What do Xi Jinping and Thomas Jefferson have in common? There may be a hundred interesting answers (which you can consider at your leisure), but as yet there is one that is both fairly substantial and sufficiently documented: both men set out to rewrite the Bible.
Jefferson’s project—initially undertaken while president of the United States—was a naturalistic and deistic one, featuring a non-divine Nazarene whose ideas happened to align perfectly with Jefferson’s own. That is, he sought to reshape Scripture so that it would seem to uphold his own moral-political framework. The Gospels are stripped of their miracles, and the Son of God becomes a mundane ethicist.
Likewise, Xi’s new “translation” is a rather shoddy attempt to alchemize a Maoist Christ. There’s a perverted prudence to both men’s endeavors: a recognition that the Scriptures and the Lord cannot be easily dismissed, and that any hope of overcoming the political potency of Christian Truth is more likely to be realized simply by co-opting it.
A full translation from the Chinese Communists may be years away, as the CCP’s intent to produce one was only announced by the Chinese state-run Xinhua News Agency at the end of 2019. Our first glimpse has been provided, though, in a textbook published by University of Electronic Science and Technology Press, an organ of the Beijing government’s cultural apparatus.
An excerpt included in the professional ethics and law textbook offers a radically reimagined account of Jesus’ famous interactions with the adulterous woman and the Pharisees in John 8. In reality, and in the Scriptures preserved and promulgated by the Church, the interaction ended as follows:
Then Jesus lifting up himself, said to her: Woman, where are they that accused thee? Hath no man condemned thee?
Who said: No man, Lord. And Jesus said: Neither will I condemn thee. Go, and now sin no more. Again therefore, Jesus spoke to them, saying: I am the light of the world: he that followeth me, walketh not in darkness, but shall have the light of life.
Such godly mercy has no place in a communist dictatorship. The ChiCom adaptation was first reported by the Union of Catholic Asian News late last month. Its ending, according to the UCA News report, is rather different from the familiar one:
When the crowd disappeared, Jesus stoned the sinner to death saying, “I too am a sinner. But if the law could only be executed by men without blemish, the law would be dead.”
Jesus then stones her to death.
The amount of mistruth—not to mention outright blasphemy—that the CCP managed to pack into so few words is truly astonishing. The most egregious offense, of course, is the suggestion that Christ Himself was a sinner, no more just than the Pharisees who challenged him. The claim directly contradicts some of the most fundamental tenets of the Christian faith. The admission “I too am a sinner” cannot possibly coexist with our belief in His perfect Godhood. Xi’s Christ, like Jefferson’s and a number of other historical blasphemers’, is necessarily stripped of His divinity.
What makes this particular blasphemy even worse is the fact that it’s actually dangerous. The ChiCom’s un-deified Christ executes the adulterous woman, with the justification that sinners must carry out the law or else the law will not be carried out at all. That’s actually a sensible enough claim at face value, but only when tempered by the moral Truth embodied in the non-commie Christ. The CCP translation doesn’t just alter the true meaning of the Scripture: it actually turns it on its head. Unbound by the moral presence of the real Christ and upheld by the presentation of a false one, actual sinners make a claim to absolute power, justified by a total inversion of the words Jesus really spoke.
Talk about the mandate of heaven.
The dual threat this poses to Chinese Christians is apparent: first in the corruption of their faith via the rewriting of their Scriptures, then in the further accumulation of power which the propagandized Bible will serve to justify. In the face of such mounting tyranny, where are the faithful to look for hope and aid? The UCA News report closes with a quote from a Chinese Catholic: “We hope that church authorities will come forward and speak up for the Church.”
That sounds unlikely, to say the least. The Vatican’s official policy with respect to the Chinese Communists is appeasement and compromise. The Church’s agreement to recognize the CCP’s handpicked bishops, spearheaded by the suspect Cardinal Parolin, has just been renewed for another two years. The Holy See can hardly be counted on to defend the interests of a persecuted national Church when it has signed a contract with the persecutors.
Not to mention that liberality in translation has been a bit of an issue in this pontificate. Let’s not forgot the global kerfuffle when Pope Francis suggested that we ought to change the translation of the Lord’s Prayer, switching “lead us not into temptation” for “let us not be led into temptation.” (Some form of his change has actually been adopted in a few countries.) The pope explained that it’s a bad translation because it is not God Himself who leads us into temptation. But the Greek of Mark’s Gospel—μὴ εἰσενέγκῃς ἡμᾶς εἰς πειρασμόν—is abundantly clear. Cambridge classics professor Mary Beard had little patience for the Holy Father’s claim, writing in the Times Literary Supplement: “ ‘Not a good translation’ indeed! Doesn’t say what I want it to, more like.”
I will give the Holy Father every possible benefit of doubt, but the precedent set by altering translations, in contradiction of the scriptural tradition, simply to suit our preferences, is destructive and unsound. It was bad when Thomas Jefferson did it, it was bad when the Holy Father did it, and it is absolutely abominable when Xi Jinping follows suit.
The gates have been opened. Pray that they won’t prevail.
[Photo credit: Andrea Verdelli/Getty Images News]