The Doctrine of Deification in Bible Translation: A Case Study

The Doctrine of Deification in Bible Translation: A Case Study on the Chinese Union Version and the Chinese Recovery Version

While the ancient Christian doctrine of deification has enjoyed a renaissance in the last few decades among Christian scholars with no sign of ebbing, one crucial field has yet to be fully investigated for a deeper understanding of how this treasured heritage has coursed through the last two millennia of Christian history: the field of Bible translation. Many intriguing questions are yet to be explored, such as: what was the relationship between the doctrine of deification and Bible translation? Did the former shape the latter, or the other way around, or both, and how? How has the doctrine been reflected in Bible translation in different periods and places in history? How have Bible translators contributed to the reception of the doctrine of deification or even determined its “fate” through their translations? The intricate interrelationship between the two—especially the role of Bible translation in both the fading and the recent reemergence of the doctrine of deification in Western Christianity—will likely require a large corpus of scholarly literature to illuminate fully. As a feeble start, this paper proposes to examine, first, how the doctrine of deification was perceived by the late 19th-century Protestant missionary translators of the Chinese Union Version—still the most popular Chinese Bible version among Chinese Christians since its publication in 1919—and by Watchman Nee and Witness Lee, who published his Bible translation in 1985 (in English) and in 1987 (in Chinese); second, it will examine how their different perceptions of the doctrine have affected the visibility of the doctrine in their respective Bible translations and, in turn, influenced the reception of the doctrine among the readers of their translations. Through this case study, this paper hopes to shed light on how the perception of the doctrine of deification may shape Bible translation and vice versa. More broadly, by highlighting the close yet often overlooked interrelationship between theology and Bible translation, this paper hopes to demonstrate the potential of a promising future research field exploring the reception of various Christian doctrines and Bible translation.

Note: This paper proposal is also included in a proposed session named “The Anthropological and Scriptural Contours of Deification” for the conference this year.

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