Thursday, October 26, 2006

Hoskyns and Coptic John 1:1

A blogger calling himself "Memra" has posted a number of blogs defending the NWT's "a god" translation by way of the Coptic Sahidic Translation. I have responded to most of his arguments here.

However, I have just returned from the local Seminary library where I looked up the following scholarly citation in one of Memra's blogs:

"In The Fourth Gospel, the late Edwyn Clement Hoskyns, Bart., D.D. (St. Andrews), Fellow of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, writes concerning John 1:1: 'It is impossible to reproduce in English this contrast [between hO QEOS and QEOS]. The Coptic version alone has been able to reproduce the meaning of the original Greek.'"

The first thing I noted was that the "contrast" Hoskyns is speaking of is between "the God" and the anarthrous "God." He uses English terms, not Greek, and capitalizes "God" both times. Further, he says it is "impossible" in English to reproduce this contrast, and the Coptic version alone has been able to do so. This fact should be the first clue that Hoskyns may not be saying what Memra hopes he is, for surely Hoskyns is aware that if the Greek THEOS actually meant "a god" in John 1:1c, it would be simple to convey this sense in English!

Memra goes on:

"Why would Hoskyns state that "the Coptic version (of John 1:1) alone has been able to reproduce the meaning of the original Greek"? No doubt because he appreciated the precision of this ancient version that possessed both definite and indefinite articles in its grammatical structure, unlike the contemporaneous versions in Latin and Syriac. The Coptic version was and is able to clearly distinguish the nuance of meaning between the Word as a divine being and the divine Being the Word was with."

What Memra isn't telling us is that previously on this page (p. 141), Hoskyns clearly says of the Word, "He who was God became flesh." Thus, whatever appreciation Hoskyns has for the "precision of this ancient version," it clearly cannot be a distinction between the Word as "a divine being" and "the divine Being" he was with.

I will repeat Memra's question: Why would Hoskyns say that the Coptic version alone represents the actual meaning of the Greek? Clearly, Hoskyns cannot be referring to an indefinite usage in the Coptic; he must, therefore, be referring to qualitative usage. It will be remembered that Hoskyns was writing in 1947. While a number of Greek scholars at that time and before understood THEOS in John 1:1c to mean that the Word had the same nature as God, it would remain until Harner's landmark study on qualitative nouns to fully describe its semantic nuance.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

John 1:18 in the Sahidic Coptic Translation

"God the only Son"

This is how George Horner translates 'pnoute pShre nouwt' in the Sahidic Coptic translation of John 1:18. A literal translation would be: "the God the Son only." The nouns "God" and "Son" are in apposition, both preceded by the definite article.

I have written about this translation and its relationship to John 1:1c here. Basically, I argue that if we have an ambiguous situation in John 1:1c, where it is possible to render 'noute' as either an indefinite or qualitative noun, John 1:18 lends strong support for the latter, in that the Coptic translators would hardly have called the Word "a god" in 1:1c and "the God" just 18 verses later. It is far more likely that they understood 'noute' in 1:1c to signify that the Word had the quality of God.

Jehovah's Witness apologist Solomon Landers has posted several responses to my argument on the Internet. I will briefly interact with them here.

First, Solomon suggests there are text-critical reasons why the Coptic translators included the definite article. On B-Greek, Solomon said that the translators likely were working from a Greek MS like P75 which reads HO MONOGENHS QEOS hO WN KTL. On Rob Bowman's Evangelicals and JWs board, Solomon argued that the translators had two MSS in front of them, one reading hO MONOGENHS hUIOS and the other reading MONOGENHS QEOS and simply conflated the two into a combined reading.

