Mr Hommel continued this discussion and his replies can be found on the trinitarian apologetics site here. See right hand side "A Dialog with Dr. Jason BeDuhn on John 1:1" then see Mr Hommel's responses "Robert's Fourth Response to Jason Beduhn-Part 1[2 and 3]"
Here is [Dr BeDuhn's] answer to "Fourth
Response, part 1":
Once again, I would like to thank Mr. Hommel for a very stimulating, high caliber discussion of the issues surrounding the translation of John 1:1. By now, our readers will recognize that we have some common ground, as well as certain areas where we seem to be at an impasse. It is natural in a debate of this sort to reiterate points that each of us stands upon, and that can lead to redundancy. For that reason I will respond selectively, as Mr. Hommel has done, focusing on those areas where I believe the discussion can be constructively advanced, and will skip over those matters where Mr. Hommel and I have already made our position perfectly clear.
A. The Argument over Harner.
Mr. Hommel and I have exchanged charges of mis-citing the article by Philip Harner on "Qualitative Anarthrous Predicate Nouns" from the Journal of Biblical Literature 92 (1973) pages 75-87. I invite our readers to look up the article itself. Actually, Harner agrees with neither Mr. Hommel or myself. In previous parts of our exchange, I have said something about how I differ from Harner. Nevertheless, I do agree with Harner that in John 1:1c, "There is no basis for regarding the predicate THEOS as definite" (page 85) and "the qualitative force of the predicate is so prominent that the noun cannot be regarded as definite" (page 87). Harner rejects as inaccurate "the Word was God" (RSV, etc.), "what God was, the Word was" (NEB), and "he was the same as God" (GNB) (page 87). But Mr. Hommel is incorrect when he claims that Harner "dismisses the 'divine' rendering in no uncertain terms." Rather, as Hommel himself quotes Harner, Harner looks with cautious favor on "the Word was divine" as suggested by Vawter (pages 85-86). Harner does not accept this translation without qualification, and offers as another possible rendering "the Word had the same nature as God" (page 87). But Harner repeatedly says that the qualitative sense is very hard to render accurately into English. He states (concerning Mark 15:39), "It is doubtful whether any English translation can adequately represent the qualitative emphasis" (page 81) and (of John 1:1) "the English language is not as versatile at this point as Greek" (page 86). Concerning his suggestion of "the Word had the same nature as God," Harner concedes, "This would be one way of representing John's thought . . . as I understand it . . ." (page 87). In other words, Harner offers this as an expository interpretation. It is not properly a translation because it replaces a copula ("was") with a predicate phrase of possession ("had the same nature"). Harner and I disagree about the distinction between categorical and qualitative predication -- I don't see any evidence of such a distinction, and I argue this at great length in a forthcoming article. On this specific point, Mr. Hommel and Harner agree. Yet even Harner, in using "same nature as" does not mean the same thing as Hommel does by "the Word was Deity." I assert this on the basis of Harner's unqualified rejection of the NEB's "what God was, the Word was" and the GNB's "he was the same as God" (page 87). By capitalizing "Deity," Mr. Hommel has produced a translation equivalent in meaning to these two rejected by Harner. Harner states his understanding of John 1:1c as "HO LOGOS, no less than HO THEOS, had the nature of THEOS" (page 87, I use all capital letters where Harner uses uncapitalized italics). I have explained extensively in previous parts of this discussion that in Greek "nature" and "quality" are those associated with particular categories or classes fo things. Harner does not say that HO LOGOS, no less than HO THEOS, had the nature of HO THEOS, but rather the nature of THEOS, that is, a being of the THEOS class, as that was defined by John in connection with the understanding his readers would have had in his own time and culture.
B. Anarthrous nominatives and accusatives -- D, I, or Q?
Mr. Hommel has graciously surveyed the
nominative and accusative forms of THEOS in the NT and provided
his understanding of whether in each case the term is definite,
indefinite, or qualitative. I will return the favor by
providing my own readings. I will use "Q" when I
think that the context suggests an attempt by the author to
characterize the subject, in other words, to indicate the
Verse Hommel BeDuhn
Mk 12:27 D? I/Q
Lk 20:38 D? I/Q
John 1:18b Q? I/Q
John 8:54 D D (the possesive "your" definitizes)
Rom 8:33b D I (explained below)
Rom 9:5 D D (vocative function)
1Cor 8:4 D I (negative "there is no god except")
1Cor 8:6 D D (numeration "one" definitizes)
2Cor 1:3 D? D? (joined by "and" to a definite nominative)
[2Cor 1:21 D D (not anarthrous)]
[2Cor 5:5 D D (not anarthorus)]
2Cor 5:19 D I (explained below)
2 Cor 6:16 D D (possessive "their" definitizes)
Gal 6:7 D I (explained below)
Eph 4:6 D D (numeration "one" definitizes)
Phil 2:13 D I (explained below)
1Thes 2:5 D D? (vocative function)
2Thes 2:4 D? I
1Tim 2:5 D D (numeration "one" definitizes)
[Heb 3:4 D D (not anarthrous)]
Rev 21:7 D I/Q
It will come as no surprise to our readers that Mr. Hommel and myself differ so much in our judgement of these verses. What is worth noting, I think, is that each of the verses where he and I agree in seeing a definite, there is some definitizing element in the verse itself. These, then, are special cases that override the general rule that anarthrous nominatives are indefinite, which they are in the absence of such definitizing elements. There is no such definitizing element in John 1:1c, of course.
As for Rom 8:33b, 2 Cor 5:19, Gal 6:7, Phil 2:13 -- Paul has a rhetorical way of making an argument that drawn upon the general understanding of his audience about "gods." He uses the indefinite to make a point about the significance of interaction with a god. So, everyone in his environment understands that "A god is not to be mocked" (Gal 6:7). Likewise, he can argue that "If a god declares (one) innocent, who can condemn (that person)?" (Rom 8:33b). And against those who think that Christ acted on his own authority, which may or may not carry much weight with Paul's audience, he asserts that "through Christ a god was reconciling a world to himself" --stated thus abstractly, "a god" and "a world" as a way of describing what Paul has been explaining about a particular (only) God and a particular (only) world. Similarly, for those who may wonder what agency (demonic?) was operating in them after undergoing Christian initiation, Paul asserts "The one working within/through you is a god" (Phil 2:13 -- a very close grammatical parallel to John 1:1c).
Verse Hommel BeDuhn
Lk 12:21 D D (preposition definitizes)
Jn 1:18a D I (as in the Paul examples above)
Jn 10:33 D? I
Jn 20:17 DD DD (possessive definitizes)
Acts 14:15 D? I/Q
Acts 28:6 I I
Rom 1:21 D I (as in the Paul examples above)
Rom 4:2 D D (preposition definitizes)
Rom 8:7 D D (preposition definitizes)
Rom 8:27 D D (preposition definitizes)
2Cor 7:9, 10 DD DD (preposition definitizes)
Gal 4:8, 9 DD I/Q, I/Q (as in Paul examples above)
2Thes 1:8 D D (verb of knowing?)
