Gary: Welcome to Search the Scriptures 24/7, a radio ministry of The Berean Call with T.A. McMahon. I’m Gary Carmichael. We’re glad you could be here. In today’s program, Tom concludes a two-part series with a guest we’ll refer to as Tom as they address the question: How Do We Get the Gospel to Arabs? Here’s TBC executive director, Tom McMahon.
T.A.: Thanks, Gary. This week, well, this is part two of a session with a Bible translator, and this man has translated the Bible into Arabic. And as we mentioned last week, and I encourage you, if you haven’t heard part one, you need to go there, because our guest, Tom – and we’re only using his first name because of the safety factor; Islam, especially terrorism, it can strike anywhere, and we just want to be prudent. We want to deal with this in as safe a way as possible, always looking to the Lord for protection, but the Lord wants us to use our head in this and do things that are…where we don’t get in our own way. Would you say that, Tom?
Tom: Yeah, that’s absolutely true.
T.A.: Now the other thing is that although we’re just using Tom’s first name, he does have a website, and we will…if you contact us, we will give you the name of the website. He doesn’t use his last name on the website, but it has terrific information. As a matter of fact, for this interview with Tom, it was incredibly helpful for me to glean things from what he has written, and maybe others that have contributed to his website. So we can connect you with that, and certainly, if for nothing else, then for your prayer for Tom and for the ministry, because it’s incredibly important.
Now, Tom, again, last week we covered a lot of territory, but I want to move onto just a few things that maybe move a little bit away from the Arabic Bible, but just because…and I think you mentioned how many years that you’ve put in, in terms of learning to translate…well, learning Arabic.
Tom: I’ve been studying classical Arabic – not conversational Arabic - I’ve been studying the classical Arabic for forty years, since 1975.
T.A.: And one of the things that I got from your newsletter – it’s a sad thing - I remember Dave Hunt, from the time he wrote A Cup of Trembling and later Judgment Day, he’s been saying that…he’s home with the Lord now, but from the beginning, he would say, “Islam is not peace. Islam is not peace.” And I don’t know if the media has gotten that straight yet, and we’re talking a couple of decades of… And then a demonstration on their part that it’s not peace!
Now, on the other hand, the media has bent over backwards, it seems to me, in its regard for Islam, not recognizing some blatant, overt things that have come across. Now, in your newsletter, you make a statement about what the Arabic calligraphy, which is gorgeous, that adorns the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, but, Tom, what is that beautiful calligraphy saying?
Tom: Okay, well, first of all, if the listeners aren’t familiar with it, the Dome of the Rock is called…it’s actually referred to as the Mosque of Omar, but it’s not really a mosque. It was built around the year 710 by a guy named Abdul Malik, and it was kind of a shrine. And he built this and it has fantastic calligraphy on it. If people have heard of the al-Aqsa mosque where all of the turmoil is going on, that’s actually the silver-domed building up on the Temple Mount, and the gold-domed building is the Dome of the Rock. Anyway, everybody acknowledges that this is one of the most beautiful buildings in the world, and it’s a great backdrop for CNN news stories. But there’s 734 feet of Islamic inscriptions, both on the outside and the inside of the building, and almost all of it’s taken directly from the Qur’an, or it’s paraphrased. And these verses from the Qur’an – people don’t realize this – but they were intentionally put there, they were deliberately put there, to equip Muslims to counter and oppose Christianity.
And you say, “Well, how can you say that?” Well, let’s take a look. I think that there’s a number of references to Jesus, but in this calligraphy, this beautiful script there, it’s amazing how many references there are that deny the Sonship of Jesus and the Fatherhood of God.
Let’s take a look at the actual source words so that we can get the foundations right. A lot of times, people just go on other people’s words, so let’s go back to the original here. One of the inscriptions on the…well, this is an octagonal building, and it says…it’s taken from the Qur’an IV:171, and the first part, it says, “The Messiah, the son of Mary was only a messenger of Allah. Believe in Allah and his messengers and do not say ‘three.’” In other words, “Do not say Trinity. Stop it!”
And on the northeast side of the building, it has another one: “Far be it from his transcendent majesty that he should have a son.” And this is written for every Arab to see up there.
And then Surah 112 (chapter 112) is probably the most blatant assault on the Sonship of Christ, and it appears on a copper plate on the outside of the eastern entrance of the building, and it says (this is a really famous quote from the Qur’an for Muslims; every Muslim would know this verse): “He does not beget nor is he begotten.”
Now, I like – personally – I really like Isaiah:8:20, because it’s our standard for determining whether something is true or not. It says, “To the law and to the testimony! If they don’t speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn.” So, basically, this verse directs us back to God’s Word, if we’re properly to discern the truth of a statement, especially something concerning the nature of God.
