China’s Communist Christ
Last fall we learned of the Chinese Communist Party’s intention to undertake its own, state-approved “translation” of the Bible. Evidently, the Christian Scriptures are not as amenable to CCP orthodoxy as the Politburo would like.
According to the state-run Xinhua News Agency, the Party assembled a group of obedient and pliable “scholars” late last year and charged them with “making accurate and authoritative interpretations of classical doctrines to keep pace with the times.” In other words, the CCP plans to turn the Scriptures into another piece of regime propaganda by rewriting them beyond all recognition.
We don’t yet have access to the full “Chairman Xi Version” of the Bible, but the first fruits of this sordid endeavor were made public last week, when a government-run press published a textbook for high-school students. The textbook, which is used to teach “professional ethics and law,” includes a passage from the eighth chapter of the Gospel According to John. The passage recounts the famous story of the woman caught in adultery by Jesus’ enemies and brought before him for judgment. This story is used by the authors of the textbook as a Party-approved moral example of how obedience to the law at all costs is absolutely necessary — an important principle to instill in schoolchildren for a government that brooks no disobedience to its own laws.
Those familiar with the passage in question will know how ill-suited it is to the purpose of instructing students in the art of unflinching submission to the letter of the law. The CCP is evidently aware of this, because it has made significant changes to the text. For those who haven’t read the story before, here is the original as it appears in John’s Gospel:
John 8:1-11 KJV – “Jesus went unto the mount of Olives. And early in the morning he came again into the temple, and all the people came unto him; and he sat down, and taught them. And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst, they say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou? This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not. So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her. And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground. And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.”
The CCP “translation” reproduces the story more or less word for word — up until the point at which Jesus is left alone with the woman whom the Pharisees had dragged before him. Events then take an altogether bizarre and diabolical turn:
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.”
You read that right: In this telling, Jesus gets rid of the crowd so he can have the pleasure of bashing the woman’s skull in himself.
Needless to say, this alteration is blasphemous and offensive to Christians, but we would do well to understand why the CCP has decided to make it. The story of Jesus and the adulteress is clearly impermissible to the Party in its original form. Though everything up until Jesus is left alone with the woman can be assimilated, their final exchange is disqualified, replaced by something not just tolerable but useful to the CCP. Such points of divergence between the CCP Bible and its source material tell us a lot about what the Politburo sees as the irreconcilable differences between Western and Chinese civilization.
The first “problem” with John’s account from the CCP’s perspective lies with the rather lordly license Jesus takes with the Mosaic code. He rejects the idea that strict adherence to the letter of the law suffices to accomplish the will of God. This skeptical attitude toward the efficacy of legal requirements was built in to Christian theology from the start.
The political implications of this are obvious. If the state can no longer claim to embody God’s purposes on Earth, which are accomplished in the realm of conscience, then government is limited by the rights of conscience, upon which it cannot infringe. Jesus’s treatment of the adulteress separates legislation from morality for perhaps the first time in history. Read alongside several of his other statements in the New Testament (Matthew 22:21 being the most obvious), it amounts to the world’s first theory of limited government.
Needless to say, Communists are unlikely to greet this theory with unabated enthusiasm. In the eyes of the Chinese government, the actions of Communist Christ are a necessary corrective to the actual Son of God’s regrettable, irresponsible affection for freedom. The CCP’s scriptural redactors have Commie Christ inform the unfortunate woman whom he is about to kill that “if the law could only be executed by men without blemish, the law would be dead.” The idea of the law being dead is presented as the one unbearable scenario in the Chinese account. This is because no higher authority than the laws of the state can be acknowledged to exist if the CCP’s regime is to endure.
