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Rare Bibles: Chinese Bibles

The Styberg Library has a special collection of rare Bibles. This guide features some of the ones that are within the collection.

Bibles on Display

Check out the three new Bibles on display in the Reference Room! All three are from the Yi Family Bible Room.

About Translation

Translating words from one language to another is a challenging enterprise. When translating from the Greek into Mandarin, one of the translator’s decisions is to determine how to refer to God by navigating through cultural, religious, and language differences. Toshikazu S. Foley describes this “Terminological Question” as follows: Terminological Question

Quite unlike the Nestorian translators more than ten centuries before, Morrison and Milne refer to the Bible as the Shén tiān shèngshū 《神天聖書》 (lit.  “god-heavenly  sacred  book”) as opposed to jīng (“classics,” “sûtras”).  Instead of using Huángfù Āluóhē (“Imperial-Father Alāhā), Tiānzūn (“heavenly-reverend”), Zhēnzhǔ (“true lord”) or Fó (“Buddha”), Morrison and Milne introduced a monotheist Supreme God by the familiar Chinese term Shén 神.  Shén is used in different religious contexts in China, including Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism, with a wide range of meaning, however it comes close to the English word “god.”  The Chinese title of the Medhurst/Gützlaff/Bridgman edition of the 1836 New Testament reads Xīn yízhào Shèngshū 《新遺詔聖書》 (lit. “The Sacred Book of the Newly Bequeathed Oracles”).70 Like Morrison and Milne, the Bible is called shū 書 (a general term for “book”) and not jīng 經.  What makes it uniquely significant was that the term Shàngdì上帝  (“supreme  ruler,” used in Taoism to refer to the mystical Emperor Jade, or Yùhuáng Dàdì/Yùhuáng Shàngdì 玉皇大帝/玉皇上帝) was first introduced by Medhurst to refer to God.  This is the origin of the controversial debate that continues to this day. Today the Bible Societies continue the tradition that started in the nineteenth century to print two editions of the same version of the Chinese Bible: one uses Shàngdì and the other Shén for God.71 [1]

For a fuller description of the history of this issue, please refer to Daniel Kam-to Choi’s discussion of the “Term Question in the Chinese Bible” in The Oxford Handbook of the Bible in China, edited by Dr. K. K. Yeo, Harry R. Kendall Professor of New Testament, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary.[2]

[1] Toshikazu S. Foley, Biblical Translation in Chinese and Greek: Verbal Aspect in Theory and Practice, Linguistic Biblical Studies 1 (Leiden: Brill, 2009), 20-21.

[2] Daniel Kam-to Choi, “A History of the Chinese Bible,” in The Oxford Handbook of the Bible in China, ed. K. K. Yeo (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2021), 30-32.

About the Bibles on Display


New Testament 

(English and Mandarin)



Children's Bible Picture-Book

(Foochow Colloquial)



New Testament



Chinese Translation Resources

Cao, Jian. “The Chinese Mandarin Bible: Exegesis and Bible Translating.” The Bible Translator 57, no. 3 (2006): 122-138. 

Foley, Toshikazu S. Biblical Translation in Chinese and Greek: Verbal Aspect in Theory and Practice. Linguistic Biblical Studies 1. Leiden: Brill, 2009. BS315.C59 F64

Lee, Sherman, and David C.S. Li. “Multilingualism in Greater China and the Chinese Language Diaspora.” In The Handbook of Bilingualism and Multilingualism, 2nd ed., edited by Tej K. Bhatia and William C. Ritchie, 813-842. 

Strandenaes, Thor. Principles of Chinese Bible Translation: As Expressed in Five Selected Versions of the New Testament and Exemplified by Mt 5:1-12 and Col 1. Coniectanea Biblica. New Testament Series 19. Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell International, 1987. BS315.C59 S87

Yeo, K. K. The Oxford Handbook of the Bible in China. Edited by Khiok-Khng Yeo. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2021. Ref. BS447.5.C6 O94 2021