While the task of preserving God’s words is in no wise difficult for God, it can be the source of much debate and doubt for we dear souls on earth. For those who believe the Peking Bible is merely better than the current Union Bible, but by no means reliable or complete, they still must, on the grounds of common sense, consider the Peking Bible. For these inquisitive souls, we have prepared several articles that should help them to understand some of the pertinent topics that surround this Bible. For those who believe this Bible is in fact God’s preserved Word in Chinese, these articles should serve as ammunition in the arsenal of the Bible-believer.
What is the Peking Committee Bible?
The Peking Committee Bible is a Bible that was translated by five missionaries and their Chinese co-laborers at the close of the 19th Century. Although this Bible received wide acceptance for 40 years, due to China's social unrest, the dishonesty of the now widespread Union Bible, currently printed by the government, and Communism's success in China for the past 60 years, she fell outside of China's mainstream Christianity and was soon forgotten. This was in part due to the fact that Christianity in China, until recently, has simply tried to keep its head above water by staying alive, not taking much thought as to what Bible was correct, or if there was even a better Bible than the one they currently used. So thoroughly was the issue construed that many missionaries to date, still believe the only reliable translation ever made was back when everyone spoke classical Chinese. When I arrived in China in 2007, every missionary I spoke with, without exception, felt the only Bible that was acceptable was done by Robert Morrison. What the majority of them did not know, is that Morrison's Bible was incomplete, written in classical Chinese, which is not understood by the common man today, and has been out of circulation for nearly 200 years. Within my first year in China, I purchased a book called "The Apostle of China,” a biography about a man named Samuel Schereschewsky. He was renowned for his Chinese language ability and apparently took part in a translation of the Chinese Bible in the common man's Mandarin. Immediately I took interest in this man. In the end, I purchased over 40 books about Schereschewsky and his fellow committee members who translated the first Bible in common man's Chinese. Because their work was the only Bible available in the late 19th century, much like the Authorized Version of England, they could not foresee the need to call their translation a particular version, so they just called it "The Old and New Testament Bible.” When I stumbled upon, or rather was led by the Holy Ghost to look into this version and possibly reprint it, I coined a name for the Bible that I was growing more and more acquainted with - The Peking Committee Bible. In Chinese it is called the Jing Wei Ben Bible. From 2007 to 2011, when we were first able to reprint their work, the Lord taught me much about the Chinese they used, and about their attitude toward translation and the Chinese mindset and how it relates to translation. Despite the pressure from many co-laborers to update, change, “tweak," or translate our own version, I chose only to take the old calligraphic style characters and input them as commonly understood characters used by all of Mainland today. One must realize that this is not updating, changing, or taking liberty with the text, it literally is the equivalent of someone choosing “Times New Roman” for a font, as opposed to “Edwardian.” In 2011, the work was complete; it had taken 4 years to accomplish. From 2011 to 2014, we scoured the work for any typographical errors we may have created while inputing the text. During this time, I wrote introductions to each book of the Bible in Chinese, as well as sub-heads to facilitate the study and comprehension of the book, and also created 5 full-page maps to accompany the Bible. A member of our church helped me to edit and translate when necessary what I had written in Chinese. By the end of 2014, we printed the Peking Committee Bible a second time. By this time, interest had picked up concerning this Bible. Some were still making the mistake of thinking this Bible was in Classical Chinese or somehow was a re-translation of an old Bible. To date, and to our knowledge, no one else has brought back into print the Peking Committee Bible. Some historical societies and colleges have printed various portions in facsimile form for reference, but no care has been given to distribute as an option for use in churches. When Frontier Baptist Church sent me out as a missionary, they decided this Bible was worth our time and energy and invested their man and their money into the completion of this task. While our prayer is that this Bible will be widely used and regain its rightful position as the only trustworthy Bible in China, we must state that our goals are not to change or update this work. It is innocent until proven guilty and we do not support nor have we co-labored with any who would claim it was their translation or that they reintroduced the Peking Bible to China. The very name by which reference has been made to this volume was our creation and we hope that it will convey to all, our desire to preserve the original committee's work and resurrect this aged treasure.
