God of gods

… is a phrase that appears in the English bible several times, but the Malay equivalent doesn’t appear even once in the BSM Malay translation. Why? Well, probably because it can’t do so without sounding ridiculous. Such is the bind Malaysian Christians find themselves in because of their insistence on using “Allah” for “God” in Malay.

Ask any Malay speaking person to translate “God of gods” into Malay, and they will say “Tuhan segala tuhan”. Simple, isn’t it? Except that for the Malay speaking Christian it isn’t so simple. They can’t say “Allah segala allah” because “allah” with the lower case ‘a’ doesn’t exist in the Malay language. Although the Indonesian bible does use “allah” for “god”as well as “gods”, the Malay bible published by the BSM doesn’t.

In the BSM bible, “Allah” always appears with a capital ‘A’ and never in the plural. This seems to be tacit acknowledgment that, unlike what some Christian apologists claim, “Allah” in Malay is not a generic term for “God” but a proper noun referring to the one God as used by the Muslims.

The BSM Malay bible was first published in 1996, which is after the “Allah” issue first arose. So, we can probably guess at their intention for moving away from the Indonesian way of translating God and Lord.

If you look at how various instances and permutations of lord and god in the bible are translated into Malay in the BSM bible, you find a somewhat consistent pattern:

God -> Allah
god -> tuhan
gods -> tuhan-tuhan
LORD -> TUHAN
lord  -> tuan (sometimes “raja” depending on the context)

Now, if we follow the above schema, then “God of gods” should be “Allah segala tuhan”. This sounds somewhat comical, doesn’t it? Which is probably why the BSM doesn’t use the phrase. But wait, it gets worse. Look up Deuteronomy 10:17 and you’ll find:

For the LORD your God [is] God of gods, and LORD of LORDs, a great God, a mighty, and a terrible, which regardeth  not persons, nor taketh reward.

There are Lords and Gods everywhere. How on Earth are they going to translate this? “Allah segala tuhan, dan TUHAN segala tuan” would sound patently absurd. Well, here’s the translation in the BSM bible:

TUHAN, Allah kamu itu berkuasa atas semua tuhan lain dan semua kekuasaan. Dia agung dan berkuasa, dan Dia harus ditaati. Dia tidak berat sebelah dan tidak menerima rasuah.

So, “God of gods” becomes “berkuasa atas semua tuhan lain” and “LORD of lords” has been relegated to “dan semua kekuasaan”.

One test that is frequently used to check the quality of a translation is to translate the translation back into the original language. In a good translation, even if the exact words could not be recreated, at least the original meaning should be retained. Apply this test to the above. Would you say that it is a good translation?

It would be harsh to say that the translators took the easy way out or were sloppy here. I’m sure they agonized long and hard over it. Having painted themselves into a corner because of the way they chose to translate God, this is probably the best they could have come up with.

Edit: 6.30  pm , 15 Jan, 2014

For comparison, below is how the phrase “God of gods and Lord of lords” appears in the bibles of some other languages:

Latin: Deus deorum et Dominus dominantium

Hebrew: Elohei  ha’elohim   v’adonei ha’adonim

Greek: theos tōn theōn kai kurios tōn kuriōn

German: Gott der Götter und der Herr der Herren

Dutch: een God der goden, en een Heere der heren

French: le Dieu des dieux et le Seigneur des seigneurs

I hope you can see the pattern in all of the above, a pattern that the BSM Malay bible does not follow.

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One Response to “God of gods”

  1. Memang gereja menganggap orang Melayu kurang celik dan cerdik | Helen Ang Says:

    […] semua tuhan lain dan semua kekuasaan”. [Penjelasan yang lebih terperinci boleh dibaca di blog Oik.] Pendekatan putar-belit gereja membuktikan bahawa evangelis menganggap orang Melayu ini bukan […]

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