2Thes 2:4 D? I
1Tim 5:5 D D (preposition definitizes)
Titus 1:16 D D (verb of knowing?)
Heb 6:1 D D (preposition definitizes)
Heb 8:10 D I?
Heb 11:16 D D (possessive definitizes)
1Pet 3:5 D D (preposition definitizes)
1Pet 3:21 D D (preposition definitizes)
1Pet 4:6 D D (preposition definitizes)
1Pet 5:2 D D (preposition definitizes)
1Jn 4:12 D I (as in Jn 1:18)
2Jn 1:9 D D
Rom 1:21 offers another good example of what I said above concerning Paul's use of indefinite THEOS, here combined with his tendency towards abbreviated phrasing: "Although they knew God, they did not praise or thank him as a god (should be praised and thanked)." Gal 4:8 brings this set of examples close to what Mr. Hommel and I are debating. Paul uses the indefinite: "When you did not know a (real) god, you served the ones who in nature are not (real) gods." He is clearly drawing attention to the "qualitative," that is to the nature or character of the being he is talking about (Father/God), and he does so by distinguishing his rights, as opposed to theirs, to be called, that is classed as, "god," "divine."
I take responsibility for stating things more broadly than I should have in my previous response. I did not think to qualify my general assertion about the indefinite meaning of anarthrous nominative and accusatives by noting the definitizing property of prepositional phrases, which applies only to accusatives and not to the nominative form which was foremost in the discussion and in my mind. I also forgot to mention possessive phrases. What I asserted holds true if we set aside special definitizing elements that may add definiteness to an anarthrous accusative and, much more rarely, an anarthrous nominative. I thank Mr. Hommel for bringing these special cases to my recollection. Of course, none of these definitizing elements are present in John 1:1c, and their ocurrence elsewhere does nothing to reduce the general rule by which definiteness and indefiniteness are usually indicated by the presence or absence of the Greek article. The overarching concern for all of the above verses, nominative and accusative is this: in the absence of the one certain marker of definiteness in Greek --the definite article -- on what basis does Mr. Hommel declare an anarthrous noun to be definite? I have explained at length before how much Mr. Hommel's judgements are based in understandings of the verses derivative of existing English translations. It strikes the modern Christian as odd that Paul would speak indefinitely of "a god" or "gods" (he does both). But in the historical and cultural context in which Paul wrote, this was often the best way to get his point across. Our historical distance from the NT writers often interferes with an accurate, close reading of precisely what they are saying.
C. "Is" of identity and "is" of predication.
In his latest response, Mr. Hommel says the NWT
translation "the Word was a god" represents a usage we
can agree to call the "'is' of identity" while an
accurate qualitative rendering of the verse would employ the
"'is' of predication." Surprisingly, he uses as
an example of the "is" of predication, "The car is
red," employing a predicate adjective, just as I do when I
suggest "The Word was divine" as an acceptable
translation of John 1:1c. Since Mr. Hommel has taken me so
much to task for my suggestion, I think I get to say "gotcha"
here. More seriously, I think it needs to be recognized
that the "is" of identity when it involves an
indefinite predicate overlaps with the "is" of
predication. In Greek they are grammatically
indistinguishable, while in English they can often be
distinguished, if somewhat awkwardly ("The car is a red one"
= identity/category; "The car is red" = predication).
Of course, the crux here is knowing, based on Greek phrasing that
may be equivalent to either "identity" or "predication",
which meaning to settle upon. As Mr. Hommel and I have
agreed before, grammar alone may not lead all the way to a
I certainly do not accept Mr. Hommel's characterization of my position as in contradiction to Russell or as moving beyond neutral translation. In any case, my primary concern is not "neutral" translation -- that is, translation that carefully negotiates the different modern theological positions to accommodate them all -- but rather accurate translation -- which gives us as directly as possible the meaning of the Greek, however ambiguous or problematic it may be. My position is not "one which identifies the logos as a member of a 'god' class -- a god distinct from HO THEOS, another God (sic) in that same class." Rather, as I have said all along, John is qualifying or characterizing the Logos by means of classification or categorization (and this is the standard way to qualify or characteize in Greek). John is not counting up "gods" -- he is placing the Logos on one side rather than the other of the great divide between the human and divine realms, and he spends the rest of his gospel very carefully explaining how the Logos, embodied in Jesus, properly belongs to the place he has assigned him in the very first verse.
D. Capitalization and "common usage"
Mr. Hommel and I agree that on minor points of
English style, such as capitalization, "rules" are
actually encapsulations of actual contemporary common usage.
This common use changes over time, and conventions come and go,
and so one could say the "rules" change. But Mr.
Hommel misuses the phrase "common usage" in arguing
once again for his capitalization of "Deity" as
legitimate, and what is more, as a clear conveyence to the reader
of the qualitative sense.
"Common usage," in the linguistic sense that Mr. Hommel claims he is using the term, refers to the practice across the language, not to the traditions of rendering a specific book. He says that because past translations of the Bible have used a particular capitalization scheme, that is "common usage." But that is not "common" usage; that is a typographical tradition that may be preserved from hundreds of years before. If you've ever picked up a book printed in the 18th or 19th centuries, you will see that capitalization was used much more freely than is usual in contemporary English literature. "Common usage" for proposing an accurate English rendering today (which is what we are talking about) refers to the use commonly found in the language in contemporary times, precisely because the sort of "rules" based on "common usage" change with what people actually do. That is why I have criticized Mr. Hommel's proposal to capitalize "Deity." Contemporary "common usage" does not capitalize qualitative English nouns. His appeals to literature of previous centuries or to the special genre of poetry, or to the preserved conventions of English Bibles have nothing to do with "common usage."
Much of our discussion has been about ways to translate that make clear to the reader what the original Greek means. Because that is so important, we may need to insist on very precise renderings, and not yield to what just anybody may think is good enough. It certainly is true that I have often encountered the erroneous capitalization of an indefinite "god." But this is not "common usage." It is a grammatical mistake based on the confusion in English of the indefinite noun "god" with the definite (and proper) noun "God" -- a confusion whose existence Mr. Hommel acknowledges in his latest response.
As for Mr. Hommel's objection to my characterization of anarthrous THEOS as "a general category of being" or "a defined set of qualities," I have already accounted for all of his counter-examples in part B above. These counter-examples are either rhetorically indefinite (as I explained above is typical of Paul), or definitized by belonging to prepositional phrases (in other words, they are definite forms whose article is dropped as unnecessary due to the presence of a preposition). Mr. Hommel exagerates a bit when he says that "there are a host of factors that may make the noun definite, aside from the presence of the article." There are actually only a handful -- I mean four or five, which I don't think constitutes a host -- of grammatical signs that indicate that a nominative or accusative noun may be definite despite the lack of the article. In fact, if we separate the nominative from the accusative (since we are dealing only with the nominative in John 1:1c), we can say that there is only a couple of such definitizing factors (and none of these occur in John 1:1c).
