Biblical names in Korean

The church service I attend in Korea is entirely in Korean, but it is a prayer book Mass/Holy Communion service relevantly identical to those I’ve attended all my life in Australia. There are three Bible readings plus a Psalm. The readings and Psalm are listed in the weekly notes, and I can read in English as the reader is reading in Korean. Some books of the Bible are easier to find, and some are harder. All but two of the books of the New Testament are named after people, the exceptions being Acts and Revelation, but those are usually seasonal – Acts is read in the weeks following Easter, and Revelation in the last few weeks of ordinary time and during Advent.

Proportionately more of the books of the Old Testament are not named after people – Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Judges, Kings, Chronicles, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Songs. But there are clues – the Korean name for Exodus includes the syllable 출, which I know from 출구(chul-gu, exit) and the one for Kings 왕 (wang, king). Sometimes, though, I’m reduced to checking the listed chapter and verses of those others books in an attempt to find a passage which makes coherent sense and is relevant to the day. (The international lectionary is probably online somewhere, but I’m not that organised.)

Even the search for books named after people is complicated by the fact that Old Testament names in Korean are based on the Hebrew and are listed in abbreviated form. It is not immediately obvious that 예레 (ye-re) is Jeremiah. (In real life, David is transliterated as 데이비드 (de-i-bi-deu) or 데이빗 (de-i-bit), whereas in the Korean Bible it’s the more Hebraic 다윗 (da-wit).)

Some readings are sort-of possible to follow. Many Gospel readings are in the form of a dialogue. The Acts reading for Pentecost has a list of country names in 2:9-11, and this morning’s reading from Galatians has a string of individual words in 5:19-21 and 22-23, one of which I actually recognised – 친절 (chin-jeol, kindness). While English loan words are widely used in other parts of Korean life, there are very few in the Bible or prayer book. There are many familiar words, to be sure, but they are of Hebrew, Greek or Latin origin, not English, and came into English in much the same way, but earlier in history. Many theological words, like ‘salvation’ are entirely in Korean.

The prayer book uses surprisingly many everyday Korean words. In the prayer of consecration, I can spot 빵 (bbang, bread), 포도주 (po-do-ju, wine (although 와인, wa-in is also used) , 받아, 먹으라 (bad-a, meok-eu-ra, take, eat), 몸 (mom, body), 잔 (jan, cup), 마시라 (ma-shi-ra, drink), 피 (pi, blood). The verb ending ‘ra’ has not been covered in any textbook I’ve read. The imperatives I’ve encountered are 먹으세요 (meok-eu-se-yo, eat), 마시세요 (ma-shi-se-yo, drink) and 드세요 (deu-se-yo, formal, eat and/or drink). This use of common words shouldn’t be surprising; the equivalent prayer in English uses the common English words I’ve just listed.

In case you’re interested, the names of the books of the Bible are here.


One thought on “Biblical names in Korean

  1. Pingback: 500th post | Never Pure and Rarely Simple

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