Gary: Welcome to Search the Scriptures 24/7, a radio ministry of The Berean Call featuring T. A. McMahon. I’m Gary Carmichael. Thanks for tuning in! In today’s program, Tom begins a two-part series with guest -we’ll refer to him as “Tom” – as they address the question: How Do We Get the Gospel to Arabs?
T.A.: Thanks, Gary. This week and next week we’re going to talk about Bible translations with a man who has been directly involved in translating the Bible. And this will not be a promotion for any Bible in particular, any version, unless you speak Arabic, but we will be discussing things regarding translations that can alter what God has communicated in His Word. The name of the gentleman I’ll be talking with is Tom, and that’s as much personal information about him as I will give you. Why is that? Well, Tom, as I indicated, has been involved in translating the Bible into Arabic, and that in this day of sadly, tragically, widespread Islamic terrorism puts him in harm’s way. So, for his safety, we’ll go by his first name only. Tom, welcome to Search the Scriptures 24/7.
Tom: Well, I just appreciate you having me on. It’s a real privilege.
T.A. Tom - let me just say this to our listeners, if you’d like to communicate with Tom, that can be done safely by going through his website, and you can contact us here at The Berean Call, and we will get that information to you.
Now, Tom, for most of us, myself included, just the thought of translating the Bible from one language to another seems overwhelming. And then you add to that endeavor the idea of translating the Scriptures into Arabic, with its cursive script or letters. And for me, at least, it boggles the mind. How did you get started in all of that?
Tom: Well, it’s kind of a strange story. My sister wanted to be a Spanish teacher in school, so she spent a year abroad in Spain, and instead of coming back with a teaching degree in Spanish, she came back with a husband (chuckles) who was from Spain, and he was a really nice guy, but he spent some time down in Morocco, and he’s a calligrapher not by trade but by interest. And he learned how to write Arabic script. So when my brother-in-law came to my house for the first time, I had some old Converse All Star tennis shoes – I don’t know if anybody remembers those; they kind of had the white cap on the front, and anyway, my brother-in-law took a magic marker and wrote some Arabic script on the toes of my tennis shoes. I was probably about ten or eleven at the time, and as a kid, I ran around the whole summer, and every day, I looked down at my shoes and thought, What does that mean? What does that mean? I just had this insatiable desire put in me to learn what that meant. So when I graduated from high school, I immediately started learning Arabic, and I’ve been doing so for the last forty-one years. I ended up going to Indiana University, Georgetown University, and did my graduate study in Arabic at the University of Michigan. That desire is no less today than it was way back when.
And when I became a believer in 1976, I had an immediate burden to use this to reach people in the Middle East and North Africa. Of course, Islam was not a big issue at all back then, but it was for me, and the Lord was obviously preparing me. I went ahead and got my computer science degree also, and then it was kind of a no-brainer. I combined them, and I ended up with what I’m doing today.
T.A.: Wow! Tom, as you know, my first exposure to you was at a conference where I spoke, and I was looking over your ministry information table and what came to mind immediately, after looking over a brochure that you had featuring your Arabic Bible, was I wonder how this Arabic Bible translates the word “God.” Now, that had been a controversial issue for us here at The Berean Call, so I was curious to know whether or not your Bible included the word “Allah” as the name of God. Could you kind of fill our listeners in on that controversy?
Tom: Okay, well, first of all, I want to say, I get it that people don’t understand Arabic. I don’t want to go into any kind of technical depth or anything. However, as you may know – or may not know; actually, I think a lot of believers are unaware of this – all Arabic Bibles up to this point use the word “Allah,” which is kind of shocking. They expect something else to be there, and it’s not, so that actually bothered me from day one since I was a believer, because I realized that the God of the Bible and the God of Islam were absolutely not the same, and yet, there it was in the Bible. So I had a kind of a burden to see the situation changed.
