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Craig Y. S. Ho

A very important event for Chinese biblical scholarship took place in Hong Kong during May 2004: the First International Congress of Ethnic Chinese Biblical Scholars, jointly sponsored by the Ethnic Chinese Biblical Colloquium and the Theology Division, [1] Chung Chi College, the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Seventy-four Chinese biblical scholars from all over the world met and delivered more than two dozen papers plus three public lectures. Compared with the maturity of biblical scholarship in Europe or America, scholarly study of the Bible in Hong Kong, it is fair to say, is just at its toddler stage, though it is beginning to grow rather healthily.

The Guild of Hong Kong Biblical Scholars
In Hong Kong, there are thirty-three theological institutions, thirteen of which are members of the protestant Hong Kong Theological Education Association. Among the thirteen, five offer doctoral programs. The teaching faculty has grown from 103 in 1991 to the recent 167 with 104 doctorates. At least fifty biblical scholars have doctoral degrees. [2] Hopefully the growing number of biblical scholars locally could build up a critical-mass large enough to form an active scholarly community, without which the production of good research is still possible but very difficult and would be a very lonely endeavor. Size of population is in fact a lesser problem than the very limited time available to biblical scholars to do a healthy amount of research. The reason is that they are almost all very pastorally involved in churches and preach frequently or teach evening theological extension courses locally and sometimes overseas during the summers. This is not just driven by financial necessity. It indicates a view of the inseparability of understanding and practice or education and edification as being two sides of the same coin — a tradition of ancient classical Chinese scholars who taught that good scholarship is not an end in itself but must lead to proper or honorable conduct, an ideal now greatly missed in present-day Hong Kong. The remark of one of the Hong Kong OT scholars is typical of the kind of functional understanding of biblical scholarship among Chinese biblical scholars:

XXXXAs Biblical scholars, we have dedicated ourselves to the task of original research in better understanding the Holy Scripture. As teachers of theological institutions, we are training a younger generation of pastors-scholars, those who will be able to serve as a bridge between the microcosm of the academics and the macrocosm of the laity. As a privileged and elite group within the Chinese Church, we have been called to serve the millions of our sisters and brothers who will need to be nourished by the Word of God throughout the days of their lives. This is our destiny, for this is our vocation from above. [3]

The rapid expansion of tertiary education in Hong Kong during the 1990s had lifted the expectation of the academic standard of ministers. Today, they can no longer be just good pastors but are expected to be very well qualified pastors-scholars. In order to train them to be such, more and better qualified scholars are needed and seminaries are therefore sending promising students as "reserved teachers" overseas to study in some of the best theological institutions. With China opening up its market, one sees an increasing amount of academic exchange between Hong Kong and its motherland, too. Seminaries and universities in the People's Republic of China are sending some promising students to Hong Kong. Many of them are working now on their doctorates. Some come as groups to different institutions for short-term intensive courses of biblical and theological studies especially designed for them. While mainland theological students come down to the south, Hong Kong biblical scholars go up to the north frequently to give lectures. The underdeveloped situation of biblical scholarship in China can be glimpsed by comparing the number of participants to the aforementioned biblical congress: twenty-five from Hong Kong, nine from Taiwan but only four from the People's Republic. I hope that in a few decades, there will be much more to write about for the topic biblical scholarship in China.

Research and Publication
Before 1990, one could hardly see articles contributed by Hong Kong biblical scholars to journals such as NovT, NTS, and JSOT. But after 1990, good research produced by Hong Kong biblical scholars started to appear slowly but steadily in international journals. [4] With one rare exception, [5] they have mostly been the work of several academics working in the two Hong Kong universities where the Bible is taught. One of the reasons for this "encouraging" phenomenon, I suppose, is that this has been helped by the recent funding policy of the University Grant Council, which has been allocating financial resources on the basis of performance. The "publish or perish" rule is not, however, as strictly followed in the seminaries as in the universities. This does not, of course, explain why excellent scholarly contributions are being made and published in about a dozen or so very good local Chinese theological journals, and one or two of them are striving to reach international standards. Another explanation for the steady growth of scholarship seems to me to be a generation of younger scholars (now between 40-55) who returned in their thirties with PhD's obtained from America or European universities in the 1980s and 1990s and who share a common vision that scholarly study of the Bible is good for the spiritual and intellectual health of the Church. These young scholars soon realized that one cannot be a good teacher without at least doing and publishing some good research. The fruits of their research are now available as articles, but more often as textbooks or reference works published for students in Chinese.

