Colwell's rule and the "a god" rendering

Redears of this site might already be aware from what has been discussed regarding John 1:1c that this 'rule' is not valid here in John 1:1. However, something should be said on it.

In 1933 E.C.Colwell published an article in the Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol.52, p.20: "A Definite Rule for the Use of the Article in the Greek New Testament." It came to known as 'Colwell's Rule.'

Since the 1st edition of The New World Translation appeared in 1950 many scholars and writers have appealed to this 'rule' in their attempt to invalidate the rendering as found there at John 1:1c.For instance:

Walter Martin wrote:

"Colwell's rule clearly states that a definite predicate nominative never takes the article when it precedes the verb as in John 1:1."-Kingdom of the Cults, 1975, p75.

Bruce M. Metzger wrote:

"As a matter of solid fact, however, such a rendering[re"and the Word was a god" in the NWT]is a frightful mistranslation. It overlooks entirely an established rule of Greek grammar which necessitates the rendering "...and the Word was God."-italics mine. (Metzger is referring to Colwell's rule as can be seen in his following comments and footnote.)

Walter Martin's statement is a complete distortion of Colwell!

Before stating that rule here, let it be understood that the NWT Translation Committee did not "overlook" this 'rule'. They believed that it simply did not apply here in John 1:1c. We will see who was right.The latter well known scholar or the NWT Translation Committee!! Basically, Who has been proven correct?

Colwell's Rule is:

"A definite predicate nominative has the article when it follows the verb; it does not have the article when it precedes the verb...A predicate nominative which precedes the verb cannot be translated as an indefinite or a 'qualitative' noun solely because of the absence of the article; if the context suggests that the predicate is definite, it should be translated as a definite noun despite the absence of the article."

Colwell wrote also:

"The following rules may be tentatively formulated....definite predicate nouns which precede the verb usually lack the article.."-Journal of Biblical Literature,Vol.52,1933,p.20.

The Watchtower says about this:

"Perhaps you noticed this scholar's wording that an anarthrous predicate noun that precedes the verb should be understood as definite "if the context suggests" that. Further along in his arguement Colwell stressed that the predicate is indefinite in this position "only when the context demands it." Nowhere did he state that all anarthrous predicate nouns that precede the verb in Greek are definite nouns. Not any inviolable rule of grammar, but context must guide the translator in such cases."-1975, p.703

In agreement with this is what Murray J.Harris, already quoted, said:

"According, from the point of view of grammar alone,[theos en ho logos]could be rendered "the Word was a god." This leads me to affirm that one may not infer(as is often done)from [Colwell's]rule 2b[in Colwell, JBL, 1933, Vol.53, pp.17-21]that anarthrous predicte nouns which precede the verb are usually definite. Indeed, such nouns will usually be qualitative in emphasis."

And, also:

"So that while the canon[Colwell's rule]may reflect a general tendency it is not absolute by any means; after all, it takes no account of relative clauses of proper nouns like that in[ho theos agape estin,"the God love is." -1 John 4:8]. Moreover, he[Colwell]is the first to admit the lack of objectivity in his method of counting: he professes to include only definite nouns among his anarthrous predicates and the degree of definiteness is extremely difficult to assess".-A Grammar of New Testament Greek, James Hope Moulton, Nigel Turner, Vol.III, Syntax, 1963, p.1.

So, definitness is not proven by this rule, it is assumed. However, the converse of Colwell's rule(2b)should not be assumed, as has been. The converse would not be that because a predicate noun precedes a copulative verb it is therefore definite.Those who wrote such strong language as cited above often used Colwell here as if it says that an anarthrous predicate nominate which precedes the verb is usually definite. This, the rule, did not say, nor may this be inferred from the rule. Harris has also said, "An anarthrous noun in the subject or predicate...may be either indefinite or definite, but the presumption ought to be that it is either (1)indefinite..., until it has been shown to be definite from the context...,(2)qualitative, whatever be it's state of definiteness."-"The Definite Article in the Greek New Testament." Appendix I, p.302 of "Jesus as God: The New Testament Use of Theos in Reference to Jesus," Grand Rapids: Baker, 1992.

So, when you come across such strong language, as you found near the head of this page, from 'reputable' scholars in their severe criticism of the NWT's :"and the Word was a god," you would do well to take such with no more than a 'pinch of salt'!-please see Dr Jason BeDuhn's remarks on such "strong language" by clicking here. Jason BeDuhn is in agreement with Stafford here:

"Stafford is quite right in saying that Colwell's rule is invalid. It simply does not withstand scrutiny, and has been abandoned by those who know their Greek. Harner's study correctly established what the Greeks are up to in constructions like that of John 1:1, namely,that they have a qualititaive sense. Harner* has trouble spelling out exactly how this should be conveyed in an English translation of John 1:1, perhaps because of his own religous commitments."

John 1:1

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