If you’re a Christian and you love China, today (October 14) is officially Joseph Schereschewsky day. (Joseph who?)
In the spirit of Hebrews 12, here’s 9 fun facts about this hall of fame brother in Christ:
- Born in Lithuania on 6 May 1831 into a Jewish family.
- While studying to be a rabbi, he was given a copy of the New Testament in Hebrew, which gradually convinced him that in Jesus, the promises of the Old Testament and the hopes of his people had been fulfilled.
- He was baptised in a Baptist church, but trained for seminary at a Presbyterian college, then joined the Episcopal (US branch of Anglican) church as a missionary to China.
- God gave Schereschewsky a gift of languages: he could speak 13 languages, read 20, and no other Western missionary was able to equal him in the mastery of spoken, idiomatic Mandarin. While William Tyndale lived in a different era and context, Schereschewsky’s impact on Bible translation is arguably just as important.
- Dating tip: When Schereschewsky and a fellow missionary heard that a smart, capable single woman was travelling to China to serve as a missionary, both resolved to marry her. While his friend waited at the docks for Susan Mary Waring’s ship to arrive, Schereschewsky walked hundreds of km’s up the Yangtze (長江) and hitched a ride on another boat to reach her first. When their ship arrived in port, Joseph and Susan were already engaged – much to his friend’s amazement (and disappointment). “Gifted with a fine intellect, good judgment, and a most amiable disposition,” Susan became Schereschewsky’s indispensable companion, co-worker and helpmate over 38 years of faithful marriage.
- He served as the Anglican Bishop of Shanghai from 1877 until 1883, when sunstroke forced him to give up his duties and reduced his ability to serve.
- By 1895 he became “paralysed in every limb, and with his powers of speech partly gone”. Yet, sitting for nearly twenty-five years in the same chair, he used two fingers to slowly and painfully type out a Mandarin translation of the entire Old Testament, and an Easy Wen-li translation of the whole Bible (with the help of Susan and several Chinese assistants).
- According to later translators and scholars, the final result of the CUV (和合本), still the most-used Chinese Bible, was largely based off Schereschewsky’s own translation work.
- Schereschewsky moved to Tokyo in the last 10 years of his life where he died and was buried. Marshall Broomhall, a fellow missionary, called him “probably the greatest Bible translator China ever had”.
You can read a fuller biography of Joseph and Susan here, or hear more about his story in this excellent podcast:
O God, who in your providence called Joseph Schereschewsky to the ministry of this church and gave him the gifts and the perseverance to translate the Holy Scriptures: Inspire us, by his example and prayers, to commit our talents to your service, confident that you uphold those whom you call; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.Lectionary reading, October 14 in the Episcopal Church