages of the Pacific region (p. 83).]
minology (LeFebvre and Abdulfadi, Well, enjoy the reading. And know
p. 61) or the selection of orthography that we are quickening our pace of
(Dekker and Injiiru, p. 75) will deter- production in order to catch up in
mine whether Muslims “listen to” or early 2013. Because we are committed
“take in” Scripture. Deeply ingrained to providing you with fresh reading
historical prejudices could booby-trap (despite delays), some “future” material

The IJFM is published in the name of the International Student Leaders Coalition for Frontier Missions, a fellowship of younger leaders committed to
the purposes of the twin consultations of Edinburgh 1980: The World Consultation on Frontier Missions and the International Student Consultation
on Frontier Missions. As an expression of the ongoing concerns of Edinburgh 1980, the IJFM seeks to:

 promote intergenerational dialogue between senior and junior mission leaders;

 cultivate an international fraternity of thought in the development of frontier missiology;
 highlight the need to maintain, renew, and create mission agencies as vehicles for frontier missions;
 encourage multidimensional and interdisciplinary studies;
 foster spiritual devotion as well as intellectual growth; and
 advocate “A Church for Every People.”

Mission frontiers, like other frontiers, represent boundaries or barriers beyond which we must go yet beyond which we may not be able to see
clearly and boundaries which may even be disputed or denied. Their study involves the discovery and evaluation of the unknown or even the
reevaluation of the known. But unlike other frontiers, mission frontiers is a subject specifically concerned to explore and exposit areas and ideas and
insights related to the glorification of God in all the nations (peoples) of the world, “to open their eyes, to turn them from darkness to light and
from the power of Satan to God.” (Acts 26:18)

Subscribers and other readers of the IJFM (due to ongoing promotion) come from a wide variety of backgrounds. Mission professors, field mission-
aries, young adult mission mobilizers, college librarians, mission executives, and mission researchers all look to the IJFM for the latest thinking in
frontier missiology.

International Journal of Frontier Missiology

Scripture in Context
A Further Look at Translating “Son of God”
by Michael LeFebvre and Basheer Abdulfadi


controversy has emerged in recent years over the best way to
translate certain New Testament terms for Muslim cultures, terms
like “Son of God” for Jesus and “Father” for God.

Many Muslims believe that when Christians call Jesus the “Son of God” it
means that God physically (sexually) sired Jesus by Mary. Such an idea is so
repugnant to Muslims that when they encounter it in the Bible, some refuse
to read further! Christians of course vigorously deny this idea. Nevertheless,
this misunderstanding is widespread in Muslim societies.

Because of this and other concerns, some translators concluded that using
a word-for-word translation for “Son of God” and “Father” in Muslim
languages communicates a wrong meaning. In a series of articles from
2000 to 2007, Rick Brown documented alternate ways in which some
translators have avoided the connotations sometimes evoked by traditional
approaches.1 At that time, he suggested meaning-based (rather than form-
based) translations would provide accurate meaning and avoid offensive
connotations. In particular, at that time Brown proposed the use of synonyms
like “Christ of God” or “Christ sent from God” along with an explanation in
the translation’s introduction about the meaning of divine familial terms.2 As
translations using non-traditional terms or phrases for “Son of God” began
to appear, many missionaries, national church leaders and other Christians
reacted with alarm.3 Subsequent writings refined the approach and addressed
Michael LeFebvre (PhD, Old
Testament, University of Aberdeen) criticisms,4 but the controversy continued and intensified.
is the pastor of Christ Church
(RPCNA) in Brownsburg, Indiana.
Due to public pressure over the issue, Wycliffe Bible Translators and SIL
Basheer Abdulfadi is a Western have agreed to submit to a binding external and independent review of their
tentmaker who has worked in
translation policies regarding divine familial terms.5 This step, now underway,
evangelism and discipleship in the
Arabian Peninsula for 19 years. represents a pivotal opportunity for progress toward the resolution of these

International Journal of Frontier Missiology 29:2 Summer 2012•61

62 A Further Look at Translating “Son of God”

questions. As Wycliffe and SIL submit approaches without taking up the In February of 2011, Christianity
to this review, we believe it is impor- issues surrounding insider movements. Today published an article on the
tant for all connected to this conflict We are not ignoring the importance controversy.8 This was followed by
to step back and assess where the of that other debate, nor are we articles in World Magazine.9 These
controversy stands and what key issues denying the overlap between these two articles effectively moved the debate
remain unresolved. controversies; it is simply not the focus from the confines of Muslim mission
of this paper. circles into the wider Christian public.
We approach this issue as a mission-
ary (Basheer Abdulfadi) with nineteen We have labored to give as fair a In early June 2011, the General
years of experience in evangelism and representation as possible of the Assembly of the Presbyterian Church
discipleship in the Middle East and various parties with whom we interact in America (PCA) approved an
a pastor (Michael LeFebvre) with a in this article. We solicited feedback amended overture (Overture 9) from
scholarly background in Old Testa- on an earlier form of this paper the Potomac Presbytery. This overture
ment studies and ancient Near Eastern from an extensive circle of persons called on the PCA to declare as
law.6 We appreciate the missiological from all sides of this controversy. unfaithful those translations that “alter”
goals that prompted the use of non- We are grateful for the criticisms the filial relationship between God the
traditional translations for “Son of and corrections we have received. Father and God the Son.10 The overture
God” and “Father,” and at the same Hopefully we have adequately taken was concerned primarily with the
time are aware of the importance of those criticisms into account, as we missiology of “insider movements” and
the word-for-word forms for bring- perceived the new translation policies
ing out the theological significance as motivated by the philosophy behind
of these terms. We offer perspectives those movements. Additionally, a study
on some of the key issues to affirm committee was formed to further
what we believe is best, explain what
is not, and call all sides to engage with
There are proponents examine the issue; their report was
adopted by the General Assembly of
renewed hope for resolution. of meaning-based the PCA of June 19–20, 2012.11

We understand that the present translations who In late June 2011, a consultation
controversy is much larger than the
focused issues taken up in this paper.
are not proponents of called Bridging the Divide brought
together missionaries, missiologists
For instance, the controversy is no insider movements. and theologians to attempt to reduce
longer just about translation issues. the escalating tension between critics
The personal affronts and charges and advocates of insider movements
of ungodliness concerning the way and to discuss the current translation
various efforts have been pursued are controversy. To the surprise of many, the
matters of moral offense that need to earnestly desire to represent others’ participants agreed to a statement that
be resolved (Matt. 18:15–20). While positions accurately. We recognize included an affirmation to “practic[e]
it is beyond the scope of this paper there will always be points where fidelity in Scripture translation using
to attempt to address allegations of we have fallen short. For these terms that accurately express the
sin, we do not wish to whitewash shortcomings we ask forgiveness in familial relationship by which God
or minimize such concerns by not advance and assure all involved that we has chosen to describe Himself as
dealing with them here. Furthermore, genuinely desire to deal accurately and Father in relationship to the Son in
we understand that this debate is charitably in these proposals. the original languages.”12 Furthermore,
related to another, larger controversy there was a growing realization that
concerning what are commonly called Summary of Recent Progress non-traditional translations for “Son
insider movements.7 Many advocates of and Evaluation of God” are not always motivated by
insider movements will also advocate It is ironic that the present translation insider movement philosophies. Many
for non-traditional, meaning-based debate has become increasingly had assumed that the move toward
translations of “Son of God” and polarized at the same time that meaning-based translations of divine
“Father.” But there are also proponents significant progress has occurred. A familial terms was an aspect of “insider
of meaning-based translations who are timeline of key events will provide movements,” and that the two trends
not proponents of insider movements. perspective both to those who are occur together. It became clear at the
Our paper focuses on this controversy familiar with the controversy and 2011 Bridging the Divide consultation
as it relates to traditional missionary those who are new to it. that some translators were adopting

International Journal of Frontier Missiology

Michael LeFebvre and Basheer Abdulfadi 63

meaning-based translations to divine
familial titles without any connection
his statement represents a positive shift in
to insider movement ideas, but simply emphasis. Some, however, have greeted the
out of a desire to communicate meaning
that they believed was not achieved by
change with suspicion and skepticism.
traditional, form-based translations.
“Christ/Messiah” should be used Scripture and the deity of Christ.
Then in early August 2011, SIL only to translate Christos/Meshiach Further, Wycliffe and SIL committed
convened a meeting of its personnel and should not be used to translate their organizations to the outcome of a
with invited observers13 to determine huios/ben. We would discourage commissioned global and independent
best practices for translation of anyone from doing this.17 review, and agreed to slow the
key familial terms. The resulting publication of affected translation
“Statement of Best Practices” affirmed This statement represents a positive projects until the review is completed.
the importance of retaining familial shift in emphasis and demonstrates
terms, stating, “Scripture translations further progress. Some, however, have While this summary of events shows
should promote understanding of the greeted the change with suspicion and the increasing polarization that has
term ‘Son of God’ in all its richness, skepticism. In particular, both the SIL taken place, we want to highlight
including his filial relationship with Best Practices statement and the new the significant progress that has also
the Father.”14 The statement further articles by Brown et al. give priority occurred. Furthermore, although
confirmed the importance of the to the word-for-word translation of the crisis threatens Wycliffe and
word-for-word forms by requiring “Son of God” and “Father” where they SIL translation projects in Muslim
SIL translators to present and explain do not communicate wrong meaning contexts and beyond, it also represents
“Son of God” and “Father” in the (especially the implication of sexual opportunities. Scholars and missionaries
paratext—marginal or footnotes—if behavior on God’s part), but some have been forced to re-examine
synonyms, similes, or other meaning- insist that word-for-word translations important theological and missiological
based translations were used. To quote of these terms be used exclusively. issues. The result of the increased study
the SIL statement, “… non-literal has the potential to greatly enrich our
options for the text may be considered In early January 2012, an online understanding of Christ.
which conserve as much of the familial petition called on Wycliffe and SIL
meaning as possible, provided that the “not to remove Father, Son or Son of Key Issues
paratext includes the literal form.”15 God from the text of Scripture.”18 As The debate over translating Son of
Not all parties to the controversy are of October, 2012, over 14,000 people God terminology is complex and
satisfied that these Best Practices have signed the petition, calling for multidimensional. The debate involves
statements say enough, but they an absolute commitment to literal more than linguistic questions; it also
represent progress.16 word-for-word translations that involves socio-religious, philosophy
preserve the form of divine familial of ministry, and other kinds of issues.
The September 2011 issue of IJFM terms without exception. This petition To make progress, it is important to
published a pair of papers by Rick effectively changed the nature of respect the complexity and unravel the
Brown, Leith Gray and Andrea Gray the conflict from an intramural many layers involved. We identify five
that affirms the importance of the dispute to a public controversy. One distinct issues: two involving biblical
familial nature of the titles “Son of consequence of publicizing the linguistics, one involving linguistic
God” and “Father” and reassesses the debate in the form of a petition has issues in target languages, one
translation of the titles in Muslim been to raise doubts in the minds of involving Islamic theology, and one
contexts. The papers contain many donors about the biblical integrity touching on philosophy of ministry
important insights, some of which of Wycliffe and SIL, discouraging issues. This list is not exhaustive, but
will be considered below. Most their further support. The resulting these are topics at the core of the crisis.
significantly, the authors strongly financial pressure has impacted the
affirm the need to retain the familial work of Bible translation worldwide, 1. The Multi-faceted Nature
nature of the titles and discourage the not just work in Muslim contexts. of the Title “Son of God”
use of “Messiah” to translate Son of God. Rick Brown’s 2000 article “The ‘Son
They wrote, The increasingly public criticism led of God’: Understanding the Messianic
We now believe it is ideal to express Wycliffe and SIL to issue a series Titles of Jesus” was the ground
the familial component of meaning of statements reaffirming their breaking argument for meaning-
in the text … and that terms like commitment to the authority of based rather than form-based

29:2 Summer 2012

64 A Further Look at Translating “Son of God”

translations of “Son of God.” While raised about the nature of the title in the very place where it was said
the article proved controversial in its “Son of God” in order to clarify what to them, “You are not my people,”
conclusions, some components of his we believe their implications for there they will be called “sons of the
argument drew on widely accepted translation ought to be. living God.” (ESV)
characteristics of the title, including its
multi-faceted meaning. Let’s revisit these basic points about In this passage, the title “sons of the
the title “Son of God” by means of living God” brings out God’s love.
The term “Son of God” has many two questions. First, does the title’s Therefore some have suggested that
facets of meaning. It expresses love— multi-faceted nature indicate multiple an alternate translation expressing
the close relationship of God to the meanings for the term or multiple belovedness would be appropriate:
one he calls “son.” It also speaks of emphases of a single meaning? Second, “[To avoid procreative connotations,]
authority—the delegation of power only Jesus perfectly fulfills this title, translators . . . sometimes use similes, as
from God to one he makes his agent. but to what extent does the meaning in ‘God will say they are like children
The title underscores a person’s work— of divine identity attach to others to him,’ ‘God will consider them as
the “son” carries out God’s mission when Scripture calls them by the same if they were his children,’ or ‘God
among humankind. It communicates title? We now take up the first of these will have a relationship with (or, will
holiness—the “son” bearing God’s questions, leaving the second to be care for) them like a father with his
likeness manifests his righteousness. addressed under point two below. children.”21 Notably, these similes
And in addition to these and other emphasize the loving relationship
facets of meaning, the title conveys expressed by the term. But does a
identity—the “son” is one who simile focusing on certain facets of
embodies the presence of God among the term’s meaning really convey the
humanity.19 The meaning of Son of meaning adequately?
God is rich and multi-dimensional.
Rather than seeing the nuances of
Only Jesus manifests all of these Only Jesus manifests the title as a catalogue of meanings
facets of meaning perfectly, so that to choose from, we argue it is more
we rightly speak of Jesus as the Son of all of these facets of accurate to see them as multiple facets
God preeminently. Nevertheless, Jesus
is not the only person in Scripture
meaning perfectly. of a stable, single meaning. Like a
diamond, even though one facet of this
who is called by this title. This brings title might be prominent in a given
us to a second point, generally passage, the luster and color are a result
acknowledged, which was a key of the light from all its facets. In the title
component of Brown’s early articles: “sons of the living God” in the Romans
the title “Son of God” is used for many passage above, God’s love for Israel is
persons in Scripture. It is used chiefly The title “Son of God” has often been on the surface. However, the holiness
for Jesus, but it is also used for Adam treated as though it produces different God desires for his people, their faithful
(Luke 3:38), David and his heirs (Pss. meanings in different contexts. In service in his work and their status as
2:7; 89:26–27; 2 Sam. 7:14), the whole some passages it is the facet of love heirs are still important parts of the
nation of Israel (Exod. 4:22; Hosea that is recognized, while in other loving relationship that is on display.
11:1) the church ( John 1:12; Gal. passages the facet of mission (doing Furthermore, the term “sons of the
3:26; Rom. 8:14–16), and others (e.g., the Father’s work) is drawn out, and living God” communicates more than
Gen. 6:4; Job 1:6; Matt. 5:9). so on.20 If the title takes on different paternal love: it promises all the privileges
meanings in different contexts, it and qualities that go along with restored
These two points—namely, that the becomes important to determine sonship, such as moral transformation,
title has many facets of meaning and which of the title’s meanings is restoration to God’s service, and the
has been used for several persons in intended in a given passage in order blessing of God’s presence.
Scripture—enjoy general agreement, to translate its meaning.
but the implications Brown drew We believe that the many nuances of
from them proved controversial. More For example, Romans 9:25–26 quotes “Son of God” should not be treated as
recent articles by Brown and others this promise of God to his “sons”: distinct meanings that depend on the
have qualified those early conclusions. Those who were not my people I will immediate context. The supposition
Nevertheless, we believe it is important call “my people,” and her who was that one aspect of this title’s meaning
to revisit the two basic insights Brown not beloved I will call “beloved.” And is adequate to substitute for the whole

International Journal of Frontier Missiology

Michael LeFebvre and Basheer Abdulfadi 65

in translation needs to be corrected.22
While a given nuance may be
ulers throughout the ancient world bore the
prominent, it never excludes the other title “son of god.” In Egypt, pharaoh was
meanings. The practical import of this
is to highlight the importance of the
given a “Horus name” upon coronation.
form of the title “Son(s) of God” for
its meaning. An attempt to translate the current controversy. The debate now In Mesopotamia the picture is more
the meaning of the term by focusing encompasses a constellation of familial varied. Kings in the Fertile Crescent
on one or another of its nuances rather terms for a variety of relationships were sometimes regarded as divine,
than translating its form actually with God and within the Godhead. sometimes as men filled with the
leads to a loss of meaning. Thankfully, We return to a focused look at the “seed” or spirit of the gods, and
as noted earlier, there is a growing divine implications of the term “Son sometimes as stewards of the gods.28
awareness of the importance of the of God,” but not in order to minimize When the gods created Gilgamesh
form of familial terms to understand the importance of other terms. It is our king of Uruk, they made him “Two
their meaning; these insights further sense that the controversy has moved thirds . . . god and one third man.”29
affirm that direction. on to other terms without adequately In Sumer, “kings . . . had their names
clarifying the divine implications of prefixed by the determinative for
2. The Divine Implications “Son of God.” This lack of resolution divinity.”30 Gudea, king of Lagash,
of the Title “Son of God” contributes to the continuing impasse declared to the goddess Gatumdu,
Among the many facets of the title where some see Son of God as primarily “My seed [i.e., the seed of my
“Son of God” discussed above, we functional while others see it as primarily Father] You have received; in the
will argue that the most significant ontological.23 We believe that to break the sanctuary You have begotten me.”31
is the idea of identity: the son is one impasse, it is essential to understand the The literature is replete with such
who manifests God’s presence. Muslims divine implications of “Son of God.” We examples, so that scholars conclude:
react to this implication of the title’s can see this feature of the title both in “in the entire Near East, the king
meaning—namely that Jesus is its use throughout the ancient Near East could be called ‘Son of God’ or even
divine—as well as to its perceived and in its biblical usage. ‘God.’ ”32 And there is a reason for
sexual implications. This aspect of this widespread connection between
the title’s meaning can also make Rulers throughout the ancient world kingship and deity.
Christians uncomfortable when bore the title “son of god.” In Egypt,
ascribed to persons other than Jesus. pharaoh was given a “Horus name” In Egypt, for example, the principle
Is Scripture really saying, for instance, upon coronation. This name was duty of the king was “to maintain
that Adam was in some sense an part of an elaborate myth wherein maat . . . [which means] ‘right order’—
embodiment of deity when he is called the god Osiris begat a divine son the inherent structure of creation . . .
“son of God” in Luke 3:38? If “Son of Horus, ritually identified with the Thus the king, in the solitariness of
God” implies the deity of Jesus, why new pharaoh. Jarl Fossum explains, his divinity, shoulders an immense
doesn’t it imply the same for Adam? “The enthronement was the definitive responsibility.”33 The entire creation
act of begetting or deification in order—not just political order—
We believe a resolution to this Egypt.”24 An inscription from was on the king’s shoulders. In the
question about the divine implications Horemhab’s coronation includes modern world, we conceive of civic
of this title requires understanding the pronouncement from the sun power (politics) as distinct from
that central to the term “Son of god Amun-Ra: “You are my son natural power (e.g., the seasons and
God” in all its uses is the idea of one and my heir who has come out agriculture) and supernatural power
who embodies (or incarnates) God’s of my members.”25 Thutmosis III (religion). Such distinctions were
presence. Certainly such embodiment confessed on his coronation, “[I am unknown in the ancient world. Kings
occurs in many different ways. Jesus Ra’s] son, whom he commanded that were expected to uphold all aspects
alone fully and perfectly fulfills this I should be upon his throne . . . and of right order so the gods would be
qualification; but even in its other uses, begat in uprightness of heart.”26 It pleased, the rains would come at the
the title always expresses the idea, in was specifically upon enthronement right times, crops would flourish,
some sense, of a human embodiment that pharaoh “received . . . all the and justice would prevail.34 In short,
of God’s presence. magico-religious consecrations kingship required superhuman
which transform him into a living power. The ancient myths of divine
The question of the divine implications incarnation of Rā, the sun-god, creator begetting are repulsive to Christians
of “Son of God” was the early focus of of the world.”27 for many reasons. But they represent

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66 A Further Look at Translating “Son of God”

a widespread conviction that a society 4:22) and all the church are granted mission, not to a divine manifestation.
achieves righteous order only when a the profound wonder of being called Brown was not (as some have claimed)
king who is in some sense divine is on “sons of God” because of God’s presence denying the deity of Christ nor was
the throne. manifested through them (Gal. 4:6). he denying the importance of the title
“Son of God” when ascribed to Jesus
The Old Testament exhibits similarly Those called “son of God” embodied as a witness to his deity.40 However,
lofty expectations of kingship, God’s presence in different ways and Brown and others did overlook the
though strikingly without myths of in varying degrees. The term does idea of divine embodiment, which is
divine copulation.35 When David not apply to Adam in exactly the present in some sense in all uses of this
was identified as the next king of same way as it does to Jesus, but the term, not just in reference to Jesus. We
Israel, Samuel anointed him “and core meaning is the same in each believe it is important to recognize the
the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon instance: God manifests his presence hope of divine manifestation as central
David from that day forward . . . [and] among humanity through the ones to this term’s meaning in all its uses.
the Spirit of the Lord departed he designates as “sons.” In fact, other Translating the term with a meaning-
from Saul . . .” (1 Sam. 16:13–14). facets of the term’s meaning—beloved based expression that lacks or obscures
Like the coronation professions of of God, holiness, authority, and so this sense of divine embodiment hides
other lands, the Davidic coronation forth—are secondary ideas that flow a vital aspect of its meaning.
includes the announcement of from the term’s central concept: God’s
divine begetting (Ps. 2:7). We must manifest presence. In Jesus, one who is There is merit to Brown’s statement
hasten to add that, unlike the kings that “son of God” was “more a
of the surrounding nations, the functional than ontological title” in
“begetting” of the Davidic king was the ancient world. But this claim
by divine covenant (Ps. 2:7a, 2 Sam. anachronistically projects the modern
7:8–16), not by divine copulation.36 We believe it is distinction between function and
Nevertheless, David was endowed
with the Holy Spirit in a manner that
important to recognize ontology onto the term and thereby
obscures the divine expectation
set him apart as an embodiment of the hope of divine inherent even in “functional” uses
God’s presence in Israel, expressed in of it.41 In many cases, the ancients
the title “son of God.” David feared manifestation as central recognized that their kings were
the consequences for Israel should he to this term’s meaning still men (ontologically) who
ever quench the Spirit by his sins and functioned in their kingly office with
thus be abandoned to rule without in all its uses. divine authority. But rather than
God’s presence as had happened to asking whether kings were seen as
Saul before him (Ps. 51:11; cf., 2 Sam. ontologically divine, we should ask
7:14–15; Ps. 89:20–34). As one who whether they were believed to be
bore the title “son of God,” David not just Spirit-filled but fully divine really divine.42
was not “very God incarnate” like perfectly fulfilled the title.38 But in
Jesus. Nevertheless, by means of the every case, the term expresses the There was, after all, real power
Spirit’s infilling, David imperfectly same basic idea of one who embodies conferred during the king’s
yet actually embodied God’s presence God’s presence. enthronement. And that power,
in Israel.37 which continued with the king
Some have argued that the title throughout his reign, was perceived
Not only kings, but judges (who served has little or no reference to divine as really divine. Following modern
as extensions of the king’s justice) were embodiment except as ascribed to distinctions, we might say that kings
sometimes called “gods” in the Bible Jesus. For instance, in a 2000 article, of the ancient world were men
(e.g., Ps. 82:1, 6; Exod. 4:16; 7:1). One Brown wrote concerning Egypt’s (ontologically) who took on divine
should not read too much into this use of this title: “This was more a functions. Israel did not see in King
usage, but neither should it be ignored. functional than ontological title— David an incarnation of Yahweh. But
These judges were not deified, but they though a few kings became arrogant there was real spiritual power, and
needed the presence of God’s Spirit to and actually claimed divinity for by ancient perceptions real divine
administer justice (e.g., Num. 11:11– themselves.”39 He then went on to presence, conferred upon kings at
30; cf., Prov. 16:10–11; 2 Sam. 14:17, suggest that the title, when used for their enthronement. This was the
20). For this reason judges also bore Israel’s kings prior to Jesus, refers to significance of the Holy Spirit’s
a divine title. And all Israel (Exod. their belovedness and God-given presence first with Saul, then later