Research Direction
International exposure and exchange is paramount for sound scholarship. In this respect, the most important lectureship in biblical studies in Hong Kong is without a doubt the "Chuen King Memorial Lectures" which started in 1996. [6] World renowned biblical scholars who have held this lectureship include A.J. Malherbe (Yale) and C.K. Barrett (Durham), 1996; G. Theissen (Heidelberg), 1999; M. Hooker (Cambridge), 2000; J.M. Sasson (Vanderbilt), 2001; J.D.G. Dunn (Durham), 2003; C.L. Seow (Princeton), 2004; and, forthcoming in 2005, J. Barr (Vanderbilt). These world-class biblical lectures have been eagerly attended by the hundreds and were delivered in a non-technical style, attracting scholars, students of theology or religious studies, and interested lay-people. [7] This is certainly a very cost-effective way to promote biblical scholarship.

Judging from both the quantity and quality of published work in English and Chinese, Hong Kong biblical scholarship, in my opinion, is strongest in Pauline studies. Among Hong Kong NT scholars, one name must be mentioned: Ronald Y. K. Fung, who is now sixty-six years of age and for over thirty years has dedicated body and mind to writing commentaries at the highest possible standard for both professional and initiated lay readers of the NT. [8] Fung is an extremely disciplined and dedicated NT scholar who became more widely known internationally through the publication of his The Epistle to the Galatians (NICNT) in 1988. Fung approaches the NT not historical-critically, but historical-grammatically, which is a method adopted by most of the biblical scholars in the seminaries. If one reads his NICNT commentary, there are no hints in the exegesis itself to show that Fung is a Hong Kong Chinese NT scholar, but before reading K. K. Yeo's works, e.g. his three monographs, [9] one can tell just from the titles that Yeo is Chinese. I mention Yeo because although he is now teaching in the United States, he was professor of New Testament Studies and Biblical Hermeneutics in Alliance Bible Seminary, Hong Kong, during 1992-1996. Most if not all of his Chinese works were and are still being published in Hong Kong. He is a very prolific scholar who has been working very hard to make the NT culturally (and particularly) relevant to Chinese Christians through his cross-cultural hermeneutic — a method he claims to have borrowed from St. Paul himself when he addresses the Corinthians on the issue of eating sacrificial food offered to idols (1 Cor 8-9). A culturally similar issue for Chinese Christians is whether they should offer sacrifice to the ancestors as an expression of filial piety. Despite the differences of approaches, common to both Fung and Yeo is their shunning of the historical-critical approach and the acceptance of the NT as (absolutely?) normative. [10]

OT scholarship in Hong Kong, however, is so young that none of the OT scholars (with a doctorate) has retired yet! Many of them are still in their forties and the best known among them outside Hong Kong is Archie C. C. Lee, who after publishing several articles in JSOT and VT has turned to what he coined "cross-textual hermeneutics" [11] which aims at making the OT texts (more?) relevant to the Chinese Christians whose (literary, cultural, and social) "texts" are put in a dialogical, mutually give-and-take relationship with the biblical text. Lee has not given up the historical-critical approach, one of the many "the Text-Alone" methodologies used by European and American scholars, but finds it wanting because Asian people were born into very different cultures with their own scriptural, cultural, and social texts. The "Text-Context" approach has also been abandoned because it is just the application of the exegetical result of "the-Text-Alone" way of interpretation to the living context of the reader. Lee's new way of reading makes it unnecessary for Christians of the non-western world to give up their own inherited texts. They instead pick them up (again?) and re-read them in the light of the Bible and re-read the Bible in their light. A wonderful approach, but those who cannot read Chinese can hardly be part of the game.

In summary, it could be said that Hong Kong biblical scholarship is still too young to say what would become of her when she grows up. But I hope that through inter-subjective criticism in discussion, different methods of reading the Bible could make biblical studies a more enjoyable, enriching, and even exciting endeavor. And through whatever methods, it is hoped that finally one can at least know something more and better about the biblical text itself. Should not this (modest?) "truth-for-its-own-sake" aim be the common objective of the so many methods of biblical interpretation so far proposed by biblical scholars in the West and in the East?