The Situation of the Bible in China
China, the land of a million different explanations as to the actual situation. No doubt, this is unintentional, and there are several contributing factors as to why an accurate assessment is so elusive. First of all, China is a large place, geographically as well as its population demographics. Just as the local government of Oklahoma will not resemble that of Massachusetts, Beijing may be entirely different than Kunming. As for the people, the general moniker "The Chinese" is a little bit of a generalization as the Chinese as a whole are made up of 54 different minorities with the core "Han" Chinese accounting for the majority. They are economically and socially diverse with some poor and others quite affluent, some traditional and some, more and more, very modern. The second factor in a misunderstanding of China and her spiritual condition is ignorance. Many of our conflicting reports come from a lack of interaction in Chinese society. For instance, the average "correspondent" is getting their information from a watered down source, like a foreign news agency or a clique of expatiates and their limited understanding of China. While a century ago it was commonplace that the Chinese missionary spoke good Chinese and was fully capable of reading and writing Chinese, today things are much different with less than 25% of missionaries actually being able to effectively communicate and an embarrassingly smaller number able to read intelligibly without the aid of phonetic guide. This, therefore, narrows the field of understanding for the average missionary. All of a sudden, the few Chinese people in his church become his only avenue of information. If the people say, "The Bible situation is fantastic,” he believes it to be fantastic; if the people say a Bible is no good, he believes it to be so. Of course the retort is, "The Chinese ought to know,” yet we must be ever mindful that the average person without the guide of a Bible or a solid church, does not know what is good for him or his people. Also, the Chinese themselves are somewhat in the dark. This is hard for the average Westerner to grasp, but it is true nevertheless. Today, if there were no internet to inform us otherwise, Mao Ze Dong was a great lover of the people, the Taiping Rebellion was strictly political, and Tiananmen ended peacefully, as that is what could be gathered from the current high school history books. Therefore we see, unlike western culture, not everyone is informed and in the know as to what the actual situation is in China. In fact, even in the West, if we are going off of popular opinion, then the King James would be considered far too archaic to actually be used in a church service. While some may complain that I have abolished all sources of information, that is not quite true. There are several factors that can be considered when assessing the spiritual situation of any country. One may observe history, in other words how have people as a whole responded through the years? One can also investigate the health and situation of the church in any given country. In the case of China, if the current Bible was doing so well, it would take quite a bit of explanation to ignore the current coupling of state and church, the loose doctrine in 98% of house churches, and the overall anemic understanding of true salvation that permeates. Yet another aspect would be viewing the fruit produced by a Bible or church, or more generally, a particular religion. Is the current church and Bible situation in China producing independent, Bible believing churches? Is it producing fruit that thrives from a good root in the land? Or is it merely a transplant from another, more spiritually sound land? I dare not presume to speak for all of China, I can only speak from these few angles.
Historically, we know that all early translations in China, with the exception of the Union Bible, which is currently printed and produced by the Communist Government, were translated from the same manuscripts that underly the King James (Masoretic and Textus Receptus Texts). The Union Bible was the first Bible to be translated from a Vaticanus and Sanaiticus translation, namely, the Revised Standard Version in English. As for its acceptance, we know that the Peking Bible was the predominant Bible in China from 1872 - 1919 until the Union Bible emerged. Even after this, the Peking Bible continued to sell well until the Bible societies ceased to fund any printings of the Peking Bible and chose to ally with a Wescott and Hort translation - specifically the Union Bible. Of course with the social unrest of the May 5th Movement in 1911 and the continual political unrest that ensued and continued all the way until the establishment of Communism in 1949, the Bible was lost in the mix as Christianity was vehemently opposed. By the time the Cultural Revolution hit China, there was not much left of any Bible, save the one continually printed by the societies, which by this time was the Union Version. In a move to appease the Christians who survived China's anti-Christian years, the government took over the organization of the Church as well as production of the Bible. To this day, the government is responsible for updating, printing, and correcting the Union Bible. If that doesn't cause the average Christian to lose sleep at night, I don't know what will. Today, the situation is quite bleak, for not only does the organized church have no clue that there was a Bible that was a true treasure and gave strength to the thousands who died during the Boxer Rebellion, but they also are unaware that the Union copied 80% of its content from the Peking Bible, only adjusting where Wescott and Hort thought the Bible was in error. This is crucial for understanding the situation in China. The Missionary must realize that any preference the Chinaman has for the Union Bible cannot be based upon its superiority to the Peking Bible, for it is nothing more than a Peking Bible tweaked to error, but must be solely the result of habit and general acceptability by the "people" as a whole.
