Part II, first of 4 lessons.  lesson 5 – literacy

Through today’s lesson, we hope you will treasure the contributions Christians have made to society, and you will be more motivated to help society.

1.Helping Society. Jesus said that when non-Christians see our good works, we hope that they will see God’s love working in us and want to give glory to our Father in heaven.1 Throughout the centuries the Church has reached out to society, seeking to minister to the needy and to raise the living standards of all peoples. Because of these efforts of the Church and common Christians, the world is a better place in which to live. In this lesson we will discuss the Church’s contribution to society in the areas of literacy and education, and social welfare.

2. Copying. The Christian church also is the main force that sustained literary works during the difficult time in European history called the “Dark Ages.”   In 476, the European part of the Roman Empire was taken over by Germanic tribes.  Schools were destroyed, so after a generation most people could not read.  During this time the Christian monks in monasteries faithfully copied the books from Rome that had preserved the ideas of civilization, until Europe finally began to recover and schools were established again.

3. Written languages. Many Christians over the centuries have devoted themselves to helping a group of people develop and read a written language.  These Christians move to a country, invest many years to learn to speak the language, then help the people create an alphabet.  The Christians teach the people to read, and then they translate the Bible into that language so the people can read the Bible for themselves.  They have then trained local people to teach this new written language.  As a result, many peoples who would have been left behind as civilization advanced have been able to survive and make a contribution to world civilization.  2000 years ago, many people did not have a written language.  Now hundreds of written languages have been developed.  Many of these were developed by Christians.  Today there are hundreds of Christians  working with minority groups all over the world.  Each missionary must be willing to devote 20 or 30 years to complete the process of learning the language, inventing the writing system, translating the Bible, and training teachers.  As a Christian, you are part of this world-wide movement to help all people become literate.

4. Russian. One of the most famous examples of developing written language happened when in 863, two missionaries² invented the alphabet used by the Russians.  The leader of the church in Constantinople sent them to a group of people called the Slavs who lived in eastern Europe.  The Slavic language was quite different from the Greek language which the missionaries spoke.  But after they learned the Slavic language, they created an alphabet by using and adapting a lot of the Greek letters.  The Russians are a Slavic people, and so the Russians later used this same alphabet.  That is why the Russian letters do not look like the Roman letters used for English and most European languages. After the Russians and the other Slavic peoples had an alphabet, and the missionaries translated the Bible into this alphabet, these peoples became believers, and most are now part of the Eastern Orthodox Church.

5. Unwritten languages. In 1917, an American missionary3 went to Central America. He planned to share about the Bible using Spanish, however, he discovered that even though the educated people in the cities could speak Spanish, there were hundreds of minority groups living in country villages that could not speak Spanish.  He moved to one of the villages and lived there for many years.  He finally learned their language and invented an alphabet for them.  In 1934 he established an organization4 to train more translators to invent writing systems for peoples that need them. Today many churches and organizations take part in this work.

6. The Old Testament books. Paul write that the Bible is given by inspiration of God.5 The church therefore had to agree on which books belong to the Bible.  For the Old Testament, many of the books include the phrase “God said,” so it is clear that they are inspired by God. Around the year AD 100, the final decision about which books belong in the Hebrew Bible were made by Jewish scholars.    When the Hebrew Bible was translated into Greek between 250 and 150 BC,, additional books written in Greek by Jews were included. These Greek writings are commonly called the apocrypha.6  To see a list, scroll down at the page Bible Books.

7. The New Testament books,.  Peter, the writer, regarded Paul’s letters as sacred scripture (footnote 7).   The early believers agreed that the Gospels and Paul’s letters were God’s Word, and quoted them in their letters.  For example, a writer in 150 AD³² refers to the “memoirs of the apostles” and includes among them the gospels.  A writer in 180³³ refers to “the four gospels.”  For a time there were different opinions about including some other books.10  Finally, in 367 a church leader11 wrote a letter including the names of the 27 books we still regard as the complete New Testament.  This decision had been arrived by consensus among the believers during the early centuries. An official church meeting authorized this list of 27 books in the year 393.12

8. Bible numbers. Around 1205 a scholar13 at the University of Paris divided the Bible into chapters.    In 1551, a printer14  in France divided the chapters of the New Testament into verses.

