Changing the Son of God for Muslims
An article in World Magazine discusses Wycliffe‘s recent debate about how to translate “Son of God” and “God the Father” into Arabic for Muslim audiences, noting that “in Muslim contexts,” a literal translation “implies that God had sexual relations with Mary” — at least according to some translators.
Therefore, Wycliffe’s translations have at times resorted to alternative wordings, causing more than a little debate.
It seems to me that there are two factual questions here.
The easy one (even though I don’t know enough Arabic to provide an answer) is whether the Arabic translation for “Son of God” that was rejected in fact implies sexual relations. My guess is that it does.
But the harder question is the more important one. Does the Arabic for “Son of God” imply sexual relations any more than the original Greek did? This is what the translator has to know.
By comparison, the English phrases “I’m a father now” and “I have a son” both imply sex, even though there are other ways of becoming a father, such as adoption. It’s hard for me to imagine that Greek didn’t work similarly. This makes “Son of God” in English a pretty good choice, even though sons generally come about through sex.
On the other hand, “love child” in English has a specific implication that doesn’t come directly from what “love” and “child” mean. (A “love child” is generally a child born out of wedlock.) So Hosea 11:1 (“When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son,” NRSV) cannot become, in English, “Israel was my love child,” though in other languages that might be significantly better.
Similarly, the important question regarding Arabic is whether “Son of God” for Muslim audiences is like “love child” in English, pointing in a specific but wrong contextual direction, or whether it’s like “child” more generally, implying but not demanding the wrong interpretation.
I think the theoretical issues are interesting, but I’m also curious about the facts here. Does anyone know more?