The Gift of the Word in Mandarin, Eternal Light Shining


Commemoration of the Centenary of the Chinese Union Version Bible (和合本圣经)

Your word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path. Psalms 119:105

SHANGHAI, China – For the past 100 years, the Light has been shining on the paths of millions of Chinese who have read and heard God’s Word speaking to them in vernacular Mandarin language through the Chinese Union Version (CUV) Bible.

To mark the centenary of the much-cherished Bible version published in 1919 in Shanghai, the Church in China held a thanksgiving service and a symposium from 15-17 January 2019.

The thanksgiving service was conducted at Hongde Church, a 90-year-old church built with traditional Chinese architectural design, located in downtown Shanghai.

About 300 local church leaders, believers and invited guests attended the thanksgiving service amid the chill in Shanghai.

At the symposium were over 100 local church pastors and leaders, representatives from local seminaries, academia, government officials as well as friends and ministry partners from the United Bible Societies and member Societies including American Bible Society (ABS), British Bible Society (BFBS), Hong Kong Bible Society, Bible Society of Malaysia, Scottish Bible Society, Bible Society of Singapore and Bible Society in Taiwan.

Entitled “Contextualization and Indigenization of Christianity in China”, the symposium was co-organised by China Christian Council/ TSPM (CCC/TSPM) and the United Bible Societies (UBS).

It covered topics ranging from the history, translation, interpretation, study, and revision, to the cultural and societal impact of the CUV on China, presented by invited speakers from the Church in China, the Bible Societies and the academic circle.

CUV and the Church in China

In his opening speech at the symposium, Rev Wu Wei, President of CCC, said the CUV is God’s gift to the Chinese Church, a significant milestone in the development of Christianity in China, which aided the spread of the gospel. It is also an important landmark in the sinicization of Christianity in China. Through it, Chinese people have come to know God and believers have better understanding of their faith.

Indeed, since its publication, generations of Chinese people have had their lives saved and transformed as they read and heard the printed words across the pages of the CUV, drawing near to God who now drew near to them in their mother tongue.

Presentation of a gift, an enlarged replica of the 1919 CUV, by UBS to CCC/TSPM at the symposium. (L to R) Bishop John Chew, Rev Wu Wei, Rev Xu Xiaohong, Bishop Thomas Soo.

Recalling the less than favourable circumstances surrounding the translation of the CUV, Bishop John Chew, UBS China Partnership Honorary Consultant remarked, “Despite the situation in 1919, the CUV was published in China. It was a product of China. And this calls for thanksgiving! […] With the Amity Printing Company, the CUV has seen wider distribution and usage.”

Currently, more than 80 million copies of the CUV have been distributed in Mainland China since 1987, becoming the version that is most widely used by Chinese churches in China and the world over.

Responding to Bishop John Chew, Rev Xu Xiaohong, Chairman of the National TSPM said that the Church in China has enjoyed good relationship and partnership with UBS, as seen in the setting up of Amity Printing Company and the wide cooperation in various Bible ministries.

The Importance of Collaboration

The spirit of collaboration was also seen in the translation process of the CUV. The missionary Bible translators from different denominations and mission societies received incalculable help from their Chinese assistants as well as strong support from the ABS, BFBS and the National Bible Society of Scotland (known today as Scottish Bible Society, SBS).

Elaine Duncan, Chief Executive of Scottish Bible Society, highlighted the importance of collaboration in Bible ministry work.

Echoing the importance of cooperation, Elaine Duncan, Chief Executive of SBS speaking on behalf of the ABS, BFBS and SBS said, “The collaborative work that produced the CUV is also being repeated in many other contexts today. Giving people ‘the best possible Bible’ is never a work done alone. The many skills, gifts, knowledge and experience that go into good Bible translation are gifts from God himself to equip His church and build His Kingdom.”

Bishop Thomas Soo, Board Chairman of Hong Kong Bible Society, said that the CUV has led to “the knowledge of God, life transformation and the pursuit of Christ”. It gave meaning and purpose to lives. The CUV 2010 version (a revision of the CUV 1919 version) was another example of collaboration as HKBS worked with Biblical scholars and reviewers from Mainland China for its completion. He quoted from Bishop K.H. Ting emphasizing that “the Bible unites us”.

Contribution of the CUV to the Chinese Society

George Mak is also the author of the book, Protestant Bible Translation and Mandarin as the National Language of China, published in 2017.

Remarkably, the impact of the beloved Bible version went beyond the church walls. George Mak, Associate Professor of the Religion & Philosophy Department in Hong Kong Baptist University, posited at the symposium that the CUV contributed to the promotion of Mandarin as a national language in China. It coincided with the New Culture Movement* at that time which heralded a new era for China.

Indeed, Prof Zhao Xiaoyang Director of the Institute of Modern History in the Chinese Academy of Social Science highlighted that the impact of CUV on the Chinese society can be seen in how a number of phrases and idioms from the Bible version have been incorporated into daily usage by people. For example, gospel (福音), baptism (洗礼), an eye for and eye a tooth for a tooth (以眼还眼,以牙还牙), etc.

Highlighting the cultural impact of the CUV, Prof Xu Yihua, Counselor of Shanghai Municipal People’s Government and Director of Department of International Politics of Fudan University pointed out that it is more than a masterpiece for the Chinese Church. In fact, the CUV can be seen as the greatest gift from Christianity to the Chinese culture.

Inculturation of Christianity in China 

Looking ahead, how does the Church in China continue to inculturate Christianity in China? What is the role of the Bible and future revision of the CUV in the journey towards a Chinese Christianity?

Prof You Bin, Director of the School of Religious Studies in Minzu University of China shared that the theology of Sabbath from Genesis 2:1-3 in the CUV is a good starting point for the sinicization of Christianity using Chinese language and Chinese culture (in particular, Neo Confucianism) in understanding the symbiotic relationship between silence (静) and worship (敬).

Rev Chen Shenfeng of Hangzhou Sideng Church who was the last to present at the symposium said that any revision of the CUV must be built upon its existing firm foundation and strong standing. There is also an urgent need for investment in development of local talents in Biblical studies and translation, and the setting up of necessary infrastructure like that of the Bible Society.

Kua Wee Seng at the closing ceremony affirmed UBS’ support of the Church in China in her Bible ministry.

Reflecting on the task ahead, Kua Wee Seng, Director of UBS China Partnership said at the closing ceremony of the symposium, “As always, we, the UBS fellowship, stand ready to serve, support and partner with the Church in China in any way we are able to, by God’s Grace and by His Provision and Enabling, just as we have been blessed by the Lord to serve, support and partner with the Church in China over the years.”

Let’s pray for the Lord’s continued blessing on China and the Church in China as they carry on with the sinicization of Christianity.

Pray also that the Lord will enable the UBS, to serve as a humble servant and trusted partner of the Church in China in this journey so that millions more in China would have the Light of Life in them.

*The New Culture Movement was an ideological and cultural movement to transform feudal China into a democratic republic.

Read about the History of CUV.

View Facebook Album of the Centennial Celebration

Story: Cynthia Oh
Edit:Angela Teo
Photo: CCC/ TPSM and Jared Wong
2019 © United Bible Societies China Partnership