Part 3

Dear friends,

As you know it had been my intention to close this discussion with my last message, and Mr. Hommel's reply to it. It is Mr. Hommel's tenacity, ability to argue a position, and skill in raising crucial points that have compelled me to return one more time to clarify the key points where we have fundamental differences, and why I think basic grammatical facts are being overlooked or misconstrued in his argument. In biblical studies, we frequently must engage in this sort of refutation of people we respect, and I hope my response will be seen in that light. But I would not bother to come back just to restate our differences. In reading his latest message, I was able to see some important common ground of principle that he and I share. We both believe in cautious, contextual reading. We both are anxious not to read into the text things that are not really there. We both recognize the importance of a solid foundation in the grammar of the Bible, while acknowledging that grammar alone is not sufficient to answer all translation issues. So I began to see that some of our apparent differences might be due more to confusion over our use of terms, or miscommunication over the relevance of a particular line of reasoning. For these reasons, and because Mr. Hommel asked additional questions and invited me to respond when I find the time, I have returned to the discussion. In what follows I sometimes speak to our readers, and at other times direct my remarks to Mr. Hommel himself.

Clarification #1
In his latest message, Mr. Hommel spends some time more on Colwell. I made the error of continuing to discuss Colwell after we both agreed that "Colwell's Rule" cannot settle the point at issue in translating John 1:1c. The debate over whether Colwell's Rule is valid or not is entirely beside the point. So it can be set aside in this discussion, as it should have been before. The only reason it keeps coming up is a lingering tendency in Mr. Hommel's argument to lean towards a definite reading of THEOS in 1:1c. This involves a grammatical error found in the following two sentences in his latest posting:

ROBERT: Harner considers theos in (another passage we discussed) to be definite on the basis of the anarthrous theos almost always being definite in the NT. . . . While the anarthrous theos may be indefinite here, theos is often definite in the NT, even when it is anarthrous.

The mistake entailed in the above statements is an error in computing statistics on anarthrous THEOS. The claim that "anarthrous theos (is) almost always . . . definite in the NT," or that "theos is often definite in the NT, even when it is anarthrous" is based on a faulty methodology that combines occurrences of THEOS in the genitive and dative cases with occurrences in the nominative and accusative. The grammatical rules involving Greek genitives and datives make the definite article practically unneccessary, and used only in a limited set of circumstances. So definite nouns in their genitive and dative forms often omit the article. But the opposite is true of Greek nouns in the nominative and accusative cases. In these forms, definite nouns as a rule require the definite article, with a very limited set of exceptions. So any count of anarthrous THEOS that combines these four cases into a single statistic yields erroneous results. Looking just at the nominative and accusative occurrences of THEOS, one would be able to state the opposite of what Mr. Hommel says, namely, that anarthrous THEOS is almost always INDEFINITE. I would be happy to entertain an assessment of every anarthrous THEOS in the genitive and accusative cases to demonstrate this fact.

Clarification #2
Mr. Hommel has repeatedly argued, and in his latest message continues to argue, for a "qualitative" reading of THEOS in John 1:1c, basing himself appropriately on the article by Harner which first put forward a detailed discussion of a qualitative construction using pre-verb, article-less ("anarthrous") predicate nouns. But Harner himself states that the most accurate rendering of John 1:1c qualitatively would be "The Word was divine." I tried to point out to Mr. Hommel in our exchanges that if he truly adopts the qualitative reading of THEOS in John 1:1c, then he must adopt a translation such as Harner's, and that he contradicts himself by instead proposing to translate John 1:1b-c as "The Word was with the Deity and the Word was Deity." I say "contradicts" because he uses Harner to establish the "qualitative" sense of THEOS, but does not seem to agree with Harner's view of how a qualitative meaning would read in John 1:1. He says:

ROBERT: Rendering John 1:1c as "the Word was divine" suggests that John used a predicate adjective - which he did not. He could have used an adjective (theios) but he chose not to. I submit there is a reason he made that choice, and it has to do with the meaning John intended to convey.

If we go along with Mr. Hommel is adhering to formal equivalence to that degree (which in many other passages might cause considerable awkwardness in English), then the consistent translation would be "The Word was a divine being" or "The Word was a god" or "The Word was god." The traditional translation, "The Word was God," which Mr. Hommel says he still finds to be the most accurate, is not accurate according to Harner's conclusions, because it does not convey to the reader the qualitative sense. The contradiction in this position is further highlighted when you say:

ROBERT: a qualitative noun . . . the stress is on qualities, not membership in a class. In English, we may express this idea with either an indefinite noun, or a qualitative one. That's because in English idiom, as you've pointed out, qualities are often expressed by an indefinite noun.

Since you recognizes that the qualitative is often rendered in English with an indefinite noun, on what grounds do you reject "a divine being" or "a god" as acceptable, accurate translations of THEOS? The article-less qualitative noun has mostly disappeared from contemporary English usage, except for "mass" nouns.

Clarification #3
Mr. Hommel has defended both the traditional translation and his own suggested alternative on the grounds that capitalization can be used in English not only for proper nouns, such as names and titles, but also for emphasis and for poetic affect. My initial reaction was to say that he was being disingenuous with this claim, using it as a screen for working into the text a capitalization scheme that would lead readers to accept his theological interpretation of the passage. In light of his latest posting, where he objects to my use of "disingenuous," I carefully considered whether that had been a fair characterization. The term implies conscious and deliberate misdirection in argument -- in other words, that the person knows that the point of argument is not true or relevant. That was an unfair assumption on my part, and I apologize for using the word. Let me speak more carefully.

