misunderstandings of biblical proportions

“Based on the evidence, we believe the inventors of ancient Chinese characters knew the God of the Bible,” says the Web site of the World Bible School of Cedar Park, Texas.

The presentation there titled Ancient Chinese characters: coincidence or design? (alternate title: Ancient Chinese: Language of God?”) features many examples of people seeing what they want to see in Chinese characters. The wishful thinking and folk etymologies grow ever more strained in the school’s surprisingly long Flash presentation. (The good stuff doesn’t come until about thirty pages in.)

phony etymology of Mandarin Chinese word 'yao' (want)Typical example: “Why would the creators of the Chinese characters choose 2 words- “West” (which indicates a direction) and “Woman” to mean desire? It makes no sense unless we remember one [一] man [儿], in a garden [囗], in the west [西] was the first to desire a woman [女].” (Click the image at right for a better look.)

In other words, according to this site, the character for “want” (要, yào) is semantically linked with
一 (, “one”)
+ 儿 (rén (as a radical), person (as a radical))
+ 囗 (wéi, a non-independent radical for “surround”)
+ 女 (, woman)

The creators of the site imply that this reveals the hand of God. So it seems a sort of “intelligent design” is trying to graft itself onto Sinology. But the truth is that Chinese characters don’t work the way the creators of this site seem to believe; indeed, Chinese characters have, well, evolved over the millennia.

Let’s look at the character for “want” over the years:

Here’s some information on its history:

Originally meant ‘waist’ (now written 腰 yāo), borrowed for a homophonous word meaning ‘want’. Two hands pointing to a 女 () woman’s waist (later they seemed to point to her head). The hands now look similar to 西 ‘west’. (source: Wenlin)

The important point here is that character came about through the borrowing of a character for a homophonous word. This is common in the history of Chinese characters. Indeed, phonetic elements, though often obscured by the passage of time and changes in language, are more common than any other.

For information on how Chinese characters really work, as opposed to how some people want to believe they work, see Chinese, a detailed reading available on this site.

Perhaps not surprisingly, none of the fanciful examples in the Flash presentation have any relationship with the real nature of Chinese characters. They’re all the equivalent of the folk etymology of the English word assume: “to assume means ‘to make an ass out of you and me.’”

To close, here’s another example of a real doozy from the bible-school site. Have fun.

example of phony etymology of Chinese characters

7 thoughts on “misunderstandings of biblical proportions

  1. Thanks, Tian. It seems we came across this topic at about the same time. I like your post on this, too. Very to the point.

    A commenter on your site noted that there are entire books filled with this nonsense, such as The Discovery of Genesis: How the Truths of Genesis Were Found Hidden in the Chinese Language, by C.H. Kang and Ethel R. Nelson; and Genesis and the Mystery Confucius Couldn’t Solve, by Ethel R. Nelson and Richard E. Broadberry. I hadn’t known about these before. (Mike Wright has some good comments in his reviews on Amazon of the two books.) I’m amazed by the amount of effort people will devote to such utter bullshit. Ironically, what these strained Christian interpretations (i.e., fairy tales) most resemble are other interpretations (fairy tales) uttered by the New Age crowd.

    Now that I’ve done a bit more searching on this, I see that Chinese Forums had a thread on this last year that I somehow missed. I should get over there more often.

  2. I am from Taiwan(with traditional characters). Even though I can agree not every word of the site claim can be proved true, I don’t think you can ignore the fact that a lot of the words do evolve from oracle bone words with the same spirit. Especially if you do not look at just one word but with a pair of words, there do have cases very convincing. e.g. the elder brother vs. murderer(with exact same pronunciation) the instruction under two trees, etc….
    I can agree on let’s not exaggerate to said God’s language or the web site use it as a prove(I only see they ask you too look at the maybe possibilites but did not see them actually claim it) But to say it is BS, I think you better under earliest chinese history, there did have evidence that they built altar to worship God and the king hand over kindom not to son but to the able people that can not be easily explained by later chinese history. Also there were philosophy mention in the ancient text that seems can be explain by Bible.
    You certainly are free to use one word to disapprove but I would rather look at where it might not be just coincidence for so many other ‘coincidences’

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  4. Thank you wei-chi cheng. It is certainly worth considering. some folks no matter what the evidence would be, not that this is goood evidence I have not studied it, but some people want so badly to disbelive that there is a higher being than themselves that they would stare God in the face a say he does not exist. Sire Admin, why do you hate God so much?

  5. Regarding the point of this post, it wouldn’t matter in the least if archaeologists discovered ancient temples throughout China proclaiming in both Hebrew and Literary Sinitic “Jesus is Lord.” (And, to be clear, they most certainly have uncovered no such thing.) Nor would it matter — to the question of the nature of Chinese characters, that is — if Jesus himself came down from on high and said “I visited China long ago and spoke with many people I found there.” These things would still have nothing whatsoever to do with the way Chinese characters have been created historically and have functioned.

    My point is that Chinese characters simply are not assembled in the ways the World Bible School’s Web site posits, and no amount of wishful thinking and cherry picking of so-called evidence is going to change this *linguistic fact*. My point is not anti-religious at all, just pro truth.

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