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  • Writer's pictureChapman Chen

Human Megalomania in Chinese Translations of "Love Thy Neighbour as Thyself". Go Vegan!Chapman Chen

Updated: Jan 23, 2023

Out of the 18 Chinese translations of the Bible as consulted in this article, eight have rendered the word "neighbour" in "Love Thy Neighbour as Thyself" (Mark 12:31 KJV) as 人 (Cantonese: jan4)/ 𠆧 (Taiwanese: lâng)/人(Mandarin: rén) (all meaning human[s]) instead of 鄰 (Cantonese: loen4; Taiwanese: lîn; Mandarin: lín) (neighbour). However, animals are our neighbors by reason of the commonality of possessing a living soul, the shared ability to suffer, and their physical proximity to us. The word is also interpreted as humans by most mainstream churches and commentators, e.g., Jamieson, etc. (1882) and John Gill (1746-63). The misinterpretation/mistranslation concerned is probably due to human megalomania, or speciesism in Peter Singer's (1975) words, or "anthropocentrism" in Andrew Linzey's (1995) and David Clough's (2011) words, i.e., the self-conceited conception that humans are superior to all other animals and thus entitled to abuse, exploit, rape, murder, and consume them at will.

1. The 18 Chinese versions of the Bible consulted include:

Canton Colloquial Bible (舊新約全書.廣東話) by British and Foreign Bible Society(聖書公會)(1907) (Note 1), New Testament (我等救世主耶穌新遺詔書[新約全書]) of Robert Morrison (馬禮遜) (1813, 1826) (Note 2), New Testament in Mandarin trans. John Griffith (楊格非官話《新約》) (1889) published by Scottish Bible Society (蘇格蘭聖經會) (Note 3), The New Testament in English and Mandarin (新約全書中西字) by the American Bible Society (1908) (Note 4), Cantonese New Testament (Revised) 《新約全書:廣東話新譯本》, trans./ed. P. Jenkins and T.N. Wong ,published jointly by The American Bible Society and the British and Foreign Bible Society (1927) (Note 5), The Old and New Testaments in Fuzhou福州土白《新舊約全書》, tran. Caleb Cook Baldwin, James Walker, John Richard Wolfe, Llwellyn Lloyd, William Banister and Nathan Plumb, published by American Bible Society and British and Foreign Bible Society (1901) (Note 6), Chinese Union Version with New Punctuation (新標點和合本) (1988), Chinese Union Version: Shangdi Edition (和合本2010(上帝版)) (1995, 2010), Chinese Union Version: Shen Edition (和合本2010(神版)) (2006, 2010), Chinese Contemporary Bible聖經當代譯本修訂版)(1979, 2005, 2007, 2011), Chinese New Version聖經新譯本)(1976, 1992, 1999, 2001, 2005, 2010), The Holy Bible: A New Translation (Lu's Version)呂振中譯本 (1970, 2017), The Chinese Standard Bible中文標準譯本)(2005, 2008, 2011), Chinese Union Wenli Bible文理和合譯本)(1919, 2019), Wenli Delegates' Bible文理委辦譯本) (1927, 2019), Samuel I.J. Schereschewsky's Easy Wenli Bible施約瑟淺文理新舊約聖經)(1902, 2019), WU Ching-hsiung's Wenli New Testament & Psalms吳經熊文理聖詠與新經全集)(1949) (Note 7), Studium Biblicum Version聖經思高本)(1968) (Note 8). Note that the translators of all these versions claim to have referred to the Hebrew and Aramaic versions of the Old Testament and the Greek version of the New Testament in their translation process.

1.1. Eight Deviants

Out of the 18 versions aforementioned, The New Testament in English and Mandarin (新約全書中西字) (1908), Chinese Union Version with New Punctuation (新標點和合本) (1988), Chinese New Version聖經新譯本)(1976, 1992, 1999, 2001, 2005, 2010), Wenli Delegates' Bible文理委辦譯本) (1927, 2019), Samuel I.J. Schereschewsky's Easy Wenli Bible施約瑟淺文理新舊約聖經)(1902, 2019), Studium Biblicum Version聖經思高本)(1968) translate "neighbour" as人jan4 (humans).

The Old and New Testaments in Fuzhou福州土白《新舊約全書》translates "neighbour" as別𠆧bat lâng (other humans); WU Ching-hsiung's Wenli New Testament & Psalms吳經熊文理聖詠與新經全集)(1949) translates it as 近人(gan6 jan4) (neighboring humans).

2. Animals are our Neighbours

Animals are our neighbors and folk on account of the commonality of possessing a living soul, the shared ability to suffer, and their physical proximity to us.

In the first creation story man and woman are created in God’s image. But it also tells us that animals have a soul. In Genesis 1:30 (KJV) it reads, "And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so."

