The purpose of this study is to present a historical review of the Bible translation of Baptist missionaries in China before the publication of the Chinese Union Version (CUV) in early twentieth century, especially the significance of the Baptist translations in this period. This study will also discuss the differences in translation approaches and practices of the Baptists from other denominations.
The history of Chinese Bible translation by the Baptists started when English Baptist missionary Joshua Marshman (1768–1837) and his Armenian helper Johannes Lassar (1781–1835?) published their translation of the whole Bible in 1822 in Serampore. In the 1840s, the Protestant missionaries from different countries and missions decided to translate the Bible into classical Chinese with standardised terminologies for the names and terms in the Bible. This version was known as the Delegates’ Version and was the most important project of common Bible before the CUV. However, it uncovered heavy hiccup and disputes in translating, especially the difficulties in translating religious terms into Chinese. Their biggest point of contention was which, Shen or Shangdi, was the suitable translation of the word “God.” Furthermore, the Baptists insisted Shen as well as Jin (which meant “immerse”) for baptism, while the others recommended Xi (which meant “wash”). In the end, the Baptists withdrew from the translation committee and translated several versions in classical Chinese only by themselves between the 1840s and the 1870s. Until the early twentieth century, Baptist missionaries dedicated themselves to translating the Bible into various Chinese dialects.
Although the Baptists had excellent achievements in the history of Bible translation, they had only played an insignificant role in the project of the CUV and shared the consequent of the CUV after its publication. This paper aims to investigate the work of the Baptists in several aspects, including their translation approaches and problems as well as their significance in the history of Chinese Bible translation.