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Michael LeFebvre and Basheer Abdulfadi 67

with David. Inherent in this royal
title is the expectation, made explicit
e would caution against impugning the
by the prophets, that a more perfect motives of those who have advocated non-
king than David would even more
perfectly manifest God’s presence.
traditional translations for “Son of God.”
Even though the Old Testament
saints may not have universally also caution against the presumption expressed by its form, we advocate
imagined the divine Word himself that translators are trying to obscure the word-for-word translations of “Son of
becoming flesh to fill that office, the deity of Christ when they use alternate God” in the text.
title “Son of God” always involves translations for “Son of God.” God’s
the hope of some manner of divine Word teaches us to carefully distinguish 3. The Use of Biological and Social
manifestation in the king.43 between those who are well-intentioned Terms for “Father” and “Son”
but (in our judgment) wrong, and those With the consensus that it is im-
When Brown distinguishes the who ill-intentioned and wrong.45 In portant to retain the familial nature
ontological deity of Christ from the both cases, error needs to be corrected, of the titles “Father” and “Son,” the
functional deity of other ancient but how such correction takes place is question arises: which familial terms?
kings, he is theologically correct. But different where an opponent’s motives In some languages, there are terms
to impose that distinction of function are honorable. Even when the doctrinal for a biological father/son relationship
versus ontology upon the term “Son stakes are high—especially when the (e.g., physical offspring) and other
of God” obscures the real, divine doctrinal stakes are high—“the Lord’s terms that indicate a social relation-
expectations inherent its biblical usage, servant must not be quarrelsome but . . . ship, encompassing both biological
even in its functional appearances. able to teach . . . correcting his opponents and non-biological relationships (e.g.,
with gentleness . . .” (2 Tim. 2:24–25). adoption). This issue is the major
In summary, throughout the ancient focus of Brown et al. in their recent
world and in its many uses throughout Those who have promoted alternate articles entitled “A Brief Analysis
Scripture, “Son(s) of God” always translations for “Son of God” report of Filial and Paternal Terms in the
included the concept of real divine that they have done so to bring out Bible” and “A New Look at Trans-
presence. As scholars frequently note, what they have understood to be the lating Familial Biblical Terms.” So
the ascription is often more functional primary meaning of the title: “God’s rather than non-familial alternatives
than ontological by modern terms. Messiah” or “like children to God.” for “Son of God” and “Father” (like
Nonetheless, the form “Son(s) of God” Their intentions are to be faithful “the Christ from God”), the discus-
captures the idea of a real embodiment to the Word, even if critics deem sion is now re-focusing around which
of God’s presence. For this reason we the resulting translations unfaithful. familial terms to use. “Things have
urge translators to use the word-for- Good intentions never excuse one changed,” Brown et al. explain, “We
word form “Son of God.” It is part of from responsibility, but they do (the authors) now believe that the
the biblical witness to Israel’s need for compel those who criticize to do so familial-relational component under-
a king who manifests God’s presence with patience in hopes of winning a lies the other components of Christ’s
and the fully divine King Jesus who brother or sister and not just winning sonship and is the most important
perfectly does so. an argument. one to express in the text, as also for
God’s fatherhood and the adopted
This leaves us with one further question We would caution against impugning sonship of believers.”48 While issues
under this topic. Recognizing that the motives of those who have still remain, we believe it is important
this title is part of Scripture’s witness advocated non-traditional translations to acknowledge the progress that this
to Christ’s deity, should we conclude for “Son of God.” Alternate shift in focus represents.
that simile and other meaning-based translations do not necessarily
translations that replace the sonship undermine the title’s witness to In these articles, Brown et al. offer an
form are implicit denials of Christ’s deity Christ’s deity if the word-for-word extensive analysis of various He-
or that they undermine the doctrine form is provided in the paratextual brew and Greek familial terms. They
of the Trinity? Some critics have made material (as Rick Brown advocated identify terms that express exclusively
such charges44 and there are grounds for in his 2005 articles46 and the Best biological relationships and terms that
concern that something is lost. While Practices statement now requires).47 express social relationships, which may
we concur with those who see the form Nevertheless, based on the above or may not be biological. Their finding
“Son of God” as an important part of evidence that divine expectations are is that whenever Scripture expresses
the biblical witness to Christ’s deity, we primary in the title’s meaning and divine sonship, the terms used carry

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68 A Further Look at Translating “Son of God”

in them the possibility of social son- priority of avoiding biological con- they categorically argue that transla-
ship and do not demand a biological notations should always outweigh the tions that do use biological terms
relationship.49 Even where typically priority of expressing shared essence. “are inaccurate because they add a
biological terms are used, they never When translating in Muslim con- procreative meaning that was absent
demand a biological meaning. From texts, the position taken by Brown from the original.”53 Bringing out
this analysis of the apparent kinship et al. is understandable. But there is the shared essence of the Son of God
system underlying biblical language, loss of meaning where this is done, with the Father is arguably one reason
the authors conclude that when trans- especially when it is done systemati- some biblical passages use biological
lators use terms which are exclusively cally. Typically it is biological sonship sonship terms in the first place.54 So
biological to express divine sonship, language that most clearly brings out while we appreciate what Brown et al.
their translations “are inaccurate because the idea of shared essence between are recommending, we caution against
they add a procreative meaning that was Son and Father. categorically denying the legitimacy of
absent from the original . . .”50 There is biological sonship terms.
much to unpack in the reasoning laid We do not raise this critique to con-
out in these articles. tradict the authors’ conclusions, simply Having offered this critique, we are
to qualify them. There is certainly no also concerned that the thesis of
Based on the conclusions just quoted, intention on the part of Brown et al. Brown et al. has been misunderstood,
Brown et al. urge that “the divine to obscure the divine nature of Jesus particularly in the context of Arabic,
sonship of Jesus should be expressed Christ. Where target languages offer and that these misunderstandings
in the text using . . . social filial expres- have contributed unnecessarily to
sions that do not demand a biological the escalation of the crisis and the
meaning involving sexual activity by polarization that has ensued. Many
God, yet still allow for the filiation linguists have observed that Christian
derived from the Son’s eternal gen-
eration and incarnation.”51 There is a
There is a difference Arabs use the common Arabic words
for “father” and “son” in a way similar
catch-22 here, and Brown et al. have between the way Muslim to the biblical usage, while Muslim
taken a categorical decision about how Arabs typically use the same Arabic
to resolve it. On the one hand, a trans- and Christian Arabs use words for “father” and “son” for strict-
lation that unequivocally expresses the
Son’s shared essence with the Father
the common terms for ly procreative relationships. Christian
Arabs involved in the debate, particu-
typically requires using a biological “father” and “son.” larly those active in Muslim evan-
term. On the other hand, an alterna- gelism, have understandably bristled
tive social term or phrase that avoids at being told by non-native speakers
a procreative connotation may allow what their language means. However,
for shared essence but does not make there really is a difference between
explicit the idea of shared essence. social familial terms, we agree that the way Muslim and Christian Arabs
When faced with tradeoffs like these, it is prudent for translators to con- use and perceive the common terms
the guidance from Brown et al. is to sider them. But we question whether for “father” and “son.”
always give priority to avoiding the biological terms must be systematically
implication of divine sexual activity. avoided as Brown et al. seem to insist The Muslim Arabic usage of “son”
(compare topic number 4, below). In (ibn) as exclusively procreative arose
For example, Brown et al. explore some passages, the Son’s shared es- in connection with the Qur’an’s
phrases like “the Son from God,” sence with the Father is at the heart of teaching on adoption. The practice
which signifies “a relationship that the text’s meaning, so meaning is lost of adoption was overturned in the
is filial (‘Son’) and not necessarily when biological terms are avoided. Qur’an in Sura 33 (Al-Aḥzab) which
biological, yet . . . is compatible with was recorded when Muhammad
eternal generation from the essence By and large, we are in agreement married Zainab, the divorced wife
of God . . .”52 In some languages, such with the overall thrust of Brown et of Zaid, Muhammad’s adoptee. In
a phrase does not trigger a negative al.’s recent articles. We affirm their connection with that case, the Qur’an
reaction. But what if a given text (e.g., basic point that translators in Mus- introduced a distinction between
Ps. 2:7) needs a translation that is lim contexts should give preference adoptees and sons: “[Allah] has not
not merely compatible with eternal to “social” familial terms that do not made your adoptees your sons” (33:4).
generation but expresses that shared exclusively imply procreation. But we Building on this doctrine, the Qur’an
essence? It is not obvious that the think they overstate their case when specifically sanctioned Muhammad’s

International Journal of Frontier Missiology

Michael LeFebvre and Basheer Abdulfadi 69

marriage to Zainab, which would not
have been permitted if Zaid had been
ome Muslims, especially Salafists, react to the title
his biological son. The Qur’an permit- “Son of God” because they see that it places Jesus on
ted an adoptive “father” to marry the
divorced wife of his adoptee (33:37)
an unacceptable level of intimacy with God.
and expressed it by limiting the use
of the common words for father (ab) The conceptual heart of Muslim translations of “Son of God” and
and son (ibn) to literal, procreative reaction to the title “Son of God” is “Father” raise the question of divine
relationships. So in Islamic Arabic, their doctrine of tawhiid, the absolute, procreation, as they frequently do, a
the commonly used words for father undifferentiated oneness of God.55 brief explanation is enough to dispel
and son are not “social” in the sense This belief automatically excludes the their concerns.
defined by Brown et al. This is in con- Trinity. It is the root of Islamic refusal
trast to the broader social use of ab to even consider distinctions within One of the authors (Basheer Abdul-
and ibn by Christian Arabic speakers, God and to reject out of hand the fadi) recently started a study of Mark
who acknowledge and practice adop- divinity of Jesus. with a seeker who has had limited
tion and whose kinship system aligns exposure to the Bible. Since Jesus is
more closely to that of the Bible. Closely related to the absolute called the Son of God in Mark 1:1,
Muslim misunderstanding can usually oneness of God is his utter unique- the issue came up immediately. After
be cleared up with a brief explana- ness and transcendence. Christians hearing that it doesn’t mean that God
tion, but the difference in usage is likewise confess the transcendence had sexual relations to beget Jesus, as
certainly there and arguing over it is of God, but in Islam transcendence many say, the seeker responded that
not fruitful. excludes the idea of someone, even this was evidence that Muslim schol-
Muhammad, knowing God or even ars were lying about what Christians
A more useful discussion is whether communicating directly with him; believe! Other missionaries and believ-
alternatives for the commonly used the Qur’an is entirely a first-person ers active in sharing their faith relate
words for “father” and “son” will both address to Muhammad through the numerous similar stories.58
remove the linguistic offence and medium of Gabriel. Some Muslims,
communicate the richness of the especially Salafists, react to the title While such evidence is admittedly
Bible’s use of father and son terminol- “Son of God” because they see that it anecdotal, it illustrates the fact that
ogy. However, the misperception of places Jesus on an unacceptable level the perception of sexual activity in the
divine procreation is not the only issue of familiarity and intimacy with God. divine familial titles “Son of God” and
Muslims react to when they encounter This is the essence of shirk, associat- “Father” is not universal—even in the
divine familial titles. ing “partners” with God, which is the case of Arabic. Furthermore, the oft-
worst sin in Islam.56, 57 So there are stated claim that this misperception is
4. What Really is the Muslim more reasons why Muslims react to universal (or nearly so) leans heavily
Objection to Divine Familial Titles? “Son of God” and “Father” than the on anecdotal evidence, and anecdotes
The previous three topics dealt with perception of carnal behavior. can always be countered with other
linguistic issues. This next topic anecdotes. We do not deny that many
moves us into Muslim theology. The In addition, the perception of divine Muslims react strongly to “Son of
reason for the present controversy is sexual behavior is neither universal God” terminology,59 but we caution
that Muslims from some language nor uniformly serious. Islam is not against universalizing such experi-
groups perceive sexual behavior on monolithic. Many Muslims are poorly ences as a basis for translation policy.
the part of God when they read or educated about Islam itself and are We also warn against the danger of
hear the titles “Son of God” and “Fa- even more ignorant about what the generalizing experience in one Arabic
ther.” However, this perception is not Bible says. In the collective experi- context to the rest of the Muslim
the only reason why Muslims reject ence of missionaries in one Arabian world; how people react to “Son” and
divine familial titles. Failure to ac- Peninsula country (including one “Father” in one context may not apply
count for the full spectrum of reasons co-author of this article), while some to other parts of the Muslim world or
behind the reactions of individual Muslims do react negatively upon en- even other parts of the Arab world.
Muslims may lead to oversimplifica- countering divine familial terms, it is
tion of the problem and its solutions. not uncommon for others to hear or To summarize, the reasons for Mus-
Indeed, there has been insufficient at- read “Son of God” and “Father” and lim perception that “Son of God”
tention to the role of Muslim beliefs continue to read without any negative and “Father” imply sexual activity
in this discussion. reaction. And when the traditional on God’s part include differing uses

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70 A Further Look at Translating “Son of God”

of common familial terms within a about an official from Ethiopia who ing to faith by private reading of the
language group, basic Muslim beliefs, was reading a scroll of Isaiah. He was Scriptures. The story of the Ethiopian
and misunderstanding of Christian struggling to understand what he official is the closest Scripture comes to
teaching. The misperceptions can often was reading: “Does the prophet say a private conversion account. Certainly,
be cleared up with a brief explana- this about himself or about someone the Spirit does sometimes bring people
tion. Muslim reactions to this title else?” (v. 34). Then the Holy Spirit to faith in this way, and it is a marvel-
based on our different understanding miraculously carried Philip to his side ous testimony to God’s grace when that
of God’s oneness (as triune) and the to explain the passage to him: “Begin- happens. But private conversion is not
real possibility of nearness to him in ning with this Scripture, [Philip] told what Scripture teaches us to expect. The
Christ are points of conflict that can- him the good news about Jesus” (v. 36). New Testament emphasis is on com-
not be avoided. Muslim objections will Here is one example of a biblical missioning witnesses who carry and
necessarily continue even if alternate norm, that is, an inquirer struggling explain the Word (e.g., Matt. 28:18–20;
words or phrases remove the perceived to understand the written Word finds Luke 10:2; Rom. 10:14–15).61
sexual implications of the title. It is help from a human witness.
unrealistic to expect any translation of We believe a significant factor in the
the “Son of God” titles to express the The passage in Acts is not teaching current crisis is the unspoken assump-
multi-faceted meaning of that term us how the Spirit typically brings tion62 that a translator should translate
and at the same time to overcome the such witnesses to inquirers. Even in “Son of God” in ways that convey its
many obstacles to understanding that New Testament times, evangelists biblical meaning (translation) and
are present within a Muslim context! that overcomes culture-wide misun-
In solving one problem, others appear, derstandings (interpretation). This is a
and it seems that the matter comes noble goal, but it potentially confuses
down to choosing which problems to the roles of translator and interpreter.
solve.60 As we will explore more fully Translators should exercise sensitivity
under the next topic, translators can to potential misunderstandings as they
make an important contribution to- In solving translate, but they should not labor
ward clarifying the meaning of “Son of under a burden to resolve every misun-
God”; but, in light of the complexity one problem, derstanding at the translation level.
of the problem, even the best transla-
tion will not solve all of the difficulties.
others appear. There are statements in the SIL Best
However, as we explain under the next Practices guidelines that indicate some
heading, this is not as serious a prob- progress in recognizing this distinction,
lem as it might initially appear. but we believe these guidelines need
to be strengthened. In that statement,
5. Clarifying the Translator’s Role the following two-part explanation
This next topic follows on the previous like Paul traveled by ordinary means, of paratextual material is given: “The
one and moves us into another subject just like everyone else. But this text primary purpose of the paratext is to
area: philosophy of ministry. What is does teach us how important it is help the reader to infer the intended
the role of the translator? More specifi- that an evangelist would serve as the meaning from the text. It also presents
cally, when there is a culture-wide point normal interpreter of Scripture. The more literal translations of phrases
of confusion (e.g., the meaning of the Spirit went to great lengths to ensure used in the text.” The guidance that
term “Son of God”), to what extent that the Ethiopian traveler had a accompanies this definition urges
should the translator interpret that term witness by his side as he struggled to translators to preserve literal transla-
in the translation itself? The question we understand the written Word. The tions in the text wherever possible, us-
pose is not absolute, as though a trans- biblical pattern of witness illustrated ing the paratext for further explanation.
lator either should or should not take here leads us to expect that the Where preserving the form of the titles
such misunderstandings into account. written Word will normally require a in the target language communicates
The question is one of extent: To what human witness to explain its difficult wrong meaning, the statement recog-
extent is the translator responsible for teachings. This is not just an isolated nizes the use of non-literal translations
resolving those interpretation problems example. The Acts 8 pericope is in the text with the literal word-for-
in the translation? illustrative of a biblical pattern. word rendering in the paratext. We
appreciate the order of emphasis in
Acts 8:26–40 is an important model In fact, in all the New Testament there that guidance. The text is the preferred
to consider. In this text, we are told are no examples of unbelievers com- place for the word-for-word form.

International Journal of Frontier Missiology

Michael LeFebvre and Basheer Abdulfadi 71

As far as it goes, the Best Practices
statement offers helpful guidance in
e must continue to engage those with whom
this regard. What it lacks is attention we disagree directly (and face-to-face when
to the fact that, even with excellent
translations, witnesses in the field are
possible), rather than taking preemptive steps.
still necessary to explain the written
Word. Surely this is assumed,63 but The many points that have been equivalence. But more important than
without acknowledging this point as raised in this article lead to two policies on paper is the education of
part of translation policy, it is easy primary conclusions. First, wherever our own hearts as translators, pastors,
to lose sight of the fact that a good possible, the form “Son of God” missionaries, and other Christian
translation is a crucial tool of missions should be preserved in translation. workers. Policies on paper should
but it is not the missionary. Translators The term is too rich and theologi- reflect the consensus of a commu-
might be left with the sense that full cally important to be substituted with nity’s heart convictions. What is most
clarity ought to be achieved in the meaning-based translations where needed is a strengthened and shared
translation itself, rather than recog- some facets of the title’s meaning are conviction concerning the importance
nizing that their work is to provide substituted for a formal equivalent of the form “Son of God” in com-
a tool for others who will serve as of the title itself. The goals which municating the meaning of that title,
witnesses. Full clarity in the face of led some to suggest non-traditional especially its central idea of manifest-
culture-wide misunderstanding is translations—namely to bring out ing divine presence.
simply not going to be possible. But what was assumed to be its primary
that is okay. Translators do not need meaning (beloved) and to avoid Mus- The second conclusion is the need for
to produce self-interpreting transla- lim reactions—were worthy motives. continued patience and direct engage-
tions. It sounds reverent to say that We commend those two goals as ment between the parties involved
“the Bible is its own best missionary,” marks of missionary love and zeal. in this controversy. After engaging
but by God’s design the Bible is not its But it is now apparent that divine in the debate for several years, some
own missionary. presence is at the heart of this title’s critics have made a direct public ap-
meaning. We believe that much is lost peal in the form of an online peti-
In light of the insights drawn together theologically, exegetically and evan- tion to influence events. In a docu-
under the previous topic (number 4) gelistically when word-for-word form ment explaining the reasons for that
and this one (number 5), we conclude of “Son of God” is not preserved.64 petition, the author said, “[. . .T]he
that even if “Son of God” cannot be petition was started only after every
fully explained in the translation itself, Some might go so far as to argue effort had been made to call Wycliffe,
it does not need to be. that no exceptions to a literal word- Frontiers and SIL to biblical faithful-
for-word treatment of “Son of God” ness.”65 In light of the progress shown
Conclusion should be allowed. As a point of prin- above and the fact that the sponsors
In this article, we have argued that ciple, such a strong commitment is ap- of the petition were themselves par-
“Son of God” has multiple nuances pealing to many. However, languages ties to discussions with the leadership
that center around the core meaning are complex and a uniform policy can- of Wycliffe and SIL that were taking
of divine presence. Those rich not be expected to address every con- place as the petition was launched, the
expectations inherent in every use ceivable problem; blanket prohibitions insistence that “every effort had been
of this title were perfectly fulfilled often result in unforeseen problems made” was inconsistent and made
only in Jesus, who is fully divine. We down the road. There may be instances it difficult for others to continue
further argued that Muslim objections where an idiomatic translation in a the discussion. It is crucial that we
to “Son of God” go beyond the certain passage is prudent, and critics continue to engage those with whom
perception of sexual activity by God of the Best Practices statement should we disagree on this issue directly
and stem from their doctrine of the acknowledge that reality. But we also (and face-to-face whenever possible),
absolute oneness and transcendence urge translators to appreciate anew patiently appealing to one another
of God. These objections are so the importance of the word-for-word reasonably and charitably rather than
deep-seated that they cannot be form “Son of God” to communicate its taking preemptive steps to bring
resolved completely in translation; core meaning of divine presence. external pressure upon those whose
indeed, translators should not take opinions differ from our own.
on the burden of resolving all these We have argued that translation
objections since God’s plan is to use policies for divine familial terms Furthermore, a new window of op-
witnesses to win people to Christ. should give greater weight to formal portunity is opening as an external and

