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Historic Korean scriptures make their way home

NEWS | John Harris

Thursday 14 May 2015

As early as the 1600s, missionaries attempted to bring Christianity to the Korean peninsula. These courageous Catholic missionaries struggled against persecution during the next 250 years. Finally, in 1866, most Catholic Christians were killed in terrible Catholic persecution in which over 8000 Christians and nine French missionaries died.

The small number of Christians still alive in Korea secretly used Chinese Bibles. The very first Korean scriptures were produced in China by missionaries in the 1880s who learned the Korean language from visiting Koreans.

Greg and Eui - Korea

Dr Greg Clarke presents the historic Korean Scriptures to Mr Eui Hyun Kwon.

In the decade following the Catholic persecution, Korea changed to become became a far more open country, tolerant of Christianity. The first Protestant mission and first Protestant church were founded in 1884. Koreans proved very open to the gospel. Today there are 14 million Christians in South Korea, around 30 per cent of the population.

The British and Foreign Bible Society established Seoul Bible House in 1895 and this year marks its 120th anniversary. In 1895, the Bible Society immediately set about encouraging the translation and publication of the Bible in Korean. The whole Bible was not completed until 1910. Along the way, however, individual books of the Bible, particularly the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles, were published in inexpensive editions to allow some distribution of Christian Scriptures and to obtain feedback to the translators from readers.

These little books, printed on rapidly-yellowing and deteriorating newsprint paper, are now extremely rare. When the Korean Bible Society determined to mount an exhibition of the history of the Korean Bible to mark the 120th anniversary of the Society, they found that the century-old little Gospels and Acts were a serious gap in their collection. Thus it was that KBS’s head librarian, Dr Jin Hee Park, turned to Bible Society Australia. She had visited Canberra some years ago and had seen the Bible Society’s significant collection of historic scriptures.

Rev Dr John Harris, the curator of the Bible Society’s Historic Collection, examined our holdings in Korean language scriptures and was delighted to locate four of the rare little volumes: Matthew, Luke, Acts and Psalms. Dr Greg Clarke, CEO of Bible Society Australia, was about to attend a UBS meeting in Seoul. He was able to take the Scriptures with him and present them to Mr Eui Hyun Kwon,
President and CEO
of the Korean Bible Society.

“Thank you so much for these wonderful scriptures,” said Head Librarian Dr Park. “I am out of words to describe how excited and happy I am.”

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