Human Megalomania in Chinese Translations of "Thou Shalt Not Kill". Go Vegan! By Dr. Chapman Chen
Updated: Dec 31, 2022
Summary: As put by Reuben Alcalay (1981), one of the greatest contemporary linguists cum author of The Complete Hebrew-English Dictionary, the 6th Commandment "Thou shalt not kill" (Exodus 20:13 KJV; Matthew 19:18 KJV) means "any kind of killing whatsoever." The original Hebrew, he points out, is לֹא תִּרְצָח Lo tirtzakh, which requires us to stop ourselves from killing any sentient beings altogether. However, most mainstream churches interpret it as "Thou shalt not commit homicide" and most Chinese versions of the Bible translate it likewise, thereby excluding innocent abused animals. This must have come from megalomania on the part of humans (Note 1) with a view to 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.
1. Why is the Interpretation of the 6th Commandment Crucial?
"Thou shalt not kill" (Exodus 20:13 KJV; Matthew 19:18 KJV) is the Sixth Commandment in Protestantism and the Fifth Commandment in Catholicism. The translation/interpretation of this commandment is of paramount importance for upon it hinges whether Christianity is a vegan religion or a meat-eating one.
2. Do not Kill ≠Do not Kill Humans!
Unfortunately, 13 Chinese versions of the Bible (Note 3) all translate the commandment as in Exodus 20:13 as 不可殺人bat1 ho2 saat3 jan4 /毋殺人 mou4 saat3 jan4 (Note 2) [Do not kill humans].
The 13 Chinese versions of the Bible consulted in this article include (Note 3): Canton Colloquial Bible (舊新約全書.廣東話) by British and Foreign Bible Society（聖書公會）(1907), 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), 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.
Concerning the same commandment as quoted by Jesus in Mark 10:19, 16 Chinese versions (Note 4) are consulted, namely, Canton Colloquial Bible (舊新約全書.廣東話) by British and Foreign Bible Society（聖書公會）(1907), 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), New Testament of Griffith John (新約全書.楊格非譯本) (1887, 1903), New Testament: Canton Revised Version, American Standard Revision (新約全書 中西字 ) by the American Bible Society (1927), 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), Studium Biblicum Version（聖經思高本）(1968). Among them only New Testament of Robert Morrison (1826), New Testament of Griffith John (1903), the Chinese Union Wenli Bible (1919, 2019) and WU Ching-hsiung's Wenli New Testament & Psalms (1949) translate it as 勿殺 mat6 saat3 [Do not commit killing], or不可殺bat1 ho2 saat3 [Do not kill], or毋殺mou4 saat3 [Do not kill], instead of不可殺人bat1 ho2 saat3 jan4 /毋殺人 mou4 saat3 jan4 /勿殺人mat6 saat3 jan4 [Do not kill humans]. That is to say only one-fourth of the Chinese translations do not manipulate the Sixth Commandment in a humanocentric way.
Similarly, as regards the same commandment as quoted by Jesus in Matthew 18:19, among the 16 Chinese versions as listed in the last paragraph (Note 5), only New Testament of Robert Morrison (1826), New Testament of Griffith John (1903), the Chinese Union Wenli Bible (1919, 2019) translate it as 勿殺 mat6 saat3 [Do not commit killing], or不可殺bat1 ho2 saat3 [Do not kill], instead of不可殺人bat1 ho2 saat3 jan4 /毋殺人 mou4 saat3 jan4 /勿殺人mat6 saat3 jan4 [Do not kill humans].
In fact, this commandment is interpreted by most mainstream churches both in the West and in the East as "Thou shalt not commit homicidal murder." The Great Bible 1539, dedicated to Henry VIII, with a Prologue by the Archbishop of Canterbury, translated the same commandment as quoted by Jesus in Matthew 19:18 as "Thou shalt not commit manslaughter." (Note 6) There are also academics nowadays who actually want to alter it to "Thou shalt not commit homicide." (See Freedom 2000:111).
