There are two strategies for a totalitarian government to eliminate Christianity. One is to eradicate Christians by persecution. The other is to co-opt Christianity, changing its teachings so that they conform to the totalitarian ideology.
Historically, neither of these approaches have worked to extinguish the Christian faith. But China is pursuing both tracks.
Lately, the Chinese Communists have launched a plan to “sinicize” Christianity–that is, to make it more Chinese–and to make it conform to socialist principles. The plan includes making a new translation of the Bible.
So far, carrying out this plan in the state-sanctioned churches has meant replacing posters of the Ten Commandments with posters of the Principles of Socialism and replacing crosses and pictures of Jesus with portraits of Communist Party chairman Xi Jinping.
As reported by Cameron Hilditch in his article China’s Communist Christ, the new Bible has not yet been released, but part of it has been published in a high-school text book on ethics and law. The passage is John 8:1-11, the account of the woman taken in adultery. You know the story, in which Jesus shames the crowd that was ready to stone her in accord with the Law, by saying, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” Whereupon one-by-one, her would-be executioners walk away.
But the new translation replaces the next part, in which Jesus says “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” Instead, the revised standard Communist version says this:
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.”
Let that sink in for awhile. This is not translation, not contextualization, not adapting the text to make it more understandable to a culture. It is making the text say the exact opposite of its actual meaning. Instead of forgiving the woman, Jesus kills her! And instead of indicting the sinners who are presuming to punish another sinner, the Communist version says that sinners are supposed to punish sinners. On top of that, the Communist version erases the deity of Christ and the possibility of His being our sinless substitute who can atone for our sins by making Him say, “I too am a sinner.” And all of this presented as being from the Bible, a counterfeit that claims the authority of God’s Word!
As Hilditch discusses, Chinese Communism can allow for no one to think about breaking its laws. And it can allow for no transcendent God, which would mean that there is an authority greater than that of the state.
Not that China’s underground church, which is growing like wildfire, is likely to be fooled. See these posts by Chinese Christian and fellow Patheos blogger Jackson Wu [not his real name]: China’s Five-Year Plan for Adapting Christianity to Chinese Socialism and “Sinicized Christianity” Is Not Christianity.