The sort of capitalization for poetic affect, of which he cites several examples in his latest message, has nothing to do with the capitalization patterns in the most commonly used Bibles, such as the KJV, NASB, NIV, NRSV, NAB, TEV, LB, etc. The capitalization of "God" in John 1:1c is not part of a poetic program of capitalization, but belongs to a consistent, systematic captialization of the word "God" when it refers to the individual supreme being of the Christian faith. I had assumed that Mr. Hommel was well aware of that fact. Once we know that capitalization for poetic affect has nothing to do with capitalizing "God" in the Bible, we can set aside any comparison to such poetic capitalizing as an illegitimate argument.

But what about capitalizing for emphasis? His latest message helped me a great deal to figure out exactly what he meant by "emphasis." This is what I found:

ROBERT: It is a commonplace in Bible translation to render theos with a capital letter when it is deemed to refer to the God of Israel - even when it is not a title or proper name. . . . So, why is it capitalized? Perhaps to show emphasis - to make sure the reader understands that the "God" being referred to here is Jehovah. This is precisely my reason for capitalizing Deity. . . . Capitalization emphasizes the noun as refering to the true God - as virtually every English translation does, even when the noun is indefinite.

So by "emphasis," Mr. Hommel means to emphasize the identity of the noun as "God," the "God of Israel," "Jehovah," "the true God." And that, he adds, is the exact reason why he thinks "God" or "Deity" should be capitalized in John 1:1c. This is a fundamental mistake on his part, and really the key to our whole stalemate on this verse. "God," the individual being, is HO THEOS in Greek, not THEOS. The anarthrous noun THEOS, be it indefinite or qualitative in meaning, is not an identification of the individual being "God." It is a general category of being, or, if you prefer, a defined set of qualities. The exact confusion of these two things in Mr. Hommel's thinking is what happens when you read the traditional translation of John 1:1, and the same confusion will only be perpetuated in Mr. Hommel's proposed translation.

He objects that the NWT itself (along with most translations) capitalizes "God" even in indefinite expressions, such as Luk 20:38 and 1 Cor 14:33. He says:

ROBERT: In each case, we have "a God." "God" cannot be a name or title in any of these verses, as it is preceded by the indefinite article. . . . Was the NWTTC arbitrary when it capitalized theos in the . . . verses I've just mentioned?

The answer is: yes. The NWT translators made a mistake when they capitalized "God" in indefinite expressions. Mr. Hommel admits that this arbitrary capitalization of "God" in indefinite expressions is "grammatical license," but maintains that it is a "well-travelled typographical road." That doesn't make it right. In fact, it is inaccurate translation that obscures the meaning of the passages where it occurs. Readers of poetry know what's going on with creative use of capitals. Readers of the Bible do not have this same expectation, and capitals can be confusing if they do not follow normal English usage (for example, when my students say "Lord" louder and with stress in reading an Old Testament pasage because it is printed "LORD," not knowing the story behind this typographical convention).

What is at issue for these capitalizations of indefinite "god" in the Bible, and for Mr. Hommel, is a confusion between characterization and identification, between THEOS as a quality or category, and HO THEOS as an individual. This basic mistake of thinking the Word is identified with HO THEOS in John 1:1c is reflected in the capitalization "God" (or "Deity"). Printing "God" in John 1:1c has the effect of confusing readers familiar with normal English capitalization. In the Greek New Testament, HO THEOS functions as a name, hence as a proper noun, and that is why "God" is capitalized in those instances where the Greek reads HO THEOS. Everywhere THEOS is not used as a name (determined by the lack of an article or by context), "god" should not be capitalized. By capitalizing as well THEOS without the article, Mr. Hommel creates a sentence like "Snoopy is Dog." Yes, Snoopy has the full and complete set of "dog" qualities, as Mr. Hommel would say. But in English we would convey this neither by capitalizing "dog" nor by leaving off the indefinite article. Capitalizing the second "Deity" (or "God") does not follow normal English usage and misleads the reader with respect to the grammatical form and function of THEOS in 1:1c.

In a previous posting, I compared Mark 12:27: "He is not a god of the dead" to Luke 20:38 (which has the exact same translation in English), in order to show an anarthrous THEOS after the verb with the same meaning as an anarthrous THEOS before the verb. Mr. Hommel disagreed with my example, maintaining that both passages should be read definitely, as "the God of the dead," despite the fact that there are no definite articles in either of these two sentences. He brings various arguments in support of his reading, including a rule of Greek grammar known as "Apollonius' Canon" (for Mark 12:27), and the view of Harner (on Luke 20:38). It is certainly true that Matthew's version of this saying (Mt. 22:32), written differently than either Mark's or Luke's, is to be read "the god of (the) dead," because unlike them Matthew writes HO THEOS, "the god."

Now why have I not capitalized "god" even in this case, where the form HO THEOS is employed? Quite simply, in English we properly capitalize "God" when we use it as a name, but do not capitalize it when we use it to refer to a class of beings. And this distinction is further maintained by the use of the English articles. When we speak in English of the individual God, we do not say "the God," but simply "God." We do not put articles in front of names. This is proper English usage. Nevertheless, Mr. Hommel is quite correct that in the Bible translation tradition, the capitalized "God" has often been used even in sentences where "the" and "a" appear with it. This is an error of translation based upon a confusion between the individual "God" and the class "god" which occurs in English precisely because we use God (rather than, say, Yahweh or Zeus) as a proper name as well as a title.

