By Wissam Nasrallah
This article has been adapted from a blog posted on ABTS’ website. For the full article, click here.
Since it was first published more than 150 years ago in 1865, the Bustani-Van Dyck Arabic Bible has been the most popular, authoritative, and enduring Bible in the Arabic language.
The respect and awe it inspires amongst Arab Christians is similar to the heyday of the King James Bible in the English-speaking world.
It is powerful how the millions of distributed copies have been used by the Holy Spirit to build the body of Christ, proclaim the Gospel, and feed the minds and souls of Arab believers and seekers.
Beyond the beauty of the language, the Bustani-Van Dyck is characterized by its literal style of translation that seeks to be the most faithful to the original manuscripts. However, behind every translation lies the text of Scripture in the original languages: Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic.
At the time the Bustani-Van Dyck was being translated, the Textus Receptus or the Received Text assembled by Erasmus in 1516 and based on manuscripts from the 12th century was the standard text used for translations of the New Testament including the King James Bible.
This was the case up until 1881, after which the Critical Text was adopted by most Bible Societies in the West. The Critical Text draws on older manuscripts mainly from the 4th century and is based on the belief that manuscripts are more reliable when they are earlier in date and thus likely to be nearer to the original. Textual criticism therefore seeks to study the different ancient manuscripts, to discover and correct errors that have crept into the text through transmission and try to determine the exact words as the author originally wrote them.
Yet, to this day, the Bustani-Van Dyck translation remains unchanged. It is interesting to note however that Eli Smith, who started the translation project before Cornelius Van Dyck took over, started with an eclectic approach by using manuscripts other than the Textus Receptus.
It is this crucial topic that the January 22 conference organized by Dar Manhal al Hayat (DMAH) sought to address based on the scholarship and lifetime work of the late Rev. Dr. Ghassan Khalaf in his posthumously published book The Gospel between Byzantium and Alexandria.
This conference is considered by many to be a milestone in our small evangelical community in Lebanon as talking about this topic has long been a taboo as if any expressed doubt over its renderings of Hebrew or Greek would unleash a domino effect that would open the floodgates of skepticism and subjectivism.
However, as Ghassan Khalaf showed in his book, neither variants between the ancient manuscripts of the New Testament nor the translation challenges change any foundational biblical truth, doctrine, or Christian practice. This reality should comfort us in the reliability of Scripture and encourage us to welcome the work of textual scholars as they seek to bring us closer to what the biblical writers wrote.
In the meantime, Rev. Dr. Ghassan Khalaf’s enduring legacy through his last book will hopefully pave the way to a wider conversation about the history of the Bible, hermeneutics, and the need to have a “Revised Bustani-Van Dyck Arabic Bible” in the hands of faithful Arab believers as they seek, through the study of His word, to know more intimately the incarnate Word.
PREPARING AND EQUIPPING FUTURE PASTORS
Lebanon is facing a crisis of calling into pastoral ministry in coming years, as the economic crisis pushes young Christians to emigrate. Dar Manhal al Hayat values faithful preaching and aims to equip and resource pastors in the Arabic speaking Church.