Bible Translation in the Orient – New Considerations

Eberhard Werner



Bible Translation in the Orient – New Considerations. 1

Abstract 1

Preliminary considerations. 1

Historical Review.. 2

Turkish – Example of a Linguistic-Religious Target Group. 2

The Ottomans, Turkey and Europe – Fertile Crescent 3

Germany and the Turkish Republic. 3

Christian Initiatives of the 19th and 20th Centuries. 4

Bible Translation and Christian Development Aid – Fruitful Complementation. 5

Turkish Bible Translations – Historical Review and Overview.. 6

Overview of (modern) Turkish Bible translations. 6

Turkish Bibles. 7

Contextualization as a missiological concept – an outlook. 7

Communication Problems of Bible Translations in the Islamic World. 7

Communicative awakenings in Turkey. 8

Proposed solutions – building Islam-contextualized Bible translations. 8

Critical view, of the Islam-contextualized approach. 9

New theological-missiological approaches – reflections in Bible translation. 10



Christian initiatives are closely related to Bible translation processes. They precede or follow Bible translation projects. The goal of Bible translation are contextualized translations in the target language that are indigenized into the emerging church. These developments should never be considered without their (church) historical background, otherwise contextualization is understood as a method and not as a development. In particular, proper-theological approaches are associated with such processes that challenge Western theology (here, for example, the crescential approach). The historical background of a state in the Middle East, between Orient and Occident, with regard to its political, cultural and Christian developments in the context of the national language translation of the Bible is here in the centre.

Preliminary considerations

The worldwide church and congregation (the Corpus Christi) is commissioned as the custodian of the Holy Scriptures, both to preserve its content and to transmit its dissemination dynamically and progressively into the world in a culturally and linguistically appropriate manner. While the philological-exegetical care of the basic text and its translations corresponds to the first task, linguistic-target group-oriented approaches to Bible translation represent another format that corresponds to the second task. The balancing act consists in the question of whether the target audience, i.e. the addressees, should be introduced to the biblical basic text, or whether the basic text should be brought closer to the addressees in an adapted form so that it realizes “experienced” or “successful communication” in them. No one takes this responsibility away from the worldwide church, but it is incumbent upon it and the individuals belonging to it. Church history and the history of Bible translation are demonstrating that a coexistence of philological-verbal and communicative Bible translations are effective the goals to Christian development aid. It would be a fatal mistake not to look at the entire context of the biblical scriptural revelations accessible to a language or cultural group, as well as its church-historical-political background. This is even more the case before rejecting theological-missiological awakenings that are capable of challenging Western theology. In the present case, the political and historical relationship of Christianity and Islam in the Middle East is considered.

Historical Review

In this century, Germany, or rather the former German Empire, looks back on a relationship of almost 300 years with the Republic of Turkey, what is now the heartland of the former Ottoman Empire. It is the remnant of the Middle Eastern and European empire that ruled over five centuries (14th – 20th centuries). Nearly 2.1 million Turkish neighbours in Germany (with a focus on Berlin) and a population of about 70 million in the country itself, justify a look back at Christian developments in this Empire, as part of the missiology and church history of Asia, as well as the history of Bible translation. From a European perspective, it is also of interest to take stock of translational innovations in the current situation in this heartland of Christian origins. In view of the planned EU enlargement, the European church must also increasingly deal with the situation.

In this country, in between the crossroads between the Occident and the Orient, there are currently about 43 ethnic groups, of which about eight are exclusively or mainly settled in the country. Some of them do not yet have access to the Word of God. These include the Kurmanji-speaking Kurds, who have a full Bible, the Zaza people and the Laazis with at least a gospel of Luke, the Circassians and the Kirkasians. Likewise, there are some peoples, currently unresearched according to their linguistic environment, whose number of speakers, bilingualism, geographical dispersion, etc. need to be investigated (e.g. Circassians, Kirkasians, Romanes, sign languages, Western Armenians, Turkish Yörük nomads, etc.).

This article focuses on the history of German-Ottoman/Turkish relations and Ottoman/Turkish translations of the Bible, so the Turkish language will be presented first. This information seems all the more important because it is essentially linked to the disintegration of the Eastern Church and illustrates the current political situation.

