Academic journal article Translation & Interpreting

The Translation of 'Spirit' and 'Soul' in the Mandarin Bible Union Version

Academic journal article Translation & Interpreting

The Translation of 'Spirit' and 'Soul' in the Mandarin Bible Union Version

Article excerpt

Abstract: This study aims to analyse the Chinese translation of 'spirit' and 'soul' in the Mandarin Bible Union Version published in 1919, in order to elucidate both the translation principles used in this Chinese Bible and a controversial issue in Christian theology. The issue in question relates to whether a whole person is made up of 'two substantive entities' ('spirit/soul' and 'body'), or 'three substantive entities' ('spirit', 'soul' and 'body'). Through an in-depth discussion of these Biblical concepts in the Chinese translated New Testament with reference to the Greek originals, the study aims to clarify the various methods by which the terms are translated. The translation of these terms can provide a new perspective on the Chinese Bible's adoption of particular translation approaches and the 'new language style' of the early 20th century, which allows a better understanding of this Bible's special role in the development of Modern Chinese.

Keywords: Bible translation, Chinese, Union Version, New Testament, theology

1. Introduction

The issue of spirit, soul and body has been controversial in Christian theology. The main division lies between the position that takes a whole person to be made up of 'two substantive entities' ('spirit' [phrase omitted]/'soul' ([phrase omitted]) and 'body' ([phrase omitted])), and that which considers it to consist of 'three substantive entities' ('spirit' [phrase omitted], 'soul' ([phrase omitted]) and 'body' ([phrase omitted])). While the controversy lingers on, the well-received Mandarin Bible Union Version (1890-1919) (UV) should shed some light on how such important theological terms and concepts have been shaped in the Chinese Christian community. Despite frequent calls for its retranslation because of mistranslations and language change, the Chinese UV, published early in 1919, remains the predominant version used by Chinese Christian churches. This is significant to Christianity in China in that it directly exerts great influence on Chinese readers' outlook on spiritual matters, and some translated key concepts may diverge from their original meanings in Hebrew and Greek. In this regard, in order to make sense of the translation end product, it is essential to understand the translation strategies as well as some of the historical background of the UV. As a new exploration of the relationship between translation and theology, this study focuses on the New Testament and examines the contextual meanings of the terms 'spirit' and 'soul' in the Chinese UV against the Greek original, before moving on to the missionaries' translation principles and strategies. The selection of the New Testament rather than the Old Testament is due to the Christian understanding of the progressive revelationary nature of the Bible, which means that the full understanding of God's redemption of mankind in the former is developed from the latter. While the Old Testament presents signs, rituals and legal obligations, the New Testament explains their spiritual significance (Ramm, 1980, p. 103). Therefore the following investigation of spirit and soul based on New Testament passages can lay a good foundation for a further study of the entire Bible.

Some background on the translation of the UV follows. Considered "the most successful translation into baihua, the Mandarin vernacular" (Wickeri, 1995, p. 129), the UV became more popular than the two other union versions, written in shen wenli (high classical language) and qian wenli (easy classical language), that the Missionary Conference in Shanghai also decided to produce in 1890. To the present day, this Mandarin Bible has enjoyed supreme status among most Chinese Christian churches and readers all over the world, despite the appearance of many other Chinese translated Bibles (Chong, 2000). Regarding its Greek textual basis, the UV's organisational rules for translation (Article four) state that "the text that underlies the revised English versions of the Old and New Testaments be made the basis, with the privilege of any deviations in accordance with the Authorized Version" (Zetzsche, 1999, p. …

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