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72 A Further Look at Translating “Son of God”

independent commission organized Missions, 28(3) (2011), pp. 105–120; Brown, col_count=3&_62_INSTANCE_
by the World Evangelical Alliance is Rick, Leith Gray and Andrea Gray. “A Brief XnIU_struts_action=%2Fjournal_
reviewing Wycliffe and SIL translation Analysis of Filial and Paternal Terms in the articles%2Fview&_62_INSTANCE_
Bible” International Journal of Frontier Mis- XnIU_groupId=1&_62_INSTANCE_
policy. Now is the time for counter-
sions, 28(3) (2011). XnIU_articleId=472&_62_INSTANCE_
parts to engage in order to identify 5 XnIU_version=1.0,,%20.
outstanding issues. We especially PreviousResponses.aspx, http://www. 14
The text, with commentary, of the
appeal to critics of Wycliffe and SIL SIL statement of Best Practices for Bible
not to prejudge the work of the com- 6
Michael LeFebvre, Collections, Codes, Translation of Divine Familial Language is
mission before it is completed. Finally, and Torah: The Re-characterization of Israel’s available from
we urge those concerned with this Written Law. LHBOTS 451 (New York: tion/divine_familial_terms_commentary_
controversy to commit themselves to Continuum, 2008). full.pdf.
For an introduction to insider We struggled to find the right word
prayer and fasting for God’s blessing
movements, see Rebecca Lewis, “In- or phrase to indicate what is meant by
on the formal and informal dialogue translation that preserves the word-for-
sider Movements: Honoring God-Given
surrounding these matters in the com- Identity and Community,” International word form with the common equivalents
ing months. Journal of Frontier Missions, 26(1) (2009). for “son” and “father.” “Literal” is what a
Available from non-specialist would say, but there are too
The progress achieved thus far is PDFs_IJFM/26_1_PDFs/26_1_Lewis. many ideas about what literal means for
a testimony to the fact that God’s pdf. See also the response by Dick this to be helpful. Except when quoting
Brogden, “Inside Out: Probing Presup- other authors or documents, we will use
Spirit has already been at work. We
positions among Insider Movements,” the phrase “literal word-for-word” and
must not deny him glory by ignor- sometimes add to it the phrase “preserving
International Journal of Frontier Missions,
ing the progress with which he has 27(1) (2010). Available from http://www. the form.”
blessed us. Let us continue to trust 16
Collin Hansen, “Wycliffe, SIL
the Spirit to work as we persevere in Brogden.pdf. Issue Guidelines on Translating ‘Son of
the patient task of Christian debate. 8
Collin Hansen, “The Son and the God’ Among Muslims,” Christianity Today,
The Lord is doing something unusual Crescent,” Christianity Today, 55(2) (Febru- 55 (Web Only), (2011). Available from
in the Middle East in our generation. ary, 2011). Available from http://www. octoberweb-only/son-of-god-translation-
May he be pleased to use us, sharp-
soncrescent.html. guidelines.html?start=1.
ened by the present controversy, to 17
Emily Belz, “Holding translators ac- Brown, Gray and Gray, “A New
show his great love through his Son Look,” p. 116.
countable,” World Magazine, 26(20) (2011).
to the Muslim world. IJFM Available from 18
The petition was posted on www.
articles/18687. Emily Belz, “The Battle for on January 4, 2012.
Endnotes Accurate Bible Translation in Asia,” World 19
For a catalogue of concepts ex-
Rick Brown. “The ‘Son of God’: Magazine, 27(4) (2012). Available from pressed by this title, see, Brown, Gray and
Understanding the Messianic Titles of Gray, “A New Look,” pp. 110–11.
Jesus.” International Journal of Frontier Mis- 10
The text of the overture is available 20
For example, Brown says: “An
sions 17(1) (2000); “Part I: Translating the from examination of the passages where Paul uses
Biblical Term ‘Son(s) of God‘ in Muslim Assembly/Overture%209%20Potomac%20 [the term ‘Son’] shows that in most cases
Contexts.” International Journal of Frontier Faithful%20Witness%203-31-11.pdf. he is focusing on the dearness of Jesus to
Missions, 22(3) (2005); “Part II: Translat- 11
The PCA Study Committee report God . . . In John, on the other hand, ‘Son’
ing the Biblical Term ‘Son(s) of God‘ in is available from occurs mostly in contexts emphasizing . . .
Muslim Contexts.” International Journal Ad%20Interim%20on%20Insider%20 perfect obedience.” (Brown, “Son of God,” p.
of Frontier Missions, 22(4) (2005). But see Movements%20Report%205-17-12.pdf. 46.) Also, “The phrase Son of God refers to
later in this paper the discussion of Brown’s 12
The text of the Bridging the Divide Christ, sometimes in respect to his eternal
revised position. conference statement is available from sonship and sometimes in respect to his me-
E.g., Brown, “Part I: Translating,” diatorial sonship as the Messiah.” (Brown,
(2005), p. 139. octoberweb-only/missions-muslims-criti- Gray and Gray, “A New Look,” p. 110.)
Roger Dixon, “Identity Theft: Retheol- cisms.html?start=3 21
Barclay Moon Newman and Philip
ogizing the Son of God,” Evangelical Missions 13
One of the authors (Basheer Stine. Helps for Translators. A Handbook on
Quarterly, 43(2) (2007). Basheer Abdulfadi, Abdulfadi) was an observer at the consul- the Gospel of Matthew (London: UBS, 1988)
“Modern Arabic Translations and Their Wit- tation. See also the comments of another p. 113. Cf. Brown, “Son of God,” p. 40.
ness to Christ,” Seedbed XXII (Fall, 2008). observer and participant, Stephen Tay- 22
We are not suggesting that transla-
Rick Brown, “Part I: Translating” lor, at tors have been explicitly arguing for the
(2005); “Part II: Translating” (2005). Brown, layout?p_l_id=PUB.1.48&p_p_id=62_IN- approach here critiqued or that it is cur-
Rick, Leith Gray and Andrea Gray. “A STANCE_XnIU&p_p_action=0&p_p_ rently an issue in translation practice; but
New Look at Translating Familial Bibli- state=maximized&p_p_mode=view&p_p_ the assumption here critiqued is implicit
cal Terms” International Journal of Frontier col_id=column-3&p_p_col_pos=1&p_p_ if a search for meaning allows immediate

International Journal of Frontier Missiology

Michael LeFebvre and Basheer Abdulfadi 73

context to obscure the wider context of (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1967); John Ba- vine, Human, and Angelic Messianic Figures
“Son of God.” ines, “Ancient Egyptian Kingship: Official in Biblical and Related Literature (Grand
For representative defenses of the Forms, Rhetoric, Context,” pp. 41–46 (in Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008) pp. 2–9, 204.
case for primarily ontological meaning for Day, King and Messiah, pp. 16–53). Cf., 2 42
Baines explains that, in Egypt,
son of God, see David Abernathy, “Jesus Sam. 21:1–14; Ps. 72. it was recognized that only “full deities”
Is The Eternal Son Of God,” St.Francis 35
Note Ezekiel’s critique of the divine existed in the divine domain, sometimes
Magazine, 6(2) (2010); David Abernathy, claims of Tyre’s king in Ezekiel 28. taking manifestations in the human realm,
“Translating ‘Son of God’ in Missionary 36
David was made a “son of God” by while the reigning pharaoh was only earth-
Bible Translation: A Critique of ‘Muslim- adoption with the Holy Spirit filling him bound with no concurrent existence in the
Idiom Bible Translations: Claims and upon his anointing. Not surprisingly, one divine realm. Thus, according to Baines,
Facts’, by Rick Brown, John Penny and of the early Christian heresies conceived Egypt’s pharaohs were a “lesser deity.”
Leith Gray,” St.Francis Magazine, 6(1) of Jesus as similarly a mere man “adopted” Nonetheless, as “a token of the divine in
(2010); Scott Horrell, “Cautions Re- when the Holy Spirit filled him (this this world,” pharaoh’s divinity was still re-
garding ‘Son of God’ in Muslim-Idiom adoption usually being identified with garded as a real “manifestation of the world
Translations of the Bible: Seeking Sensible his baptism; e.g., Shepherd of Hermas 6:5). of the gods” on earth. (Baines, “Egyptian
Balance.” St.Francis Magazine, 6(4) (2010). This heresy (commonly called “Adoption- Kingship,” pp. 16–24.)
For a very recent defense of the position ism”) illustrates an early awareness that 43
On a few occasions, Old Testament
that son of God did not “attribute deity,” some of those called “son of God” in and inter-testamental writers even use
see Bradford Greer, St. Francis Magazine, Scripture were so designated by the infill- intensely divine expressions—even more
8(2) (2012), p. 188. ing of the Holy Spirit “adopting” them. exalted than “Son of God”—for the awaited
Fossum, “Son of God” (1995), p. 1488. But Jesus’ sonship involved much more Messiah (e.g., Isa. 9:6; Ps. 45:7).
Jarl Fossum, “Son of God.” In: Karel van der than that, as orthodox apologists affirmed 44
See for example the charge in the
Toorn, et al., eds. Dictionary of Deities and in the early Creeds and Councils. online petition,
Demons in the Bible (Leiden: Brill, 1995) pp. 37
John Day, “The Canaanite In- petitions/lost-in-translation-keep-father-
heritance of the Israelite Monarchy,” son-in-the-bible.
Fossum, “Son of God” (1995), p. 1488. pp. 81–6 (in Day, King and Messiah, pp. 45
Cf., Exod. 21:33–22:15; Rom. 14:5–10.
James H. Breasted, Ancient Records 72–90); Fossum, “Son of God” (1998), pp. 46
Brown, “Part 1: Translating” (2005)
of Egypt: Historical Documents from the Ear- 6.128–9; Aubrey R Johnson, Sacral King- and “Part II: Translating” (2005).
liest Times to the Persian Conquest (Chicago: ship in Ancient Israel (Cardiff: University 47
University of Chicago Press, 1906), pp. The final point (#4) of the guided
of Wales, 1967).
2.59–60 (§138). process in the Best Practices states, “If no
Note how Paul, preaching to a possible option [for a literal rendering]
Georges Foucart, “King (Egyptian).” synagogue of Jews in Pamphylia, applies has been identified through this process,
In: James Hastings, ed., Encyclopaedia of Psalm 2 to Christ’s resurrection. “We non-literal options for the text may be
Religion and Ethic (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, bring you the good news that what God considered which conserve as much of the
1908–1926) pp. 7.712. Some scholars would promised to the fathers, this he fulfilled familial meaning as possible, provided that
say the one crowned had been divine from to us their children by raising Jesus, as the paratext includes the literal form.”
birth, and that “his coronation was not an also it is written in the second Psalm, ‘You 48
apotheosis but an epiphany.” Henri Frank- Brown, Gray and Gray, “A New
are my Son, today I have begotten you’”
fort, Kingship and the Gods: A Study of An- Look,” p. 117.
(Acts 13:32–33; cf., Rom. 1:4; Heb. 1:5; 49
cient Near Eastern Religion as the Integration “It is important to realize that to
5:5). Though Jesus is eternally God, it was
of Society and Nature (Chicago: University of express divine familial relationships, the Bible
not with his birth or his baptism that he
Chicago Press, 1955) p. 5. uses Greek and Hebrew social familial terms
fulfilled the “this day I have begotten you”
W. G Lambert, “Kingship in An- that do not necessarily demand biological
of Psalm 2, but on his victorious resurrec-
cient Mesopotamia” in John Day, ed. King meanings.” (Brown, Gray and Gray, “A New
tion (cf., Php. 2:6–11; see Brown, “Son of
and Messiah in Israel and the Ancient Near Look,” p. 107. Emphasis original.)
God,” pp. 46–7).
East: Proceedings of the Oxford Old Testament 39 Ibid., emphasis original.
Brown, “Son of God,” p. 42. For a
Seminar. JSOTSup 270 (Sheffield: Sheffield recent similar argument see Bradford Greer,
Ibid, 109, emphasis added.
Academic Press, 1998) pp. 54–70. “Revisiting “Son of God” (2012).
Ibid, 115, emphasis original.
The Epic of Gilgamesh, N. K Sanders, 40 53
Ibid, 107.
Even as long ago as his 2000 paper,
translator (Middlesex: Penguin, 1970) p. 59. 54
Brown affirmed, “The Scriptures ascribe This is especially true where the title
Fossum, “Son of God” (1995), p. 1486. divinity to Jesus in a variety of ways, but is used for Jesus, but might also be under-
Ibid., 1488 not by merely calling him ‘the Son of stood in reference to others. The bestow-
Jarl Fossum. 1998. “Son of God.” God’,” thereby affirming this title as one of ing of the Spirit upon God’s people is a
In The Anchor Bible Dictionary, edited by Scripture’s witnesses to Jesus’ deity. Brown, real bestowing of God’s presence, so that
David Noel Freedman. New York: Double- “Son of God,” p. 46. See also the list of 1 John 3:9 even speaks of believers in the
day, pp. 6.128. misperceptions that Brown, Gray and profoundly biological language of having
Frankfort, Kingship and the Gods, p. 51. Gray specifically denied in Brown, “New “God’s sperm” in them.
Frankfort, Kingship and the Gods Look…,” pp. 117-18. 55
The Arabic word tawhiid is an infini-
(esp., pp. 3–12); Ivan Engnell,. Studies in Adela Yarbro Collins and John J. tive of the intensified form of the verb that
Divine Kingship in the Ancient Near East Collins, King and Messiah as Son of God: Di- means “to be one.”

29:2 Summer 2012

74 A Further Look at Translating “Son of God”
See in this vein Matthew Carlton, common word for “father.” We have not
“Jesus, The Son of God: Biblical Meaning, dealt with “Father” directly in this article,
Muslim Understanding, and Implications but the translation of “Son of God” is inti-
For Translation and Bible Literacy,” St. mately related to the translation of “Father”
Francis Magazine, 7(3) (2011), especially in relation to “the Son.”
pp. 10–17, available from http://www. 65 content/uploads/2012/01/LostInTransla-
Matthew%20Carlton%20August%20 tion-FactCheck.pdf
2011.pdf, and Fred Faroukh, “Is the
Scandal for Muslims the How or the
Who?,” St. Francis Magazine, 8(2) (2012)
pp. 213–24 available from
The Qur’an calls shirk the unforgiv-
able sin. See for example Suurat Al-Nisa
(4), verses 48 and 116.
One colleague highlighted the role
of deceptive Muslim apologists in stirring
up negative reactions. “I have met many
[for whom Son of God] is not an issue,
and it seems mainly because they have not
been taught the negative reading.” Private
communication, 14 May 2012.
See the examples documented in
Rick Brown, “Why Muslims Are Re-
pelled by the Term ‘Son of God’,” Evan-
gelical Missions Quarterly (October 2007).
Even these examples raise the question
of whether the response was genuinely
spontaneous or was fomented by Muslim
religious leaders who seized on “Son of
God” for other purposes.
It is clear that the different concerns
and priorities of translators and field work-
ers result in divergent translation choices.
This reiterates that translation is not solely a
linguistic matter.
By witnesses we do not mean foreign
missionaries exclusively or even primarily.
God is raising up witnesses from the Mus-
lim world for the Muslim world.
We are not suggesting that anyone
is explicitly arguing for self-interpreting
translations that will not require a human
witness. To our knowledge, no one in this
controversy is making that case explicitly.
However, we believe there is an implicit
effort to make translations less dependent
on a human witness by trying to resolve
more at the translation level than possible or
necessary. It is that implicit effort which we
seek to address.
The Best Practices statement does
allude to this point in its opening line:
“Bible Translation is an integral part [of ]
the worldwide Church’s participation in
God’s mission.”
By extension, “Father” for God
should also normally be translated by the

International Journal of Frontier Missiology

Scripture in Context
Living Letters: The Arabic Script as a
Redemptive Bridge in Reaching Muslims
by Murray Decker and Abdu Injiiru

bdullah, a 45 year-old African man with a wife and two children,
comes from a completely Muslim family. He was an Islamic leader
among his people, and well supported financially by an organization
from a strongly Islamic Asian nation. One day last year as he was studying the
Qur’an, he read about the Prophet Isa ( Jesus) and felt prompted to ask God to
show him the truth. By God’s sovereign grace, Abdullah had a dream in which
he was running away from a fire. As he came to a wall he could not climb,
he could see Christians on the other side of the wall. Through that dream he
realized that God was answering his prayer.

In the days that followed Abdullah committed himself to Jesus Christ as

Lord. He left his employment as an Islamic preacher and moved his family
to the capital city, where he sought out several Christian workers he knew.
These workers showed him 35 pages of Scripture selections in his own
language, a West African tongue spoken by several million people written
in the only form he could read: Arabic script. Although the translators had
already translated a great deal of Scripture into Abdullah’s native African
language, they had done it in Roman script and had, for testing purposes,
only just recently transliterated these 35 pages into the appropriate script,
the right-to-left cursive calligraphy that Abdullah knew from his Qur’anic
studies. Thankfully, a newly developed computer program would help
Murray Decker, PhD, is an Associate them morph the English ABCs of the text into the “Abjad” of the Arabic
Professor at Cook School of Intercultural
Studies, Biola University. He has served alphabet. After reading more Scripture in the familiar Arabic script,
in West Africa and most recently in the Abdullah was baptized and moved back to his hometown to spread the good
Middle East, training nationals for
ministry in least reached contexts. Abdu news about Jesus. The critical catalyst in this story was a Scripture fragment,
Injiiru (pseudonym) has been involved translated into this man’s heart language, and equally significant, one he
in Scripture engagement across multiple
countries of West Africa for 26 years. could read in his heart script.

International Journal of Frontier Missiology 29:2 Summer 2012•75

76 Living Letters: The Arabic Script as a Redemptive Bridge in Reaching Muslims

Introduction taking advantage of the literacy efforts “these strange letters” of the Arabic
Over 100 years ago, missionaries to the of Islamic scholars across the centuries. alphabet—this sacred script—in their
Sahel region of West Africa arrived to In the area of Bible translation, dozens work. We also highlight hindrances
discover that in many Muslim peoples of translation projects have been to adopting Ajami. The authors are
there were already some individu- completed and hundreds of others convinced that using Ajami has far-
als who had been trained to read the are in process. In Sub-Saharan Africa reaching missiological implications for
Qur’an in Arabic. As is true in much alone (from Senegal to Somalia and Scripture use, discipleship, and church-
of the Muslim world today, they found down the eastern coast), there are planting movements.
people who could reproduce—with over six hundred Muslim Majority
phonetic perfection—the sounds of Languages (hereafter called MMLs). Reasons for Using Ajami
the Arabic language text without Additional MMLs exist in northern Among Muslim Peoples
understanding a single word they were Africa, the Middle East, and across
reading. But what if the text had been Asia, bringing the total to over one 1. Many Muslims are already
in their language? Because there are no thousand worldwide. Local people, literate in the Arabic script.
practical limits to what can be writ- if given a tract or Scripture portion In Muslim Africa, literacy rates in
ten using Arabic script, those early written in Arabic letters, could read Ajami are significantly higher than
workers began translating the Bible it in their own tongue. Surely these in Roman script. In many MMLs, 30
into African mother tongues using the completed translations and new works to 50 percent of the adult population
Arabic letters the local peoples already all utilize Ajami. is already literate in the Arabic script.
knew how to read. Today we use the Because most countries measure lit-
term “Ajami” to refer to indigenous eracy only in their official European
languages written in Arabic script.1 Roman script language (predominantly
French or English), accurate statistics
The use of Ajami in mother tongue for Arabic or Ajami literacy are hard to
translation was not unique to Africa. come by. When a census worker enters
History is replete with examples of a village and asks, “How many people
enterprising workers who found that Unfortunately, know how to read?” the question is un-
using a script people already knew derstood to mean, “How many of you
made it much easier for them to this is not the case. can read French (or English)?” Ironi-
learn to read their own language. In cally, villagers may report that no one
the nineteenth century, Englishman in the village can read, even as a group
Henry Martyn chose Ajami for his of children sits under a tree practicing
translations of Scripture into Persian their Arabic letters on a board.
and Urdu. Had he chosen the Roman
script used back home, Persian or This constitutes a blind spot within
Urdu speakers wanting to read the Unfortunately, this is not the case. The the statistical data. For example,
Scriptures in their own language early use of Ajami in the Sahel was Operation World (2010 ed.) appears to
would have had to learn their ABCs discontinued for various reasons, in- underestimate how widespread Ajami
first. Now, as in Martyn’s time, it cluding: colonial political pressure, eth- literacy actually is within MMLs.3 For
makes sense to utilize a script that nocentric linguistic bias, the difficulty example, the entry on the Republic
people already know, thus avoiding the of learning to write and type the Arabic of Mali reports a 19 percent literacy
long, tedious labor of doing literacy alphabet from right to left, and the de- rate for that country (p. 564). Yet on
just so people can read their language sire to provide a “Western-style” educa- the next page we read that more than
using our letters.2 tion. Subsequent work was completed three thousand Qur’anic schools—
using Roman script, which has been the taught by individual “marabouts”
As we fast-forward to today, one might situation with MMLs for decades. (Islamic teachers)—enroll some 40
expect that cross-cultural workers percent of the children in Bamako, the
are already using the Ajami script so This article will explore the critical capital (thanks to funding from Libya
widely known throughout the Muslim importance of Ajami in communicating and Saudi Arabia). In missiology we
world. Further, one might expect that God’s love to Muslims. We outline six speak of hidden peoples; can we not also
Bible translators, church planters, primary reasons why those involved in speak of millions of hidden literates?
development workers, and others Bible translation and other literature
are harnessing this socio-linguistic programs among Muslim peoples Teaching these people to read their
phenomenon to advance their work, should strongly consider using own language in Ajami requires almost

International Journal of Frontier Missiology

Murray Decker and Abdu Injiiru 77

no effort. It takes only minutes to
show them the few letters they may
istorically in Africa, we had to teach reading
not be familiar with, then they are before we could hand out the Bible. But to my
off and running, reading in their own
tongue. Mik Enoch,4 cross-cultural
astonishment, I suddenly realized . . .
worker with the Evangelical Free
Church, notes that there is always 2. The Ajami Bible is own copy, if they wish. It is rare
someone in every village who can considered sacred. to encounter hostility when one
read Ajami. He says: “Historically in Contrary to what many believe, most presents the Scriptures in a culturally
Africa, we had to teach reading before Muslims do not hate the Bible. The appropriate manner. Workers usually
we could hand out a Bible. But to my Tawrat (Torah), Zabur (Psalms) and do not have to sneak around as
astonishment, I suddenly realized that Injil (New Testament) are recognized though they have something to hide
using Ajami script meant Islam had within the Qur’an as holy books. or are doing something subversive.
already done this onerous task for us.”5 When a Fulani, Hausa, Chadian Even if the rest of the community
Arab, or Wolof reader receives a cannot read Ajami, the leaders
Numerous Islamic organizations and copy of Genesis, the Psalms or the most likely will be literate or know
governments are funding extensive Gospels, he regards it as sacred someone in the village who reads
Arabic-script literacy work. Al-Ahzar literature, given by God as absolute well. In African culture it would be
University in Egypt—reportedly the truth. The tremendously warm and rude to refuse such a gift.
largest Islamic school in the world— receptive response to the Bible in
sends students throughout the world, Ajami goes far beyond the fact that After the distribution ceremony, the
and to Sub-Saharan Africa in particu- they just like the look of the letters. rest of the village will often line up
lar, to start Qur’anic schools and teach They attribute these books to the very and wait patiently for their turn to
the fundamentals of Islam. Nothing, hand of God, divinely scripted and purchase a portion of Scripture for
of course, is more foundational to this sacred in all they teach.6 themselves and their family. Far from
endeavor than teaching children to being resistant to the Bible, they
read Arabic. And Al-Azhar is only one One man tells the story of a Muslim eagerly want to own one. You will
institution among many that supplies friend who came to his home for a often sell every piece of literature
teachers. Libya and Saudi Arabia use visit.7 Lying on the coffee table was you bring. As you walk through the
their considerable oil wealth to fund an Ajami copy of Luke in his guest’s village at night, you will see, in home
such schools and missionaries, while language. As the host began to share after home, people gathered to read
Pakistan and other Asian nations also the story of the Prodigal Son, his the Bible in their own language for
offer funding and personnel. Muslim friend interrupted him. “I the first time. Of course, anyone who
know this story,” he said. “Our imam has worked in the Muslim world
Travel anywhere in Muslim sub- told us this at the mosque last Friday.” knows that there is no one “golden
Saharan Africa and you will find Curious, the man asked, “So how does key” that will open the hearts of
these Franco-Arabic or Anglo-Arabic he know this story?” Pointing to the Muslims. However, many recognize
schools. In Nigeria, the fundamentalist Ajami book lying on the table, his the power of the Word of God, put
Izala movement has built hundreds of friend explained, “He is preaching to into a form that people can read, as
schools to propagate Islam. In county us from this holy book.” one of the keys that God is using to
after country, village after village, you bring many to faith.
will find children learning to read and Introducing Ajami to a New Community
memorize the Qur’an, again often When you bring the Ajami Scriptures 3. Muslim Majority Language
with no understanding of what they into a MML community, we suggest populations highly respect
are reading. Is there a gift from God that you first formally approach the Ajami writing.
in all this? In the sovereignty of the local leaders and present them with Arabic script is held in high esteem
Lord, many children in Muslim people a copy. Most leaders will graciously throughout the Islamic world. When
groups are being taught to read. Are accept the gift with great fanfare a Muslim looks at the Arabic script,
we willing to walk through this “wide and appreciation. Often they will he views it with reverence and deep
door for effective work” that has been make a public speech, expressing affection. It is for him a holy script—
opened to us? (1 Cor. 19:9) Will we words of gratitude. As opinion the very script handed down from
put the good news into the hands of leaders, their acceptance of these heaven to Muhammad in the Qur’an.8
these newly literate populations in a books gives permission to the rest In essence, it is God’s font; God writes
form that they can already read? of the community to purchase their from right to left.

