Skip to main content

The hows and whats:

Recently I attended a conference at which a number of speakers spoke about some disturbing trends in Bible translation. Some of these projects are being supported by the gifts of church members who are completely unaware of what is going on. Did you know...?

a. When the translator for what has become almost the most popular Bible translation in Arabic commenced his work, he was told that he did not have to use Hebrew and Greek, but rather to simply translate from the Living Bible which was a paraphrase of the Bible. Fortunately, he refused and the Word of Life translation has now been printed over 30 million times.

b. There are about 100 Bible translations that were translated from the English Good News for Modern Man translation, which again was a loose paraphrase of the Bible.

c. There is an Arabic Bible which purposely includes part of the Islamic confession of faith, namely the Shahadah in order to make Muslims comfortable in reading the Bible.

d. There is an Audio panoramic Bible which leaves out the parable of the lost son and the rest of Luke 15 because it wants to avoid any talk of God as a Father.

e. There is a trend in some Bible translations to replace the word YHWH which is the personal name of God, with the name Allah, as if this is his personal name. As much as Allah can be used in some translations for God in a generic sense, it is never his personal name by which he will be known for all generations (Exodus 3).

f. There are Bible translations that very consciously avoid portraying Jesus as divine. They do this by making him a “spiritual son” “a deputy” “a [human] master/leader/wise man/cleric while avoiding the word “Lord.”

Where is this being done?

Most of the Bible translations mentioned above are for use in Muslim-majority contexts. Thus, this is being done in Central Russia, in Bangladesh, in Indonesia, in Pakistan, in Turkey and the Middle East, and now wherever a Muslim who understands the languages spoken in these places can download their written or audio Bibles, or even buy them on Amazon.

Who is doing this?

Within a number of organizations, there are personnel who are convinced that the way to reach more Muslims is to make the Bible or what is called a “Bible–product” like the Jesus film, or an audio dramatized version of the Bible, Muslim-friendly. As much as the names of the organizations are important, and some include household names, what is more important is that this is being done in the name of “more effective outreach,” “new and improved versions that replace archaic King James-like versions,” and “the nationals need these works.”

But do national churches want them? In Turkey, for instance, a version came out that rendered the Great Commission as “wash them in the way of Islamic ablutions, in the name of the Guardian, his proxy, and the Holy Spirit.” The Turkish church contested this nonsense and the Western organization pressed on with its distribution. In Bangladesh, a corrupted Gospel of Mark was distributed against the wishes of most nationals, and especially those of a Muslim background, while the Western organization persisted.

What do these things say about respect for national churches? What do they say about a neo-colonialist mindset that patronizes these nationals? What do they say about respect even for the institution of a church?

Why are they doing this?

Behind the thinking of these individuals and organizations is an idea that the Bible is simply an evangelistic tract. The tract must be made as appealing to the eye of the reader as possible, so you will see nice calligraphy, gold embossing, and titles that include, "Lives of the Prophets," "The Gospel," "The Noble Book," and “The True Meaning of the Gospel of Christ.” In the case of the last one, it is noteworthy that  Arabic word for “The True” is the same word as one uses to say that a particular Islamic tradition is extremely trustworthy, such as “Sahih Bukhari’ or the reliable Bukhari. Note as well that it uses the article “The” as if its rendition is the one and only reliable meaning of the Gospels. It does not say accurate translation, but rather the reliable meaning. Whose meaning is the question?

With this idea comes a view about church. The translator now becomes an interpreter of the Bible and imposes as much of his/her bias into the text. Whereas the production of the NIV and ESV sought to avoid a ‘Baptist Bible’ or a ‘Pentecostal Bible’, what these groups are doing is saying that the pulpit and the exposition of Scripture in Christian community are not very important. Rather, these are ‘designer Bibles’ which are called a sectarian Bible.

Another reason for these kinds of translations is an idea that if Islam and Christianity are brought close together, then the pains associated with conversion will go away. That is to say, if one simply needs to change lanes on the highway to heaven and keep going in the same direction, that is no big deal. Thus if the Bible is Islamized, it is possible to stay essentially within Islam and somehow get on the highway to heaven. This is to make the trip as easy as possible. Such proponents look at the about-face, change of mind, heart, attitude, commitments, and loyalties that are involved with true conversion, and they do as much as possible to avoid this change of direction going down another highway, as it were.

