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  • Writer's pictureChapman Chen

Human Megalomania in Chinese Translations of the Bible (I). Go Vegan! By Dr. Chapman Chen.

Summary: Most Chinese versions of the Bible seem systematically to turn phrases originally covering in a positive way all sentient beings, including both human and non-human animals, into phrases involving humans only, thereby highlighting human superiority at the expense of animals. For example, "God so loved the WORLD (kosmos in Greek)" (John 3:16 KJV) is rendered 神愛世人san4 ngoi3 sai3 jan4 [God loves humans of the world] (Note 1); "love thy neighbour as thyself" (Matthew 22: 39 KJV) is translated as 愛人如己 ngoi3 jan4 jyu4 gei2 [love other humans as yourself]; "Thou shalt not kill" (Exodus 20:13 KJV) is rendered 不可殺人 bat1 ho2 saat3 jan4 [You shall not kill humans]. This is arguably a manifestation of human megalomania or human supremacy on the part of the translators and their societies. According to the late translation theorist André Lefevere (1992), translation is manipulation and rewriting profoundly influenced by the ideology of the translator and of his/her patron and society.

In fact, the popular conception that humans are superior to other animals, that humans are entitled to abuse, slaughter, devour and exploit other animals is anthropocentrism according to Revd Prof. Andrew Linzey (1995:33-34) and Prof. David Clough (2011:88), speciesism according to Peter Singer (1975:6), self-aggrandizement, self-worship, and self-deification, on the part of homo sapiens, which will not please God.

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.

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. 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).

4. Kosmos = the Inhabitants of the World

In particular, in this article, we will focus on Chinese translations of "the world" in John 3: 16. According to Strong's Concordance (1890), the original Greek word for the "world" in "God so loved the world" (John 3:16) is κόσμος (transliteration: kosmos), whose definition is "the world" and whose usage includes "the inhabitants of the world" (therefore not just humans).

5. "The World" = "Humans of the World"??!!

However, out of 13 Chinese versions of the Bible as listed below, 9 translate the "world" in "God so loved the world" (John 3:16) as 世人sai3 jan4 [humans of the world], thereby suggesting that God loves only humans but not other animals.

The 13 Chinese versions of the Bible (Note 2) consulted in this article include: Chinese Contempory Bible (圣经当代译本修订版) (1979, 2005, 2007, 2011), 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 (1902, 2019) (施約瑟淺文理新舊約聖經), WU Ching-hsiung's Wenli New Testament & Psalms (1949)(吳經熊文理聖詠與新經全集), Studium Biblicum Version聖經思高本)(1968). 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.

Among the above, only the Chinese Union Wenli Bible (1919, 2019), Wenli Delegates' Bible (1927, 2019), Samuel I.J. Schereschewsky's Easy Wenli Bible (1902, 2019), and WU Ching-hsiung's Wenli New Testament & Psalms (1949) translate the "world" in "God so loved the world" (John 3:16) as either世sai3[the world] or 世界sai3 gaai3 [the world], instead of世人sai3 jan4 [humans of the world].

6. A Self-serving Megalomaniac Desire

In conclusion, this kind of manipulation is probably a result of the translators' and/or their patrons' conscious/unconscious megalomaniac desire to exaggerate the status of the human species in God's plan, and to degrade non-human sentient beings to the level of nothingness so that human beings may feel self-justified in exploiting, abusing, raping, murdering and devouring innocent, helpless animals at will.

Pic credit: Chapman Chen


1. The romanisation system used for Chinese characters in this article is Jyutping, a romanisation system for Cantonese developed by the Linguistic Society of Hong Kong (LSHK), an academic group, in 1993.

2. The Chinese translations of John 3:16 as in the first 12 Chinese versions of the Bible can be found at ; and that by the last Chinese version at


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

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

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

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

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