Turkish – Example of a Linguistic-Religious Target Group

Turkish belongs to the Altaic Turkic languages. Its origins can be traced back to the so-called “Kök Türkler” (i.e. Sky Turks) to the year 552 AD. Turkic languages today comprise about 150 million speakers, of which about 70 million use Turkey Turkish. They perform the youngest language family in the Middle East.

Beginning with the Seljuk Empire of the 11th century, Turkish was then written with Arabic letters. This developed into the written standard. As a result of the “Mongol invasions” of the 12th-15th centuries, other Turkic-speaking peoples also invaded the Middle East and South-eastern Europe. From the beginning of the Turkish dynasty of Osman, which established itself as the Ottoman Empire (1460-1923 A.D.), Turkish took many loan words from Arabic, Persian and Greek. After the establishment of the Turkish Republic in 1923, in accordance with the policy of the state’s founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk – and still unique in the history of a state – a resolute language cleansing followed. International linguists worked out a Latin phonetic alphabet, including some special characters, in replacement of Arabic, which followed the language rules of Turkish (Laut 1996 and 2000).1Furthermore, a special language institution (Türk Dil Kurumu) was founded, which to this day is supposed to cleanse Turkish of all loanwords or foreign grammatical components and renew it with Turkicizing solutions. Recently, for religious reasons, “Arabisms” have again become more popular, which has led to a reorientation of Bible translation (see below). Laut, Jens Peter 1996. Vielfalt türkischer Religionen. Spirita: Zeitschrift für Religions­wissen­schaft 10/1, 24-36. Marburg: Diagonal. Laut, Jens Peter 2000. Zur Sicht des Islam in der Türkischen Republik bis zum Tode Atatürks, in Wolfgang Schluchter (Hrsg.): Kolloquien des Max Weber Kollegs VI-XIV (1999/2000), 59-75. Erfurt: Max Weber-Kolleg.

The Ottomans, Turkey and Europe – Fertile Crescent

During the Middle Ages, especially until the 14th century, the Middle East was romanticized as the “Orient and the Oriental” and formed the basis of numerous legends. When the Ottoman Empire expanded strongly from the 15th century, due to its military superiority, this image changed. Numerous conflicts with the late medieval European powers led to a negative image.

The official church, due to its negative attitude towards Islam in the Middle Ages, ostracized the Ottoman Empire, when the Holy Places in Israel and, from 1453 on, the center of the Eastern Church – Constantinople – were located in its domain. A rapprochement of the, until then, inaccessible Ottoman Sultanate with Europe began with the 19th century. The Ottoman Empire was opened in the age of colonialism and from the 19th century on as an economic area for Europe (1838).

Internal political quarrels and colonialist desires of France, Italy and Great Britain accelerated the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. Especially the Christian minorities in the heartland, particularly in Eastern Anatolia, got the full aggression against Western interference after a quiet period (mid to eighties of the 19th century) (from 1895 on). This constellation led to a pan-Islamic and pan-Turkish political orientation. In the area of conflict between Islam and Christianity, the latter was defeated. The two-thousand-year-old Christian presence in Turkey was reduced from about 2.1 million before the pogroms (10% of the total population) to a few remnants (Armenian-Gregorian, Greek-Orthodox, Syrian churches). It is estimated that 1.2 – 1.6 million traditional Christians were displaced or killed. Today, about 100,000 Christians live in Turkey (0.2% of the total population). All Islamic people groups in the heartland of the Ottoman Empire participated in these anti-Christian actions.

Due to the anti-communist Truman Doctrine, Turkey joined NATO in 1952. First accession negotiations of the then European Economic Community (EEC) as the predecessor organization of the EU opened Europe to the Bosporus.2In the years leading up to the founding of the state and into the 1960s, people were sceptical and wait-and-see about the new state structure.

In 1999, EU accession negotiations began, and after a constitutional referendum by a majority of the Turkish population in September 2010, there is little standing in the way of Turkey’s long-term admission as a full member (Zürcher 2004)3Zürcher, Erik Jan [1993] 2004. Turkey: A Modern History. Rev. ed. London: I. B. Taurus..

