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Finding the “Pastoral Middle” in the Translations Debate

The autumn issue of ChinaSource Quarterly on the Chinese Bible is a must-read for anyone interested in Chinese Christianity. Kevin XiYi Yao’s article on the staying-power of the Chinese Union Version (CUV) makes a good case for why this version has been and probably will remain influential in China.

However, one major variable in Chinese society that could change everything is the incredible propensity of the Chinese to adapt quickly to changes in their environment. I never cease to be amazed at how nimble the Chinese are to adjusting their plans and how decisively they change course when the situation demands it. This flexibility always has the potential of leading to rapid wide-scale change in China, in any sector of society that one is speaking of. Thus, the history of the CUV, people’s attachment to it, and the question of change is most of all addressed pragmatically by the Chinese. And at whatever point their leaders feel the Union Version’s deficiencies are too great to bear, the change will be made in a heartbeat. And if the political situation ever loosens up to allow wide-ranging coordination among churches, the move away from the Union Version could come with amazing clarity and resolution. 

A possible second variable that could influence the future of the Union Version in the church is the staggering generation gaps in China. In particular, the difference between over-40s and under-40s in China dwarfs that of the the same generations in the United States. As under-40s gain experience and continue to shepherd their largely under-40 congregations, we could soon see the dawning of a new age of Bible-version usage in the Chinese church.

Ben Hu mentioned in his article that Chinese pastors have higher priorities at the moment than leading their people through the process of changing versions of the Bible in their services. Changing versions is indeed an ordeal. A decade ago in the United States, the English Standard Version (ESV) came out and pastors began to make the difficult call to switch versions. They preached on the merits of the ESV, they set aside money in the church budget to pay for new ESVs, and they even met with parishioners to discuss why this transition made sense. It was a process, to be sure.

For Chinese pastors, I suspect their reticence to give energy and time to this issue will not change anytime soon, especially as the political situation worsens across the country. However, when this burden lifts, at which time the under-40s will be older, more mature, and more influential, the propriety of the Union Version may well rise to the top of the priority list in favor of a more modern and readable translation. 

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MDB, PhD, has lived in China with his family since 2013.View Full Bio

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