This confusion in English has no bearing on the semantics of Mark 12:27, Luke 20:38, and Matthew 22:32. Regardless of whether the phrasing is "a god of the dead" (Mark & Luke) or "the god of the dead" (Matthew), the meaning of the expression is a characterization of the subject, not an identification. Okay, it is remotely possible that Matthew's wording is meant to say that the subject is not THE god of the dead, that is, the specific deity of the underworld, Hades or Pluto. That's a possible interpretation. But at the level of translation this would still be handled just like, "He is not the governor of Alaska," or "He is not the commander of the soldiers." In the case of Mark and Luke, the wording is more clearly in what I think Mr. Hommel and I agree to call "qualitative," something like, "He is not a man of wealth," or "He is not a lecturer of skill." In either case -- the definite or indefinite reading of this characterization of the subject -- the characterizing phrase "god of the dead" does not contain the name "God," but only a reference to the class "god" used in a phrase that identifies a type within that class, a type of god. I have carefully kept referring to "the subject" -- which in this sentence is "he" -- to avoid the confusion of how "god" functions in the sentence from the identity, that is, the name, of the subject which is given in the context as "God."

It is precisely this distinction that also is at work in John 1:1.

Clarification #4
Much of the stalemate in our discussion has been over the supposed distinction between qualitative and indefinite nouns, and specifically over the appropriateness of an indefinite article in John 1:1c. In his latest message, Mr. Hommel devotes considerable space to a discussion of "count" vs. "mass" nouns. He says:

ROBERT: I think that mass nouns fairly clearly exhibit the qualitative semantic force in equative phrases. Mass nouns exist in both English and Greek, and I think the examples we considered in our previous posts establish rather clearly that mass nouns are not grammatically or semantically identical with indefinite nouns. In fact, mass nouns cannot be grammatically indefinitized. . . . Mass nouns demonstrate fairly conclusively that qualitativeness exists as a grammatical category - mass nouns cannot be indefinitized and do not exhibit the sense of definite nouns. . . . I'm sorry, but I simply do not see how qualitativeness is indistinguishable from indefiniteness when we consider mass nouns. One cannot take a mass term and grammatically make it "a" something.

Since THEOS is not a "mass" noun, this whole line of argument has only indirect relevance for our discussion. It has only an indirect bearing for him because he wants to establish the English recognition of a distinct qualitative noun, one that is used without either a definite or an indefinite article. Be that as it may, what Mr. Hommel says about "mass" nouns not being indefinites (because in English we don't use the indefinite article with a "mass" noun) is true IN ENGLISH, but not in Greek. Mass nouns can and are grammatically indefinitized in Greek, that is, written without the definite article. I have tried repeatedly to make this point, and it seems to be a fundamental disconnect in our discussion. When the New Testament authors were speaking and writing, they were speaking and writing Greek, not English. English has definite nouns, indefinite nouns, and nouns that have neither the definite nor the indefinite article, because they are non-count ("mass" or substance) nouns (such as "pewter"). Greek, however, has simply definite nouns and non-definite nouns. Definite nouns have the definite article generally (except in specific constructions) when they are in the nominative or accusative cases, but do not require it in the genitive and dative cases (again, except in specific constructions that call for it). All Greek non-definite nouns, be they count or non-count, have no article, because Greek does not have an indefinite article. But since English does, it must be added when Greek non-definites are translated into English. Because English does not use the indefinite article with mass or substance nouns, Greek "mass" indefinites do not have the indefinite article added when translated into English. Greek "count" indefinites, on the other hand, do have the indefinite article added when translated into English.

Since THEOS is a count noun, not a mass noun, it should have the indefinite article added when translated into English. Since all of the nouns in John 1:1b-c are count nouns, Mr. Hommel's lengthy discussion of the handling of "mass" nouns in English has no direct bearing on the passage we are discussing. Even if we acknowledge a "qualitative" mass noun in Greek and accept that such a noun should usually be translated as an English mass known (and hence without the indefinite article), we have not advanced the discussion of THEOS in John 1:1c at all, because it is not a "mass" noun and so should, like other indefinite count nouns, be translated with the English indefinite article. Mr. Hommel, showing that he is already aware of the fact that in Greek the "indefinite" category includes both the indefinite and qualitative forces that we can distinguish in English, says:

ROBERT: If you conclude that all nouns without the article in Greek are indefinite, you're right - but you've also begged the quations. Why is it not permissable for a Greek speaker to say "You are prophet," or "You are Samaritan."

In effect, this IS how they spoke in Greek, because Greek does not have an indefinite article. But this is not how we speak in English. So we are not going to start writing English sentences that look like this, are we? The job of the translator is to convert the Greek into an accurate and grammatically correct form of English. I know you know that, so I am not sure whether I'm supposed to take this seriously as an attempted justification of writing John 1:1c without the indefinite article. Or am I missing something? Are you making a case that ALL Greek non-definites are qualitative? But I have already shown in a previous posting that such is not true (the exceptions to Harner).

ROBERT: The distinction between indefinites and qualitatives may be blurred in some grammars - but they acknowledge the force exists and that Greek can express that meaning.