Finally, on "true Dog" -- Mr. Hommel repeats a lapse he has made several times before. After very carefully setting up a context in which "Dog" may be used qualitatively, and the capital "D" may help to convey this sense, he confuses that categorical/qualitative function (that is, this fossil can be called "(true) Dog" because it has the set of qualities by which science has defined the "dog" species) with an altogether different meaning, one in which he has "established a context in which there is only one true 'Dog,' though there may be other 'dogs' which -- though similar -- are distinct from true Dog." I apologize for repeating somewhat something I argued at length in my previous posting, but Mr. Hommel's assertion is hopelessly confused. The fossil-finding scenario does not entail finding a fossil that is the one-and-only true "Dog," beside which there are no others with that set of qualities. It involves finding a fossil that matches an abstracted (categorical) definition of "dog" derived from establishing a set of qualities shared by all members of the "dog" species. If "Dog" is used to represent this defining set of qualities, then it is not true that there are "other 'dogs' which -- though similar -- are distinct from true Dog." By definition, anything that is a 'dog' is NOT distinct from Hommel's qualitative "Dog," but a member of that class/species. In other words, Mr. Hommel has once again confused what he calls the "qualitative" description of the Logos as THEOS with an identification of the Logos with the "only true" God. Since he himself is so careful about distinguishing the "'is' of identity" from the "'is' of predication," this failure to maintain the distinction in his own argument is noteworthy.
This concludes my response to Part 1 of Mr. Hommel's Fourth response. With
all best wishes to him and to our readers,
Associate Professor of Religious Studies, and Chair
Department of Humanities, Arts, and Religion
Northern Arizona University
Here is [Dr Beduhn's] answer to
I see less room to advance the discussion on the points in Part 2. It seems to me that we are locked in an impasse over the differences between Greek and English expression of concepts. But I will try to clarify where I can.
A. The relation of mass terms
ROBERT: My introduction of mass terms was to demonstrate the existence of qualitativeness as a semantic force distinct from indefinite (membership in a class). Having established that point, which Dr. BeDuhn originally denied, I then demonstrated examples where the qualitative force is present with count nouns.
JB: I have never said there was no such thing as a "qualitative semantic force." What I have maintained is that Greek does not have a distinct "qualitative" GRAMMATICAL FORM. In English, mass (non-count) nouns are SOMETIMES used with the qualitative semantic force. When they are so used, they are used without the definite or indefinite article. Thus, they exhibit a distinct grammatical from that signals their semantic force. Yet, even in English, there is substantial overlap between "qualitative," "categorical indefinite," and even "identifying anarthrous definite" uses of mass nouns.
Let me give some examples.
"The factory needs more steel."
-- this is the standard common [mass] noun use of "steel" as a material
"To perfect this batch of alloy, you will need to use more of the steel."
-- same usage, here with definite article to indicate a discrete quantity
"John's knife is steel."
-- categorical indefinite used to categorize John's knife as a particular kind
"John's knife is steel."
-- also possibly an identification semantic force, in a situation where the speaker and hearer are trying to identify John's knife (or one matching John's knife) from a selection of knives. This usage is basically a predicate adjective substitution for either "a steel one" or "the steel one" -- but NOT qualitative in its semantic force. Another example would be RH's "The car is red" when spoken in a context of looking for a particular car in a parking lot.
"John's words are steel."
-- qualitative semantic force (also metaphorical in this case)
Since mass nouns are not necessarily qualitative in their semantic force, there actually is not, even in English, a distinct qualitative grammatical form. In other words, there is no such thing as "qualitative nouns." There are only nouns that can have a qualitative semantic force in particular usages. So again I must say that the whole discussion of "mass nouns" does not help us, because (1) mass nouns are not necessarily qualitative, and (2) the use or non-use of an article with a noun, mass or qualitative, is different in English than it is in Greek.
JB (previously): Since THEOS is a count noun, not a mass noun, it should have the indefinite article added when translated into English.
ROBERT: Such a translational model would lead us to render Luke 6:5 as "The Son of Man is a lord of the Sabbath;" John 1:18a as "No one has seen a god at any time;" John 3:6 as "that which is born of the Spirit is a spirit," none of which the NWTTC opted for (nor should they have). There are dozens, perhaps hundreds, of such examples. I would ask Dr. BeDuhn to produce a single Greek grammar that states that the indefinite article "must be added" to non-definite count nouns when translated into English.
JB: It is a mere rhetorical ploy to ask me "to produce a single Greek grammar that states that the indefinite article 'must be added' to non-definite count nouns when translated into English." What I said about adding the indefinite article was based on what we do in ENGLISH. Greek grammars say nothing about following rules of English grammar. To say that the NWT translators do not agree with these renderings is another strange sort of argument, since I do not always or inevitably agree with their choices, just as I do not with those of other translators. I believe I gave many examples of sentences to show that we consistently render anarthrous count nouns with the indefinite article in English, and in your latest response you "reassure" me that we are not going to start droping the indefinite article in rendering these many examples into English. So why do so in John 1:1c against the overwhelming general practice in English? The continued impasse we are having is between my call for using ordinary, transparent English to translate straightforwardly vs. the desire of you and others to use a very specialized English that packs in added theological meaning not necessarily present in the original.
But you correctly ascertain the "translation model" I am using: Luke 6:5 "The Son of Man is a lord of the Sabbath"; John 1:18a "No one has seen a god at any time"; John 3:6 "That which is born of the spirit is a spirit" -- Yes, my translational model would lead us to render these verses in exactly this way, because this is precisely what these three verses say. The reason these translations sound strange to you is not because they are grammatically incorrect, and not because they are inaccurate renderings of the Greek, but because two thousand years of cultural and religious development and change have made them what for lack of a better term I will call anachronistic. In the time and place where these words were recorded, they made perfect sense. In Luke 6:5, Jesus' opponents have asserted that Jesus has no right to forgive because only God can forgive (through the purification system the Jews believed they had received from God). Against them, Jesus asserts that he too ("too" because it is as "Son of Man", not as "God" or even "Son of God", that he makes the claim) can forgive sin. So he is (also) "a lord of the Sabbath. In John 1:18a, the author is quoting a familar trope of ancient Greek mythology, that no one can look upon a god and live. And so on. It is extremely hard for a modern reader to cut through two thousand years of cultural assumption to hear these words as freshly as they were first delivered. The result is a narrowing and limiting of meaning in conformity with modern cultural and religious assumption -- in other words, a loss from the text of its richness of meaning. It is that richness of meaning that I am defending.
ROBERT: Dr. BeDuhn seems on the one hand to understand the semantic distinction between indefinite and qualitative . . . But on the other hand, Dr. BeDuhn continues to maintain that an indefinite semantic force is the same thing as a qualitative one.
JB: I apologize for being unable to find a clear enough way to explain the differences between Greek and English when it comes to establishing semantic force through variations in grammar. We as translators (and working with linguistic terms and categories unknown to the Greeks) can point to two grammatically identical nouns and say, "This one carries what we would consider the qualitative force, and this has what we would consider an indefinite value." That distinction may not be agreeable to everyone who looks at the words, and debatable in any particular instance. We can find many of our own semantic distinctions marked in our grammar, for example in the way we use or do not use an article with count or non-count nouns, with definite, indefinite, or "qualitative" nouns. We would like it if our distinctions automatically matched those of the language we are translating from. It would make the task of translation much easier. But such is not the case.
