For 13 years our ministry sought to support the growth and development of the church in rural China with a primary emphasis on rural Bible distribution projects. Our last distribution event was in 2016. Because of my investment in rural Bible distribution the autumn issue of China Source Quarterly on the topic of the Chinese Bible was of particular interest to me.
Reading the articles brought back a lot of good memories of our Bible distribution events, especially the looks on recipients’ faces as they received a Bible for the first time. Many of those who received the Bibles had been Christians for many years and were praying every day that God would provide them a Bible of their own.
Many of the locations that served as Bible distribution points had perhaps three or four Bibles for 500 people to share. We used Amity Press Bibles for the distribution events. Since we were distributing 10,000 Bibles or more over the course of four days, the Bibles were ordered directly from Amity Press in Nanjing, delivered first via railcar and then by truck to the distribution points where our distribution events would take place.
Since the Bibles we distributed were from Amity Press, we got to know the staff and learned a lot about what they went through to print Bibles. For instance, we learned that they needed the same permit that is required to print any book by any printing press in the Nanjing area so part of the process was to go to the Nanjing government officials to get the permit needed to print the Bibles.
Because of my involvement in Bible distribution, Joann Pittman’s article “Bibles in China; A Question of Availability” caught my attention. She wrote, “In order for any book to be legally sold or distributed in China, it must have a China-issued ISBN. Although there was much optimism that it was about to happen around the time of the Beijing Olympics in 2008, to date, the government has not issued one for the Bible.”
At the time of the Olympics we were interacting with the Amity Press folks quite a bit, and they were very interested in having an ISBN for the Bible so it could be sold at more locations. If the Amity Press Bibles had an ISBN, they could be sold at any bookstore in China, and not just at registered church bookstores. I was told by a senior staff member of Amity Press at that time that it was merely a “matter of time” until an ISBN would be issued for the Bible. And then, with the same degree of confidence that he had shown previously that an ISBN for the Chinese Bible would be issued, on our next visit he told me that the effort had been axed. When I asked him what happened, he told me he was not allowed to talk about it and we didn’t bring it up in conversation ever again.
I was also very interested in Ben Hu’s article “Can the Chinese Union Version Be Replaced in China?” Ben did a very good job highlighting the Bible-version landscape in China and I was particularly intrigued by the stories of pastors and church leaders who consider the Chinese Union Version (CUV) to be the Bible, as if it is the only “God authorized” version for the Chinese language. This has been overwhelmingly my experience as well. Since we English speakers have multiple translations that are considered to be accurate and useable, Western friends often ask me about the CUV Bible that was completed in 1919. A common question they ask is “Isn’t that old Chinese, and isn’t it hard for Chinese to understand?” Often I respond that since the Chinese language is more than 3000 years old, it’s had 2900 years to go through changes and hasn’t changed as much in the last 100 years or so. Of course as Ben points out, there are Chinese versions of the Bible that are starting to catch on with younger people, but for the CUV to have such staying power is quite incredible.
Kevin Xiyi Yao addresses this issue in his article “A Century Later, Still Dominant” as well. I loved reading his five reasons that the CUV has been dominant and I can only concur with him. The church in China has been through a lot of trials and tribulations during the time since the CUV was finished and most Chinese Christians hold this version of the Bible very near to their hearts. It is more to them than just a translation of the Bible. When I asked Christians in China if they would like to have a more “modern” translation of the Bible their answer is almost universally “No, thank you.”
From my perspective even if the CUV is not as accurate as it could be, it has done a good job over the past 100 years of communicating God’s truth to the Chinese people. If they decide that they want something better, a Chinese-led effort to spearhead a replacement version can be undertaken by the Chinese themselves. For now, I’m certainly thankful for the CUV and the way God has used it in China!
Image credit: Amity Press, Wikimedia.
Mike Falkenstine is the President of One Eight Catalyst, a ministry motivated by a deep conviction to reach unreached people groups in China. Mike and his wife Sherie live in Lone Tree, CO with their three kids and one Wheaton Terrier. Mike's book on Christianity in China, The... View Full Bio
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