The point I have been making in this exchange is that Harner's distinct "qualitative" noun constructions are grammatically indistinguishable from indefinite nouns, and we must come to terms with how Greek semantic categories may be organized differently than English ones. But in fairness to Mr. Hommel, there is nothing wrong with "unpacking" this single Greek grammatical category into what we in English consider distinct semantic functions, with more-or-less confidence that we are understanding what the Greek means, depending on the specific case. In the particular instance of John 1:1c, I have said repeatedly that Harner's qualitiative translation "The Word was divine" is an acceptable translation, as accurate a reflection of the original Greek as "The Word was a god." But contrary to Mr. Hommel, I do not go on from that to somehow limit the meaning of that "qualitative" description (technically, a noun-complement) of "the Word." Rather than be consistent with the qualitative translation he has so ably argued for, Mr. Hommel resorts to a translation that would not be understood qualitatively by a reader without some sort of commentary.

So it seems to me that we don't get very far by comparing John 1:1c to "mass" nouns, because THEOS is not a mass noun, nor by comparing it to out-dated, 18th & 19th century English or poetic affectations of classical speech (such as "John is man," rather than the contemporary "John is a man." Since these two comparisons are the basis for Mr. Hommel's preference to omit the article in John 1:1c, I don't think his preference is very well justified. And even if we rolled English back to earlier style, and were comfortable with sentences like "John is man," is that any different in meaning from a predicate adjective? Is there any difference in John 1:1c between "the Word was deity" and "the Word was divine"?

ROBERT: I submit that the grammar of a qualitative PN does nothing more or less than ascribe its attributes, qualities, or characteristics to the subject. The grammar does not limit this attribution in any way. In the English example you gave before, if you say, "the jar is pewter," the grammar does not place limits on how pure the pewter is, or which parts of the jar may or may not be pewter. The grammar simply equates "pewter" to "jar." Now, the context in which you say this sentence may cause us - metaphysically - to limit or refine our understanding of precisely how the jar is pewter. If you say, for example, the jar has a porcelin base, we would interpret "the jar is pewter" in a more limited fashion than the grammar alone would indicate. The point I'm trying to make is that the grammar of "the jar is pewter" signifies the jar is made out of pewter - all pewter and nothing but pewter. That's what the sense of the mass noun "pewter" exudes in this sentence.

All of this is relevant if and only if THEOS is a substance, if John meant that the Word is constituted of god-stuff. Is this what you are arguing for? Would you maintain that every qualitative is a matter of a material, rather than a category or class? Only if you are prepared to do so will this line of argument serve your "complete and full measure" understanding of qualitative. But even if you are willing to go to this length, your own reasoning above shows that one can say "the jar is pewter" in contexts where the jar is MOSTLY pewter but also has some non-pewter features. The grammatical equation ("is") does not determine all of the semantics. It leaves the degree of equation open. We will come back to the question of "equation."

Even so, you are quite right that an accurate translation would give the equation straightforwardly. That is, we would still write "the jar is pewter" even if the situation or literary context told us that the jar has some non-pewter elements. (I adhere to a formal equivalence rather than a dynamic equivalence view of translation in this respect.) I have never suggested introducing some qualification or limitation into the equation of John 1:1c. I have only drawn attention to what is equated in the verse, and what is not. Here again, the accurate translation is simply a matter of conveying the equation, "The Word was a god," or even "The Word was god." To use your language, the Word is in full and complete measure what the class designation "god" signifies. It is crucial to note that the Word was in full and complete measure THEOS, not HO THEOS. Whether the first leads logically to the second is a matter of interpretation, not translation.

Clarification #5
Mr. Hommel and I are exchanging charges of "limiting" the meaning of words and phrases, and I want to explain the difference between Mr. Hommel's claim that I am limiting the meaning of a qualitative THEOS -- a claim founded on theology -- and my claim that he is limiting the meaning of a qualitative THEOS (not to mention an indefinite THEOS) -- a claim founded on language, literary context, and cultural environment.

Mr. Hommel says that I unfairly "limit" the meaning of qualitative THEOS by not acknowledging that it means the full set of qualities carried by the term. But the term he means is apparently HO THEOS, not THEOS. It is precisely the point that THEOS is not interchangeable with HO THEOS. In what I have said about how Greek uses categories (indefinite) to establish character or quality, I have tried to find common ground with what Mr. Hommel means when he speaks about the full set of qualities. In Greek, a category such as "man," "ghost," "son," or "god" has implicit in it an understood definition of that term -- and what I mean by "understood" is: generally known to people within the culture where the Greek category is employed. So when John wrote "the Word was a god," or "The Word was god" (using phrasing more akin to what Mr. Hommel has been arguing for), he could count on his readers understanding the categorical definition he was invoking, and that is how he was able to communicate the inspiration he had about how to understand Jesus. Putting the Word into the "god" category was the first step in a lengthy explanation by which he further elaborated the basic definition, and sought to make clear in what sense the pre-incarnate being who became enfleshed as Jesus was in the "god" category rather than some other. John's audience had a working definition of a "god" that included things like superhuman knowledge and power, extremely long or immortal existence, transcendence of physical limitations, etc. To be in the "god" category, a being would be assumed to have the necessary qualities. But not every being in the "god" category would be assumed to be identical in every way, only the same in the critical qualities necessary to be considered a "god." In short, one could be THEOS without being HO THEOS, because the latter term refers to a specific being within the larger THEOS category.

This can get confusing for us in English because we use "God" as a name representing a specific being, as well as "god" as a generic category of being. Furthermore, Christians (and Jews, and Muslims, among others) are used to thinking of there being only one "god," and so "God" and "god" are interchangeable to them in most speach contexts. But the use of THEOS was different, both in Greek generally and even within the Bible, than the modern use of "god"/"God." And we need to attend to that fact.

