More law than gospel – much more law – is the diet Christians in China usually receive from their churches. The demands of God’s law threaten to crush them; the freedom of the gospel is an unimagined dream. One of our professors who visited China for 316NOW last fall writes of one example of that misunderstanding.
There's something wrong
It has happened several times when I have taught the law and gospel course that 316NOW offers to Chinese Christian leaders. Part of the way into the study, the translator told me: “Pastor, there’s something wrong here.”
We were looking at Isaiah 40:1-3. We often hear it in the Advent season. It is the basis for the Advent hymn: “Comfort, Comfort, Ye My People.” Well, what could be wrong? That is such a comforting verse for us. God promising his forgiveness in the Savior-to-come.
Verse two says, “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem… that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” In the Chinese version, the translation says, “She has received from the Lord’s hand double punishment for all her sins.”
Double blessing, not punishment
Double punishment?! What comfort is that for sinners? The problem lies in the Chinese misunderstanding of this verse.
The word “punishment” is not in the original Hebrew. The word “double” contains the thought of a rich inheritance, not a punishment. It is similar to the Hebrew custom which gave the first-born son a double portion of the inheritance. How happy and thankful that son must have been to his parents. What a blessing!
Unfortunately, the Chinese version presents the opposite thought. Instead of picturing a gracious blessing of forgiveness and the comfort which it brings to repentant sinners, it speaks of condemnation. It turns a wonderful gospel promise into a threat of judgment.
Oh, how thrilled my Chinese students were to hear the true meaning of this golden prophecy from Isaiah!
The gospel's thrill
The thrill of discovering the joys of God’s grace happens every time we teach in China. It happens week after week in our online classes. Then, when they experience that thrill, our students share it with members of their congregations and many others.