Societally speaking, we must consider China's current situation. For whatever reason there is a general consensus among foreign missionaries that the Christians are the ones to determine the authenticity of the Bible in their language. Already, some may be offended that I would call into question what the "church" thinks as being invalid, however, we must think sensibly about this. The proof of the King James Bible being the correct Bible does not have as much to do with public opinion as one might think, not in the past, nor today. The King James was not immediately accepted en masse, in fact, it took nearly 40 years for it to take a firm hold on the church of God. Today, we are seeing a reverse phenomenon, modern society thinks she is now too old. So, do we judge a Bible upon popular opinion? I sure won't! Because of missionary-codependency upon those to whom he ministers, he will always timidly watch what the crowd says or does before he will state it is correct; this is entirely incorrect. We must not ever forget that the government and house church Christians in China are the product of 75 years of a perverse Bible's teachings. Their concept of God, the church, Jesus Christ, the Bible, morals, and countless other vital doctrines, have been shaped by the Union Bible. While God is fully able to secure a remnant even in the midst of such conditions, He in no wise will use such conditions to define the truth. This should be abundantly clear in the examples of Acts 19 and the story of Apollos. Both stories teach us that the people had received poor teaching, and while what little truth they did have was usable by God, He required they be corrected in measure by His eternal words. So as we take into account Chinese society and assess its spiritual temperature, we must never forget that the only thermometer is God's perfect words. The church in China as a whole is ambivalent toward the Union Bible and its production, corrections, and updates. For those who have sacrificed much to have one, or to stand on its principles, they no doubt would embrace a correct Bible, free of the government who made them sacrifice, and its tampering with the text. You see, the argument that there are Christians in China who love the Union Bible and have suffered for having it, who would oppose the Peking Bible, is baseless. For any true Christian who suffered at the hands of the government, upon finding out the Bible they love is updated by that government, and was actually plagiarized from the first Bible in Mandarin would accept it. If by chance, there is a small remnant, however minuscule, that actually loved the Union Bible for its superiority to the Peking Bible, God, no doubt, will bless them for their blind faith. You see if we judged the King James off of the same criterion with which we are judging the Peking Bible, then we would throw her out, because Christianity as a whole thinks she is too old and archaic. To reiterate the point here, we must remember, just because society has accepted or backed a Bible does not determine its purity.
Summarizing, the situation of the Bible in China is simple. The communist endorsed Union Bible is printed freely by the government and used by the state church. The Union Bible was a plagiarized version of the Peking Bible, brought up to snuff by a Wescott and Hort English translation. The Union Bible has not produced any traceable form of New Testament Christianity that has actually lasted. Do not mistake that to mean no one has been saved or churches have not been established, it means what it says, there is no traceable, enduring example of New Testament Christianity that we can pattern after, thus the continual need for missions work. If someone can find a Bible-believing, New Testament doctrine-believing church in China that has done it all from a Union Bible, without any aid of an English King James or a missionary teaching Bible theology in the background, then you have found the exception. As for the Chinese mindset toward their Union Bible, the majority of Christians today believe it has errors and should be redone, more and more have not even read through it once, most do not realize the government is responsible for its publication and are definitely unaware of its source. So, do we need a reliable Bible in China? I believe the answer is quite evident.
The Name for God
If you have heard of the Peking Committee Bible, you have no doubt heard of the "controversy" that surrounds it. While it should hardly qualify as a controversy, it would seem the average Baptist's threshold for what constitutes heresy and controversy is pretty low. In a nut shell, the Peking Bible represents one side of a threefold early 20th Century controversy about the name to use for God. This debate has existed in different cultures at different times, and can become quite heated as what we call God, or rather, who we understand God to be, is a very important issue. The Peking Bible translated the Hebrew Elohim and the Greek Theos as "Lord of Heaven.” Of course at face value, it is hard to see what all the hubbub is about, however, once we are informed that the Catholic church is called "The Church of the Lord of Heaven,” our feathers become ruffled. The debate actually predates any of the modern day associations with any denomination, today, we are simply beholding the outcome of the debate. The earliest Jesuit, Franciscan, and Dominican missionaries were the first to come face to face with this issue. The earliest missionaries to come to China, the Nestorians, were somewhat ignorant of it. So as not to bog down the reader with all the nitty gritty details, we will give an overview of the three terms being debated. By no means do we wish to ignore good research; we have, however, after reading well over 100 articles on the topic, found that no new views are being brought to the