What I have maintained is that IN GREEK the qualitative semantic force is "delivered," so to speak, by the categorical use of the indefinite (or non-definite, if you prefer). I respect Harner, and think that he has significantly advanced the discussion of sentences of the particular type found in John 1:1c, but I disagree with his conclusion that there is a distinctive use of word-order that signals specifically "qualitative" rather than more generally categorical indefinite (which can be qualitative, but not necessarily so). Harner's appeal to word-order in his argument has always been a very iffy proposition, since it is widely recognized that Greek has very free word order on which it depends very little for meaning. Harner actually contradicts himself in the case of John 1:1c, for although he wants to include it in the set of sentences for which the placement of the noun is meant to convery "qualitative" force, he asserts, "In this clause, the form that John actually uses, the word THEOS is placed at the beginning for emphasis" (page 85). This is a much more widely accepted understanding of the possible meaning of a predicate noun placed at the beginning of a clause. If this word order serves to convey emphasis, would we then have to conclude that "qualitative" nouns are always emphasized? This, of course, would be absurd. But it shows where we would have to go to reconcile the one, widely recognized function of this word order, with the one Harner wants to assert. The fact that Harner was unable to establish a "rule" that would give us confidence that the pattern he was looking at consistently yielded "qualitative" force (because of the number of exceptions Harner himself recognized, as well as others he did not) is very telling against his proposition. I must reiterate that the "qualitative semantic force" MAY be there in any particular instance, but we have no way to be sure based on the grammar. That is why I'm willing to accept "qualitative" translations that are transparently so, such as "The Word was divine." Because what we treat as a qualitative meaning may be carried by the predicate indefinite noun, such a translation cannot be ruled out. But since the predicate indefinite noun can also be a simple indefinite of category, and we have the same thing in English, we cannot rule out "The Word was a god" either. What you have been trying to do is find a way to rule out the one without ruling out the other. All I have been saying is you cannot do that -- the Greek does not allow you to rule out one without the other. I have pointed out that in most of Harner's examples it is necessary to translate with the indefinite English form, that the definite English form removes the qualitative sense Harner believes to be present, and all the more the categorical indefinite sense which I maintain is the most direct translation of the Greek, and perfectly understandable in English. The anarthrous "qualitative" English noun, for example the "Deity" you prefer, is confusing to the modern reader for the cultural, historical, and linguistic reasons I have mentioned previously.
But I basically agree with you that the semantic force in John 1:1c is very closely parallel that found in John 3:6, which you amplify as "That which is born of the flesh is (by nature) flesh." There is a similar pattern of thinking implied in John's use of "son" to characterize the relation of Christ/Logos to the Father. It was certainly widely held in the ancient world that "That born of god is (by nature) god" (employing the categorical non-definite), which John would merely apply to the specific case of his monotheistic position. Where we get stuck is bridging the cultural and linguistic gap to English, because as I mentioned before there is widespread confusion in English between "God" used as a personal name for a specific being and "god" used as a title/description. I applaud your use of "deity" as an effort to avoid this confusion. But in English conventions, any such word used with a capital letter would be read as a personal designation just as "God" is, and this is different from what is happening in the Greek, with either "theos" or "sarx." Which brings us to the next topic . . .
B. Do qualitative nouns express qualities in "full measure"?
We seem to be talking right past
each other here -- no wonder we find each other confusing and
contradictory. But it certainly doesn't help to extract
sentences out of their context (a very common practice in
biblical interpretation too!). But as always, I take the
opportunity of being shown where I was less than perfectly clear
to both clarify and refine what I had in mind (if only we could
engage the biblical writers in this way!).
JB (previously): I have never suggested introducing some qualification or limitation into the equation of John 1:1c....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. . . 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.
ROBERT: I'm glad that Dr. BeDuhn has come to this understanding of qualitativeness, but this is not the position he originally espoused.
JB (now): On the contrary, this is the position I have always espoused. You cite my discussion of metaphor and simile. There I showed that translation is still performed just as literally as in other kinds of equations, but that we find cause to INTERPRET the meaning as non-literal ("John's words are steel" presents certain logical problems taken literally, which drives us to resort to metaphor as an interpretation). Note what I said above: "the Word has the full measure of the defining qualities of THEOS as a category that John is employing." As I argued extensively in my previous response, categories have a set of defining properties (as in RH's example of the species "dog"). There are both cultural and personal versions of these sets of defining properties, and we often find in conversation that one person's does not exactly match another (for example, when describing the color of an object -- "You say that's purple but I think it's gray."). John writes to be understood, of course, so his definition of the category THEOS certainly draws on cultural definitions that he can assume in his readers. And yet it seems clear that he is working very carefully to introduce some novel ideas into things, stretching or refining the common vocabulary in some way. That's why contextual reading is so important. But the bottom line is that the category THEOS is logically prior to any specific HO THEOS within it. That is, THEOS has a set of defining characteristics that we might agree to refer to as "the short list" (the minimum list to qualify something as belonging to the category THEOS -- "qualities A-D" in RH's later discussion), while any specific HO THEOS has "the long list" that includes all of the short list plus some characteristics not necessarily shared with any or all of the other things in the category ("qualities A-Z" in RH's later discussion). I am speaking in the abstract here, in terms of linguistics and the logic of sets, not taking any particular theological position. So "full set of qualities" refers to the short list, not the long list. If it refered to the long list, then it would be a case of identification, not categorization or qualitative characterization. Since RH has himself acknowledged that identification is not occurring in John 1:1c, and since "full set of qualities" as referring to "the long list" would be identification, I invite him to join me in finding another point of clarified common ground on which we can stand without dispute.
Contrary to what RH asserts in his most recent response, I answered at length that it is not a matter of limiting qualitativeness or of limiting categorization in a copula-sentence like John 1:1c -- the grammar does neither. It is a matter of reading on the biblical page WHAT is being equated with WHAT. The Word is not equated with HO THEOS, but with THEOS. The latter is not an individual, it is a category that carries with it implied qualities/characteristics -- a "nature" if you will. RH wants to specify (and that's what I met by "limit") a "long list" nature that has the effect of substituting HO THEOS for THEOS in the equation (I say that based on his argument, not merely on the implied meaning of the translation he proposes). That won't work linguistically, it won't work in the context of John's gospel to simply, and it won't work historically (and contrary to RH, context and culture are not "mechanisms for inserting one's preferred view into a text"; they are part of the evidence of what language means). Early Christians argued precisely over what John meant here, not over the wording, but the interpretation, over how closely the set of qualities in THEOS should correspond to the set in HO THEOS. They argued because John does not spell out the respective lists he has in mind, at least not with the philosophical exactitude theologians would like.
C. Does the Logos have the qualities of God or a god?
If RH has never intended to have
"the short list" defining THEOS match exactly "the
long list" defining HO THEOS, then I apologize for
misreading him. It may be that we have meant the same thing
all along by "full set of qualities," and simply failed
to communicate. So let us not multiply misunderstanding . .
