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Jason BeDuhn's Fifth Reply to Robert Hommel 

Part 1


Here is my answer to "Fourth Response, part 1":

Once again, I would like to thank Mr. Hommel for a very stimulating, high caliber discussion of the issues surrounding the translation of John 1:1. By now, our readers will recognize that we have some common ground, as well as certain areas where we seem to be at an impasse. It is natural in a debate of this sort to reiterate points that each of us stands upon, and that can lead to redundancy. For that reason I will respond selectively, as Mr. Hommel has done, focusing on those areas where I believe the discussion can be constructively advanced, and will skip over those matters where Mr. Hommel and I have already made our position perfectly clear.

A. The Argument over Harner
Mr. Hommel and I have exchanged charges of mis-citing the article by Philip Harner on "Qualitative Anarthrous Predicate Nouns" from the Journal of Biblical Literature 92 (1973) pages 75-87. I invite our readers to look up the article itself. Actually, Harner agrees with neither Mr. Hommel or myself. In previous parts of our exchange, I have said something about how I differ from Harner. Nevertheless, I do agree with Harner that in John 1:1c, "There is no basis for regarding the predicate THEOS as definite" (page 85) and "the qualitative force of the predicate is so prominent that the noun cannot be regarded as definite" (page 87). 


Harner rejects as inaccurate "the Word was God" (RSV, etc.), "what God was, the Word was" (NEB), and "he was the same as God" (GNB) (page 87). But Mr. Hommel is incorrect when he claims that Harner "dismisses the 'divine' rendering in no uncertain terms." Rather, as Hommel himself quotes Harner, Harner looks with cautious favor on "the Word  was divine" as suggested by Vawter (pages 85-86). Harner does not accept this translation without qualification, and offers as another possible rendering "the Word had the same nature as God" (page 87). But Harner repeatedly says that the qualitative sense is very hard to render accurately into English. He states (concerning Mark 15:39), "It is doubtful whether any English translation can adequately represent the qualitative emphasis" (page 81) and (of John 1:1) "the English language is not as versatile at this point as Greek" (page 86). 


Concerning his suggestion of "the Word had the same nature as God," Harner concedes, "This would be one way of representing John's thought . . . as I understand it . . ." (page 87). In other words, Harner offers this as an expository interpretation. It is not properly a translation because it replaces a copula ("was") with a predicate phrase of possession ("had the same nature"). Harner and I disagree about the distinction between categorical and qualitative predication - I don't see any evidence of such a distinction, and I argue this at great length in a forthcoming article. 


On this specific point, Mr. Hommel and Harner agree. Yet even Harner, in using "same nature as" does not mean the same thing as Hommel does by "the Word was Deity." I assert this on the basis of Harner's unqualified rejection of the NEB's "what God was, the Word was" and the GNB's "he was the same as God" (page 87). By capitalizing "Deity," Mr. Hommel has produced a translation equivalent in meaning to these two rejected by Harner. Harner states his understanding of John 1:1c as "HO LOGOS, no less than HO THEOS, had the nature of THEOS" (page 87, I use all capital letters where Harner uses uncapitalized italics). I have explained extensively in previous parts of this discussion that in Greek "nature" and "quality" are those associated with particular categories or classes for things. Harner does not say that HO LOGOS, no less than HO THEOS, had the nature of HO THEOS, but rather the nature of THEOS, that is, a being of the THEOS class, as that was defined by John in connection with the understanding his readers would have had in his own time and culture.

B. Anarthrous nominatives and accusatives-D, I, or Q?
Mr. Hommel has graciously surveyed the nominative and accusative forms of THEOS in the NT and provided his understanding of whether in each case the term is definite, indefinite, or qualitative. I will return the favor by providing my own readings. I will use "Q" when I think that the context suggests an attempt by the author to characterize the subject, in other words, to indicate the subject's "nature."



Verse  Hommel  BeDuhn
Mk 12:27 D? I/Q
Lk 20:38 D? I/Q
John 1:18b Q? I/Q
John 8:54 D D (the possesive "your" definitizes)
Rom 8:33b D I (explained below)
Rom 9:5 D D (vocative function)
1Cor 8:4 D I (negative "there is no god
1Cor 8:6 D D (numeration "one" definitizes)
2Cor 1:3 D? D? (joined by "and" to a definite nominative)
2Cor 1:21 D D (not anarthrous)
2Cor 5:5 D D (not anarthorus)
2Cor 5:19 D I (explained below)
2 Cor 6:16 D D (possessive "their"
Gal 6:7 D I (explained below)
Eph 4:6 D D (numeration "one"
Phil 2:13 D I (explained below)
1Thes 2:5 D D? (vocative function)
2Thes 2:4 D? I
1Tim 2:5 D D (numeration "one"
Heb 3:4 D D (not anarthrous)
Rev 21:7 D I/Q

It will come as no surprise to our readers that Mr. Hommel and myself differ so much in our judgment of these verses. What is worth noting, I think, is that each of the verses where he and I agree in seeing a definite, there is some definitizing element in the verse itself. These, then, are special cases that override the general rule that anarthrous nominatives are indefinite, which they are in the absence of such definitizing elements. There is no such definitizing element in John 1:1c, of course.