Germany and the Turkish Republic

The high points of German-Ottoman-Turkish relations were initially limited to the military sphere. As early as 1731, Turkish soldiers joined the Prussian army under Frederick William I on the basis of a ducal donation. They are given their own quarters, a mosque and later a cemetery (Berlin). The force grows to as many as 1,500 soldiers in some cases. The expression “mach keinen Heck meck” (don’t make a stern meck), which derives from the request of Turkish prisoners for bread (Turkish: ekmek), also dates from this time. Prussian military training was highly valued in the Ottoman Empire. The Prussian military training system was introduced and established primarily by Count Helmuth von Moltke in the 19th century, as evidenced by the numerous military academies from which the state founder Mustafa Kemal (later Atatürk) also emerged.

With the beginning of the First World War, an anti-Russian front was formed between the Sultan and the Emperor. When both warring parties lose, relations fizzle out and no new contacts develop for the time being. Atatürk rather sticks politically to France and Italy. During World War II, German professors who had fled the Nazi regime helped build the university structures in Turkey. These lively contacts slowly end after all professors without exception return to the German university apparatus in the post-war period. The European economic boom after the Second World War, starting in 1960, brought about an economic and political renewal of relations. Guest workers from the East were recruited by emissaries of the German economy. Since then, immigration, integration, reunification, asylum and the planned EU accession have determined relations between Germany and Turkey (Steinbach 1988 and 1996).4Steinbach, Udo 1988. Ideengeschichte im Zeichen von Kolonialismus, Unabhängigkeits­bewegung und Modernisierung, in Steinbach, Udo & Robert, Rüdiger (Hgg.): Der Nahe und Mittlere Osten: Politik, Gesellschaft, Wirtschaft, Geschichte, Kultur, 135-184. Opladen: Leske + Budrich. Steinbach, Udo 1996. Die Türkei im 20. Jahrhundert – schwieriger Partner Europas. Bergisch Gladbach: Lübbe.

Christian Initiatives of the 19th and 20th Centuries

Lost to the West and widely forgotten is the fact that throughout the 19th century, the Ottoman heartland was the focus of Western mostly American and English organizations of Christian development aid. The initial goal was to spread the Christian message in this geographical area of early Christian revival (e.g. Acts and many of the New Testament epistles). Quickly, people became aware of the disadvantage and the miserable condition of the Christian people groups (some given the status of millets) in the Islamic context. Thus, the attention of foreign evangelical, Protestant and Catholic support was directed to the Armenian, Greek Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox (Aramaic), Nestorian and Russian Orthodox churches. The enumerated order represents at the same time their numerical presence. The Armenian Church, as the largest and oldest national church, received special attention, expressly since it suffered the most from the persecutions. The Aramaic church represented a symbolic position due to the fact that Jesus of Nazareth also spoke an Aramaic dialect.

The initiatives of Christian development aid had as their vision to strengthen the established and resident church circles in the Middle East, so that they could approach the surrounding Islamic peoples with the Gospel. This phase went down in the history of the global church as the “Great Experiment” (The Great Experiment) and began around 1810 and ended at the latest with the First World War. In addition to children’s homes, care for widows, schooling and education, hospitals, sanitation and irrigation systems, the agrarian increase in production was also implemented. To this day, the great universities in İstanbul (still Constantinople until 1930) and other cities bear witness to these resolutions. In the East, ruins and remnants of more than 100 years of activities during the “Great Experiment” can be seen everywhere. At times there was even an official and state-protected Protestant church. Only with the turmoil of the pre-war years and the war years of the First World War did these initiatives collapse. Due to the expulsion and destruction of Christian peoples in the pogroms (1896, 1905, and 1914/1915) in the East, immediate and drastic help became necessary. This reduced the orientation of Christian organizations to saving a few survivors. At the latest with the establishment of the Republic of Turkey after the turbulent years of upheaval (1906-1922), triggered by the Young Turks and Young Ottomans, it was no longer possible for Christian organizations to work in the country. Forced Turkification and forced Islamization remained the only chances to stay and survive. The approximately 100,000, who did so, were completely absorbed into the Islamic peoples (Kieser 2000).5Kieser, Hans-Lukas 2000. Der verpasste Frieden: Mission, Ethnie und Staat in den Ostprovinzen der Türkei 1839-1938. Zürich: Chronos. (Türkische Version: Kieser, Hans-Lukas [2005] 2010. Iskalanmış barış: Doğu vilayetleri’nde misyonerlik, etnik kimlik ve devlet 1839-1938. 3 Baskı.İstanbul: İletisim.).