3. Kill vs Murder
Admittedly, the Hebrew word for "murder" is רָצַח ratzakh, whereas the word for "kill" is הָרַג haroq. The commandment, in the original Hebrew, indeed states: "Lo tirtzakh" (a form of ratzahh), not "Lo Taharoq." But still we submit that Reuben Alcalay is justified in asserting that tirtzakh means "any kind of killing whatsoever" on two grounds.
(The primary definitions of "to kill" according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary are "to deprive of life", "to slaughter an animal for food", "to put an end to", and "to destroy the vital or essential quality of". "Murder" as a noun, is primarily defined in legal terms by Webster's New Universal Unabridged Dictionary as "the unlawful and malicious or premeditated killing of one human by another"; as a verb, it is primarily defined as "to kill (a person) unlawfully and with malice." Secondary definitions include "to kill inhumanly and barbarously, as in warfare" or "to destroy; to put an end to.")
4. Jesus Expands on "Thou Shalt not Kill"
Firstly, Luke (18:20), Mark (10:19), and Matthew (5:21-22) all urge adherents to transcend conventional understandings of this prohibition. For instance, Jesus expands on the formal definitions of "Thou shalt not kill" as follows:- “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment;" (Matthew 5:21-22 ESV)
5. Beyond Legalistic Principles
Secondly, the primary definitions of "murder" and "kill" are given by human linguists, mostly meat-eating, and animals who do not enjoy equal rights as humans are naturally omitted from the formal definitions so that it will not be unlawful for humans to take innocent animals' lives. However, provided that we consider murder in a practical manner and look at what it in reality is, beyond just legalistic principles, we are met head-on with the secondary designations of "murder" abovementioned, both of which are for sure applicable to animals (cf. Rosen 2019). As a matter of fact, "He that killeth an ox is as if he slew a man" (Isaiah 66:3 KJV) puts forwards a closer connection betwixt "kill" and "murder".
The (mis)translation/(mis)interpretation of "Thou shalt not kill" as "Thou shalt not commit homicide", such that non-human animals are excluded, reveals anthropocentrism according to Revd Prof. Andrew Linzey (1995:33-34) and Prof. David Clough (2011:88), or speciesism according to Peter Singer (1975:6), in other words, megalomania, self-aggrandizement, self-worship, and self-deification, on the part of homo sapiens.
6. 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.
7. 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.
8. 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).
As "God is love" (1 John 4:16 NIV), follow the Sixth Commandment "Thou shalt not kill", in the sense of "Do not kill any sentient beings," dump our human supremacy, love all sentient creatures of God, and go vegan!
1. Freud (1916, 1991) referred to mankind's self-appointed lordship over the other inhabitants of the earth as “human megalomania”.
2. 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.
3. The Chinese translation of Exodus 20:13 by Canton Colloquial Bible (1907) can be found at http://bkbible.fhl.net/ob/ro.php?book=227&procb=3; the subsequent 11 Chinese versions at https://wd.bible/bible/verse/exo.20.13.ccbt; and the last Chinese version at https://www.ccreadbible.org/Chinese%20Bible/sigao/Exodus_bible_Ch_20_.html . Cantonese is a major time-honored language among the various languages of China.
4. http://bkbible.fhl.net/ob/ro.php?book=227&procb=3 ; http://bkbible.fhl.net/ob/ro.php?book=222&procb=1 ; http://bkbible.fhl.net/new/ob.php?book=225&version=&page=37 ; https://wd.bible/bible/verse/mrk.10.19.wdv; https://www.ccreadbible.org/Chinese%20Bible/sigao/Mark_bible_Ch_10_.html
Chen, Chapman (2020). "Proofs that Jesus was Vegan." HKBNews, Dec. 28 (https://www.hkbnews.net/post/proofs-that-jesus-was-vegan-%E6%85%88%E6%84%9B%E8%80%B6%E7%A9%8C%E9%A3%9F%E5%85%A8%E7%B4%A0-by-chapman-chen-hkbnews )
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.
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. (2019). Holy Cow: The Hare Krishna Contribution to Vegetarianism & Animal Rights. New York: Lantern Books.
Singer, Peter (1975). Animal Liberation. New York: Harpercollins.