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Mars Hill  Apologetic Discussions



Jason BeDuhn to Robert


Thank you for your message. From time to time I "pop in" on discussion groups when my name and views have been brought into the discussion. I usually find that a week is sufficient time to stick around to field any questions that have come up, and then I sign off.

What you say in your latest message, Mr. Hommel, is quite reasonable and I think you grasp the situation accurately. The citing of expert opinion goes on on all sides, and that will continue as long as everyone involved in these debates does not read Greek. Of course, even the Greek experts disagree at times, and that is when you need to compare evidence and arguments. So I guess we need to distinguish between established expertise, demonstrated in practice, and the kind of blanket "authority" that people cite without knowing the basis for what is said on authority.

Certainly Metzger is a giant in my field, and he has made very important contributions that are unimpeachable. I can hope to accomplish only a fraction of what he has accomplished in his eighty years, and I am still relatively early in my career. The fact remains that in his published remarks on John 1:1c, Metzger argues primarily on the basis of theology, rather than language. His only linguistic argument is "Colwell's Rule," which he misunderstands, just as you recognize. So on this particular topic, Metzger fares rather poorly, despite his expertise and accomplishments in other areas. Colwell is another person who contributed tremendous advances to our field, and is rightly honored for them. Yet, even though his "rule" cannot, as formulated, settle the translation of John 1:1c, it is in fact a completely imaginary rule of Greek grammar, without any valid foundation. Here again, a mistake has been made by an otherwise great scholar. And it is quite common to find that such mistakes occur where theological interest has temporarily interfered with scholarly objectivity.

So it is not the person, but the evidence and argument in particular instances that must be judged. Metzger and Colwell, as good as they are, are wrong about John 1:1c, and so citing them on one side of the debate offers no valid support. You are quite correct that the best judgment of my position will occur when it is assessed by my academic peers. But I trust you have seen enough of my position to know that I argue on the basis of language and literary context, not theology. Even at this point of assessment, one can ask: am I citing the rules and properties of Greek grammar accurately? Ask other experts and see for yourself that I am. 

Once that is established, then we can move on to questions of how best to render the indefinite theos into English. Using the indefinite "god" comes first to mind linguistically, but literary context must also be considered, as well as cultural environment which provided meaning to the term logos for John's audience. Harner has argued for a qualitative meaning, and I have no quarrel with his evidence and argument. I have simply asked the question: how does Greek convey quality? And the answer turns out to be either with an adjective or with an indefinite noun of class or category. 

I seem to recall that you maintained the importance of distinguishing "class" from "nature." But Greek has no specific grammatical form for conveying something as tightly defined as "nature." Instead, what you have is a choice between individual and class. You are absolutely correct that reading theos in John 1:1c as individual yields a kind of modalism, conflates God and Word indistinguishably. But that is precisely what is conveyed by the traditional English translation in the absence of any sort of commentary or explanation. I wouldn't be concerned with that problem if that is what John wrote. But in fact John was very careful to distinguish the individual definite God from the Word which is characterized as belonging to the god/deity/divine class. Philosophically and theologically you can define that class ("sharing the same nature") and set limits to it (monotheism), but the language of John does not itself provide those philosophical and theological fine points in John 1:1. What John's language does provide is a reference to logos, which has philosophical and theological meaning in the time of John that we can draw on to better understand what he is conveying, and a careful presentation throughout the gospel that fills in some of the things we need to understand about the Word-become-flesh/Christ. That is what the reader should attend to.

My position is simply to let John present the material in the way and order it has been formulated in his mind by remaining true to the language he uses and translating it as directly as possible into corresponding English sentences. I don't consider that the Bible needs my help, or the help of any translator, to fill in what it somehow fails to say or to artificially restrict or qualify what it does say. If that position is so radical that it puts me outside the mainstream in my profession then maybe that mainstream should consider whether it is in the right place.

best wishes,
Jason BeDuhn

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