So the first thing that ought to come to mind about whether God could have a son is John:3:16. Now I know everybody listening knows that verse backwards and forward, but I’ll just read it anyway: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
So, God not only has a Son, but the Son was begotten as well. Now, is this backed up by the Old Testament? Sure! Turn to Psalm 2. The Lord says, “The Lord said to me, you are my son; today I have begotten you. Server the Lord with fear, rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son lest he be angry and you perish in the way when his wrath is kindled. Blessed are all who put their trust in him.”
So there it is once again. New Testament – begotten Son; Old Testament – begotten Son. And one of my favorite verses in the Bible was a little teaser, Proverbs:30:4. It says, “Who has ascended into heaven and come down, who has gathered the wind in his fists? Who has wrapped up the waters in a garment? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is his name, and what is the name of his Son? Surely you know!”
Well, you know who has a Son. And it looks like, to me, that Surah I:12 goes down in flames here. We should look to the testimony of the Scriptures of God that He’s given, and when the Qur’an or any other documents or any other inscription on a building says something to the contrary, rather than being impressed by it, we should say, right there, “That’s false!” Muhammad is telling us to stop saying “three.” Stop saying “trinity.” He tells us “Stop it!” Well, you know what? I’m not going to stop it. And it says, “Far be it from his transcendent majesty that he should have a son.”
In 2 Peter, it says, “A voice came from the majestic glory [this is the equivalent of that word], This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” So God calls Himself both the majestic glory and the Father in this verse, and this was just a glory not only to the Son, but He talks to Him, and if we look into God’s authoritative Word, we discover that Muhammad’s revelation and also the inscription on the Dome of the Rock don’t pass the test.
T.A.: Right. Tom, the sad thing is, we not only have what I quoted last week from a document, an “infallible” document, according to the Catholic Church, about the Catholic view of Islam and the Catholic view of Allah. And it’s so contrary to the God of the Bible.
So, what you’re saying here, what you’re presenting, to me it’s really important information that believers need to understand. Now, you’d say, “Well, wait a minute. Believers are getting it. They understand it,” and so on. Well, wait a minute. We have what’s called Chrislam. And what we’re saying is…I don’t want to get into that; we could spend the rest of the program on it. But basically, it’s Christians saying, “Oh, no, we have so much in common with Islam that we can put the two together.”
Now, Tom, you’ve given some information that’s important information, but now I want to move on to something. And [they say], “Oh, there they go. They’re being critical again.” No, folks, what we’re trying to do is give you some information that’s important.
But Tom, on the other hand, I would like you to tell our listeners how long it took you to put together the Bible – to translate the Bible into Arabic, but then I want you to go immediately and tell us, what’s been the fruit of that? How has that been effective?
Tom: Okay, well, first of all, I started working on this in 1981. I was in Jerusalem in the fall of 1981, and I was complaining to the Lord one day, actually. I was trying to learn Arabic so I could be a missionary to the Muslim world, and as I was complaining, I said to the Lord, “How come there’s no materials here for me to learn this? This is so hard, and I’m having such a struggle.” And I felt like the Lord said to me, although it wasn’t in audible words; it was kind of a reflection of my spirit, I think - I felt like the Lord said, “Well, when are you getting started?” I was thinking, Well, wait a minute!
T.A.: Sounds like the Lord to me, Tom.
Tom: I was not expecting that! It was the last thing I was thinking about, because I wanted to learn; I wasn’t in a position to teach anybody at the time, and so I thought about it a little bit, and I thought, Well, okay, Lord, if this is your direction, here goes!” And I started in the fall of October 1981, and I’ve been working on this thing ever since. I finished the New Testament in 2004, and then the last 11 years I’ve been able to finish seventeen books of the Old Testament, and it continues. Because I make some computer software here that trains missionaries and believers in the use of the Arabic Bible, and so they have a resource. Now, just as a…to talk to you one second about the need here, a lot of people are astonished by this figure: By the year 2020, Muslims will make up 25 percent of the world’s population. That’s 7.7 billion people in the world; within five years, there will be about 2 billion Muslims, one out of every four people. And they’ve got to get the Scriptures. And one of the difficulties is that missionaries will go to the Middle East; Arabic’s considered a Category 3 language by the Department of State, which means it takes three times longer to learn Arabic than it does a familiar language to us – say you learn French or Spanish, you can maybe master that in five years, if you apply yourself. But now multiply that by three to get Arabic. So it would take you about fifteen years to get a handle on it really well, and missionaries kind of back off from that because they want to share their testimony, they have to buy food in the market, but the use of the scriptures – the scriptures are in classical Arabic, and they wouldn’t be accepted in the local dialect anyway, because of cultural considerations. So, they end up – missionaries, many missionaries don’t learn Arabic of the Scriptures and don’t preach from the Bible, if you can believe that. There are so few missionaries to the Muslim world now, but even a smaller – much smaller - percentage of those actually use the Arabic Bible. And it was my heart’s goal to see that all changed around where they could use the Scriptures in a coherent way and have people understand them. Because our authority comes from the Word of God; it doesn’t come from our opinions, so it’s very important that we have that.
