China is changing. The political and spiritual climate is shifting. This vast, increasingly complex nation is also quickly becoming economically polarized. While coastal cities like Shanghai and Shenzhen are enjoying prosperity and economic development, many places in central and western China, especially rural areas, have experienced little change in terms of lifestyle and standard of living.
We recently visited a Bible school in central China to promote Biblica’s Chinese Contemporary Bible (CCB). Because there were too many students and not enough rooms, my coworker and I had to squeeze into a single bed (barely enough space for one person). This would be quite awkward for westerners, yet it’s still very common in rural areas of China. It was cold and there was no heater. But we managed to get some sleep.
At about 5 AM, I was awakened by prayers and praises. The students had started their day early. Later that morning, I gave a presentation and it was well received. The students asked many good questions. Apparently, it was the first time they had heard about Bible translation work or the features of the CCB. Everyone was eager to know how to get a copy. When they learned that Biblica would provide each of them with a free CCB, they shouted with joy!
If you saw their Bibles (photo below), you would understand why they were so happy. Their Bibles were worn out! Indeed, the students needed replacements. They also needed a translation they could better understand. That made our distribution extremely meaningful.
Chinese Christians love the Bible! During the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), Bibles were being burned. The churches were all closed down. These people hand-copied the Bible in order to preserve it and to gain a deeper understanding of Scripture.
We saw some of these Bibles, along with several other interesting examples of just how fervent the believers were at that time. For example, the cover on one red book (see photo below) said: “Quotations from Chairman Mao.” But when we opened it, we found a Bible! The owner must have loved the Word of God so much that he or she was willing to risk their life to keep the Scriptures during the cultural revolution. In those crazy, ideology-driven days in China, being caught in possession of a Bible often resulted in imprisonment or exile.
Thankfully, times have changed. Now it’s easy to get a Bible. The challenge is to get a contemporary translation that can be understood.
We traveled through 21 provinces and spoke to dozens of Bible schools and churches. Our goal was to awaken Bible school teachers, pastors and church leaders to the reality that many believers (esp. young people) never read through the Bible after becoming a Christian. And if believers don’t read the full Bible (some only read Psalms and Proverbs), how can we expect them to understand the whole counsel of God?
After I pointed out some ambiguous, ungrammatical and false renderings in the old Chinese Union Version, one Bible school principle in Wuhan City confessed her misconceptions about Bible translation. She had long been a die-hard Union Version reader and thought her students were just being lazy when they failed to produce good devotional reflections. After my presentation, she realized the difficult renderings of the Union Version actually hinder people’s understanding.
We have a long way to go in this awakening ministry because pastors and church leaders hold the Union Version so dearly. They are so used to it that they are reluctant to recommend any other translations to their congregations.
I believe China is experiencing the same thing the U.S. did when the NIV was first introduced. Acceptance of the CCB will come. If we wait patiently, and diligently work to share this new translation, acceptance will come.