The same dynamic explains the other affirmation that springs from the mouth of Commie Christ in the revised text: He informs the woman that “I, too am a sinner.” Those who believe in the divinity of Jesus of Nazareth tend to set Him above all earthly authorities. This is what got the early Christians into so much trouble in the first place. Religious pluralism was permitted in classical Rome so long as the emperor was acknowledged by all to be above and beyond the claims of any particular deity. From the premise that “Jesus is Lord,” the first Christians drew the dangerous but ineluctable corollary that “Caesar isn’t.” Chairman Xi will undoubtedly want to prevent this syllogism from presenting itself to the minds of Chinese Christians. Affirmation of Jesus’s divinity would provide Chinese Christians with a transcendent and pre-political standard by which to judge the actions of their own government. Such standards, if held to by a large enough segment of the population, inevitably foster contractarian notions of government. Everywhere Christianity takes root, the authority of the state is soon thought by the governed to be conditional. For example, the following passage is taken from a letter written by Manegold of Lautenbach to Emperor Henry IV in the eleventh century. The author was not, needless to say, an apostle of Locke or Hobbes:
For the people do not exalt him above themselves so as to concede to him an unlimited power of tyrannizing over them, but to defend themselves against the tyranny and wickedness of others. However, when he who is chosen to repress evil-doers and defend the just begins to cherish evil in himself, to oppress good men, to exercise over his subjects the cruel tyranny that he ought to ward off from them, is it not clear that he deservedly falls from the dignity conceded to him and that the people are free from his lordship and from subjection to him since it is evident that he first broke the compact by virtue of which he was appointed?
Historically, the absolute claims of religion have also made absolute claims on the state. Christianity has not been immune to this tendency, but it has been alone in rejecting the idea that the state can or should embody God’s plan for the salvation of mankind. The CCP cannot allow the desacralizing of the state and the concomitant rise of conditional government circumscribed by the social compact to gain momentum in China. So Commie Christ has been invented as a necessary corrective to these dangerous notions.
There is much more that could be said about this project, but the most important point for Americans to grasp is that the CCP has learned from the mistakes of the Soviet Union where religion is concerned. Beijing’s co-opting, repackaging, and careful control of Christianity within China’s borders is in stark contrast with the Soviets’ outright, implacable hostility to organized religion. It’s similar in many ways to the Chinese Politburo’s preference for state capitalism over the Marxism–Leninism of old Eastern bloc. The CCP has learned that the long-term survival of a Communist super-state is better served by managing domestic elements hostile to Communist ideology rather than attempting to abolish them outright.
Wild horses might drag the people of China away from their tyrannical government, but rather than shoot the horses in true Soviet style, the CCP has decided to break and bridle them instead. The new Chinese Communism is one of social control, not social revolution. And so its architects allow for just enough capitalism to keep themselves in power, and for just enough Jesus to keep out Christ.
HD Editor’s Note: Why Is This News Biblically Relevant?
In most cases, China’s strategy has been to “surveil, kill and destroy” Christianianity where ever it springs up. However, in this strategy, they sought to re-write the infallible Word of God, twisting Biblical accounts to promote pro-communist propaganda and espouse strict adherence to the state.
This was not a twisting of Scripture; it was a total re-write that took the spotless lamb of God and presented Him as a guilty man with blood on His hands. Such an alteration disqualifies Jesus from being the Son of God and makes His work on the cross meaningless.
Arielle Del Turco, Assistant Director of the Center for Religious Liberty at Family Research Council, responded to the Chinese textbooks retelling of Scripture, saying that what they chose to alter was “revealing.”
“That the CCP made this change is revealing,” she said. “The Party’s story teaches that forgiveness, an important Christian value is rejected, and the law must be obeyed without question. In China, the law is whatever the CCP says.”
Adding that, “While China may technically allow Christianity, it only allows a version of Christianity remade in the image of the CCP.”
“Christians in China who refuse to bend to the Communist Party’s agenda are under intense pressure,” she further explained. “Government restrictions are growing tighter, and China’s capacity to surveil and control its population is unprecedented. As it grows more dangerous for them to express their faith in the face of government crackdowns, it is left to the rest of the world to speak in defense of believers in China.”
After a request for comment, Pastor Ed Hickey, senior and founding Pastor of Calvary Chapel London, told Harbingers Daily that this is another reason end times prophecy should be taken seriously.
“Who would have ever guessed that any government in our time would do such a thing?” the Calvary Chapel Pastor asked. “To actually re-write the Bible, all in the name of propaganda and controlling people.”
“To the best of my recollection, not even the old, atheistic Soviet Union did such a thing,” Hickey said. “The fact that the very last words of the Book of Revelation are being fulfilled by such a major player on the world stage is just one more reason for us to take end times prophecy all the more seriously.”
Revelation 22:18-19 KJV – “For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: and if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life…”