I would first note that J. Warren Wells, in his hypothetical Greek text on the Sahidica website, believes the correct source to be MONOGENHS QEOS. Coptic scholar P.J. Williams agreed with this conclusion in private email to me. Second, the Greek word MONOGENHS contains the idea of "son" or "child" within its meaning (i.e., "only child" or "one and only Son" - cf., Paul R. McReynolds, "John 1:18 in Textual Variation and Translation," in New Testament Textual Criticism: Its Significance for Exegesis: Essays in Honor of Bruce M. Metzger, Epp and Fee, eds, 1981, Oxford: Clarendon Press; Gerard Pendrick, "MONOGENHS," NTS, 41). Third, a number of Greek scholars have argued that MONOGENHS QEOS should be understood as two nouns in apposition: "The only one/son, God" (e.g., Burton, du Plessis, de Kruijf, Finegan, Theobald, Fennema, Beasley-Murray, Carson, McReynolds, BAGD, Westcott, R.E. Brown, William Loader, Feuillet, Lagrange, Cullmann, Lindars, E.A. Abbott, Barnard, Rahner, J.A.T. Robinson, W.F. Howard, and the translators of the NIV and ESV). It is true that George Horner suggested that the Sahidic reflects a conflated text, but he did not have the benefit of more recent linguistic studies that demonstrate that there is no need to do so, if MONOGENHS contains "only son" within its semantic range (c.f. John 1:14 NWT). It is significant that in all three NT examples of MONOGENHS used absolutely (Luke 9:38, John 1:14, and Hebrew 11:17), and where this is virtually no possibility of a conflated text, the Sahidic translators included a form of 'Shere,' ("son" or "child").

But even if we grant Solomon his textual speculations (either version), this really amounts to a red herring when it comes to translation and exegesis. The Coptic translators - regardless of the MSS they were working from - called the Son "pnoute" ("the God") in John 1:18, and they would hardly have done so, had they understood Him to be "a god" in the sense Solomon and other JWs want.

Next, Solomon notes that 'noute' with the definite article need not refer to the true God, citing Acts 7:43. He states categorically: "the grammatical rule is simply that if it ['noute'] does refer to GOD, it must have the definite article." But, he says, if it does have the definite article, it need not refer to the true God. This is special pleading. Acts 7:43 places 'pnoute' in apposition to a personal name - it literally names a god other than the true God; it would be begging the question to say the same is true in John 1:18. Indeed, the overwhelming use of 'noute' with the definite article in the Sahidic NT refers to the true God (well over 900 examples). There are also several cases where 'noute' without the definite article also refers to the true God (Romans 1:21, 30, 15:9; Revelation 16:7).

In an article found here, Solomon quotes me as asking "Is it reasonable that the Coptic translators understood the Word to be a god at John 1:1 and then refer to him as the God, or God, at John 1:18?"

He responds:

"That is a logical question, but the logic is backwards. Since John 1:1 is the introduction of the Gospel, the more logical question is 'Is it reasonable that the Coptic translators understood the Word to be God at John 1:18 after referring to him as 'a god' at John 1:1c?' No."

Solomon begs the question. Coptic scholars tell us the use of the indefinite article with 'noute' in John 1:1c is either indefinite or qualitative. There are two possibilities - either one or the other - and the translator must decide on the basis of context which one best represents the original intention of the Coptic scribes. Thus, it is not logically defensible to assume that it is indefinite and then argue on that basis that it must govern the translation of John 1:18. My position, of course, is that John 1:18 is part of the immediate context, is not ambiguous, and thus lends strong support to 'noute' in John 1:1c being qualitative.

Solomon continues:

"Although the Coptic translators use the definite article at John 1:18 in identifying the Word, this use is demonstrative and anaphoric, referring back to the individual , 'the one who' is previously identified as 'a god' in the introduction. Thus, John 1:18 identifies the Word specifically not as 'God,' but as 'the god' previously mentioned who was 'with' ... God. This god, who has an intimate association with his Father, is contrasted with his Father, the God no one has ever seen."

Of course "the God" in 1:18 refers back to the Word in John 1:1, but it is - again - begging the question to assume that the Word was "a god."

Solomon cites "a modern translation" as follows:

"'No one has ever seen God at all. The god who is the only Son in the bosom of his Father is the one who has explained him,'as found at"

He neglects to tell his readers that this "modern translation" is his own.

[NOTE: I see that Landers has now refined his translation somewhat, perhaps in response to this blog. When I originally posted this, his translation on the CopticJohn blog read exactly as I have stated, above.]

More importantly, Solomon misuses a gloss used to help identify nouns in apposition ("who is"). Apposition in Coptic is identical to apposition in Greek and English (cf., Layton, Coptic Grammar, Section 149). Wallace's Greek Grammar defines "apposition" as follows:

"Simple apposition...the appositive does not name a specific example that falls within the category named by the noun to which it is related. Rather, it simply gives a different designation that either clarifies who is the one named or shows a different relation to the rest of the clause than the first noun by itself could display. Both words thus have the same referent, though they describe it in different terms" (GGBB, p. 96).

