Here is my answer to Part 2:
I see less room to advance the discussion on the points in Part 2. It seems
to me that we are locked in an impasse over the differences between Greek and
English expression of concepts. But I will try to clarify where I can.
A. The relation of mass terms to THEOS
ROBERT: My introduction of mass terms was to demonstrate the existence of
qualitativeness as a semantic force distinct from indefinite (membership in a
class). Having established that point, which Dr. BeDuhn originally denied, I
then demonstrated examples where the qualitative force is presentwith count nouns.
JB: I have never said there was no such thing as a "qualitative semantic
force." What I have maintained is that Greek does not have a distinct
"qualitative" GRAMMATICAL FORM. In English, mass (non-count) nouns are
SOMETIMES used with the qualitative semantic force. When they are so used,
they are used without the definite or indefinite article. Thus, they exhibit
a distinct grammatical from that signals their semantic force. Yet, even in
English, there is substantial overlap between "qualitative," "categorical
indefinite," and even "identifying anarthrous definite" uses of mass nouns.
Let me give some examples.
"The factory needs more steel."
-- this is the standard common [mass] noun use of "steel" as a material
"To perfect this batch of alloy, you will need to use more of the steel."
-- same usage, here with definite article to indicate a discrete quantity
"John's knife is steel."
-- categorical indefinite used to categorize John's knife as a particular kind
"John's knife is steel."
-- also possibly an identification semantic force, in a situation where the
speaker and hearer are trying to identify John's knife (or one matching John's
knife) from a selection of knives. This usage is basically a predicate
adjective substitution for either "a steel one" or "the steel one" -- but NOT
qualitative in its semantic force. Another example would be RH's "The car is
red" when spoken in a context of looking for a particular car in a parking
"John's words are steel."
-- qualitative semantic force (also metaphorical in this case)
Since mass nouns are not necessarily qualitative in their semantic force,
there actually is not, even in English, a distinct qualitative grammatical
form. In other words, there is no such thing as "qualitative nouns." There
are only nouns that can have a qualitative semantic force in particular
usages. So again I must say that the whole discussion of "mass nouns" does
not help us, because (1) mass nouns are not necessarily qualitative, and (2)
the use or non-use of an article with a noun, mass or qualitative, is
different in English than it is in Greek.
JB (previously): Since THEOS is a count noun, not a mass noun, it should have
the indefinite article added when translated into English.
ROBERT: Such a translational model would lead us to render Luke 6:5 as "The
Son of Man is a lord of the Sabbath;" John 1:18a as "No one has seen a god at
any time;" John 3:6 as "that which is born of the Spirit is a spirit," none of
which the NWTTC opted for (nor should they have). There are dozens, perhaps
hundreds, of such examples. I would ask Dr. BeDuhn to produce a single Greek
grammar that states that the indefinite article "must be added" to
non-definite count nouns when translated into English.
JB: It is a mere rhetorical ploy to ask me "to produce a single Greek grammar
that states that the indefinite article 'must be added' to non-definite count
nouns when translated into English." What I said about adding the indefinite
article was based on what we do in ENGLISH. Greek grammars say nothing about
following rules of English grammar. To say that the NWT translators do not
agree with these renderings is another strange sort of argument, since I do
not always or inevitably agree with their choices, just as I do not with those
of other translators. I believe I gave many examples of sentences to show
that we consistently render anarthrous count nouns with the indefinite article
in English, and in your latest response you "reassure" me that we are not
going to start dropping the indefinite article in rendering these many examples
into English. So why do so in John 1:1c against the overwhelming general
practice in English? The continued impasse we are having is between my call
for using ordinary, transparent English to translate straightforwardly vs. the
desire of you and others to use a very specialized English that packs in added
theological meaning not necessarily present in the original.
But you correctly ascertain the "translation model" I am using: Luke 6:5 "The
Son of Man is a lord of the Sabbath"; John 1:18a "No one has seen a god at any
time"; John 3:6 "That which is born of the spirit is a spirit" -- Yes, my
translational model would lead us to render these verses in exactly this way,
because this is precisely what these three verses say. The reason these
translations sound strange to you is not because they are grammatically
incorrect, and not because they are inaccurate renderings of the Greek, but
because two thousand years of cultural and religious development and change
have made them what for lack of a better term I will call anachronistic. In
the time and place where these words were recorded, they made perfect sense.
