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Revelation 9:11 according to ESV translation:

They have as king over them the angel of the bottomless pit. His name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek he is called Apollyon.

Revelation 9:11 according to translation proposal:

They have as king over them the angel of the bottomless pit. His name in Hebrew is "Destruction", and in Greek he is called "Destroyer".

It is proposed that in doing this, readers will not become mystified as to what these terms mean in their respective languages, because the terms "Abaddon" and "Apollyon" simply mean "the Destroying One" in Hebrew and Greek. The impetus for doing this would be that Revelation was written initially for a Greek audience, so the term meaning "Destruction" in Hebrew was translated into the Greek as "Apollyon" so that the Greek readers could understand the term.

However, for English speaking people, both the Hebrew and Greek titles are needlessly mystifying to the average reader, because the intent and meaning of the titles Hebrew and Greek have no bearing on the English language. Because of this, would it not make more sense to simply translate the meaning of both titles into a non-mystifying English title which can be then be immediately understood by English readers that the angel of the bottomless pit is the Destroyer?

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2 Answers 2

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Given that the verse in question has the writer saying, "His name in Hebrew is..." the writer must give the Hebrew word.

Given that the verse in question has the writer saying, "and in Greek he is called..." the writer must give the Greek word.

Only in modern "dynamic/functional equivalence" translations would the interpretation of words be given instead. Those are translations that like to give the meaning for the reader. With those two words, there is no argument about them meaning "destruction" and "destroyer" respectively. But given that the verse says the Hebrew and Greek names will be given, they must be given to be true to the text. If not, then the reader will not learn what the Hebrew and Greek words are.

Older translations are usually "formal equivalence", which strive to give the closest possible literal translation. It is no difficulty for modern readers to find out what those ancient words mean. Many translations have notes or columns with related verses and meanings of Hebrew and Greek words provided. Or, keying the old words into a search engine will instantly provide the meanings.

It is said that a good reason for providing the meanings instead of the names is that, "for English speaking people, both the Hebrew and Greek titles are needlessly mystifying to the average reader". But would that not simply encourage more laziness and dependence on modern translators to do their thinking for them? If their translation has notes and reference columns, it will be there on the page already. If not, only the tiniest bit of 'homework' is needed to get the meaning. Why is it that more and more people expect everything to be handed to them on a plate, so that they don't even have to go into the kitchen to plate their food up themselves?

However, the simple reason why the translation proposal is not sound, is stated in the first two paragraphs: it would introduce a contradiction into the text because the writer said the Hebrew and the Greek names would be given.

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  • Nevertheless, I certainly agree: The context warrants the transliteration of the Hebrew and Greek terms in this particular sense.
    – Joshua B
    Mar 2 at 23:12
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Every name in the Bible has a meaning such as:

  • Jesus means Jehovah is salvation
  • John means Jehovah is gracious
  • Malachi means Messenger
  • Satan means Adversary
  • Christ means anointed
  • Jeremiah means Jehovah is exalted
  • Jonah means Dove
  • Joseph means "may he add"
  • etc, etc

Should all these names be translated rather than transliterated?

It is an important rule of translating, that when translating a name it must be transliterated and never translated. If the meaning is important, then that meaning is given in a footnote as is done in most modern versions.

In the case of Rev 9:11, if the words are translated then we would end up with the rather pointless result something like:

They were ruled by a king, the angel of the Abyss. His name in Hebrew is Destruction, and in Greek it is Destruction.

Rather, the modern practice is to have what most do -

They were ruled by a king, the angel of the Abyss. His name in Hebrew is Abaddon,a and in Greek it is Apollyon.b

Footnotes: a: Abaddon means Destruction. b: Apollyon means Destroyer

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