So when Mr. Hommel says that I am "limiting" the meaning of THEOS by not simply equating it with HO THEOS, he is wrong. I am not limiting anything by refusing to make a term conform to later interpretations and doctrinal elaborations of it. Rather, he is limiting the meaning of THEOS by restricting it to a very narrow definition that the term does not have in its original context, and by excluding from the term's meaning the broader application it in fact had.

There is nothing wrong with Mr. Hommel's view that the Word as "deity" shares all of the qualities of "The Deity" AS AN INTERPRETATION of what John intends by what he says. Such an interpretation is possible; what John says does not preclude it. But the words John uses can yield other possible interpretations, too. And my basic argument has always been that translation should not artificially limit interpretation, but should stick to however open or closed the original Greek itself is in meaning. With the translations "The Word was divine" or "The Word was a god," or even "The Word was deity" you can get the same set of possible interpretations that the original Greek allows. But with "The Word was God," or "The Word was Deity" you have limited the meaning further than the Greek does.

There is a serious logical flaw in Mr. Hommel's argument for the Word having "all of the qualities" of God. To have literally ALL of the qualities and characteristics is to be identical, that is, to be one individual. "All of the qualities" is hyperbole on Mr. Hommel's part, I think. I would like to get past this impasse in our discussion, because the qualities at issue in John 1:1 are the CRITICAL qualities that establish membership in the "god" category. Mr. Hommel's interpretation works at putting the Word into the "god" category more properly and fully than any other being for which the term "god" might be employed in the Bible (angels, devil, humans, etc.). What Mr. Hommel wants to do by infusing a more narrow meaning into John 1:1c, John in fact does by spelling out the ways in which the Word/Jesus is "unique," closer and more intimite with God, and more central to his works, than any other being, divine or human. So John does it his way, and Mr. Hommel does it his -- and I prefer John's way, if you'll forgive me. I still think there is a shade of difference between where John ends up and where Mr. Hommel ends up with his more crude equation of the Word and HO THEOS, and I'm most comfortable staying with John on this. At the same time, I'm fairly sure that Mr. Hommel does not mean to make this crude equation, but has been led into arguing for it by a mistake about what needs to be defended in the meaning of John 1:1c.

ROBERT: Consider the examples you have given previously in which you argued that qualitative nouns do not attribute all the qualities of the PN in full measure to the subject.

I think we have been misunderstanding each other, and I apologize for my part in the confusion. Qualitatives attribute a referenced set of qualities, the defining qualities of the PN. Now I still maintain that what those defining qualities may be in a given equation will shift, depending on the speaker's intention. So in metaphor, for example, not all the qualities of the PN in full measure are attributed to the subject, but we rely on the context of speech to clue us in to the implied set of qualities being referenced (that was all I meant with my example of "all is vapor"). But let's leave that aside, because we both agree that John 1:1c is not a metaphor. Let's just say that the referenced set of qualities is fixed, and that any equation of a subject with a qualitative PN is always to all the qualities in full measure associated with that PN. What is crucial to recognize here is that there is a big difference in meaning between sentences where the PN is an abstract category, like "dog," "man," or "god," and those where it is an individual, such as "Snoopy," "John," or "Jehovah." The latter three PNs are identifications, and, in fact, ARE NOT QUALITATIVES AT ALL. That is why I keep saying that there is no distinction between a categorical indefinite and a qualitative. To be "a dog" is to be, qualitatively, "dog." I fully concede that there may be a difference in emphasis between saying "a dog" and "dog." But the attributes invoked by either a categorical indefinite or a qualitatve is the same -- those of the category identified by the noun, with or without the indefinite article.

It is essential to recognize that the PN in John 1:1c is THEOS, an abstract noun standing for a category of being, not HO THEOS a specific being. That is what makes it a qualitative to begin with, if it is one. I completely agree with Mr. Hommel that the Word has the full measure of the defining qualities of THEOS as a category that John is employing. This is not NECESSARILY the same full set of qualities possessed by HO THEOS. HO THEOS certainly shares with the Word the defining set of THEOS qualities. That much is made clear by both HO THEOS and HO LOGOS being included in the THEOS category. It is possible, as an interpretation that follows a certain logic, that the Word shares not only the defining set of THEOS qualities, but also the full measure of qualities possessed by HO THEOS, but in that case the Word and God would be identical, the same individual. That's an interpretive road Mr. Hommel may wish to go down (even though it is not Nicene Trinitarianism), but it is not given in John 1:1 itself; it is developed out of John 1:1 by a process of selective reasoning -- in other words, by theological reflection.

ROBERT: We must distinguish the grammatical sense of a sentence from the meaning we may derive from it. If we begin with the grammatical foundation that a qualitative noun ascribes its qualities, attributes, and characteristics to the subject, we may move into the realm of interpretation and determine what the implication of that attribution is. We may determine that we must limit the attribution of qualities in some fashion, based on the context - but we ought to have good reasons for doing so. This approach, it seems to me, is sound - both grammatically and interpretively. And I think most Greek scholars would agree.

Yes, it is sound and most would agree. But you have argued before that semantically a qualitative inherently atttributes the full and complete set of qualities, have you not? If this were true, then the language would PROHIBIT you from making this now concessive qualification of your position, that context may permit us to loosen up the attribution of qualities. I had said:

JB: In the linguistic sense, "quality" means the character, condition, substance, status, etc. that something has. In any given case the exact nuance, the exact set of qualities that are being tapped into, will vary. That was the point I was trying to make by bringing up metaphor and simile -- NOT that John 1:1 is a metaphor or simile, because I don't think that -- but that both Greek and English are able to make metaphors and similes by constructing parallelisms that invoke some, but not all of the qualities possessed by the subject and object of the parallel.