Craig Y.S. Ho is Assistant Professor, Department of Religion and Philosophy, Hong Kong Baptist University.

[1] Will be renamed "Divinity School" on 1 August 2004.

[2] Stephen Lee, "Biblical Studies in the Chinese Context," paper presented in the First International Congress of Ethnic Chinese Biblical Scholars, Hong Kong, 2004. For a useful survey of theological education in Hong Kong, see Lung-kwong Lo, "Theological Education in Hong Kong: Retrospect, Review, and Challenge," in Chung Chi College in 40 years 1963-2003 (Hong Kong: Theology Division, Chinese University of Hong Kong, 2003).

[3] Stephen Lee, "Biblical Studies in the Chinese Context." This self-understanding is echoed in K.K. Yeo's words: "I feel my calling as a biblical scholar is to bridge the gap between churches and the academy, between laity and scholars." See his homepage on Research for its own sake hardly exists among Chinese biblical scholars.

[4] It was the late Rev. Dr. Arnold Yeung, the most prolific Hong Kong theologian, who first suggested back in 1981 that local theologians and biblical scholars should raise their academic standard by publishing in international journals or monograph series. For his vision and obituary, see Joseph Kwong, "Arnold, Who Can Forget You!" Theology Division News. Issue No. 75 Feb. 2002 (Shatin: Theology Division, Chung Chi College, Chinese University of Hong Kong).

[5] Prof. Ronald Y.K. Fung, an internationally known Pauline scholar, began publishing his research in as early as 1971 and has since had some twenty articles published in Evangelical journals, not to count those published in Chinese. He is probably the first Hong Kong NT scholar being honored with a Festschrift. See Biblical Studies and Interpretation (Essays in Honour of Dr. Ronald Y.K. Fung for His 60th Birthday), China Graduate School of Theology Journal No. 24, Jan. 1998.

[6] The lectureship's main purpose is to promote biblical scholarship and was donated by Mr. Bing-lai Wong, a reputable Hong Kong Christian businessman, to commemorate his father Mr. Chuen-king Wong. Instrumental to the setting up of this lectureship is Rev. Dr. Lung-kwong Lo, who has been Head of the Theology Division, Chung Chi College, Chinese University of Hong Kong, since 1995.

[7] The Christian (Catholic and Protestant) population of Hong Kong is very small, a mere 8% of 6.9 million population. Christian influences are, however, immense. The best schools are run by the Catholic and Protestant churches; two of the eight universities have Christian backgrounds; 19 (32%) of the 59 elected members of the legislative councils are Catholic or Protestants; 4 (6.7%) are Buddhist; the rest are not religious.

[8] He has published the following commentaries: Galatians (1982, NICNT in 1988), Philippians (1987), 1 Thessalonians (1989), 2 Thessalonians (1990), Hebrews (1995), and Romans (1999). He is now honorary research fellow, Theology Division, Chinese University of Hong Kong, and plans to write a third commentary on Galatians!

[9] Rhetorical Interpretation 1 Corinthians 8 and 10. A Formal Analysis with Preliminary Suggestions for a Chinese, Cross-Cultural Hermeneutic (Leiden: Brill, 1995); What has Jerusalem to do with Beijing. Biblical Interpretation from a Chinese Perspective (Harrisburg, Penn.: Trinity, 1998); Chairman Mao Meets the Apostle Paul. Christianity, Communism, and the Hope of China (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Brazos, 2002).

[10] In a review of his book What Has Jerusalem to Do with Beijing, A. S. J. Lie raises the question: "Should the Bible always be the starting-point in 'cross-cultural' hermeneutics? Should other thought-forms not initiate that radical reshaping of the biblical texts so as to arrive at a contemporary meaning?" JSOT 84 (1999), 124.

[11] This term is now included in the Dictionary of Third World Theologies. ed. Virginia Fabella & R. S. Sugirtharajah, (New York: Orbis Books, 2000), 60-62.

Citation: Craig Y. S. Ho, " Biblical Scholarship in Hong Kong," SBL Forum , n.p. [cited July 2004]. Online:


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