9. Bible translating. Bible translating was always an important first step in spreading Christianity, and the excellence of the translations then became a standard for the languages.  Here are three famous examples.  All of these Bible were translated from the original languages: the New Testament was originally written in Greek, and the Old Testament in Hebrew.  In 397 a scholar named Jerome translated the Bible from the original languages into Latin.15   In his Old Testament, he included both the Hebrew and the Greek books (the apocrypha), and the Catholic Church has continued to include them. In 1550 the Catholic Church declared that both the Hebrew books and the apocrypha are authorities for church teaching. The Protestant churches regard only the Hebrew Old Testament as having authority.

10. Printed Bibles. In 1456 a German named Johan Gutenberg who had built a printing press published the first printed Bible in Europe.  (He had adapting the Chinese idea of using separate blocks for each word in order to make letters in the European languages) . The Bible he printed was the Latin translation.  In 1522 Martin Luther translated the New Testament into German, and The Old Testament followed in 1534.    His language became a standard for German.. Around 1380. Wycliffe helped organize the first translation of the Bible into English.   In 1611, King James of England authorized a new translation of the Bible into English.  This Bible became a model for the English language, and was the standard English Bible up to the twentieth century. The most common Chinese translation used today was produced in 1919. 16

11. Teaching materials. Writing teaching material to introduce Christianity to common people began very early. These books were called catechisms (originally Greek, meaning was Guidance.) As early as 375, a large catechism was completed.  The Creed, the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, already were included within the catechism. The ruler of central Europe wanted to promote Christian knowledge among his citizens, so in 770, Emperor Charlemagne commanded his religious counselor17 to prepare a catechism.  After the reformation, many church groups prepared catechisms.18

12. Weekend. Missionaries brought the Christian method of counting the days of the week around the world.  The idea of having seven days in one week is our legacy from the Old Testament.  In the Old Testament, God told his people to rest on the seventh day.²²  After the time of Christ, Sunday gradually came to replace Saturday among non-Jews as the day of rest and worship, because Jesus rose from the dead on a Sunday.  In 321 the Roman emperor19, a Christian, declared Sunday a legal holiday.This custom has spread around the world.

13. Calendar.   Around 525 a Christian scholar20 introduced the idea of counting years starting at the time of Christ, and naming years with the phrases “before Christ” and “after Christ.” (abbreviated BC and AD, which is from the Latin words Anno Domini, “year of the Lord.”)  In 1582, the pope21 refined the calendar, adding more leap years.  We now realize that the first calculation was wrong, and the birth of Jesus actually occurred 6 or 7 years before the date we call “one year after Christ.”  In our century, scholars who do not want to mention the name of a religious person have begun the custom of changing the phrase “after Christ” to “common era;” the time before Christ is then called “before common era.” (abbreviated CE and BCE). This method is common in China.

14. What about you. You can continue the great work of Christianity by sharing the gospel with people in their own languages.  China has many dialects.  People like you are needed who can help cross the divide from one dialect to another.  Perhaps you grew up in a situation where you already know several languages.  You are a unique gift from God!  Can you recognize this gift, and purposely use your language ability to reach those who are not comfortable speaking the common language? Perhaps you live near members of a minority group. Perhaps no one is reaching them because the Christians around them have not yet learned their language.  Maybe you can be the first one to study their language and to bring the good news of Jesus to them.

On to next chapter         Return to church History English Menu

1) Matthew 5:16.   2) Methodius and Cyril. The alphabet is named after him: Cyrillic.
3) Cameron Townsend.   3) Dionysius Exiguus   11) Stephen Langton   `12) Robert Estienne
4) Wycliffe Bible Translatiors.  5) 1 Timothy 3:16
6)  The word apocrypha means “hidden.” This simply refers to the fact that the Greek books were mixed in among the Hebrew books. They are also called “deutero-canonical.”  The first word means “second,” and the second word means “official list.”
7) 2 Peter 3:15-16.    8)) Justin Martyr.    9} Irenaeus
10} Whether to include Second Peter, Hebrews, and James.
11) Athanasius    亚他那修     亞他那修.        12) Synod of Hippo.

