At our Spring (Church) Book Club (泉福書社), we are discussing the topic “When Dao meets Christ”, a dialogue between Daoism (the philosophy 道家 and religion 道教) and Christianity (基督教). We started by studying 3 quotations. One is from the Bible, specifically the first verse of the first chapter of The Gospel according to John (約翰福音), in the Chinese language, specifically - the Chinese Union Version (和合本). Another is the first verse from Dao De Jing (道德經), the classic text of Daoism the philosophy. Yet another is a verse from one of the main texts (太上老君虛無自然本起經) of Daoism the religion.
The three verses are from different texts. Yet they use very similar words: 道, 太初, 萬物. And say very similar things. The Bible verse equates Dao with God; it says Dao/God created everything. Dao De Jing also says that Dao is the source and mother of everything. Hence Daoism and Christianity has similar views of the origin of the universe. Except that Daoism calls the source Dao/道, while Christianity calls the source 道/神/God.
Regarding the wordings, the word “道” has been in use in Chinese culture for at least 2,500 years. The Gospel of John was written ~2,000 years ago. The word that was translated into “道” in the Chinese Union Version ～100 years ago was “logos” in Greek and “word” in English. Why was it translated as “道” rather than “言”, “語”, “智慧”, …? The translator certainly would have been aware of the meaning associated with the word accumulated from the 2,000+ years of usage.
The advantage of using such a word with its rich heritage is that the Chinese people would have grasped its meaning instantly. The disadvantage is also precisely because of the rich heritage - that the word conjures up the beliefs behind Daoism the religion as well as the philosophy. Daoism the religion believes that Lao Tsz (老子, 太上老君) is actually a manifestation of Dao.
Daoism the philosophy teaches that in nature is the truth, and that the universe has an origin. Much of Daoism philosophy is not incompatible with the belief of Christianity. On the other hand, Daoism the religion believes in many fantastic gods, which is obviously quite incompatible with Christianity. When Christianity is introduced to the Chinese, it does not into a vacuum, where there are no preconceived ideas about the universe and the “truth”. It is worth making the distinction between what is compatible with the Christian faith and what is not.
From the point of view of the Christian faith, it should not be surprising that this is the case. The ancient Chinese sages, without the advantage of direct connections to God through the Old Testament prophets, nevertheless searched tirelessly for the truth through diligent observations of the universe. The universe, having been created by God Himself, reveals much about God. Hence the Chinese sages did discover quite a bit about God, although not the whole truth. Now is the chance to complete that knowledge through Christianity.
Just to put in my two cents worth.