In Luke 6:5, Jesus' opponents have asserted that Jesus has no right to forgive
because only God can forgive (through the purification system the Jews
believed they had received from God). Against them, Jesus asserts that he too
("too" because it is as "Son of Man", not as "God" or even "Son of God", that
he makes the claim) cam forgive sin. So he is (also) "a lord of the Sabbath.
In John 1:18a, the author is quoting a familiar trope of ancient Greek
mythology, that no one can look upon a god and live. And so on. It is
extremely hard for a modern reader to cut through two thousand years of
cultural assumption to hear these words as freshly as they were first
delivered. The result is a narrowing and limiting of meaning in conformity
with modern cultural and religious assumption -- in other words, a loss from
the text of its richness of meaning. It is that richness of meaning that I am
ROBERT: Dr. BeDuhn seems on the one hand to understand the semantic
distinction between indefinite and qualitative . . . But on the other hand,
Dr. BeDuhn continues to maintain that an indefinite semantic force is the same
thing as a qualitative one.
JB: I apologize for being unable to find a clear enough way to explain the
differences between Greek and English when it comes to establishing semantic
force through variations in grammar. We as translators (and working with
linguistic terms and categories unknown to the Greeks) can point to two
grammatically identical nouns and say, "This one carries what we would
consider the qualitative force, and this has what we would consider an
indefinite value." That distinction may not be agreeable to everyone who
looks at the words, and debatable in any particular instance. We can find
many of our own semantic distinctions marked in our grammar, for example in
the way we use or do not use an article with count or non-count nouns, with
definite, indefinite, or "qualitative" nouns. We would like it if our
distinctions automatically matched those of the language we are translating
from. It would make the task of translation much easier. But such is not the
What I have maintained is that IN GREEK the qualitative semantic force is
"delivered," so to speak, by the categorical use of the indefinite (or
non-definite, if you prefer). I respect Harner, and think that he has
significantly advanced the discussion of sentences of the particular type
found in John 1:1c, but I disagree with his conclusion that there is a
distinctive use of word-order that signals specifically "qualitative" rather
than more generally categorical indefinite (which can be qualitative, but not
necessarily so). Harner's appeal to word-order in his argument has always
been a very iffy proposition, since it is widely recognized that Greek has
very free word order on which it depends very little for meaning. Harner
actually contradicts himself in the case of John 1:1c, for although he wants
to include it in the set of sentences for which the placement of the noun is
meant to convey "qualitative" force, he asserts, "In this clause, the form
that John actually uses, the word THEOS is placed at the beginning for
emphasis" (page 85). This is a much more widely accepted understanding of the
possible meaning of a predicate noun placed at the beginning of a clause. If
this word order serves to convey emphasis, would we then have to conclude that
"qualitative" nouns are always emphasized? This, of course, would be absurd.
But it shows where we would have to go to reconcile the one, widely recognized
function of this word order, with the one Harner wants to assert. The fact
that Harner was unable to establish a "rule" that would give us confidence
that the pattern he was looking at consistently yielded "qualitative" force
(because of the number of exceptions Harner himself recognized, as well as
others he did not) is very telling against his proposition. I must reiterate
that the "qualitative semantic force" MAY be there in any particular instance,
but we have no way to be sure based on the grammar. That is why I'm willing
to accept "qualitative" translations that are transparently so, such as "The
Word was divine." Because what we treat as a qualitative meaning may be
carried by the predicate indefinite noun, such a translation cannot be ruled
out. But since the predicate indefinite noun can also be a simple indefinite
of category, and we have the same thing in English, we cannot rule out "The
Word was a god" either. What you have been trying to do is find a way to rule
out the one without ruling out the other. All I have been saying is you
cannot do that -- the Greek does not allow you to rule out one without the
I have pointed out that in most of Harner's examples it is necessary
to translate with the indefinite English form, that the definite English form
removes the qualitative sense Harner believes to be present, and all the more
the categorical indefinite sense which I maintain is the most direct
translation of the Greek, and perfectly understandable in English. The
anarthrous "qualitative" English noun, for example the "Deity" you prefer, is
confusing to the modern reader for the cultural, historical, and linguistic
reasons I have mentioned previously.
