Andrew Persson, Bible Translation Consultant, SIL International (retired)
The gospels as they appear in Vatican Arabic Manuscript 13 are widely believed to represent the earliest extant Bible translation in Arabic, and it has been claimed that this translation dates from before the rise of Islam. However, there are wordings and passages that point to the original translator working in an Islamic milieu and show him reacting to it. Some of these reactions are quite startling and may tell us something about the translator’s aims and situation.
From a thorough analysis of Matthew’s Gospel in this translation it is seen that there are echoes of Islamic style and terminology. It also seems that some of its wordings were designed to clarify Christian teaching in an Islamic context or to avoid unnecessary offense to Muslims. Yet in other places elements have been introduced which resemble a polemic against Islam. The evidence thus points to this translation having originally been made for the benefit of Arabic-speaking Christians living in the context of a newly ascendant Islam.