29:2 Summer 2012

78 Living Letters: The Arabic Script as a Redemptive Bridge in Reaching Muslims

To illustrate the esteem people may become anxious just looking chapters of Acts. Paul’s letters to the
have for this script, a woman once at these unfamiliar letters. Indeed, Corinthians, for example, tackle one
approached us to show us how she had something as innocuous as a “No contextual issue after another. The
memorized an AIDS tract produced Parking” sign in Arabic script can question whether some indigenous
by a local language committee. She become a subversive religious message. cultural forms are too tainted by the
memorized it, not for its content or Putting the shoe on the other foot, if culture to be used by the church is one
message, but because it was written we want people to willingly read the that Christians have wrestled with for
in the holy script. Word for word, she Scriptures or other literature, why use centuries and have often answered in
proudly recited the brochure from a script that they essentially distrust the affirmative. Throughout mission
memory. More significantly, even and find objectionable?9 history “pagan” drums and other
those who do not follow Christ regard instruments have been burned, dance
Scripture memorization from Ajami Is Ajami Too Islamic? or other expressions of art forbidden,
texts to be highly valuable. Some men One concern that deserves careful and Western forms substituted for
who receive an Ajami copy of, say, consideration is that Ajami is too the arts, architecture, celebrations and
Genesis or Psalms will memorize the Islamic and that using it amounts to lifestyles of emerging Christ-following
whole book! tacit acceptance of Islam. It is fair to communities in “foreign” cultures.
ask, however, whether a script can be
Contrast this with the strong, nega- by its very nature Christian, Islamic Not surprisingly, we love and cherish
tive feelings that Muslims often have or Hindu. For example, the Korean our cultural expressions of the faith.
toward Roman script. Parents may not Sadly, too many churches split over
even want to send their children to a issues that others would dismiss as
school that teaches this script, believ- relatively inconsequential cultural pref-
ing that anyone using an immoral erence. Some Christians find it dif-
script must himself be immoral (in ficult to believe that the gospel can be
fact, the Fulani call the Roman alpha-
bet karfeeji kefero “pagan script.”) How,
Few associate the communicated in any form other than
the one they hold most dear. The argu-
they ask, could anyone take something Hangul script with the ment that Ajami is too Islamic (or that
as sacred as the word of God and print using it suggests tacit approval of Is-
it in those ugly, disdainful Roman let- spread of Buddhism or lam) comes, in our view, from a faulty
ters? One Muslim leader crudely put it Confucianism. premise. This premise is based more
this way: “We use paper with Roman on cultural preference than on objec-
script on it for toilet paper, but we tive evidence that Ajami encourages
would never do that with something syncretism or helps strengthen Islam.
printed in Ajami.” While Ajami is clearly a new form
for many, it has actually been in use
Such negative reactions to our Roman language is mainly written in Hangul, for hundreds years in the Sahel and
script should be easy for North a syllabic alphabet promulgated in elsewhere.10 In our experience, Ajami
Americans to understand, for we see the 1446 by Sejong the Great. Although is a powerfully useful contextual form
opposite taking place in our culture. Sejong was not a Christian, few see that does not change the message in
Look at this sample text in Arabic script. 예수는 주님 이시다 and associate any inappropriate or syncretistic way.
What emotions do we experience? this script with the spread of When Muslim Background Believers
Buddhism or Confucianism. Korean gather to study the New Testament in
language Bibles, hymn books, theology Ajami and read about the life of Isa
texts, and children’s literature all use ( Jesus) in their mother tongue, they do
the above phrase in Hangul without not think, “This will lead me back into
Where Muslim peoples see comfort, fear of communicating anything other Islam,” but rather, “Jesus is amazing!
beauty and blessing, many Westerners than “Jesus is Lord” (as the above I must know more about him. Thank
experience confusion, suspicion and text proclaims). Hangul is seen as God I have this information in a form
fear. North Americans often see neutral, not Buddhistic, and is equally that I can understand!”
Arabic writing and associate it with appropriate for writing Scripture as for
radical Islam, terrorism and violence. writing restaurant menus or billboards. 4. Ajami is perceived as “blessed”
While the above Ajami sentence and powerful.
is simply the transliterated English The church has wrestled with matters Many Muslims believe that simply
phrase “God so loved the world,” some of contextualization since the earliest being in the presence of the Arabic

International Journal of Frontier Missiology

Murray Decker and Abdu Injiiru 79

script is inherently valuable. They
ascribe an intrinsic mystical power to
e saw a man take a Qur’anic board, wash
the very letters of the Arabic alphabet the ink off of it, catch the run-off, and
and believe that one is blessed by
merely holding the text and looking
drink the murky liquid like medicine.
at it. From their perspective, one does
not have to understand the words to know what these words mean; you are departments promoting Ajami, and
receive a blessing. We believe that blessed just being in the presence of are working to standardize its use in
blessing comes from understanding this sacred script. their respective countries. Not only
and doing what the Scriptures say are government officials and agencies
( James 1:25), but we need to start Because of this belief, it is important endorsing the script, but international
where our Muslim friends are. to distribute Ajami literature wisely. Islamic organizations as well. ISESCO
Our goal must be to get it into the (the Islamic Educational, Scientific and
Striking examples of this common hands of those who can actually read Cultural Organization) actively pro-
Muslim view can be seen throughout it, and not just treat it as an amulet. motes the Qur’an in several languages
sub-Saharan Africa. When children be- Once, while getting into a taxi in a using Ajami. ISESCO recognizes what
gin Qur’anic school, they obtain a small predominately Muslim city, I (Abdu) many Christian agencies have been
wooden board upon which they will noticed the Ajami book of Luke taped slow to accept—Ajami is the most
write their lessons for the first few years to the ceiling of the cab. “Can you powerful tool they have to encourage
of study. These lessons include verses read this?” I asked the driver. “No,” he literacy and to communicate effectively
from the Qur’an. After years of use, this replied. “Then why do you have this with MML peoples.
Qur’anic board, which is often kept for book taped to the ceiling of your car?”
life, becomes a talisman whose power I continued. “Baraka (blessing),” he Beyond merely promoting literacy,
derives from all of the sacred Arabic responded. Somehow he had gotten ISESCO also seeks to advance Islam.
letters that have been written on it. his hands on this portion of Scripture Wolof, Fulfulde, and Swahili editions
and was using it to ward off evil and to of the Qur’an were recently released
But it is not just the boards themselves attract blessing to his car. Since we do in Ajami.13 This is a relatively recent
that are considered powerful. Some not want the Bible to be reduced to a phenomenon in Africa, one that is
years ago, during our first encounter good luck charm, we will have to show likely to grow in the future.
with children writing on their discernment in how we distribute it.
Qur’anic boards, we saw a man take Islam is not a religion that readily em-
a board, wash the ink off of it, catch Even if some do treat the Ajami Scrip- braces contextualization; often the op-
the run-off, and then drink the murky tures in this way, is this a reason not to posite is true. Sacrosanct Arab forms
liquid like one would drink medicine. use it? Will we be guilty of promoting and doctrines from the Middle East
This “liquid Arabic” is actually sold in a mystical regard for the script beyond are stressed in cultures where they
the markets, where it is bought for its what is associated with the actual trans- don’t fit. For this reason, it is stunning
healing and protective properties.11 lated verses themselves? In our opinion, to see these Ajami translations of the
Among Muslim peoples who engage the danger of this is no greater than the Qur’an now coming off the presses.
in animal husbandry, Arabic blessings, reverence some might feel in the pres- ISESCO, which functions in the genre
which are frequently written on ence of a first-edition Gutenberg Bible. of UNESCO, is involved in influenc-
edible leaves and fed to cattle or If the danger of creating a “Nehush- ing Sub-Saharan governments toward
other animals, serve as medicine or a tan”12 develops (Num. 21:4-9, 2 Kings certain forms of Ajami. This organiza-
protective charm. 18:4), church leaders will need to ad- tion, or some other, might become the
dress this concern directly. But this does premier Qur’an translation society
The flowing calligraphy of the not override the many excellent reasons of the Muslim world. They value the
Qur’an—which is often used as a for adopting this script. importance of Ajami, if only to lead
border along the top of the wall people to the most important language
of a room—decorates homes, 5. Governments and international from their perspective: Arabic.
businesses, and mosques. More than Islamic organizations are
mere ornamentation, you receive a promoting Ajami. 6. Significant social prestige
blessing every time you walk through Many African nations are increasingly is associated with Arabic and
that room and see those letters and showing support for native language Ajami literacy.
words, which protect your home and translation using Ajami. Niger, Sen- In MML cultures, tremendously
children. Again, you don’t need to egal and Chad all have governmental high social regard is given to those

29:2 Summer 2012

80 Living Letters: The Arabic Script as a Redemptive Bridge in Reaching Muslims

who are literate in Arabic (and and phonetically read the script. We As a rule, national Bible societies will
therefore can read Ajami). You consider this an essential investment not publish a Bible unless someone
cannot be an opinion leader in most in their credibility. is willing to dedicate it and use it. If
Muslim societies without being able church planters, mission organizations
to read the Qur’an in Arabic. In Resistance and Hindrances or national Christian groups are not
these status conscious cultures, even Muslim background believers and going to use it, why publish it? The
basic literacy in Arabic is critical if national Christian groups have historic resistance to Ajami described
you are to be perceived as a person of proven to be the strongest critics earlier can still be found within some
significance. A young man can have of Ajami. For many, Ajami isn’t a mission organizations and national
a PhD from a prestigious “pagan” “neutral” script, but is so tainted denominations, or more accurately,
university, but if he cannot read the with the Islam they knew prior to among certain leaders who still hold
Arabic script, he will be deprived following Christ that they do not these fears and reservations.
of status among his people and his believe it should be used. Where
spirituality will be suspect. did they acquire such a perspective? One final hindrance to more
Western workers have taught new widespread use of Ajami among
Often the first Christ-followers in followers of Christ to leave behind unreached MMLs is the fact that
a new people group are precisely their old ways, including, often, the mission organizations do not
these educated young men (rarely writing system they were taught as emphasize the importance of learning
women) who attend such schools and Muslim children. Today, some of the Arabic when it will not be the worker’s
universities. By getting exposed to the language of ministry. Naturally,
world outside of Islam they become workers who don’t know any Arabic
open to hearing the good news and cannot read Ajami. We are not saying
following Christ. If they do not know they need to learn to speak Arabic;
how to read Arabic, however, they they just need to be able to read and
will struggle to influence others when
Some Muslim write in Ajami,16 critical skills that
they return to their societies. Thus it background believers and can normally be acquired, at a most
is especially critical for believers from basic level, in a one-week seminar.
MMLs to learn to read Ajami in order national Christian groups But agencies need to make sure their
to maximize their influence in their
home culture. In fact, a workshop and
are among the strongest workers have the time and resources
required to become equipped with
primer have been developed for this critics of Ajami. these skills. And when veteran workers
very purpose.14 are resistant—“I don’t need to learn
Ajami; I’ve been doing this for 20
In light of this crucial social factor, years!”—they should be encouraged to
we believe that church-planting see the tremendous potential in this
movements among MMLs are greatest resistance to Ajami comes old “new” tool.
significantly hindered without Ajami.15 from national believers and their
This statement may strike some as church organizations. New “pro- Summary Thoughts
extreme, but we have witnessed this Ajami” workers should be prepared to I (Abdu) first realized the significance
reality in Muslim cultures across take criticism from fellow followers of Ajami in 1995. Fatima (a woman
Africa. The credibility needed to fuel of Christ as much as from Muslims. from the people group we serve) had
these kinds of movements must not come to faith and strongly desired
only be embedded in the Scriptures Ajami is a widely used writing to read the Scriptures. The Bible had
we distribute, but in the reputations of system. Advances in categorizing been translated into her language in
the messengers. Therefore we would the languages that need Ajami Roman script, and so my wife began
urge every Christian college seeking can be found at sites such as the arduous process of teaching her
to prepare students for ministry in Over 150 to read her ABCs. After twenty-six
the Muslim world to offer Arabic. languages that use the Arabic script hours of instruction, Fatima was still
Because of the importance of Arabic are listed at this site. The history, use, only at an elementary level. Then one
in the Muslim world, all such students fonts, keyboards and several other day (while my wife and Fatima were
should take at least one semester, even needs related to each language’s struggling through yet another long
if they do not plan to work among script are also noted. We are grateful session), I visited some colleagues,
Arabic speakers. Messengers need for these tools, which are useful for who gave me the book of Luke in
to be equipped to use the alphabet the mission enterprise. Ajami. Returning home, I approached

International Journal of Frontier Missiology

Murray Decker and Abdu Injiiru 81

the weary pair as they labored over
their lesson and asked Fatima if she
y wife turned to me and said (in English),
had been taught to read Arabic as a “What have I been wasting my time for?”
girl. “Yes,” she stated proudly, “during
four years of school.” I handed her the
Frustration soon yielded to rejoicing . . .
Ajami book of Luke and asked, “Can
you read this?” Without a moment of the benefit of this redemptive script Qur’an to the very hand of God, divinely
hesitation, she picked it up and began for His glory among those who wait to scripted. Most believe the Qur’an was dic-
reading aloud. read the good news for the first time. tated to Muhammad, and since Muham-
mad was said to be illiterate, the Scriptures
were written down by others as he recited
“This is in my language!” she cried. If you are interested in learning
to them.
more about Ajami transliteration, 9
The socio-linguistic issues here go
My wife turned to me and said (in please contact Abdu Injiiru at s2c@ far beyond the script and involve such
English), “What have I been wasting to find a workshop issues as the color of sacred books, page
my time for?” Frustration soon yielded where you can learn to read and use layout, etc. Hill and Hill state: “Finally,
to rejoicing as we celebrated with this script. IJFM [Muslims] feel that since Scripture is
Fatima, who was thrilled to be reading holy, it shouldn’t have illustrations on the
cover or inside. The cover itself should
God’s word in her own tongue, and Endnotes be elegant, not black, and not made of
began to explain to her the meaning 1
Ajami is a term primarily used in
Africa. However, historically Arabic script paper. The text of Scripture should be on
of the text. Now instead of needing to off-white paper surrounded by a frame,
teach her Roman script, we needed to was used to write mother-tongues in many
countries, including Spain (called Aljami- and the introductions, footnotes, section
learn Ajami. headings, and cross-references should
ado), Bosnia, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, India,
Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines and even be outside the frame” (2008, 173). Since
For the past 15 years, we have shifted China. For the purposes of this article, we many cultures regard black as a color of
more and more of our attention use the term Ajami in reference to the use death, what message is received when the
toward producing Ajami literature of Arabic script in African contexts. For a Bible is printed with a black cover? Those
historical overview of this script in Africa elaborate borders that take so much space
for the growing church in the people
see: Warren-Rothlin, Andy. 2009. “Script on the pages of the Qur’an are actually
group we are serving. Our hearts are a critical part of the presentation. The
Choice, Politics, and Bible Agencies in West
still in the village, but the work of beauty of the book should foretell the
Africa.” The Bible Translator: Technical Papers
transliterating Bible translations into 60(1):50-66. beauty of the message found therein.
the Ajami script is so significant that 2
On the larger subject of linguistic 10
See Ajami Scripts in the Senegalese
it now demands most of our time. And history and scripts, the Old Testament Speech Community by Fallou Ngom www.
we are beginning to see unprecedented illustrates the significance of this cross-
fruit among this strategic people cultural communication factor, as it records 11
For many of the scholars who teach
group—God is moving among them. how letters and decrees were often sent to Arabic to children, this becomes an impor-
different groups in their own languages and tant source of income.
scripts (see, for example, Ezra 4:7 and Esther 12
Nehushtan was the name given to
As members of a generation 1:22, 3:12, and 8:9). Moses’ old bronze serpent, ascribed with
influenced by Don Richardson’s 3
Jason Mandryk, ed. 2010. Operation talismanic powers years after it had served
concept of redemptive analogies,17 we World. Colorado Springs: Biblica Publish- its purpose. King Hezekiah ultimately broke
have been slow to recognize that one ing. We deeply respect the work done by it to pieces rather than let it remain an
way God has placed eternity in the Operation World’s editors. In no way is this object of veneration.
hearts of MML peoples is through observation a criticism of this well written 13
and thoughtfully compiled prayer guide.
their profound regard for Arabic news/news.php?=1341
All personal names cited in this
orthography. We might call it a article are pseudonyms used for their pro-
See contact information at the end
redemptive script. The implications for tection. of this article regarding this primer or how
Bible translation, intercultural training, 5
Private correspondence, used with to attend an Ajami workshop.
field practice and publishing are permission. Perhaps we should soften this state-
significant. Further research into the 6
Granted, some Muslims contend that ment since a) nothing is outside the power
use of Ajami is critically necessary. We these texts have been corrupted. In our ex- of God, and b) some Islamic peoples in
perience, when these same people are asked Africa are largely illiterate as no Qur’anic
believe that reaching hidden literates
if God would allow His word to be changed, training exists among them. God can work
is a key pathway to reaching hidden most will strongly deny that this is possible. when and where He wishes, but we mini-
peoples, as faith comes by hearing (but 7
Personal communication. mize the deep social significance of Ajami
also reading) the Word of God. May 8
Some Muslims attribute the Arabic literacy among these people to the detri-
God grant us the wisdom to maximize alphabet and the actual verses of the ment of our ministries.

29:2 Summer 2012

Select Titles from William Carey Library
82 Living Letters: The Arabic Script as a Redemptive Bridge in Reaching Muslims
Smith, Donald

See Awede, Nicholas, and Putros PEOPLES OF THE WORLD
Samano. 1986. Hindu
The Arabic Ministry
Papers from the Rethinking Forum
1992 Creating Understanding. Grand
Alphabet: How to Reached / Unreached
Reached Peoples

16,000 People Groups/4 billion people

Great Commission Christians

(800 million people)
The Globe at a Glance
Unreached Peoples

8,000 People Groups/2.7 billion people

Those who live in people groups without an indigenous
church-planting movement. Only 10% of missionary
work is focused on them.

read and write it. New Jersey: Lyle Stuart Rapids, MI: Zondervan. See
Those followers of Jesus who are, or can be, mobilized
300 Unreached People
and equipped to make disciples of all nations.
Other Groups
Nominal Christians
(1.37 billion) Religions
(31 mil. people) Christian Unreached Peoples
10,000 Peoples
Those who consider themselves Christians because 900 Peoples
they are part of a Christian culture, or Christian country,
(2.33 billion people)
(42 million people)
but who are not being discipled to follow Christ. Most
mission and evangelism efforts are presently focused on
Non- 1.35 billion

section on signal systems, 144-165.

nominal Christians.

Inc. This is an excellent way to learn the

Nominal Christians
Non-Christians Within Reach (1.83 billion)
Those who do not know Christ as Lord and Savior, but
who live within people groups where missionaries have 300 Peoples
planted strong churches, pastored by their own people. (655 million people)
Through these churches they can readily hear about
Christ in their language and from their people.
100 Unreached Peoples
(121 million people)

Arabic system quickly. Warren-Rothlin, Andrew

Reached Peoples
Buddhist 700 Unreached Peoples
The “dark blue” areas of the pie above and to the
1,300 Peoples (275 million people)
left reflect the number of individuals making up the
(523 million unreached peoples of the world—those groups that
people) still lack an indigenous church-planting movement.
In these groups are 2.7 billion people, representing
3,300 Unreached 40% of the world’s population. The individuals in these

large blocs speak over 5,000 languages, and are further

Richardson, Don. 1999. “Redemp- 2009 “Script Choice, Politics, and Bible
(1.26 billion people) broken down into 8,000 nations/peoples, each of which
2,400 Unreached Peoples
requires specialized cross-cultural outreach and its own
(860 million people) indigenous church. This task—the planting of churches
for the first time among the unreached peoples—must
be the highest priority for all churches around the
world. Only when all parts of the worldwide church
1,200 Unreached
Muslim accept the responsibility to penetrate determinedly
these last frontiers by planting a viable, witnessing
Hindu (161 million people)
4,100 Peoples
(1.47 billion
church in the midst of them all will we be able to

tive Analogy.” In Perspectives on the World Agencies in West Africa.” The

3,400 Peoples confidently say that “every tribe, tongue, and nation”
The pieces of pie (above and to the right) show the people)
degree to which each of the major cultural groupings (960 million people) has heard—the condition our Lord has placed upon his
return (Matthew 24:14).
of the world has been penetrated with the gospel.
A people is defined as reached once an indigenous
church has become well-established within it, capable

Ethnic Religions
of reproducing indigenous leaders, church planters,
evangelists and missionaries. True and nominal
4,000 Peoples
Christians, plus the non-Christians within their cultural
True Christians, available as a work force, A Biblical Nation Is Not a Country
reach, constitute about 60% of the world’s population, or (725 million people)

Bible Translator: Technical Papers

through discipleship and equipping

Christian Movement, 285–289. Pasadena,

4 billion people. Most missionary effort is concentrated
here (over 90%).
Purely Nominal “Christians,” needing E0 renewal The chart is divided by the predominant religion within each unimax people.* (“Peoples” =
evangelism “People Groups”) All individuals in the world can be found somewhere on this diagram. Religion
is seen as part of the cultural identity of the group as a whole. For instance, when a Buddhist
people has a church movement established within it, which seeks to evangelize the rest of the
The Great Imbalance Non-Christians making no Christian profession but
members of that people, the group is considered “reached,” but still within
living within reached groups, needing E1 outreach
the Buddhist cultural bloc.

CA: William Carey Library. 60(1):50-66.

Non-Christians living within unreached people * Unimax People: The MAXimum sized group sufficiently UNIfied to be reached by a single
Reached Unreached
groups, requiring E2 to E3 cross-cultural evangelism indigenous church-planting movement. Countries Ethne
People Groups
16,000 8,000
The Great Commission, found in Matthew 28:19-20, is
Non-Christians a mandate given to the global Church to “disciple all
40% 60% nations” until the “end of the age.” The Greek word used
Practicing Christians Distribution of Missionaries in Proportion to World Population for nations does not refer to countries but to ethnic
99% groups (Greek: “ethne” or peoples). Geo-political entities
have constantly shifted throughout history, and within
All Foreign Missionaries
Reached Peoples Unreached Peoples many of them today are contained numerous ethnicities.

( Billion Individuals)) ((2.7 Billion Individuals) As a global average, there are about 100 people groups

Hindu Ministry
per country. Some countries, such as Nigeria, India, and
Other Indonesia, have well over a thousand peoples in each
1% 0.2%
Practicing one. In other countries, such as South Korea and Japan,
Christians the population is fairly homogenous, representing
3.4 % 0.6% Non
No primarily one ethnic group; but they are the exception
11.9% Reached Unreached

to the rule.
Nominal within Peoples Peoples
Christians unreached Reached Unreached 3% 3% Muslim
groups Peoples Peoples

2010 “West African Ajami

40.3% Percentage of Global 1.3% 0.6% Hindu
Percentage of Global
Evangelical Missionaries
Evangelical Missionaries
27.13% within Each Religious Bloc
within Each Religious Bloc For More Information
7.1% 3.8% Ethn Religions

ISBN 9780878085125
Non-Christians within
reached groups
1.5% 1.5% Buddhist

73.1% Christian

Heibert, Paul G. Orthographies in Socio-Political

Source: Bruce Koch, based on All Humanity in Mission Perspective
AD 2008 (Active Christians = GCC)
90.4% 9.7% Totals

Peoples of the World Poster

All Humanity in Mission Perspective in A.D. 2008 Majority Religions among the World’s Peoples

1985 Anthropological Insights Author:

for H L Richard Context.” Paper presented at The Predominant Religion within Culturally Defined Peoples
Ethnic Non- Other
Totals Christianity Buddhism Hinduism Islam
Religion Religious Religions
JPD Peoples 4,253 - 227 704 1,843 1,344 15 120

Least Evangelized and

Estimated Unreached Unimax Peoples 8,000 - 700 1,200 2,400 3,300 100 300

Frontier Missions
Unreached Peoples
Practicing Christians 5.3 - 0.4 1.2 0.4 1 2 0.3

(in millions)
Non-Christians (P2): E2 to E3 1,551 - 122 68 783 432 119 27
1077 - 135 70 60 808 0 4

Our Price: $6.95

Non-Christians (P2.5): E2.5 to E3
Non-Christians (P3): E3 71 - 18 22 17 14 0 0
Total 2,704 - 275 161 860 1255 121 31
Global Evangelical Missionaries 24,300 - 3,700 9,600 1,600 7,500 1,400 500
JPD Peoples 5,725 3,543 35 1,652 146 317 18 14

"Domestic" Missions
Missionaries. Grand Rapids:

Most Evangelized and

16,000 10,000 600 2,800 1,000 800 200 600

Evangelism and
Estimated Reached Unimax Peoples

Reached Peoples
Our Price: $10.39 Arabic Script in Africa: Diffusion,
Practicing Christians 796 570 20 120 12 5 65 4

(in millions)
Nominal-Christians (P0, P.5): E0 to E3 1,372 1,350 3 6 3 1 9 0
Non-Christians (P1): E1 to E3 1,830 410 225 438 85 205 460 7 Christian
Total 3,998 2,330 248 564 100 211 534 11
Global Evangelical Missionaries 228,700 185,000 3,700 18,000 3,400 7,500 8,600 2,500 Buddhist
JPD Peoples 9,978 3,543 262 2,356 1,989 1,661 33 134
Estimated Unimax Peoples 24,000 10,000 1,300 4,000 3,400 4,100 300 900 Ethnic Religions

Total (in millions) 6,702 2,330 523 725 960 1,466 655 42
All Missionaries 253,000 185,000 7,400 27,600 5,000 15,000 10,000 3,000 Hindu
The table above was generated by the Research Department of the U.S. Center for World Mission using data from the Global Mission Database (, the Joshua

H. L. Richard, Editor
Project Database (, and the World Christian Database ( JPD Peoples: All ethno-linguistic and ethno-cultural peoples
documented in the Joshua Project Database, and summarized without geo-political divisions. Unreached Peoples: Estimate of Unimax peoples (1982 definition) without a viable

Baker Book House. See sections 3 or More: $5.82

church planting movement or a viable, indigenous, evangelizing church. The number of unimax peoples (1982 definition) are estimates. Clues are taken from linguistic and social
factors (e.g., language clusters, caste). Reached Peoples: Estimate of Unimax peoples (1982 definition) with a viable church. This includes all peoples predominantly Christian.

