LORD God

The Hebrew and Greek that is translated in English as “Lord God” or “Lord God” encountered an issue in Tok Pisin. Norm Mundhenk explains why (in The Bible Translator 1985, p. 442ff.):

“I am not aware of any serious objections to either the word God [for “God”] or Bikpela [for YHWH] alone. However, when trying to translate the expression ‘the Lord God,’ the translators first tried to use Bikpela God. But Bikpela is also an adjective meaning ‘big’ and in the expression Bikpela God, it would usually be understood as “Big God,’ as though there were other smaller gods around also.

“In the Old Testament, as the recent articles have clearly pointed out, the English word ‘Lord‘ often stands for the Hebrew name of God, YHWH, which is usually spelled these days as Yahweh. With this in mind, the name Yawe was tried in Tok Pisin, but it was felt that most readers did not connect this strange name with God. Eventually, we decided to keep Bikpela, but to translate ‘Lord God’ as God, Bikpela, literally ‘God, the Lord.’

“The reason for this decision was really only that the words could be used naturally in this order, without the problem of giving a wrong meaning which we had when putting Bikpela first. It was not until some people asked if it was right to ‘turn around’ the name and the title in this way that we realized that there was really a deeper reason for doing what we did. In fact, for most speakers of Tok Pisin, God is the only God they know, and it seems likely that God is understood as the personal name of God, rather than as a class name. Bikpela, on the other hand, is a class name — there can be more than one Bikpela, though it is recognized that God is the greatest of them and there is no confusion when he is referred to simply as Bikpela. Thus, in Hebrew an expression like ‘YHWH, the God of Israel,’ has the personal name first, followed by the class name explaining who he is. And we have exactly the same situation in Tok Pisin when we say God, Bikpela bilong Isrel. I suspect that in many other languages which have borrowed the word ‘God,’ we might find that it has been borrowed basically as a personal name, rather than as a class name.”

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