Christianity 201

September 26, 2020

On Pronouncing Bible Names

Our scripture reading for today is from Nehemiah 10: 1-27 NKJV

Now those who placed their seal on the document were:

Nehemiah the governor, the son of Hacaliah, and Zedekiah, Seraiah, Azariah, Jeremiah, Pashhur, Amariah, Malchijah, Hattush, Shebaniah, Malluch, Harim, Meremoth, Obadiah, Daniel, Ginnethon, Baruch, Meshullam, Abijah, Mijamin, Maaziah, Bilgai, and Shemaiah. These were the priests.

The Levites: Jeshua the son of Azaniah, Binnui of the sons of Henadad, and Kadmiel.

Their brethren: Shebaniah, Hodijah, Kelita, Pelaiah, Hanan, Micha, Rehob, Hashabiah, Zaccur, Sherebiah, Shebaniah, Hodijah, Bani, and Beninu.

The leaders of the people: Parosh, Pahath-Moab, Elam, Zattu, Bani, Bunni, Azgad, Bebai, Adonijah, Bigvai, Adin, Ater, Hezekiah, Azzur, Hodijah, Hashum, Bezai, Hariph, Anathoth, Nebai, Magpiash, Meshullam, Hezir,  Meshezabel, Zadok, Jaddua, Pelatiah, Hanan, Anaiah, Hoshea, Hananiah, Hasshub, Hallohesh, Pilha, Shobek, Rehum, Hashabnah, Maaseiah, Ahijah, Hanan, Anan, Malluch, Harim, and Baanah.

…On second thought, let’s make these our key verses today:

These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come.
 – I Cor 10:11 NIV

Let this be recorded for future generations, so that a people not yet born will praise the LORD.
 – Ps. 102:18 NLT

For everything that was written in former times was written for our instruction, so that through endurance and through encouragement of the scriptures we may have hope.
 – Rom 15:4 NET

There is no shortage of online tutorials, videos and phone apps to aid in the correct pronunciation of names and places in the Bible. I just did a search, and the page-one results alone are enough to keep everyone busy for the rest of the day.

People don’t want to be reading text aloud in public and then look like a fool when they completely stumble over a name, or worse, allow it to morph into a more contemporary name. Some avoid it altogether by saying, “and then the first guy said to the second guy.

Or they try to make it hip by calling Peter ‘Pete’ or referring to Nicodemus’ late evening conversation with Jesus as ‘Nick at night.’ (I like that one, and I’ve used it!) Perhaps you’ve heard someone make Jacob ‘Jake’ or Joseph ‘Joe.’ (Or worse, Jesus as ‘J.C.’ I don’t care for that one.)

Because these people are part of the story, they are part of our story. They matter.

Names do change. Short story writers will often turn to lists of the most popular names from various years when creating a character. If you wanted someone in their 40s, you might look up the most popular names in 1980. (There are some fascinating videos showing the top names in each U.S. state; the regional clusters are fun to watch!)

Many Biblical names remain in our contemporary culture, but Jezebel and Judas tend to be less popular. Finding the modern-day names of Biblical cities and towns is often helpful.  Still, many create challenges.


…The danger is feeling that this speech difficulty only confirms that the Bible is an old book set in an ancient time with little relevance for us today. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Any discussion of relevance has to run parallel to (or better yet, subsequent to) a discussion of reliability. One must have confidence in the documents as presented before proceeding to discuss how they relate to us in the 21st Century.

Only then do we move on to relevance. An article at notes,

…But is the ancient book really relevant to the issues of our frenetic, post-modern world of microscopes and satellites? This is a question asked by those who are racing through life with little time for reflection on their destiny or why they are here. But for those who are unexpectedly slammed onto a hospital bed, life takes on a much different quality! Suddenly in the long, agonizing hours punctuated only by the clicking of a heart monitor, there is time to reflect on a new set of questions, timeless questions which have not changed much through the centuries. Does anyone really love me? How did those stars a billion miles away get there? Is there any hope for me? How do I get in touch with God right now?

It is then that these questions about the relevance of the Bible tend to fade away. The comfort and the hope embodied in the Bible suddenly become totally relevant. Its diversity touches every age, every situation. There are wonderful stories for children, deeply emotional psalms and confessions, discourses to engage the deepest philosophical questions, and the sayings of Jesus confronting the issues of life and death and the eternity ahead.

…Along the miles of concrete I traverse every day, I have a guide, a beacon. It’s not in the form of a dead book, but it’s a living guide for the journey…

Those pesky pronunciation problems

If you take what’s written above to heart, it won’t matter whether someone says HAB•a•kuk or ha•BAK•kuk; or whether they say FIL•a•mon or fi•LEE•mon. True, there are rules that should be followed if one wants to get it right, and there are books you may purchase to aid in that quest. But don’t get lost in the weeds of striving for Biblical eloquence and perfect scriptural articulation.

Or worse, don’t close the book in frustration.

Recognize that people and places back then had ancient proper nouns and that’s all part of the context.

I’ll bet some people in your church have some interesting names, too.

Related: When it’s Your Turn to Read the Scriptures (Thinking Out Loud, 2011) to which I would add (a) read it with passion, (b) write out the passage ahead of time in longhand so you have total familiarity with it.

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