table, they can only regurgitate what James Legge said, or follow the currently available material in Hong Kong and Taiwan. Ironic as it may be, we find that the term in question used by this Bible has little information available at all, which may in fact be its strong point. Here are some facts to consider. The earliest and first term to be adopted by missionaries was the term "High Emperor" (please forgive the "rough" translation, there are about as many translations of this word as there are days in the month). In Chinese history, the "Son of Heaven" was called this term as he was said to be deity on earth. As in many ancient cultures, this one supreme god seemed to share similar attributes to the idea of Elohim, or God in our language. Therefore, it was utilized by all branches of Catholic missionaries. This is vital to understand, for the number one argument against the term the Peking Bible used, is that the Catholics use it too, however, the favored term by the house church Christians (High Emperor) was also utilized by Catholic missionaries who had a history of mixing pagan deities with those revered by Rome. A famous, and apparently "thinking" missionary, Matteo Ricci, decided that another term, specifically, the Lord of Heaven, granted God the exclusivity that he needed to separate Himself from the ancestor-worshiping Confucian's false god. Ironically, he simply fostered the idea that the two terms (Tian Zhu and Shang Di) were the same anyhow, and only needed to be united so as to create harmony among Confucian ideology and Christian doctrine. As can be expected, a debate ensued. Not between Protestants and Catholics, but rather Catholics with Catholics, the majority feeling that the best way to evangelize is to adopt the local people’s understanding of deity, however insufficient it may be. The pope laid the debate to rest by decreeing that only the term "Lord of Heaven" be used. What is quite humorous is that the liberal and historically quite tolerant monks of the 17th century rejected a term that “conservative Christians” think is acceptable, namely “Shang Di.” This decision resulted in the Catholic church's stagnation and ultimate ousting from China. This is important to note, for it was over belief in who God is that the pagan Chinese Emperor of the day banned Catholic mission work. Shortly thereafter, Protestant missions took hold in China. Joshua Marshman and Robert Morrison translated the Scriptures into Chinese and both chose to use a new and general term to address God, namely “Shen.” This term is the equivalent of our word "gods" and means anything from the adjective “mysterious” to the idea of “mythological fairies.” The term was embraced by Bible literalists and foreigners especially as it seemed to match the verbal accuracy of the King James. Of course, whether using the term "High Emporor" or “gods,” the ever existent problem of ancestor worship in China, would not go away. Morrison complained that many seemed inseparable from their pagan practice, and with his choice of "gods" for the appellation of Jehovah, came no exemption. By the time the Peking Committee made known their plans for translation work in the late 1860s, the debate was still alive and unresolved. On one hand, they were told by local Christians that they should use the term always used by the Chinese to address heaven, and on the other hand they were told by the missionaries to use a generalized, somewhat pantheistic, term. The committee decided to revisit the old term “Lord of Heaven.” They were convinced that while Catholics did indeed agree on this term, at least they were enjoying the benefit of their converts turning completely on former pagan ancestor worship and becoming converts. They also realized the term was both general and specific, unlike High Emperor which was always associated with the Jade Emperor of Chinese history. They also realized that the term, while being associated with Catholics, was much better than associating with pantheism, Taoism, Confucianism, or ancestor worship. Lastly, the men all agreed that the only term that engendered compromise and agreement from both sides of the debate was the term Lord of Heaven. Apparently, Protestantism's hate for Catholicism trumped their desire for accuracy. Even though the Peking Bible sold more copies that used "the Lord of Heaven" in Mainland China, the Bible societies refused to concede. So evident was the distaste for all things Catholic by the protestant missionaries, that when the Union Bible was translated, even though it was using the same manuscripts as the Catholic Church, they refused to do an edition with the term Lord of Heaven.
Today, the debate is far from over, especially with the reemergence of the Peking Bible. The situation as it stands is this. The house church movement and majority of Chinese Christians prefer "High Emperor,” however, they tolerate their foreign missionary friend’s preference for “gods." Many of the foreign missionaries feel High Emperor seems too close to Chinese pagan views toward deity, yet ignore it because, "the Chinese are the final authority on what to call God anyway." As for the term Lord of Heaven, the Catholic church by papal mandate says they only use it, however, local priests and believers define this Lord of Heaven as the High Emperor so as to “win” more converts - ironic, isn't it? The Peking Bible Committee decided that even if the Catholics used similar terms such as Bishop, Presbyter, Baptism, and wine in their unscriptural practices, it in no wise affected the correctness of the term itself. We should think long and hard about this. If your only reason for rejecting the term Lord of Heaven is that you fear association with Catholicism, why then do you not reject the other terms on the same grounds of fearing association with taoism and pantheism?
Why the Peking Bible?