T.A.: So, Tom, as I mentioned, going through your newsletter, you have some wonderful testimonies, some wonderful praise reports. Could you give our listeners just a few of those?
Tom: I just got an email several weeks ago just thanking me for producing this, but one of the interesting things to me was they said they were using the software – I actually make an iPhone version of this too, so people were carrying this – in fact, the guy was carrying an iPad out to one of the refugee places in Jordan where they’re housing Syrian refugees, and he led three people to the Lord just by walking through the Bible with them using the Arab Bible, so that was a real encouragement. The variety of people who use this is pretty astonishing to me. I mean, we’ve got chicken farmers in Alabama and professors in Stanford, a PhD at Harvard, an Indonesian man living on a remote island in the Pacific, an Arab-American mom who wants to share Jesus with her relatives, all kinds of students wanting to learn Arabic to share the gospel, Brazilian newlyweds preparing for their life work, a woman running an orphanage in Lebanon, a Christian radio show host in California, a guy in Kansas City who’s sharing his faith with Muslim university students, a well-known Jewish leader in Jerusalem, a Korean missionary in Mauritania, an African pastor sharing his faith in Northern Nigeria…all kinds of people are using this that you wouldn’t expect. It’s not just straight missionaries, and it’s used by some of the language training schools in the Middle East.
T.A.: Tom, that’s wonderful. Hearing you say that, especially with all the difficulty, as you pointed out, to see the Lord using that, it’s got to be an encouragement to you. Because, I know, sometimes you think it’s like…in terms of getting this out, it’s like trying to swim up Niagara Falls, but still, you’re willing, and you’ve put your hands on the plow and God is using this in a wonderful way. And I would love our listeners to continue to hold you up in prayer because of how important this is.
Now, the other thing is…
Tom: I would sure appreciate that. I think just the Word of God itself is such a powerful antidote to our sin, you know, because it turns us to the Lord, and that’s our hope, and if we don’t have that, where are we?
T.A.: No, and in our program, and in our ministry, I’ve been beating the drum for people to get into the Word of God. It’s the antidote, it’s the prevention program, and it’s the best habit that anybody could have – any believer could have. You’re hearing from God. You have His Word.
But, Tom, along that line, as much as I’ve been encouraging a daily habit of reading the Bible, there are things like – I know it may sound technical enough, but it actually isn’t – the practice of hermeneutics, for them to consider the context, the meaning of words, the grammar, the historical settings, and so forth. And you gave a really good example of how important hermeneutics, which is really interpretation of the Bible, when you wrote about a verse from Daniel:12:4, and I’ll read the verse: “But thou, O Daniel, shut up the words and seal the book, even to the time of the end. Many shall run to and fro and knowledge shall be increased.” Tom, as you have before, explain the problem with the interpretation of that verse, for the most part, today.
Tom: Well, the problem here – well, because of the way it’s written, I’ve heard a lot of preachers use the verse to tell us that we are sure we’re in the end days because of the advances in transportation. That’s “many will run to and fro,” and advances in communication: that’s the “knowledge shall increase” part. And they say, you know, we can be anywhere in the world within 24 hours and until 1900 knowledge was doubling every 100 years and then IBM recently estimated that the new technology that’s coming out, within a couple of years, knowledge will be doubling every 11 hours. Therefore, they say, that proves we’re in the end times.
Now, I don’t dispute that we’re in the Last Days, but what’s this verse really talking about? Well, I think we like the “running to and fro” part because we like action movies, and we prefer to be entertained rather than instructed. And a lot of times, unfortunately, I think that everything past about the first third of Daniel, where it’s exciting, with the lions’ den and everything, the rest of it pretty much gets ignored by Bible teachers and a lot of the church, but we’re called to rightly divide the Word of God, and that’s not just Bible translators; that’s all of us! And it’s good to look and see what people have to say, but we need to go directly to the Scriptures ourselves. That’s one of the things I really like about The Berean Call is that the encouragement is to go directly to the source of the Scriptures daily for ourselves. I mean, it’s good to use Bible study tools and so on, but I don’t think it’s healthy for people to always tell you what the Bible says without basically checking it out for yourself. I mean, they could be dead wrong, and then you could be left holding the bag. We’re accountable to the Lord for our understanding.
