Does China Alter the Bible? Distorted Passage of Jesus Killing Adulterous Woman Denied as Legal Publication Again

The first picture was circulated online in 2020 and claimed to be the cover of a Chinese vocational school book Professional Ethics and Laws; the second is the cover of Professional Ethics and Laws, the first edition of January 2018 released by the University of Electronic and Science and Technology Press (Chengdu, Sichuan).
The first picture was circulated online in 2020 and claimed to be the cover of a Chinese vocational school book Professional Ethics and Laws; the second is the cover of Professional Ethics and Laws, the first edition of January 2018 released by the University of Electronic and Science and Technology Press (Chengdu, Sichuan).
By Anthony LeeMay 28th, 2024

In 2020, news about a Chinese vocational school book falsifying the biblical account of John 8:3–11 circulated on the Internet. Since then, this news has been considered China’s attempt to alter the Bible. Some religious people have commented on this act as “blasphemy.”

The account was denied as part of a legal publication shortly after the news broke. Recently, the denial was given again by the book’s publisher.

The news first appeared in UCA News on September 20, 2020, and was subsequently quoted by many international media. The news said that a textbook "aims to teach 'professional ethics and law' to the students of secondary vocational schools", released by the government-run University of Electronic and Science and Technology Press (Chengdu, Sichuan) in 2018, claimed that Jesus came to stone a woman caught in adultery to death instead of forgiving her sin.

The distorted passage was alleged to have reappeared in a Q&A part of the book Professional Ethics and Laws for secondary school students. It read: “Jesus once said to a crowd who indignantly claimed to stone a woman caught in a crime: ‘If any one of you is without crime, let him throw a stone at her to death.’ At this, those who heard stopped moving forward. When they slipped away, Jesus stoned her to death, saying, ‘I too am a sinner, but if the law could only be executed by people without blemish, the law would be dead.’ According to this short story, how do you regard the law?”

The UCA News author wrote, “A parishioner who uploaded the textbook on social media said the distortion was an insult to the Catholic Church.” The reporter interviewed Mathew Wang, a Christian teacher at a vocational school, who “confirmed the content but said the textbook content varies from place to place within China.” Wang added that “the controversial textbook was reviewed by the Textbook Review Committee for Moral Education in Secondary Vocational Education.”

Recently, the reporter of China Christian Daily tried to contact the author of the UCA news, but UCA told the reporter that the author had left the news outlet and couldn’t be reached.

A Chinese professor named Anna recently revealed to China Christian Daily that the news was spread by a post written by a Christian man on WeChat, China’s most popular social media. Raging at the distortion of the biblical passage, the young man, who was an active blogger, published an article on September 18, 2020, without verification. The professor said that he accidentally received two pictures of the textbook cover and the page from a group chat on WeChat and discussed it with the professor. The professor tried to persuade the young man to check the information to prevent any possible misunderstanding, telling him that there was no specific page number for such a passage and that content without verification was irresponsible for readers. However, the young man wrote the article on the same day with the purpose of apologetics. She recalled the scene at that time and said, “Before solid evidence is presented, no one with formal academic training would write something as provocative and inciting as this.”

Unexpectedly, the blogger’s post received much attention in China and even from the West after a few days. Shocked by such a reaction, the man deleted the post and asked for help.

To verify the “textbook,” the professor called the University of Electronics and Science and Technology Press on September 28, 2020, to confirm if the textbook was legally printed. However, the Sichuan press denied that the textbook was printed by them because the cover was different from theirs and there was no such religious content. The press inferred that the textbook was more likely to be illegally reprinted.

The press added that the professor was the first person to call them directly to verify the matter, although this occurred despite the news already spreading on social media in China and international media, leading to numerous reports and discussions suggesting that China was rewriting the Bible. Amid the storm, the publishing house was eager for an objective voice to emerge. Subsequently, the publishing house issued its statement.

On September 28, 2020, the press released an official announcement that the “textbook” that went viral on the Internet was an illegal publication, as the cover and layout were from their official 2018 version (ISBN: 978-7-5647-5606-2), and there was no such religious content inside. The statement said, “To protect the interests of our readers and our legitimate rights, we have reported the matter to the local public security authorities and the local anti-pornography and illegal publications office. We will pursue legal action against any institutions or individuals who print, distribute, or cannot provide a legitimate source for the books without our authorization. We will reward anyone who provides verified information about such infringing activities.”

Professor Anna recalled that the press told her that their legal textbook was published in 2018 with 2,000 copies but was not reprinted any longer, and there was no such content in their textbook.

The professor mentioned that it was highly likely a company had illicitly used its book identification number to print copies for profit. "If this is the case, the issue is even more serious," the professor said. "It involves not only economic problems but has also sparked numerous English-language reports, leading to a negative perception in international public opinion."

