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Mars Hill  Apologetic Discussions



Jason BeDuhn's Fourth Reply to Robert Hommel 

Part 3


Clarification #6
Mr. Hommel gives a thorough discussion of the force of equation carried by "is" (and a little humor on this subject is impossible to resist). Since English and Greek "is" function identically, we should be able to reach perfect clarity on this part of the John 1:1 problem.
ROBERT: Let's consider the semantics of definite and indefinite nouns in equative
phrases, since they are not in dispute. If the PN is definite - "John is the
man," for example - there is nothing in the grammar that restricts the
equation of "the man" with "John." John is equal to "the man" in every sense.
Similarly, if the PN is indefinite - "John is a man" - there is nothing in the
grammar that restricts the membership of John in the class of men, is there?
John is fully and completely in the class of "men." 

Yes, you are exactly right. There is no "restriction of the equation." And I am sure you will acknowledge that definites are not the same as indefinites. When an equation is made to a definite -- say HO THEOS for example -- we both agree that the subject is being IDENTIFIED as that definite, specific PN. You are right that any qualification or "restriction" of that equation or identification is not given in the grammar of the clause itself, but may be supplied from context (just as "I am the vine" would be qualified or "restricted" by the context of its use and not be taken "literally"). But, when an equation is made to an indefinite -- say THEOS for example -- the subject is being CHARACTERIZED as belonging to the class of items identified by the PN. Since an indefinite PN is not definite, there is no specific identification of individual with individual, but the classification of the individual subject within the category marked by the indefinite or qualitative. Again, you are right that there is no qualification or "restriction" of that classification given in the grammar, although here again context may suggest some way in which such a classification is not meant "literally." I certainly don't see any indication in John 1 that there is any qualification or restriction of the Word's membership in the THEOS class. The Word is not kind of THEOS or partially THEOS; the Word is fully THEOS. But THEOS is not the same as HO THEOS, nor would a Trinitarian position be defendable if it were, because if it were the same then there would be only one individual, a monadic, modalistic deity. But that mistaken treatment of THEOS as the same as HO THEOS is precisely what the traditional translation creates.

When we are talking about indefinite equations, such as "John is a man," and we say that John is in full measure a "man," we are working with an implied cultural definition of what qualifies someone to be called a "man." The full set of qualities of any one member of that class will differ, but all members will share the minimally acceptable qualities to be in the class. In the modern English-speaking world, for example, there is an implicit lower age limit that might apply, to distinguish "man" from "boy," and there may even be disputes about some individuals who have undergone sex-change surgery as to whether they have the right set of qualities to be considered a "man." Likewise, to fully understand what John meant by 1:1c, we need to pay attention to how "god" was defined in the time of John, what qualities were necessary to be in that class. Nonetheless, we will not try to add what we find out to the translation itself, which will still read simply "the Word was a god" without spelling out what is implied in "god." So when Mr. Hommel writes "There is nothing in the grammar of an qualitative-indefinite noun that restricts which qualities are associated with a given class or category," we are in agreement. There is nothing that "restricts WHICH qualities" are being invoked, in other words, that determines what partial set, or full set, are being emphasized. Only the context can clarify that for us.

ROBERT: If I say, "Rex is a dog," the grammar does not restrict which qualities associated with the class of dogs I'm attributing to Rex - the sense is that all of them are attributed to him. 

Yes, "all of them," meaning all of the qualities that serve to identify something as belonging to the "dog" category, but not "all of them" in the sense that any one member of that category shares all the qualities possessed by any and all other members of the "dog" category, which is patently untrue. The very fact that the term THEOS is applied to human beings, the devil, and the "gods" of the Greeks in the NT proves that the same categorical breadth applies to THEOS in Greek as to "dog" in English. If we embrace Mr. Hommel's apparent confusion between individual and category in John 1:1, then human beings, the devil, and the Greek gods would likewise possess the full measure of qualities of God. 