The German Orient Mission (DOM) under the leadership of Johannes Lepsius (1858-1926) had as its goal the spread of Christian content among Muslims. Founded in 1896, however, this goal was never realized, as the pogroms and persecutions against Armenian Christians (1895-1896) attracted all their attention. Lepsius was committed from the beginning to exposing and informing the West about the atrocities. Together with Pastor Ernst Lohmann, he founded the “Deutscher Hülfsbund für Armenien” (today: Christlicher Hilfsbund im Orient, Bad Homburg).

The German initiatives of Christian development aid never developed in the direction of church planting, which is why the translation of biblical content was not on the agenda. The basic attitude was to use the existing Bible translations in the respective languages of the churches – Turkish, Armenian, Aramaic, Greek – as communicative tools of the Christian message. Even revisions were not planned and were not actively supported from the German side. This attitude, by the way, continued until the eighties of the last century (Ye’or 2009).6Ye’or, Bat [1996] 2009. The Decline of Eastern Christianity under Islam: From Jihad to Dhimmitude. Seventh-Twentieth Century. Seventh printing. Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press. (Transl. by Kochan, Miriam and Littman, David).

Bible Translation and Christian Development Aid – Fruitful Complementation

Bible translation in the Middle Eastern region has its origins in two movements. On the one hand, native-speaking churches emerged from the ethnic groups of the Near and Middle East, which quite quickly translated their own Bibles or parts of the Bible into their own languages (e.g. Syriac Peschitta, Armenian, Gothic Bible, etc.). On the other hand, Arab Christians have also distinguished themselves from the Islamic world with their own Bible translations and theological works since the 6th century AD. These Bible translations were the inspiration for the Ottoman-Turkish translations in the Omani Empire (Lauche 2007 and Griffith 2010).7Lauche, Gerald 2007. Die Geschichte der arabischen Bibelübersetzung, in Müller, Klaus W. (Hg.): Mission im Islam, 129-139. Nürnberg: VTR. Griffith, Sidney H. 2010. The Church in the Shadow of the Mosque: Christians and Muslims in the World of Islam. Oxford: Princeton University Press.

An essential and strategic approach of Christian development aid was to translate the Bible into Ottoman Turkic dialects and the languages of Christian minorities. A translation of the Bible into Turkish by Primus Truber is mentioned as early as 1570 AD, but it was either never published or was done into a Croatian dialect rather than Turkish (Privratsky 2010:1). Some development workers also went so far as to provide translated materials to non-Christian ethnic groups such as the Zaza, Kurmanji Kurds, Laaz (Laasen), and also Turkic peoples. However, translated full Bibles did not materialize. Conversions and conversions, however, in all directions, were not uncommon from 1850 to 1890. Even whole ethnic groups or tribes could take this step (e.g. a few Alevi Zaza tribes in Dersim). All the more serious was the active and mostly also passive re-Islamization during and after World War I, which mostly resulted from strategic survival reasons. The only weakly beginning people-group-oriented founding movement of small groups, congregations and congregations, which otherwise leads to indigenous translation approaches of Christian literature, was nipped in the bud. Practically today we have no remnants of this time, except for ruins and oral traditions that are of basically positive resonance and also testify in this way to the Christian initiatives.

Turkish Bible Translations – Historical Review and Overview

Bible translation into Turkish began in the 17th century with Yahya bin Ishak, also called Haki (1659). His translation into Ottoman Turkish with Arabic letters was never published publicly. However, it served as the basis for the intervention of the Dutch ambassador Levin Warner with Sultan Mehmet IV, who asked the Sultan to entrust a Polish defector named Wojciech Bobowski, or Albert Bobowsky also called Ali Bey, as the main translator to translate the Bible (1662-1666). Haki’s and Ali Bey’s translations remained unpublished and were kept at the Leiden Library in the Netherlands. In 1814 Baron von Dietz began to revise the latter manuscript. In 1819 Kieffer finished Ali Bey’s New Testament, it was copied 5,000 times and replaced by the complete Bible in 1827. Despite the Arabic orthography used, the text became the model for revisions by Christian churches in the Ottoman heartland.