In the 21st century, there seems to be the predominant attitude that everything can be done better than anything else that has been done before. While this may be true, I often wonder why, with abilities to do twice as much as the missionaries of 100 years ago, we in fact, only do half as much. As it pertains to translation, many past Bible translations have suffered at the hands of self-proclaimed scholars, who mean well, in thinking they can update all Bibles to their understanding of the English text, but fail miserably in their ability to perceive whether a text is good in the target language or not. When we came upon the Peking Committee Bible, it had been somewhat forgotten, and most missionaries were convinced that the very first translation attempts of the early 1820s, Marshman and Morrison's particularly, were the best texts, even though they were in Classical Chinese, which is further removed from modern day Chinese than Saxon brogue from modern day English. When the Lord brought to our attention the Guan Hua Bible (Guan hua means "court language" in Chinese, the term “Peking Bible” we coined to give the Bible some exclusivity from other versions of the day), we felt it our honor to preserve it as is without making any changes whatsoever. Of course, as one Brother told us, "this is just an exercise in preserving culture, and not the words of God,” however, we were glad to count ourselves worthy to preserve what was both a culturally phenomenal work, as well as the best preservation of God's words in modern day China. Upon discovering this old treasure (first printed in 1872), we determined, despite the strong desire of the brethren to change the "archaic" place names, and make it more like a "Greek Bible" or "English Bible" depending upon their self-proclaimed proficiency, we endeavored to exclude ourselves from the never-ending task of updating God's words. Some, in this modern day, seem to feel the need to leave a legacy, and the Scriptures have fallen subject to their "loving to have the preeminence" when they decide to pass judgment on already translated Bibles. As we do not speak German or Spanish, we can not speak with any great authority on these languages, however we have noted that today, many who will not even gain a proficiency in a language, tend to be the worst critics. We have also noticed that, if Martin Luther's Bible in German, or one of the earliest Spanish Bibles is still placed under the scrutinizing eye of missionaries today, there is no doubt any Bible we translated would fall under the all seeing eye of the Bible intelligentsia. Our work has simply been a work of reintroduction and belief. We believe God is able to preserve His work in any language, at any time, and in any fashion, whether we like it or not.
How was the Peking Bible Accepted?
At the close of the 17th Century, China had just endured yet another unstable societal shift. This disruptive event was known as the Taiping Rebellion. A loose form of Christianity had taken hold in the mind of a charismatic fanatical leader named Hong Xiu Quan, the irony come in the fact that he was “helped” along by a Baptist Missionary. One war after the next, China seemed to be unable to escape the unrest that really began with the collapse of the Feudal system. So unsettled was Chinese society, that no scholar or surf could have ever imagined the common man's street language (guan hua - the court language of the day) would take center stage and later become the dialect spoken by all of China. Ever since the upheaval of the Chinese feudal system, there was nothing but riot after riot, war after war. The Taiping Rebellion underscores the political and religious situation of the day. This was only the beginning of sorrows for China, for just around the corner was the Boxer Rebellion, the Opium Wars, the May 5th Movement, and the most horrific of all, the establishment of Communism by Chairman Mao.
The overall mood toward Christianity in China has been a constant pendulum swing of love and hate. At the first, what the Chinese considered to be a strange and interesting new doctrine, was for the most part accepted by the masses; however, because of the natural clashing of culture and Bible teaching, the powers that be, in the end would expel Christianity for its stand against ancestor worship, feet binding, and particular pagan holidays. All translation attempts from the earliest classical editions to the later literary editions had to tip-toe through waste deep cultural taboos just to produce something that would not create the next upheaval. This, of course, is best manifest by the Tai Ping Rebellion fiasco where Hong Xiu Quan claimed to be Jesus' brother and was sent to establish the Kingdom of God in China. By the time the Peking Bible made its appearance in 1872, not much time had passed since the mayhem that followed that particular rebellion. This is all very noteworthy when viewed in light of the current trend of Christianity and its native form in China. See, the Taiping rebellion was a full-blown attempt at total assimilation of foreign faith in a foreign land. Hong’s platform by which he garnered a massive amount of rebels who followed him in the bloodshed that marks this period, was claiming that belief in God had always been present in Chinese society. Hong felt that China, evidenced by the Chinese belief in Shang Di (High Emperor), knew all about God early on and merely needed to return to its former roots. He believed that the Emperors of yesteryear hijacked the title of God Almighty, and it was up to them to seize it back. We must not forget that China had already successfully assimilated Indian Buddhism into their culture, creating their own strain of it; they had done the same with Islam and several other ideologies. The speciality if you will, of China is its ability to transform foreign concepts into a Chinese version of it; if you don’t believe this then try explaining what economists are calling “Communistic Capitalism.” Hong merely did what so many have done before, and what so many are doing now, he reinterpreted a foreign idea into a Chinese context. This should not surprise us, with the innate knowledge of being one of the oldest continuous civilizations, there was no other way to accept these “Johnny come lately” ideas. There was, and still is a necessity in the average Chinaman’s mind for all ideas to be Chinese at their root. This mindset is exactly the opposite of what the average westerner is thinking. Especially in the case of Americans, we see they are used to being the “youngest nation” and have no problem accepting that the compass, gunpowder and navigation were all borrowed inventions from China. With China this is not always the case. If there was a single God that created all, He surely was in China, too, and most likely made His first inaugural appearance there. The idea of Shang Di in Chinese culture being the same as the Bible, granted a certain amount of pride and nationalism, the only problem was that Shang Di was a specific deity and it appeared in Chinese culture many years before any special revelation was given to men like Abraham and Jacob. So the term was grandfathered in because it “seemed” like a general reference to Elohim and Theos, with one great difference, Shang Di has never been a general reference to “gods,” it has always been specific. Hong’s uprising came at just the right time, as the Catholic church had been banned from China, and a Bible just came out that exclusively used Shang Di, so the natural outcome was a fully assimilated rendition of Christianity. What does all of this have to do with the Peking Bible and its acceptance? We see that true Chinese Christianity was in desperate need of a final authority. Let us review each Bible and what it produced, shall we?
