The Revd Dr John Ross (1842 – 1915) was born on 6th July 1842 on a farm in the parish of Chapelhill, Nigg in Easter Ross. The son of a tailor, he studied at the United Presbyterian Divinity Hall in Edinburgh 1865 – 1869. He was licensed in 1870. Though attracted to the Gaelic ministry, he accepted the call of the UP Church’s Foreign Mission Committee to serve in Manchuria. At the time of decision, a friend said to him, ‘Better to be a spark in China than a flame in the Highlands.’ Ross took the advice of his friend. Portree Parish Church, Isle of Skye, was his last parish in the Highlands.
Ross’s work involved itinerancy and the training of an indigenous evangelistic and pastoral ministry. Significantly, he held that Christian teaching did not conflict with Confucian (his first school provided free teaching, using only Chinese classics), asserted the existence of a monotheistic strand in ancient Chinese religion, denied that Chinese ancestral rites were idolatrous (while insisting that adjudication on traditional customs was the local church’s province) and believed Buddhist ascetics to be the most earnest seekers and, when converted, the most dynamic evangelists. Ross commented, ‘The role of the missionary was not to change customs but to renew the heart.’
In 1874, he saw the possibilities of Christian mission in the closed neighbouring land of Korea. Persuading Korean visitors to Manchuria to be his first teachers, he worked at the language, produced a primer in 1877 and a grammar in 1882. He directed the first Korean translation of the New Testament. Not permitted to travel into Korea himself, a Korean friend and Korean traders carried the Scriptures over the border. Ross chose to translate the Bible into the language of the common people rather than Chinese, which was the language of the educated and upper classes. It has been argued that Ross’s ‘decision to use only the language of the common people was the most important event in the entire history of the Korean Church.’ Produced at a time when no standard Korean grammar was available, the Ross translation ‘seems to have formed the basis of a new vernacular literature.’ Ross himself noted that, ‘the translation goes to the women of that country, and to the lowliest and illiterate poor, to speak to them plainly, in the language which all understand and employ in daily life, of the wondrous love of Him who is Saviour of the world.’
John Ross retired in 1910. He came to Edinburgh and became an Elder in Mayfield United Free Church (now Mayfield Salisbury). In addition to his translation of Scripture, Ross also wrote on East Asian history and culture: Chinese Foreign Policy (1877), History of Corea (1879), The Manchus (1880), The Boxers of Manchuria (1901), Mission Methods in Manchuria (1903), The Original Religion of China (1909) and the posthumous Origin of the Chinese People (1916). He received the DD from Glasgow University in 1894. Ross died in 1915 and is buried in Newington Cemetery. A plaque in his honour was unveiled in 2006 at this church. The service of dedication was attended by staff and students of New College, including several Korean postgraduates and their families.
South Korea has a population of 40 million and a Christian Church numbering over 12 million members. The dramatic growth of the Korean churches over the past one hundred years is directly linked to the spread of the Scriptures in the language of the people. John Ross was not permitted to enter Korea yet over 12 million Korean Christians know his name.
The John Ross Scholarship Fund provides a bursary for a Korean candidate undertaking postgraduate studies at the School of Divinity, University of Edinburgh.
Rethinking Mission March 2008 - John Ross and Bible Women in the early Protestant Mission of Northern Korea and Eastern China by Christine Sungjin Chang.
Directions to the Grave
If you want to find the grave of Revd Dr John Ross at Newington Cemetery, Dalkeith Road, Edinburgh. Directions from Mayfield Salisbury Church. Head east on West Mayfield towards Minto Street, cross the traffic light controlled junction to East Mayfield and carry on to the next traffic light controlled junction with Dalkeith Road. (0.3miles). Turn right and travel southeast for (0.2miles) and just past the junction of Prestonfield Avenue the gates to Newington Cemetery are found on the right (west side of Dalkeith Road). Once in the gates of the cemetery turn to the path on your left and follow this path for about 290 paces in a south easterly direction. At this point you will be opposite the dwelling number 295 Dalkeith Road (on the other side of the cemetery wall) Turn at right angles to the path and take approximately 20 paces (not on the path) to the south west. The gravestone will be facing the path you come to.
A map to guide you to his grave may be find here - files/JohnRossGraveLocationPlan.pdf
Are you Korean? Are you hoping to travel to the UK and visit Edinburgh? If you are and you are planning to seek out Mayfield Salisbury Parish Church where Revd Dr John Ross worshipped and was an elder, or visit his grave in Newington Cemetery, we hope you will contact us and tell us who you are and when you expect to be here. We would very much like to meet you, welcome you to one of our services, invite you to join us afterwards for fellowship, and talk with you about Dr Ross. Please therefore, before you come, email the Church Manager, William Mearns - email@example.com.
당신은 한국인입니까? 당신은 영국에 와서 에든버러를 방문하기를 원하십니까? 만약 당신이 존 로스 목사님께서 예배를 드리시고 또한 그 곳에서 장로로 섬기셨던 Mayfield Salisbury Parish 교회 혹은 Newington 묘지를 한번 보시고 싶으시다면 우리들에게 연락을 주셔서 당신이 누구이고 언제 이 곳을 방문하시기를 원하시는가를 알려주기를 바랍니다. 우리는 당신을 만나기를 기대하고 우리가 드리는 예배와 예배 후에 있을 교제의 시간에 초대하여 존 로스 목사님에 대해 이야기를 나누고 싶습니다. 이에 당신이 이 곳에 오시기 전에 먼저 William Mearns목사(firstname.lastname@example.org).
East Gate Church, Shenyang
The photographs below, courtesy of Neil Sinclair, 2013, are from the East Gate Church, Shenyang, Manchuria. It was here that Revd Dr John Ross was the Minister when he carried out the translation. One shows the panel in the church which includes a section about him, the other a plaque in Korean and Chinese which marks his work.