Maybe as a little background about this: in my studies of Arabic, the use of “Allah” is…it’s a proper name. It’s a name like George or Fred, or something along those lines. Everybody’s got a name. Now, a common name that you could also use for a man would be like the word “man” or “president” or “king” or “mailman” – whatever he happens to do, it would describe him in some way. But unique to him is his name. And although my name is Tom, my full identification would be in my entire name. But I noticed that the word “Allah” – it’s come from Islam, and the definition of the word is “Allah.” It is not “God.”
And you might say, “Well, I mean, I hear it all the time.”
Well, in popular media, they don’t make any distinction between Allah and God, and I wouldn’t expect them to, because I don’t think they’re particularly spiritually attuned and wouldn’t be aware of the difference. But as a believer in Christ, I know that there’s a huge difference between the god (and I use that with a lower-case “g”) of the Qur’an, and the God of the Bible. And not just in name but obviously in character, in description of himself – there’s so many things that are completely different. And the media and many Christians, unfortunately, hone in on the idea of the similarities. Well, a counterfeit dollar has many similarities to a real dollar, but they’re as different as night and day, really.
And this is the case with Allah. I think it’s interesting that there’s…in the Hebrew Bible, which is the Bible of the Old Testament, God refers to Himself by a unique name. He revealed that to Moses in Exodus 3, and He says…Moses asked God, “I’m going to the sons of Israel, and say to them the God of your fathers has sent me to you. Now they may say to me, ‘What’s His name?’ What should I tell them?”
Well, God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And He said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel ‘I am’ has sent me to you.” Furthermore, God said to Moses, “Thus shall you say to the sons of Israel, the Lord, or Yahweh, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and the God of Jacob has sent me to you. This is my name forever, and this is my memorial name to all generations.”
I recognize that people do not speak Hebrew nowadays here, in the US, for the most part, so we’re talking about the original Hebrew Bible, and God identifies Himself as Yahweh. That word means “He is,” and then God clarifies even more, and He says, “I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And in the New Testament, in Mark:12:26, the Lord says to him again, “I’m the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” So, God identifies Himself as Yahweh and unmistakable clarifies things by identifying Himself as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.
Now, let’s talk about Islam. The general term for “a god” is ilah. This is a common noun, and it can refer either to any supposed god or could be the unique God, the Creator. This is universally accepted among all Arabic speaking people. Now, the interesting thing is the Qur’an never refers to the name Yahweh. It only refers to Allah. And in case anybody’s questioning this, “Allah” is only a proper name; that’s all it is. And if anybody tells you that it means “God,” they’re mistaken. I can show you this. There’s a Mr. Lane, who came up with the Arabic-English Lexicon, William Lane – this is an eight-volume authoritative series. It took thirty years to compile, and it’s said to surpass every lexicon ever produced in any language. He said “ ‘Allah’ is a proper name.” And in the Dictionary of the Qur’an by Abdul Mannan Omar, he also says “ ‘Allah’ is not a common name, but it’s a proper name.” So I would say from the top linguistic authorities in Arabic, “Allah” does not mean “God.” It just means Allah, like “Fred” does not mean “man,” it means Fred.
But now we immediately have the dilemma here. The Hebrew scriptures tell us the eternal proper name of the one true deity is Yahweh, and Islam and the Qur’an tells us the eternal proper name of the one true deity is Allah. You’ve got to make a choice here. It can’t be both. There’s no room for fence sitting.
So I guess the people have stumbled over this and tried to mush over the differences, but the differences remain, and I think the only explanation, when we talk about Yahweh and Allah, we are actually talking about two different gods. And some people insist that they must be the same, but I say “why”? It’s not necessary.
You know, it’s interesting that Psalm 95 or 6 says, “All the gods of the nations…” (and that word “nations” is the Gentiles) i.e., “All the gods of the Gentiles are worthless idols, but the Lord (or Yahweh) made the heavens.”
So, Allah never once identifies himself as Yahweh, or the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and he is expected, in his world, to be called Allah, and that’s where the issue stands.
T.A.: Now, Tom, did the name, the proper name “Allah,” did this exist before Islam, before the Qur’an?