To which you replied:

ROBERT: I generally agree with your first sentence. However, as soon as you say "in any given case..." you have moved outside the realm of grammar and are dealing with interpretation. The grammar does not determine which "set of qualities" is meant; indeed, it cannot if we talking about a simple copulative sentence, such as John 1:1c.

We do agree, I think, if we both are more careful and precise. Grammar "does not determine which set of qualities is meant." It does not determine either the full and complete set, nor a particular limited set. Grammar leaves this more defining determination open. So we must be sure that our translation likewise does not overdetermine "which set of qualities is meant." The traditional translation commits this error, the NWT translation does not, because all the grammar does is let us know that John is invoking a category, "god," of which he expects the reader to know -- to some degree -- the referenced set of defining qualities. We need to move to literary context and cultural environment to fill in what those defining qualities might be for John and his contemporaries. But finding that additional information out will not impact our translation, which should follow the Greek in only making the bare characterization of "god."

Clarification #6
Mr. Hommel gives a thorough discussion of the force of equation carried by "is" (and a little humor on this subject is impossible to resist). Since English and Greek "is" function identically, we should be able to reach perfect clarity on this part of the John 1:1 problem.

ROBERT: Let's consider the semantics of definite and indefinite nouns in equative phrases, since they are not in dispute. If the PN is definite - "John is the man," for example - there is nothing in the grammar that restricts the equation of "the man" with "John." John is equal to "the man" in every sense. Similarly, if the PN is indefinite - "John is a man" - there is nothing in the grammar that restricts the membership of John in the class of men, is there? John is fully and completely in the class of "men."

Yes, you are exactly right. There is no "restriction of the equation." And I am sure you will acknowledge that definites are not the same as indefinites. When an equation is made to a definite -- say HO THEOS for example -- we both agree that the subject is being IDENTIFIED as that definite, specific PN. You are right that any qualification or "restriction" of that equation or identification is not given in the grammar of the clause itself, but may be supplied from context (just as "I am the vine" would be qualified or "restricted" by the context of its use and not be taken "literally"). But, when an equation is made to an indefinite -- say THEOS for example -- the subject is being CHARACTERIZED as belonging to the class of items identified by the PN. Since an indefinite PN is not definite, there is no specific identification of individual with individual, but the classification of the individual subject within the category marked by the indefinite or qualitative. Again, you are right that there is no qualification or "restriction" of that classification given in the grammar, although here again context may suggest some way in which such a classification is not meant "literally." I certainly don't see any indication in John 1 that there is any qualification or restriction of the Word's membership in the THEOS class. The Word is not kind of THEOS or partially THEOS; the Word is fully THEOS. But THEOS is not the same as HO THEOS, nor would a Trinitarian position be defendable if it were, because if it were the same then there would be only one individual, a monadic, modalistic deity. But that mistaken treatment of THEOS as the same as HO THEOS is precisely what the traditional translation creates.

When we are talking about indefinite equations, such as "John is a man," and we say that John is in full measure a "man," we are working with an implied cultural definition of what qualifies someone to be called a "man." The full set of qualities of any one member of that class will differ, but all members will share the minimally acceptable qualities to be in the class. In the modern English-speaking world, for example, there is an implicit lower age limit that might apply, to distinguish "man" from "boy," and there may even be disputes about some individuals who have undergone sex-change surgery as to whether they have the right set of qualities to be considered a "man." Likewise, to fully understand what John meant by 1:1c, we need to pay attention to how "god" was defined in the time of John, what qualities were necessary to be in that class. Nonetheless, we will not try to add what we find out to the translation itself, which will still read simply "the Word was a god" without spelling out what is implied in "god." So when Mr. Hommel writes "There is nothing in the grammar of an qualitative-indefinite noun that restricts which qualities are associated with a given class or category," we are in agreement. There is nothing that "restricts WHICH qualities" are being invoked, in other words, that determines what partial set, or full set, are being emphasized. Only the context can clarify that for us.

ROBERT: If I say, "Rex is a dog," the grammar does not restrict which qualities associated with the class of dogs I'm attributing to Rex - the sense is that all of them are attributed to him.

Yes, "all of them," meaning all of the qualities that serve to identify something as belonging to the "dog" category, but not "all of them" in the sense that any one member of that category shares all the qualities possessed by any and all other members of the "dog" category, which is patently untrue. The very fact that the term THEOS is applied to human beings, the devil, and the "gods" of the Greeks in the NT proves that the same categorical breadth applies to THEOS in Greek as to "dog" in English. If we embrace Mr. Hommel's apparent confusion between individual and category in John 1:1, then human beings, the devil, and the Greek gods would likewise possess the full measure of qualities of God.

So the "specialized" definition of qualitative that I objected to in Mr. Hommel's earlier postings, the imposition of an "interpretive restrictiveness" that I charged him with, amounts simply to a confusion of the qualitative (indefinite) predicate noun, which by definition associates the attributes of a class or an abstraction, with the definite predicate noun, which by definition identifies the subject with the predicate. It was wrong of me to direct by critique primarily to his "full measure" language, which is perfectly acceptable so long as the predicate noun is correctly read qualitatively rather than definitely. The "full measure" of attributes of a class of objects or beings" is that set that defines the class. If that is what Mr. Hommel meant all along, I apologize for being such a dunderhead. The consequence of that "full measure" attribution will be an equation of the subject to the qualities of the class, in John 1:1c to the "god" or "deity" or "divinity" class. Now, we can assume we know the definition and associated qualities of that class, or we can look to the text to spell them out for us. I have maintained that the assumptions of a modern Christian reader are at odds with the assumptions of John's original audience, and I point to the broader application of the term THEOS in the Bible as evidence for that difference. My interpretation of Mr. Hommel's argument is that he has been misled by that modern Christian assumption into squeezing the THEOS category down until it matches the modern English "God," when in fact its actual use in John and the Bible generally corresponds to modern English "god."

