Monday, October 16, 2006

John 1:1

Interesting renderings of Biblia Sahidica
(coming are Luke 23:43 & Revelation 3:14)

John 1:1
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.

14 Comments:

Blogger Memra said...

Great blog! You have presented a wealth of interesting information already.

Much of the Coptic information now on the internet focuses on the Gnostic gospels of GThomas, GPhilip, or GJudas.

But of much more worth for the study of early Christianity and text transmission are the Coptic canonical Gospels.

It is excellent to see attention now directed to these true Gospels.

10:11 PM  
Blogger ousboui said...

Thanks for your comment Memra, It is a shame that there is little interest in the canonical books of the Christian scriptures in Coptic. They are a valuable source for the study of the NT.

12:26 PM  
Blogger EYTYXOC said...

Thanks for the comment and reference to your blog.

Some questions:

You say "The Sahidic version was produced before about the third century CE." What date are our manuscripts of it, and what is the chance that the indefinite article was a later interpolation?

How did the Apostolic and Early Church Fathers understand John 1:1c? After all, Koinê Greek was their native language, and they had directly received the traditions from the Apostles and those appointed by them, and some had in fact been appointed or taught by John himself (assuming "John" was the author of the Gospel that bears his name).

How did liturgical worship in the centuries preceding the Sahidic treat Jesus: as God, or as "a god"?

What do scholars say about the indefinite article in Sahidic John 1:1c?

How would the Sahidic translate the verse if it did not want to equate Jesus with Theos=GodtheFather, but nevertheless wanted to equate him with "Theos" (i.e., of the same nature as Theos)? Would it use the definite article, the indefinite article, no article, or a different construction entirely?

3:10 PM  
Blogger ousboui said...

Thanks for your comment.

Sahidic Mss go back to the third century CE, few Greek Mss are dated older than that. In the case of the book of 1 Peter the oldest extant Ms is a Sahidic one. Additionally some of the most valued Greek Mss are also written in Sahidic in another column. The Sahidic text faithfully preserves a highly accurate text of the NT. So much so that text critics consider it an important authority in establishing the Greek text. There are numerous Coptic Mss in various dialects that share this reading, and no indication of interpolation.
I find the writings of early church fathers to be highly philosophical and to depart sharply from strict exegesis of scripture. It is clear from the number of Christian demoninations that there is much deviation in teaching. It seems to me that such deviation began soon after the death of Jesus apostles. The writings of the early church document the varying and developing views of Christs nature that ultimately come to be expressed in the Creeds. I recently read 'Angelomorphic Christology and the Exegesis of Ps 8:5 in Tertullian's Adversus Praxean, which concludes "Tertullian's doctrine of Christ does not escape a certain subordination of essence. In Adversus Praxean, the accomplished rhetor presents Christ as a supernatural being, who only possesses a relative form of divinity." For quotations and illusions to Joh 1:1 in the early church writings please see http://tinyurl.com/zqezd
As for Coptic scholars, they agree with the "a god" translation. You can check some quotations here
http://nwtandcoptic.blogspot.com//
or why not find a Coptic grammarian to email yourself.
As for your last question,
hO QEOS = the Father, in Greek sometimes the artical is dropped but in Sahidic the definite atricle is always there when reference is to the Father. QEOS is a noun that can be properly applied to men and angels with out making them a part of the supreme being. In a similar way the Word is called a god without making him equal to hO QEOS. If the apostle wanted to describe the Word as having all the attributes and qualities of hO QEOS he would certainly have to have said something very different. If there is such a thing as an emthatically, fully qualitative noun, so that everything that hO QEOS is the LOGOS is to, it would have to be argued on the basis of the Sahidic zero article, not the indefinite. As it is for the apostle to give a singular count noun in this Greek construction, signifies what Eglish readers know as indefiniteness as the current thread on b-greek has shown.

4:23 PM  
Blogger EYTYXOC said...

Memra at

http://copticjohn.blogspot.com/2006/07/johannine-prologue-11-18.html

seems to argue that the Coptic means qualitative, however. This seems to suggest disagreement with you.

Memra writes:

"There are many interesting facets to the Sahidic Coptic translation of John's Koine Greek text at chapter 1, verses 1-18.

"In verse one, it has been noted that the anarthrous Greek text's KAI QEOS HN hO LOGOS is rendered with the Sahidic Coptic indefinite article. This is significant, because the Coptic could have left the text without any article, or could have used the definite article, if the translators had so understood the verse. While a noun without any article is infrequent in Sahidic Coptic, there are examples of this in the Nag Hamadi corpus of works. It is to be observed, therefore, that the Coptic translators found that verse one did not identify the Logos with the Person QEOS. Rather, the Logos is qualitatively QEOS." (my emphasis)

Thoughts/comments?

