By Rev. Cariño Casas
CMJ USA Executive Director
Recently, I visited the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh to see the exhibit and meet the staff there. They seemed excited to have a Christian visiting who is interested in Holocaust and antisemitism education. Eventually, they asked how it is that I came to be interested in antisemitism education.
I had to be honest. I told them of discovering the Jewishness of Jesus through reading David Stern’s Jewish New Testament and how that eventually led me to Israel. From there, I visited Poland twice with Rev. David Pileggi on his Jewish history study tour. Walking the Holocaust sites caused me to wrestle with that ugly history and with God, and I came out with a passion to teach the church this awful history.
It is a discouraging thing to hear. One does lose heart.
I explained that, yes, we were interested in having conversations about the identity of the Messiah, but that I knew 2,000 years of persecution and antisemitic Christian theology had to be addressed first.
The center educators listened respectfully. Then one of them told me, “Any hope you have that I will convert is a red line.” He said this several times in our talk. He referenced and agreed with Rabbi Abraham Heschel, who repeatedly said, “If I were asked either to convert or to die in Auschwitz, I’d rather go to Auschwitz.”1
I wasn’t asking this young man to convert or threatening him with death, but even my hope to speak about the identity of the Messiah was a redline and had him – a Holocaust educator – saying he would rather die in Auschwitz.
It is a discouraging thing to hear. One does lose heart.
Prayer and Bible reading – especially a strongly Jewish translation – encourage me, but my heart is especially buoyed by stories of Jewish disciples of Jesus, both past and present.
So, this month we are looking at the story of Bishop Samuel Isaac Joseph Schereschewsky – Bishop of Shanghai and translator of the Hebrew Scriptures into Chinese. Bishop Schereschewsky is a shining example of the fruit of CMJ’s proclamation of the gospel through the years. For this reason, we have chosen to time the CMJ USA Day of Giving with the church’s Feast of Bishop Schereschewsky, October 14.
I can no longer deny my Lord. I will follow Him without the camp.
Joseph, as he was called, was born in Lithuania in 1831 to a Jewish family. He was raised by a half-brother but left their village for the city of Zhitomir – in what is now Ukraine – at 15. By 16, he was studying at Zhitomir Rabbinical School. A fellow student passed down to him a Hebrew New Testament published by the London Jews Society – now CMJ UK. He studied at the rabbinical school for five years, all the while considering the New Testament.
He moved to Germany to study at Breslau University. He already spoke Yiddish, Hebrew, Polish, Russian, and German. Now he added French, English, and biblical Greek. At Breslau, he met Dr. Henricus Christophilius Neumann, a professor of Hebrew and a Jewish follower of Jesus connected with the London Jews Society. Neumann introduced Samuel “to the ideology of Hebrew Christianity”2 – that one remains Jewish even when believing in Jesus.
Once Joseph was convinced of Jesus’ claims, he moved to the United States in 1854 with the help of London Jews Society connections. He connected with several Jewish Christians in New York, including two Presbyterian pastors. Many of them gathered for a traditional Passover seder in 1855. At the end of the meal, all went around the table testifying of what Jesus Messiah meant to them.
“According to one who was present, [Joseph’s] head slowly dropped into his hands as he listened to the words of his companions, and he gave every appearance of a person deeply stirred. … At last he rose, and in a voice stilled with emotion, said, ‘I can no longer deny my Lord. I will follow Him without the camp.’”3
Joseph moved to western Pennsylvania to study at Western Theological Seminary – now Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. He enrolled as Samuel Isaac Joseph dropping his very ethnic last name, possibly to avoid antisemitism, though he changed his mind the next year and restored Schereschewsky.
At Western, Joseph was strongly drawn to missionary work, but he also found that the Presbyterian Church was not the place for him. An Episcopal priest in the area saw Joseph’s potential and helped him transfer into The Episcopal Church. The Bishop of Maryland affirmed Joseph’s call and sent him to General Theological Seminary in New York. There he learned that the Bishop of Shanghai was looking for missionaries, and he volunteered. He wanted to translate the Bible into Chinese. In 1859, Joseph was ordained a deacon and sailed to China with several other missionaries. They all learned Chinese on the six-month voyage.4
Joseph knew that for the Christian message to take hold in China, it would have to be proclaimed in a language connected to the culture. “Christianity may only succeed in the long run by means of the written word in a Chinese idiom.”5 So he dove into language learning – including classical Chinese literature – and Bible translation. By the end of his career, he had learned upwards of 10,000 Chinese characters. The entire Literary Chinese dictionary had about 15,000 characters and the ordinary Chinese person would know maybe 700.6
In 1867, Joseph met an American missionary – Susan M. Waring. They were married in April 1868. Susan was a great encourager, ministry partner, and later, caretaker to Joseph. They had a son and daughter.
Joseph was sworn in as a United States citizen in 1875, the same year he declined to be made Bishop of Shanghai. In 1876, he was again elected bishop and this time he accepted the post and was consecrated in 1877.
His tenure was cut short when, in 1881, he suffered severe sunstroke and was eventually paralyzed. He resigned as bishop but not as missionary. He was determined to continue translating and revising. He was so determined, that for the next 20 plus years, he sat most of the day typing his translations with two fingers. He had two faithful assistants – Lien and Bun – who took his typed transliterations and converted them into Chinese characters.
A few years before he died, he told his doctor, “I have sat in this chair for over twenty years. It seemed very hard at first. But God knew best. He kept me for the work for which I am best fitted.”7 He was working on translations until the day before he died in 1906.
In 1900, there were 1.7 billion humans on earth. Nearly a quarter – 400 million – lived in China, and Joseph Schereschewsky made sure they had access to the story of Israel and the Gospel of the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth.
Irene Eber – an Israeli scholar – wrote that Joseph Schereschewsky was a remarkable integration of Jew and Christian. She also notes that Jewish law considers a Jew who believes in Jesus as an apostate but still a Jew. “In terms of halakha, the apostate is a sinner, but he is a Jewish sinner.” Joseph knew that he never ceased to be a Jew even as he served Jesus.8
We have told a very distilled version of Bishop Schereschewsky’s life. We encourage you to read more about this amazing saint. His story is full of color and drama.
• Apostle of China by James A. Mueller. Available free on Archive.org.
• The Jewish Bishop and the Chinese Bible by Irene Eber. Read our review on our blog.
The Rev. Cariño Casas is the Executive Director of CMJ USA. She joined the CMJ family in 2014 as the media coordinator of Christ Church Jerusalem. She has a Master of Arts in Biblical Studies from Trinity School for Ministry and a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from Texas A&M University. She is the deacon at Grace Anglican Church in Edgeworth, Pennsylvania.
 “The Legacy of Abraham Joshua Heschel.” America Magazine, 14 October 2015. https://www.americamagazine.org/issue/understanding-other.
 Irene Eber, The Jewish Bishop and the Chinese Bible: S.I.J. Schereschewsky (1831-1906). Studies in Christian Mission v. 22, (Boston: Brill, 1999), 36.
 James A. Muller, Apostle of China (New York: Morehouse Pub, 1937), 32.
 Muller, Apostle of China, 34-40.
 Eber, The Jewish Bishop¸71.
 This number of characters in Literary Chinese is given in the 1930s by biographer Muller, Apostle of China, 213. There are more than 100,000 Chinese characters today. Peter Cahill and the CLI. “How Many Characters Are There in Chinese? | Chinese Language Institute.” CLI, 27 May 2020. https://studycli.org/chinese-characters/number-of-characters-in-chinese/.
 Muller, Apostle of China, 254.
 Eber, The Jewish Bishop¸ 243-245.