Hebrew for the phrase "life" in the verse above is " נֶ֣פֶשׁ חַיָּ֔ה nephesh chayyah", which is mistranslated as "life" in most English versions of the Bible. נֶ֣פֶשׁ Nephesh means soul and חַיָּ֔ה chayyah means living. In other words, God did give the animals a living soul when He created them. Thus the animals are sentient, i.e., able to look for physical pleasure and to stay away from physical pain; to yearn to go on living, endeavoring to shun death and to able to experience various emotions. Subsequently, God created man and breathed into his nostrils the same “breath of life”, “nephesh chayyah”, (Gen.2:7) which is the living soul.

By reason of this commonality of possessing a living soul the animals are also our brothers and sisters to be loved by us (Farians 2009).

Moreover, both non-human animals and humans have a central nervous system, which make both of them susceptible to pain, fear and agony. As pointed out by Jeremy Bentham (1789), it is animals' ability to suffer rather than their rationality which made them our neighbors:-"The question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?"

Also, animals are apparently proximal to us. They live side by side with us. They are literally neighbors of us, just that we frequently destroy their homes and chase them out of their living habitats.

3. Human Supremacy

This kind of mistranslation/misinterpretation must have come from human supremacy, or "human megalomania", to borrow Sigmund Freud's (1916) term, with a view to deifying humankind, while deprecating, exploiting and ravaging animals at will. Revd Prof. Andrew Linzey (1995) and Prof. David Clough (2011) call it anthropocentrism, and Prof. Peter Singer (1975) calls it speciesism.

3.1. Peter Singer’s (1975) Animal Liberation

Generally regarded as a basis for or introduction to this debate is Peter Singer’s (1975) Animal Liberation, in which Singer defines speciesism as a pervasive “prejudice or attitude of bias in favour of the interests of members of one’s own species and against those of members of other species” (1975: 6). Singer views speciesism as discrimination based on species membership, on an equal footing with racial discrimination and sexism: speciesists are unduly biased towards the interests of members of their own group over the interests of others.

3.2. Andrew Linzey (2009): Theology as if Animals Mattered

In the essay “Theology as if Animals Mattered”, Chapter 2 of Creatures of the Same God, Andrew Linzey (2009) grieves over the humanocentricism in a significant part of Christian morals, viewing it as a kind of shortsightedness so profoundly embedded in our thinking by now that a lot of people today find it hard to conceive of animals as existing for any other reason than as supplies for human use. Quoting a lot of scriptural passages, he demonstrates that the presupposition of human superiority can only be regarded loyal to the scriptural story in a "highly qualified way", and that the assertion that animals are created for human utility, is unambiguously unscriptural. Linzey advocates that to the extent that Christians aim at being valid in their theology they should endeavor to replace their humanocentric ideation of animals (in fact of the universe!) with a theocentric one.

3.3. David Clough (2011): Systematic Theology

David Clough (2011) makes use of theological and scientific arguments to demonstrate that earlier arguments concerning the distinction between animals and humans (e.g. reason, language, feelings, responsibility, etc.) all fall short of sufficiently explaining the evidence on hand. With the belief that humankind is exceptional discredited, and humans and animals being merely fellow creatures before their common creator, Clough contends that God’s reason or aim for creation went beyond merely human interests but that His scheme also covered non-human animals. Having debunked the anthropocentric reason for creation, Clough directs our attention towards the defects in other outlooks (for instance, theocentric and creation-centric views), finally concluding that the teleological goal of creation was/is fellowship with God (2011:58).








7. The link for the relevant entries from Chinese Union Version with New Punctuation (新標點和合本) (1988) to WU Ching-hsiung's Wenli New Testament & Psalms吳經熊文理聖詠與新經全集)(1949) is



Clough, David L. (2011). On Animals, Volume I: Systematic Theology. London: T&T Clark.

Freud, Sigmund (1916, 1991). Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis. Trans. James Strachey. London: Penguin Books.

Gill, John (1746-63). Exposition of the Entire Bible.

Jamieson, Robert, Fausset, A. R., and Brown, David (1882). A Commentary, Critical, Practical, and Explanatory on the Old and New Testaments.

Lefevere, André (1992). Translation, Rewriting, and the Manipulation of Literary Fame. Milton Park: Routledge.

Freedman, David Noel (2000). The Nine Commandments: Uncovering the Hidden Pattern of Crime and Punishment in the Hebrew Bible. New York: Doubleday.

Linzey, Andrew (2009, 2007). Creatures of the Same God. New York: Lantern Books.

Rosen, Steven J. (2004). Holy Cow: The Hare Krishna Contribution to Vegetarianism & Animal Rights. New York: Lantern Books.

Singer, Peter (1975). Animal Liberation. New York: Harpercollins.

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