5:25 PM  
Blogger Memra said...

Hello, eytyxoc. In reference to my words about the anarthrous pre-verbal noun QEOS at John 1:1c, I think that the confusion may be between speaking about what the Greek means and what the likely English translations of the Greek may be.

As you know if you visit b-greek regularly, there is great debate among Greek grammarians about whether QEOS at John 1:1c is definite, indefinite, qualitative, qualitative-indefinite, or some other category. According to scholars like Daniel Wallace, the categories may overlap to some degree.

I think that the literal translation in both Greek and Coptic favors the indefinite reading. But since a god is also qualitatively "divine," or divine "by nature," I do not rule out a reading such as "the Word was divine" or "the Word was a divine being," or even the reading suggested by Coptic researcher J. Warren Wells: "the Word was like God," in English.

In other words, I can see John identifying the Word at John 1:1 as being "like God" (qualitative) while not being God (definite).

According to Coptic grammarian Bentley Layton, the Coptic sentence at John 1:1c can support either "the Word was a god" or "the Word was divine," but since it does not have the Coptic definite article, and has the Coptic indefinite article instead, it clearly does not say "the Word was God."

Actually, since God is identified throughout the NT as "the Father," for John to say "the Word was God" would be saying "the Word was the Father," (modalism or Sabellianism) which is not John's meaning at all.

In this way, the Coptic version rules out a reading that is not so obviously ruled out in the Greek, inasmuch as Greek has no indefinite article, but Coptic does.

6:21 PM  
Blogger EYTYXOC said...

memra wrote:

In this way, the Coptic version rules out a reading that is not so obviously ruled out in the Greek, inasmuch as Greek has no indefinite article, but Coptic does.

To clarify: What reading are you saying is ruled out by the Coptic:

a) The Logos was The Theos.

b) The Logos was Divine.

(You seem to say that the reading "The Logos was a divine being" or "The Logos was a god" is not ruled out by the Coptic, if I'm reading you correctly.)

How does the Coptic affect the Nicene-Constantinopolitan and other Creedal Trinitarian beliefs and formulations? While ousboui writes:

"I find the writings of early church fathers to be highly philosophical and to depart sharply from strict exegesis of scripture,"

even in your elucidation of the Coptic you seem to support the Trinitarian understanding of the Godhead - which would, IMO, argue against translating John 1:1c as "The Logos was a god," despite the presence of the indefinite article in the Coptic.

This is all new to me, and I know no Coptic, so please bear with my ignorance.

7:00 PM  
Blogger Memra said...

eytyxos, did you see the post about qualitative-indefinite-definite nouns on b-greek today by
Sean Kasabuske, titled "Definiteness"? That post highlights part of the problem.

Your interest in Coptic is commendable. Perhaps some of the other fine links posted by ousboui may be of assistance to you.

Specifically, the Coptic translation of John 1:1c rules out the reading QEOS as as if meaning "The LOGOS was hO QEOS."

It does not rule out an English translation as "LOGOS was Divine."

But what it literally says is ne.u.noute pe p.Saje: i.e., was-a-god (is) the Word, or "the Word was a god [i.e., divine being]."

It would appear then, that John is describing here what the Word was: divine, godlike, rather than equating him with the Person, hO QEOS.

If you are familiar with the writings of the pre-Nicene Fathers, you will see similar descriptions of the LOGOS there, where he called the "only-begotten God" in contrast to hO QEOS, whom some of the Fathers call hO QEOS AGENNHTOS, "the Unbegotten God."

But to put it simply, the Coptic version says "the Word was a god." It is possible to gloss this in English also as "the Word was Divine." But Coptic rules of grammar do not support translating it as "the Word was God."

7:51 PM  
Blogger Memra said...

P.S. As to your question, ?How does the Coptic affect the Nicene-Constantinopolitan and other Creedal Trinitarian beliefs and formulations," it is very likely that the Coptic Sahidic version was translated before Nicea, and does not reflect a preoccupation with those controversies.

It appears that the Coptic translators simply rendered the Greek text according to their best understanding of what that text said.

8:01 PM  
Blogger ousboui said...

Hi Eytyxoc and Memra,

In my blog I wrote:

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. With this in mind a translator may offer "and the Word was divine" to convey the sense.

In my view "the Word/Logos was divine" may well convey the sense. Technically we translating an indefinite substantive, lit "a god", with respect to the Greek text some grammarians are determined to assert that QEOS is not indefinite. Such can't be asserted about the Coptic. The coptic may be classified as categorical-indefinite or qualitive-indefinite, so that 'divine' is a good approximation, but we can't take away it's indefiniteness and so technically it remains a substantive.