Okay, let’s get back to the verse. So what’s the context of the verse? “But you, Daniel,” and he said, “Stop up the words.” The word there, the Hebrew word, means to plug something up or dam it up. It carries a temporary idea, like if you close the door, it can be opened a minute later. And doors are meant to be opened, and the water behind a dam is meant to be released, and words are meant to be spoken, eventually. And so, where it says, “Seal up the book until the time of the end.” When I was translating this with Arabic, I was reading along, and I came across a word that jumped out at me. It’s “chatham,” and the word means “to seal.” If you think of a signet ring, for example, seals were put on documents, and they weren’t meant to be closed forever. They were meant to be opened at the right time by the right people. And, so the idea here, this book of Daniel would be sealed up until the time of the end.
Okay, so, what happens when it’s unsealed? Well, I was reading this in the Arabic, and I came across this strange word: it’s [tasahufa – sp]. And this was a Semitic root – see, Arabic and Hebrew are the same sister languages, they’re both Semitic languages, but I had no idea why that word was there. It didn’t seem to fit the context at all. I wondered if it was a typo or something. And suddenly, a light went on in my head, “Do some detective work.” So I began to check into the original Hebrew and discovered to my amazement that that often-quoted King James verse, “Many shall run to and fro,” although it’s accurate in its literal sense, that might not be the intention here. Gesenius’s Hebrew Lexicon tells us that that verb turns out to be a metaphor for running back and forth through a book. You know how we run our thumb back and forth through the pages? That’s the idea. And so, the idea is not that people would be rushing to and fro, which doesn’t even…I mean, back and forth, which doesn’t even fit the context of the verse, but rather that in the last days, many people will be eagerly thumbing their way back and forth through the book, the pages of Daniel’s book, carefully and intentionally, in an attempt to discover what’s written in there.
And so, when people at the time of the end do run to and fro through Daniel’s book, when they look at those pages, what do you think's going to happen? What’s going to happen is that knowledge is going to increase, and I think that’s a real hope for us. So I hope that’s an encouragement for people to look into the Scriptures and dig there. It’s a “glory of God to conceal a matter; it’s a glory of kings to search it out.”
T.A.: Yes, and, Tom, I wanted you to present that, because it’s so important, as you mentioned. We are personally accountable for what we believe, and then what we believe is going to dictate how we go about things, and understanding the Scriptures is incredibly important. And, Tom, the reason I like this is it’s a really simple example. Yeah, you did the legwork, you understand the Arabic, but, again, that’s why I started off with hermeneutics. What was the context? You just laid out what the context was. So we don’t have to have a degree in Bible interpretation to do that; it’s just a matter of going to the Scriptures trying to figure out what God is saying to us without imposing, because of the culture, or because of the time, imposing some ideas that again miss the context. So, it’s just a matter of rightly dividing the Word of God. That’s where we all need to be.
Tom: Well, you know, it’s kind of like eating food. I mean, the Scriptures compare itself to food – it’s for babies, it’s for adults, and so on. It’s for everybody. But one thing you don’t want is for somebody to predigest your food for you.
Tom: And I think that especially in translating the Scriptures, it’s so important that we’re accurate and literal and not…basically tell people what it means, but let them wrestle with it and come to the conclusions themselves.
So we have to accurately represent what the scripture actually says, and then leave it to them to come to the conclusions. I’m not saying that teaching is bad, but I want to know really what that verse says. I don’t want to have somebody put all their interpretive powers on top of that and change it into something that it might not actually say.
T.A.: Well, Tom, that’s why I’m just really thrilled that I had the time to talk to you, to interview you, to discuss some of these things, and there’s so much more I would love to ask you, but we’re out of time for this part two, but the Lord willing, I’m going to have you back and we’re going to cover some other issues. It’s a pleasure for me to talk to someone who is a translator of the Bible – not just because I want to learn Arabic or anything like that, but because you have put your heart and soul by the grace of God into trying to figure out what God is saying to us and recognizing, within another language, whatever it might be, recognizing that, hey, we need to take a closer look at this. So, Tom, I’m not saying I’m setting you up as our expert, but it is really a thrill to be able to talk to somebody who’s poured their life into this, by God’s grace. So, Tom, thanks for being with us, and, brother, till we do it again, the Lord willing. So, thank you, Tom.
Tom: Well, I really am so grateful for the opportunity to talk with you guys and just…I appreciate the spirit of The Berean Call, that we all look to God and let His Word show us the way to the Lord Jesus.
T.A.: Amen. Amen! Thank you, Tom!
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; callus 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.