Further revisions appeared in 1853 by Turabi Effendi and in 1857 by Redhouse. The latter became famous for his Turkish-English and English-Turkish dictionary (1890), which is still used today. Redhouse’s New Testament did not find wider circulation because of its free (idiomatic-dynamic) approach to translation. Ten years later, Schauffler translated and produced a New Testament and parts of the Old Testament from 1867 to 1873 as a member of the American Board of Christian and Foreign Missions (ABCFM) (on revision vs. new translation, see Haacker 2006)8Haacker, Klaus 2006. Bibeltreue und Bibelübersetzung, in Neef, Heinz-Dieter (Hg.): Theologie und Gemeinde. Beiträge zu Bibel, Gottesdienst, Predigt, und Seelsorge, 36-47. Stuttgart: Calwer..

From 1873-1878, Ali Bey’s work was revised by a committee, and it became the standard textbook of Christian church liturgy due to its state approval (called Kitabi Mukaddes). Translations, adaptations and harmonisations in Modern Greek, Arabic-Turkish and Armenian-Turkish were completed in 1901.

The roots of the Turkish Bible Society (TBS) date back to its founding in 1820, and its origin points to the early years of the British and Foreign Bible Society (BFBS; 1806). The headquarters of the TBS has been in İstanbul since 1966 from where translation work and distribution of Bibles are organized.

Since 1961, Turkish evangelical movements have begun translating new Bible translations and various exegetical tools into Turkish. These new translations, although mostly guided by conservative translation principles, use, for example, the ancient Turkic word for a supreme sky deity “Tanri” rather than the Arabic loanword “Allah” as the name of God. They do this in contrast to the liturgical church text of the Kitabi Mukaddes and the Islamic tradition. Following the new translation principles (Koller 1978 and 2001)9Koller, Werner 1978. Kritik der Theorie der Übersetzungskritik. IRAL, Vol. XVI/2, 89-108. Heidelberg: Julius Groos. Koller, Werner [1983] 2001. Einführung in die Übersetzungswissenschaft. 6. durchgesehene und aktualisierte Auflage. Wiebeisheim: Quelle und Meyer. of dynamic equivalence, such as the German Gute Nachricht Bible, parts of the New Testament were published in 1978 under the title Miracles and Teachings of Jesus.

Overview of (modern) Turkish Bible translations

NT: 1988 (Müjde); 1989/2008 (Incil); 2003 (Kutsal Incil).

Bible: 1941 (Kitabi Mukaddes); 2001 (Kutsal Kitab Yeni Çeviri); 2007 (Ekümenik Kutsal Kitap).

In progress: revision of Ali Bey’s New Testament and furthermore a contextualized version for readers with Islamic background, İncili-i Şerif’in Yüce Anlamı 2011 (Matthew started in 2008).

For a nearly exhaustive list, see¬html/-history.html [accessed 2021-05-10].10o. V. History of Bible Translation in Turkey. Online: URL: [accessed 2012-01-10].

Turkish Bibles

Ekümenik Kutsal Kitap 2007. Online: [accessed 2021-01-05].

İncili-i Şerif’in Yüce Anlamı 2011 Havari Matta’nın Kaleminden. Orijinal Metin ve Kelime Türkçe Çevirisi ile birlikte. İstanbul: Sabeel Media. The New Testament in the Old Meaning: The Words of Matthew.

Kitabı Mukaddes [1941] 1995. İstanbul: Kitabı Mukaddes Şirketi.

Kutsal Kitap 2001. İstanbul: The Bible Society in Turkey.

Kutsal Kitap Yeni Çeviri / En Büyük Boy Ciltli 2002. İstanbul: Kitapyurdu. New translation of the Holy Book / Large format 2002.

Müjde 1988. İncil “Müjde” İncil`in Çağdaş Türkçe Çevirisi. İstanbul: Kitabı Mukaddes Şirketi Yayınları. [Eng: Müjde. New Modern Translation of the New Testament.]11Privratsky, Bruce 2010. A History of Turkish Bible Translations. Online im Internet: URL: http://www.­scribd.­com/doc/51331567/A-History-of-Turkish-BIble-Translations-Priv-ratsky-March-2011-v-F. [PDF-Datei] [accessed 2021-01-10]..

