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.