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The Baptist Endeavours in Biblical Translation in China before the Chinese Union Version

  • DANIEL KAM-TO CHOI (a1)

Abstract

The purpose of this study is to present a historical review of the Bible translation of Baptist missionaries in China before the publication of the Chinese Union Version (CUV) in early twentieth century, especially the significance of the Baptist translations in this period. This study will also discuss the differences in translation approaches and practices of the Baptists from other denominations.

The history of Chinese Bible translation by the Baptists started when English Baptist missionary Joshua Marshman (1768–1837) and his Armenian helper Johannes Lassar (1781–1835?) published their translation of the whole Bible in 1822 in Serampore. In the 1840s, the Protestant missionaries from different countries and missions decided to translate the Bible into classical Chinese with standardised terminologies for the names and terms in the Bible. This version was known as the Delegates’ Version and was the most important project of common Bible before the CUV. However, it uncovered heavy hiccup and disputes in translating, especially the difficulties in translating religious terms into Chinese. Their biggest point of contention was which, Shen or Shangdi, was the suitable translation of the word “God.” Furthermore, the Baptists insisted Shen as well as Jin (which meant “immerse”) for baptism, while the others recommended Xi (which meant “wash”). In the end, the Baptists withdrew from the translation committee and translated several versions in classical Chinese only by themselves between the 1840s and the 1870s. Until the early twentieth century, Baptist missionaries dedicated themselves to translating the Bible into various Chinese dialects.

Although the Baptists had excellent achievements in the history of Bible translation, they had only played an insignificant role in the project of the CUV and shared the consequent of the CUV after its publication. This paper aims to investigate the work of the Baptists in several aspects, including their translation approaches and problems as well as their significance in the history of Chinese Bible translation.

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1 See: “Appendix: Overview of Protestant Chinese Bible in Common Languages and Local Dialects” at the end of this paper. For the history of Chinese Bible translation, see: Broomhall, Marshall, The Bible in China (Shanghai, 1934); Zetzsche, Jost Oliver, The Bible in China: History of the Union Version: or the Culmination of Protestant Missionary Bible Translation in China (Sankt Augustin - Nettetal, 1999); Eber, Irene, et al. (eds.), The Bible in Modern China. The Literary and Intellectual Impact (Sankt Augustin - Nettetal, 1999); Starr, Chloë, “Reading Christian Scriptures: the Nineteenth-Century Context”, Reading Christian Scriptures in China (London, 2008), pp. 3248; Choi, Daniel Kam-to, Shèng Jīng Zài Zhōng Guó: Fù Zhōng Wén Shèng Jīng Lì Shǐ Mù Lù, 聖經在中國:附中文聖經歷史目錄; Bible in China: with a Historical Catalogue of the Chinese Bible (Hong Kong, 2018). For the Chinese Bible translation of Baptist missionaries, see: Choi, Daniel Kam-to, Yuan Shi You Dao: 19 Shiji Jinxinhui Zhongwen Shengjing Fanyi, 元始有道:19世紀浸信會中文聖經翻譯; In the Beginning was the Word: Bible Translations into Chinese by the Baptists in Nineteenth-century (Hong Kong / Taoyuan, 2019).

2 The Chinese Bible versions mentioned in this paper can be found in the Chinese Bible collection at the Bible Society's Library of Cambridge University Library. For the catalogue of the Chinese Bibles in this library, see: Spillett, Hubert W., A Catalogue of Scriptures in the Languages of China and the Republic of China (London, 1975).

3 For the documents related to the Nestorian in China, see: Foster, John, The Nestorian Tablet and Hymn; Translation of Chinese Texts from the First Period of the Church in China, 635-c.900 (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1939); Malek, Roman, (ed.) Jingjiao: The Church of the East in China and Central Asia (Sankt Augustin, 2006).

4 For the Bible translation of Catholic missionaries in China, see: Willeke, Von P. Bernward, “Das Werden der chinesischen katholischen Bibel”, in Beckmann, Johannes, Die Heilige Schrift in den katholischen Missionen: Gesammelte Aufsätze (Admin. der Neuen Zeitschrift für Missionwissenschaft, 1966), pp. 124138; Nicolas Standaert, “The Bible in Early Seventeenth-century China,” in The Bible in Modern China, pp. 31–54; Choi, Daniel K. T. & Mak, George K. W., “Catholic Bible Translation in Twentieth-Century China: an Overview”, in Catholicism in China, 1900-Present: the Development of the Chinese Church (New York, 2014), pp. 105123.

5 For the Bible translation of Jean Basset and his Chinese helper John Xu, see: Barriquand, François, “First Comprehensive Translation of the New Testament in Chinese: Fr Jean Basset (1662–1707) and the Scholar John Xu,” in Societas Verbi Divini: Verbum SVD 49 (2008), pp. 91119.