Upon learning that the textbook in question was not an official publication from the publishing house, the professor published an article on her WeChat public account. In this article, the professor explained the publishing house's stance and urged the public, especially Catholics, to remain calm and discerning in the face of online chaos. The professor noted that a week after the incident, she observed extensive discussions on social media in China and international media. "Many people saw the two screenshots of the textbook and felt outraged, believing that the passage distorted the Gospel, misled the public, and hurt the feelings of the faithful. They called for the responsible departments and authors to be contacted to demand an apology and to mitigate the impact," she said. However, the professor pointed out that their opinions were based solely on the two photos, which did not form a complete chain of evidence.

She advised readers in her article, saying, "Considering how this situation has developed, if a problem arises, communicate directly with the publisher to obtain first-hand information and avoid many misunderstandings and subjective speculations. If the situation is very serious, writing a letter or submitting a protest through the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association and Chinese Catholic Bishops College is a very effective and efficient channel."

The reporter of China Christian Daily recently purchased a copy of the school textbook released by the Sichuan press but has not found such an account. According to the picture carrying the distorted passage, the distorted text was under the section named “In-class Q&A,” but there is no section inside the copy the reporter owns. The official book cover is different from the one released online, despite having the same authors. The copyright page inside claims that the copy was the first edition of January 2018 and was printed as one of the first batches printed in January 2018.

The press recently confirmed the report. The latter denied such a claim and added again that the circulation of the 2018 version was small.

When the publisher issued the statement for 2020, they said they were considering reporting the matter to the police or pursuing legal action against the illicit company. However, they have not taken these actions so far.

As for the content in the images showing the altered Bible passage, the exact source remains unknown. Up to now, the original author of the WeChat post still hasn't seen this physical book, nor has Professor Anna found this physical book. The professor has stated both in 2020 and currently, "We still do not know where these two images came from or if this book actually exists."

Regarding the suspicion of piracy, the professor commented, "There is a substantial student population in vocational education, making the publication of pirated textbooks for mandatory school subjects profitable. Such unauthorized textbooks are completely outside the education department's regulatory scope." She also noted that Chinese authorities have been continuously investigating and managing the issue of pirated books. China has been cracking down on pirated books, as piracy remains a serious issue. Xinhua News Agency said that nearly 29 million pirated publications were destroyed by April 26, 2013, according to China Daily.

The professor discovered that the altered legal case depicted in the images had already been used online as early as 2008. This indicates that the textbook in question was not the originator of the rewritten case. Moreover, there are sources that provide related information about the story shown in the altered Bible passages in the photos.

The reporter of China Christian Daily has found out that the distortion at least appeared in 2005 rather than in 2018. It is included in a footnote in an accounting book named Figures Can Talk, released in 2005.

The footnote is annotated for a paragraph on page 49. The passage reads, “In a Bible story, Jesus once said to the crowd who furiously claimed to stone an adulterous woman. If any one of you is without sin, come forward and stone her. Hearing this, they stopped moving forward.” The text was written to defend auditors’ diligent service in case they are accused of being negligent over risks.

The story in this segment is consistent with the Bible, but the author added a footnote that included a humorous comparison. The footnote says, “Refer to John 8 in the New Testament. I read an interesting ending made up by posterity: when all the people retreated, Jesus took up the stone and killed her. He said, ‘I too am a sinner. But if the law could only be executed by people without blemish, the law would be dead.’ If we talk about it, words once said by Lu Xun (a prominent Chinese writer known for his influential literary works and social commentary, which profoundly shaped modern Chinese literature and cultural discourse)—' I'm not a cook, but I can still evaluate whether the food is well done or not'—are similar to this.”

It can be seen that this accounting book did not alter the Bible itself, but it is unclear whether the humorous comparison in the footnote led to some misunderstandings and misinterpretations. In China, the Bible is now not publicly available for purchase in bookstores and can only be bought through state-sanctioned TSPM churches. The reason is that the entire printing of the Bible has been entrusted to the publishing and distribution by the China Christian Council & the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM). The funds can be used to support church development, especially in impoverished areas. Additionally, Chinese people, in general, don’t really know much about the Bible, and most Chinese are unfamiliar with these biblical stories. It remains uncertain if this lack of familiarity contributed to misunderstandings and the creation of inaccurate content.

Regarding this matter, Professor Anna used the term "ignorance" to describe the lack of understanding among many people regarding biblical stories. Therefore, even some official textbook authors may make such mistakes. However, the likelihood of errors increases when it comes to pirated books or writings by individuals without qualifications.

In her 2020 article, the professor stated, "Many times, textbook authors make mistakes out of ignorance, not with the intent to provoke. A simple reminder or notification is usually sufficient, without the need to immediately escalate to protests. More than one source has used the distorted Bible story as a legal analysis. Although the impact is limited, it can serve as a reminder for religious individuals: You need to engage in more clarification and dialogue and prioritize interaction with professionals from different fields to help eliminate illiteracy."

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