But I basically agree with you that the semantic force in John 1:1c is very
closely parallel that found in John 3:6, which you amplify as "That which is
born of the flesh is (by nature) flesh." There is a similar pattern of
thinking implied in John's use of "son" to characterize the relation of
Christ/Logos to the Father. It was certainly widely held in the ancient world
that "That born of god is (by nature) god" (employing the categorical
non-definite), which John would merely apply to the specific case of his
monotheistic position. Where we get stuck is bridging the cultural and
linguistic gap to English, because as I mentioned before there is widespread
confusion in English between "God" used as a personal name for a specific
being and "god" used as a title/description. I applaud your use of "deity" as
an effort to avoid this confusion. But in English conventions, any such word
used with a capital letter would be read as a personal designation just as
"God" is, and this is different from what is happening in the Greek, with
either "theos" or "sarx." Which brings us to the next topic . . .
B. Do qualitative nouns express qualities in "full measure"?
We seem to be talking right past each other here -- no wonder we find each
other confusing and contradictory. But it certainly doesn't help to extract
sentences out of their context (a very common practice in biblical
interpretation too!). But as always, I take the opportunity of being shown
where I was less than perfectly clear to both clarify and refine what I had in
mind (if only we could engage the biblical writers in this way!).
JB (previously): I have never suggested introducing some qualification or
limitation into the equation of John 1:1c....I completely agree with Mr.
Hommel that the Word has the full measure of the defining qualities of THEOS
as a category that John is employing. . . To use your language, the Word is
in full and complete measure what the class designation "god" signifies. It is
crucial to note that the Word was in full and complete measure THEOS, not HO
THEOS. Whether the first leads logically to the second is a matter of
interpretation, not translation.
ROBERT: I'm glad that Dr. BeDuhn has come to this understanding of
qualitativeness, but this is not the position he originally espoused.
JB (now): On the contrary, this is the position I have always espoused. You
cite my discussion of metaphor and simile. There I showed that translation is
still performed just as literally as in other kinds of equations, but that we
find cause to INTERPRET the meaning as non-literal ("John's words are steel"
presents certain logical problems taken literally, which drives us to resort
to metaphor as an interpretation). Note what I said above: "the Word has the
full measure of the defining qualities of THEOS as a category that John is
employing." As I argued extensively in my previous response, categories have
a set of defining properties (as in RH's example of the species "dog"). There
are both cultural and personal versions of these sets of defining properties,
and we often find in conversation that one person's does not exactly match
another (for example, when describing the color of an object -- "You say
that's purple but I think it's gray."). John writes to be understood, of
course, so his definition of the category THEOS certainly draws on cultural
definitions that he can assume in his readers. And yet it seems clear that he
is working very carefully to introduce some novel ideas into things,
stretching or refining the common vocabulary in some way. That's why
contextual reading is so important. But the bottom line is that the category
THEOS is logically prior to any specific HO THEOS within it.
That is, THEOS
has a set of defining characteristics that we might agree to refer to as "the
short list" (the minimum list to qualify something as belonging to the
category THEOS -- "qualities A-D" in RH's later discussion), while any
specific HO THEOS has "the long list" that includes all of the short list plus
some characteristics not necessarily shared with any or all of the other
things in the category ("qualities A-Z" in RH's later discussion). I am
speaking in the abstract here, in terms of linguistics and the logic of sets,
not taking any particular theological position. So "full set of qualities"
refers to the short list, not the long list. If it referred to the long list,
then it would be a case of identification, not categorization or qualitative
characterization. Since RH has himself acknowledged that identification is
not occurring in John 1:1c, and since "full set of qualities" as referring to
"the long list" would be identification, I invite him to join me in finding
another point of clarified common ground on which we can stand without
Contrary to what RH asserts in his most recent response, I answered at length
that it is not a matter of limiting qualitativeness or of limiting
categorization in a copula-sentence like John 1:1c -- the grammar does
neither. It is a matter of reading on the biblical page WHAT is being equated
with WHAT. The Word is not equated with HO THEOS, but with THEOS. The latter
is not an individual, it is a category that carries with it implied
qualities/characteristics -- a "nature" if you will. RH wants to specify (and
that's what I met by "limit") a "long list" nature that has the effect of
substituting HO THEOS for THEOS in the equation (I say that based on his
argument, not merely on the implied meaning of the translation he proposes).
That won't work linguistically, it won't work in the context of John's gospel
to simply, and it won't work historically (and contrary to RH, context and
culture are not "mechanisms for inserting one's preferred view into a text";
they are part of the evidence of what language means). Early Christians
argued precisely over what John meant here, not over the wording, but the
interpretation, over how closely the set of qualities in THEOS should
correspond to the set in HO THEOS. They argued because John does not spell
out the respective lists he has in mind, at least not with the philosophical
exactitude theologians would like.
