Seekers and believers from Muslim backgrounds regularly single out the term ‘ Son of God ’ as the biggest obstacle to reading the Gospel. Worse yet, many Muslims are so frightened of this term that they refuse to read or listen to any text that asserts it.
Paul rarely uses ‘ son of God ‘, and never in high Christological passages.
Part 2: by Rick Brown
In part one, “Explaining the Biblical Term ‘ Son (s) of God ‘ in Muslim Contexts,” we saw that the term ‘ son (s) of God’ has a broad range of meanings. Experience shows that there is no single measure one can take to resolve this problem. It requires a two-pronged approach. Basically the two prongs are to explain the original term and and what it means and to translate it according to its original meaning or in a way like ‘spiritual son(s) of God’ that blocks the unintended meaning.
There is a long history of trying to explain ‘ Son (s) of God ’ to Muslims, and explanations have usually failed to overcome the entrenched meaning of the phrase. Luke did not “remove” ‘Son of God’; he simply translated the meaning of the original Hebrew phrase into Greek—in three different ways. When Western missionaries hear ‘ Son of God ’ explained or translated as ‘the Christ’, they sense a loss of content.
SENSE: The standard of commercial translation in the modern world, whether Scriptural or otherwise, is to give priority to expressing the meaning of a passage rather than mimicking its linguistic form in the source language. So the normal approach to translating idiomatic phrases is to translate them according to their original contextual meaning. Sense translation, is the normal way of translating texts between languages. The drawbacks are (1) everyone may not agree on the intended sense of the phrase and (2) sometimes more than one sense is being evoked, especially in the case of metaphors. Is ‘meaning-based’ translation the answer?
Rick Brown is a Bible scholar and mission strategist. He has been involved in outreach tot he Muslim world since 1977.