So the "specialized" definition of qualitative that I objected to in Mr. Hommel's earlier postings, the imposition of an "interpretive restrictiveness" that I charged him with, amounts simply to a confusion of the qualitative (indefinite) predicate noun, which by definition associates the attributes of a class or an abstraction, with the definite predicate noun, which by definition identifies the subject with the predicate. It was wrong of me to direct by critique primarily to his "full measure" language, which is perfectly acceptable so long as the predicate noun is correctly read qualitatively rather than definitely. The "full measure" of attributes of a class of objects or beings" is that set that defines the class. If that is what Mr. Hommel meant all along, I apologize for being such a dunderhead. The consequence of that "full measure" attribution will be an equation of the subject to the qualities of the class, in John 1:1c to the "god" or "deity" or "divinity" class. Now, we can assume we know the definition and associated qualities of that class, or we can look to the text to spell them out for us. I have maintained that the assumptions of a modern Christian reader are at odds with the assumptions of John's original audience, and I point to the broader application of the term THEOS in the Bible as evidence for that difference. My interpretation of Mr. Hommel's argument is that he has been misled by that modern Christian assumption into squeezing the THEOS category down until it matches the modern English "God," when in fact its actual use in John and the Bible generally corresponds to modern English "god."

ROBERT: I really don't see how an equative phrase can place any limitation whatsoever on the attribution of qualities, from the standpoint of grammar alone.

As I have said before, you use "limitation" in the sense of "not full measure," whereas I use "limitation" in the sense of "overdetermination." We can agree on not placing "any limitation whatsoever on the attribution of qualities," but we mean very different things by those words. You mean in each and every case attributing all possible qualities to the subject. To me, this confuses the qualitative with identification with a definite predicate noun. I gave the example of Judas as devil to show how broad the equation might be. 

ROBERT: The key point is that in the examples just given, the verb "is" equates what is signified by the semantic force of the PN to the subject. There is nothing in the semantics of "is" that limits or restricts that equation, regardless of the semantic force of the predicate noun. 

Your are blurring two different senses of "equate" here, just as you do in John 1:1c. When you say that "is" does not limit or restrict equation you cannot possibly mean, as you often seem to, that "is" only equates things that in every sense possess exactly the same properties, qualities, and characteristics. Such a statement is patently false. The equation accomplished by "is" sets no "limits" or "restrictions" in the sense that it does not SPECIFY in what sense the equation is being made, which can range from complete identification to loose metaphor. 

You acknowledge this range of equation when you say that the equation of Judas with the (or a) devil in John 6:70 is a case of hyperbole. The grammar here is quite clear: "One of you is a devil." It cannot be read "one of you is the devil," and your argument for reading it "the devil" is not grammatical, but an assumption about the beliefs of Jesus and John about an individual figure called "the devil." But even assuming for the moment that you were right, you explain away the direct identification of Judas with the devil as hyperbole. How do you know it's hyperbole? How do you know that Jesus didn't recognize the devil in disguise among his apostles? In any case, your willingness to invoke hyperbole here shows that you recognize that equation is open to contextual definition as to whether it is absolute or qualified, literal or hyperbolic, identification or similitude. So all of a sudden your "full measure" position starts to look like a "full-measure-but-not-really" position.

ROBERT: You certainly can derive "possessing all the qualities" from the grammar, because that is precisely what an equative phrase means. 

