In China, a professed atheistic nation of 1.3 billion people, Christianity is growing at a staggering pace. Missiologists estimate that there were approximately three million Christians in China in the early 1970s. Today, estimates place the number of believers at approximately 130 million believers—an estimate some say would increase significantly if an accurate count could be made of believers worshipping in house churches.
Yet even with the explosive growth aided by the rise of the information age, Chinese believers have lacked an accurate Bible translation in contemporary language.
Based on the framework of the HCSB translation process, LifeWay in 2006 began a collaborative project with The Asia Bible Society and GrapeCity, a multifaceted software company in Asia, to produce the Chinese Standard Bible (CSB), an accurate and readable translation of the Bible in modern Mandarin Chinese.
According to Aaron Ma, director of Bible translation projects for the Asia Bible Society, the New Testament Simplified edition was completed in 2008 and the New Testament Traditional edition will be released soon.
The number of Chinese speakers is increasing at a fast pace and the language continues to evolve rapidly. The most widely used Bible in China is the Chinese Union Version (CUV), translated more than 90 years ago by missionaries. Because the CUV was translated almost a century ago, it uses language quite different from the common language of today, Ma explained. As a result, most Chinese find the CUV challenging to read and difficult to understand. Readers of the CUV often do not fully grasp the message, said translators serving on the CSB team.
The goal of the CSB is to provide Chinese-speaking people around the world with an accurate, readable Bible in contemporary Chinese, said Ma. In approaching the project, the philosophy of the HCSB meshed with the planners of the CSB.
"We have found the HCSB to be very accurate and literal to the original texts, yet fluent—a well-balanced translation," Ma said. "The HCSB has taken the middle road in a very optimal way and is neutral in its handling of textual criticism issues while respecting heritage.
"At the same time," he said, "it is not overly academic nor does it follow recent trends such as gender inclusiveness. All of these principles are very consistent with those of the CSB."
Presenting a fresh, updated version of the Bible to one of the world's largest spiritual harvest fields still has its challenges, Ma said.
"Whenever a new translation is introduced, it is a challenge to gain acceptance," he said. "We need to position it appropriately, while communicating the unique value of the CSB to the Chinese Christian community. The CSB is an extension to the CUV and not a replacement of the CUV."
The CSB "is a reliable version that can be trusted," Ma added. "We trust that the work of His hand will speak and bring light to those that love the Word of God and trust His promises."
The translation team hopes to complete the CSB Old Testament sometime around the end of 2015, making the entire Bible available.
The translation project, he said, involves numerous native Chinese-speaking Greek and Hebrew scholars and include many phases of editing and review, cross-checking and unification checking, testing and evaluation.
"God is at work in China and in the Chinese-speaking community worldwide," said Ma. "We pray that He will use the CSB in a powerful way to bless Chinese speakers, those who are Christians and those yet to be saved. All of this is for His glory."