Usage, Diversity and Dynamics

Practicing Christians: Christians of evangelical conviction who are being or can be discipled to obey the Great Commission. Global Evangelical Missionaries include foreign
missionaries, missionaries working within their own country (both cross-culturally and in near cultures), bi-vocational missionaries, and home staff who are classified as
missionaries who support field missionaries.

3 or More: $7.14
For an understanding of the following: E0, E1, E2, E3 and P0, P1, P2, P3, see the article “Finishing the Task” on the USCWM Website: Produced by the USCWM Mobilization Office: 1605 E. Elizabeth St., Pasadena, CA 91104 • (626) 398-2200 • © U.S. CENTER FOR WORLD MISSION • 120109

Poster Final.Final.FinalB2.indd 1 12/22/09 3:13:56 PM

on “Cultural Differences and of a Writing System (a Workshop

the Message, and Critical funded by the Fritz Thyssen
Contexualization,” 61-110. Stiftung), University of Cologne,
Hill, Harriet, and Margaret Hill Germany, April 6-7.
2008 Translating the Bible into Action: Mumin, M., ed.
How the Bible can be relevant
“West African Scripts and
in all languages and cultures.
Carlisle, UK: Piquant Editions. Arabic-Script Orthographies in
See section on “How Muslims use Socio-Political Context.” In The
the Bible.” Arabic Script in Africa. New M
Muslims, Magic and
Johnstone, Patrick York: Brill, f.c. tthe Kingdom of God
Vietnam’s Christiansand S. McGill, eds.
“Bible Translation and the Cross Blench, R.,
IISBN 9780878084432
Cultural DNA of the Church.” 2009 “Arabic Script in modern
ISBN 9780878083046Nigeria.” In Current Research Author: Rick Love
Philips, J. Author: Reg Reimer in Nigerian Languages: Papers Our Price: $14.39
2000 “Spurious Arabic: Hausa and Our Price: $10.39 from the Jos Linguistic Circle. 3 or More: $9.89
Colonial Nigeria.” University Cambridge: Kay Williamson
3 orofMore: $7.14
Wisconsin African Studies Center. Educational Foundation, f.c.

Operation World:
The Definitive Prayer Guide to Every Nation

ISBN-13: 978-1-85078-8621
Author: Jason Mandryk
Publisher: Biblica
1024 pages
Paperback 2010

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w w w. m i s s i o n b o o k s . o r g • 1-800-MISSION

International Journal of Frontier Missiology

Scripture in Context
Bible Translation and Small Languages
in the Pacific: Ten Years Later
by Karl J. Franklin

ccording to SIL International in Papua New Guinea (PNG),1 there
are about 850 distinct languages in that country alone, as well as a
multitude of dialects in many of the languages.2 In addition, there
are 200 languages on the Indonesian side of the island of New Guinea, as
well as hundreds of languages in the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu with the
majority of them being very small. The most complete record of the languages
can be found in Ethnologue, a catalogue of the world’s languages, where each
separate language is given a three-letter identifying code.3

We, therefore, have a reasonable record upon which to base our observations
about the status of small languages in the Pacific. Note, as background, that
most of the world’s authorities on the linguistic viability of a language say
that one with only 10,000 speakers is in the “endangered” category. Since the
average size of a language in PNG does not approach 5,000, I have concluded
that a group with 500 speakers or less is indeed endangered.4

My conclusion, then, is much the same as it was almost 10 years ago: For the
most part, full Bible translation efforts are impractical for small language
groups, particularly as an initial project, and therefore Bible stories should be
the default starting strategy.

Do the Math
Karl Franklin is a Senior Anthropology I started thinking about the problem in 1999, the year that the executive direc-
Consultant with SIL International,
with graduate degrees in linguistics (MA, tor of SIL International proposed a bold goal that was adopted by delegates at an
Cornell University; PhD, Australian international conference, namely, that every language “that needs one” (the neces-
National University). He is also an
Adjunct Professor of Linguistics at the sary and essential caveat) would have a translation program started by 2025.
Graduate Institute of Applied Linguistics
in Dallas, Texas. He and his wife, Joice, In November 2000, I wrote a paper called “Reaching small languages in north-
worked in Papua New Guinea for ern Papua New Guinea,” and a month later I expanded the paper as “Proposing
over 30 years and were involved in the
an alternative strategy for small languages groups in the Pacific.” I provided
translation of the New Testament into
West Kewa and East Kewa. data showing that 27% (236) of the languages in PNG had fewer

International Journal of Frontier Missiology 29:2 Summer 2012•83

84 Bible Translation and Small Languages in the Pacific: Ten Years Later

than 500 speakers, 20% of those small languages. On the one hand, this respects. First of all, the retold stories
spoken in the Solomon Islands were might argue for the assignment of more would not be based exclusively
in the same category, and over half of personnel to PNG and the Pacific; on upon the canonical text (the Greek
those spoken in Vanuatu were simi- the other hand, it may call for some or Hebrew), but instead upon an
lar. I did not address the question of alternative approach to how people approved derivate source text that is
translation or Bible storytelling for the are trained and deployed. In the ten well known by the vernacular speakers,
languages on the Australian continent years since I have become interested such as a church or trade language.
because so many languages there had and involved in the project a number For example, in PNG the base text for
less than 100 speakers or were nearly of Bible storytelling programs and many of the languages would be the
extinct. I did note that in the year strategies have been in use, but none of Tok Pisin translation or some equally
2000, of the 255 historically docu- them are of the nature outlined here.6 understandable English translation
mented languages on the Australian (such as the Contemporary English
continent, only 12 were still spoken by An important aspect of my suggested Version). Secondly, the retold stories
more than 1000 people.5 strategy requires an initial agreement would not need to be chronological,
with leaders in the particular language but could be synoptic, or thematic
In my most recent examination of group (or some recognized segment and without verse numbering—these
the Ethnologue (November, 2010), thereof ) so that the program is under- are stories, not texts. Thirdly, they
I note that the number of speakers stood from the onset as deliberately re- could be in audio or visual format,
for small languages has declined in stricted to Bible storytelling. As such, it rather than printed, although some
every population category and that the will require a different kind of training combination of the output mode
overall number of small languages has than the traditional translation training would be possible. Finally, but as a
declined by 54. This may be the result that expatriates are familiar with. major point, retold stories should
of some languages moving into the fit the cultural style of oration and
category of “above 500 speakers,” but In some cases, experienced storytelling discourse that is present in traditional
it is more likely that the populations consultants have been training nation- stories in these societies. This point
in each small-language category have als to re-tell certain stories from the can be easily glossed over because
simply decreased. Old and New Testaments.7 Depending it insists that Bible story trainers be
upon the interest of the people, the pol- familiar with the vernacular cultures
In 2000, the Provinces in PNG (20 at icies of the mission organizations, the and the structure of their languages.
the time) that had the greatest number emphasis of the church(s), the projected
of small languages were Madang viability of the language, as well as the The retold stories should, of course,
(86), East Sepik (35), Sandaun (30), availability of trained national speakers, represent the approved source texts as
Morobe (21), Western (14), and Milne a “fuller” program may develop. Such clearly and accurately as possible. In
Bay (11). The remaining Provinces long term goals, however, depend upon this respect, they would be similar to
each had less than 10 small languages. the decisions of leaders in the language the genre of popular translations such
However, the survey and population group and trained personnel. as Philips Modern English, F. F. Bruce’s
figures for many of the languages Letters of Paul, or The Living Bible. In
are at least 25 years old for these However, a Bible storytelling program terms of idiomatic style, they might
Provinces. The following table outlines would differ from most “traditional” be more like The Message. Eugene
comparative figures from three translation ones in a number of H. Peterson explains why he felt an
Ethnologue editions (Figure 1).
Figure 1. Ethnologue Numbers for Small Languages
A Different Strategy Ethnologue 14 Ethnologue 15 Ethnologue 16
A new or different strategy does Category of Speakers
(2000) (2005) (2009)
not mean that others are wrong or
01-50 13 21 22
misguided. But, as indicated and
according to my research, little 51-100 32 24 25
translation work has been done in very 101-200 61 42 36
small languages (even with “cluster
201-300 47 38 42
projects,” which I shall mention later)
and, given the way personnel are 301-400 56 43 36
available and assigned to programs, 401-500 41 31 35
there is not likely to be much more
Total Number of languages 250 209 196
translation work done among very

International Journal of Frontier Missiology

Karl J. Franklin 85

informal idiomatic translation in the
“street language” was needed:
s one translator told me, “If the people change
The version of the New Testament their language in 25 years, it will simplify our
in a contemporary idiom keeps the
language of the Message current
task by not having to deal with those languages.”
and fresh and understandable in
the same language in which we do monalities based on their interaction • What infrastructure (technical,
our shopping, talk with our friends, and therefore provide a “natural” unit transportation, communication,
worry about world affairs, and teach for a cluster. The project may focus on etc.) is necessary to sustain the
our children their table manners. The a particular book of the Bible or have cluster project?
goal is not to render a word-for-word “just in time” training. Trainers examine
conversion of Greek into English, aspects of the phonology (orthography Cluster projects would be appropriate
but rather to convert the tone, the solutions), grammar, and culture, but for Bible storytelling as well, although
rhythm, the events, and the ideas, into their main emphasis is on the exegesis the constraints may prove to be
the way we actually think and speak of the Scriptures. A consultant, usually less rigorous.
(Peterson 1995, 10). trained in the biblical languages, assists
with such exegetical and, to some (of- Some Objections to
We have added that the stories ten minor) extent, linguistic or anthro- Bible Storytelling as a
should be in the same cultural style pological problems. Projects of this sort Primary Strategy
and persuasive discourse as one would are going on in a number of locations There are a number of potential and
use to tell any good story (Maguire on various continents. However, deci- real problems with my proposal:
1998, Sawyer 1942). Of course the sions about translation clusters need to
goal of retelling Bible stories in address issues such as Choosing Size as a Criterion
the vernacular is the same as for • What are the features used While it is true that the size of a par-
any modern idiomatic translation, to consistently determine ticular group, such as the figure of 500
namely, clarity and understanding, as the constituent members of as a cut-off point, is in some sense arbi-
Peterson has forcibly reminded us. a cluster? For example, are trary, additional sociolinguistic research
Similarly, Taylor, in his introduction the languages represented in is fundamental and crucial for deci-
to the Living Bible, recounts that the cluster formally related sions about translation viability. And
his purpose was “to say as exactly and, if so, upon what features of course “small” does not always mean
as possible what the writers of the are their degrees of likeness that a language is “dying.” Bilingualism
Scriptures meant, and to say it simply, determined? or multilingualism has or will take place
expanding where necessary for a clear • What background information in the small groups, and there often
understanding of the modern reader.” (cultural, grammatical, etc. ) is seems to be no approved strategy that
available on the languages and takes into account such circumstances,
If a synoptic retelling was chosen, how it is disseminated to the except in the traditional manner.9
stories could parallel something like translators in the cluster?
Christianson’s continuous narrative • What are the competencies of Choosing Time as a Criterion
harmonizing of the four Gospels and the translators and consultants The very notion of trying to enter each
Acts. However, the style would be dif- in the cluster? How are they language group in a certain length of
ferent because our goal is retold stories, evaluated and by whom? time may not be appealing to many peo-
not paraphrases of a full translation. • How do consultants determine ple. What is the hurry? As one translator
the degree of relationships be- told me (I hope with tongue in cheek),
The “Language Cluster” Strategy tween various linguistic and cul- “If the people change their language in
A strategy that is now widely promoted tural aspects of the languages? If 25 years, it will simplify our task by not
in SIL International and other Bible the languages are documented, having to deal with those languages.”
translation agencies (such as The Seed how will the consultants pass on On a more positive note, another person
Company and Pioneer Bible Transla- information to the translators? said, “If people are dying without access
tors)8 is the so-called “cluster” tactic. • What are the specific goals and to the Scriptures in their own tongue,
This approach is a conceptual one, outcomes of the cluster project? then why not adapt this strategy for all
where speakers from a number of lan- Who determines them? languages.” In addition, as sociolinguists
guages agree to work collectively on • How are the cluster projects have noted, many languages may disap-
Bible translation projects. They may financed and who keeps the pear, but the people don’t. They merely
have certain social and linguistic com- records? shift to using another language.

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86 Bible Translation and Small Languages in the Pacific: Ten Years Later

Choosing Something Other Than language they not only understand eas- assume a generic audience; storytelling
the Canonical Text as the Base Text ily but, in some cases, can also read. It, assumes particular audiences.
Some translators and linguists may therefore, complements the concomi-
have trouble with the notion of retell- tant goals of literacy and Scripture use. The Problem of Knowing One’s
ing Bible stories, instead of providing a Own Language
translation or paraphrase of the biblical The Problem of Checking and Most English speakers know little
text. They most often cite the cause and Assuring Quality Control formally about their own language,
concerns of accuracy, implying or stat- To highlight further a concern about although they know a great deal
ing that stories soon become hearsay. accuracy, note that a verse-by-verse intuitively. Vernacular speakers need
Remember, however, that the tellers or translation of Scripture requires to learn to use their own languages—a
re-tellers are getting their stories initial- considerable exegetical preparation, goal that is similar in literacy programs
ly from a Bible text and the stories can meticulous attention to every detail, where national writers are trained to
always be checked against that text. back translations for the consultant to write in their languages. The goal is
read, and other procedures. However, necessary because many translators
Which Set of Bible Stories? retold Bible stories would not require do not have a facility for writing their
The decision about the particular set of the same linguistic or exegetical detail own language well or for expressing
Bible stories used may also be a problem. of checking. Although they would be themselves clearly. By adopting this
The essential component of the strategy checked for the accuracy, naturalness alternative strategy for small language
given here allows the trained vernacular and overall discourse cohesion, just as groups, nationals can be trained in a
speaker to retell the Bible story in a clear different way. This approach should
and natural way and to choose which significantly reduce the necessary time
stories they want to retell. But retelling to provide Bible stories for a group, as
Bible stories does include many of the compared to the time now spent in a
same concerns that idiomatic transla- The habits of the typical translation program.
tions do, only in a different manner. This
difference is because the trained native
mind seem quite Of course accepting a retelling
speaker compiles the “translation” in a reasonable to those approach in communicating the Bible’s
story format. It follows that the native message is only possible as an entity
speaker (not the translator) is the best who are members of adopts it as a legitimate project. By
judge of what stories to choose. the particular doing so, they provide some assurance
that the task can be completed within
Choosing an Already Existing community. a time frame that excludes a moribund
Exegesis of the Stories state of the language.
Other concerns may be about exegesis
because this strategy assumes that an A New Paradigm
acceptable and satisfactory exegesis of in any translation project, the checking Howard Margolis (1993) wrote that
the passages for the stories exists. Will procedure would not require a literal habits of the mind can block out what
it lower the quality of the story, as some adherence to the proposition-by-propo- later come to be almost irresistible solu-
claim, by retelling the Bible stories sition content of the original text.10 tions. This is because certain ways of
rather than translating them directly talking about things, for example, views
from the Greek, Hebrew, (or some na- The Problem of Adequate and on translation and paraphrase, bind to-
tional language) text? If the stories are Appropriate Training gether (or separate) certain educational
retold naturally and accurately (a task In our strategy of retelling Bible sto- and intellectual communities. The hab-
that preachers and expositors perform ries, coordinators or facilitators need to its of the mind seem quite reasonable to
at every Bible study or church service), train native speakers who are culturally those who are members of the particu-
why should this be a problem? His- recognized storytellers. Although the lar community. Traditional translators
torically, it has often taken years for an native speaker should retell the Bible and consultants represent such a com-
expatriate translator to properly exegete story with naturalness and clarity, we munity and an old paradigm.
and translate the Bible. The strategy emphasize that these are not scientifi-
proposed here bypasses this long-term cally defined terms. In retelling a story How might we determine what con-
commitment or requirement for exege- there is a certain art form that emerges stitutes a translator’s or consultant’s
sis because it assumes an adequate and because the teller uses the vocabulary habit of the mind? Let us assume that
reliable underlying text. It also gives and style that is most effective for the one habit is to consider a translated
ethnic groups the Bible stories in a particular audience. Translation efforts text as essential. We can contrast this

International Journal of Frontier Missiology

Karl J. Franklin 87

by examining some alternative view, as
in Pikean terms by noting the essential
ne of my critics said, “Bible stories are for children,”
components that demonstrate differ- implying that Bible stories are baby food and that
ences. Comparing retold Bible stories
with translating the canonical text can
only the full translated text is adult food.
be helpful and instructive. We note,
for example, that exegesis controls the (there are hundreds of sites that can be strategies and the default strategy is
translation task, and naturalness con- found on the Internet) in many cultures always a partial or “full” translation
trols the retelling. The default paradigm around the world. In addition, stories are project for every language, then retell-
is that the translator (and consultant) the fabric through which moral and reli- ing Bible stories will not be given a se-
must adhere closely to the original gious meanings flourish (Murphy 2000, rious hearing. Rather, as I have empha-
text. Such a habit can be a barrier to Coles 1989, Rodari 1996). Any person sized repeatedly, retelling Bible stories
an alternative way of thinking about who has spent time living in another must be seen as a legitimate strategy in
retelling stories. Another barrier may culture has learned the importance of its own right. And because I have had
be our terminology. We call something the people’s stories. People love to hear small and often endangered languages
a translation when it is judged as ac- stories and people who can read love to in mind, linguistic salvage would be
curately representing the canonical read them. They are Scripture-in-use at an accompanying strategy. This aspect
text but it is a paraphrase if it moves its most practical level. would require further study to define
somewhat further from the source text what can realistically be recorded with-
towards a freer form of expression. However, to think differently about in the “retelling” strategy.
It is therefore generally rejected as a the Bible translation task for small lan-
“true translation.” By employing Bible guages, in any radical sense, requires a Elson (1977) wrote the following:
storytelling, the gridlock over what is paradigm shift. The shift proposed here “Perhaps by the turn of the century,
acceptable in translation theory and does not provide full canonical transla- SIL will have wound down much of
practice may possibly be broken.11 tions, but encourages trained nationals its field programs and members will be
to retell selected Bible stories naturally involved in teaching, practical training
In a traditional paradigm, Bible stories in their own languages. The strategy and consultant work, both at home
are often considered something less focuses upon finding good storytellers and abroad.” Elson’s predictions would
than what a mature Christian would in the culture, acquainting them with support a new paradigm for small
want or enjoy. One of my critics said Bible stories, training them, and then languages, but the way things are pro-
that “Bible stories are for children,” im- allowing them to retell them in their gressing it will not be in the century
plying that Bible stories are baby food own languages. The paradigm does not he had in mind.
and that only the full translated text is require a written translation for the
adult food. But, as C. S. Lewis said: output because it acknowledges that Conclusion
... a children’s story which is enjoyed 70% or more of the people in an oral I have not carried the matter of the
only by children is a bad children’s sto- society never learn to read. new paradigm as far as it can go, but I
ry. The good ones last. A waltz which have raised some important questions
you can only like when you are waltz- For a new paradigm to be adopted, and issues. To sum up, this proposed
ing is a bad waltz (Lewis 1982:59). administrators will need to re-assess paradigm was initially proposed for
the linguistic viability of small language very small language groups. It did not
Adopting the strategy proposed here groups, then assist the language groups and does not assume a church with a
attempts to award retold Bible stories in making some difficult decisions. They historical structure of pastors, commen-
with a status that enhances them will have to decide, “Do we have the time taries, nor a fixed denominational ex-
beyond what is “merely for children.” and capacity to warrant (not deserve) the egesis of certain passages. However, in
efforts of a full translation project?” Given cases where the predominant national
As Philip Sampson (2000, 157) re- the limited resources available, particularly language is also the language of the
counts, “Narratives are not just gripping in terms of trainers and consultants, Bible source text, the preaching and teaching
accounts. They may also have profound retelling projects need to be seriously emphasis is already based upon retelling
cultural power… . The biblical narrative considered as a strategy. The approach can the message, so “interpreters” already
has deeply marked the development of become part of cluster language programs exist. They may intuitively know how to
Western societies.” Storytelling is one of in some instances. best retell the story.
the most important and widely accepted
method of communicating in any cul- However, if storytelling is simply con- A retelling of a Bible story has some
ture. In fact storytelling societies abound ceived as one of a number of possible of the technical aspects as a Bible

29:2 Summer 2012

88 Bible Translation and Small Languages in the Pacific: Ten Years Later

translation project because the meaning episode by embarking upon a word-by- Endnotes
of the source text must still be clearly word, phrase by phrase, and sentence by 1
See http://www. sil. org/pacific/
understood and conveyed. However, sentence checking of the vernacular text png/index. asp for details of the languages,
it is not as technical in the sense of for exegetical accuracy. In retold story including a list of publications online, a
claiming a detailed analysis of the form, spot checks of known difficult bibliography (by author, language, series,
province, and subject), as well as maps for
target language (although present key ideas would be adequate.
each province. According to their website,
translations often also reflect limited SIL in PNG is now (2010) working in
linguistic analysis). The trained national As already indicated, retelling stories about 200 different languages, having already
translators, in either case, judge would allow, for example, the synoptic carried out research in almost 400 languages.
decisions about style. narratives to be harmonized to The research varies from full grammars and
eliminate redundancies, even recasting dictionaries to abbreviated descriptions of
Although there are technical decisions or restructuring information along parts of particular languages, but almost
to be made in Bible storytelling, just as certain lines, e. g., chronology, topic, always the phonology.
in a “normal” translation programs, the author. The practical problem of
distinguishing languages vs. dialects is an
emphasis is upon common language
on-going discussion but SIL considers the
and naturalness. It is not about back The present and continuing arguments feature of intelligibility as its main criterion.
translations and exegetical checking. about how much freedom the For example, the classification of language or
As Newmark says translator can take by inserting implied dialect is summed up in Ethnologue (2005,
for the vast majority of texts, you have to information would be a moot point 8) by noting inherent intelligibility and
ensure: (a) that your translation makes common ethnolinguistic identity.
sense; (b) that it reads naturally, that it The code is called ISO 639-3 and
is written in ordinary language, the com- defines all known human languages with
mon grammar, idioms and words that a three-letter identifier. Its website (http://
www. sil. org/iso639-3/default. asp) processes
meet that kind of situation (1988, 24).
requests, applications, or changes in order to
register all language codes.
There is a mixture in the goals between It is not about back 4
According to Wikipedia (http://
retelling the message on the one hand
and a literal translation of a text on translations and en. wikipedia. org/wiki/Endangered_
language#cite_note-K2007-0), an endan-
the other. For example, the use and
translation of idioms, rearrangement of
exegetical checking. gered language is one that is at risk of falling
out of use and upon losing all its native
the text, interpretation of obscure text, speakers, becomes a dead language. Krauss
making clear implied information, and (1992) estimated that there are about 6000
languages in active use and defined languages
so on, takes place in the “normal” trans-
as “endangered” if children will probably
lation task by means of introductions, not be speaking them in 100 years (approxi-
cross-references, pictures, section head- mately 60-80% of languages fall into this cat-
ings, indexes, maps, footnotes, and so in this paradigm. The problem would egory). Languages are “moribund” if children
on. However, telling stories have fewer not be in focus because the insertion are not speaking them now. The Linguistic
constraints because it includes the in- of implied information is considered Society of America (LSA) established a
troduction of background information, a natural and necessary part of the Committee on Endangered Languages and
foreshadowing the conclusion, flash- storytelling task. Hale and others published key articles (1992)
that addressed the problem. Following Hale’s
backs, and so on, to provide a free flow
death, a Professorship was established in his
of the story without adhering as closely To briefly summarize—the Bible name “to document endangered languages
to the source text forms. The story translation task is at first, etic; the and work with communities toward their
checkers spend their time ensuring storytelling task is emic. This is because preservation” (http://www. lsadc. org/info/
that the source text is retold naturally, outsiders control the former, insiders inst-past-profs. cfm, accessed February 14,
not literally. Only a native speaker can the latter.12 2011). There are various agencies that sup-
judge a story’s naturalness, so insertions port efforts to preserve endangered languages
and interpretations are always directed Ten years after I first wrote about and to gather linguistic materials. See, for
example http://www. sil. org/sociolx/ndg-lg-
toward the audiences’ understanding. Bible storytelling there is a plethora of
home. html and http://travel. nationalgeo-
agencies involved in the activity, using graphic. com/travel/enduring-voices/ (both
The checking procedures would various strategies and techniques.13 accessed February 14, 2011).
therefore change, first of all, in degree. None of them, however, exist solely 5
I formally presented a version of
At present, in most situations, a to meet the needs of endangered my paper at the International Language
translation consultant examines an language communities. IJFM Assessment Conference IV in Chiang

