The Chinese Translation of Prophet and Prophecy

The misunderstanding that a prophecy means a prediction about the future is common among Christians. For a long time, I also had this misconception since I had always used the Chinese Bible until I moved to America. In most of the Chinese Bibles, the term “prophet” is always translated as “future-predictor” while a “prophecy” is translated as “future-prediction”.

Not widely known, the Recovery Version of the Bible in Chinese is probably the only one who has tackled this problem by translating “prophet” not into “future-predictor” but a term close to “forth-teller of God” or “mouthpiece of God”. It is also good to remember that we are to pursue earnestly the gift of prophecy (or prophesying) in his letters, because it strengthens, encourage, and comfort saints,

“Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy.  For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to people but to God. Indeed, no one understands them; they utter mysteries by the Spirit.  But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort. Anyone who speaks in a tongue edifies themselves, but the one who prophesies edifies the church. I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be edified.” (1 Cor 14:1-5)

Even more so, our prophesying can lead unbelievers to God.

“But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.” (1 Cor 14:24-25)

Nevertheless, since now we have the complete scripture in hand, we should note that a proper prophesying should not add any”new” revelation that does not line up with what the Bible has told us. We should always test it with the word of God,

“Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge. But if anything is revealed to another who sits by, let the first keep silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged.”

Even though we may not be able to change the translation back in most of the Chinese Bibles, we can still alter our concepts (for those who have misunderstood its meaning). May we “follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit” so that “all may learn and all may be encouraged”.

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