ROBERT: I really don't see how an equative phrase can place any limitation whatsoever on the attribution of qualities, from the standpoint of grammar alone.

As I have said before, you use "limitation" in the sense of "not full measure," whereas I use "limitation" in the sense of "overdetermination." We can agree on not placing "any limitation whatsoever on the attribution of qualities," but we mean very different things by those words. You mean in each and every case attributing all possible qualities to the subject. To me, this confuses the qualitative with identification with a definite predicate noun. I gave the example of Judas as devil to show how broad the equation might be.

ROBERT: The key point is that in the examples just given, the verb "is" equates what is signified by the semantic force of the PN to the subject. There is nothing in the semantics of "is" that limits or restricts that equation, regardless of the semantic force of the predicate noun.

Your are blurring two different senses of "equate" here, just as you do in John 1:1c. When you say that "is" does not limit or restrict equation you cannot possibly mean, as you often seem to, that "is" only equates things that in every sense possess exactly the same properties, qualities, and characteristics. Such a statement is patenly false. The equation accomplished by "is" sets no "limits" or "restrictions" in the sense that it does not SPECIFY in what sense the equation is being made, which can range from complete identification to loose metaphor.

You acknowledge this range of equation when you say that the equation of Judas with the (or a) devil in John 6:70 is a case of hyperbole. The grammar here is quite clear: "One of you is a devil." It cannot be read "one of you is the devil," and your argument for reading it "the devil" is not grammatical, but an assumption about the beliefs of Jesus and John about an individual figure called "the devil." But even assuming for the moment that you were right, you explain away the direct identification of Judas with the devil as hyperbole. How do you know it's hyperbole? How do you know that Jesus didn't recognize the devil in disguise among his apostles? In any case, your willingness to invoke hyperbole here shows that you recognize that equation is open to contextual definition as to whether it is absolute or qualified, literal or hyperbolic, identification or similitude. So all of a sudden your "full measure" position starts to look like a "full-measure-but-not-really" position.

ROBERT: You certainly can derive "possessing all the qualities" from the grammar, because that is precisely what an equative phrase means.

Once again, the distinction between individual and class is crucial. If I say "He is Mark" then I mean that he "possesses all the qualities," that is, is identified as Mark. If I say "Mark is a man," then I mean that Mark "possesses all the qualities" of the abstract concept "man," but not all the qualties of John, who is also a "man." Incidentally, this is precisely the same reasoning behind Nicene Trinitarianism, which argues that Christ according to his divine nature is not the same person as God the Father. He possesses all the qualities of godhood, but not all the qualities of God the Father. So I am not using some novel or obscure reasoning on this point. And I have repeatedly acknowledged that the Trinitarian position can be derived by a path of reasoning from passages such as John 1 -- it would be foolish of me to maintain otherwise, since precisely such a path of reasoning occurred historically in the development of Christian theology. This path of reasoning applied to passages such as John 1 a postulate: there is only one member of the class "god." Once that postulate was applied, something like Nicene Trinitarianism is a necessary solution to John 1. But while this postulate may be true theologically and metaphysically, it is not the case linguistically in the NT, which employs "god" as a class designation more broadly. John may be invoking the metaphysical truth of one and only one god, or he may be invoking the language-use truth of several beings referred to as "god." Which he is doing is a matter of interpretation. The equation itself does not specify which sense of "god" is being invoked.

But, in either case, as a matter of translation, the equation is made not with another individual, but with an abstract set of "defining qualities." So John 1:1c says that the Word was in "full measure" god, but does not say that the Word was in "full measure" God. That is clear in the Greek, and is even clear in both Trinitarian and non-Trinitarian interpretations of the verse, but is not clear in the traditional translation. That's why some alternative needs to be promoted in its place. Even when you argue for "full measure" you are not arguing for "full measure" to the point of identity, are you?

ROBERT: Forms of the verb "to be" and "to become" equate the predicate to the subject. There is nothing in the grammar that restricts or reduces that equation. The grammar simply presents the equation. Interpretation may confirm or restrict that equation, based on other factors, but the grammar is straightforward. . . . Equative phrases equate. Equative phrases with qualitative nouns equate qualities.

Absolutely. And the qualities equated with the Word in John 1:1c are those of the "god" class, not those of the individual "God." It is possible that a careful, responsible exegesis of John will draw the conclusion that attribution of the qualities of a "god" to the Word amounts to and leads logically to a very close identification of the Word and God. But you and I agree that the task of the translator is to simply convert the wording of the original straightforwardly into English, to simply let the equation made in 1:1c stand without modification or limitation either in the sense of restriction or in the sense of overdeterminination. Since the predicate noun is THEOS, not HO THEOS, that equation CANNOT BE of the Word and God. In place of the traditional translation's "God" we must put some more accurate communicator of the qualitative attribution John is making. That can be "a god," "god," "a divine being," "divine," "a divinity," "divinity," "a deity," "deity." But "God" is not correct.

