Chinese language and the Bible

Since I have not investigated the claims in the video, I suggest everyone does his own reading up on it. There are some great comments below that contribute to understanding the Chinese language, which I do not know in the least.

About Jonathan Lankford

Originally from Nashville, Tennessee, Jonathan has provided education and training services to organizations and individuals in Vietnam since 2007.
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8 Responses to Chinese language and the Bible

  1. tben says:

    Hi Jon

    Being Ethnically Chinese, these claims were pretty intriguing to me when i was younger. During the days when I studied theology with the preachers of the church. We often use the pictograms to help us remember the stories we learnt in Genesis

    When the western missionaries first came to China, the Emperor shared with the missionaries that the ancients Chinese had a rite to worship a supreme being known as Shang Di ( 上帝) (Meaning the “The Emperor above” and base on my own reading, the ancient Chinese rites are indeed similar. Initially the Chinese believed that there is no way one could carve an image for Shang Di.Hence one will never find a Idol carved for Shang Di .

    As the result the Chinese bibles in the past uses the word Shang Di ( 上帝) to denote LORD. Nowadays many chinese (myself included) prefer to disassociate Shang Di as Lord. hence there are Chinese bible version who replaced that word with the Chinese equivalent of God, which is (神), shen

    The reason being we know the origin of the concept of Shang Di and we know for sure that Shang Di could never the same as the God of Abraham, issac and Jacob.

    These issues was made worst when there were books written by missionaries who claims that Chinese pictogram contains stories in Genesis.

    But base what I know and read so far, that was pretty much a western fantasy and it is not true.

    The origin of Chinese words is recorded in the ancient Chinese document known as ( 說文解字) Shuōwén Jiězi). It is the first complete Chinese dictionary and it contains the earliest form of the word and the meaning behind the pictogram. Unfortunately my half bake Chinese skills makes it hard for me to read into that ancient dictionary very well. But I am sure there are other experts who could do it.

    As for the story of Genesis appearing in Chinese words. That was a desperate explanation given by western missionary to prove to the Chinese emperor that their religion had its culture roots with China. During those days the Chinese were actively chasing out missionaries from China. There was a few reason behind it. There were priest from the Pope who insist on enforcing his authority on the Chinese emperor from then on, Christianity is often persecuted in China. It is probably during that time the western missionaries started to create this to defend the fact that Christianity is rooted in Chinese culture

    Slowly, these defenses got documented and it got slowly accepted as fact over the year. When something is repeated again and again it slowly becomes a fact. Even though history prove otherwise

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for contributing what you know. I personally do not know anything about Chinese and haven’t read much about the claims in the video. I thought they were interesting, but not conclusive by any means. So what you shared is indeed a contribution.

      Regarding the Chinese Bible, that is quite shocking that the translators would replace Yehovah with Shang Di. I can see why they might have replaced it with the Chinese equivalent of the English placeholder “LORD” in call CAPS since many people are not personally convinced about one or another pronunciation of the name. But to completely replace the name with another name of a deity is going a little too far, at least in my opinion. Very interesting. In theology, we call this religious syncretism, and the missions classes I had at university were very much preparing students not to fall into that line of thinking.

      Liked by 1 person

      • tben says:

        Hi Jon

        Glad to be able to share them with you.

        Interestingly, missionaries had been coming to China since 1600s.. The Chinese emperor was initially open to the religion and even had Jesuits working for him in courts. There was an edict of toleration and Christianity is place alongside other popular religions in China such as Buddhism and Taoism.

        IT was the Dominicans who tried to enforced the Catholic rules issued by the Pope.That upset the emperor badly.

        According to Wikipedia

        In 1721 the Emperor (Kangxi) issued an decree banning Christianity because of a decree from pope Clement. This was a translation of it

        “Reading this proclamation, I have concluded that the Westerners are petty indeed. It is impossible to reason with them because they do not understand larger issues as we understand them in China. There is not a single Westerner versed in Chinese works, and their remarks are often incredible and ridiculous. To judge from this proclamation, their religion is no different from other small, bigoted sects of Buddhism or Taoism. I have never seen a document which contains so much nonsense. From now on, Westerners should not be allowed to preach in China, to avoid further trouble”

        From then on, Christianity became persecuted there for a long long time after that. China became an isolationist country. And her doors only forced open during the Opium war.

        Just for clarification sake

        YHWH had a chines translation that sounds very similar to Jehovah

        Only the word “God” in Gen 1:1 is replaced with Shang di

        Within my church we used the word “Shen” (the generic name meaning God ) in place of Shangdi
        And now the Chinese bibles comes in both editions for people to choose their preference

        The Chinese bible employs a smiler convention for the name of God as the English bible

        In Gen 1:1 : The word God is translated either as “Shang Di”(上帝) or “Shen” (神) In my church we used the version of the bible using the word “Shen” instead of “Shangdi”.. I usually check the version by flipping to Gen 1:1 as reference

        Other convention used in Translation are like this

        “Lord” (in NT and OT) are translated using the word 主 (Zhu) which is simply “Lord”
        “LORD” is translated as 耶和华( Ye He Hua) which is very similar to Jehovah
        “Lord God” is the translated as combination of both words 主耶和华

        Sometimes translation of the bible can have such an issue. It is a problem that can also be encountered in the Malay Bible. I remember once a preacher shared with me that there was one tribe in Sabah (malaysia) where their language had no word for the word “God”.. For many years the natives used the name of their Paddy god (the only other god they ever worshiped) to replace the word “God” .. IT took us a long time to teach them to use a more generic name for God instead of borrowing the name of their Paddy god in worship.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. When you said that it took “us” a long time to get the Malay to stop equating Paddy with God, do you mean the TJC? I think that is commendable. Many others would not have an issue with it. Also, which Chinese translation of the Bible do you prefer? I know that there is a difference in Mandarin and Cantonese, then there is a difference in traditional and non-traditional. It seem all confusing to me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • tben says:

      Hi Jon..