Let's look at Solomon's translation: "the god who is the only Son." The gloss "who is" does not occur in the original Coptic. But it can be added for clarity between to nouns is apposition (c.f., GGBB, p. 95, where he suggests the gloss to help clarify the genitive of apposition). For example, "The man, the plumber, is talking to me." 'Man' and 'plumber' are nouns in apposition. They both refer to the same person. We could rephrase as follows: "The man, who is the plumber, is talking to me." Both nouns, standing on their own, refer to the same man.

You will notice the presence of the comma before "who is." The comma indictes that the "who" clause is a non-restrictive relative clause. A non-restrictive relative clause functions identically to nouns in simple apposition. It provides additional information about the head noun. The head noun and the subject of the relative clause independently refer to the same person.

But in English usage, there is a significant change in meaning if the comma is removed: "The man who is the plumber is talking to me." In this case, the relative clause ("who is...") becomes restrictive. A restrictive clause helps identify the head noun. We are no longer merely adding information about the same referent; we are restricting the referent to "the plumber." Indeed, we can only fully indentify the referent by including the restrictive clause. This situation, obviously, does not yield the same meaning as a non-restrictive clause.

See here for more information on restrictive and non-restrictive relative clauses.

The important point is that the gloss "who is" for nouns in apposition can only be non-restrictive - that is, can only be used with a comma - to properly reflect the sense of nouns in apposition. Using the gloss without the comma - as a restrictive clause - is not conveying the same meaning as two nouns in apposition.

Solomon's translation lacks a comma. He is using the gloss as a restrictive clause, which does not accurately reflect the meaning of the appositional construction 'pnoute pShre nouwt.' What his translation does reflect is Solomon's theological convictions that "the God" and "the only Son" cannot refer to the same referent, even though that's what the grammar of John 1:18 in Sahidic Coptic implies.

A similar appositional construction occurs 11 times in the Sahidic NT: "pnoute peiwt" ("God the Father"), and while we may paraphrase this as "the God, who is the Father," we cannot do so with: "the god who is the Father."

I have asked several Coptic scholars if they would translate 'pnoute pShre nouwt' any differently than Horner, and none have said that they would. If we use the "who is" gloss properly, and if we translate 'pnoute' as it is in 900+ examples in the Coptic NT, we get the correct sense: "God, who is the only Son..."

A final point: The Sahidic translation (not just in John 1:18, but also 1:14 and Hebrews 11:17) supports most Greek scholars who understand the Greek MONOGENHS to mean "only" or "only Son," as opposed to "only-begotten," the rendering in the NWT, and thus dogmatically supported by JW apologists. It has been suggested by some JW apologists that Sahidic lacked a term for "only-begotten," but if this were the case, the Sahidic translators could simply have translitered MONOGENHS, as they did with many other Greek terms for which there was no Coptic equivalent (e.g., SARX). This is precisely what the Bohairic translators did a hundred or so years later, after which time MONOGENHS had become 'fixed' as a theological term. Also, Sahidic contains words meaning both "only" (see Crum for "mise," and "ouwt") and "begotten" (see Crum for "mate," "meeue," and "Jpo"), so it seems there were several ways for the translators to have expressed the idea of "only-begotten," had they understood MONOGENHS to have such a meaning.

In conclusion, then, the translation of Coptic John 1:18 in English is most probably "God, the only Son." And this translation suggests that the Sahidic translators understood the Son to be fully divine, and this was the sense they were conveying in their translation of John 1:1c. I suspect this conclusion will be further supported as investigation into other Christologically significant verses in Sahidic translations of John's writings continues.

Friday, October 20, 2006

John 8:58 in the Peshitta - "I was" or "I am?"

"Before Abraham existed, I was!"

Thus read both the Lamsa and Murdock English translations of John 8:58 from the Syriac New Testament (the Peshitta). Paul Younan also translated it this way, but when asked if it could also be translated "I am," he replied:

Yes, John 8:47 [8:58] can also mean "I AM". It's just a different way of saying it than what is used in 8:13 [8:24]. The second word, Yty0 comes from the Aramaic root ty0, which means "is, are."