13) Stephen Langton. At that time he was a professor at the University of Paris. In 1227 a Latin Bible was published using his chapter numbers. That is why some reference books say that he created the chapter numbers in 1227. Reference:
14} Robert Etienne
15) Jerome.  13) This Latin translation is called the Vulgate, which meant it was in the language used by the common people who spoke Latin.  In 1609 the Catholic Church published the Bible in English. It was a translation of the the Latin translation. It is called the Douay=Rheims version.  In 1970 the Catholic Church published the New American Bible, translated from the original Greek and Hebrew.

16}  Chinese Bible. Roman Catholic missionaries translated parts of the Bible in the eighteenth century, but they were not printed or available for large numbers of people. The first printed Chinese version was when in 1814 Robert Morrison published the New Testament in Chinese.  The Old Testament was printed in 1823, the work of Morrison and another missionary.  Morrison made use of some Catholic examples that he found, and also used a Chinese version of Matthew’s gospel that was translated in 1807 by a missionary in India.

Revisions. Once the Chinese Bible was printed, many people tried to improve it.  Versions were prepared by Morrison’s son, by Germans, by Russians, and by Baptist missionaries.  One difficulty was deciding what names to call our Lord. In 1859 the American Bible Society published a version using “shen” for “God”  and “sheng ling” for “Holy Spirit,” and these words have become common usage.  In 1867, other Bibles were published, some using “Shang-di,”  some using “Tian Zhu,” and some using “Zhen Shen.”  The Roman Catholic church prefers to use the word “Tian Zhu.” In 1890, it was decided to create a “union” version, supported by all the churches and Bible societies.  In 1919 the “Guo Yu He He Ben” 和合本 (today’s most common Chinese Bible) was finished, and has gained standard acceptance by Chinese around the world.  In 1975 the United Bible Society published “Today’s Chinese Version.” Other new Chinese translations are the “New Life Bible,”,the “Chinese Standard Bible,”  and the “New Translation.”

Bibles in China. In 1987 the United Bible Society helped establish Amity Press in China. As of 2016, it has printed 150 million Bibles.  Also in 2016, a Bible translation was completed for one of the minority groups in China, the East Lisu people in Yunnan province.

Chinese Newspapers and Magazines. In 1815 Morrison and others established the first modern Chinese newspaper, called  “news of all nations;” it is said that the Guang Jie emperor wanted to read this paper every day. The thoughts of Sun Yat-sen were first published in this paper.   This newspaper had a long and major influence on the history of Chinese journalism.  Many others then established newspapers, and through these the Chinese were not only introduced to the gospel, but also introduced western political thought and scientific ideas.  By 1907, a translation organization called the “Society for Learning” had translated and published more than 300 books.

17) Alcuin
18} Some well-known catechisms:

Year Creator Name
1529 Luther Small catechism
1542 Calvin Geneva catechism
1563  Reformed churches Heidelberg Catechism
1566 Roman Catholic church Roman Catechism
1885  Roman Catholic church Baltimore Catechism
1990  Roman Catholic Church New Catholic Catechism

19) Constantine.    20) Dionysius Exigus
21)  Pope Gregory 13th, so the calendar we use today is called the Gregorian calendar
22) Exodus 20:9-11.

Word List. Catechism  [yao li wen da]    要理问答   要理問答.  Charlemagne [chá lî màn] 查理曼.    Dark Ages [hei àn shí qi]  黑暗时(時)期.  Guo yu he he ben国语和合本。Holy Spirit [shèng líng] 圣灵    聖靈.  Jerome [ye roú mî]  耶柔米.  monks [nán xiu shì]  男修士. Shén 神。  Shàng Dì  上帝。    tian zhû 天主。 Today’s Chinese Version  [xian dai zhong wen yi ben]  现代中文译本.    Wycliffe [wei kè lî fu] 威克里夫。zhen Shén  真神