The Bible Told Through Kanji

Pop Quiz! How many kinds of kanji (Chinese characters) do you think exist? The answer is ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………… over 50,000! Not one person, either Japanese or Chinese knows all of them, but there are actually that many. The reason is that they were made over the course of two thousand years!

If you’ve read my post about the different forms of words in Japan, you know that the reason this complicated and hard-to-use form of language, kanji is used is because it actually makes words and sentences shorter and easier to write! You can’t read a sentence in Japan without kanji (unless it’s a book for kids). Thankfully there are only about 2,000 in regular use!

But did you know some words in kanji are connected with history recorded in the Bible?! Today I’d like to show you just four often used and important kanjis and show their connection to the history of the Bible!

1. 造 (to create)

There is another kanji which means to create (作), but it means making small things, like dinner, crafts, or robots. This one means to make something big, for example, a ship or a city.

Now, 造 can be broken up into four parts. First: 告. This means, “speak”. This part of the kanji can also be broken apart. The part of the word that looks like a + and a – combines, 土, means “dirt”. The part that is connected to the word that means dirt, the part that flicks off of it, means “life”.

The line that goes under the section we just explained, the “shinyou”, means to “walk”.

Now, if you’ve ever studied the book of Genesis when God makes the world just by speaking, something probably clicked.

Let’s put all the meanings together: “speak”, “dirt”, “life”, “walk”.

According to the Bible, when God created the world, He did it be speaking. When He made Adam, the first human being, He made him by breathing life into dirt! Adam began to walk with God immediately.

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Now no shrub had yet appeared on the earth[a] and no plant had yet sprung up, for the Lord God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no one to work the ground, but streams[b] came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground. Then the Lord God formed a man[c] from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. (Genesis 2:5 -7) (NIV)

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And at that moment, Adam was created as a living, human being. What an amazing miracle and story, confirmed by this kanji written 2,000 years ago!

2. 義 (righteousness)

I will break up this kanji like I did with the last kanji. It can be broken into two parts.

First, 羊 (abbreviation). It means lamb.

The kanji under it, 我, means self.

From even the earliest days God instituted the practice of sacrificing a lamb in order to pay for our sins against Him. This was all a foreshadowing of Jesus, the Son of God, who was himself called the Lamb of God. When we have the lamb of God over our lives, sacrificed on our behalf on the cross, we have true righteousness as a gift from God! John the Baptist, a believer in Jesus spoke about it in this way:

29 “The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)

Jesus gave himself for us, people who do daily bad things, and poured the punishment we were supposed to take, all on himself. You can read more about Jesus’s amazing sacrifice for us in this post.

3. 船 (ship)

The left side of the word 船, 舟, means a boat. The only difference here are the two parts, 八 (which means eight) and 口 (which means mouth) on the right side.

To people who have read the book of Genesis, do you remember a story that has to do with a ship? A HUGE ship?

You got it. The story of the worldwide flood that God sent to the world because the people’s disobedience. God instructed Noah, a person who was given grace to make a huge ship. The reason he instructed Noah to make the ship was because he wanted Noah and his family to be safe – He wanted to save them.

Eight people (or mouths) boarded the ship, exactly as the kanji implies. In ancient days, mouths stood for people.

4. 魔 (tempter)

Ever wonder why everything seems to be going downward? Why people commit crimes, get angry easily, steal, lie, and covet? Why do earthquakes and tsunamis, tornadoes and floods, volcano eruptions and cyclones happen if God is good? Why do diseases like the recent Coronavirus, influenza, SARS, chicken pox, colds, malaria, rabies, and tuberculosis spread?

This isn’t a scientific question. This is a moral question – it is a spiritual question.

At the time when the world had just begun, Adam and his wife Eve, lived in the Garden of Eden. God had let them roam free in the garden, and eat from every tree and plant that grew fruit, and even the glorious “tree of life”— Except one was forbidden: the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

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The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food…16 And the Lord God commanded… “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” (Genesis 3:9, 16-17)

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What God means by “you will surely die” doesn’t mean instantly: it means “you will become mortal and die”. You see, before, Adam and Eve couldn’t die. They were immortal beings, protected by God.

This was a test from God. He had given Adam and Eve freedom, joy, and glory. He only gave them ONE simple rule. But still they chose to disobey.

One day, when Eve was walking in the garden, a serpent (who was actually the devil) slithered from a tree which happened to be “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” toward Eve.

The serpent.
What the serpent might have looked like.

This is what he said:

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“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:4-5)

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And, you guessed it: Eve ate the fruit, and so did Adam, who was right next to her.

At that moment, they fell into sin, shame, and judgement. And, since we are all descendants from them, we do the same things.

Now, I got carried away there. Back to the kanji.

Again, this kanji, 魔 (or tempter) can be broken apart as well. I’ll make it big so you can study it:

The lower part, 鬼, which means “devil”, can be broken up into four parts. And when translated into English, just those four parts are: secret, man, garden, and live.

The serpent told them that God was hiding a secret away from Adam and Eve (mankind), which, of course, was a lie. It was in the garden. And when Adam and Eve each took a bite out of the fruit, they lost the ability to live forever.

The section above that, 林, means “two trees”, or “woods”: the tree of life and “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil”.

The final part surrounding the kanji simply means “hidden”. The serpent has hiding the truth from them, and told them that instead God was hiding something good from them, and, as we see in Genesis 3:8, they then hid themselves when God came:

“Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. ” (NIV)

Combining all that makes the kanji 魔, which means tempter. When early Chinese people saw this ancient kanji they would quickly remember the story of their first ancestors.

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Now, there are many more kanjis that reflect the wonderful biblical story, especially from Genesis, but we’re going to have to stop here.

Let me know if you know any others, and if you have ANY questions about the kanjis and the biblical stories, please comment below.

God bless!

20 thoughts on “The Bible Told Through Kanji

    1. The Chinese used to believe in one creator God they called ShangDi, but even as they started to forget and go away from God’s teachings and history, the kanjis still kept them alive. Now the Chinese bible uses the word “ShangDi” for God!

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  1. I agree with Eliana the Writer! This was such a cool post, Noah! I thought it was so interesting how all these different symbols tie back to things that happened or are in the Bible. The last one (tempter) was so cool to look at. I could almost see the different parts on the symbol, and when you explained it in your post, it became all the more clearer! Thank you so much for writing!

    Liked by 3 people

      1. It was very fun and interesting to read. I actually have a question: are Japanese characters different from Chinese ones? My mom said that some of these characters looked very similar to Chinese ones, and it made me curious, so I thought I would ask. =D

        Also, I really do like the updates you made on the blog. It’s perfect! Nice work!

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      2. Well, obviously Japan has the hiragana and katakana that China doesn’t have. The kanjis are different as well (though some of them are the same). I’ve heard the Chinese kanjis are a little bit easier than the Japanese ones because they use it so often and they want to simplify it. I hope that helped!

        Thank you!

        Like

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