Lastly, a reason that people do this is because they think that the essential problem that a Muslim faces is a lack of information. Thus, if you package the information nicely, they will come. This flies in the face of the Biblical reality that those who are not in Christ are dead in their sin, and what they need is not just better-packaged information, they need a whole new gift of sight to even see the information, they need a gift of a regenerated heart to even embrace this information, and they need a whole new way of thinking to embrace the Biblical narrative. Contrary to these proponents, they are not slightly myopic, slightly sick, or slightly misinformed.

Why is this important?

Imagine working among a tribe of people in ‘Barkistan.’ You were sent there to plant churches. You find that this tribe has a New Testament. The people know nothing of the wonderful concept of the adoption of the children of God by a Heavenly Father because it was scrubbed from their Scriptures. They have a weak Christology because he is portrayed in line with Islamic thinking that Jesus was just a superman created being with a few miracle powers. All throughout their Scripture, you find strange constructions, like Jesus is not the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, but it says that Jesus is the piglet of God, because the Barkistan people don’t know what sheep are.

Imagine how much work you will need to do to correct all of these wrong notions and more. Then if you try to make changes, the local Muslims will say, “I told you, your Bible is corrupted.” If you try to make changes among the Christian people, they will feel that either they were deceived by the first translator, or that you as the church planter are deceptive. If the people compare notes with a neighboring tribe with a theologically faithful translation, imagine the confusion that will ensue when a regional meeting is held in that country. And the list goes on.

What can you do?

  • Get informed. See the second resource under #1 for an introduction.
  • Ask questions to the translators that you support.
  • Ask the agencies that you support to inform you.

For more information:

1. Adam Simnowitz, “Translation Chart for Muslim Idiom Translations of the Bible”

Also his, “Best Practices For Assessing The Accuracy Of Scripture & Scripture-Based Products In Witness To Muslims”

2. John Span, “The Mother of the Books: A Case Study of the Consequences of a Seminal Muslim Idiom Translation”

3. Various articles in Ayman S. Ibrahim and Ant Greenham editors, Muslim Conversions to Christ: A Critique of Insider Movements in Islamic Contexts (Peter Lang, 2018). For a first-hand testimony of a fund-raiser who raised more than $215,000 US for a very Islamized Bible translation, see the story by David Harriman, “Force Majeure: Ethics and Encounters in an Era of Extreme Contextualization,” pp. 455-500.


Hey John,

Thanks so much for posting this info. I couldn't recall... did you mention the specific names of organizations who are supporting these changes? If what you testify is true, I would see it as very necessary to inform others who may be financially supporting such organizations. Is Wycliffe guilty of any of the above changes?

Also, I would argue that such "disturbing trends in Bible translations" are not new but have been going on for some time. From what I recall from my studies, the NIV for instance, took the approach of translating phrases or statements rather than a word-for-word translation. I'm convinced that every single word in the Bible is intentional and important and so would trust the reliability of those translations who sought to follow that same conviction of the authority of God's Word. More modern translations that sought to faithfully translate each word would include the NASB and ESV.

In addition to this, you have the same "Father" problem when you attempt to have a gender neutral Bible. Each word is important and can be explained rather than changed. I believe such changes have occurred for similar reasons... to not cause offense or add a stumbling block.  Regardless of the good intentions, it does not justify the wrong means.

Thank you for the kind comments, Eric:

    You hit the nail on the head. If we treat the Bible as being "Thus says the LORD" written, and we truly understand who this LORD is, then we will not take liberties in fooling around with what He says. Isn't it amazing that in translating legal documents, utmost care is given to a precise rendering of the words, idiomatic expressions, and to represent the author's words with utmost respect for that author.

   When it comes to Bible translation, unfortunately the idea that all of the Bible is something like an idiomatic expression has taken over. For instance we all get it that "the early bird gets the worm" might need a bit of translation latitude. In that case there is no big argument about word for word translation. However, in the cases above, the two persons of the Trinity, Father and Son, are now treated like they are idiomatic expressions and all kinds of liberties are taken. This is category confusion and more driven by the spirit of the age, than skillful translation.