Morrison and Marshman’s Bible translations, while done well and faithful to the original manuscripts, produced very little fruit and were not respected by the intelligentsia of the day. Shortly thereafter, others felt the need to translate better versions, including Morrison’s own son.
Gutzlaff’s version could be said to be the primary source for Hong Xiu Quan’s cultic beliefs. The main product was a highly nationalistic following that was more interested in revolt than revival.
Goddard’s version never received very much reception as the target crowd was the intelligentsia, which, as Christ so eloquently told us, had better odds passing through the eye of a needle on camel’s back, than they would trusting God’s words.
The Delagate’s Version was the fruit of a split of a split of a split of Bible translators whose work was about as short lived as each respective split.
Now we come to the Peking Committee Bible. What stands out about this translation is that they were not organized by anyone but themselves to do the work, and they never fought over how to translate. Their translation was used for 40 years, and was the last words muttered on the lips of the suffering Christians of the Boxer Rebellion. It was the seed which caused revivals in Southern China and was the standard upon which all other later versions would be based and compared.
The Union Bible came along in 1919 and was only successful as far as they could hoodwink believers into thinking it was the same as the Peking Bible, only updated…let’s see, where have we seen that tactic used today? What they did not tell the Chinese Christians was that they had continual inward fighting, the committee disbanded several times, they used Alexandrian manuscripts, they nipped and tucked with an English Revised version, they stole from the Peking Bible what they themselves couldn't understand, and adjusted where one man, namely Mateer, thought necessary. While we may argue that the survival of Christianity from the 1920s to the 1980s in China was the product of the Union Bible, I would disagree and say it was only because the Union Bible was 80% a Peking Bible. The facts are that the Union Bible, which has had sole authority in China for nearly 100 years, has produced Christianity that allowed the government to update and print their Bible, agreed to a state run church, and today has very little resemblance to Biblical New Testament Christianity. Wherever you find the exception to this, you find foreign missionary influence and usually a King James Bible, but that is beside the point. For those who would contend that the Union Bible helped fuel the house church movement which opposes the government, it is needful we bear in mind that the house church movement in general is also responsible for over 100 cults birthed out of it, a skewed view on God’s gender, and little awareness of the importance of the Word of God. Once again, I must qualify myself as some will surely find the exception! Remember, while Baptists throughout the ages have nearly been extinct at various historical times, they were always definable by their unchanging doctrines. In the case of China, if you have found the exception to what I have said, you will not find it in pure doctrine, but rather in heart-rending stories of someone suffering in jail for a strong faith! Putting it much simpler, we find that the Chinese church as a whole (I mean indigenous products of a Bible’s teachings) is biblically ignorant, and believes the Bible can be improved upon.
So we return to the question, was the Peking Committee Bible accepted well? The answer is “certainly.” Like the King James, all subsequent translations compared themselves to the translation work done by Schereschewsky (the man who did majority of the translation work in the Old Testament). The Union Bible was laughed at for being too literal, unclear, and overly foreign. One might ask, “If it was done so poorly, why has it survived and is the sole Bible used by Christians?” That is easy, you see, when you are running for your life, your government is slaughtering Christians, and the Bible you are using was purposefully playing chameleon to a Bible that produced real fruit, you would have no choice but to miss the “slight of hand” used by the Devil. Even today, since the reemergence of the Peking Committee Bible, many educated and uneducated Christians agree, it is a beautiful Chinese Translation.