ROBERT: In point of fact, he wrote "possessing all the qualities," because that is the grammatical sense of "theos hn ho logos." "Hn" signifies "was," not "was in some ways" or "was in lesser measure."

We agree here too. The Logos possessed all the qualities of THEOS, that is, the qualities that define a god. But John does not say "possessed all the qualities of HO THEOS." So we can agree on several things -- that THEOS is "qualitative," that the function of the qualitative in an equative ("is") sentence is to attribute the "full measure" of qualities to the subject. But that "full measure" will be the full set of defining qualities of the "god" or "deity" concept. John certainly works at filling out this set of qualities in the specific case of the Word; he goes on to give the Word a degree and status of "divinity" higher than any other being termed "god" except THE God, HO THEOS, itself. I think we agre on that, too. But John does not say "the Word was HO THEOS," and for good reason. If he had, then his readers would have read John 1 as saying something similar to the Greek myths about Zeus incarnating as a swan, or some such thing. What John was careful to do in Greek, we should be equally careful to do in English.

I am optimistic about the breadth of our agreement, for you also say:

ROBERT: If the grammar alone were to guide us, on what basis could we conclude that Jesus did not possess all the qualities associated with THE CLASS OF BEINGS who are sons of God?

I have highlighted the last phrase because it shows your recognition that we are dealing with the qualities of a class, rather than an individual. Your latest message was very helpful to me because it showed the key point where we both understood the semantics of the qualitative as applying to a class. Now I hope I can show you that you give up nothing essential to your interpretation of John 1:1c, in so far as the words lend themselves to your interpretation as well as others, if the verse is written in normal contemporary English style for the grammar involved -- that is, as an indefinite, or at least in a form that allows the reader to understand qualitative attribution rather than individual identification as the meaning of John's words. You seem to accept this:

ROBERT: Yes, English often does convey qualitativeness with an indefinite noun. Such are the dictates of our idiom in many cases.

So I would like to think -- and I hope I am not deluding myself here -- that with these clarifications of what you mean and what I mean that reveals so much common ground, with the ways you have helped me see I was arguing a bit off the point here and there, and with the little persuasiveness of argument I have tried to apply to those few areas where I think you may have slipped up a little bit in maintaining the necessary distinctions of grammatical form and function, that we may find ourselves surprisingly close to an agreed common base of careful, accurate, precise translation that leaves the interpretive options exactly where John left them (providing plenty of opportunity for debates of an entirely different kind).

Minor clarifications:
Before I go, I would like to answer a few remaining marginal questions that Mr. Homel raised in his latest posting.

ROBERT: I also vigorously deny that grammatical possibilities lead to proper translations. I think you do, too, if we were to examine verses less theologically charged. You wouldn't argue that John 8:44 should be rendered, "you belong to the father of the devil," on the basis that this is grammatically possible, would you?

No, I wouldn't, because "possible" translation must yield to "probable" translation. The reading you give to John 8:44 as a foil is possible, but much less likely than the other possible reading, in which "the father" and "the devil" are in apposition. A translator must choose the most probable reading because we can't put all options into the translation. We can, however, give alternative possibilities in footnotes. Whatever choice is made, however, should not seek to go beyond the grammar, suitably clarified by the larger context of the passage. We shouldn't, for example, translate "tempter" rather than "father," or "Satan" rather than "devil," because John doesn't make those identifications here.

ROBERT: Why do you see "preparation day" as indefinite in John 19:14? Doesn't the articular genitive adjunct ("of the Passover") suggest that "preparation day" is definite? MOST TRANSLATORS RENDER IT THAT WAY IN ENGLISH. John 19:31 is not followed by a genitive noun, which may explain the change in word order.

I have highlighted the sentence which contains in it the seed of my answer. You wrote the above in response to a comment of mine that said:

JB: But here we have to wonder, since the grammar does not indicate definiteness, whether we are importing definiteness from how we would say something in English. . . So we need to recognize the mismatch between how Greek uses indefinites and English does.

The way we say things in English often forces us to impose on a passage wording that shifts the meaning slightly from how the phrasing works in the original Greek. I brought in the examples from John 19 to make this very point, that WE say "THE preparation of the Passover," whereas in Greek they apparently said "preparation of the Passover." I attribute the change of word order (noun before the verb in 19:31, after the verb in 19:14) to the fact that we are working with a dependent clause in 19:31, as opposed to a main clause where the verbal force is emphasized in 19:14.

ROBERT: Why is this an "either-or" situation? Why can't a qualitative noun be emphasized? Can you demonstrate this "rule" from other examples or point me to a Greek grammar that delineates it?

Thanks for pointing out how unclear I was in what I was saying on this point. A qualitative noun can be emphasized by placement, of course, and that is what is happening in John 1:1c. The predicate noun is qualitative because it is indefinite, because that's the way Greek makes qualitatives. It does not depend on its position to be qualitative. Its position gives it emphasis. So it is not really an "either-or" so much as it is gilding the lilly. Harner's hypothesis is unneccessary, because the nouns he is looking at can be construed as qualitiative without any special word order, by the mere fact that they are indefinites.

Thank you for your very kind good wishes on my book. I will definitely let you know when it comes out. I'm sure it will provide material for many more hours of fruitful discussion. And thanks to you again, Robert, for your insightful, strongly argued points, for your ability to force me to clarify my sometimes fuzzy explanations, and for helping me find the way to what I at least consider to be a basis of agreement on accurate translation which all parties to the interpretive debates can share.

Best wishes,
Jason BeDuhn

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