A Missiological Reconsideration of the Chinese Translation for ha'J'x; (translated as “sin” in English), Especially in Evangelism
Rev. Dr. Tsung-I HWANG
Adjunct PhD Supervisor
Oxford Centre for Mission Studies
All the Chinese versions of the Bible adopt the Chinese character (or word) 罪 (zuì) as the translation for the Hebrew noun, ha'J'x; (translated into ‘sin’ in English). However, Chinese nonbelievers without any Christian background or knowledge usually resist being called a sinner and so refuse to be converted. Therefore, this issue of translation has been criticized for decades of years in terms of this impediment of conversion in evangelism and missionary works among Chinese people.
In this paper, the author first reviews different opinions on the appropriateness of zuì for translating “sin” and its possible alternatives suggested by scholars and missionaries. And then the author evaluates four other possible alternatives to Chinese characters 過 (guò), 錯 (cuò), 愆 (qiān), 惡 (è), with zuì through an ongoing survey of Chinese Christians’ and non-Christians’ preferred translation for “sin” among these five Chinese terms.
The author argues: 1. The meanings of 罪 (zuì) in Chinese classics contains not only criminal aspects but also political, religious, and ethical aspects. 2. Due to the historical evolution of word meaning, the meaning of zuì has become even more closely associated with crime in contemporary Chinese. 3. Due to the contextual flexibility of word meaning, the Christian interpreted meaning of zuì can be adapted to by both contemporary Chinese Christians and non-Christians with the help of more relevant explanations and examples. 4. Since the core of the gospel in mission and the essence of conversion is the atonement offered by Christ’s death on the cross and His resurrection, zuì turns out to be the best translation for the word “sin” because only zuì is a state “deserving of death penalty” among the five alternatives.
At last, the author concludes that the suggestion of the alternatives for zuì appear to be conducive to the conversion of Chinese people is essentially an obstacle to it from a missiological perspective.
Hwang Tsung-I, Rev., PhD, M.Div., D.D.S., M.H.A.: Expertise in systemic theology, apologetics, ethics, intercultural and inter-religious studies. A former faculty member at Central Taiwan Theological Seminary, a current adjunct PhD supervisor at OCMS, and the director of T. I. Hwang’s Cross Theology Classroom.