Once again, the distinction between individual and class is crucial. If I say "He is Mark" then I mean that he "possesses all the qualities," that is, is identified as Mark. If I say "Mark is a man," then I mean that Mark "possesses all the qualities" of the abstract concept "man," but not all the qualities of John, who is also a "man." Incidentally, this is precisely the same reasoning behind Nicene Trinitarianism, which argues that Christ according to his divine nature is not the same person as God the Father. He possesses all the qualities of godhood, but not all the qualities of God the Father. So I am not using some novel or obscure reasoning on this point. And I have repeatedly acknowledged that the Trinitarian position can be derived by a path of reasoning from passages such as John 1 -- it would be foolish of me to maintain otherwise, since precisely such a path of reasoning occurred historically in the development of Christian theology. This path of reasoning applied to passages such as John 1 a postulate: there is only one member of the class "god." Once that postulate was applied, something like Nicene Trinitarianism is a necessary solution to John 1. But while this postulate may be true theologically and metaphysically, it is not the case linguistically in the NT, which employs "god" as a class designation more broadly. John may be invoking the metaphysical truth of one and only one god, or he may be invoking the language-use truth of several beings referred to as "god." Which he is doing is a matter of interpretation. The equation itself does not specify which sense of "god" is being invoked.

But, in either case, as a matter of translation, the equation is made not with another individual, but with an abstract set of "defining qualities." So John 1:1c says that the Word was in "full measure" god, but does not say that the Word was in "full measure" God. That is clear in the Greek, and is even clear in both Trinitarian and non-Trinitarian interpretations of the verse, but is not clear in the traditional translation. That's why some alternative needs to be promoted in its place. Even when you argue for "full measure" you are not arguing for "full measure" to the point of identity, are you?

ROBERT: Forms of the verb "to be" and "to become" equate the predicate to the subject. There is nothing in the grammar that restricts or reduces that equation. The grammar simply presents the equation. Interpretation may confirm or restrict that equation, based on other factors, but the grammar is straightforward. . . . Equative phrases equate. Equative phrases with qualitative nouns equate qualities.

Absolutely. And the qualities equated with the Word in John 1:1c are those of the "god" class, not those of the individual "God." It is possible that a careful, responsible exegesis of John will draw the conclusion that attribution of the qualities of a "god" to the Word amounts to and leads logically to a very close identification of the Word and God. But you and I agree that the task of the translator is to simply convert the wording of the original straightforwardly into English, to simply let the equation made in 1:1c stand without modification or limitation either in the sense of restriction or in the sense of overdeterminination. Since the predicate noun is THEOS, not HO THEOS, that equation CANNOT BE of the Word and God. In place of the traditional translation's "God" we must put some more accurate communicator of the qualitative attribution John is making. That can be "a god," "god," "a divine being," "divine," "a divinity," "divinity," "a deity," "deity." But "God" is not correct.

ROBERT: In point of fact, he wrote "possessing all the qualities," because that is the grammatical sense of "theos hn ho logos." "Hn" signifies "was," not "was in some ways" or "was in lesser measure."

We agree here too. The Logos possessed all the qualities of THEOS, that is, the qualities that define a god. But John does not say "possessed all the qualities of HO THEOS." So we can agree on several things -- that THEOS is "qualitative," that the function of the qualitative in an equative ("is") sentence is to attribute the "full measure" of qualities to the subject. But that "full measure" will be the full set of defining qualities of the "god" or "deity" concept. John certainly works at filling out this set of qualities in the specific case of the Word; he goes on to give the Word a degree and status of "divinity" higher than any other being termed "god" except THE God, HO THEOS, itself. I think we agre on that, too. But John does not say "the Word was HO THEOS," and for good reason. If he had, then his readers would have read John 1 as saying something similar to the Greek myths about Zeus incarnating as a swan, or some such thing. What John was careful to do in Greek, we should be equally careful to do in English.

I am optimistic about the breadth of our agreement, for you also say:

ROBERT: If the grammar alone were to guide us, on what basis could we conclude that Jesus did not possess all the qualities associated with THE CLASS OF BEINGS who are sons of God?

I have highlighted the last phrase because it shows your recognition that we are dealing with the qualities of a class, rather than an individual. Your latest message was very helpful to me because it showed the key point where we both understood the semantics of the qualitative as applying to a class. Now I hope I can show you that you give up nothing essential to your interpretation of John 1:1c, in so far as the words lend themselves to your interpretation as well as others, if the verse is written in normal contemporary English style for the grammar involved -- that is, as an indefinite, or at least in a form that allows the reader to understand qualitative attribution rather than individual identification as the meaning of John's words. You seem to accept this:

ROBERT: Yes, English often does convey qualitativeness with an indefinite
noun. Such are the dictates of our idiom in many cases.

