Translating “Son Of God” For Muslim Contexts, Part 2: Historical And Theological Concerns -- By: J. Scott Horrell

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 172:688 (Oct 2015)
Article: Translating “Son Of God” For Muslim Contexts, Part 2: Historical And Theological Concerns
Author: J. Scott Horrell

Translating “Son Of God” For Muslim Contexts, Part 2:
Historical And Theological Concerns

J. Scott Horrell

J. Scott Horrell is professor of Theological Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, and adjunct professor at Jordan Evangelical Theological Seminary and Seminario Teológico Centroamericano in Guatemala.


Those who translate the Bible into Muslim-culture languages must wrestle with the phrase “Son of God,” which may have un-biblical implications in the target language. Part 2 of this two-part article explores how Christians have historically approached the eternal divine sonship of Christ in cultures where that sonship could have been misconstrued, with special attention on how Eastern Christians in Islamic contexts have dealt with the question. Theologically, “Son of God” language, though analogy, conveys rich and essential truths about the inner personal reality of the Trinity. The article agrees with recommendations that Bible translators should use the phrase “Son of God” wherever possible, but take care to clarify its meaning through paratextual material and in apologetic discussions with Muslims.

Given the global ebb and flow of world events, tensions between Christianity and Islam appear to be rising. The global Muslim population is projected to grow twice as fast as the non-Muslim population, from 1.6 billion in 2010 to 2.2 billion by 2030.1 The need is urgent for communicating the gospel of Jesus Christ to Muslims in ways accurate and contextually coherent—the translation of the Bible being paramount.

In the midst of both loving and contending with Muslim peoples, Christians have differed regarding the translation of “Son of God” and other divine familial terminology. Based on the Qur’an, Islamic dogma rejects all such Christian language as blasphemous, maintaining that it suggests that God condescends to sexual activity and the begetting of a son. In spite of longstanding Islamic accusations, the great Christian traditions—Eastern and Oriental Orthodoxies, Roman Catholicism, Anglicanism, and conservative Protestantism—continue to present God literally as “Father” and Jesus as “the Son of God.” In recent decades, however, various translators, missionaries, and church-planters have preferred nonliteral translations that communicate what they perceive as the intended meaning of divine familial language, whether in the context of predominantly Muslim cultures or elsewhere.2 Debate came to a head in 2012 when ...

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