C. Does the Logos have the qualities of God or a god?
If RH has never intended to have "the short list" defining THEOS match exactly
"the long list" defining HO THEOS, then I apologize for misreading him. It
may be that we have meant the same thing all along by "full set of qualities,"
and simply failed to communicate. So let us not multiply misunderstanding . .
ROBERT: he says that the category of theos would have included ho theos and a
number of other divine beings as well.
JB: I never said that. I said that THEOS would have a shorter, and so broader
and looser defining set of characteristics than HO THEOS, so that it could
contain beings or things other than just HO THEOS. If that were not true,
John could never have written John 1:1. He found flexibility in the THEOS
category that he needed to make his important, indeed emphasized point about
the Logos. And it is certainly relevant, contrary to RH to bring in how the
term THEOS was actually used in other texts of the period as just such a
broader, looser term. I hope it is not news to RH to learn that we would have
no Greek grammars or dictionaries if the use of terms in ancient literature
was not examined and reduced to the definitions provided in such modern works
of reference. As he concedes, IN THE BIBLE ITSELF the term THEOS is used more
broadly and loosely than "in full measure" being equated with the nature of HO
THEOS. I certainly never meant to suggest that "2nd Temple Judaism" sets the
definition of THEOS for John 1:1, but rather that it is part of the broader
picture that helps us to understand what John is doing with language that he
is not inventing, but manipulating to convey his meaning. But RH continues to
resort to the claim that he is arguing only on the basis of language, and that
there are "grammatical and syntactic markers that point rather clearly" to his
position. I have dealt with all of these already and demonstrated that
nothing in grammar or syntax of John 1:1c points to his reading to the
exclusion of other possible readings such as "the Word was a god." But I have
also endeavored to clarify how close is the position he claims to be defending
with all reasonableness to the one I say comes out of my explanation of John's
use of language in John 1:1. The fact that he continues to hold to a
translation that does not convey the very sense he claims to argue for, and
that in his argument he reveals a very different position determined by a
theological orthodoxy established several hundred years after John by an
interpretation of John in light of precise philosophical and metaphysical
terms that John knew nothing of, gives me little hope for further advances in
But I will soldier on . . .
ROBERT: From the standpoint of the immediate context, where theos is used in
John 1:1b to refer to the true God of Israel, it would seem unlikely that John
intends a different sense just two words later. This sense is reinforced by
larger contextual circles, including the striking conclusion of John's Gospel
-the confession of Thomas, who calls Jesus ho theos mou.
JB: This is just a repeat of the same mistake RH makes over and over again.
John 1:1b does NOT use THEOS, it uses HO THEOS. As for the end of the gospel,
you cannot simply extract a verse in a word-search and leave out all that John
has done in the intervening twenty chapters to explain HOW Christ mediates the
experience of HO THEOS to Thomas. That subject deserves a treatise of its
own, that is, a work of interpretation. But all of John's labors are wasted
if we simply sweep those twenty chapters aside and draw a line straight from
the beginning to the end of the gospel. John works to prepare his readers for
the exact meaning of that conclusion in such a way that they will not reject
it by misunderstanding it. If you erase that preparation, you run the risk of
ROBERT: He [Martin Joos] suggests we define a disputed word: "in such a
fashion as to make it contribute least to the total message derivable from the
passage where it as at home" . . . Applying this principle to John 1:1, it seems
clear that theos should be understood with the same sense in both clause b and
clause c (the former with a definite semantic force, the latter
qualitatively). If we know what "ho theos" means, and we know what "ho logos"
means, we should be able to intuitively understand what "theos" means when
it is predicated of the Logos in John 1:1c.
JB: Exact same mistake, confusion of THEOS with HO THEOS. I would hate to
think of the result if we applied Joos' axiom generally to reading the Bible,
where so much is accomplished by the nuance of a single word. John 1 is just
such a place where the words are crafted with exact care to introduce novel
ideas. Joos' axiom would eliminate the ability to transmit novel ideas or to
bend or stretch already existing terms to new meanings.
RH goes on to cite "stairstep parallelism" in such passages as Romans 5:3b-5a,
where a word is repeated in the following fashion: "We know that tribulation
produces endurance, and endurance (produces) testedness, and testedness
(produces) hope." He notes:
ROBERT: Interestingly, the Greek text reveals that the repeated nouns are
articular when they are the subject of the clause, and usually anarthrous when
they are the predicate; there is no semantic distinction between the use and
non-use of the article.
