In 1882, Koreans successfully smuggled the first ever Korean language version of the scriptures—in the form of the Gospel of Luke they had just translated with Missionary John Ross—from Moukden, China (today’s Shenyang) inside of what is today North Korea. Now 140 years later, according to persecution ministry Voice of the Martyrs Korea, Koreans have repeated the same feat—this time with copies of the ministry’s new John Ross Bible “Reader’s Edition” Gospel of Luke.
“We received confirmation that multiple copies of our Ross Bible Gospel of Luke entered North Korea this month and are in the hands of underground North Korean Christians, who are overjoyed to have them,” says Dr. Hyun Sook Foley, representative of Voice of the Martyrs Korea. She says that for security reasons related both to her organization and the recipients, the organization is keeping the exact details confidential. “It is now a criminal offense to bring a Bible into North Korea in any format—digital, print, or audio–from any country, including from here in South Korea,” says Representative Foley. She says the Ross Bible edition that entered North Korea intentionally has a different appearance than the one the ministry distributes in South Korea and elsewhere.
“In many ways, the situation today is the same as it was for John Ross and the first Korean Bible couriers,” says Representative Foley. “The punishments for possessing a Bible or contacting a missionary are essentially the same as they were 140 years ago, namely, death. So the need for secrecy is the same today as it was for the first Korean Christians. But praise God, the power of the word of God remains the same as it did 140 years ago, too.”
Representative Foley says Voice of the Martyrs decided to disclose news of the re-entry of the Ross Bible into North Korea in order to challenge churches in Korea and globally to be involved in Bible-based ministry to North Koreans today.
“Christians outside of North Korea wrongly think that the only kinds of mission activity possible toward North Koreans today are things like teaching at North Korean universities, sending money for humanitarian aid through North Korean government-approved projects, or conducting training programs to plan for missions in the future when North Korea might ‘open’ to the gospel,” says Representative Foley. “But as the Apostle Paul wrote Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:9, ‘The word of God is not bound!’ The Bible is continuing to get inside North Korea today, and more North Koreans are reading it and being transformed by it today than at literally any other time in history.”
According to Representative Foley, independent surveys show that Bible-based ministry to North Koreans is continuing to increase the number of North Koreans who have seen a Bible inside of North Korea.
“The North Korean Human Rights Information Center, an independent data-gathering NGO, has been conducting an ongoing study where they found that in the year 2000, effectively 0% of people inside North Korea had ever seen a Bible with their own eyes,” says Representative Foley. “They have continued to update that study, and at the end of 2020 they determined that around 8% of people inside of North Korea have now seen a Bible with their own eyes.”
Dr. Hyun Sook Foley and Pastor Eric Foley, co-founders of Voice of the Martyrs Korea, display the ministry’s new Contemporary Reader’s Edition of the Ross Bible Gospel of John at a press conference in November 2022.
Representative Foley says Voice of the Martyrs Korea has distributed an average of 40,000 to 50,000 North Korean dialect Bibles a year for 20 years to North Korean citizens outside of South Korea, in print, audio, and digital formats using the Chosun Bible translation. She notes that the Bible is also read daily on Voice of the Martyrs Korea’s five shortwave radio broadcasts to North Korea. But she says the return of the Ross Bible to North Korea has special significance.
“The Ross Bible is how the voice of Christ first came to ordinary Korean people, and in it Jesus and the other figures speak with a North Korean accent, since that was the accent of the translators,” says Representative Foley. “Ordinary North Korean people deserve to hear that original voice again today, and to experience the spiritual power of the original translation of the Bible into Korean.”
Dr. Foley notes that the Ross Bible was completed before the Korean language was standardized, so in its original form it is no longer readable by Koreans in either the north or the south. “Our new John Ross Bible ‘Reader’s Edition’ Gospel of Luke updates the text direction, word order, letters, grammar, and spelling so that modern readers can read it easily and understand it fully,” she says. “It retains the full original wording and adds simple notes to briefly and clearly explain unfamiliar vocabulary.”
The Ross Bible “Reader’s Edition” Gospel of Luke is available for purchase in Korea in the same size and shape as the original version. “It is a reader’s edition that ordinary Korean readers can understand. It is designed for easy, frequent reading and for tossing in your backpack to read on the subway, not for being displayed in a museum,” says Representative Foley. It is available for 10,000 KRW at www.vomkorea.com/store or by phone at 02-2065-0703.
Representative Foley believes all Koreans should read the Ross Bible at least once.
“The Ross Bible was for the first two decades of Korean Christianity the only hangul New Testament available to Koreans. It was the Bible of the Korean church during its formative period, and it left a permanent imprint on the Korean church in the form of a church that is Bible-centered and lay-driven. God used the Ross Bible powerfully to impart the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ to the first generation of Korean Christians even before missionaries arrived in Korea.”
The Ross Bible Reader’s Edition Gospel of Luke is the first of three Ross Bible versions Voice of the Martyrs Korea will be releasing over the next two years. The organization is currently working on a Luke/John/Acts trilogy edition for publication in mid-2023 and a full Ross New Testament “Contemporary Reader’s Edition” for publication in 2024. Representative Foley says that the organization intends to share these editions inside North Korea as well.
Individuals interested in learning more about Voice of the Martyrs Korea’s North Korean Bible ministry can visit https://vomkorea.com/en/northkorea/.