      You raise a good point about gender neutral translations.  Without painting the kettle black, un-necessarily, one must ask how much of the spirit of the age has entered into the presuppositions of the translators.

    Since translation agencies are staffed by a mixture of all kinds of people, I will not mention any names, but you would do well to read through the attached resources.

    Fully agreed that more accountability is needed in the Bible translation field. Just because an agency is a household name does not mean that financial, ethical and theological stewardship should not be taken. The lack of this accountability is how we got into this mess in the first place.

   Blessings on your work

John Span


This is a very interesting topic. Here is an email I sent to Craig Bartholomew a year or so ago which deals with the issue in reverse, i.e. the Qur'an being translated into English using scripture passages to justify the various statements. This is a very complicated issue and something scholars need to to help us with.

""Dear Craig,

Are you ever involved in reviewing a book like this? It seem to be an apologetic for the Qur'an.

I am grasping at straws a by asking this.  Your are a co- writer researcher with Michael Goheen and as scholars doing Missiology you might have something to say about how this book deals with scripture.

Comparing scripture to the Qur'an is not something that would be high on my list of discussions with Muslims. But a book like this which seems to ask Christians to do just that needs to be looked by scholars like you.

Harry Boessenkool


For background I completed a trip to the Middle East last year which included Oman and the Al -Amana Centre in Muscat. We are looking at ways for our Pastor to go to Oman  and possibly Lebanon (the only Christian Seminary in the Middle East) and learn something first hand about the Arabian/Muslim culture to improve our discussions with Muslims coming to Canada ( Vancouver area in particular).

I came across this book at a friends home in Amersfoort Holland while here in vacation.

Greetings Harry:

      The rendition of the Qur'an by Saskas and Hungerford, i.e. The Qur’an with references to the Bible: A Contemporary Understanding (Fairfax, VA: Bridges of Reconciliation, 2016) and The reference Qur'an coordinated by Jeff Hayes and company are a new genre of English renditions of the Qur'an which use Biblical cross-references. This is not unlike an English study Bible which has cross references as footnotes.

       So what is the issue at hand?

      If Christians are Islamizing the Bible by putting in phraseology that appeals to Muslims, then this is the mirror image, namely that Muslims (i.e. Saskas) and even Christians (like Jeff Hayes) are Christianizing the Qur'an. In the case of the Saskas rendition he states that his objectives are:

      To promote reconciliation.   To be a bridge between believers in the God of Abraham.   To promote mutual values. (xi-xvi)

He goes on to say that he hopes that Christians and Jews will see the Qur'an "as a continuation of the same message."

This raises a number of red flags. For Christians, the Bible alone is the Word of the Triune God written, and its revelation points to Jesus as the Son of God Incarnate, fully God, and fully human.  According to Hebrews 1, Jesus is God's final revelation.

So how can the Qur'an be a continuation of the same message?

Secondly, if you look at page 32 of the Saskas rendition, he cites Surah 3:49, which is a story about the Muslim Jesus doing some miracles. The cross references are to verses about Jesus' miracles in  John 5,  John 9, Matthew 8, and Mark 12. This can lead someone to think that the Muslim Jesus and the Biblical Jesus are the same person. Absolutely not. The Muslim Jesus is a miracle-working super-human prophet who does everything "by the permission of Allah" but is anything but the Son of God incarnate,  showing that he can do the deeds of God, i.e. making water and winds to still, upsetting the natural order with healing, resurrection and the like, because he is God. Miracles in Islam serve to validate someone's prophethood. Miracles in the Bible serve to demonstrate the glory of God, to show His compassion for broken humans, to show that the era of the Messiah has broken in to this universe, and to give foretastes of the consumated Kingdom of God.

If you see the Reference Qur'an you will see that it says that "through the footnotes, this translation strives to show the points of commonality in doctrine between the Qur’an and the Bible." As you can see above, this is a very myopic statement bordering on blindness. If it said, there is a commonality of some expressions, that would be one thing. To say there is commonality in doctrines, is another.

