Legendary missionary doctor works on Muslim-friendly English translation of New Testament


By Mark Ellis

Dr. Viggo Olsen and wife Joan

For his medical work in Bangladesh over 33 years, the New York Times compared him to Dr. David Livingstone, the great 19th century medical missionary and African explorer. Now Dr. Viggo Olsen, 85, and his wife Joan, are spending an active retirement translating the Scripture into a more accessible form of English for Muslims.

“Muslim people have a fascination with the New Testament of Jesus,” Dr. Olsen says. He spent 33 years as a medical missionary with the Association of Baptists for World Evangelism, which is chronicled in the #1 national inspirational bestseller “Daktar: Diplomat in Bangladesh” (Moody Press).

As octogenarians, he and his wife may not be able to work the long hours they once did, but the impact of this project will long endure.

Biblica, formerly called International Bible Society, already has released the Olsens’ Muslim-friendly English translation of the Book of Matthew. The cover is green with gold lettering. Green has been associated with Islam since the days of the Muslim prophet Muhammad.

Titled “The Holy Injil,” their translation of familiar names helps cross the cultural divide with Muslims, as evidenced by this opening passage in Matthew:

“This is the record of the family line of ‘Isa al-Masih. He is the son of Dawud. He is also the son of Ibrahim. Ibrahim was the father of Ishaq, Ishaq was the father of Ya’qub.”

Dr. Olsen’s team also translates God as ‘Allah,’ which is controversial in some circles. “Arab Christians were using the name Allah for God hundreds of years before Muhammad,” Dr. Olsen says. “Islam was not even in the picture.”

He also notes that 30 million Christians in Indonesia use the name Allah for God today. Furthermore, every Arabic Bible ever produced by Arab Christians uses Allah for God, both before and after Muhammad’s time. It is the “natural, accurate thing to do,” he contends.

The Holy Injil translation has been read and checked for accuracy by the highly regarded Islamic consultant and scholar, Dr. Dudley Woodberry, several other scholars and trained laymen from Muslim backgrounds, a pastor in Cairo, Egypt, and Biblica. Dr. Olsen notes his wife’s competency and involvement as a valuable member of the team. They completed the first draft of the New Testament and plans to finish the project in 2013.

Dr. Olsen refuses to change the title ‘Son of God’ as some recommend, because Muslims may find it offensive. “Some Muslims are allergic to this because they have been taught that Christians believe God had sexual relations with Mary,” he says. Dr. Olsen uses footnotes in the translation to explain this point. He believes any change in the actual text would undermine essential truths about the Trinity.

The importance of special translations for Muslims became apparent after the Olsens began their medical mission in Bangladesh, then known as East Pakistan, in 1962.

When they arrived, they found that the only Bible in the Bengali language available to Muslims used antiquated language better suited to Buddhists and Hindus. For example, it used a Hindu word, ‘Ishwar,’ for God. Ishwar is one of thousands of Hindu gods. “To many Muslims, that is blasphemy and shocking,” Dr. Olsen notes.

The Olsens created a pocket dictionary of 4,600 Bengali Muslim words, then spent 10 years leading a team that created a New Testament for Bengali Muslims. Published in 1980, it became the No. 1 best-selling book in Bangladesh and has been a bestseller ever since.

Dr. Olsen served as a medical doctor and surgeon at Memorial Christian Hospital in Malumghat, Bangladesh, which he and his team founded in 1966. He worked on the translation during his free time, often until 2 or 3 a.m.  “Our hospital work was great, but this translation work is even bigger and better than that,” he exclaims.

Today, the Olsens live in Southern California. Despite being slowed by recent surgeries, their zeal for their work has not diminished with age.

“Millions of people all over the world speak and read English,” Dr. Olsen says. “There are more than 3,000 Muslim people groups, with many English speakers in them, so this Muslim-friendly New Testament we’re working on has the possibility of blessing every Muslim group in the world.

While it could take many years to translate Scripture for every one of the 3,000 groups, one English translation may touch all the groups. “That may sound like an impossible dream, but God makes the impossible possible.”


  1. Wittingly or unwittingly, this is an arabicization-islamicization of the text of Scripture in English. The Gospel of Matthew was published in this manner over 10 years ago by the International Bible Society (now, Biblica) and it is, unfortunately, terrible. It is a shame that yet more time and energy is being spent on something that promotes the Islamic idea of exalting the Arabic language above all other languages. If English is the language being used then use English. There are accurate translations in Arabic that can be understood by Muslims.

  2. Dr & Mrs Olsen…As someone who lives & serves in the 1040 window among the Unreached & in part among Muslims, I applaud your work. Be encouraged, stay focused & may the Lord take this translated Injil & use it for His glory!

  3. As one who is familiar with cross-cultural ministry, I appreciate the great value and timeliness of Dr. Viggo Olsen’s special translation of the New Testament.

  4. I work among the Muslims and Hindus converts. May I suggest you use Tuhan for God instead of Allah (the Arabic moon god) or Bapa Surgawi for Heavenly Father.
    There has been a recent release of an Indonesia Bible “Alkitab Suchi” using God’s names and not Allah.
    Thank you for desiring to help English speaking Muslims.

  5. Thank you Dr and Mrs. Olsen. As a cross cultural worker I applaud your efforts. I have many Muslims friends and some who speak English have received and read Matthew “The Holy Injil”. Please keep up this very good work. By the way none of my Muslim friends who use Allah consider him a moon god and would be offended by someone inferring this. They all see Allah as the one true God but like all of us their knowledge of him is incomplete with the knowledge of Jesus Christ.

  6. Great memories of your ministry at Garfield Baptist,Milwaukee. Allah is the name for God. Like”god” in every culture, the word must be defined even as “god” in English must be. Is He like Santa Claus or Thor?Thank God for your years of ministry.Allen Fadel/TEAM, Japan retired.

  7. Hello Uncle Vic and Aunt Joan. I have been searching for a way to reach you for years, but without success thus far. I saw this site with your story and with this update on the translation and thought perhaps this message will reach you. I would so love to speak with you again should the time allow. We are at LU in Virginia serving here until doors open for the East again. I have fond memories with you and am proud that the Lord allowed me to be a small part of your life for a time.

    All our prayers and love.

    Chip and Jully Patterson

  8. I grew up at Heights (H.H.B.C.) hearing Dr. Olson and started learning about Islam at an early age. I also read both his books. I came across this web site looking for information on him as I recommended his book to a church in another denomination doing missionary work in Bengladesh.
    I would like to mention that “Islamic Imperialism” has some detailed secular information on the origins of Islam and its bloody history, but also learned that Arabs were worshipping Allah before the arrival of Mohammed as one of many gods. Allah was the God of the Jews and was treated with special respect, no image could be made of Him. when Mohammed’s followers purged the city, altars to Allah were spared. I do not remember anything about a Mood God.

  9. Allah is not the Christian God. Allah has no Son who died for the sins of the world and rose to sit at the right hand of our God. At the very best it seems that Muslims may confuse Allah and God. The God of the Bible is the ONLY God and , I believe, should be well distinguished from Allah.
    When a terrorist commits a heinous crime and shouts the name of Allah, do you believe he is doing this in the name of the God of the Bible?
    Regardless of what seems like good intent, it seems to me that apostasy must be guarded against.

  10. I would like to know how to get a copy of the “The Holy Injil,” as a witnessing tool for outreach to new Muslim acquaintances who will be attracted to a bible with a culturally sensitive cover.

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