6 For the life of Joshua Marshman, see: Fenwick, John A., “Biographical Sketch of Joshua Marshman, D.D., of Serampore,” in Newcastle Chronicle (Newcastle Upon Tyne, 1838), pp. 1925; Wylie, Alexander, Memorials of Protestant Missionaries to the Chinese: giving a list of their publications, and obituary notices of the deceased, with Copious Indexes (Shanghai, American Presbyterian Mission Press, 1867), pp. 13. For Marshman's work on the Chinese Bible translation, see: Min, M. A., “Joshua Marshman and the First Chinese Book Printed with Movable Metal Type,” in Journal of Cultural Interaction in East Asia, Vol. 6 (2015–03), pp. 318.

7 For the early works of English Baptist Missions in China, see: Williamson, H. R., British Baptists in China (London, 1957), pp. 719.

8 For the photo of St Matthew's Gospel by Joshua Marshman and Johannes Lassar in 1810, see: Figure 1.

9 For the early works of American Baptist Missions in Siam and China, see: Gammell, William A. M., A History of American Baptist Missions in Asia, Africa, Europe and North America, Under the care of the American Baptist Missionary Union (Boston, 1849), and Chapter 16 concerned the mission and Bible translation in China.

10 There was no date on the original leaflet. This leaflet has been kept in the Harvard-Yenching Library. See: Lai, John Yung-Hsiang, Catalogue of the Protestant Missionary Works in Chinese, Harvard-Yenching Library (Boston, 1980), CH-1226, B79.

11 For the translation of DV, see: Hanan, Patrick, “The Bible as Chinese Literature: Medhurst, Wang Tao, and the Delegates’ Version” in Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, Vol. 63 (2003), pp. 197239.

12 For the argument of the ‘Term Question’ among the Catholic missionaries, see: Minamiki, George, J., S., The Chinese Rites Controversy: from Its Beginning to Modern Times (Chicago, 1985); Mungello, D. E., (ed.) The Chinese Rites Controversy: its History and Meaning (Nettetal, 1994); Kim, Sangkeun, Strange Names of God: the Missionary Translation of the Divine Name and the Chinese Responses to Matteo Ricci's “Shangti” in Late Ming China, 1583–1644 (New York, 2005).

13 See: Thomas H. Reilly, “The Shang-ti Hui and the Transformation of Chinese Popular Society: the Impact of Taiping Christian Sectarianism” (unpublished PhD Thesis of University of Washington, 1997), pp. 117–122, concerned how Morrison used the terms from Basset's version, especially ‘God’, ‘Holy Spirit’ and ‘angels’.

14 For the controversy of Chinese ‘Term Question’ among the Protestant missionaries, see: Williams, Samuel Wells, “The Controversy among the Protestant Missionaries on the Proper Translation of the Words God and Spirit into Chinese” in Bibliotheca Sacra, XXXV (Oct., 1878), pp. 732778; Lillegard, George O., The Chinese Term Question: An Analysis of the Problem and Historical Sketch of the Controversy (Shanghai, 1935); Sheppard, G. W., “The Problem of Translating ‘God’ into Chinese” in The Bible Translator 6.1 (Jan., 1955), pp. 2330; Spelman, Douglas G., “Christianity in Chinese: The Protestant Term Question” in Papers on China (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University East Asian Center) 22a (1969), pp. 2552; Zetzsche, Jost O., “Tianzhu, Shangdi oder Shen? Zur Entstehung der christlichen chinesischen Terminologie,” in Chun (Chinesischunterricht) 13 (1997), pp. 2334; Irene Eber “The Interminable Term Question” The Bible in Modern China, pp. 135–161.

15 For the questionnaire and discussion between the missionaries in this time, see: Zetzsche, The Bible in China, pp. 87–90.

16 The dispute over the different Protestant translations of the word “baptizō” had a long-lasting impact on the history of Bible translation in Asian and Chinese languages. See: Zetzsche, JostThe Other Term Question: the Translation of βαπτίζω and its Effects on the Protestant Mission in China” in Jian Dao 30 (2008), pp. 129142; Clement Tsz Ming Tong “The Protestant Missionaries as Bible Translators: Mission and Rivalry in China, 1807–1839” (unpublished Ph.D. thesis of University of British Columbia, July 2016), Ch.5.2.

17 William Canton mentioned that the translation of the word ‘baptizō’ and the Chinese rendering of the name of God, were “two crucial points” in the translation process of DV. See: Canton, William, A History of the British and Foreign Bible Society (London, 1904, 1910), Vol.2, p. 396.

18 Martin Luther, Small Catechism, par. 244, p. 170.

19 Morrison, Robert, A Dictionary of the Chinese Language (Shanghai, 1865 [reprint]), p. 212.

20 For the arguments between American Bible Society and American Baptist Mission on this topic, see: Armitage, Thomas, A History of the Baptists: traced by their Vital Principles and Practices: from the Time of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ to the Year 1886 (New York, 1887), pp. 893918.

21 See: American and Foreign Bible Society, Proceedings of the Bible Convention: which met in Philadelphia, April 26, 27, 28, and 29, 1837, together with the report of the Board of Managers of the American and Foreign Bible Society, embracing the period of its provisional organization (New York, 1837), pp. 47–50, focused on the translation of Bible in China.

22 Wyckoff, W. H., The American Bible Society and the Baptists; or, the Question discussed, shall the Whole Word of God be given to the Heathen? (New York, 1841), p. 170, printed a chart to present the translation of ‘baptizō’ in different languages.