The Men Who Translated the Peking Committee Bible
While God is fully able to use an uneducated plebeian to preserve His words (Prov. 30:3) and feels no pressure whatsoever to have the endorsement of educated individuals involvement in the process, He still may use such credentials to calm the fears of the skittish Christian. In the case of the Peking Committee, it is worth noting and considering the qualifications and suitability to the task of each of the men. This is in direct juxtaposition to the under-qualified “scholars” of the Union Bible. So, briefly, let us get an overview of the men who produced the Peking Bible.
Samuel Joseph Isaac Schereschewsky
One cannot mention the Peking Bible without the name Schereschewsky also being mentioned. So involved was this man with various translations of the Bible (One in higher Chinese, one in Lower Chinese and one in the common vernacular), that the title page to several editions calls to our attention that it was he who did the work, later even being referred to as “Schereschewsky’s Translation.” This is quite a testimony to the man’s abilities. He was Hebrew by birth and very suited for the task. Because of His studies in a Rabbinical school in Zhitomir, he was well aquatinted with the Old Testament, and particularly their interpretation via invested hours scouring the likes of Rashi’s commentaries and various other notable translation works. The man was a linguistic genius able to converse in several languages with great ease, proving his mastery of Chinese by being able to digest the Classics after only two years in China. His mental capacity as well as will power were phenomenal, possessing unbelievable powers of concentration. Even in the event of a stroke that left his entire body paralyzed, save his wrist movement and two fingers, he painstakingly persevered in a Bible revision and fresh translation of a Chinese Bible. One glance at his Chinese Old Testament translation reveals two obvious facts: one, he was unbelievably familiar with the contextual meanings of Scripture, choosing to preserve the actual meaning rather than a pet doctrine popular at the time; two, he had an amazing command of the Chinese language. He implements idioms and sayings with ease. The majestic feel we have all grown to love in the King James is infused throughout the Chinese Bible narrative in Chinese. No doubt about it, Schereschewsky was a man fit for the task of translating God’s Word. He held the Hebrew Scriptures as being complete and from God, and therefore rejected the Septuagint and many other spurious manuscripts popular in his day.
Blodget, in his own right, was quite the linguist. While he may not have reached the literary proficiency that Schereschewsky had, he no doubt possessed an ability to communicate well in Chinese. He was said to speak as the natives did, and had no hindrance in preaching in their mother tongue. The man made a very intelligible and graceful argument in defense of the Peking Committee Bible’s use of the term Tian Zhu for God. In the midst of an era where tolerance was the last thing on everyone’s mind, Blodget tried to convince societies to either lighten up on one another concerning the debate, or agree on a term. Schereschewsky, in fact, was convinced by Blodget that Tian Zhu was the best rendering of the idea of God. Blodget had an early desire to translate the Bible, and even undertook it himself until he met with the other members of the Committee and began to cooperate with them in the Peking Committee Bible translation. His mastery of Chinese is evidenced by the numerous works he translated into Chinese, including a Hymnal and a Bible. Blodget had a thorough understanding of Chinese culture and wrote extensively on topics related to Chinese custom, particularly their tendency to idolatry. This made him quite qualified to explain the committee’s position concerning the term to be used for God. Blodget was the primary man in charge of the North China Mission.
Joseph Edkins was an accomplished author, tackling topics as difficult as Buddhism and Confucianism. For any acquainted with these Oriental religions, they immediately agree they are very intricate and at times confusing. Edkin’s Work on Chinese Buddhism and Confucianism is still the standard for English Speaking Academia. He contributed over 14 books during his missions work in China. The man was an extraordinary itinerate preacher. At a time when foreign activity was scrutinized and controlled by the government, Edkins preached nearly every day in the surrounding areas of Shanghai. While much less recognized than the famed Hudson Taylor, it was, in fact, Edkins, that most likely influenced Taylor in his decision to adopt Chinese dress and lifestyle. Adkins had been living among the Chinese and dressing like them long before Taylor decided to do it. Taylor and Edkins were close friends, with Taylor viewing Edkins as a mentor who took him all over the countryside preaching to the Chinese. Edkins was quite the adventurer for the cause of Christ. Upon one occasion, he ventured into the interior of China preaching the Gospel; this was in direct violation to the Treaty of Nanking, and during this trip he was arrested. Apparently he had a hunger for trouble, as later, he was one of the few missionaries allowed into the Tai Ping Rebels’ Heavenly Kingdom, where they were able to give out Bibles and attempt evangelizing. Whether it was confronting Buddhist priests or debating Taiping Rebels, Edkins was committed to the task. His fervency caused him to marry very late in life, eventually marrying a woman 20 years his younger. During the unrest of the Taiping Rebellion, Edkins even considered living among the rebels in order to evangelize them. Joseph Edkins would eventually outlive two wives and die while in the service of the Lord in 1905. Truly God handpicked this missionary man to be a part of providing His words to Chinese.