To support my comment about the writings of the early church I'll offer another quote. Concerning the Trinity Dr Alvan Lamson states that it "had its origin in a source entirely foreign from that of the Jewish and Christian Scriptures; that it grew up, and was ingrafted on Christianity, through the hands of the Platonizing Fathers." - The Church of the First Three Centuries.

10:06 PM  
Blogger EYTYXOC said...

ousboui wrote:

To support my comment about the writings of the early church I'll offer another quote. Concerning the Trinity Dr Alvan Lamson states that it "had its origin in a source entirely foreign from that of the Jewish and Christian Scriptures; that it grew up, and was ingrafted on Christianity, through the hands of the Platonizing Fathers." - The Church of the First Three Centuries.

To which I would respond that the Church Fathers only made explicit what was implicit in the Scriptures when titles and things formerly attributed in the OT to YHWH were now ascribed to the Lord Jesus Christ. That, plus His being worshiped as God in the early Church by monotheistic Jews (see, e.g., Larry Hurtado, LORD JESUS CHRIST) substantiate to me that the Church was correct to call Jesus "God," and the understanding which the church gained of the Holy Spirit through His activity in the Church, as well as some of the passages in the New Testament, correctly, IMO, led to the Trinitarian understanding of God.

Anyway, thanks for sparking my interest in the Coptic. A friend is researching textual witnesses to Jesus's divinity, so I suggested he explore the Coptic/Sahidic witnesses, and not just the Greek.

12:43 AM  
Blogger ousboui said...

Thank you Eytyxoc for sharing some comments here.

1:18 AM  
Blogger JohnOneOne said...

EYTYXOC asked...

"How did the Apostolic and Early Church Fathers understand John 1:1c? After all, Koinê Greek was their native language, and they had directly received the traditions from the Apostles and those appointed by them, and some had in fact been appointed or taught by John himself (assuming "John" was the author of the Gospel that bears his name)."

In touching upon your inquiry, this quote on a related subject may prove to be of interest:

"The formulation 'one God in three Persons' was not solidly established, certainly not fully assimilated into Christian life and its profession of faith, prior to the end of the 4th century. But it is precisely this formulation that has first claim to the title the Trinitarian dogma. Among the Apostolic Fathers, there had been nothing even remotely approaching such a mentality or perspective.…it is not directly and immediately the word of God."

From: "The New Catholic Encyclopedia." Prepared by an Editorial Staff at the Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C. (New York, New York: McGraw-Hill, 1967-c1989), vol. XIV [14], p. 299. BX841 .N44 1967 / 66-022292.

The import of this statement becomes all the more significant when we appreciate the fact that “the Apostolic Fathers” are those who were said to have lived during or close to the same time period as the Apostles themselves; perhaps, even some of them having been taught by them as well. Therefore, if among the writings of “the Apostolic Fathers” “there had been nothing even remotely approaching such a mentality or perspective,” and, especially, for this teaching to not have ever been a part of the Christian “profession of faith,” that is, as expressed within any Christian ‘declaration of belief’ until the end of the 4th century, then, surely, this would unequivocally substantiate the fact that neither the Apostles nor any of the earliest of Christians had ever believed and/or been taught any such radically new concept about God. Therefore, it is very unlikely that these had ever thought that John 1:1c was in any way a statement made to identify "the Word," Jesus, as God.

Agape, Alan.
john1one@earthlink.net
http://www.goodcompanionbooks.com

11:07 PM  
Blogger Trish said...

Thank you first off, for this information, I feel now I have a good place to ask these harder questions... but for this time what I am wondering is, -can we get a word for word translation of this Coptic to see fist hand!! Am I greedy! Like in the B'rit haChadashah color coded interlinear!! Can this word for word scripture analysis also include verse 14 and 18? Or just the English directly under the Coptic would be fine, please. Please give us these three scriptures: 1:1,1:14, 1:18. Please teach us a new word or two! (how to pronounce God and only begotten for starters,) Oh I almost forgot I would like to add, why has no one mentioned the a god was sired? In the context begot. What is the Coptic for that word ? I believe mono-gene's is the Greek word. It seems to show in 14 and 18 that the siring of - or fathering of the god, shows him not to be "Almighty God" but the "only" "-one-produced". so different then God "Everlasting to Everlasting," the son had a beginning and was sired. Even if we can't get a word for word translation of all this Coptic!
Can I still get this word from you, the word for "only-begotten". (found also in J 3:16, Luke 7:11-12,8:41-42,9:38, (does Coptic have the manuscripts of Luke?) ) Thank you ahead of time. Trish

10:41 PM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home