First Protestant Missionary to Translate the Bible into Chinese (End)

The article below is taken from

One can imagine what both men had to go through in those days, coupled with all the hardships and external powers resisting the work. Yet, the Lord raised up these men to persevere in the midst of immense difficulties and lay a foundation for many missionaries to enter into His service in years to come. Upon the advice of Morrison, Milne moved with his wife to Malacca (currently a Malaysian State) after six months in Canton, to find and establish a missionary base from which they could train new missionaries and continue the Bible translation without restraint. This base would also serve as a printing and distribution point from which the Scriptures could be sent out.

Together, they completed the entire Bible in 1819 and printed their first copy on a movable type printing press brought in from England. William Milne died one year before the first copy of the Bible was published in 1823. He is remembered as a faithful assistant to Morrison in the translation of the Chinese Bible. He was 37 years old. He is also remembered for establishing the English-Chinese College in Malacca. This college provided English-Chinese language training for future missionaries to China. Morrison grieved over the loss of his dear friend and helper William Milne as well as the loss of his first wife Mary.

The organization and preparations of publishing a Bible was immense. Every Chinese character had to be carved out of wood and positioned in the right order on the press plate of the printing press. Morrison ordered the carving of two sets of wooden movable type of all the characters of the then spoken language. Today, one needs to know about 3000 characters to read a newspaper. An educated reader will know up to 8000 characters. One can imagine the task to carve several thousand characters for the printing of the first Chinese Bible.

Often, Johannes Gutenberg has been accredited with the invention of the printing press in 1439. But, 400 years before his time, the Chinese were already printing with movable type. Around 1045, a Chinese inventor by the name Bi Sheng carved Chinese characters out of clay and glued them to a metal plate for printing. Later, these characters where carved from small wood blocks. Thus, the Chinese were already printing with movable type for almost 800 years by the time Morrison printed his first copies of the various Bible books.

Robert Morrison had become quite famous in England at this time and traveled there once while he was in China. During his visit to England, from 1824 through 1826, he was able to personally hand a copy of the Chinese Bible to King George IV. He was in great demand as a speaker, promoting the need for missionaries to go to China. He also married Elizabeth Armstrong on November 1825 and left again for China with his family in 1826.

Morrison continued to write and publish tracts and books on the Christian religion. He spontaneously contributed to articles in missionary journals worldwide to promote the cause of Christ’s Kingdom in China. He died on August 1, 1834, at the age of 52, from a fever and exhaustion. He was buried next to his first wife Mary and infant son James, at the Protestant cemetery in Macao. His grave can still be visited today.

During Morrison’s life, he developed a great respect for Chinese culture and language. His greatest contribution, next to his translation of the Bible, was to bring China to the attention of the Christian community in Europe and America. Thus, he served as a bridge between two very diverse cultures. His Bible translation paved the way for the precious Word of God to be brought by missionaries to the ancient people of China.