Interesting renderings of Biblia Sahidica
(coming are Luke 23:43 & Revelation 3:14)
The Greek text of this verse has been the subject of much controversy. A controversy that focuses on the QEOS of the third copulative clause. How in Greek should a Pre- Verbal Anathrous Predicate Nominative Singular Count Noun be rendered? Should it be seen as definite or indefinite? If as a third option it is seen to be primarily qualitative, does it still retain the nature of a substantive? There is much theologically guided debate. Many different translations have been offered. The translator's of the Sahidic Version knew Koine better than anyone today can claim to; they grew up immersed in it because it was an important international language in their day. How did they understand the Greek, as reflected in their translation?
1:1a Hn tehoueite nefshoop nci pshaje
1:1b Auw pshaje nefshoop nnahrm pnoute
1:1c Auw neunoute pe pshaje
In the third clause we have neunoute, which means "a god". There can be no question about whether this word is definite or not; it is clear, it has the indefinite article ou. This is something that the Greek language does not have. Greek has the definite article and employs zero article. In Greek when there is zero article (anathrous) a noun may be definite or indefinite. In Greek QEOS has no article so there is a question about whether it is definite or indefinite. The same question can not be asked about the Coptic. Coptic employs the definite, indefinite and zero articles and the translator's chose the indefinite article ou.
A literal translation would therefore be "and a god was the Word" or "and the Word was a divine being"
Does such a translation convey the sense of the Coptic indefinite article?
In Coptic the indefinite article is sometimes used with abstract nouns and mass nouns so it does not precisely correspond to the English indefinite article.
So the Coptic oumoou (a water) = "some water" and oume (a truth) = (a particular) "truth" where as in contrast tme (the truth) = "truth" (in general).
The word noute here is neither an abstract noun or a mass noun, it is count noun.
Dr Leyton in his Coptic Grammar, writes concerning the use of the indefinite article with the word noute:
"The indef. article is part of the Coptic syntactic pattern. This pattern predicates either a quality (we'd omit the English article in English: "is divine") or an entity ("is a god"); the reader decides which reading to give it. The Coptic pattern does NOT predicate equivalence with the proper name "God"; in Coptic, God is always without exception supplied with the def. article. Occurrence of an anarthrous noun in this pattern would be odd."
So Dr Leyton says that the syntactic pattern that includes an indefinite noun can convey the sense of:
1) quality "is divine"
2) entity "is a god"
The reader decides.
He does not say that a noun can technically become an adjective when it has ou, but rather it can convey the sense of an adjective. The Coptic language elsewhere uses the prefix n with noute to technically make it an adjective, "divine". (Smith says for one use of n- "forms adjectives", see also Crum 231 a)
The English indefinite article conveys a similar sense to the Coptic as used here. It can simply categorize or it can convey various degrees of quality, so that in some cases an indefinite noun may approximate an adjective.
For exampe "you are a sinner" conveys quality and may be alternatively put "you are sinful"
When a subject is identified as a member of a class, to some degree the characteristics of the class are in view, and this remains true across languages.
ounoute is technically an indefinite noun, and the full sense of it is conveyed by means of the English indefinite article "the Word was a god". Still a translator may perceive that contextual emphasis is more on quality than entity, and choose to use an adjective "and the Word was divine" to convey the sense.
This translation is offered by Manal Gabr, in his thesis Philological studies of the Coptic versions of the Gospel of John. It is the convention of this thesis to offer the English rendering of the New King James Version when comparing passages in Coptic and Greek, but for the author to offer his own translation when he feels that the NKJV does not accurately reflect the Coptic. So the grammarian does not consider the NKJV's 'the Word was God' to accurately reflect the Coptic.
A third option, is to convey quality and entity with equal force
"and the Word was a divine being"
What is certain, and some might find it disturbing, is that the translation that has stood for centuries as the traditional English rendering, namely "the Word was God" can not be got from the Sahidic text. It just can not stretch to it.
It has been the tradition to include the capital letter with "God" at 1:1c. In English, capital letters are only used with proper nouns, such nouns are specific and can not be contrasted in number. As proper names in English are specific, "God" in the traditional translation reads as definite.
QEOS and noute are both count nouns, they should only be given an initial capital letter if they are contextually used as proper nouns. When in English one reads "the Word was with God and the Word was God", "God" in both cases must have the same referent. This is also the case if the Greek QEOS of 1:1c is considered definite like the QEOS in the previous clause. If "God" in 1:1b is the Father, then the traditional translation teaches that the Word is the Father. Such a teaching is called embryonic Sabellionism. Many Trinitarians now recognize this as an implication of viewing QEOS in 1:1 c as definite.
The truth is that QEOS in 1:1c is not definite as the Sahidic Version explicitly testifies.
The verse should be literally translated "and the Word was a divine being" or "and the Word was a god*".
*In the Holy Scriptures, both angels and men are at times called "gods"(Ex 4:16; 7:1; Ps 8:5; 82:1,6) this does not mean that there are many rightful objects of worship, a pantheon of deities. Rather those called gods, are called such because of characteristics they have or roles they play. The one called the Word is superior to those men and angels previously mentioned, how much more so then, can the Word be properly called a god(Joh 10:34-36), though he is not the supreme One, the Father, who we alone call God and who alone is given the respect and devotion for being such.