JB: The reason for the indifference of the article with respect to these terms
is, to quote Smyth's Greek Grammar (section 1132): "The names of virtues,
vices, arts, sciences, occupations often omit the article." RH says that
Nida, et al. cite John 1:1 as a parallel. I do not have the full text of
their article to see the full context of the parallel they draw between the
two passages. but it is not a very close one in any case, because HO THEOS is
never used as a subject in John 1:1. It is the object of a prepositional
phrase in John 1:1b, and is followed by THEOS as a predicate nominative in
John 1:1c. I don't see what RH is getting at when he says of John 1:1 "this
pattern conveys all the characteristics of a common rhetorical feature that
was found to be used among classical rhetoricians. By positioning theos before
the verb the writer is consistently following the rhetorical device used in
the entire verse." What pattern? Sometimes the subject is before the verb
and sometimes after; sometimes the predicate uses a prepositional phrase, and
sometimes an isolated noun. The only consistent pattern is that HO LOGOS is
the subject and EN is the verb, all other terms vary in content and
deployment. RH's appeal to what John could have done and what he in fact did
does not serve him, because there are any number of ways John could have
written 1:1c that would have yielded a perfectly clear identification with HO
THEOS (which this whole string of arguments by RH point to, despite his
disavowal that that is the sense he intends to find in 1;1c) or a qualitiative
characterization of the Logos' nature (such as using the term "nature" --
later theologians took the liberty of filling it in for John).
ROBERT: If the theos in 1:1b is not the same semantically as the theos in Jn
1:1c, the rhetorical feature is destroyed; no longer is the device ending one
phrase with a word and then beginning the following phrase with the same word
(the whole purpose of the rhetorical device in the first place). . . Again,
in order for this rhetorical feature to have its full effect, the terms have
to be the same terms conveying the same semantic sense.
JB: You are misrepresenting the character of these rhetorical features. The
rhetorical feature is a formal one, not necessarily a semantic one. John's
skill is displayed in maintaining a "rocking chair" form (since there is no
actual "stairstep" in John 1:1, it is more properly viewed as a chiasm)
between logos-theon-theos-logos, while manipulating the semantics by subtle
differentiations (articular vs. anarthrous, accusative vs. nominative). This
would be considered the epitome of rhetorical skill in John's day. To simply
follow the form lead-footedly without pulling off some clever semantic shift
would be the exercise of a schoolboy. But John doesn't do it for mere showy
ability, but because he has a very fine line to walk and this form serves him
well in reaching his semantic goal. Nothing in the form is "destroyed" by
playing off of range of meaning of the terms involved.
ROBERT: At this point, Dr. BeDuhn may suggest that he is not really arguing
for two senses of theos in John 1:1.
JB: Same mistake as in all previous: It is not a matter of "two senses of
theos." It is a matter of the quite distinct meanings of the articular
nominative HO THEOS and the anarthrous nominative THEOS. I have listed the
other appearances of anarthrous nominative THEOS in the NT and shown how they
are used to refer to a category of being to which someone or something might
be considered to belong, sometimes in with what we might consider a
qualitative semantic force, that is, an intention of focusing on character
rather than category. But all of the arguments RH makes in this section of
his response confuses HO THEOS with THEOS, and in so doing works towards the
erroneous simple identification of Logos with HO THEOS, which even RH says he
does not accept in simple terms. So I must admit that I have no idea where he
thinks he is going here, and I can't see how it progresses the discussion in
any constructive way. Because he does not see the distinction between HO
THEOS and THEOS, much if his argument ostensibly against my views are quite
beside the point, and are in dialogue with "straw man" JBs of his own
ROBERT: [H]e may suggest that theos simply means "a divine being" or a member
of the "category of gods." When combined with the definite article (ho
theos), it refers to the God of Israel. In certain contexts, however, it may refer to
other "gods," who are not YHWH. In all cases, he may say, the sense is still
"a divine being."
JB: It is not a matter of me "suggesting" the above. This is in fact how the
term THEOS is used in the NT. But Matthew and Paul can even use HO THEOS,
properly qualified with other terms, to refer to other "gods" at least in
theory ("the god of the dead," "the god of this world" -- note that I do not
capitalize "god" in such uses, because the attributive genitives "of the dead"
and "of this world" show that "god" is not used as a proper noun).
