Sola Scriptura's and the Chinese Union Version Bible's Impact upon Conservative Christian Leaders: The Case of Watchman Nee and Wang Mingdao

Wai Luen Kwok*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

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    The majority of Chinese Christians can be considered to be theologically conservative. One distinctive feature of conservative theology is Biblicism, according to which Scripture occupies a central role. The Reformation principle of sola scriptura legitimises this conservative stance and calls for a stern application of this principle. As Biblicists, they are discontented with the ‘unbiblical’ practices and ministries of missionaries. On the other hand, missionaries have put forward the Union Version translation project on the basis of the principle of sola scriptura. This article investigates how Watchman Nee (1903–72) and Wang Mingdao (1900–91) were discursively influenced by the missionaries’ Union Version Bible translation project through their different understandings of sola scriptura. For missionaries, sola scriptura required the translation of a faithful and popular Chinese Bible, and Mandarin was deemed an appropriate language for the task. While Nee and Wang did not appreciate the missionary enterprise, for sola scriptura they valued the Chinese Union Version as an outstanding and up-to-date translation of the Scripture. For Nee and Wang, sola scriptura was not only a translation principle, but also a principle underpinning religious life. Conservative Christians’ devotional practice emphasises the memorising of biblical texts and verbalising them throughout the day. This practice resulted in the Union Version, which is written in eloquent modern Chinese, becoming an integral part of Chinese Christian practice rather than a mere translation. Though Nee and Wang accused missionaries of having betrayed the Reformation principle, they were still under its influence thanks to the Chinese Union Version Bible. Also, their teaching on biblical reading had similarities with the medieval monastic practice of lectio divina. In this sense, the Chinese Union Version Bible reveals an interesting integration of Chinese conservative Christian faith, missionary enterprise, sola scriptura, and a monastic style of spiritual practice within the Chinese Church.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)93-103
    Number of pages11
    JournalJournal of the Royal Asiatic Society
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - Jan 2020

    Scopus Subject Areas

    • Cultural Studies
    • Arts and Humanities(all)

    User-Defined Keywords

    • Chinese Union Version Bible
    • Lectio Divina
    • Sola Scriptura
    • Wang Mingdao
    • Watchman Nee


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