Saturday, October 07, 2006

John 1:1 and the deity of Jesus, or Arianism on the rise

<idle musing>
It seems that Arianism (the belief that Jesus in not fully God) has been on the rise of late. In the last year, I have seen more discussions on e-mail lists questioning the deity of Christ than in any other time. Perhaps it is just coincidence, perhaps it is just the same people on different lists. Perhaps it is the rise in gnosticism, as witnessed by the huge publicity stunt around the Gospel of Judas. But, people are definitely becoming more vocal in their questioning of who Jesus is/was.

The most common line of attack for those who know some Greek is to use John 1:1c: KAI QEOS HN O LOGOS (I am using the standard Greek transliteration for e-mail here, Q equals theta, H equals eta). For those of you who don’t know any Greek, the line of reasoning is that since the word for God doesn’t have a “the” (article) in front of it, it should be translated “a god.” In English the usual translation is “and the word was God.”

There is a sound grammatical reason for no article in front of QEOS; in Greek, when the copula (to be) is used, the subject has the article, and the predicate has no article. How else will you know what the subject is? Greek is not a word order language like English, it depends on the form of the word to determine what is what. This construction is elementary Greek; for those of you who have access to Smyth’s Greek Grammar—the standard reference grammar in English—take a
look at paragraph 1150

A predicate noun has no article, and is thus distinguished from the subject.

Perhaps you would prefer a different grammar, maybe a New Testament one? Try Brooks & Winberry, Syntax of New Testament Greek, page 140-141:

Note: When the article is used with one of two nominatives connected by a copulative verb, the noun with the article is the subject nominative. If one of the two nouns is a proper name, it is the subject. If a pronoun is joined with a noun, the pronoun is the subject (italics theirs)

Or, maybe you prefer Dana & Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament (basically an abridgement of Robertson’s A Grammar of the Greek New Testament), try reading pages 137-140, it’s too long for me to write out here. Robertson himself has a discussion of John 1:1 on pages 767-769. They all explain why the Greek QEOS is anarthrous, but is still definite and translated “God.”

Perhaps another Classical Greek Grammar would convince you? Try Goodwin & Gulick, Greek Grammar, paragraph 954: “A predicate noun seldom has the article.”

Pretty straightforward explanations, aren’t they? How else could John have written it in good Greek?

Still not convinced? OK, let’s look at a couple of other anarthrous (without the article) uses of QEOS in John 1:1-18:

John 1:12 in English reads “He gave them authority to become children of God.” The Greek for children of God reads TEKNA QEOU. Now, I have never heard anyone argue that this should be translated “children of a god.”

John 1:13 in English reads “They were born by the will of God.” The Greek reads EK QEOU EGENNHQHSAN. Using the lack of article as a guide, we should translate it “they were born [by the will of] a god.”

How about John 1:18: “No one has seen God at any time, but the only begotten God...” Greek: QEON OUDEIS hEWRAKEN PWPOTE MONOGENHS QEOS. So, should we translate that as “No one has seen a god at anytime, an only begotten god...” Clearly, that is a nonsense statement, yet both cases of QEOS are anarthrous.

Or how about this, an anarthrous occurrence of PATHR (father) in verse 14: MONOGENOUS PARA PATROS. Who would translate this as “the only begotten from a father?” That is patent nonsense! Or, should we start a new version of Christianity that says there are multiple God the fathers? Oh, too late, that’s Mormonism.

This has gotten long enough for now, but clearly the grammatical construction of John 1:1 is a non-starter for arguing Arianism. Perhaps that is why the Early Church Fathers—both pro-Nicene and pro-Arius—never used the grammatical argument? It was always a philosophical/theological argument. The grammar of John 1 has only been an argument in the last 2-3 centuries, and usually by those with just enough Greek to get into trouble...
</idle musing>


Sophia Sadek said...

Thanks for the posting.

We prefer to use the Greek word "logos" without translation since it loses something in translation. For example, we use the word "psychology" on loan from Greek rather than using some English language equivalent.

Unfortunately, much of the meaning of logos has been lost by first translating it into the Latin word "verbum." According to authors who are contemporary with John, the Greek word has a dual meaning of "reason and oratory." The proper Latin translation would have been "ratio et oratio."

Another misconception has been introduced in the translation of "monogenes." We take this word to refer to the concept of monogenesis. In that case, it is not the child that is singular, but that which gives birth to the child.

As for the debate between the Arians and the Athanasians, we point out that Athanasius deliberately misrepresented Proverbs 8:22 in justifying his position. That doesn't make the Arians innocent. In fact, both sides of the debate had their faults. Afterall, nobody is perfect.

It's fascinating that the Gospel of John is a favorite with both fundamentalists and gnostics. That speaks well in its favor.

Anonymous said...