Contextualization as a missiological concept – an outlook

The above-mentioned Bible translations reflect the communicative and translational state of the art of the present. Besides the dynamic-equivalent translation principle, cultural, mass-communicative, frame-model and Scoops-oriented (Vermeer 1989)12Vermeer, Hans J. 1989. Skopos and Commission in Translational Action, in Chesterman, Andrew (ed.): Readings in Translation Theory, 173-187. Helsinki: Finn Lectura., functional (Nord 2001)13Nord, Christiane [1997] 2001. Translating as a Purposeful Activity: Functionalist Approaches Ex­plain­ed. Reprint. Manchester: St. Jerome. and relevance-theoretical methods (Gut 2000)14Gutt, Ernst-August [1991] 2000. Translation and Relevance: Cognition and Context. 2nd ed. Manchester: St. Jerome. have crystallized in translation in general and in Bible translation in particular. These Bible translations serve as lifelines and spiritual centres for the proclamation and Christian life of the existing church and community structures. It is enormous, which translational Bible variety, the nevertheless quite small Christian Turkish church and community called into being. Nevertheless, the communicative breakthrough into the Islamic population of Turkey has not yet been achieved.

Communication Problems of Bible Translations in the Islamic World

A general debate among Western and former Muslim background believers in Jesus has its origin in the perception that in Islamic countries the common Bible translations (e.g. the Turkish translations mentioned below) are reluctantly used or quoted by Islamic scholars and believers. Furthermore, it is found that only Christian circles and only a few small sections of the Islamic population refer to and perceive them as sacred texts. In studying this phenomenon, three points proved to be communicative obstacles:

Identification problem; the use of language in these translations is identified as Christian colloquial language whose conceptualizations do not coincide with Islamic concepts.
Authorization problem; the approval of the Bible texts was authorized by the state, but not by Islamic theologians.
Falsification problem; the accusation of falsifying the basic Hebrew and Greek texts that carries over to the Turkish translation of the Bible.
In addition, the official Turkish Bible Society and other Middle Eastern Bible organizations are closely connected with Christian-Western (United Bible Societies) and Christian-Eastern organizations (Syrian Orthodox and Armenian Apostolic Churches). The non-recognition of Turkish Bible translations as Sacred Texts is surprising for two reasons:

the West treats Islamic revelation differently and considers even non-authoritative translations of the Qur’an as Sacred Texts (e.g. German Ahmadiyya Qur’an translation).
Arabic Bible translations of the 4th – 8th c. AD / 1st c. BH – 2nd c. AD were considered Sacred Texts by Islamic scholars and played an important role in the Ottoman Empire, but since the 15th c. this is no longer the case, although the Arabic Bible translation tradition continued unchanged (Lauche and Griffith 2010).
Communicative awakenings in Turkey

The recent approaches of some Turkish Bible translations with the aim of solving the communicative obstacles, mentioned above, are signs of a dynamic Christian awakening in Turkey. Both new translation methods developed in translation scholarship and various bridging principles are being applied to bridge the religious divide that the communicative problems entail. The different translations are intended to address all strata and circles of Turkish society. First and foremost, the identification problem is to be solved. The Turkish population as a whole should find itself communicatively reflected in the Bible text. Test trials with individual texts (2008-2010) showed that mostly Christian and Islamic circles from Islamic backgrounds felt addressed in the communicative intention of such texts. Furthermore, they cause linguistic-cultural non-Turkish (ethnic groups) and micro-cultures (target groups) to increasingly seek out monolingual Bible translations.

It should not be forgotten that there is also vehement resistance from Christian circles against communicative or contextualized Bible translation. This is being consolidated from the young evangelical movement, as well as from some established churches. The main arguments brought forward relate to the accusation of:

cheap ingratiation with Islam,
watering down / falsification of the biblical content,
conscious or unconscious attempts at division.
Although these arguments are to be taken very seriously, it remains to be seen whether the global church is not overstepping its function as the guardian of Scripture or whether, after a period of acclimatization, its own theology is not emerging. Both moments are documented in the history of the church and Bible translation (Marcions rejection vs. Luthers acceptance).

