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Saturday, June 18, 2011

Note (1.) to "DEFinite John 1:1c - DEF"

(We have been told by one born and raised in Greece (a teacher who actually taught the Greek language in Greece itself) that the trinitarian Church in Greece does not even attempt to use John 1:1c as evidence for the trinity doctrine or for proving the Deity of Christ. This scripture is so clear to the Greeks (who know and use the modern form of the language found in the original text of John 1:1c) that this Church simply cannot get away with pretending that John 1:1c really means "The Word was God"! The Greek people would laugh at them! She said that only churches in NON-Greek-speaking countries could get away with such an interpretation of John 1:1c. I haven't seen this elsewhere, so we must take it as anecdotal or hearsay.)

1. More important than the witness of modern-day Greek grammarians, however, is the witness of the most knowledgeable Greek grammarian of all Christian scholars from a time when men knew NT Greek the best. Yes, from before the time of Christ up until about 300 A. D. the Koine Greek used in the earliest New Testament manuscripts was the common language of the Mediterranean world.

koine:... A common Greek speech, gradually developing and replacing local dialects throughout the eastern Mediterranean from the time of Alexander. The Koine is found in literary works ... of the period, the Septuagint and NT writings, papyri, inscriptions, and ostraca. .... The period is roughly from 330 B. C. to 330 A. D. - p. 421, An Encyclopedia of Religion, Vergilius Ferm (ed.), 1945.

Origen (185-254 A. D.) was "probably the most accomplished Biblical scholar produced by the early Church" (Universal Standard Encyclopedia) and "the greatest scholar and most prolific author of the early church. ... not only a profound thinker but also deeply spiritual and a loyal churchman." (The History of Christianity, a Lion Book).

"Origen, the greatest and most influential Christian thinker of his age" - p. 89, A History of the Christian Church, 4th ed., Williston Walker, Scribners, 1985.

"The character of Origen is singularly pure and noble; for his moral qualities are as remarkable as his intellectual gifts." - p. 229, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. IV, Eerdmans.

Origen's Commentary on John is "the first great work of Christian interpretation." Origen was certainly the most knowledgeable about NT (koine) Greek of any scholar. He studied it from early childhood and even taught it professionally from his teens onward - and this was during a time when it was a living language and, of course, well understood! - The Ante-Nicene Fathers, pp. 291-294, vol. X, Eerdmans Publ., 1990 printing.

Origen distinguishes between those who are called "god" and He who is called "God" by the use of the definite article ("the") being used with theos to mean "God" and by the definite article not being used with theos to mean "god" in the NT Greek. He further teaches that God "made first in honour some race of reasonable beings; this I consider to be those who are called gods [angels], and .... [finally he made] the last reasonable race, ... man." - p. 315, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. X., Eerdmans.

In speaking about the Word of John 1:1, Origen tells us in his "Commentary on John" that the Son is the highest of angels! He says: "as he is the Word He is the Messenger [literally the ἄγγελος, the angel ] of Great Counsel" (p. 320) and that "His name is called Angel of Great Counsel" (p. 315); "there are certain creatures, rational and divine, which are called powers [angels]; and of these Christ was the highest and best" (p. 321); and he (like all early Christian writers who refer to this scripture) teaches that Jesus was the personified Wisdom of Prov. 8:22-30[%] who was created by the Father (pp. 303, 306, 307, 317). - The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. X.

[%]- The very trinitarian The Ante-Nicene Fathers tells us: "Prov. viii 22-25. This is one of the favourite Messianic quotations of the [early Church] Fathers, and is considered as the base of the first chapter of St. John's Gospel." - ANF 1:488, f.n. #10, Eerdmans, 1993 printing.

Origen continued in his "Commentary on John" by actually discussing the grammar of John 1:1. He wrote:

"We next notice John's use of the article ['the' or ho in the Greek in this case] in these sentences. He does not write without care in this respect, nor is he unfamiliar with the niceties of the Greek tongue. [Origen, himself, as noted, was an expert in this language and even taught it as a professional. So if anyone would ever have been aware of any special grammatical 'rules' or effects for John 1:1c, it would certainly have been Origen!] In some cases he uses the article ['the' in English or ho in NT Greek] and in some he omits it. He adds the article to the Logos [ho logos or 'the Word'], but to [theos: 'god' or 'God'] he adds it sometimes only. He uses the article [ho] when [theos] refers to the uncreated cause of all things, and omits it when the Logos [Word] is named [theos]. .... the God who is over all is God with the article [ho theos] not without it [theos]­. .... and so the Saviour says in his prayer to the Father, 'That they may know thee the only true God [Jn 17:1, 3];' but that all beyond the Very God [ho theos] is made [theos] by participation in His divinity, and is not to be called simply God (with the article [ho theos]), but rather [theos] (without the article). And thus the first-born of all creation [Jesus, Col. 1:15], who is the first to be with God, and to attract to himself divinity, is a being of more exalted rank than the other gods [angels] beside him, of whom God [ho theos, the Father only] is the God [Rev. 3:2, 12; 2 Cor. 11:31; Eph. 1:3, 17, etc.], as it is written, 'the God of gods...' [Ps. 49:1, Septuagint; Ps. 136:2; Deut. 10:17]­. .... The true God [the Father alone, Jn 17:1, 3], then, is ['the god,' ho theos], and those who are formed after him are gods, images, as it were, of Him the prototype." - The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. X, p. 323, "Origen's Commentary on the Gospel of John", Book 2, part 2, Eerdmans, 1990 printing

