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James Curtis Hepburn and the Translation of the New Testament into Japanese

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A Case Study of the Impact of China on Missions beyond Its Borders

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For more content, please see Le Fait Missionnaire.

This study focuses on the role of James Curtis Hepburn (1815–1911), the pioneer Presbyterian missionary doctor in Japan and a lexicographer who gave his name to the standard form of transliteration of Japanese into English, in the translation of the New Testament into Japanese. Hepburn’s earlier experiences as a medical missionary in China had a significant impact on his attitude toward language study and translation work after his arrival in Kanagawa in 1859. This study shows the importance of the Chinese language Christian tracts, and Bible translations made by China missionaries in serving as a cultural bridge to help open and to expedite the transmission of Christian and Western ideas into Japan as Hepburn and his missionary colleagues struggled to master the Japanese language and to translate the Gospels. However, after 1873 when the open propagation of Christianity among the Japanese began, the greater fluency of missionaries in Japanese and the growing desire of the Japanese to learn English and to concentrate on Western rather than Chinese learning led to the decline in the importance of Chinese language both in the evangelization of Japan and in Bible translation.

Affiliations: 1: Royal Military College, Kingston Ontario, Canada


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