Here is the Comprehensive Aramaic Lexicon entry:

)yt V1 passim there is, are

2 Syr + some . . . others
LS2 16
LS2 v: )iyt

So you see, the Aramaic root "ith" encapsulates the same linguistic sense that a copula does... the only difference is that it's actually spelled out in another word rather than implied as a shortened form of the Independent Pronoun.

George Kiraz's Analytical Lexicon of the Syriac New Testament also defines )yt as "is, are." Syriac scholar P.J. Williams in private email told me that he would translate the last clause in John 8:58 in the Peshita as "I am." This is also how J.W. Etheridge translated it (The Peschito Syriac New Testament: Translated into English, 1846).

While some anti-Trinitarian apologists on the Internet have offered Murdock and Lamsa as translations denying that ego eimi should be translated as "I am" in John 8:58, it appears that the underlying Aramaic may actually support the traditional translation after all.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Did John Calvin Really Teach that Jesus was the Archangel Michael?

An internet article called "Jesus is NOT God" argues that Jesus Christ is equated to the Archangel Michael in various places in Scripture. I was surprised to learn that apparently the Reformer John Calvin was among those who believed this. And here I thought Calvin was a staunch Trinitarian!

Here's the quote from Calvin from the article:

"I embrace the opinion of those who refer this (Michael) to the person of Christ, because it suits the subject best to represent him as standing forward for the defense of his elect people." - John Calvin, COMMENTARIES ON THE BOOK OF THE PROPHET DANIEL,trans. T. Myers (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1979), vol. 2 p. 369.

Calvin's comment regarding "Michael" and Christ come only in reference to Daniel 12:1. It is significant that in this passage (and previously in chapter 10), Michael is not explicitly called an "angel," but rather the "mighty prince." If we consider Calvin's comments in context, it is clear that he is NOT saying the ANGEL Michael is Christ:

"Michael may mean an angel; but I embrace the opinion of those who refer this to the person of Christ because it suits the subject best to represent him as standing forward for the defense of his elect people....The angel...calls Michael the mighty prince. As if he had said, Michael should be the guardian and protector of the elect people" (Calvin, Commentary on Daniel 12:1, Lecture 65).

Most non-Trinitarians who quote this passage leave out the first 5 or 6 words, and thus make it appear that Calvin believes that the Angel Michael is Christ. However, the first clause, and the telltale "but" signal that this is not the case. Calvin believes that Michael, in the book of Daniel, is not necessarily the archangel (though he admits this possibility), and if not, Michael prefigures Christ in His role as Head of the church. Calvin implies a strict dichotomy: If Michael is an Angel, he's not Christ; if not an angel, Christ makes the most sense, given the context.

Elsewhere in his commentary on Daniel, Calvin says that the identification of Michael is open to question. In another work, he warns against too much speculation about angels in general, and specifically of trying to "ascertain gradations of honor" among them (Institutes, I, xiv, 8). He admits that some angels, including Michael, may seem to be placed in positions over their peers, but Calvin enjoins us to refrain from drawing any conclusions from this. His commentary on Jude 9 identifies "Michael the Archangel" as one of many angels ready to do service to God, not as the pre-Incarnate Son. His commentary on Hebrews makes it clear that Calvin views Scripture teaching that Christ is "above the angels" (Commentary on Hebrews 1:6).

So, the most one might say is that Calvin identifies Michael "the mighty prince" in Daniel 12:1 as Christ. Of course, if you convinced Calvin that this Michael was actually the archangel, he would abandon his identification of Daniel's Michael with Christ.

It is sloppy scholarship (at the very least) to imply that the Biblical evidence elicited Calvin's support of an archangel christology.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Free! Sahidic Coptic New Testament Resources

The Sahidica Project for e-Sword!

I have created three e-Sword addon modules, based on the work of J. Warren Wells' Sahidica Project. E-Sword is the popular freeware Bible software program (available for download here) written by Rick Myers.

The modules are:

1. Nova Sahidica - The complete Sahidic Coptic New Testament
2. The Sahidica Sahidic-English Lexicon
3. Nova Sahidica - Transliterated Version

You can download these free modules (and others in my Original Languages Library) here.