Tom: It did. The Nabateans, who lived up in…I don’t know if you’ve ever…I think some Christians are familiar with…there’s a site in Jordan, the famous site of Petra, but they were called Nabateans who lived there. And they had some deities, and the interesting thing is, one of the deities that was there was Manawat. Another one was Allat, which happens to be the feminine form of Allah. It’s like the feminine counterpart. And just as “Allat” cannot be God, because it’s mentioned with the other two names there of the other idols, then this clearly is the name of the goddess of the Nabateans. And with the Arabs, the name Allah was, in fact, in Mecca. It was one of the names of, I think, 360 deities there. It was one of those. And Muhammad somehow got this revelation from an angel, and I think it was an angel, but I think it was a fallen angel, that this “one true deity” was called Allah, and so all of the other idols were put away, and Allah was raised to the forefront.
T.A.: Tom, I have another question with regard to the proper name Allah, and, as you pointed out, this pre-dates Islam. It pre-dates Muhammad – in Mecca, as you pointed out, there were many gods, and he selected one of them, Allah. But, unless I’m wrong here, doesn’t Allah, that predated Islam, didn’t Allah have some daughters?
Tom: Yes, they were Uzza and Manat, I believe, and I don’t know all the details, but this was what was included in Salmon Rushdie’s book The Satanic Verses, and this is kind of an embarrassment, I think, to Muslim scholars, because they declare fervently that Allah could not have a son, and yet he’s described as having two daughters.
T.A.: That’s my point. That there are some contradictions here that would at least give you the idea that this is something not from God but made up by men. Their theology, and as you said, some of it comes from fallen angels, and so on.
Now, here’s something that I have a lot of trouble with. Tom, as you may know, I grew up Roman Catholic, and the religion of Rome during the ‘40s through the ‘60s – that was my time period, primarily, as a Roman Catholic – and during that time period we were taught that the Catholic Church was the exclusive church of God. It alone held the means and the keys to salvation. But then in the mid-sixties, when Vatican II came along, and that would be an infallible council, like Trent, and other councils of the Catholic Church, things sort of changed. In other words, they…before…prior to Vatican II, there was really a wall between non-Catholics and Catholics. But after Vatican II, the non-Catholic Christians were recognized as separated brethren.
Now the reason I’m mentioning that is because the sacred council, the infallible council of Vatican II, also declared that Muslims worship the same God as Catholics.
Let me quote – so people know I’m just not shooting from the hip on this one – let me quote from Vatican II document Nostra Aetate. “The church regards with esteem also the Muslims. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself, merciful and all-powerful, creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to humanity. They take pains to submit wholeheartedly [again, referring to Islam, to Muslims] to even His inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God. Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere Him as a prophet. They also honor Mary, His virgin mother. At times they even call on her with devotion. In addition, they await the Day of Judgment, when God will render their deserts to all those who have been raised up from the dead. Finally, they value the moral life and worship God, especially through prayer, alms giving, and fasting.”
Now, although the name “Allah” is not used in this document, it’s quite evident who the document is referring to. So, Tom, what’s the problem with that?
Tom: Okay, well, it’s mixture. Many people assume that Islam is similar to Christianity, simply variations on a theme, and I know this isn’t true, but it was recently brought home to me – I was working on a translation of the Qur’an for a pastor who’s writing a book, but one of the verses that needed to be translated was Surah IV. “Surah” means “chapter,” and 157 and 158. But it made me realize afresh that Christianity and Islam cannot coexist as truth. They have two totally contradictory viewpoints, so they can’t be true at the same time. If one is right, the other must be wrong. For example, in John:19:17-18, it says, “They took Jesus, therefore, and he went out, bearing his own cross to the place they called the place of the skull, which is in Hebrew called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two other men, one on either side and Jesus in between.”
Now, let’s take a look at the Qur’an here, chapter IV, verse 157-58. It says, “And they said, Indeed, we have killed the Messiah [Isa – that’s their word for Jesus], the son of Mary, the messenger of Allah. But they did not kill him, and they did not crucify him. Rather it was made to appear so to them. And, indeed, those who differ concerning it are surely in doubt about it. They have no knowledge of it except for an assumption, and they certainly did not kill him.”
