THE TRANSLATION OF THE BIBLE
Around 400 B.C. all the books of the Old Testament had been completed. By 300 B.C. the Jews who dwelt in Egypt, in the city of Alexandria, had begun to translate the Bible from Hebrew to Greek. The five books of Moses were finished around 270 B.C., and then the remaining books of the Old Testament were translated in the subsequent one hundred fifty years. This became the earliest translation of the Hebrew Bible. According to the Letter of Aristeas, this translation was done by seventy-two scholars, all of whom were experts both in Hebrew and in Greek; hence, it was called the Septuagint, which is the earliest translation of the Bible. Later when the Roman Empire unified the areas surrounding the Mediterranean Sea, some began to translate the Bible into Latin, but their translations were in a crude vernacular style and contained many absurdities. In A.D. 384 the church father Jerome undertook the revision of the Latin New Testament; his work of retranslating was completed in A.D. 388. The Latin translation of the Old Testament from the original Hebrew was finished by A.D. 404. This version was later called the Vulgate, which itself is a Latin word, meaning “made common.” Hence, it is also known as the Latin “common” version and is still being used by the Roman Catholic Church today.
At the time of the Reformation, the primary work of Luther was to translate the Bible into German. This marked the beginning of the Bible’s being widely translated into different languages. As to the English Bible, John Wycliffe was the first to translate the Vulgate into English. Afterward William Tyndale and a few others also undertook the translation work. However, due to the great differences reflected in the various versions, in 1604, King James I of England established a Bible translation committee and assembled fifty scholars to undertake the translation work. Subsequently, in 1611 the authorized English version, the King James Version, was published. This version was gradually accepted by Christians as the standard version of the English Bible because of its fluency in the English language and its faithfulness to the original language. Later in 1870, due to the progress made in research on the original languages and the old manuscripts, nearly a hundred British and American scholars formed a committee to revise the King James Version. The revision of the New Testament was completed in 1881 while that of the Old Testament was done in 1885. This translation is known as the Revised Version. After the completion of its work, the committee transmitted all the texts from England to America by telegraph. Then after further revisions in vocabulary were made, another edition was published in 1901 in the United States and is known as the American Standard Version. Because this translation was very faithful to the original text, about ninety-five percent of the content of subsequent Chinese versions conformed to this version.
The work on the Chinese translation also underwent a long process. The earliest traceable work, carried out in the thirteenth through the sixteenth centuries, was the translation of the New Testament and the book of Psalms by some Catholic priests in China, including John of Monte Corvino and Matteo Ricci. Then in 1807, Robert Morrison went to China to preach the gospel. During his stay, he translated the Bible into the Chinese language with the help of a Chinese helper by the name of Liang Ya-fa. This version was published in 1823. Subsequently, various Chinese Bible versions came off the press, but nearly all of them were in classical Chinese. In 1885, John Griffith, an evangelist who preached the gospel in the northeastern region of China, used the semi-vernacular Chinese style to translate the New Testament. Then in 1889 a New Testament, entirely in vernacular Chinese, was officially published. A year later, a joint convention of the missionary societies of various Protestant denominations in China was held in Shanghai. During that time, there were ardent discussions about the translation of the Bible into Chinese. As a result, a committee of seven scholars was formed to be responsible for the undertaking. After twenty-eight years of laboring, in 1919, the entire Union Version was completed using the official Chinese language. The literary style was beautiful, far surpassing all other versions. Hence, it is still widely used today. In 1939, after some revisions, it became known as the Mandarin Union Version or simply the Union Version.
(The Pursuit of a Christian, Chapter 3, by Witness Lee)