International Journal of Frontier Missiology

Karl J. Franklin 89

Mai, Thailand, Sept. 5-12, 2001, although 10

For some specific suggestions on Elson, Benjamin F.
the basic idea was first presented to the examining and checking stories, see Chapter 1977 “SIL’s future: plans and prospect,”
SIL International Vice Presidents/Area 8 of my online book called Loosen your in The Summer Institute of
Directors meetings in Dallas, April 28, tongue: An introduction to storytelling: Linguistics: Its works and
2000. I appreciated comments received http://www. gial. edu/specpubs/loosen- contributions, edited by Ruth M.
from participants in those meetings, as Brend and Kenneth L. Pike. The
your-tongue. pdf.
well as from a number of SIL linguistics 11
Hague: Mouton.
Note, however, that we have Bible
and translation consultants over the years. Hale, K, M. Krauss, L. Watahomigie, A.
storytelling organizations that apply strict
However, I should add that most of the early Yamamoto, C. Craig, L. Masayesva Jeanne,
constraints to what is an acceptable Bible
comments were objections or reservations and I. N. England
story. They are very “literal” in their ap-
to the idea of substituting Bible stories for 1992 “Endangered languages.” Language
proach, while other agencies allow more 68:1-42.
translations—regardless of the population “freedom,” such as interjecting or substitut-
size of the language group. Krauss, Michael E.
ing cultural analogies, conflating stories that 1992 “The World’s Languages in Crisis.”
I have not carefully examined the have similar important points, and so on. Language 68(1):4-10.
policies of other agencies that are involved 12
These two terms were coined Lewis, C. S.
in Bible translation in PNG and the Pacific,
originally by the linguist Kenneth L. 1982 “Three ways of writing for
such as New Tribes Mission (NTM),
although I have talked with some of the
Pike to convey two perspectives: the in- children,” in C. S. Lewis on Stories
sider, who is naturally familiar and accul- and Other Essays on Literature,
leaders. NTM does work with very small edited by Walter Hooper. NY:
groups and does Bible translation, even in turated in the language and culture (the
Harcourt Brace Javanovitch.
cases where the Scriptures are available in emic view), and the outsider, who studies
Lewis, M. Paul, and Jürg Stalder
closely related dialects. . a language from an outside cultural and 2009 “Clustering: A conceptual
For example, The Seed Company scientific perspective (the etic view). framework and its implications.”
is also now involved in Bible storytelling 13
New Tribes Mission (NTM, see Unpublished manuscript.
and training in PNG. Jim and Janet Stahl, http://www. ntm. org) is sometimes con- Maguire, Jack
storytelling consultants for TSC have held sidered the originator of Bible storying as a 1998 The Power of Personal Storytelling:
several workshops at Alotau, in the Milne mission strategy. Their set of 48 lessons study- Spinning tales to connect with
Bay Province. ing the Bible chronologically is called “Firm others. NY: Penguin Putnam.
See http://www. theseedcompany. org/ Foundations” and can be purchased from their Margolis, Howard
project/vital-ig-cluster (accessed February website. The Southern Baptists mission (IMB) 1993 Paradigms and Barriers: How
14, 2011) for a description of the “VITAL uses the “Chronological Bible Storying” habits of mind govern scientific
cluster of Papua New Guinea. ” The claim method (see http://www. oralitystrategies. org/ beliefs. Chicago: University of
is that “This project represents a strategy strategy_detail. cfm?StrategyID=1, this and Chicago Press.
to accelerate Scripture translation for 15 those that follow, accessed February 14, 2011). Murphy, G. Ronald
languages. The VITAL program (Vernacular Note also the OneStory Partnership, with four 2000 The Owl, the Raven, & the Dove:
Initiative for Translation and Literacy) “managing partners”—Campus Crusade for The religious meaning of the
successfully and efficiently trains PNG Grimm’s magic fairy tales. Oxford:
Christ, Trans World Radio, Wycliffe USA,
Oxford U. Press.
translators in Milne Bay Province. VITAL and Youth With a Mission (see http://www.
conducts workshops for teams of translators Newmark, Peter
onestory. org/Partners/PartnersDefault. aspx.
from many languages, not only to leverage 1988 A Textbook of Translation. New
Some other agencies that either endorse or
York: Prentice Hall.
the help of consultants and trainers between practice Bible storytelling methods are, for
translation teams, but also to promote Peterson, Eugene H.
example: Scriptures in Use (http://www.
healthy teamwork among translators 1995 The Message: The New Testament,
siutraining. org/); Chronological Bible Story-
Psalms and Proverbs. Colorado
of related languages.” On the roots of the ing (http://www. oralitystrategies. org/strat- Springs: NavPress.
Pioneer Bible Translators (PBT), see http:// egy_detail. cfm?StrategyID=1); Network of
Rodari, Gianni
www. pioneerbible. org/cms/tiki-view_blog. Biblical Storytellers, Int’l (http://www. nbsint.
1972 The Grammar of Fantasy: An
php?blogId=2 (accessed February 14, 2011). org/); and the Calvin Institute of Christian
introduction to the act of inventing
Entities of most translation Worship (http://www. nobs. org/). stories. (translated by Jack Zipes,
organizations do have, of course, certain 1996) NY: Teachers & Writers
policies on whether or not to translate for Collaborative.
a particular group (but not necessarily on References Sampson, Philip J.
documenting the language and culture). Bruce, F. F. 2000 Six Modern Myths about
For example, Lewis and Stalder (2009, 1965 The Letters of Paul: An expanded Christianity & Western
unpublished) have written a paper providing paraphrase. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Civilization. Downer’s Grove, IL:
a conceptual framework in which they Eerdmans Publishing Co. InterVarsity Press.
discuss the concept of clustering and the Christianson, Christopher J. Sawyer, Ruth
administrative decisions that are associated 1973 The Concise Gospel and Acts. 1976 The way of the storyteller. NY:
with it. Although they do not give specific Plainfield, NJ: Logos International Penguin Books.
directions on working with the size of Coles, Robert Taylor, Kenneth
groups that I am discussing, their study is 1989 The Call of Stories: Teaching and the 1971 The Living Bible. Wheaton:
very helpful. moral imagination. Houghton Mifflin. Tyndale House Publishers.

29:2 Summer 2012

William Carey library

Reaching the City

Reflections on Urban Mission for the Twenty-first Century

Rapid urbanization and globalization processes worldwide have changed the landscape
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globe’s seven billion human beings now live in cities. These realities have far reaching
implications for mission in urban contexts at the start of the third millennium. Reaching
the City: Reflections on Urban Mission for the Twenty-first Century seeks to address the
missiological challenges associated with this new world order.

Each author in this collection respectfully builds upon the significant contributions of
seminal writers such as Ray Bakke, Jacques Ellul, Basil of Caesarea and others, while
making new and creative proposals for urban mission in our world today. Beginning
with the bigger picture of the global challenges of urbanization, and moving through
theological, historical, and educational perspectives, this volume concludes with a
rich bevy of case studies engaging these new realities of both North American and
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The Evangelization of the World

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Written in an engaging style and intended largely for a lay audience, The
Evangelization of the World tells the remarkable story of how Christianity grew
from an insignificant Jewish sect in the first century until, by the beginning of
the twenty-first century, it had become the world’s first truly global religion. The
book is careful to explain historical context and mission theory, but the foci of the
narrative are the great personalities of mission— the Apostle Paul, St. Martin of
Tours, St. Patrick, St. Francis Xavier, John Eliot, Count Von Zinzendorf, William
Carey, Robert Morrison, David Livingstone, Mary Slessor, Albert Schweitzer, and
many others— who make this account of the expansion of the church a fascinating
and often dramatic tale. In addition, the book does not neglect the great mission
conferences of the twentieth century, nor does it avoid the controversial aspects of
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Scripture in Context
Part I: Reconsidering Our Biblical Roots
Bible Interpretation, the Apostle Paul and Mission Today
by Larry W. Caldwell


he interpretation of Scripture runs silent and deep across the fron-
tiers of mission. As evangelicals we value the role of hermeneutics
in the mission of the church, and we expect the Bible to be read and
interpreted properly as the gospel gains new ground. It’s no surprise that our
differences over belief and practice in mission settings force us back to our
hermeneutical assumptions, for we know that one’s interpretive compass will
direct what one believes to be correct practice in church and mission.

While this evangelical priority may seem obvious we might fail to see the
particular assumptions that inform our largely Western interpretative enter-
prise. These assumptions are especially crucial when our mission interacts
with churches and movements emerging in new cultural settings. When
we confront difficult questions of contextualization in these settings, are we
aware of the cultural influences that shape our hermeneutical orientations? In
this article I want to explore these underlying cultural influences on herme-
Larry W. Caldwell (PhD, Fuller
Theological Seminary) was Professor neutics through a study of the apostle Paul. If we can see the unique cultural
of Missions and Hermeneutics at influences on Paul’s hermeneutical perspective, influences that were quite
Asian Theological Seminary for 20
years, five of those years serving as distinct from our Western heritage, might we then acknowledge the place
Academic Dean, and directed the of cultural preferences in all hermeneutical activity across cross-cultural and
Doctor of Missiology program at the
Asia Graduate School of Theology- multi-cultural mission settings?
Philippines. He was editor of the
Journal of Asian Mission for many The Western “Two Step”
years, and has written and presented
numerous papers in journals and Over the past few decades both the Western and non-Western (Global South
forums across Asia and the Western or Majority World) church has been bombarded with a plethora of herme-
world. He recently returned to
the USA to become Director of
neutical methodologies or approaches: philosophical hermeneutics, minjung
Missionary Training and Strategy hermeneutics, structuralism, feminist hermeneutics, canonical criticism,
for Converge Worldwide, and serves
theological hermeneutics, the hermeneutics of liberation, semiotics, and even
as Visiting Professor of Intercultural
Studies at Sioux Falls Seminary. queer hermeneutics, to name but a few. For most evangelicals worldwide the

International Journal of Frontier Missiology 29:2 Summer 2012•91

92 Part I: Reconsidering Our Biblical Roots: Bible Interpretation, the Apostle Paul and Mission Today

hermeneutical methodology that has be presumed to be appropriate Higgins, following the work of Dan
dominated the discussion is one that for use in the multiplicity of Sperber and Deirdre Wilson, describes
has two simple steps. hermeneutical milieus of the cognitive environment as “merely a set
non-Western world? of assumptions which the individual is
Step One involves the Bible and is con- • Would it not be better for those capable of mentally representing and
cerned with the question: How is a par- from other cultural contexts to accepting as true.”3 Higgins continues:
ticular Bible passage to be best interpreted? search for indigenous herme- “Thus cognitive environment includes
Through an analysis of the original neutical methods by which the a person’s current and potential
context of the Scripture passage—often biblical message can best be matrix of ideas, memories, experiences
using the tools of the grammatical-his- understood in their own unique and perceptions.”4
torical (or historical-critical) process— cultural settings?
the interpreter attempts to ascertain, • And, finally, is the Two Step I was particularly intrigued by
what the Bible passage first meant to its approach, as good as it is, the Higgins’ desire to understand “how
original hearers, to understand what the best approach for the whole people process the meaning of the
passage meant then. church in the 21st century, es- Biblical text from within their own
pecially for the majority of the cognitive environment” . . . “how
Step Two follows on the heels of this whole church—both Western cognitive environment shapes mean-
first step. Here the interpreter at- and non-Western—that is ing and frames questions that are
tempts to answer the question: How is predominately made up of pas- brought to the text.”5 Building on
that Bible passage to be best interpreted tors, lay leaders and lay people Higgins, I would like to argue that
for today? In Step Two the interpreter who will not have the luxury any hermeneutical method, includ-
applies the results of the first step of learning the Two Step ap- ing the Two Step approach, is highly
to the particular audience that the proach in evangelical training shaped by the cognitive environment
interpreter is ministering with now, institutions worldwide? of the reader/hearer/interpreter. As
usually being careful to make sure that such, any hermeneutical method
the second step closely approximates Kevin Higgins has hinted at the must pay close attention to both the
the results of the first step. These two crucial role that indigenous herme- interpreter’s own cognitive environ-
major steps make up what is known neutics might play in his recent IJFM ment and its influence on the inter-
as the “Two Step” approach to Bible article on translation and relevance pretation of a biblical text, as well as
interpretation.1 theory.2 Here Higgins highlights to the reader/hearer and his/her in-
relevance theory and its understanding terpretation of that same text. This is
The methodology of the Two Step of cognitive environment, especially not to imply that the reader’s/hear-
approach to biblical hermeneutics its implications for communication. er’s interpretation of the text takes
has dominated Western evangelical
hermeneutics over the past fifty years Figure 1. Presupposition: Western Hermeneutical Methods Work for All Cultures
and continues to prevail even today.
And, because of the success of West-
The Bible:
ern evangelical missionary efforts, this
God’s Supracultural Truth
approach also dominants much of the
non-Western evangelical world. It is as
if the current Western approach is to
be universally applied in all cultures, as Western
illustrated in Figure 1. Hermeneutical
But should the Two Step approach
have gained such international domi-
nance and acceptance among evan-
gelicals worldwide? Several related Culture C
questions follow: Culture A Culture B
• Should the Two Step approach
be so universally used?
• Should a hermeneutical method
that arose out of the cultural
milieu of the Western world

International Journal of Frontier Missiology

Larry W. Caldwell 93

precedence over what the biblical
text itself is saying (always the dan-
he apostle Paul’s own hermeneutical methods—
ger of reader-response criticism); the which he used when he interpreted the Old
Bible always takes precedence over
any reader/hearer and that person’s
Testament—defy this Western assumption.
cognitive environment. Despite this
disclaimer, we do well to examine by Paul should give both Westerners Part One of this article, comprising
carefully the cognitive environment and non-Westerners greater freedom Sections 1 and 2, will continue below.
of ourselves as interpreters, as well as in attempting to use interpretation Part Two of this article, comprising
the cognitive environment—includ- methods that reflect their own cul- Sections 3 and 4, will continue in
ing their indigenous hermeneutical tural contexts and cognitive environ- the next issue of IJFM (29:3, July-
methods—of the audiences with ments, and a greater confidence to September 2012).7
which we do mission. interpret the Bible with more rel-
evancy for their own specific cross- Section 1: One First
Higgins speaks of cognitive environ- cultural and multi-cultural situations. Century AD Hermeneutical
ment especially in terms of Bible There will be a new recognition that Method—Midrash
translation. I would like to take his such culturally specific interpretation There were several hermeneutical
discussion down to the foundational methods may, in the final analysis, be methods used immediately prior to
level of Bible interpretation and more authentically biblical than using and during the time of the writing of
the hermeneutical assumptions that the Two Step approach. the New Testament. Consequently,
affect that interpretation, for, in my the New Testament writers had,
view, all Bible translation is founded So why should Bible interpreters try as it were, a vast hermeneutical
upon pre-existing hermeneutical to use culturally appropriate Bible in- smorgasbord of methods from which
assumptions.6 As a result, I believe terpretation methods that reflect their to choose: literal historical, allegorical,
that we can gain great insight into own cognitive environment—like midrash, typological, pesher, and
“proper” Bible interpretation to- those of the apostle Paul that reflect theological, to mention some of the
day—whether done by Western or his cognitive environment—rather most significant. In this article I have
non-Western Bible interpreters—by than relying exclusively, or primarily, chosen to investigate in more detail
first examining closely the cognitive on the Two Step approach? I will at- the hermeneutical method of midrash
environment of the New Testament, tempt to answer this question in four because I believe that it offers perhaps
in this case the hermeneutical milieu sections across two articles. Section the most parallels and insights for
and methods of the apostle Paul. 1 will first give a brief background biblical interpretation today, for
Such an examination will help guard of the hermeneutical milieu out of both Western and non-Western
against the previously described which Paul’s hermeneutical methods multi-cultural and cross-cultural
tendency of Western missionar- arose, especially looking at the meth- interpreters of the Bible.
ies to assume that Western Bible od known as midrash. Section 2 will
interpretation methods are universal examine several examples of Paul’s Midrash: Towards a Definition
methods that will, by default, work in first century hermeneutical methods Midrash (#$rad;mi) is simply the Hebrew
any cultural context. This article will found in his speeches in Acts. Section word used to describe exegetical prin-
show that the apostle Paul’s own her- 3 will continue in this vein, focus- ciples developed by the Jewish rabbis
meneutical methods—which he used ing on examples from Paul’s letters. over the centuries prior to the writing
when he interpreted the Old Testa- Section 4 will give examples of non- of the New Testament. The overarch-
ment—defy this Western assumption. Western approaches to the biblical ing purpose of midrash is to better in-
text that, like Paul’s, have arisen out terpret the Old Testament text. What
By examining Paul’s hermeneutical of their own hermeneutical contexts are some of the essential principles of
methods from an anthropological and cognitive environments and thus midrash? Richard Longenecker suc-
standpoint, this article will show work well in their own cultures. The cinctly describes them:
that Paul’s interpretation methods in article will conclude with practical Midrashic interpretation . . . takes its
regards to the Old Testament were suggestions to help evangelical Bible departure from the biblical text itself
methods arising directly out of the interpreters better use hermeneuti- . . . and seeks to explicate the hidden
cultural milieu of the first century cal methods—in both Western and meanings contained therein by means
AD, i.e., his cognitive environment. non-Western contexts—that are more of agreed upon hermeneutical rules in
As a result, the use of such culturally- culturally appropriate and, in the order to contemporize the revelation
specific Bible interpretation methods final analysis, possibly more biblical. of God for the people of God. It may

29:2 Summer 2012

94 Part I: Reconsidering Our Biblical Roots: Bible Interpretation, the Apostle Paul and Mission Today

be briefly characterized by the maxim: might be understood and its obscurities It always involves a living Word ad-
“That has relevance to This”; i.e., What made clear. This concern of the rabbis dressed personally to the people of
is written in Scripture has relevance to meant that they often began their God and to each of its members, a
our present situation.8 inquiry by asking the question: why? Word which makes clear the divine
. . . The principal method by which the wishes and demands and calls for a
Longenecker’s reference to the present rabbis clarify the sacred text and probe response, never theoretical, and a
contextual situation of the audience as its depths is by recourse to parallel pas- commitment: the fidelity of a people
the primary motivational component sages. The Bible forms a unit; it comes and each of its members to the de-
underlying the midrashic technique from God in all of its parts and it there- mands which the Word makes mani-
was first developed by Renée Bloch.9 fore offers a broad context to which fest. Revealed at a specific point in
She viewed the genre of midrash as one should always return.13 history, this Word is nevertheless
“the most characteristic and yet the addressed to men of all times. Thus
least understood of the Bible.”10 Bloch’s fourth point is particularly it ought to remain open indefinitely
crucial to this study; the primary goal to all new understandings of the
Bloch cites five “essential and fun- of midrash is to be practical, to be message, all legitimate adaptations
damental characteristics” of midrash. adapted to the present. and all new situations. These things
First, its point of departure is Scrip- If midrashic exegesis consists primar- are the foundation and the raison
ture. This is what contributes to its ex- ily in attentive study of the texts, d’être of midrash. So long as there
clusive use within the overall confines it does not stop there. Its aim is not is a people of God who regard the
of Judaism: Bible as the living Word of God,
This is its fundamental characteristic, there will be midrash; only the name
which already excludes any possibil- might change.15
ity of finding parallels to this literary
genre outside of Israel. Midrash is
therefore a genre which is peculiar
Midrash begins with How is all of this worked out in the New
Testament? Bloch maintains that the
to Israel, like prophecy, but perhaps Scripture and ends with genre of midrash was “already completely
even more unique. Midrash cannot formed at the time of the birth of Chris-
occur outside of Israel because it pre- specific applications to the tianity.”16 As a result she concludes:
supposes faith in the revelation which
is recorded in the holy books. It is a
present realities facing Nothing is more characteristic in this
regard than the use of the Old Testa-
reflection, a meditation on the sacred the people of God. ment in the New Testament: it always
texts, a “searching” of Scripture.11 involves midrashic actualization. The
newness resides in the actualization
Second, midrash is homiletical; its itself, in the present situation to
purpose is to make the results of the which the ancient texts are applied
“searching” of Scripture by the rabbis purely theoretical. Its goal is primar- and adapted.17
accessible to the people. In her words ily practical: to define the lesson for
. . . those who “search” the Scriptures faith and for the religious way of life Bloch’s fifth point concerns the practi-
are not “ivory tower” theologians. contained in the biblical text . . . . This cal working out of midrash into the
Midrash is not a genre of the acad- practical concern led midrash to re- specific literary genres of halakah and
emy; it is rather a popular genre, and interpret Scripture, to “actualize” it. haggadah. Halakah refers to a discus-
above all it is homiletical. Its origin is This characteristic . . . along with the sion and/or commentary on the legal
certainly to be sought for the most close relation and constant refer- material of the Old Testament while
part in the liturgical reading of the ence to Scripture, is the essence of haggadah refers to a discussion and/or
Torah for Sabbaths and Feasts.12 midrash. These two characteristics, commentary on the non-legal material:
which are constant, are the very soul history, prophecy, psalms, and the like.
Third, midrash is a method which is of the midrashic method.14
attentive to the text in context: In summary, midrash is a hermeneuti-
This is a natural corollary. Since the sa- This “actualization” of the Old Tes- cal method that begins with Scripture
cred text was read in the synagogue tament occurs, in Bloch’s opinion, and ends with specific applications to
and had to be commented upon in a because it “corresponds to the way in the present realities facing the people
homily relating to it, attempts were which Israel—and later the Church— of God. But how did the midrashic
made to understand it better. Because has always understood Scripture as the interpreters arrive at their specific
of this it was studied diligently, that it word of God.” She continues: applications? In other words, what did