ROBERT: he says that the category of theos would have included ho theos and a number of other divine beings as well.
JB: I never said that. I said that THEOS would have a shorter, and so broader and looser defining set of characteristics than HO THEOS, so that it could contain beings or things other than just HO THEOS. If that were not true, John could never have written John 1:1. He found flexibility in the THEOS category that he needed to make his important, indeed emphasized point about the Logos. And it is certainly relevant, contrary to RH to bring in how the term THEOS was actually used in other texts of the period as just such a broader, looser term. I hope it is not news to RH to learn that we would have no Greek grammars or dictionaries if the use of terms in ancient literature was not examined and reduced to the definitions provided in such modern works of reference. As he concedes, IN THE BIBLE ITSELF the term THEOS is used more broadly and loosely than "in full measure" being equated with the nature of HO THEOS. I certainly never meant to suggest that "2nd Temple Judaism" sets the definition of THEOS for John 1:1, but rather that it is part of the broader picture that helps us to understand what John is doing with language that he is not inventing, but manipulating to convey his meaning. But RH continues to resort to the claim that he is arguing only on the basis of language, and that there are "gramatical and syntactic markers that point rather clearly" to his position. I have dealth with all of these already and demonstrated that nothing in grammar or syntax of John 1:1c points to his reading to the exclusion of other possible readings such as "the Word was a god." But I have also endeavored to clarify how close is the position he claims to be defending with all reasonableness to the one I say comes out of my explanation of John's use of language in John 1:1. The fact that he continues to hold to a translation that does not convey the very sense he claims to argue for, and that in his argument he reveals a very different position determined by a theological orthodoxy established several hundred years after John by an interpretation of John in light of precise philosophical and metaphysical terms that John knew nothing of, gives me little hope for further advances in
But I will soldier on . . .
ROBERT: From the standpoint of the immediate context, where theos is used in John 1:1b to refer to the true God of Israel, it would seem unlikely that John intends a different sense just two words later. This sense is reinforced by larger contextual circles, including the striking conclusion of John's Gospel- the confession of Thomas, who calls Jesus ho theos mou.
JB: This is just a repeat of the same mistake RH makes over and over again. John 1:1b does NOT use THEOS, it uses HO THEOS. As for the end of the gospel, you cannot simply extract a verse in a word-search and leave out all that John has done in the intervening twenty chapters to explain HOW Christ mediates the experience of HO THEOS to Thomas. That subject deserves a treatise of its own, that is, a work of interpretation. But all of John's labors are wasted if we simply sweep those twenty chapters aside and draw a line straight from the begining to the end of the gospel. John works to prepare his readers for the exact meaning of that conclusion in such a way that they will not reject it by misunderstanding it. If you erase that preparation, you run the risk of misunderstanding it.
ROBERT: He [Martin Joos] suggests we define a disputed word: "in such a fashion as to make it contribute least to the total message derivable from the passage where it as at home" . . . Applying this principle to John 1:1, it seems clear that theos should be understood with the same sense in both clause b and clause c (the former with a definite semantic force, the latter qualitatively). If we know what "ho theos" means, and we know what "ho logos" means, we should be able to intuitively understand what "theos" means when it is predicated of the Logos in John 1:1c.
JB: Exact same mistake, confusion of THEOS with HO THEOS. I would hate to think of the result if we applied Joos' axiom generally to reading the Bible, where so much is accomplished by the nuance of a single word. John 1 is just such a plae where the words are crafted with exact care to introduce novel ideas. Joos' axiom would eliminate the ability to transmit novel ideas or to bend or stretch already existing terms to new meanings.
RH goes on to cite "stairstep parallelism" in such passages as Romans 5:3b-5a, where a word is repeated in the following fashion: "We know that tribulation produces endurance, and endurance (produces) testedness, and testedness (produces) hope." He notes:
ROBERT: Interestingly, the Greek text reveals that the repeated nouns are articular when they are the subject of the clause, and usually anarthrous when they are the predicate; there is no semantic distinction between the use and non-use of the article.
JB: The reason for the indifference of the article with respect to these terms is, to quote Smyth's Greek Grammar (section 1132): "The names of virtues, vices, arts, sciences, occupations often omit the article." RH says that Nida, et al. cite John 1:1 as a parallel. I do not have the full text of their article to see the full context of the parallel they draw between the two passages. ut it is not a very close one in any case, because HO THEOS is never used as a subject in John 1:1. It is the object of a prepositional phrase in John 1:1b, and is followed by THEOS as a predicate nominative in John 1:1c. I don't see what RH is getting at when he says of John 1:1 "this pattern conveys all the characteristics of a common rhetorical feature that
was found to be used among classical rhetoricians. By positioning theos before the verb the writer is consistently following the rhetorical device used in the entire verse." What pattern? Sometimes the subject is before the verb and sometimes after; sometimes the predicate uses a prepositional phrase, and sometimes an isolated noun. The only consistent pattern is that HO LOGOS is the subject and EN is the verb, all other terms vary in content and deployment. RH's appeal to what John could have done and what he in fact did does not serve him, because there are any number of ways John could have written 1:1c that would have yielded a perfectly clear identification with HO THEOS (which this whole string of arguments by RH point to, despite his disavowal that that is the sense he intends to find in 1;1c) or a qualitiative characterization of the Logos' nature (such as using the term "nature" --later theologians took the liberty of filling it in for John).
ROBERT: If the theos in 1:1b is not the same semantically as the theos in Jn 1:1c, the rhetorical feature is destroyed; no longer is the device ending one phrase with a word and then beginning the following phrase with the same word (the whole purpose of the rhetorical device in the first place). . . Again, in order for this rhetorical feature to have its full effect, the terms have to be the same terms conveying the same semantic sense.
JB: You are misrepresenting the
character of these rhetorical features. The rhetorical
feature is a formal one, not necessarily a semantic one. John's
skill is displayed in maintaining a "rocking chair"
form (since there is no actual "stairstep" in John 1:1,
it is more properly viewed as a chiasm) between logos-theon-theos-logos,
while manipulating the semantics by subtle differentiations (articular
vs. anarthrous, accusative vs. nominative). This would be
considered the epitome of rhetorical skill in John's day.
To simply follow the form lead-footedly without pulling off some
clever semantic shift would be the exercise of a schoolboy.
But John doesn't do it for mere showy ability, but because he has
a very fine line to walk and this form serves him well in
reaching his semantic goal. Nothing in the form is "destroyed"
by playing off of range of meaning of the terms involved.
ROBERT: At this point, Dr. BeDuhn may suggest that he is not really arguing for two senses of theos in John 1:1.
JB: Same mistake as in all previous: It is not a matter of "two senses of theos." It is a matter of the quite distinct meanings of the articular nominative HO THEOS and the anarthrous nominative THEOS. I have listed the other appearances of anarthrous nominative THEOS in the NT and shown how they are used to refer to a category of being to which someone or something might be considered to belong, sometimes in with what we might consider a qualitiatvie semantic force, that is, an intention of focusing on character rather than category. But all of the arguments RH makes in this section of his response confuses HO THEOS with THEOS, and in so doing works towards the erroneous simple identification of Logos with HO THEOS, which even RH says he does not accept in simple terms. So I must admit that I have no idea where he thinks he is going here, and I can't see how it progresses the discussion in any constructive way. Because he does not see the distinction between HO THEOS and THEOS, much if his argument ostensibly against my views are quite beside the point, and are in dialogue with "straw man" JBs of his own invention.