      Sorry for the confusion.

      It was not the malay who uses the paddy god. It was one particular tribe of Natives indigenous to the state of Sabah in Malaysia. They had a language that is native to their tribe and it is different from the malay language. It is a spoken language and not a written language. These natives spoke in their own languages but used the malay bible.

      Therefore you can imagine their prayers and services are conducted in their language while they read a malay bible.

      In that language, there was no generic name for “God” and their tribe only had one word for god. Which is the name of the paddy god (they only worshiped that before they became Christians) . Therefore they had a tenancy to use that word when they call onto God. This habit is found both in TJC churches there as well as other christian churches among the natives.

      Therefore we decided to tell them to use a more generic term for for calling God and the word we told them to use is taken from the Malay bible, (since they all knew the language well enough and their bibles are in malay) and we advice our native brethren to refrain from using the name of the paddy god in their prayers or when speaking.


      • tben says:

        Hi Jon

        Sorry for the delay response.. I got “served” by Nana to do something else

        With regards to the Chinese language it is pretty interesting

        In terms of spoken languages, there are many types. Cantonese, Mandarin, Teochew, Hakka, Hokkien, Tawainese, Shanghainese .. Interestingly, they all share the same writing.

        I remember once I was talking to a Chinese colleague in Hongkong and we were happily typing to each other on IM. When I pick up the phone, then I realize he was speaking Cantonese while I am using Mandarin.

        Even though I may find his grammar weird and vice versa, we could still hold a decent technical meeting typing out what we wanted to say. Even though there will be words and terms that we find odd when reading. We could still understand each other.

        With regards to written form of Chinese, there are only 2 modern types now, the traditional chines (used mainly in Taiwan) and the simplified Chinese (used mainly in mainland china). A Chinese word can have both simplified form and the traditional form.

        Generally we could read both types, but personally I can recognize simplified chines characters more easily as that was the ones I was taught back in Singapore.

        With regards to the Chinese bible.

        Usually I do most of my bible reading in English, and I only use Chinese bible when I am speaking or interpreting to mandarin. But my command of mandarin is not that strong, hence whenever I read the bible, I would have problem as there is a high probability that I will not be able to recognize quite a lot of characters.

        Therefore I overcome the problem by having a Chinese bible that had its phonics attached below the words. In event when i cannot recognize the character, I would just use the phonics to read the word aloud. That would allow me to read Chinese effectively and avoid embarrassment when interpreting. ;)

        I wish i did put in more effort in learning the language when I was younger ;)

        Therefore Chinese bibles come in 2 forms, in simplified Chinese and in traditional Chinese. Each with a version that uses “Shang Di” as God and the version that uses “Shen”

        I personally use the “Chinese union version” but the real reason is because that is the only one with Phonics attached. But there are also many occasion where i speak in Chinese but read an English bible

        Chinese pictogram can be pretty interesting as some words are formed using combination of other pictogram. Once I shared a series of sermon using the differences between the simplified Chinese and traditional Chinese to illustrate the points. If you are interested i can send you the notes


  3. GarthYahu says:

    Greetings of Peace

    It is very interesting to see the ancient patterns being unveiled in this generation. As the Chinese seems to relate their folklore’s and stories on the Biblical History, its also amazing to hear from one comment from above, regarding a Bible which puts the name of the Creator not by LORD(all caps) but translated as 耶和华( Ye He Hua) which is very similar to the Myanmar “Yaua”, in Visayas region of the Philippines they have “YaWa” though of different application, the Chinese pronunciation for the Divine Name suits its similarities to the Israelite Deity YHWH(Accurately and possibly pronounce YAHUWAH) I am thinking of the relations of YAHUWAH with Ya he(u) hua(Wah) of the Chinese. Thank you


    • The Philippine usage of Yahwah is recent, only in the last 5 years. I know, because I was one of the Americans who went to start the groups there. This was while I was still using non-Hebrew sources for the pronunciation. The groups are called Yahwah Apostolic Ministries. In June, I’m going back to correct them to Yehovah. But you’re right that in some place in Asia like Myanmar and the Karen people, the name of their chief deity is Y’Wah and other similar pronunciation. But again, I have to go back to the Hebrew manuscripts.

      What is this “great weight of evidence” that His name is Yahuwah? Which manuscript and reference? The Hebrew manuscripts have Yehvah when the olam is missing, but Yehovah when it is present with full vowels. See It’s okay. I used to say Yahuwah and then Yehowah until I found out it’s plainly written in the Hebrew manuscripts. It’s just a matter of choosing them for your evidence or choosing a translated manuscript or circumstantial evidence. I had to choose the Hebrew, of course.


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