International Journal of Frontier Missiology

Larry W. Caldwell 95

they do with the biblical text in order
to arrive at their actualized interpreta-
his was the worst crisis that the Jewish faith
tions? The answer to these questions had yet faced. How would these now scattered
cannot be fully understood apart from
briefly reviewing the historical and
and captive peoples hold on to their Jewishness?
cultural climate out of which mi-
drashic interpretation initially arose. Temple—especially the latter—which there. They read from the Book of
To that topic we turn next. stood in ascendancy, though even this the Law of God, making it clear and
cultic center was occasionally ne- giving the meaning so that the people
The Historical and Cultural Climate glected. Indeed, King Josiah even had could understand what was being
from which Midrash Developed to rediscover the “Book of the Law” read.” (Neh. 8:7-8; cf. 8:1-18)
(commonly thought of as the book
People of the Book of Deuteronomy) during the course By making the Scripture clear and giv-
From the time period during and es- of the repairing of the Temple (621 ing it meaning, Ezra and the Levites
pecially after the Captivity in Babylon BC), some 30 years before the ulti- were, in Bloch’s words, actualizing the
(587 to 538 BC) the ways in which mate destruction at the hands of the Law for the new immediate situation
Jews understood their sacred Scripture Babylonians (2 Kgs. 22:8-10; 2 Chron. of these returned Jews.20
changed dramatically. Once Jerusalem 34:8-18). Obviously their Scripture,
and the Temple were destroyed the even the Torah, was not always impor- Halakah and Haggadah
Jewish people were no longer a people tant to the Jews. What Ezra and the Levites did in
with a centralized religious worship Jerusalem merely reflected what was
center or a people with a centralized The Captivity changed all of that. Now being done to Scripture in other
worship cultus. All that had once the only threads of commonality and locations where Diaspora Jews
represented the Jewish people and corporateness in the lives of the Jewish lived: Scripture was being read and
their religion now lay in ruins. What, people were the words of Scripture. As interpreted so that hearers could better
then, was to replace it? This was the a result, a whole new way of handling understand what was being read in
worst crisis that the Jewish faith had Scripture began at this time, that is, the context of the realities of their
yet faced. How would these now scat- writing down the various oral tradi- new living situations; this became a
tered and captive peoples hold on to tions that were not yet written down, widespread practice. Eventually the
their Jewishness? Their response was collecting the various traditions, be- oral handling of Scripture in this
deceptively simple: they became the ginning the complicated canonization way led to the development of two
people of the Book.18 process, and so on.19 Going hand-in- different written collections of these
hand with all of this was the placing oral interpretations: halakah and
Of course Scripture (Torah) had of more emphasis upon the “correct” haggadah. Again, halakah refers to a
always played an important role in the interpretation of the Scripture they al- discussion and/or commentary on the
Jewish people’s religious identity prior ready had, now for a new generation of Old Testament legal material while
to the destruction of Jerusalem and the exiled Jews with little understanding haggadah refers to a discussion and/or
Temple. The importance of the twice of the religious cultus prior to the Ex- commentary on the non-legal material.
daily recitation of the Shema (Deut. ile. Moreover, the role of the religious
6:4-9) is evidence enough of this. But professional—one who could best offer Over the course of the centuries fol-
Scripture was not always at the apex the “correct” interpretation—subse- lowing the Captivity, collections of
of the Jewish religious life prior to the quently took on increasing importance. various halakah and haggadah sayings
Captivity. While the importance of the One individual who represented this were made, collated, and eventually
Torah was clearly recognized early on, new religious role was Ezra. incorporated and expanded into the
the fact that much of the rest of Jewish midrashic commentaries known as the
Scripture was still at various stages of Ezra was “a teacher [sofer] well versed Mishnah. Thus, by the first century
composition, collection and canoniza- in the Law of Moses” (Ezra 7:6; cf. AD, the interpretation of the Old Tes-
tion—not to mention that some of it 7:11) who “had devoted himself to the tament had become a crucial element
had not even been spoken or written study and observance of the Law of of Jewish intellectual life, as Donald
yet—helped account for the relatively the LORD, and to teaching its decrees Juel notes:
secondary position which Scripture, and laws in Israel” (Ezra 7:10). Once Scholarly interpreters of the written
in fact, occupied. In contrast, it was back in Jerusalem he and his Levite tradition had largely replaced the
the geographical center of Jerusa- associates “instructed the people in the priests as guardians of the heritage
lem and the physical structure of the Law while the people were standing and experts on legal matters. They

29:2 Summer 2012

96 Part I: Reconsidering Our Biblical Roots: Bible Interpretation, the Apostle Paul and Mission Today

had developed an elaborate herme- dria in the first century BC.23 Some structing a leading rule from
neutical mechanism with which to maintain that the middoth arose from two passages”).
make sense of sacred texts, to fit the practical need of the Pharisees for 5. An inference drawn from a
them into a harmonious whole, and authority. Since they lacked automatic general principle in the text
to apply them to the realities of life religious status because of no proper to a specific example and vice
in the Greco-Roman world. Specific heredity or professional training, versa (Kelal u-ferat = “gen-
interpretive traditions had grown the Pharisees had to develop their eral and particular” and perat
up, some with roots far back into the authority from some other means, in u-khelal). [In other words, this
postbiblical era and beyond. Exegesis this case through elaborate interpre- is an attempt either to expand
had become a primary mode of intel- tation rules.24 or to limit the inference.]
lectual discourse.21 6. An inference drawn from an
Whatever their origin, Hillel’s seven mid- analogous passage elsewhere
Why is the above discussion of halakah doth had wide influence in Judaism in the (Kayotse bo mi-makom aher =
and haggadah relevant to the midrashic first century AD and beyond.25 These “something similar in another
interpretation of the Old Testament seven exegetical rules were as follows:26 passage”). [In other words,
by the writers of the New Testament? 1. An inference drawn from a an attempt to solve more
Precisely because some of the her- minor premise to a major and difficult problems by compar-
meneutical rules eventually underly- vice versa (Kal wa-homer = ing them with another pas-
ing halakah and haggadah were also “light and heavy”). [In other sage in Scripture.]
reflected in the hermeneutical meth- 7. An interpretation of a word or
odology of midrash. That is why Bloch, passage from its context (Davar
in her fifth essential characteristic of halamed me-inyano = “explana-
midrash, mentioned earlier, speaks of tion from the context”).27
midrash halakah and midrash haggadah.
There was oftentimes overlap between
There is also much The implications of these middoth
midrash and halakah and/or haggadah. debate concerning how for the apostle Paul’s hermeneuti-
cal methods, as well as New Testa-
While the final forms of the written much these seven rules ment examples of their use, will be
collections of halakah and haggadah
were actually collected and collated
were derived from discussed in Sections 2 and 3. The
purpose of including them here is
during the first five centuries of the Hellenistic rhetoric. again to attempt to identify a bit
common era, the actual rules guid- more clearly the overall historical
ing the formulations of the halakah and cultural climate out of which
and haggadah existed and were being midrash developed. Having done this
revised during the years just prior to I want to briefly investigate the use of
and/or during the writing and com- words, what has been previously midrash in the speeches and letters of
piling of the New Testament corpus. applied to a less important Paul. The apostle Paul’s use of the Old
Therefore, the rules that were formu- matter will certainly be appli- Testament is especially important to
lated to guide halakah and haggadah cable to a more serious matter.] analyze since he interpreted Scripture
were also known by the New Testa- 2. An inference drawn from for both Jewish and Gentile audi-
ment writers. analogy of expressions, that is ences in the early Christian churches.
from similar words and phrases We turn first to some examples of the
The Middoth elsewhere (Gezera Shawa = “an use of midrash in the speeches of Paul
What were these interpretation rules? equivalent regulation”). found in the book of Acts.
These exegetical rules, or middoth 3. A general principle estab-
(middot), were instituted by the rabbi lished on the basis of a teach- Section 2: The Use of Midrash
Hillel (60 BC to 20 AD?) around ing contained in one verse in the Speeches of Paul in Acts
the year 30 BC We do not know (Binyan Av mi-katuv ‘ehad = Since the publication of H. St. J.
whether Hillel established these “constructing a leading rule Thackeray’s The Relation of St. Paul to
rules or merely transmitted them from one passage”). Contemporary Jewish Thought in 1900,
from someone else.22 There is also 4. A general principle established biblical scholars over the last one
much debate concerning how much on the basis of a teaching con- hundred years or so have observed
these seven rules were derived from tained in two verses (Binyan that Paul’s hermeneutical methodol-
Hellenistic rhetoric found in Alexan- Av mi-shenei ketuvim = “con- ogy was highly influenced by the

International Journal of Frontier Missiology

Larry W. Caldwell 97

rabbinical interpretative techniques
of his time.28 By now this observa-
aul was intimately acquainted with several of
tion should not be surprising. These the various facets of midrashic interpretative
biblical scholars discovered what this
article is trying to demonstrate: the
techniques used during the first century AD.
apostle Paul was a product of the
overall hermeneutical milieu of his acquainted with several of the vari- In this Old Testament quotation Paul
day and age. As E. Earle Ellis notes ous facets of midrashic interpreta- combines Psalm 89:20—“I have found
concerning Paul and his Jewish her- tive techniques used during the first David my servant; with my sacred oil
meneutical background: century AD. What follows is a brief I have anointed him”—with a phrase
Without a doubt the apostle’s un- analysis of five examples of Paul’s use from the words spoken by the prophet
derstanding of the Old Testament of the Old Testament. In this first part, Samuel to King Saul found in 1 Sam-
was completely revolutionized after three examples are taken from Luke’s uel 13:14: “But now your kingdom will
his conversion; nevertheless his Jew- record of Paul’s first missionary speech not endure; the Lord has sought out a
ish heritage remained of fundamen- recorded in Acts, and in the following man after his own heart and appointed
tal importance for his understanding article, two are taken from the writings him a leader of his people, because you
and use of the Bible. His reverence of Paul himself.30 have not kept the Lord’s command.”
for and study of the Scriptures long
preceded his knowledge of Christ. Midrash in Paul’s First Missionary The original Scriptural contexts of both
Reading habits, methodology, and Speech: Acts 13:16-41 of these passages to which Paul refers
hermeneutic norms were firmly In the thirteenth chapter of Acts, would have doubtless been familiar to
implanted by his parents, his syna- Luke recounts the beginnings of what those present in the congregation that
gogue and most of all, his teacher of is known today as Paul’s first mis- day. The context of the Psalm quote,
rabbinics—Gamaliel.29 sionary journey. Here in 13:16-41 is observes F. F. Bruce, would have gotten
found the first recorded missionary their special attention:
Paul is an excellent example of these sermon delivered by Paul at the syna- These words of Ps. 89, recording the
Jewish hermeneutical influences for gogue in Pisidian Antioch. After “the promises made by God to David, were
several reasons. First, the number of reading from the Law and the Proph- written in a day when disaster had
extant letters and writings of Paul that ets” had occurred the leaders of the overtaken David’s house, and the
are found today in the New Testament synagogue invited Paul and Barnabas psalmist was bewildered by the con-
contain a vast amount of material to to give “a message of encouragement trast between the divine promises and
examine. Second, Paul’s writings were for the people” (13:15). Paul responds the sorry sight that met his eyes—the
penned before the Gospels and Acts to the invitation with a message to crown of David profaned and cast to
were written and, as a result, give good these gathered “men of Israel and . . . the ground. . . . In later days, however,
evidence of the hermeneutical meth- Gentiles who worship God” (13:16). when the sovereignty of the house of
odology at use in the early Christian In his response he includes several David seemed to have passed away
church. Third, Luke records several allusions to specific Old Testament for ever, so far as human agency was
of Paul’s speeches in Luke-Acts, still events as well as several direct quotes. concerned, it came to be recognized
earlier evidence of Paul’s use of the that the promises made to David
Old Testament. For these reasons the Acts 13:22 would be completely fulfilled in a ruler
apostle Paul’s use of the Old Testa- After a lengthy summary of the of David’s line whom God would Him-
ment in the New is critical to this mighty acts of God in the history of self raise up . . . . As the post-exilic cen-
study. His speeches and writings are Israel from the time of the Exodus to turies passed, and especially after the
especially good evidence for the use of the establishment of David as King brief space of national independence
midrash in the New Testament. (13:15-22), Paul ties it all together under the Hasmoneans was followed
with words concerning Jesus. In Acts by the Roman conquest, the longing
At the outset of this discussion of 13:22 he emphasizes the truth of his for this messianic deliverer became
Paul’s use of the Old Testament it message with his first quote from the more intense than ever.31
must be stressed, once again, that Paul Old Testament:
used many hermeneutical techniques After removing Saul, he made David Thus, Paul here is quoting from these
in his speeches and writings. Midrash their king. He testified concerning familiar contexts to build up to his pre-
was not his sole choice. From the evi- him: ‘I have found David son of Jesse liminary conclusion in this first part of
dence to be presented shortly, however, a man after my own heart; he will do his speech.32 This conclusion immedi-
it will be seen that Paul was intimately everything I want him to do.’ ately follows in 13:23: “From this man’s

29:2 Summer 2012

98 Part I: Reconsidering Our Biblical Roots: Bible Interpretation, the Apostle Paul and Mission Today

descendants God has brought to Israel Testament quotes are being used ac- indeed true (as Paul has already clearly
the Savior Jesus, as he promised.” cording to the seven middoth of Hillel given evidence) that God raised Jesus
examined in Section 1. Since Hillel from the dead, and this raised one
What kind of midrashic exegesis is Paul was either the father or grandfather of without doubt has been given the holy
employing here? He is applying the Gamaliel, Paul’s rabbinical teacher,33 and sure blessings previously promised
familiar “that” of these biblical texts— it is not surprising that Paul’s writing, to David, then it naturally follows that
especially Psalm 89—to the “this” situ- even after his conversion experience, this Holy One will never see decay
ation of the coming of Jesus. Here Paul reflects his rabbinic training. As J. W. since this promise has also been clearly
actualizes the biblical texts he quotes Doeve (1954, 175) comments: stated in God’s Word.
to clearly show that they are fulfilled in . . . in the argument of Acts 13 the
the person of Jesus, the Messiah. work of a schooled rabbi is quite The other Old Testament text quoted
perceptible. If one is familiar with earlier here in this section, Psalm 2:7,
Acts 13:32-36 the working methods of a rabbinic also gives evidence for the use of the
The remainder of Paul’s speech to the expositor and able to assess the value middoth exegetical rules, but in this
synagogue at Pisidian Antioch centers of this exegesis, then one can hardly instance as Gezera Shawa (an inference
on this person Jesus. After giving some deny that Acts 13 offers a sound and drawn from analogy). This exegetical
historical background about Jesus, well-built argument, arresting by its rule makes the connections between Old
especially concerning his death and exegetical ingenuity.34 Testament texts less obvious than the
resurrection, Paul again quotes from more explicit examples just examined.
the Old Testament, this time with In this particular case Paul is most likely
explicit introductory statements. The joining, by means of analogy, this Psalm
text of Acts 13:32-36 reads 2:7 text with that found in 2 Samuel
We tell you the good news: What 7:14a: “I will be his father, and he will be
God promised our fathers he has my son.” As Longenecker explains it:
fulfilled for us, their children, by rais-
ing up Jesus. As it is written in the
Paul’s writing, even . . . 2 Samuel 7:6-16 undoubtedly
formed the biblical basis for Paul’s
second Psalm: after his conversion historical résumé in Acts 13:17-22.
‘You are my Son, today I have be-
come your Father.’
experience, reflects his And in Acts 13:33, the first explicit
citation following that recitation of
The fact that God raised him from rabbinic training. God’s dealings with his people, the
the dead, never to decay, is stated in apostle quotes from Psalm 2:7 . . . .
these words: Probably their union was originally
‘I will give you the holy and sure based on the fact that they both
blessings promised to David.’ portray God as speaking of “my
So it is stated elsewhere: son,” and on that basis (gezerah sha-
‘You will not let your Holy One The exegetical rule of Kal wa-homer wah) it was considered appropriate
see decay.’ (light and heavy) is being used by Paul to treat them together (1975, 98).36
For when David had served God’s here in this section of his sermon. He
purpose in his own generation, he fell does this by combining the Isaiah 55:3 Though this exegetical rule of analogy
asleep; he was buried with his fathers phrase with the Psalms 16:10 passage is not nearly as obvious as one might
and his body decayed. But the one by means of their common adjective like it to be, there seems to be sufficient
whom God raised from the dead did o@sioj. In its substantival form this evidence for its use by Paul here relative
not see decay. word “can mean either “divine decrees” to this quote from the second Psalm.37
(ta/ o3sia) as in Isaiah 55:3 or “holy
This string of successive Old Testament one” (ton o3sion) as in Psalm 16:10.”35 Acts 13:38-41
quotes is taken from Psalm 2:7, Isaiah Thus, the first reference from Isaiah The last quotation used by Paul in his
55:3, and Psalm 16:10, respectively. The 55:3 is the “light” aspect of the Kal wa- Pisidian Antioch synagogue speech is
two quotes from the Psalms are exact homer exegetical rule and the reference found in Acts 13:38-41:
translations of the Masoretic text, while from Psalm 16 is the “heavy” because Therefore, my brothers, I want you
that from Isaiah is in a form similar to of this common adjective. What has to know that through Jesus the for-
that found in the Septuagint. previously applied to a less important giveness of sins is proclaimed to you.
matter (Isaiah 55:3) will certainly be Through him everyone who believes
What are the midrashic elements in applicable to a more serious matter is justified from everything you could
this series of verses? These three Old (Psalm 16:10). In other words, if it is not be justified from by the law of

International Journal of Frontier Missiology

Larry W. Caldwell 99

Moses. Take care that what the proph-
ets have said does not happen to you:
he “two step” method we are so familiar with in our
‘Look, you scoffers,wonder and per- modern milieu was not the primary lens through
ish, for I am going to do something
in your days that you would never be-
which Paul interpreted Scripture when he preached.
lieve, even if someone told you.’
surprising, then, that Paul used the applicable in all non-western contexts. This
Here Paul’s reference to “the prophets” methods from his own hermeneuti- approach has grammatical-historical roots
is actually a quotation of Habakkuk cal milieu in his speeches in Acts. The with a possible anti-God and anti-Bible
bias. This approach is costly to imple-
1:5, taken from the Septuagint.38 The “two step” method we are so familiar
ment and maintain (requiring books and
original context of the Habakkuk with in our modern milieu was not the libraries and/or access to them) and thus
quote concerns the imminent rise to primary lens through which Paul in- is oftentimes limited to more wealthy
world power of Nebuchadnezzar and terpreted Scripture when he preached. cultures. Furthermore, this approach is
the Chaldeans as God’s answer to the It’s clear from Acts 13 alone that very complicated to learn; it assumes a
tyranny of the world by the Assyrians. Paul’s interpretive lenses were drawn high educational level and takes years of
The Chaldeans will deliver the world from his hermeneutical milieu, in this advanced training to effectively handle the
approach. For a more thorough analysis of
from Assyrian tyranny and all the na- case from midrash and the seven rules
the weaknesses of the Two Step approach,
tions of the world will be amazed. that guided Hillel, Gamaliel and the especially in non-western cross-cultural
Pharisaic tradition. I hope this initial situations, see my “Towards the New Dis-
The hermeneutical method underlying look at Paul’s milieu will cause us to cipline of Ethnohermeneutics: Question-
Paul’s use of this quotation from Ha- reconsider our assumptions about bib- ing the Relevancy of Western Hermeneuti-
bakkuk is the “this is that” understand- lical interpretation as we use Scripture cal Methods in the Asian Context.” Journal
ing inherent to the midrashic pesher cross-culturally across our world today. of Asian Mission 1:1, (1999), 21-43.
style.39 Paul pays scant attention to the
Kevin Higgins, “Diverse Voices:
Hearing Scripture Speak in a Multicultural
details of the original Habakkuk con- In Part Two I will continue this explo- Movement.” International Journal of Frontier
text except for the theme of deliverance ration of Paul’s hermeneutical milieu Missiology, 27:4, (Winter 2010), 189-196.
inherent in it. Paul, however, does not by looking at some passages from 3
Cited in Dan Sperber and Deirdre
totally divorce the Habakkuk quota- his letter to the Romans. I will also Wilson, Relevance: Communication and
tion from its original context. For the introduce a few modern-day examples Cognition. Second edition (Oxford, UK:
“this” is found in the overall deliverance of non-Western indigenous Bible in- Blackwell, 1995), 46.
context of Habakkuk 1:5, but now it is terpretational approaches that likewise
Higgins, “Diverse Voices,” 190.
Higgins, “Diverse Voices,” 191.
more completely revealed in light of the arise directly from their own cognitive 6
Higgins essentially agrees when he
“that” context of the deliverance offered environments. I will then conclude says that the reality is “that translation is
through Jesus Christ. According to with some practical applications for all itself an iterative, interpretive process,” 191.
Bruce, Paul applies Habakkuk 1:5 “to Bible interpretes today. IJFM 7
Note that what follows in Sections
the new situation in which God is of- 1 through 4 is simply an attempt to paint
fering deliverance through the greatest Endnotes in very broad strokes both the hermeneuti-
of all His mighty works. Great as was 1
The strengths of this Two Step ap- cal milieu of the first century AD as well
proach are several. This approach takes the as the apostle Paul’s use of midrash. It does
the disaster that overtook those who
Bible seriously and allows the biblical text not presume in any way to be exhaustive.
ignored the warnings of the prophets, See the bibliographical references for more
to always take precedence over the world
an even greater disaster will fall upon thorough discussions.
of the interpreter and his/her culture. The
those who refuse the gospel.”40 It is approach deals honestly with the context
Richard N. Longenecker, Biblical Ex-
imperative, then, for Paul’s audience to of the original text and attempts to un- egesis in the Apostolic Period (Grand Rapids,
realize that the deliverance now offered derstand as much as possible the original MI: Eerdmans, 1975), 37.
through Jesus Christ be given the hear- author’s intended meaning. This approach
See Renée Bloch, “Midrash,” trans.
by Mary Callaway. In Approaches to Ancient
ing it justly deserves. looks at the strengths and weaknesses of
the interpretation of the Bible throughout Judaism, ed. W. S. Green (Missoula, MT:
Scholars, 1978). This major article by Bloch
Preliminary Summary church history and learns from it. This ap-
appeared posthumously in French in 1957.
proach takes the best of evangelical schol-
These first two sections have at- Bloch was one of the first proponents for
arship and uses it for better understandings
tempted to show, however briefly, that studying midrash as a hermeneutical method.
of the biblical text and its context. The
the hermeneutical milieu of the first weaknesses of this Two Step approach are
Ibid., 50.
century AD was one that significantly also several. This approach assumes the
Ibid., 31.
influenced the apostle Paul and his universal nature of western hermeneuti- 12
Ibid., 31.
own cognitive environment. It is not cal methods that may not necessarily be 13
Ibid., 32.