ROBERT: [H]e may suggest that theos simply means "a divine being" or a member of the "category of gods." When combined with the definite article (ho theos), it refers to the God of Israel. In certain contexts, however, it may refer to other "gods," who are not YHWH. In all cases, he may say, the sense is still "a divine being."
JB: It is not a matter of me "suggesting" the above. This is in fact how the term THEOS is used in the NT. But Matthew and Paul can even use HO THEOS, properly qualified with other terms, to refer to other "gods" at least in theory ("the god of the dead," "the god of this world" -- note that I do not capitalize "god" in such uses, because the attributive genitives "of the dead" and "of this world" show that "god" is not used as a proper noun).
ROBERT: "In the beginning was Felix, and Felix was with the Cat, and a cat was Felix." . . . I think most of us would naturally understand that placing "cat" two words apart in a sentence like this would virtually insure that the word has the same sense both times.
JB: I think I hardly need say that such a sentence would at first strike most readers as puzzling. But as they sat and pondered it they would "novelize" it, so to speak, and presume that "the Cat" was either someone's name (a street urchin whom Felix followed around?) or some sort of ideal super-cat (based on English conventions of capitalization). Seeing that Felix was "with the Cat" and was "a cat" they would reason out that there were some shared qualities that explains the use of related terms, but that capitalization in one case and non-capitalization in another implies some crucial distinction. But hey, that;s just me.
ROBERT: Now, yes, I
recognize that I've just used an indefinite noun in English to
signify qualities. This is a dictate of English idiom: as Dr.
BeDuhn has pointed out, we don't generally write sentences like,
"Felix was cat." . . .
JB: Which begs the question, why deviate from standard modern "common" English in this one instance? Her comes the answer:
ROBERT: And, if there were Gods that existed in the "true God" category alongside YHWH, I would not object to rendering qualitative theos in John 1:1c as Dr. BeDuhn suggests. The problem is that from the perspective of Biblical monotheism, YHWH is unique - there is only one being in the true God category. This is why I favor the traditional rendering over those offered by Dr. BeDuhn.
JB: Since RH has chastised me for characterizing his position as rooted in theology, I ask now what sort of reason or argument for a position is to be found in the above passage? He admits here that he would translate John 1:1c in the ordinary, typical English manner, were it not for certain theological concerns he has over what might be the implications of that translation. I think a cry of "foul" is in order here. I have myself appealed to literary and cultural context to explain what John means by his wording when it is literally rendered into English. I have never used it to justify replacing a literal translation with an interpretive one. But what does RH mean by "the perspective of Biblical monotheism"? Does he mean the contextual use of THEOS in John or in the NT? No, because in both THEOS is used occasionally of someone or something other than "God." So he is merely applying this very prestigious term "Biblical monotheism" to a theological view that he wishes to apply to this passage.
ROBERT: Granted, we are not used to seeing "God" used qualitatively in modern English, which is why I've suggested a translation using "Deity" instead. This suggestion may, in terms of our analogy, take a form such as: "In the beginning was Felix, and Felix was with the Feline, and Feline was Felix."
JB: It is progress to use "deity" for THEOS, but that progress is lost when "Deity" is used also for HO THEOS and the other "deity" is capitalized to look just like it (similarly by using "Feline" for both "the Cat" and "a cat"). I can accept "the Word was with God, and the Word was deity." That's a full qualitative, as RH says he wants. But "the Word was with the Deity and the
Word was Deity" doesn't convey the same meaning.
ROBERT: Dr. BeDuhn suggests that Jews in John's day would have recognized the category of 'theos' as containing ho theos and a host of lesser gods.
JB: I think anyone who has been reading our exchange would immediately recognize this assertion by RH as a total misrepresentation of my view, as expressed in context, and as a "straw man" to which he unfortunately devotes much wasted effort refuting. Obviously, I never suggested that Jews believed in "a host of lesser gods." I spoke of John's audience, his readers, his contemporaries, and RH seems to have assumed those were only Jews. I said, apparently not clearly enough, that the term (in Greek theoi, in Hebrew often elohim) was used more broadly by Jews and non-Jews alike than modern Christians (or Jews!) use "God." When the "2nd Temple" Jews were precise in talking of the one "true" God, the God of Israel, they would of course use either the personal name YHWH, or some exact expression (among which were, of course, "the true God" or "the God of Israel"), or in Greek of course they could always use HO THEOS. The term "god" or "gods," as we would naturaly translate the more generic Greek and Hebrew expressions, obviously meant some set of super-human qualities that qualified the beings to be so called. The breadth and looseness of the term did not necessarily erode "Biblical monotheism" in any way. They, at least, knew the difference between THEOS and HO THEOS. John starts from this point that he can assume in his audience, and builds on it a depiction of a uniquely intimate association of the Logos with God, transcending that of any other beings that might, for one reason or another, be called THEOS. This point is similarly made by the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, who extensively argues that Christ is superior in this respect to angels (citing an OT passage where the angels were apparently refered to as "gods" -- elohim). RH assumes in his argument that John was writing primarily to Jews, and goes on to demonstrate that Jews, unique in their region, were strict monotheists. But it is unlikely that John was writing primarily to Jews, given that in his gospel the term "Jews" is used of aliens, outsiders, and enemies to Jesus and his mission. So if indeed John was writing to those who saw Jews as others, all that RH quotes about the complex and hierarchical view of the "divine" realm held as "typical of the Hellenistic world" would apply to John's audience. My own view is that John keeps both audience carefully in mind, and seeks to bridge their respective views of the "divine" world in a way that brings across what he has to say that's "new." I have no disagreement with Hurtado, as quoted by RH, and indeed wonder how on earth he can cite it as supportive of any of his points (since it does show the term "gods" used in a jewish text of the time the way I have said in the time of John, that it is part of the broader cultural background in which John was writing, and that contextual reading is essential, which I have always maintained against RH's jabs against such a method). There is no doubt that, in Hurtado's words, there is "a deliberate link of the Logos with God, but without simply homogenizing the two." Contrary to the implication of RH's line of argument, I have never maintained that in John 1:1 the Logos is an "angelic being." Rather, John says that the Logos "was a god" and then goes on to explain in what way he means that. How that comes out in final theological categories may very well have been outside of John's concern, and we have a long history of internal debate within Christianity over how to precisely categorize the Logos in relation to HO THEOS. John's wording did not provide all that theologians wanted, and so left room for legitimate difference of opinion (legitimate in the sense that John's wording did not rule it out). By stating that the Logos had the full set of qualities of a THEOS, John carefully did not say the Logos had the full set of quaities of HO THEOS. To have done so would be to simply equate and "homogenize" the Logos and God. By leaping from a categorical "qualitative" to a qualitative of identity (such as, "Michael Jordan is God!"), RH has made a move that is beyond the linguistic range of the non-definite nominative THEOS, and indeed a move that would "shock" Greek grammarians. He continues to confuse THEOS with HO THEOS at every step of his argument, and so fails to see how a "full set of qualities" associated with THEOS is not the same as the "full set of qualities" of HO THEOS. If John had made an equation of the Logos with the latter, then we would have a direct identification of the Logos with God the Father; but RH repeats that he does not intend that. The only way for him to introduce his narrower, more restricted definition of THEOS as to make it indistinguishable from HO THEOS, is to bring in a theological concern that a broader, less-defined THEOS category is unprotected from unworthy members. I don't fault this concern itself, but it does not belong
in this debate and its effect is to strip John of much of the linguistic play that allows him to build a very elaborate explanantion of how the Logos, embodied in Christ, bridges the divide between the divine and human realm, and
how Christ mediates the dissolving of that divide to his followers.