So I would like to think -- and I hope I am not deluding myself here -- that with these clarifications of what you mean and what I mean that reveals so much common ground, with the ways you have helped me see I was arguing a bit off the point here and there, and with the little persuasiveness of argument I have tried to apply to those few areas where I think you may have slipped up a little bit in maintaining the necessary distinctions of grammatical form and function, that we may find ourselves surprisingly close to an agreed common base of careful, accurate, precise translation that leaves the interpretive options exactly where John left them (providing plenty of opportunity for debates of an entirely different kind).

Minor clarifications:
Before I go, I would like to answer a few remaining marginal questions that Mr. Hommel raised in his latest posting. 

ROBERT: I also vigorously deny that grammatical possibilities lead to proper translations. I think you do, too, if we were to examine verses less theologically charged. You wouldn't argue that John 8:44 should be rendered, "you belong to the father of the devil," on the basis that this is grammatically possible, would you?

No, I wouldn't, because "possible" translation must yield to "probable" translation. The reading you give to John 8:44 as a foil is possible, but much less likely than the other possible reading, in which "the father" and "the devil" are in apposition. A translator must choose the most probable reading because we can't put all options into the translation. We can, however, give alternative possibilities in footnotes. Whatever choice is made, however, should not seek to go beyond the grammar, suitably clarified by the larger context of the passage. We shouldn't, for example, translate "tempter" rather than "father," or "Satan" rather than "devil," because John doesn't make those identifications here.

ROBERT: Why do you see "preparation day" as indefinite in John 19:14?
Doesn't the articular genitive adjunct ("of the Passover") suggest that
"preparation day" is definite? MOST TRANSLATORS RENDER IT THAT WAY IN ENGLISH.
John 19:31 is not followed by a genitive noun, which may explain the change
in word order.

I have highlighted the sentence which contains in it the seed of my answer. You wrote the above in response to a comment of mine that said:

JB: But here we have to wonder, since the grammar does not indicate
definiteness, whether we are importing definiteness from how we would say
something in English. . . So we need to recognize the mismatch between how Greek uses indefinites and English does.

The way we say things in English often forces us to impose on a passage wording that shifts the meaning slightly from how the phrasing works in the original Greek. I brought in the examples from John 19 to make this very point, that WE say "THE preparation of the Passover," whereas in Greek they apparently said "preparation of the Passover." I attribute the change of word order (noun before the verb in 19:31, after the verb in 19:14) to the fact that we are working with a dependent clause in 19:31, as opposed to a main clause where the verbal force is emphasized in 19:14.

ROBERT: Why is this an "either-or" situation? Why can't a qualitative noun be
emphasized? Can you demonstrate this "rule" from other examples or point me
to a Greek grammar that delineates it?

Thanks for pointing out how unclear I was in what I was saying on this point. A qualitative noun can be emphasized by placement, of course, and that is what is happening in John 1:1c. The predicate noun is qualitative because it is indefinite, because that's the way Greek makes qualitatives. It does not depend on its position to be qualitative. Its position gives it emphasis. So it is not really an "either-or" so much as it is gilding the lilly. Harner's hypothesis is unnecessary, because the nouns he is looking at can be construed as qualitiative without any special word order, by the mere fact that they are indefinites.

Thank you for your very kind good wishes on my book. I will definitely let you know when it comes out. I'm sure it will provide material for many more hours of fruitful discussion. And thanks to you again, Robert, for your insightful, strongly argued points, for your ability to force me to clarify my sometimes fuzzy explanations, and for helping me find the way to what I at least consider to be a basis of agreement on accurate translation which all parties to the interpretive debates can share.

Best wishes,
Jason BeDuhn

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