Obviously the most knowledgeable scholar of all concerning the New Testament language knew of no "rule" which could make Jn 1:1c say that "the Word was God." In fact, although they did not use capital letters to distinguish proper names or significant nouns as we do today, Origen himself is clearly saying that the proper understanding of Jn 1:1c is "the Word was (definitely not God, but) a god"!!!

As a further explanation of this understanding he refers to this again when discussing "a prophet" and "the Prophet":

"And still more weighty is it that the Savior said to those who considered John to be a prophet, 'But what went ye out to see? A prophet? Yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet.' The words, Yea, I say unto you, manifestly affirm that John is a prophet, and that is nowhere denied afterwards. If, then, he is said by the Savior to be not only a prophet but "more than a prophet," how is it that when the priests and levites come and ask him, 'Art thou the Prophet?' he answers No! On this we must remark that it is not the same thing to say, 'Art thou the Prophet?' and 'Art thou a prophet?' The distinction between the two expressions has already been observed, when we asked what was the difference between [the god and a god], and between [the logos and a logos]." - ANF, vol. 10 (p. 358).


Another approach using very early writings:

An Early Coptic Translation and John 1:1c
Prepared by Solomon Landers
January, 2006

[slightly modified to be readable on this blog]

Sahidic Coptic John Transliteration

1:1a Hn tehoueite nefshoop nci pshaje

1:1b Auw pshaje nefshoop nnahrm pnoute

1:1c auw neunoute pe psaje

In harmony with Jesus' command to them, the early Christians eagerly spread the message of the good news of Jehovah's Kingdom far and wide. They made translations of the koine Greek Gospels into several languages. By about the year 200, the earliest of these were found in Syriac, Coptic, and Latin.{1(Bottom of This Post)} Coptic was the language spoken by Christians in Egypt, in the Sahidic dialect, until replaced by the Fayyumic and the Bohairic dialects in Coptic church liturgy in the 11th century C.E.

Coptic itself was the last stage of the Egyptian language spoken since the time of the Pharaohs. Under the influence of the widespread use of koine Greek, the Coptic language came to be written, not in hieroglyphs or the cursive Egyptian script called Demotic, but in Greek letters supplemented by seven characters derived from hieroglyphs. Coptic is a Hamito-Semitic language, meaning that it shares elements of both Hamitic (north African) languages and Semitic languages like Hebrew, Aramaic, and Arabic.

Much was made of it in the scholarly world when an apocryphal gospel written in Coptic, titled the "Gospel of Thomas," was discovered in Egypt near Nag Hammadi in December 1945. Yet, after an initial welcome, the scholarly world has been strangely silent about an earlier and more significant find, the Sahidic Coptic translation of the canonical Gospel of John, which may date from about the late 2nd century C.E.{2(Bottom of This Post)} This manuscript was introduced to the English-speaking world in 1911 through the work of [Reverend] George William Horner. Today, it is difficult even to find copies of Horner's translation of the Coptic canonical Gospel of John. It has been largely relegated to dusty library shelves, whereas copies of the "Gospel of Thomas" (in English with Coptic text) line the lighted shelves of popular bookstores.

In the book, The Text of the New Testament (Eerdmans, 1987), Kurt and Barbara Aland, editors of critical Greek New Testament texts, state:

"The Coptic New Testament is among the primary resources for the history of the New Testament text. Important as the Latin and Syriac versions may be, it is of far greater importance to know precisely how the text developed in Egypt." (Page 200, emphasis added)

The Sahidic Coptic text of the Gospel of John has been found to be in the Alexandrian text tradition of the well-regarded Codex Vaticanus (B) (Vatican 1209), one of the best of the early extant Greek New Testament manuscripts. Coptic John also shows affinities to the Greek Papyrus Bodmer XIV (p75) of the late 2nd/3rd century.{3(Bottom of This Post)} Concerning the Alexandrian text tradition, Dr. Bruce Metzger states that it "is usually considered to be the best text and the most faithful in preserving the original."{4(Bottom of This Post)}

