The birth of the "Chinese Union Version": a unified translation


Since there were numerous versions of the Bible in Chinese at that time, different groups and organizations decided to uphold the spirit of "harmonious co-operation", to collaboratively translate and publish a united translation, hereinafter called "Union Version" during the missionaries' conference in 1890 held in Shanghai.  This decision was a reflection of their preparation to combat the problems and divergence between theological differences, the translation principles of the BibleChinese churches, dialects of various provinces and the use of words and phrases.


In order to achieve the purpose of "One Bible in Three Versions", three translation committees were set up during the conference to deal with three translation versions, namely, advanced unity and coherence in writing, elementary unity and coherence in writing and the official language.  The publication cost for these versions was settled among mainly the British Bible Society, the American Bible Society, and the Scottish Bible Society. With the concerted effort of the Chinese Christians, the translation work was completed in nearly thirty years.  "The Union Version" emerged in 1919, became the most important Bible translation in the history of the Chinese churches.


The comparison of the three translation versions








Contribution by "The Union Version"

Pushed forward vernacular language


The Chinese Union Version was published in 1919 which marked the beginning of the May 4th Movement in China.


May 4th Movement took place on 4 May 1919, which could be briefly described as a patriotic movement led by young students for promoting vernacular language, opposing old diety and religions, anti-feudalism, anti-superstition, and stressing democracy and science. One of the most profound impacts it had in Chinese culture was making the vernacular language as the mainstream in academics.  New literary scholars promoted vernacular literature, untied from the established moral constraints and extended creativity.  Realism, romanticism, and humanitarianism arose one after another.  "The Union Version" was the first masterpiece in vernacular translation at that time.  Scholars like Hu Shi, Zhou Zuoren considered "The Union Version" as the typical model of vernacular language.  Luo Xianglin named it as the sublime masterpiece.  Of course, this came from the wondrous revelation of God's wisdom and him rigorous and sincere approach adopted by the translation scholars.  Most of the missionaries who participated in it, for example, Calvin Wilson Matteer, Frederick William Baller, were fluent in a vernacular language.  Chinese Christians, like Cheng Jinyi, the then head of the Church of Christ in China also played a supporting role.  They were humble in seeking the truth, stayed overnight when doubts and debates arose. This was because they knew that what they were doing would have a deep impact on the belief of the churches in the one hundred years that would follow.  As such, they must do their utmost.


During that period, people criticised that vernacular language came from the Gospel of Matthew.  Lu Xun replied, "the Gospel of Matthew is a good book and must be read.


Zhou Zuoren, the contemporary Chinese scholar gave an in-depth assessment of

the Union Version.  He said in "Shengshu yu Zhongguo wenxue (The Bible and Chinese Literature)



Propelling the unification among churches


Nearly one hundred years ago, in 1919, with the birth of the Union Version in China, many churches perused "the Union Version" as the vocabulary learning textbook for the illiterate Christians.  The Bible Society sold it much lower than the publication cost.  "The Union Version" was sold extensively, reaching from different provinces in China up to Southeast Asia.  Hundreds of thousands of Chinese repented became Christians and received salvation from the Cross.


The Union Version spread widely, became the most precious resource to the churches and Christians and achieved deep-rooted status in the history of Chinese churches.  The Union Version was translated faithfully from the original Bible.  At that time, the translators considered "The Union Version" as the word of God while pursuing the translation principles of fidelity, fluency, elegance.  If those could not be achieved all in one-goal, they would give preferential to fidelity.


The Union Version has fostered more than 300,000 Chinese churches in the world bred the religious belief of millions of Chinese readers and made an impressive impact.  Even after 1949 when the Christians of the mainland China suffered hardships and torture, many of them kept this Bible, followed each and every word in the teachings and made huge sacrifices.

Publication of the Holy Bible Chinese Union Version

Publication of the Holy Bible Chinese Union Version​​

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