Proposed solutions – building Islam-contextualized Bible translations

So-called Jesus or Insider Movements in the Islamic world are beginning to translate Bible texts. Their goal is to redefine and name the theological terms that are provocative for Muslims and preloaded with Western dogma. It is important to note that these are existing movements that show an interest in bridging the existing communicative gaps between themselves and their differently thinking environment. Believers who see their Islamic background as their cultural and linguistic foundation and therefore do not want to part with their traditions, their cultural heritage and their use of language because it gives them identity. They are frightened by the cultural-imperialist claim of Western Christianity, which considers itself the sole guardian of divine truth. They do not want to accept the fate of many believers in Jesus with Islamic background to be expelled from their cultural and language group and to have to go into hiding in the West as the only possibility of trusting in Jesus.

For the above mentioned problems there are different approaches. They are mainly

formal-translation and /or
social-cultural adaptation or rapprochement axioms that are addressed.
To the former category of Islamic-theological adaptation (a.) we find issues such as.

the Trinity, which in these movements is viewed from the perspective of the Islamic “Allah” concept and thus from a one-person doctrine, with the three-oneness being thought of from the oneness of God,
the sonship of Jesus, which is a relational concept and represents a very narrow – derived from the image of the nuclear family. However, this can also be outweighed by the concept of brotherhood (umma) or the judicial system of judge-defender in certain cultural contexts, or by
the one-sided interpretation of Paul’s teaching as anti-Islamic propaganda, e.g. when Paul’s rejection of the Jewish faith is simply based on Islam as an equal false doctrine (e.g. Acts 15:1-6; Gal 2:14).
It is rightly pointed out that the Council of the Apostles and the Pauline letters show an approach to the linguistic and cultural heritage of the peoples to be reached with the message of salvation (Rom 2:28-29; 1Cor 9:20; Gal 3:28; Col 3:11). These themes are translated for formal translation reasons (b.) under new and unique cultural and linguistic theological considerations. In doing so, the form of Holy Scriptures is taken very seriously and preserved in the Islamic context and from the point of view of other cultural-historical factors (e.g. Qur’an, revelation texts, religious texts, etc.). Thus, the text of the Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek basic text of the Bible is partly supplied either 1. in the original or 2. in footnotes as a translation. In the main text, however, terms are used for Jesus that refer to him as “Advocate” or “Vicar of God”. The parables are not touched by this, because they represent on an abstract level the relations between the divine persons or names. This procedure makes it possible for the reader, who is pre-loaded by his Islamic environment, to deal mentally anew with the “actual” text. The form of the written revelation represents an approach to the Islamic texts, whereby also content-related references in the paratext (comments, glossary, footnotes) are dealt with. The references to the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament documented in the Qur’an (e.g., Moses Sura 2:87, 92, 136; Jonah Sura 10:98; Sura 37:139-148; Jesus Sura 2:87, 253, and many others) are taken up and included as supporting passages in the reference apparatus. The third and social-cultural aspect (c.) of such contextualization is determined by the perception of the Islamic world umma “religious body”. Belonging in Islam is defined by the observance of the five duties and a “God-pleasing” life. In order to continue to belong to the corpus in the event of conversion, the traditional requirements of this religious life are transferred to the content of the New Thought. The mosque remains the center of spiritual exchange (also in the biblical text), the mullah or hodja remains the religious authority, and the Qur’anic schools form the foundation of theological thought. Thus, as is visible in Indonesia, the debate over the reinterpretation of Judeo-Christian and Islamic revelation takes place at the training centers and between scholars.

Critical view, of the Islam-contextualized approach

The advantages and disadvantages of such an approach are currently the subject of heated debate. The accusations of falsification of Scripture, ingratiation or seduction coming from Christian circles (see above) are countered by the arguments of the communicative opening of the biblical text as well as the need of the target group for an unbiased and communicative text with regard to the adoption of pro-Western, colonialist dogmatics in the biblical text. The critics’ concern relates to the fact that the basic biblical text is no longer recognizable. Through the superimposition of new theological concepts, the incorporation of post-biblical Qur’anic references and content, and the emphasis on social Islamic ideas, the geo-grammatical revelatory content of the Judeo-Christian is at best distorted and at worst twisted into its opposite. The latter causes that the accusation of falsification is intensified exactly by this adaptation and any confidence in the revelation is lost. In other words, what this movement started against, namely to win back trust in the Judeo-Christian revelation, boomerangs and returns with devastating effect.

