Tag Archive: chinese

I’ve been troubled by this funny phrase in the Bible (Chinese version) for many years. Not until a few minutes ago did I finally decided to figure how to make some sense out of it.

In John 15:4 (Chinese version), it says this:


Translated, it means:

“You must always live/exist (physically) inside me, and I must you. If a branch is not always attached to the vine, it can’t bear fruits. Similarly if you don’t always live/exist inside me.”

This is extremely disturbing. Jesus is a man, or mostly a man, and believers are human beings. How could a human be, literally, INSIDE another human, except for having sexual intercourse or being pregnant? I’m not doing either of those  to Jesus even if for the love of God or whoever.

So I check the King James Version of the Bible, and in John 15:4 it says:

“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruits of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.”

The key here is “abide”, not “in”. “Abide” could have several meanings in Chinese, including “to be together with”, “to persist”, or, in the problematic translation of the Bible, “to live (in)” or “to exist (in)”. The translator happened to pick the most improper meaning decades ago, and later his translation was eventually appointed as the authenticate copy for Chinese Christianity.

This is not much of problem in theory, consider back then the Chinese language was quite different from its shape today, and there was no such advanced English education. However, in practice, the mistranslation managed to create a major problem in, for lack of a better name, “Chinese Christian divinity”.

Because “abide in me” shows up in the New Testament quite frequently, the Chinese ministers when preaching do have to explain how come Jesus could physically go into a believer and reside there. Over the years I’ve heard several different theories, and none of them sounds satisfying enough. Here is one example I just found on the web:


The author argued in Chinese that Jesus was brought back from death by the God, as a spirit. And in Greek, “spirit” shares the same word with “wind/air” (I don’t know if that’s true, honest). Jesus = spirit. Spirit = air. Consequently Jesus = air. That’s math for you, amen. Thus solves the problem how Jesus could be INSIDE one: as a human being, one has to breathe in order to sustain life, and breathing is nothing but taking in the air, and the air is Jesus, so Jesus is inside you. QED.

I appreciate the determination to go so far in order to prove something that’s not even a problem. But is this necessary? A whole debate in divinity just for a mistranslation? Why waste breath on this? To waste breath is to waste air, and to waste air is to waste Jesus. Shame on you ,sinner.

Thus my point is very simple: the Chinese Bible should be retranslated, by proper people, in proper modern Chinese language. That’s it.

And for the record, I’m a Buddhist, honestly.



Note: This is some fun trivia about how powerful the tones of Chinese language could be. You might need some fundamentals on what in pinyin and what are tones to get the whole picture of it. However, a thorough Chinese lesson is not my intention of writing this post or any other similar post that might come after it. Sorry, no can do. But I believe there are plenty of online resources to help you catch up with it if you are interested.

OK. Whoever hasn’t closed the browser tab by now should know how funny the Chinese language could be to a foreigner. Just a slight tweak on the tone could change the topic dramatically. Here is a very good example showcasing what you can achieve by simply tweaking the tones.

The following is a tongue-twisting paragraph written by great Chinese linguist Chao Yuen Ren. Mr. Chao here used nothing but one single sound. By repeatedly twisting the tone of it, coupled with the complexity of Chinese characters system, he managed to tell a short story.

Oh yes, it’s the poet & lion story. It’s quite old really. If you’ve already heard about it, well, sorry for wasting your time… It’s about the only thing in this post. You can feel safe to close the browser tab now…

OK, to whoever is left, here it is:



shī shì shí shī shǐ
shí shì shī shì Shī Shì,
shì shī,
shì shí 10 shī.
shī shì shí shí shì shì shì shī.
10 shí,
shì 10 shī shì shì.
shì shí,
shì shī shì shì shì.
shì shì shì 10 shī,
shì shǐ shì,
shǐ shì 10 shī shì shì.
shì shí shì 10 shī shī,
shì shí shì.
shí shì shī,
shì shǐ shì shì shí shì.
shí shì shì,
shì shǐ shì shí shì 10 shī.
shí shí,
shǐ shí shì 10 shī,
shí 10 shí shī shī.
shì shì shì shì.

Totally twisted, right? It’s quite merciful already, with every instance of the number 10 written as the number itself instead of yet another “shí”. It’s just a showcase of what the Chinese language is capable of. We by no means talk like this in daily life. And this short story can not be delivered verbally. No one, even Chinese linguists, could tell what the the heck those “shi” are in verbal conversation. The magic is a mix of basic Chinese pronunciation, the versatility of characters, and a tiny bit of Old Chinese (what we call 文言文 or simply 古文) grammar.

Translated into English it’s like this:

The Story of Mister Shi Eating Lions
There was this poet mister Shi who lived in a stone chamber.
Shi was very fond of lions, and vowed to eat 10 lions.
So he visited the market every now and then, to see if they sell lions there.
At 10 o’clock there happened to be 10 lions on sale.
At that time Shi happened to be at the market too.
He saw the 10 lions, and made them dead by the power of arrows.
He collected the dead bodies of 10 lions, and came back his the stone chamber.
But the chamber was damp, so he told his servant to wipe it dry.
With the chamber cleaned, he began to try eating the 10 lions.
Only upon eating them, did he realize the 10 lions were actually 10 stone lions.
Now how would you explain that?

Pretty neat, right? There are 3 other short-story-told-in-one-sound tongue twisters entitled to Mr. Chao. If you are feeling this one really interesting, feel free to leave a message here, and I’ll bring the others later.