29:2 Summer 2012

100 Part I: Reconsidering Our Biblical Roots: Bible Interpretation, the Apostle Paul and Mission Today
Ibid., 32-33. explanations are my own. For more details Henry M. Shires, Finding the Old Testament
Ibid., 33. as well as numerous examples see Doeve, in the New (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster,
Ibid., 29. Jewish Hermeneutics, 66-75. 1974), 55-56.
27 34
Ibid., 33. Interestingly enough, this seventh Doeve, Jewish Hermeneutics, 175.
18 middoth is a hermeneutical method that 35
Concerning this linking of these two
Again, what is described here has
parallels to some extent some modern passages, Longenecker, Biblical Exegesis, 97,
been greatly simplified. In actuality the
historical-critical hermeneutical techniques. n. 63, observes that “Paul’s sermon in the
answer of the Jewish people was simple
Note, however, that though this middoth synagogue to Diaspora Jews was probably
but the process underlying the answer was
was readily available to the New Testament delivered in Greek, so that such a play on
incredibly complex.
writers they seldom chose to use it. the word o3sioj would be midrashically
Cf. Ibid., 34-36. 28 understandable and fitting,”
For a historical chronicling of various
Allowance, though, must be made scholars’ understandings (since 1900) of this 36
Longenecker, Biblical Exegesis, 98,
for the possibility that this “making it clear relationship between Paul and the rabbinical following Doeve, Jewish Hermeneutics, 172.
and giving the meaning” may not have hermeneutical methods of his time see Dan 37
Note that this same text from Psalm
involved midrashic interpretation at all, Cohn-Sherbok, “Paul and Rabbinic Exege- 2:7 is used differently in the Synoptics,
but rather translation from Aramaic to the sis.” Scottish Journal of Theology 35 (1981). where it refers to the experience of the Holy
local dialect; cf. Geza Vermes, “Bible and 29 Spirit descending upon Jesus at the Jordan
Earl E. Ellis, Paul’s Use of the Old
Midrash: Early Jewish Exegesis,” in The river (Matt. 3:17; Mark 1:11; and Luke
Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans,
Cambridge History of the Bible. From the Be- 3:22; cf. also Heb. 1:5, 5:5). This example
1957), 38.
ginnings to Jerome. Vol. 1, eds. P. R. Ackroyd 30 underscores the fact that each New Testa-
With regard to the examples from
and C. F. Evans (London, UK: Cambridge ment interpreter’s own contextual situation
Acts, while the probability of Luke’s redac-
University Press, 1970), 201. The entire determined his use of specific Old Testa-
tion of these Pauline speeches to reflect
context of this passage, however, along with ment texts.
Luke’s own overall theological agenda must
the several times it appears the interpreta- 38
be acknowledged, nevertheless the overall The Septuagint differs from the
tion was given—“making it clear,” “giving Masoretic text when it substitutes “you
tenor of Paul’s hermeneutical methodology
the meaning,” “so that the people could un- scoffers” for “the nations” and adds “perish”
in these speeches is easily discerned.
derstand”—seems to imply more than mere 31 (a0fani/sqhte). However, the fact that Paul
translation. For a thorough analysis of the F. F. Bruce, The New International
Bible Commentary on the New Testament: The omits the phrase, which the Septuagint
influence of Aramaic on Jesus and the New includes, may mean that Paul is using a
Testament church see Joseph A. Fitzmyer, Book of Acts (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans,
1981), 273-274. text closer to the Masoretic text than is
The Semitic Background of the New Testament. commonly thought (cf. Gleason L. Archer
Combined edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Paul’s additional phrases, “son of
and G. C. Chirichigno, Old Testament Quo-
Eerdmans, 1997). Jesse” and “he will do everything I want him
tations in the New Testament: A Complete
Donald Juel, Messianic Exegesis. to do,” are inconsequential. They may merely
Survey (Chicago, IL: Moody, 1983), 159.
Christological Interpretations of the Old Testa- be targumic comments upon the Old Testa-
But note that the Qumran text of 1QpHab
ment in Early Christianity (Philadelphia, ment texts or they could reflect the pos-
2:1-10 presupposes the above substitu-
PA: Fortress, 1988), 32. sibility that Paul (or the Pisidian Antioch
tion, thus offering further support for the
congregation) had a text that included these
Cf. J. W. Doeve, Jewish Hermeneutics Septuagint translation.
phrases. Note that the longer phrase occurs
in the Synoptics and Acts (Assen, NL: Van 39
Though not strictly following the
in the Targum of Jonathan; cf. F. F. Bruce,
Gorcum, 1954), 61. ordinary pesher structure—in other words,
“Paul’s Use of the Old Testament in Acts,”
23. Cf. Daniel Patte, Early Jewish the technical moniker, pesher, is not used
in Tradition and Interpretation in the New
Hermeneutic in Palestine (Missoula, MT: by Paul—the context surrounding the use
Testament, eds. Gerald F. Hawthorne with
Scholars, 1975), 112-115. of this Habakkuk text clearly places the
Otto Betz (Grand Rapids, MI/Tubingen,
Cf. Vermes, “Bible and Midrash,” text in the realm of the theological purpose
WG: Eerdmans/Mohr, 1987), 72.
221. Possibly the middoth were the result of 33
of midrashic pesher: a text which can now
See Longenecker, Biblical Exegesis, only be fully understood in relation to the
attempts to put some kind of limits upon 33-34, n. 50, concerning sources for further
the freer midrashic hermeneutical forms in present context.
debate over this issue. It is interesting to 40
vogue around this time period. Bruce, The Book of Acts, 279.
note that Paul’s teacher, Gamaliel—ac-
Hillel’s seven middoth were later cording to H. E. Dana and R. E. Glaze, Jr.,
expanded by others to total a standardized 32 Interpreting the New Testament (Nashville,
middoth by 160 AD. TN: Broadman, 1961), 19—“was broad-
Quoted from Earl E. Ellis, “Bibli- minded and considerate in his interpretation
cal Interpretation in the New Testament,” of the Law, having been characterized very
in Mikra, Text, Translation, Reading much by the spirit of his grandfather. The
and Interpretation of the Hebrew Bible in remarkable liberality of his attitude may be
Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity. seen in the fact that he studied and taught
Compendia Rerum Iudaicarum ad Novum Greek literature and contended for the inher-
Testamentum, ed. Martin Jan Mulder ent rights and privileges of the Gentiles. He
(Assen, NL/Philadelphia, PA: Van was, nevertheless, held in high regard by the
Gorkum/Fortress, 1988), 699; bracketed Jews of his own and later generations . . . ”; cf.

International Journal of Frontier Missiology


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102 Book Reviews

could never mean a total break with their Islamic context.
Amidst the diversity Kraft locates general tendencies that
many have long suspected to be the case, for example the
observation that “most converts gave up on Islam long
before considering an alternative faith.” She balances
the diversities and similarities of these narratives, seeing
Searching for Heaven in a Real World: A Sociological patterns in how they reject the old and embrace the new.
Discussion of Conversion in the Arab World, Those in ministry among Muslims may find these narratives
by Katherine Ann Kraft (Regnum Studies of Mission, familiar, but it’s Kraft’s sociology that brings a new order to
Regnum Books International: Oxford, England, 2012) the range of meanings in conversion.
—Reviewed by Brad Gill Kraft spends an early chapter on her methodology (“The
Editor’s note: Kraft’s book was published in November 2012. Perfect Researcher”), and anyone serving cross-culturally
It is appearing in the Summer 2012 issue due to production could learn much from her approach. This is one of the first
delays here at IJFM. We apologize for any inconvenience. studies to make public what has been a very sensitive and
security-ridden subject (she withholds names except for

T he last decade has seen a

crescendo of studies on the nature
of conversion, especially as it relates to
the countries of Lebanon and Egypt). The reader can see
how her qualitative and “open-ended narrative interview”
style fits such a context. She recognizes the position of
Muslims who turn to Jesus.1 Katherine power she has as a Westerner, and the greater degree of
Kraft’s Searching for Heaven in a Real access granted her as a woman. Her approach requires
World: A Sociological Discussion of reflexivity, collaboration and the trust of her interviewees
Conversion in the Arab World adds one if she as an “outsider” is going to hear clear voices on such
more voice to this discussion. Using a difficult personal subject. Her approach is a warm and
the tools and methods of sociology refreshing escape from the more cerebral Islamic-Christian
she explores the particular struggle of conversion in the apologetics that typically surround our discussion of
countries of Lebanon and Egypt. Her analysis of over 30 conversion. The value of her “co-producing fieldwork” and
individual narratives offers a more discerning look at the “collaborative advocacy” is not confined to research but
issues of identity faced by those who must negotiate the would benefit anyone serving in the Muslim world.
historic boundary that divides Muslim and Christian.
Each section of the book is organized around a “piece of
Kraft examines the contested and emotionally-laden term heaven” that these converts are searching for when they
“conversion” in her first chapter. The academic paradigms turn to Christ. Chapters 3 and 4 develop the world they
of sociology, and all its technical jargon, cannot rescue her are coming from, that is, the mindset and values that have
from employing the term “convert” as a term of designation rooted them in an Islamic setting. Chapters 5 and 6 deal
for those within her study. more with the expectations of the convert, “the preexisting
The phraseology of how to refer to [those in this study] is image of Christianity that they bring into conversion, the
problematic. I have chosen thus far to use the most controver- community they are looking for, and the identity they
sial of terms, convert, to refer to the group of people that has are seeking to develop” (p. 16). Kraft spends a lot of her
been the focus of this research, because of its basic definition book illustrating how these personal dreams of following
of being a break with something about one’s past, a turning. I Christ are negotiated, tempered, disappointed, adjusted and
have used this term with the awareness that many readers of reformulated. It’s a dizzying variety of personal narratives
this book may deeply dislike it, but I recognize that there is no around very common dreams and expectations. They’re
label that will please all groups. It remains that convert is the “searching for heaven in a real world,” a world in which
most theoretically descriptive word to use (p. 97). they must negotiate a new identify for themselves, with
their spouse, with their family and in their community.
She realizes that underneath the term convert is a broad
range of meanings, and her objective is to reveal the Faces kept coming to mind as I read. I was forced again and
deeper nuances of meaning and identity that emerge when again to reconsider the journey of Muslims I had known
Muslims embrace the Christian faith in an Islamic context. who had turned to Jesus. Kraft was able to capture how
On page after page, she offers conversion narratives that they sifted and sorted their place in an Islamic context quite
blend the rational and the relational, the emotional and distant from her sample. Whether a convert chooses to
intellectual, the passive and the active. Some converts think remain inside or to face the painful realities of expulsion,
it requires a complete break with Islam, while for others it Kraft helps us appreciate that each and every one is working

International Journal of Frontier Missiology

Book Reviews 103

have used this term with the awareness that many readers . . . may deeply
dislike it, but I recognize that there is no label that will please all groups. It
remains that convert is the most theoretically descriptive word to use. (p. 97)
unceasingly to fashion a new identity; there’s nothing of social anthropology so that we can appreciate how
automatic about it. Obtaining a piece of heaven is tough in culture influences their conversion experience. As an
their real world. She forced me to recall the nervous energy example, she states that
of those young believers I had known who had to carefully While indeed many factors are at play in addition to honor,
navigate the straits between two historic monotheisms. honor is nonetheless of key importance. This may be more
true for converts than for other citizens, since they want to
Kraft handles her tools of sociology with refreshing present a good image of who they are in their new identity.
deftness. The reader is almost unaware of how academic Pierre Bourdieu reflected that an honor-based sentiment is
departments of sociology might mock such an innocent mostly found in societies where relationships with others
study of evangelical conversion. She’s gone where angels take precedence over relationship with oneself. While this
fear to tread, but in so doing, she’s been able to bring a may not be true about converts, most of them are eager that
new vantage point for understanding the complexity of they at least continue to demonstrate respect for the com-
religious identity (or “socio-religious” identity). I first heard munity, both for their own reputation and for the good of
Kraft present these perspectives at a consultation this the community (p. 85).
past summer. It immediately became evident how helpful
her sociological applications were to a wide spectrum of At times I felt she was dealing with these themes too
contexts across the Muslim world. While Kraft’s book quickly and without any real anthropological depth. But,
operates within the sociology of religion, she gets her points admittedly, there’s already an abundance of anthropological
across without any of us gagging on technical jargon. studies on the Arab world, and specifically on negotiating
identity,2 but almost nothing on this subject of conversion.
In chapters 3 and 4, Kraft introduces what she believes are Enter Kraft, whose work is able to synthesize cultural
the two most influential socio-religious concepts that shape insights around conversion. Her social models, like
how Muslims map out their new identity in Christ. Tawhid Goffman’s treatment of ambivalence and stigma, or
(unity) and Ummah (religious community) are distinct yet Durkheim’s classic study of anomie, provide a new catalyst
complimentary Islamic notions that shape converts’ views for cultural themes. Admittedly, she’s woven her study
of where they are from and where they are going in their around the interpersonal, the social dynamic. She expects
conversion experience. Their Islamic experience establishes you’ll need to go elsewhere if you demand a comprehensive
certain expectations that then shape how they approach study of the worldview and culture of these Arab converts.
their new identity with the community of Christ (read
‘church’). They can idealize a “perfect community” (ummah) Her final chapter on “Perfect Identity” is the prime objec-
that integrates their lives in “perfect unity” (tawhid) as new tive of her entire study, that “actually, all of the issues
followers of Christ. This is where Kraft begins to introduce discussed thus far are part of the complicated processes
cultural notions that hide silently in the mind of a new of identity negotiation.” Her entire book has made it very
convert, worldview notions that map their expectations, clear “that religious identity is not one single concept,” and
notions that are not immediately eliminated as new it’s in this concluding chapter that she introduces new con-
identities are formed in Christ. This cultural (religious) lag ceptual categories for understanding how identity is orga-
may be hard to admit for those of us with an evangelical nized in the life of a convert. She basically divides identity
sense of “new creation,” that the old ways must completely into three dimensions, namely, the core, the social and the
pass away; yet, Kraft’s more objective sociological approach collective. Each new believer will move between these three
frees her to honestly “call a spade a spade,” to isolate those dimensions as they try to walk with integrity, but it’s the
cultural and religious notions that indeed do get dragged latter, the collective, which receives much of her focus.
along in conversion. This collective sense of belonging is where she believes
tawhid and ummah play such a vital role, but she’s care-
Kraft includes other cultural notions from the Arab world ful to suggest that “religious affiliation is not the same as
in her study (i.e., kinship/blood relations, honor/shame, collective identity.” Her sample makes it clear that religion
dhimmitude/minority and gender/sexuality). She maintains “does not mean the same thing to everyone affiliated with
that family, tribe and society are the primary audience of the same religion.” It could mean “a sense of the divine,
these converts, and she skillfully incorporates the insights beliefs, ritual, community involvement, family, and atti-

29:2 Summer 2012

104 Book Reviews

tude towards co-religionists in the rest of the world.” Her The Necessity of Field Research
research captures this individualized parsing of religion as
each convert brokers a new sense of belonging. —by Bradford Greer, PhD
Editor’s Note: In the paragraphs that follow, Bradford Greer
And she doesn’t ignore the present influence of builds and expands upon his review ( IJFM 28:4) of Doug
globalization in how converts shuffle core, social and Coleman’s PhD dissertation (A Theological Analysis of the
collective identity. It’s getting tougher and tougher to hold Insider Movement Paradigm from Four Perspectives), and
to stable and singular identities as pluralism increases across especially Coleman’s response to that review ( IJFM 29:1).
these Islamic societies. She deploys a theory (symbolic Readers would do well to read Greer’s comments with this
interactionism) that provides “a model for how someone earlier interaction in mind.
can simultaneously hold and maintain more than one
identity, especially in a globalized context where people
are balancing more and more roles at a given time.” But
she admits that this theory hits the wall with Islam, for
D oug Coleman’s response to my review of his disserta-
tion (IJFM 29:1) appears to validate my fundamental
concern that he carried into his research certain assump-
it “rarely assumes that different roles might exclude each tions of which he was, and apparently, remains incognizant.
other, or be in direct conflict with each other.” Conversion
in the Islamic world seems to defy theory. In the end, Kraft I find the assumption that one can enter into a meaningful
expects converts to share that modern tendency to “want to missiological-theological discourse about the theological
individually choose their collective identity and how t hey positions of insiders when only working from articles—
will individually associate to it.” and not from data derived from interaction with actual
believing communities)—problematic. Theology is
Kraft ventures further in organizing all her data. She supposed to be done in context. It is all too tempting
doesn’t leave us with a fragmented array of different to be Platonic in one’s approach to doing theology. At
conversion narratives. She offers three additional strategies such a vantage point it is easy to develop an intricate,
that converts use to weld an identity in the interface well-crafted, theological system. Coleman has done
between Muslim and Christian. Using recent insights an excellent job in doing this, crafting a well-thought
from immigrant studies, she moves us beyond the idea that through theological position with intricate nuances.
a convert is simply assimilating new aspects of another However, what the church has seen over and over again
religious world. She likes the concept of “adhesion” and the is that well-crafted systems of theological thought do not
way it pictures a new believer gluing different aspects of necessarily transfer well into real contexts.
the old and new around a newfound faith. I won’t steal her
thunder, because I want you to buy the book, so I’ll leave This is why I initially was surprised at Coleman’s lack of
any further description to her. interaction with hermeneutics in his dissertation. Whether
Coleman realizes it or not, he reads and interprets Scripture
Suffice it to say, this final analysis will be helpful for any and from his cultural vantage point, not the cultural vantage
every religious and cultural context, not just a Muslim one. point of insiders. Therefore, his analysis is not a dialogical
Having watched Kraft interact with Muslim background engagement with insiders in how they contextualize their
believers, I’m convinced that Kraft offers a new framework theology because he has not interacted with them. Thus, his
in which believers from very difficult religious contexts analysis is more of an internal dialogue with those believers
can begin to discuss how to authentically walk “in Christ.” who share his contextual experiences of the world.
And she’s given us a spectacular tool for opening up fruitful
discussion among those with hardened opinions concerning Coleman feels that his life experiences as a missionary
“insider movements” and how new believers handle their qualify him to engage in the discussion; however, this
religious context. This is a “must read” in frontier missiology. is a flawed assumption. Field research fills in the gaps
of one’s experiences because one’s experiences are often
Endnotes filtered through one’s own cultural grid. Field research
See David Greenlee’s edited compendium of contributions provides data that enables researchers to challenge or
from across the Muslim world on this subject of conversion, From validate their assumptions and perspectives. Without
the Straight Path to the Narrow Way: Journeys of Faith (Authentic field research, missiological analysis often yields to
Books, 2005). circular reasoning or “motivated reasoning.” Motivated
For an excellent study of how identity and culture interact in reasoning is crafting an argument to support a viewpoint
a Muslim context, I’d recommend Lawrence Rosen’s Bargaining for to which one has a prior commitment.
Reality: The Construction of Social Relations in a Muslim Community Thus, Coleman’s analysis is potentially ideological rather
(University of Chicago, 1984). than missiological.

International Journal of Frontier Missiology

Book Reviews 105

ithout field research, missiological analysis often yields to circular
reasoning or “motivated reasoning,” rather than providing
informative missiological analysis.
Coleman’s lack of engagement with hermeneutics and the viewpoint over against the viewpoint of the IMP articles.
impact of culture and context on theologizing reinforces This doesn’t appear to me to advance the discussion.
my assertion that he adopts a naive realistic epistemological
approach to his theologizing. He may, as he asserts, take This leaves me where I began before I read his dissertation
a critical realistic approach to culture, but this critical or his response. I remain ill informed as to what actually is
realism doesn’t seem to have crossed over and impacted his happening within insider movements and as to what they
approach to theologizing. actually believe. Dr. Coleman’s theologizing was good; yet, it
was non-contextual. Therefore, I see it as circular reasoning.
With regard to essentialism, Coleman asserts that in It appears that he ended in his thinking where he began
his ten years on the field he noticed diversity among because he did not interact with any additional cultural
Muslims with regard to beliefs and practices, and the contexts. Field experience does not qualify as field research.
meaning of those practices. However, it appears that he Field experience can strengthen one’s field research, but it
has failed to recognize the significance of this diversity. does not qualify as a substitute.
I too failed to recognize this for many years. This is
where one’s essentialist assumptions impact perspective Please allow me to clarify my position. I am not an insider
and theologizing. In the West, South, and East, we see proponent. I did not write any of the articles that Coleman
a remarkable diversity in beliefs and practices and the analyzed in his dissertation. Unlike Dr. Coleman, I am open
meaning of these practices among those who identify to insider ideas because the missiological theory behind
themselves as Christian. If believers in Jesus can remain as them makes insider activity appear viable and there appears
yeast within traditionally non-evangelical socio-religious to be theological justification for such activity as long as it
communities, such as Roman Catholic or liberal Protestant, remains within given biblical boundaries. I cannot know
then why can Muslim insiders not remain as yeast within any of this for sure without actual data from the field. Thus,
their socio-religious communities as followers of Jesus? I am simply a missiologist in search of solid information
And if they potentially can remain within their socio- that helps the discussion move forward. IJFM
religious communities, then how do they remain? In what
religious practices do insiders actually participate? What
do they believe about these practices? How do they view
these practices in the light of Scripture? These questions are
left unanswered because Coleman’s analysis is based upon
articles and not upon the actual beliefs and practices of a
community of insiders.

Therefore, when Coleman asserts in his dissertation and in

his response that Muslims and insider believers are likely
praying to another god if they pray at a mosque, this is
because his essentialist view of Islam has already defined
to whom they are praying and pre-ascribed meaning to
their praying. Muslims and insider believing communities
apparently cannot have a different understanding of God
than his essentialist understanding of Islam has ascribed to
them. Now, this does not mean that Coleman is inaccurate
in his perception. He may well be right. However, the
IMP articles assert otherwise. The conundrum that I as a
missiologist face is that I cannot know if Coleman is right
without actual data collected from insider communities.
This is why field research is an integral component of
missiological analysis. The way I see it, with his dissertation
and this response, the discussion is reduced down to his

29:2 Summer 2012

106 In Others’ Words

In Others’ Words 3.

training programs, mission leaders and mission
resource providers to update their information.
Global Strategy Study Groups—15 strategy

evaluation task forces that will annually review global
Editor’s note: In this section, we report on two meetings that progress in particular areas of mission work and make
occurred in November 2012, which would not be possible in a recommendations to the mission community.
Summer 2012 issue were it not for production delays. We hope you 4. Global Engagement Survey—An annual
enjoy the fresh report and we apologize for any inconvenience. survey of missionary engagement among 4,000
indigenous unreached peoples and 30,000
Ethnê to Ethnê population segments, conducted by regional and
Ethnê to Ethnê is the only global forum focused on fron- national engagement task forces/committees.
tier missions, and they hold a gathering every three years 5. Global Mission Journal—An online professional
(the first two took place in 2006 and 2009 in Indonesia mission journal and international committee of
and Columbia respectively). In November 2012, around editors that will assist non-Western mission leaders
400 from the network met in Seoul, Korea. Most of the in articulating in English their perspectives on
delegates were practitioners from various frontier mission current global mission trends and strategies.
contexts. A unique contribution of the Ethnê gathering is 6. Light the Window Prayer Campaign—Coor-
that indigenous believers from frontier fields were invited dination of prayer updates from the field among
to participate and speak into the network. The focus of the unreached peoples in the 10/40 Window, and
2012 meeting was on a new strategy to develop what are crowd-sourcing the translation of those updates.
being called “Ephesus Teams” for major unreached peoples 7. Virtual University Consortium—An online
and people clusters. The idea behind these teams is to virtual university that will enable mission training
create a virtual hub for cooperation—a landing place, so to programs to upload their courses into a common
speak, where new players can be brought in who are com- system for use by missionaries and missionary
mitted to the same vision. In contrast with a network or candidates around the world.
partnership, which may have a more general purpose and 8. Agency Management Tool—Development of an
are usually more relational in nature, these teams have the online tool that will feature modules for financial
singular focus of working together on an ongoing basis accounting, donor management, ministry
to see a church-planting and disciple-making movement tracking, etc.
take place. They are nonetheless “virtual teams” with no
direct “command and control,” though they may have one Beyond these collaborative projects, one of the primary
or more facilitators. The strength of the concept is that purposes of the GNMS is to assist emerging mission
it allows a common strategy to be developed and owned structures, including both national and regional mission
across multiple ministries. The weakness is obviously that associations, as well as non-Western denominational
virtual teams tend to struggle in areas of communica- mission departments. In this connection, several projects
tion and accountability. One answer to this is that some were discussed, including a special meeting in Ghana
teams are beginning to use social-networking software for developing national mission associations in Africa.
with a project-management component. Examples of such More information about the GNMS can be found at
software are Podio and Wrike. For more information on IJFM
Ethnê to Ethnê, see

Global Network of Mission Structures

Following the Ethnê meeting, the Global Network of
Mission Structures held a roundtable discussion to look
at priorities for 2013. The purpose of the GNMS is to
be a global-level forum for cooperation between mission
sending agencies. The following projects were proposed for
the next two to three years:
1. Resource Sharing Survey—An annual online
survey of 2,000 mission agencies, looking at what
agencies have to offer to one another and what
their needs are.
2. Global Directories Project—A crowd-sourcing
online tool that will enable mission agencies, mission

International Journal of Frontier Missiology

IJFM & Perspectives 107

& Related Perspectives Lesson and Section

Lesson 11: Building Bridges of Love (C)

Whether you’re a Perspectives instructor, student, or coordinator, you can continue to explore

Lesson 14. Pioneer Church Planting (S)

Lesson 4: Mandate for the Nations (B)

Lesson 10: How Shall They Hear? (C)

Lesson 5: Unleashing the Gospel (B)

Lesson 7: Eras of Mission History (H)

issues raised in the course reader and study guide in greater depth in IJFM. For ease of reference,

Lesson 9: The Task Remaining (H)

each IJFM article in the table below is tied thematically to one or more of the 15 Perspectives
lessons, divided into four sections: Biblical (B), Historical (H), Cultural (C) and Strategic (S).
Disclaimer: The table below shows where the content of a given article might fit; it does not
imply endorsement of a particular article by the editors of the Perspectives materials. For sake
of space, the table only includes lessons related to the articles in a given IJFM issue. To learn
more about the Perspectives course, visit

Articles in IJFM 29:2

A Further Look at Translating “Son of God” 
x x x
Michael LeFebvre and Basheer Abdulfadi  (pp. 61-74)

Living Letters: The Arabic Script as a Redemptive Bridge in Reaching Muslims 

x x x
Murray Decker and Abdu Injiiru  (pp. 75-82)

Bible Translation and Small Languages in the Pacific: Ten Years Later 
x x x
Karl J. Franklin  (pp. 83-89)

Part I: Reconsidering Our Biblical Roots: Bible Interpretation, the Apostle Paul and
x x
Mission Today  Larry W. Caldwell  (pp. 91-100)

29:2 Summer 2012

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