As for Rom 8:33b, 2 Cor 5:19, Gal 6:7, Phil 2:13 -- Paul has a rhetorical way of making an argument that drawn upon the general understanding of his audience about "gods." He uses the indefinite to make a point about the significance of interaction with a god. So, everyone in his environment understands that "A god is not to be mocked" (Gal 6:7). Likewise, he can argue that "If a god declares (one) innocent, who can condemn (that person)?" (Rom 8:33b). And against those who think that Christ acted on his own authority, which may or may not carry much weight with Paul's audience, he asserts that "through Christ a god was reconciling a world to himself"-stated thus abstractly, "a god" and "a world" as a way of describing what Paul has been explaining about a particular (only) God and a particular (only) world. Similarly, for those who may wonder what agency (demonic?) was operating in them after undergoing Christian initiation, Paul asserts "The one working within/through you is a god" (Phil 2:13 -- a very close grammatical parallel to John 1:1c).



Verse  Hommel  BeDuhn
Lk 12:21 D D (preposition definitizes)
Jn 1:18a D I (as in the Paul examples
Jn 10:33 D? I
Jn 20:17 D D (possessive definitizes)
Acts 14:15 D? I/Q
Acts 28:6 I I
Rom 1:21 D I (as in the Paul examples
Rom 4:2 D D (preposition definitizes)
Rom 8:7  D D (preposition definitizes)
Rom 8:27 D D (preposition definitizes)
2Cor 7:9, 10 D D D D (preposition definitizes)
Gal 4:8, 9 D D  I/Q  I/Q (as in Paul examples
2Thes 1:8  D D (verb of knowing?)
2Thes 2:4 D? I
1Tim 5:5 D D (preposition definitizes)
Titus 1:16 D D (verb of knowing?)
Heb 6:1 D D (preposition definitizes)
Heb 8:10 D I?
Heb 11:16 D D (possessive definitizes)
1Pet 3:5 D D (preposition definitizes)
1Pet 3:21 D D (preposition definitizes)
1Pet 4:6 D D (preposition definitizes)
1Pet 5:2 D D (preposition definitizes)
1Jn 4:12 D I (as in Jn 1:18)
2Jn 1:9 D D

Rom 1:21 offers another good example of what I said above concerning Paul's use of indefinite THEOS, here combined with his tendency towards abbreviated phrasing: "Although they knew God, they did not praise or thank him as a god (should be praised and thanked)." Gal 4:8 brings this set of examples close to what Mr. Hommel and I are debating. Paul uses the indefinite: "When you did not know a (real) god, you served the ones who in nature are not (real) gods." He is clearly drawing attention to the "qualitative," that is to the nature or character of the being he is talking about (Father/God), and he does so by distinguishing his rights, as opposed to theirs, to be called, that is classed as, "god," "divine."

I take responsibility for stating things more broadly than I should have in my previous response. I did not think to qualify my general assertion about the indefinite meaning of anarthrous nominative and accusatives by noting the definitizing property of prepositional phrases, which applies only to accusatives and not to the nominative form which was foremost in the discussion and in my mind. I also forgot to mention possessive phrases. What I asserted holds true if we set aside special definitizing elements that may add definiteness to an anarthrous accusative and, much more rarely, an anarthrous nominative. I thank Mr. Hommel for bringing these special cases to my recollection. Of course, none of these definitizing elements are present in John 1:1c, and their occurrence elsewhere does nothing to reduce the general rule by which definiteness and indefiniteness are usually indicated by the presence or absence of the Greek article.

The overarching concern for all of the above verses, nominative and accusative is this: in the absence of the one certain marker of definiteness in Greek-the definite article-on what basis does Mr. Hommel declare an anarthrous noun to be definite? I have explained at length before how much Mr. Hommel's judgments are based in understandings of the verses derivative of existing English translations. It strikes the modern Christian as odd that Paul would speak indefinitely of "a god" or "gods" (he does both). But in the historical and cultural context in which Paul wrote, this was often the best way to get his point across. Our historical distance from the NT writers often interferes with an accurate, close reading of precisely what they are saying.

C. "Is" of identity and "is" of predication.
In his latest response, Mr. Hommel says the NWT translation "the Word was a god" represents a usage we can agree to call the "'is' of identity" while an accurate qualitative rendering of the verse would employ the "'is' of predication." Surprisingly, he uses as an example of the "is" of predication, "The car is red," employing a predicate adjective, just as I do when I suggest "The Word was divine" as an acceptable translation of John 1:1c. Since Mr. Hommel has taken me so much to task for my suggestion, I think I get to say "gotcha" here. 


More seriously, I think it needs to be recognized that the "is" of identity when it involves an indefinite predicate overlaps with the "is" of predication. In Greek they are grammatically indistinguishable, while in English they can often be distinguished, if somewhat awkwardly ("The car is a red one" = identity/category; "The car is red" = predication). Of course, the crux here is knowing, based on Greek phrasing that may be equivalent to either "identity" or "predication", which meaning to settle upon. As Mr. Hommel and I have agreed before, grammar alone may not lead all the way to a unqualified conclusion.

