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Featured The Word for God

Discussion in 'Bible Versions & Translations' started by John of Japan, Feb 1, 2019.

  1. John of Japan

    John of Japan Well-Known Member
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    My son and I recently taught a two week course on "Translation Issues in Hebrew and Greek." He handled the Hebrew and I handled the Greek, and all had a wonderful time. We had three young translators in the class, and had a great time.

    Anyway, for homework I gave the challenge of deciding which Chinese word used historically for "God" (theos in Greek) was best. This is a very real problem for missionary Bible translators. Get the word for God wrong and your whole translation (1000s of hours of work) might be rejected. By the way, feel free on this thread to opinionate about the word "Allah" in translations in Muslim cultures.

    So, what do you think? Here are the possibilities, including transliteration, which I don't believe has ever been used in Chinese Bible translating.

    1. Zhēnzhǔ (真主), meaning “true Lord.” This was used by the Nestorians.
    2. Tian (天) is the Chinese word for Heaven used by Confucius (551-479 BC) to mean his monotheistic “God.” Interestingly enough, “Heaven” is sometimes used in the Old Testament to mean God.
    3. Tiānzhǔ (天主), “Lord of Heaven,” was used by Catholics.
    4. Shen (神). This is a generic word for “god,” used to describe various spirits. It was used in the typical local, shamanistic religions of China. This is the word used by Protestant translators such as William Morrison or Joshua Marshman.
    5. Shang Ti (上帝), meaning “upper emperor.” This is the name for the monotheistic God of the original Chinese religion. It has been used in more modern Bible translations. The popular Chinese Union Version can be bought in either a Shang Ti or a Shen version.
    6. Transliterate (perhaps Yahweh or Adonai). This method simply uses the word of the original document in the pronunciation of the target language. The Chinese language does this for many foreign words, including foreign names.
     
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  2. McCree79

    McCree79 Well-Known Member
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    If they are used to #3, perhaps you should think with it....if it has been historically accepted and understood. #6 Seems to be the a really good choice. I liked the HCSB when it used Yahweh, instead of LORD. #6 would also separate Him from other ideas or gods they may be used too.

    Sent from my SM-G965U using Tapatalk
     
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  3. Jordan Kurecki

    Jordan Kurecki Well-Known Member
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    I am confused. are they deciding how to translate the word Theos?

    If so I would probably go with number 5, since that seems best to convey the idea of a supreme being, which is my understanding of God.

    John, how do you get Yahweh and Adonai transliterated from Theos? :rolleyes:

    As for Allah, My understanding is that Allah is not really a personal name for God but just means God. Even Arabic speaking Christians refer to God as Allah. I don't see any problem using Allah as a translation for God. I probably need to think more about this though Since the Nubi language I am going to work with is an Arabic creole and Allah is what they use when speaking about God...
     
  4. Rob_BW

    Rob_BW Well-Known Member
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    John, I was wondering if transliteration was ever considered. Seems like a no brainer for the Old Testament. But like Jordan, wasn’t sure if that would be a good option when dealing with the New Testament.
     
  5. MartyF

    MartyF Active Member

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    Well, since you asked, I’ll give my opinions. I do not claim to be a Chinese language expert.

    1. This can’t be used in modern times because it is simply too dangerous? How is Winnie the Pooh going to respond when I tell him I have a true Lord?

    2. Interesting . . . What would you translate Heaven into without getting confused?

    3. I like the Catholic translation, but is he just lord of Heaven? Is Lord of Heaven and Earth a possibility in Chinese?

    4. I guess you can just add Holy to make holy spirit?

    5. I think this is probably the safest and best version myself. I get the feeling that this word was chosen by the Chinese as oppose to foreigners.

    6. Maybe in the translation notes. What does the transliteration of these two words mean in Chinese? If it were “goofy gumdrop”, that would be a very poor choice.
     
  6. Yeshua1

    Yeshua1 Well-Known Member
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    Allah is just another title for Satan, isn't it?
     
  7. Yeshua1

    Yeshua1 Well-Known Member
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    Seems that 3 or 5 would be best choices here!
     
  8. John of Japan

    John of Japan Well-Known Member
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    I like that about the HCSB too. I think it's unfortunate that the CSB revision did not do that (from what I've heard).

    See below about transliteration into Chinese.
     
  9. John of Japan

    John of Japan Well-Known Member
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    Well, yes, but you have to have agreement between your OT word for God and your NT word.