John S. Burdon
Just like his coworkers, Burdon was quite the workhorse. We catch a glimpse of his thorough understanding of Chinese culture and language when we read a letter of correspondence he wrote in defense of the term Tian Zhu in their translation. I would recommend every missionary read it before they pass judgment on the term supposedly being Catholic. Because of his fervor, he did much for the Lord, outliving three wives during his labors. Burdon also translated the Book of Common Prayer with Schereschewsky, and was one of the early contributors to translation work in Mandarin Chinese. While Burdon may not come across as being as impressive as the other four members, we realize that every one of these men had a command of Chinese, English, and the original languages that few others could compare with. In other words, the supposed problems we find in their translation were most likely not mistakes, but careful thought out choices. It is the epitome of arrogance to suppose our piddly 2 years of Chinese can compare with their understanding of this strange language. Burdon represents the bare minimum qualifications of the committee, and yet we find the average missionary today could not accomplish half of what he did, although we have the tools to do twice as much. That should be some food for thought.
William Martin is perhaps the most well-known of the translators. While he did not contribute as much as the other four men, there is no doubt his genius was manifest through his cooperation with the committee. Martin’s fame mostly comes from the Chinese realm as there are no educators in Chinese Academia who have not heard of this accomplished missionary. His Chinese level was so proficient that it could fool any who heard him into thinking he was native. Martin gained the attention of high officials and educated instructors everywhere. He was a prolific writer, and most certainly a controversial figure, as he did not view China through rose colored glasses. In past generations as well as today, many missionaries can be enamored with the Chinese way of life and lengthy history, ultimately romanticizing the weak Christianity through the ages, and many times deferring to them in all matters of translation. Martin was not such an one, he said it how he saw it, and for a long time, the Chinese government had many of his works banned in mainland. Martin became quite well known from his abilities in interpretation. He served as interpreter for many important official meetings. Martin was one of the few men to regularly publish materials in Chinese, no small feat. Today there are a handful of missionaries that can speak with proficiency, and even smaller amount that can read and write with ease, and perhaps a few or none that can author their own works in the language. Martin’s support of the translation team acts as evidence that the committee was not producing a “second rate” translation, or a “not very Chinese” translation. The committee that translated the Union Bible could not match the likes of Martin, and yet we never make claims that the Union Bible is not done well. This is proof that habit of use can make any book a “literary masterpiece.” Or as one author put it, that the Union Bible was on par with the King James in English for its influence - I think not.
Concluding, we must realize that the work these men did in translation not only served as a basis for all subsequent translations, including the Union Bible, but also set in stone the vocabulary that would be used by Christians. Today the legal world, the Medical world and the Religious world all bear marks from these men. They literally defined many foreign concepts and ideas into this most complex language. When we view the committee’s credentials in light of the lack of credentials from the Union Committee, we realize that God did a miracle in bringing these men together. One of the greatest travesties concerning this Bible is that the majority of attacks thrown against it are entirely unfounded and completely juvenile. They do not even warrant an answer most of the time. These facts should at least grant some tolerance:
- The committee unanimously agreed to use the same source manuscripts that underly the King James.
- The committee was attended by men who all spoke Chinese (Classical and Vernacular), understood Hebrew and Greek, and were fluent in English, which would have insured they were not ignorant of the common threats of the day, such as German Higher Criticism.
- Their work, unlike many other translations, was not criticized by native speakers, but was rather lauded as a literary masterpiece. The Chinese authors Ba Jin, Hu Shi, and Lu Xun, all refer to this Bible positively.
- Their work produced fruit during some of the most trying times, especially during the Boxer Rebellion.
- Their volume was honest, their footnotes always show any alternative translation, and never correct the manuscripts that underly their work.
Every one of these men died while at their posts in China. Unlike other committees, these men worked alongside their Chinese converts and fellow translators. They labored for China and its salvation. Their goal was to provide Scripture for the common man to hear, whereas Mateer said himself that the Union Bible had a goal of providing a scholarly reference edition for the learned.