Term question in Korea 1882-1911, and its Chinese roots: a study in continuity and divergence
Ahn, Sung Ho
This thesis aims to study Western missionaries’ theological debate over the choice of the name of God, known as the Term Question, in the Korean Bible, a controversy which implied a certain theological position in terms of the degree of continuity or discontinuity between existing Korean theistic belief and faith in the God of Bible. This thesis seeks three goals. First, it attempts to analyse the Chinese roots of the Term Question in Korea. In China, the Term Question first arose among Roman Catholic missions from 1637 to 1742 between an indigenous Confucian term, Shangti 上帝 (Sovereign on High), favoured by the Jesuits, notably Matteo Ricci, and a neologism, T’ienzhu 天主 (the Lord of Heaven), used by the Dominicans and the Franciscans. A second phase of the Chinese Term Question involved nineteenth-century Protestant missions, and confronted missions with a choice between Shangti, most notably advocated by James Legge of the London Missionary Society, and Shen 神 (a generic term for god), supported by a majority of American missionaries. These three Chinese theistic terms were imported into the Korea mission field. John Ross of the United Presbyterian Church in Manchuria, in his first Korean New Testament (1877-1887), translated the name of God as Hananim, the Supreme Lord of Korean indigenous religion, on the basis of the Shangti edition of the Delegates’ Version. The first Korean Roman Catholics and later the Anglican missions in Korea adopted Ch’onzhu (Chinese T’ienzhu), following Catholic practice in China. A Korean diplomat in Japan, Su-Jung Lee, adopted Shin (Chinese Shen) from the Shen edition of the Chinese Bible, in his Korean Bible translations (1883-1885). The need to choose between the these three Korean theistic terms, derived theologically from the three corresponding Chinese theistic terms, consequently triggered the Term Question in Korea from 1882 to 1911. Second, the thesis argues that there was a significant theological continuity between the Chinese and Korean Term Questions. The Term Question in both China and Korea proceeded on a similar pattern; it was a terminological controversy between an indigenous theistic term (Shangti and Hananim) on the one hand and a neologism (T’ienzhu and Korean Ch’onzhu) or a generic term (Shen and Korean Shin) on the other hand. Central to both Term Questions was the theological issue of whether a primitive monotheism, congruent with Christian belief, had existed among the Chinese and Koreans. It will suggest that whilst those who adhered to a degeneration theory of the history of religions used either Shangti or Hananim as the name of the God of the Bible, those who rejected the existence of primitive monotheism preferred to use the neologism or the generic term. Third, this thesis suggests that there was, nevertheless, a significant divergence between the Term Question in China and that in Korea. Whereas the Term Question in China became polarised for over three centuries between two equal and opposite parties – between the Jesuits (Shangti) and the Dominicans-Franciscans (T’ienzhu), and later between the Shangti party and the Shen party in Protestant missions, that in iv Korea was a short-term argument for three decades between a vast majority (of the Hananim party) and a small minority (the opponents of Hananim). It is argued that the disproportion in Korea in favour of Hananim was due to the much closer analogy between Hananim and the Christian trinity, as seen in the Dan-Gun myth, than was the case with Shangti in Chinese religion. For this reason, the thesis concludes by suggesting that the adoption of the indigenous monotheistic term, Hananim, in a Christian form contributed to the higher rate of growth of the Korean church compared to that of the church in China.