    If so I would probably go with number 5, since that seems best to convey the idea of a supreme being, which is my understanding of God.

    Well, obviously you wouldn't. Again, you would want consistency between your NT word and one of the OT terms in your Chinese Bible.

    Using an OT transliteration in the NT is not unheard of. The Japanese Shinkaiyaku 2nd revision uses the Hebrew word for "leprosy" as a NT transliteration.

    I agree with you here. Theos is a generic word for God in the NT, being used for both the true God and idols. My understanding is that Allah is a generic word for God also in Arabic. However, what most Americans don't understand in that discussion is that Islam requires that all languages use Allah. However, I have read that the Persian versions of the Koran (going back a long way) have always used a Persian word for God rather than "Allah." So you will have to determine whether there is a generic Nubi word for God that works better sociolinguistically than "Allah."
     
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  10. John of Japan

    John of Japan Well-Known Member
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    Why?
     
  11. John of Japan

    John of Japan Well-Known Member
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    My guess is that transliteration was not considered seriously by either Catholic or Protestant translators. The reason is that, since there is no Chinese alphabet, for transliterating into Chinese you have to use the characters (Hanxi), which all have meaning aside from the transliterated meaning.

    I knew of a Chinese-Hawaiian kung fu grandmaster who was of Chinese blood but did not know the language. He knew his family name in Chinese, but had someone transliterate his given name "Danny" into Chinese, and they came up with "Red Nun." :Laugh Then there is the famous case of Coca Cola being "Bite the Wax Tadpole" in Chinese, and "Pepsi Comes Alive" being "Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the dead." :Laugh
     
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  12. Yeshua1

    Yeshua1 Well-Known Member
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    Both would seem to emphasize to them that we are talking of the true Christian God!
     
  13. John of Japan

    John of Japan Well-Known Member
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    I can see that.
     
  14. John of Japan

    John of Japan Well-Known Member
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    I just got around to correcting the "Chinese Word for God" assignment I gave, which I have shared with you. The students were required to evaluate these possibilities and give what they thought to be best.

    A couple of them mentioned something I had not considered. The idea of transliteration to them meant that the God of the Bible might be considered a foreign God. Remember that historically foreigners have been called "foreign devil" in China (and still are today in Cantonese). Remember also the Boxer Rebellion in 1900 during which thousands of Chinese Christians and many missionaries were killed. So the Chinese have traditionally been anti-foreign, though things are obviously better now--they want our money!
     
  15. RighteousnessTemperance&

    RighteousnessTemperance& Well-Known Member

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    Not being Chinese, I doubt I could hold a strong opinion on this, only support that of others given enough reason. If certain words have already taken on the meaning associated with the God of the Bible, then it would make sense to use those words when translating.

    If I had to come up with something most appropriate, I would want to consult the best native Chinese evangelists and pastors and use the terms they do.
     
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  16. RighteousnessTemperance&

    RighteousnessTemperance& Well-Known Member

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    Last I heard, the Chinese government is decidedly anti-Christ and anti-Christian. Their wanting our money does not mean things are necessarily better, especially for Chinese Christians.
     
  17. John of Japan

    John of Japan Well-Known Member
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    This is not the same as "anti-foreign." Actually, things are currently worse for Christians there with serious persecution of the house churches and others going on, due to the new PM, but that does not make them as anti-foreign as they used to be.
     
  18. 37818

    37818 Well-Known Member

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    Just a note, when Jesus spoke of the Kingdom of . . . . Mark, Luke and John rendered this "of God." Whereas Matthew used interchangeably "heaven" and "God."
    Also taking into account the identity of God and a meaning of His Hebrew name, [self] Existent [one]. God being invisable and omnipresent, the Uncaused Existence. [Acts of the Apostles 17:28; Proverbs 21:30.] And that we as Christians actually know God [John 17:3; 1 John 4:7; John 14:6].

    What would be the best fit?
     
  19. John of Japan

    John of Japan Well-Known Member
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    Kudos for bringing up what is technically called sociolinguistics. It is absolutely necessary in any translation to get "native speaker" input. This scholarly discipline should be studied by all translators.

    "Sociolinguistics is the field that studies the relation between language and society, between the uses of language and the social structuress in which the users of language live" (Sociolinguistics, by Bernard Spolsky, p. 3).
     
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  20. John of Japan

    John of Japan Well-Known Member
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    Thanks for your post. I think it would be difficult to get "self existent one" into Chinese (or Japanese). But I'm sure there's a language that would work in.
     
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