Thanks to J. Warren Wells for producing and making freely available his Sahidica texts, and for his approval of these modules.

By the way, Logos Bible Software has just announced the upcoming release of the Sahidic Coptic Collection, consisting of 3 volumes, also based on the Sahidica Project. This collection will consist of: Nova Sahidica, The Sahidica Sahidic-English Lexicon, and the reconstructed Greek Text from which the Sahidic translators worked. The list price for this collection is $129. But you can get two of these three resources today - plus the transliterated version - for free!

John 1:1 in the Sahidic Coptic Translation

Several Jehovah's Witness apologists have claimed that the Sahidic Coptic translation of John 1:1 fully supports the rendering of the New World Translation (NWT): "and the Word was a god."

I have written on this topic here.

Recently, Witness apologist Solomon Landers and an anonymous blogger calling himself "Memra" have created several blogs and websites touting the Sahidic Coptic translation. One would think that two apologists (assuming Memra is not Solomon) would only need to bring up two sites, but perhaps they are trying to create the impression of 'buzz' on the Internet.

In any event, both apologists have attempted to respond to my comments. I have no doubt that others may soon jump on board, as Witnesses see the Sahidic translation - a translation dating back to at least the 3rd Century - as vindication of the NWT in a big way.

Solomon and I exchanged several posts on Robert Bowman's Evangelicals and JWs discussion board, the transcripts of which appear in the Mars Hill section of my website. But, in an attempt to shore up their side of the argument, Memra has gone beyond what Solomon posted to me on Rob's board. While I don't think his additional points warrant a response on my website, I will post some quick thoughts here.

Memra writes:

"Recently, certain Trinitarian apologists have quoted Yale University's Dr. Bentley Layton in an attempt to deny that a correct translation of Coptic John 1:1c is 'the Word was a god.'

But they show that they are not really listening to what he said."

He goes on to argue that Layton's comments actually support "a god" as the proper translation.

First, let's review what Layton says and see who is not listening. Here's what Layton's Coptic Grammar says:

"Indefinite Article
one specimen of the lexical class of ... ;
one specimen having the quality of the lexical class of ... "

Memra says that 'noute' in Sahidic means "an entity not a quality." This is simply begging the question. Layton says the indefinite article: "predicates either a quality (we'd omit the English article in English: 'is divine') or an entity ('is a god'); the reader decides which reading to give it." Now, if one determines that 'noute' in John 1:1c refers to an entity, then the indefinite article will be translated with the English indefinite article: "a God." (The original Sahidic, like Greek, was written in all capital letters, so it is an unwarranted imposition on the text to render "God" with a lower-case "g"). But notice that, according to Layton, the indefinite article can also predicate the quality of 'noute' - as he says in his grammar, "one specimen having the quality of the lexical class."

Layton's additional comments in personal email regarding "divine" were specifically referring to 'noute' in John 1:1c. He says that the indefinite article can predicate either an entity or a quality. Memra is assuming that 'noute' in John 1:1c refers to an entity, and so - of course - Layton would agree (as he apparently did in email to Memra or Solomon) that "a god" is the proper translation. However, he says that 'noute' with the indefinite article in this verse can also predicate quality, and nothing Memra has written disproves this point. Memra, apparently, does not understand the concept of predication when he makes the statement "noute is an entity not a quality," or - at the very least - he is not "really listening" to what Layton is saying.

Memra goes on to summarize an email he received from Coptic scholar Ariel Shisha-Halevy, but this scholar also says that the indefinite article may be used qualitatively ("godlike/divine"). This point has also been made to Solomon Landers in personal email from J. Warren Wells of the Sahidica Project: ""The idea in this context to me is that the Word was like God. The literal text simply doesn't say the degree to which he was like God; be it partly or absolutely" (quoted on Rob's discussion board).

Shisha-Halevy and Wells both have pointed out (the former in the email summarized by Memra, the latter in email to me) that it is impossible to avoid bringing theology into this discussion. The grammar, alone, cannot prove that the Word was "a god," "a God," or "had the quality of God" in the minds of the Coptic translators. Indeed, a thorough study of the Sahidic Translation, based on the published MSS, is needed to even begin such a task.