The criticisms could be defused with some examples, such as those appearing in EMQ 47/1 (2011: de Jong; Daniels, Gene & Allen, Don and others), showing that these Bible translations are indeed understood as revelatory texts by non-Christians. Nevertheless, the fear of a syncretistic approach remains. The global church has faced such developments several times in the past (e.g. Marcion, etc.) and has found ways to deal with them. Since the global “Bible translation movement” represents a progressive-dynamic approach to the cultures and languages of the ethnic groups, another communicative component of culturally relevant framework models is forming in this new approach.


New theological-missiological approaches – reflections in Bible translation

A Middle Eastern theology and missiology breaks through here, which on the one hand turns away from colonialism and argues strictly postcolonialist. It is based on the experience of a centuries-old ecclesiastical tradition of the Eastern Church and the young Protestant church and community with a Muslim background. This interesting mix sets new emphases and partly contrasts with Western teachings that cannot be accepted in active theological debates of the new realm. In this context, the argument of clerical overload – despite the Reformation’s new orientation – repeatedly comes to the fore. In this context, Western Teutonic missiology and theology are also criticized in their one-sidedness towards dogmatic-systematic doctrine. The personal reference and the practical application of the message of Jesus of Nazareth are in the center of the new approach.

In reference to the different styles of scholarship and in distinction to the Teuto-Gallic (Western), Nipponese (Asian), African-Black, or Native American-liberal (South American), this missiological approach could be called crescential missiology and crescential theology. The term crescential refers to the Fertile Crescent and the cultures and religions that have developed in its space and influence, as well as their specific characteristics.

The differences of the approaches can be divided into general and specific. Unlike the first two theologies and missiological approaches (Teutonic-Gallic), the latter have no historical burden or active reference to

the two world wars and their impact on the aftermath of the Holocaust (e.g., covenant theology, salvation history, theology of Israel),
the alliance strategy of the Allies (Atlantic alliances, e.g., EU, NATO, etc.), or
the Asia-Pacific developments (e.g., atomic bombing, Americo-Japanese alliance, Korean and Vietnam conflicts, etc.),
the developments of ecumenical-global activities in church history before 1960 (e.g. conferences on Christian development aid, Lausanne conferences), or
the economic endeavours of capitalism, socialism, or communism prior to the beginning of the twentieth century that related to Western industrialization.
Christian theology in the Middle East and the Maghreb states had little development potential of its own until the breakaway from colonialism in the late 1950s. The growing self-confidence of the evangelical movement in South America, Asia and Africa is also impacting the Near and Middle East. Although politically rather an Islamization mixed with nationalism can be observed, new forms of Christian life are breaking through in the underground. The primarily postcolonial orientation of this theology stands in stark contrast to that of the West. The traditional churches of the region, the Armenian Apostolic, Syriac Orthodox, Assyrian, Eastern Catholic, and some smaller ones, as well as the Coptic Church, are currently ossified in their forms, but they are also experiencing broad recognition among the younger generation (see State Report of the National Bible Societies).


As has been shown, the historical context must be taken into account when considering new developments in Christian development. The existence and evaluation of existing Bible translations provide clues as to whether new approaches are necessary and possible. Only when such experiences are available will the need for alternative approaches become clear. It would also have to be examined whether the German Bible translations are not subject to the same dilemma here, since they hardly address the 1.8 million Turkish fellow citizens. One may be curious which new aspects the theological development in the tense field of

colonialism-post colonialism,
the east-west divide,
traditional church-evangelical congregations,
salvation-historical-orthodox and inclusive-exclusive expression.
contributes to the worldwide church.


Key Terms:

Bible translation ; Occident ; Orient ; Middle East ; colonialism ; post colonialism ; theology ; Christian development service ; Turkey ; guest workers ; Bible societies ; Islam ; contextualization ; hermeneutics ; scriptural interpretation ;