Now, here we see John 19 and the Qur’an chapter IV, Surah IV:157-58. They’re absolutely in contradiction to one another. John 19 says, “There they crucified him,” and the Qur’an says that “they did not kill him and they did not crucify him,” and if you go to 1 Corinthians:15:2-3, its says, “This Jesus of Nazareth [they’re talking about specifically; it mentions him by name], they put him to death by hanging him on a tree.”
Now either He was put to death by hanging him on a tree, or He was not put to death. The Qur’an says he was not; the Bible says He is. How can they both be right at the same time?
And just as a reminder what this is about, you know, I don’t want to get lost in the details, because 1 John:5:12 says, “He who has the Son has life. He who does not have the Son of God does not have life.” And if you’re saying…if someone says, “Well, this isn’t loving.” Remember the words – these were the words of the Apostle John, the apostle of love, and he was making quite clear that if you don’t have the Son of God, you don’t have anything. There’s no life in you. Just because both religions happen to revere Abraham in some vague way, we’re not talking about the same God. And it all comes – really, it all comes down to Jesus. It’s not an issue of Abraham. I mean, I’ve had Jehovah’s Witnesses talk to me about the 144,000. Well, that’s in the Bible. But I always bring it back to the Lord Jesus. “He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.”
T.A.: Yeah. Tom, again, the thing that troubles me, having been a Roman Catholic for nearly thirty years, on the one hand, and it’s just as you pointed out, the Catholic Church in this document is just running past what the Word of God says, what the Scriptures say clearly. On the other hand, the ties…I remember writing an article - I can’t even remember how long ago it was - but it was “Roman Catholicism and Islam: The Ties That Bind.” And in this document, we see that very thing. They’re talking about (I’m reading from the document): “They await the Day of Judgment when God will render their deserts to all those who have been raised up from the dead.” This is judgment according to works! And, we know – you know better than most – that Islam is a religion of works salvation. And even that’s questionable, because of what it takes to get to Paradise, according to the teachings of Islam. But again, we have an example of how Rome, and the doctrine of Rome, the gospel of Rome, is really very close to what Islam teaches.
Tom: Yeah, it’s interesting that Islam is very similar to the Pharisaism of Jesus’ day. One of the reasons is the message is submission to the will of God, and it’s presented in a forceful way, and the submitter often feels bullied and compelled to conform out of strict fear. There’s no real love involved in the situation, so I think that the Pharisees were masters of using the law to manipulate people for their own ends, and I see this a lot with Islam as well.
T.A.: Tom, we have about a minute and half left. Well, for our listening audience, I’ve been talking to Tom – and we’re only using his first name because of a safety factor. He has translated the Bible into Arabic. All previous, prior to Tom’s translating the Bible into Arabic, all previous Bibles, Arabic Bibles, utilized or put in the name Allah as the name of God, which Tom explained very clearly is wrong. It’s deadly wrong, because it gives the impression and it supports the idea that there are close things in commonality between Islam and biblical Christianity. And you couldn’t have something more…well, more far-fetched. It’s just not that way.
So, we’re heading up to our program for next week. Tom’s going to be back, by the grace of God, and we’re going to deal with issues related to Bible translations and it’s just so great to have somebody with Tom’s expertise, and we’re going to talk about not what is the best Bible, but how you need to approach the Bible that you use, and I honestly believe, Tom, that’s going to be very edifying and a blessing to all who come back next week. So thanks, Tom! Thank you, Tom, for being with us.
Tom: Thank you for having me.
Gary: You’ve been listening to Search the Scriptures 24/7, featuring T.A. McMahon, a radio ministry of The Berean Call. We offer a wide variety of resources to help you in your study of God’s Word. For a complete list of materials and a free subscription to our monthly newsletter, contact us at PO Box 7019, Bend, Oregon 97708; call us at 800-937-6638; or visit our website at thebereancall.org. I’m Gary Carmichael. Thanks for joining us, and we hope you can tune in again next week. Until then, we encourage you to search the Scriptures 24/7.