With all best wishes,
Associate Professor of Religious Studies, and Chair
Department of Humanities, Arts, and Religion
Northern Arizona University
This is the last installment of my
responses to RH [Fourth Response, Part 3] on the issues of
John 1:1c. With this contribution, I will step away from the
on-line debate and let my book and articles on the subject do the
talking for awhile. I'm sure Robert and the rest of you
will be interested to see the reaction of academic circles to my
arguments in that form. I invite Robert to complete the
cycle of discussion if he would like to. But I will not be
responding since I feel that we have aired out every possible
relevant angle on the subject, and I concede that it will not be
possible for us to ultimately agree on it. No one should be
distressed by that lack of agreement. Rather they should
learn from it the challenges faced today in translating and
interpretating the Bible, a book given to humanity two thousand
years ago. It is always best to listen to a variety of
voices, to analyze and assess reasons, to understand what is at
stake in any position, and to draw one's own conclusions by using
that most remarkable of gifts, the human brain.
We are cleaning house a bit here, so these responses amount no more to odds and ends.
A. On a parallel example of an anarthrous noun often translated as definite, involving "a/the devil"
ROBERT: Dr. BeDuhn, I assume,
would not translate Luke 21:25 as: "there will be signs in a
sun and a moon." If not, I would ask what grammatical
evidence Dr. BeDuhn can cite, proving that John 6:70 "cannot"
be read "one of you is the devil." Again, Dr. BeDuhn
seems to regard all anarthrous nouns as indefinites (except for
the few exceptions he has just recently enumerated), which would
place him in the minority position - at least if we regard any
leading Greek grammar of the past 100 years as credible in this
JB: No, I would not translate Luke 21:25 as "there will be signs in a sun and a moon," because it is nothing like John 1:1c or 6:70. The Luke sentence involves nouns in the dative case and in a prepositional phrase. It is universally recognized in the study of Greek that datives in prepositional phrases do not require the article to be definite. It is quite another matter with nominatives in copulative (be-verb) sentences. Since DIABOLOS in John 6:70 is in the nominative form and without the article it is either an indefinite or, assuming Harner's arguments are correct, has a "qualitative semantic force" which would have to be translated into English as an indefinite in order for that qualitative force to come through to the reader. The case is the same with John 1:1c. I do not "regard all anarthrous nouns as indefinites," but rather, in the good company of Greek grammars of the last 100 years, that the lack of the Greek definite article with a noun in the nominative form signifies an indefinite grammatical value unless there is present some other definitizing factor (of which there are very few). There is no such defnitizing factor in either John 1:1c or 6:70.
ROBERT: Further, if we consider the other occurrences of DIABOLOS without the article in the GNT (1 Peter 5:8; Rev 12:9, 20:2), it seems rather clear that it is definite in each case - as it is in the 12 verses in which it occurs with the article. Thus, it would appear that DIABOLOS is definite in all other NT usage, and the burden is on Dr. BeDuhn to prove why it should not be so regarded here.
JB: In fact, DIABOLOS has the article in both 1 Peter 5:8 and Rev. 12:9. It seems that RH is either relying on some search software or else is unaware that the article may be separated from the noun it modifies by other intervening words. All these words together constitute a nominative phrase (when we are dealing with nominative nouns). Greek can do this even though English cannot. So, in 1 Peter 5:8, two words intervene between the article and DIABOLOS which characterize this figure as "your opponent." Likewise, in Rev. 12:9, one word intervenes between the article and DIABOLOS. This nominative phrase is hard to render into English; we have to add some words to make it sound smoothly t our ears: "The (one) called 'devil'." As for Rev. 20:2, there are several manuscripts that have the article and many that do not. When a textual variant is involved, we have to be cautious about drawing grammatical conclusions. As RH points out, the rest of the occurrences of DIABOLOS in the NT have the definite article. Why, then, if "devil" is almost always definite in the NT, is it not so in the one case of John 6:70? Precisely because Jesus is using the term not as a direct identification of "the devil" but as a characterization, a "qualitative" by means of the indefinite of category. And how do we know he is so using the term? how can we prove that he is using it non-definitely? Precisely because it is signalled in the grammar, by the omission of the article.
ROBERT: Finally, if I am arguing outside of grammar when I consider the beliefs of Jesus and John about "the Devil," Dr. BeDuhn is certainly doing so when he argues that the beliefs of John and his readers must be taken into account in understanding the semantic force of THEOS in John 1:1c. And while I have presented several good reasons based on grammar for understanding DIABOLOS as definite this verse, a consideration of 1st Century Judaism will, I think, adequately demonstrate that while there may be "demons many," there was but one Devil.
JB: I have always approved of CONTEXT as a factor in understanding the biblical text, and I have no problem with it being introduced here. There certainly are several references to a singular figure, "the Devil" in the NT, and in the contemporary Jewish literature to a singular figure "the Satan." But both words could be used indefinitely (and in the plural) in Greek and Hebrew, respectively, as a perusal of the texts of the time shows. In John 6:70 we are dealing with a categorical/qualitative/characterizing/metaphorical use of the term which works best in Greek in the indefinite. It also works in English best in the indefinite, because in the definite it would confuse readers into thinking that one of Jesus disciples was literally the Devil. The same sort of confusion of identification in place of characterization is involved in the traditional translation of John 1:1c that RH still(!) says is fine with him, even though it obviously implies a one-to-one identification of the Logos with God the Father, the one WITH which the Logos was said to be in the beginning.
B. 1st century Judaism and "gods"
Elsewhere in part 3 of his response, RH refers again to my "suppositions regarding 1st century Jewish monotheism." As I said in my response to part 2, this is another straw man RH resorts to. Of course, every straw man is built of bits and pieces of what an opponent has actually said, so I carry some responsibility for creating the possibility of his miscontrual. But it is a misconstrual, because it mixes together things I said about Greek vocabulary, John's thought-world, the cultural understanding of John's audience (likely to be as much or more non-Jewish as Jewish), and the language and concepts empoyed in the Bible, as well as in other contemporary religious literature. Let me as clear as I can: 1st century Jews were monotheists; they also believed in other super-human beings (angels, demons); they could use words such as elohim and theoi in contexts that referred to these supernatural beings without meaning to compromise their monotheism; non-Jews, of course, could use the word THEOS both for what we would call their god, and for other sorts of superhuman beings; John takes advantage of the polyvalence of the word THEOS to do something different than most of the above, to draw a line across the universe, with "God"/"Father" and "Logos"/"Son" on one side of the line, and more-or-less the rest of the universe on the other, and then to tell a story of how the "Logos"/"Son" crossed that line with the intention of, in some respects, dissolving it for those who associate themselves with him.