23 As the America and Foreign Bible Society could not revise the translation of ‘baptizō’, according to the Baptists’ understanding, the Baptists set up another organization American Bible Union (ABU). The ABU was not a Baptist organization, but its leaders and members were mostly Baptists. For the history of ABU, see: Armitage, A History of the Baptists, 912ff.

24 Quoted from The Tenth Annual Report of the America and Foreign Bible Society; Presented at New-York, May 11, 1847 (New York, 1847), p. 23.

25 For the life and Bible translation of William Dean, see Chan, Chung-Yan Joyce, William Dean and the First Chinese Study Bible (Macon, Georgia, 2014).

26 For the photo of this edition, see: Figure 2.

27 For the photo of this edition, see: Figure 3.

28 For the life and works of Josiah Goddard, see: Sprague, William B., Annals of the American Baptist Pulpit (New York, 1860), pp. 831834.

29 See: The Chinese Repository 1847 (Canton), p. 208.

30 Edward C. Lord was an American Baptist missionary who came to China in 1847. For the life and works of Edward C. Lord, see: Wylie, Memorials of Protestant Missionaries to the Chinese, pp. 163–164.

31 See: Mak, George Kam Wah, “To Add or not to Add? The British and Foreign Bible Society's Defence of the ‘Without Note or Comment’ Principle in Late Qing China”, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, Series 3, 25, 2 (2015), pp. 329354.

32 For the photo of this edition, see: Figure 4.

33 For the life and works of Thomas H. Hudson, see: Wylie, Memorials of Protestant Missionaries to the Chinese, pp. 152–154. For his view on Bible translation, see: Hudson, T. H., Important Considerations Relative to English Translations: In Reply to the Proposal for a New Version of the Sacred Scriptures (Shanghai, 1866).

34 For the photo of this edition, see: Figure 5.

35 For the photo of this edition, see: Figure 6.

36 This commentary in 1860 only recorded in Wylie, Memorials of Protestant Missionaries to the Chinese, pp. 240–241.

37 For the history of the CUV, see: Zetzsche, The Bible in China; “The Work of Lifetimes: Why the Union Version Took Nearly Three Decades to Complete”, The Bible in Modern China, pp. 77–100.

38 See: Zetzsche, The Bible in China, p. 238.

39 Quoted in “Letter from Hykes (on behalf of the ABS) and Bonfield (on behalf of the BFBS and NBSS) to Chambers of July 16, 1908”. See: Zetzsche, The Bible in China, p. 240.

40 However, critical comments on the CUV still appeared from time to time. Some commented that the style of the CUV was poor for the following reasons: 1. The literary and the colloquial elements were put together in an unharmonious way; 2. Many translated words were used in an awkward manner. See: Ku, Tun-Jou, “Notes on the Chinese Version of the BibleThe Bible Translator 8.4 (October 1957), pp. 160165.

41 See: Hong, Joseph, “Revision of the Chinese Union Version Bible (CUV): Assessing the challenges from an historical perspectiveThe Bible Translator, 53:2 (April 2002), pp. 238248.

42 See: “Appendix: Overview of Protestant Chinese Bible in Common Languages and Local Dialects” at the end of this paper.

43 For the Bible editions in Shanghai colloquial, see: Choi, Shèng Jīng Zài Zhōng Guó (Bible in China), pp. 432–444.

44 For the photo of this edition, see: Figure 7.

45 For the Bible editions in Ningpo colloquial, see: Choi, Shèng Jīng Zài Zhōng Guó (Bible in China), pp. 445–454.

46 For the photo of the Gospel of John by Horace Jenkins in 1897, see: Figure 8.

47 For the Bible editions in Kinhwa colloquial, see: Choi, Shèng Jīng Zài Zhōng Guó (Bible in China), p. 455.

48 For the photo of the Gospel of John by Horace Jenkins in 1866, see Figure 9.

49 For the Bible editions in Cantonese, see: Choi, Shèng Jīng Zài Zhōng Guó (Bible in China), pp. 516–533.

50 For the Bible editions in Swatow colloquial, see: Choi, Shèng Jīng Zài Zhōng Guó (Bible in China), pp. 534–547.

51 For the photo of this edition, see: Figure 10.

52 For the Bible editions in Hakka colloquial, see: Choi, Shèng Jīng Zài Zhōng Guó (Bible in China), pp. 503–515.

53 For the Bible editions in Kiaotung dialect, see: Choi, Shèng Jīng Zài Zhōng Guó (Bible in China), pp. 429–430.

54 For the photo of this edition, see: Figure 11.

55 Quoted from John Gibson, “Review of the Various Colloquial Versions and the Comparative advantages of Roman Letters and Chinese Characters” Records of the General Conference of the Protestant Missionaries of China, Held at Shanghai, May 2–20, 1890 (Shanghai, 1890), pp. 62–63.

56 Here only record the earliest editions of Bible which mainly translated by the Baptist missionaries.

Keywords

The Baptist Endeavours in Biblical Translation in China before the Chinese Union Version

  • DANIEL KAM-TO CHOI (a1)

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