It is important to see that efforts such as the Islamizing of the Bible, and the Christianizing of the Qur'an serve to make Christians think that they are closer to Islam than meets the eye. I believe this is a great deception.

Hope that helps.






Thanks John that is very helpful. I am 3/4 way through the book "Unveiling Islam" by Ergun Mehmet Caner and Emir Fethi Caner. Published by  Kregel Publications  in 2002. The sub title is "An Insider Look at Muslim Life and Beliefs". Its only 234 pages plus a few  appendices.

 I found it to be very revealing and giving useful information which I think mirrors your comments above.

I would like to point out that point “d. There is an Audio panoramic Bible which leaves out the parable of the lost son and the rest of Luke 15 because it wants to avoid any talk of God as a Father.” Is NOT true and has been perpetuated over the years by critics and I would ask for a correction please.  Some critics allege the Prodigal Son story was intentionally omitted from the “Stories of the Prophets” in Arabic (Baghdadi dialect), the story is found in Luke 15:11-32.

There are actually THREE programs in consideration, the FIRST is called “The Story of Jesus the Messiah” an abridged program and the final part of the “Stories of the Prophets” series with selections mostly from Luke but also drawing verses from Gospel of Matthew, Gospel of John and Isaiah.  This program was originally intended for cassette tape distribution in the 1990s and edited into two parts with sides A and B limited to 30 minutes per side (total of 60 minutes per cassette x 2 cassettes = 120 minute story length).  The genre/style is an audio drama narrative story with multiple voices, narrator, sound effects, music interludes/intros/outros, and a “current/modern day” narrative story frame in an attempt to better connect with and engage our audiences and be more suitable for episodic listening. You will also notice that many of the passages are not in the chronological or verse by verse order, they have been moved to fit the narrative genre better and sometimes for clarity purposes. More simply put, the #1 reason you will not find Luke 15 in this 2 hour audio version is that the Jesus Film script was followed so that the audio would tie in with the J.Film very closely.  You can watch the English version of the Jesus Film here… It does not include Luke 15.

The SECOND program is the ENTIRE Gospel of Luke titled “The Biography of Jesus son of Mary” and is quite long, Luke is comprised of 24 chapters, edited into 10 segments each roughly 30 minutes in length (to fit on 5 cassette tapes/CDs = 300 minutes or 5 hours running time).  As is the case with the abridged version there are added sound effects, music interludes/intros/outros, and the same “current/modern day” narrative story frame.  For time, length and distribution considerations the decision was made to produce both versions (full and abridged) as well as a THIRD version that is simply a re-edit for radio broadcast in 23 segments from 11-14 in length.  You can listen to all of the stories in Arabic here with the “Story of Jesus the Messiah” on the Stories of the Prophets page, and the full length version on the “Biography of the Messiah” page. You will notice that the Prodigal Son story is indeed included and you can listen to it starting at 17:16 of audio file iqs_luka_06isa3b at this link in PART 6. As well as here on Soundcloud,

Just because there is an abridged version of the Gospel of Luke does it mean this is changing the Scriptures?

Does this mean it is not the full gospel?

Does this mean it is omitting God’s truth?

Does this mean there are evil intentions trying to mislead the audience?

Emphatically No, Never! I strongly reject this claim.  Critics need to see the full picture before making this accusation. With this kind of faulty reasoning, then one would have to levy this accusation also against the Gospel writers, John, Matthew and Mark, none of them include the story of the Prodigal Son in their Gospels and we know accusing them would be ridiculous.  My sincere desire is to inform and inspire Arabic speaking Muslim audiences with the TRUE, BEAUTIFUL and POWERFUL stories of the Bible and that their lives would be transformed by the Word of God as they hear it!!

It's also the case sometimes that scripture portions get selected for translation before others due to limited resources. I found this article helpful for this discussion, especially with reference to a Panoramic Bible: 


Let's Discuss

We love your comments! Thank you for helping us uphold the Community Guidelines to make this an encouraging and respectful community for everyone.

Login or Register to Comment

We want to hear from you.

Connect to The Network and add your own question, blog, resource, or job.

Add Your Post