Westerners dealing with the name of God in Arabic tend to question whether Arabic-speaking Christians may use the word “Allah” as the name for God. Especially when translations of the Bible are made into Arabic.
The earliest known Arabic translation of the NT is MT. SINAI ARABIC CODEX 151. It was published under the auspices of THE INSTITUTE FOR MIDDLE EASTERN NEW TESTAMENT STUDIES, in cooperation with THE BIBLE SOCIETY IN THE LEVANT, Beirut, Lebanon, in 1985.
This codex contains the Epistles of Paul, the Acts of the Apostles, and the Catholic Epistles. The Pauline Epistles in this Codex were translated in 867 A.D.
The translation was made from Aramaic, but several references were made to the Greek text of the NT. Its importance cannot be exaggerated as it tells us about how the newly Arabized Christians of the Levant needed an Arabic version of the sacred text; as they were no longer very familiar with the Aramaic translation of the Bible. Furthermore, CODEX 151 is extremely important as it contains comments and notes on the text.
Throughout the entire Codex 151, the translators did not hesitate or refrain from using the word Allah. For them, as well as for the successive generations of Eastern Christians whose mother tongue has become Arabic, no problem was encountered by referring to God as Allah. The word Allah always meant the triune God, revealed in Holy Scripture, and confessed in the Nicene Creed.
In a 17th or 18th Century translation of the Four Gospels into Arabic, [the photo copy of the manuscript that I have] “Theos” is translated as Allah. This Arabic version of the Gospels is illustrated; the illustrations indicate that the work may have been done in Egypt. Even if not in Egypt, it is definitely a Levantine work.
During the 19th Century two major translations of the Bible were done in Arabic, in Beirut, Lebanon. The first one (1860) is known as the Smith-VanDyke Translation. One should add that these American missionaries relied on the help of two Lebanese Christians scholars, Al-Bustani and Al-Yazigi.
In 1870, the Jesuit Arabic translation appeared. In all of these versions, and subsequent revisions, the word Allah was consistently used. The Living Bible Arabic version, published in Beirut in 1988, has not departed from this tradition.
Besides these translations of the Bible into Arabic, Christian Arabic literature is replete with the use of the name of Allah, always signifying the tri-unity of God. In fact, when Arabic-speaking Christians invoke the name of the Trinity, they do so according to this formula: “Bismi”l Aab, wal-Ibn, war-Ruh al-Qodos; Ilah Wahed, Ameen.” (In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, One God, Amen.”
All Arabic-speaking Christians from the 9th Century on have consistently referred to God as Allah. These Christians belong to the Chalcedonian Tradition (Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, and Protestant) as well as to non-Chalcedonian Tradition (Monophysite and Nestorian.)
Therefore, the question is not whether Allah may be used for the name of God among Arabic-speaking Christians. These Christians use it in both in their regular literature as well as in their sacred and liturgical texts.
On the other hand, no Arabic-speaking Christian, if he or she is consistent with the basic tenets of their faith, can ever say that Christians and Muslims worship the same God. This is the real question we face today. It should not be confused by the attempt of some Western Christians to inform or even dictate to Levantine Christians what terminology they should use when they address the one and only true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.