I certainly do not accept Mr. Hommel's characterization of my position as in contradiction to Russell or as moving beyond neutral translation. In any case, my primary concern is not "neutral" translation - that is, translation that carefully negotiates the different modern theological positions to accommodate them all-but rather accurate translation - which gives us as directly as possible the meaning of the Greek, however ambiguous or problematic it may be. My position is not "one which identifies the logos as a member of a 'god' class-a god distinct from HO THEOS, another God (sic) in that same class." Rather, as I have said all along, John is qualifying or characterizing the Logos by means of classification or categorization (and this is the standard way to qualify or characterize in Greek). John is not counting up "gods" - he is placing the Logos on one side rather than the other of the great divide between the human and divine realms, and he spends the rest of his gospel very carefully explaining how the Logos, embodied in Jesus, properly belongs to the place he has assigned him in the very first verse.

D. Capitalization and "common usage"
Mr. Hommel and I agree that on minor points of English style, such as capitalization, "rules" are actually encapsulations of actual contemporary common usage. This common use changes over time, and conventions come and go, and so one could say the "rules" change. But Mr. Hommel misuses the phrase "common usage" in arguing once again for his capitalization of "Deity" as legitimate, and what is more, as a clear conveyance to the reader of the qualitative sense.

"Common usage," in the linguistic sense that Mr. Hommel claims he is using the term, refers to the practice across the language, not to the traditions of rendering a specific book. He says that because past translations of the Bible have used a particular capitalization scheme, that is "common usage." 

But that is not "common" usage; that is a typographical tradition that may be preserved from hundreds of years before. If you've ever picked up a book printed in the 18th or 19th centuries, you will see that capitalization was used much more freely than is usual in contemporary English literature. 

"Common usage" for proposing an accurate English rendering today (which is what we are talking about) refers to the use commonly found in the language in contemporary times, precisely because the sort of "rules" based on "common usage" change with what people actually do. That is why I have criticized Mr. Hommel's proposal to capitalize "Deity." Contemporary "common usage" does not capitalize qualitative English nouns. His appeals to literature of previous centuries or to the special genre of poetry, or to the preserved conventions of English Bibles have nothing to do with "common usage."

Much of our discussion has been about ways to translate that make clear to the reader what the original Greek means. Because that is so important, we may need to insist on very precise renderings, and not yield to what just anybody may think is good enough. It certainly is true that I have often encountered the erroneous capitalization of an indefinite "god." But this is not "common usage." It is a grammatical mistake based on the confusion in English of the indefinite noun "god" with the definite (and proper) noun "God" - a confusion whose existence Mr. Hommel acknowledges in his latest response.

As for Mr. Hommel's objection to my characterization of anarthrous THEOS as "a general category of being" or "a defined set of qualities," I have already accounted for all of his counter-examples in part B above. These counter-examples are either rhetorically indefinite (as I explained above is typical of Paul), or definitized by belonging to prepositional phrases (in other words, they are definite forms whose article is dropped as unnecessary due to the presence of a preposition). Mr. Hommel exaggerates a bit when he says that "there are a host of factors that may make the noun definite, aside from the presence of the article." There are actually only a handful - I mean four or five, which I don't think constitutes a host - of grammatical signs that indicate that a nominative or accusative noun may be definite despite the lack of the article. In fact, if we separate the nominative from the accusative (since we are dealing only with the nominative in John 1:1c), we can say that there is only a couple of such definitizing factors (and none of these occur in John 1:1c).

Finally, on "true Dog"-Mr. Hommel repeats a lapse he has made several times before. After very carefully setting up a context in which "Dog" may be used qualitatively, and the capital "D" may help to convey this sense, he confuses that categorical/qualitative function (that is, this fossil can be called "(true) Dog" because it has the set of qualities by which science has defined the "dog" species) with an altogether different meaning, one in which he has "established a context in which there is only one true 'Dog,' though there may be other 'dogs' which-though similar-are distinct from true Dog." I apologize for repeating somewhat something I argued at length in my previous posting, but Mr. Hommel's assertion is hopelessly confused. The fossil-finding scenario does not entail finding a fossil that is the one-and-only true "Dog," beside which there are no others with that set of qualities. It involves finding a fossil that matches an abstracted (categorical) definition of "dog" derived from establishing a set of qualities shared by all members of the "dog" species. If "Dog" is used to represent this defining set of qualities, then it is not true that there are "other 'dogs' which-though similar-are distinct from true Dog." By definition, anything that is a 'dog' is NOT distinct from Hommel's qualitative "Dog," but a member of that class/species. In other words, Mr. Hommel has once again confused what he calls the "qualitative" description of the Logos as THEOS with an identification of the Logos with the "only true" God. Since he himself is so careful about distinguishing the "'is' of identity" from the "'is' of predication," this failure to maintain the distinction in his own argument is noteworthy.

This concludes my response to Part 1 of Mr. Hommel's Fourth response. With all best wishes to him and to our readers,

Jason BeDuhn

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