Therefore, it is all the more strange that insights of the Sahidic Coptic text of John 1:1 are largely ignored by popular Bible translators. Might that be because the Sahidic Coptic Gospel of John translates John 1:1c in a way that is unpopular in Christendom? The Sahidic text renders John 1:1c as auw neunoute pe pshaje, clearly meaning literally "and was a god the Word." [See the \ , \\  footnotes under the numeric footnotes below)] Unlike koine Greek, Sahidic Coptic has both the definite article, p, and the indefinite article, u. The Coptic text of John 1:1b identifies the first mention of noute as pnoute, "the god," i.e., God. This corresponds to the koine Greek text, wherein theos, "god," has the definite article ho- at John 1:1b, i.e., "the Word was with [the] God."

The koine Greek text indicates the indefiniteness of the word theos in its second mention (John 1:1c), "god," by omitting the definite article before it, because koine Greek had no indefinite article. But Coptic does have an indefinite article, and the text employs the indefinite article at John 1:1c. This makes it clear that in reading the original Greek text, the ancient Coptic translators understood it to say specifically that "the Word was a god."

The early Coptic Christians had a good understanding of both Greek and their own language, and their translation of John's koine Greek here is very precise and accurate. Because they actually employed the indefinite article before the word "god," noute, the Sahidic Coptic translation of John 1:1c is more precise than the translation found in the Latin Vulgate, since Latin has neither a definite nor an indefinite article. Ancient Coptic translations made after the Sahidic, in the Bohairic dialect, also employ the indefinite article before the Coptic word for "god."

The Coptic word neunoute (ne-u-noute) is made up of three parts: ne, a verbal prefix denoting imperfect (past) tense, i.e., "was [being],"; u, the Coptic indefinite article, denoting "a,"; and noute, the Coptic word for "god." Grammarians state that the word noute, "god," takes the definite article when it refers to the One God, whereas without the definite article it refers to other gods. But in Coptic John 1:1c the word noute is not simply anarthrous, lacking any article at all. Here the indefinite article is specifically employed. Thus, whereas some scholars impute ambiguity to the Greek of John 1:1c, this early Coptic translation can be rendered accurately as "the Word was a god." This is the careful way those 2nd century Coptic translators understood it. The Coptic expression for "was a god," ne-u-noute pe, is the same Coptic construction as found at John 18:40, where it says of Barabbas that he ne-u-soone pe, "was a robber," accurately rendering the Greek original, en de ho barabbas lestes, wherein the word for "robber" lestes, is anarthrous: "a robber." No English version renders this, "Barabbas was Robber." Likewise, John 1:1c should not be rendered to say, "the Word was God," whether the text is Greek or Coptic, but "the Word was a god." In Horner's 1911 English translation from the Coptic, he gives this translation: "In the beginning was being the word, and the word was being with God, and a God was the word."

It may be noted that the earliest Coptic translation was likely made before Trinitarianism gained a foothold in the churches of the 4th century. That may be one reason why the Coptic translators saw no need to violate the sense of John's Greek by translating it "the Word was God." In a way, then, the ancient Sahidic Coptic translation of John 1:1c was the New World Translation of that day, faithfully and accurately rendering the Greek text.

That very point may give some indication as to why the Sahidic Coptic translation of John 1:1c is largely kept under wraps in academic religious circles today. Most new English translations continue to translate this verse to say "the Word was God." But the Coptic text provides clear evidence "from very ancient times" that the New World Translation is correct in rendering John 1:1c as "the Word was a god."

Footnotes for above

1. Aland, p. 68

2. George William Horner, The Coptic version of the New Testament in the southern dialect, otherwise called Sahidic and Thebaic, 1911, pp. 398, 399

3. Aland, p. 91

4. Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 2nd edition, United Bible Societies, 1994, page 5

Other References:

Egyptian Grammar, 3rd edition, by Sir Alan Gardiner (Griffith Institute, 1957)

The Gospel of Thomas: The Hidden Sayings of Jesus, (with Coptic text) by Marvin Meyer (Harper Collins, 1992)


\ The translation of the Sahidic Coptic version of John 1:1c into English can be diagrammed as:

auw neunoute pe psaje

auw ne-u-noute pe pshaje

auw = "and"

ne = verbal prefix denoting past tense, i.e., "was (being)"

u = Coptic indefinite article, "a"

noute = "god"

pe = Coptic particle meaning "is" or "this one is"

p = Coptic definite article, "the"

shaje = "word"

Literally the Coptic says, "and - was being- a god - is- the -Word." Or more smoothly in literal English, "and the Word was a god."

\\ The text of the Coptic Bohairic version also has the indefinite article before the word for "god," at John 1:1c, i.e., "a god":

Sahidic: neunoute

Bohairic: ne ounout

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