C. Shifts in meaning from 1:1b
to 1:1c and translation options.
ROBERT: As I have argued
previously, there is considerable grammatical and rhetorical
evidence that the sense of THEOS in John 1:1 does not change
between clause b and clause c. We have yet to see a similar
argument from Dr. BeDuhn beyond the assertion that because
humans, Satan, and pagan gods are called THEOS in the NT, the
Jews understood YHWH to be in the same broad category with them.
JB: On the contrary, there is very clear grammatical evidence that the sense of THEOS changes between 1b and 1c, namely, John's very careful and meaningful omission of the article. There is another rule of Greek grammar that applies here as well. Even if we were not dealing with the nominative case, and the very strong distinction (relative to the other cases) made by inclusion or omission of the article, in Greek when you are referring to the same person or thing just mentioned, and want to make clear that you mean "the aforementioned God," you use the article to reinforce that identification. John doesn't do that, either.
I have never asserted that the Jews considered YHWH to be in the same cateogry with humans, Satan, and pagan gods. This is one of RH's straw men. I have said that the term THEOS was applied more broadly by people speaking Greek, including Jews, than we would tend to define the category "god." The proof is right in the NT itself, where the term is used in this broad manner. I understand the distinction RH draws between "true God" and "so-called gods" (some falsely so-called, some apparently metaphorically or "functionally" so-called). I certainly think, based on a contextual reading, that John himself would make some distinction like that (although some "qualities" that define a THEOS are apparently promised to humans through Christ). Unfortunately, the Greek language employed by John is not so precisely defined. Because I recognize the difficulty and burden of relaying some of these distinctions to the English-speaking Bible reader, I do not simply settle on "a god" as unarguably the best rendering. I would be interested in some sort of survey that tested the number of alternatives I have said are within the range of the Greek to see what people get out of them for meaning (and I would like to see RH's suggestion included as well, along with the traditional translation).
ROBERT: I favor the traditional rendering over those Dr. BeDuhn offers because it requires far less explanation.
JB: I think this shows that RH still thinks in terms of a direct identification, despite his disavowals. He has said that THEOS in 1c has no shift in meaning from HO THEOS (accusative form TON THEON) in 1b. But in 1b, the Logos is WITH HO THEOS, whereas in 1c the Logos IS THEOS. This may not be relevant to our discussion, but a Trinitarian would acknowledge a key shift in the meaning of THEOS from 1b to 1c, with the former being used in the restrictive sense (God the Father) and the latter in the broader sense (the Godhead). I wonder if RH has considered that. I have maintained all along that both a Trinitarian and a non-Trinitarian theology can be derived by a trajectory of logic from what John says here. And a "trajectory of logic" is precisely how elaborated theologies were crafted from the biblical raw material by the church leaders in the first four centuries of Christianity, and after.
ROBERT: The task of the translator is to render John 1:1 in such as way as to accurately reflect what John wrote. As Harner has advocated, a possible translation that does so would be: "The Word had the same nature as God." Dr. BeDuhn might even agree with this translation.
JB: It is itself an ambiguous translation, I'm afraid, though no more or less so than the ones I have proposed. What does one mean by "same nature." Our argument has been over whether the "short list" of qualities for THEOS or the "long list" of qualities for HO THEOS is invoked.
ROBERT: I have suggested "The Word was Deity." Dr. BeDuhn agrees that this is possible, but disagrees with the capital "D." I have offered reasons, in an earlier post, why I believe the capital letter is warranted - to signify that the nature pointed to is that of the true God.
JB: I understand this reason, and do not disagree that John meant to associate the Word with the "true God." I don't think that is at issue, but rather how far the language goes in spelling out the exact character of that association. Not as far as we might wish, I say. Thankfully, we have the rest of the gospel to elaborate that association for us, which I think it does quite well and clearly. Even if that elaboration agreed in all important respects with RH's view (I think in certain significant respects it does not), I still would argue that we have no right to import all of that elaboration into the wording
of John 1:1. I say let John tell it his way.
ROBERT: I do not regard it likely that John intended a shift in the sense of THEOS from 1:1b to 1:1c. Clearly, HO THEOS possesses qualities that distinguish Him from other so-called "gods," and I have yet to see a compelling argument why HO LOGOS - who is qualitatively called THEOS just two words after HO THEOS - does not Himself possess that same set of qualities. Indeed, that is precisely what I understand John to be writing.
JB: The reason that HO LOGOS does not possess "that same set of qualities" as HO THEOS is because an exactly matching "long list" of qualities means identity between the two terms. Here, as so many times before, RH seems to make an argument for identification OF SOME SORT. I think he means to make an identification in terms of the Trinitarian view of the Godhead, even though he maintains there is no shift of meaning between 1b and 1c, without which Trinitarianism would dissolve into Sabellianism or Modalism(the idea that the Logos/Son is merely a "mode" or manner of presentation of God, rather than a distinct being/person). But that is mere assumption on my part, and RH could in fact be a fully self-conscious modalist. To be fair, his exact theological position is beside the point. I just mean to point out where his argument leads, taken at face value. The only relevant question is: can John 1:1 beread modalistically? The answer is no, because of the careful distinction between HO THEOS on the one hand in 1:1b and the Logos as THEOS (having qualities that puts the Logos on the truly divine rather than the creaturely side of the universal order) in 1:1c.
As always, it has been a pleasure to engage Robert Hommel in this discussion, which has been carried on at a very high level of information and argument. He certainly has a wide command of much relevant literature, including linguistic theory, despite a certain lack of familiarity specifically with the rules that govern Koine Greek. He obviously makes use of Greek grammars, but applies them in a hit-and-miss fashion to the biblical text (as can be seen in corrections I have made to his examples throughout our exchange). I think some of our more drawn-out exchanges have been due to this problem, although certainly not all. He has taken his stand on several positions that I understand and can appreciate, even when I don't agree. I have no AUTHORITY that trumps his, or Harner's or Colwell's or anyone else's. All I have are the facts, examples, and reasoning I apply to the issue at hand, argues within which parameters that I regard as the legitimate ones fro the subject. He is quite correct to point out that I am merely one voice from the field of biblical studies, and that my position deserves no more adherence than any other unless proved and demonstrated by the relevant evidence at hand. Time and the rigorous process of academic review will test my stance, though it is not mine alone. It is built upon and joins with that of many in my field. This is work we do together, sometimes in agreement, sometimes sharply at odds -- but always for the greater good of those who are eager to understand better and know more, even if they are not in a position themselves to pursue it as we do.
With all best wishes,
Associate Professor of Religious Studies, and Chair
Department of Humanities, Arts, and Religion
Northern Arizona University.
John 1:1 files