Your posted article regarding John 1:1 is replete with fallacious information that circumvents the truth regarding Jesus Christ. Furthermore, where did you get the idea that Jehovah's Witnesses are either Arians or Athanasians? While it is true that Greek grammar and the context strongly indicate that the New World Translation rendering is correct and that “the Word” should not be identified as the “God” referred to earlier in the verse. Furthermore,as you yourself corroborated,an important point that cannot be denied, the Greek language of the first century did not have an indefinite article (“a” or “an”) leaves the matter open to question in some minds. It is for this reason that a Bible translation in a language that was spoken in the earliest centuries of our Common Era is very interesting.
The language is the Sahidic dialect of Coptic. The Coptic language was spoken in Egypt in the centuries immediately following Jesus’earthly ministry, and the Sahidic dialect was an early literary form of the language. Regarding the earliest Coptic translations of the Bible, The Anchor Bible Dictionary says: “Since the [Septuagint] and the [Christian Greek Scriptures] were being translated into Coptic during the 3d century C.E., the Coptic version is based on [Greek manuscripts] which are significantly older than the vast majority of extant witnesses.”
The Sahidic Coptic text is especially interesting for two reasons. First, as indicated above, it reflects an understanding of Scripture dating from before the fourth century, which was when the Trinity became official doctrine. Second, Coptic grammar is relatively close to English grammar in one important aspect. The earliest translations of the Christian Greek Scriptures were into Syriac, Latin, and Coptic. Syriac and Latin, like the Greek of those days, do not have an indefinite article. Coptic, however, does. Moreover, scholar Thomas O. Lambdin, in his work Introduction to Sahidic Coptic, says: “The use of the Coptic articles, both definite and indefinite, corresponds closely to the use of the articles in English.”
Hence, the Coptic translation supplies interesting evidence as to how John 1:1 would have been understood back then. What do we find? The Sahidic Coptic translation uses an indefinite article with the word “god” in the final part of John 1:1. Thus, when rendered into modern English, the translation reads: “And the Word was a god.” Evidently, those ancient translators realized that John’s words recorded at John 1:1 did not mean that Jesus was to be identified as Almighty God. The Word was a god, not Almighty God. Inconclusion, it would behoove you to do a better job when researching matter pertaining to Jesus Christ, the son of God. Thank you.

jps said...

Bit late to the party, aren't you? This has been up for nine years now... But just so you know, all of your arguments have been addressed many times over throughout the history of the church.

As for the Coptic, do you know Coptic? It isn't as simple as you make it sound. And just because the use of the article corresponds to the use of the article in English tells us nothing about how it worked when translating the Greek. I could go on, but why?

You won't return here anyway...


Anonymous said...

In conclusion, should anyone desire to address the topic pertaining to: anarthrous the·os--as it relates to Jesus and John 1:1, I would like to hear his/her rebuttal. Lastly, I will close with these last thoughts: “and a god was the Word”
1935 "and the Word was divine"
The Bible—An American
Translation, by J. M. P.
Smith and E. J. Goodspeed,

1864 "and a god was the Word" The Emphatic Diaglott (J21,
interlinear reading), by
Benjamin Wilson, New York and

1808 "and the word was a god"
The New Testament, in An
Improved Version, Upon the
Basis of Archbishop Newcome’s
New Translation: With a
Corrected Text, London.
1975 "and a god
(or, of a divine Das Evangelium nach
kind) was the Word"
Johannes, by Siegfried
Schulz,Göttingen, Germany.
1978 "and godlike sort was Das Evangelium nach
the Logos" (translated from German)
Johannes,by Johannes
1979 "and a god was the Logos" (translated from German)Das Evangelium nach
Johannes,by Jürgen Becker,
Würzburg, Germany.
These translations use such words as "a god," "divine" or "godlike" because the Greek word θεός (the·os´) is a singular predicate noun occurring before the verb and is not preceded by the definite article.

This is an anarthrous the·os´. The God with whom the Word, or Logos, was originally is designated here by the Greek expression ὁ θεός, that is, the·os´ preceded by the definite article ho. This is an articular the·os´

Careful translators recognize that the articular construction of the noun points to an identity, a personality, whereas a singular anarthrous predicate noun preceding the verb points to a quality about someone.

Therefore, John’s statement that the Word or Logos was "a god" or "divine" or "godlike" does not mean that he was the God with whom he was.

It merely expresses a certain quality about the Word, or Logos, but it does not identify him as one and the same as God himself.
Throughout his ministry Jesus Christ proclaimed himself, not as God, but as the Son of God. He said nothing about being part of a triune God and neither did the Bible writers.
Instead of claiming to be equal with his Father, he said: "The Father is greater than I am." (John 14:28)
This relationship of unequality with the Father did not change after his resurrection and ascension to heaven. This is shown at 1 Corinthians 11:3 and15:28, where it shows subjection of the resurrected Jesus Christ to the Father. Thank you.

jps said...

I was wrong. You did come back—even though it is obvious you just wanted to post more and not really engage...

You might find it helpful to read some stuff by Larry Hurtado or Richard Bauckham (scholarly works, written with a thorough knowledge of the languages and cultures of the time). The argument for the full divinity of Jesus is not just built on John 1. It is everywhere in scripture. It forced the early church to develop a theology to understand what was already there.

I pray that your eyes might be opened and that you might fall at Jesus' feet as Thomas did and cry out, ὁ κύριός μου καὶ ὁ θεός μου. (John 20:28) The Greek is articular there, by the way : )