ROBERT: "In the beginning was Felix, and Felix was with the Cat,and a cat was Felix." . . . I think most of us would naturally understand
that placing "cat" two words apart in a sentence like this would virtually
insure that the word has the same sense both times.
JB: I think I hardly need say that such a sentence would at first strike most
readers as puzzling. But as they sat and pondered it they would "novelize"
it, so to speak, and presume that "the Cat" was either someone's name (a
street urchin whom Felix followed around?) or some sort of ideal super-cat
(based on English conventions of capitalization). Seeing that Felix was "with
the Cat" and was "a cat" they would reason out that there were some shared
qualities that explains the use of related terms, but that capitalization in
one case and non-capitalization in another implies some crucial distinction.
But hey, that;s just me.
ROBERT: Now, yes, I recognize that I've just used an indefinite noun in
English to signify qualities. This is a dictate of English idiom: as Dr.
BeDuhn has pointed out, we don't generally write sentences like, "Felix was
cat." . . .
JB: Which begs the question, why deviate from standard modern "common" English
in this one instance? Here comes the answer:
ROBERT: And, if there were Gods that existed in the "true God" category
alongside YHWH, I would not object to rendering qualitative theos in John 1:1c
as Dr. BeDuhn suggests. The problem is that from the perspective of Biblical
monotheism, YHWH is unique - there is only one being in the true God category.
This is why I favor the traditional rendering over those offered by Dr.
JB: Since RH has chastised me for characterizing his position as rooted in
theology, I ask now what sort of reason or argument for a position is to be
found in the above passage? He admits here that he would translate John 1:1c
in the ordinary, typical English manner, were it not for certain theological
concerns he has over what might be the implications of that translation. I
think a cry of "foul" is in order here. I have myself appealed to literary
and cultural context to explain what John means by his wording when it is
literally rendered into English. I have never used it to justify replacing a
literal translation with an interpretive one. But what does RH mean by "the
perspective of Biblical monotheism"? Does he mean the contextual use of THEOS
in John or in the NT? No, because in both THEOS is used occasionally of
someone or something other than "God." So he is merely applying this very
prestigious term "Biblical monotheism" to a theological view that he wishes to
apply to this passage.
ROBERT: Granted, we are not used to seeing "God" used qualitatively in modern
English, which is why I've suggested a translation using "Deity" instead.
This suggestion may, in terms of our analogy, take a form such as: "In the
beginning was Felix, and Felix was with the Feline, and Feline was Felix."
JB: It is progress to use "deity" for THEOS, but that progress is lost when
"Deity" is used also for HO THEOS and the other "deity" is capitalized to look
just like it (similarly by using "Feline" for both "the Cat" and "a cat"). I
can accept "the Word was with God, and the Word was deity." That's a full
qualitative, as RH says he wants. But "the Word was with the Deity and the
Word was Deity" doesn't convey the same meaning.
ROBERT: Dr. BeDuhn suggests that Jews in John's day would have recognized the
category of 'theos' as containing ho theos and a host of lesser gods.
JB: I think anyone who has been reading our exchange would immediately
recognize this assertion by RH as a total misrepresentation of my view, as
expressed in context, and as a "straw man" to which he unfortunately devotes
much wasted effort refuting. Obviously, I never suggested that Jews believed
in "a host of lesser gods." I spoke of John's audience, his readers, his
contemporaries, and RH seems to have assumed those were only Jews. I said,
apparently not clearly enough, that the term (in Greek theoi, in Hebrew often
elohim) was used more broadly by Jews and non-Jews alike than modern
Christians (or Jews!) use "God." When the "2nd Temple" Jews were precise in
talking of the one "true" God, the God of Israel, they would of course use
either the personal name YHWH, or some exact expression (among which were, of
course, "the true God" or "the God of Israel"), or in Greek of course they
could always use HO THEOS. The term "god" or "gods," as we would naturally
translate the more generic Greek and Hebrew expressions, obviously meant some
set of super-human qualities that qualified the beings to be so called. The
breadth and looseness of the term did not necessarily erode "Biblical
monotheism" in any way. They, at least, knew the difference between THEOS and
HO THEOS. John starts from this point that he can assume in his audience, and
builds on it a depiction of a uniquely intimate association of the Logos with
God, transcending that of any other beings that might, for one reason or
another, be called THEOS. This point is similarly made by the author of the
Epistle to the Hebrews, who extensively argues that Christ is superior in this
respect to angels (citing an OT passage where the angels were apparently
referred to as "gods" -- elohim).
RH assumes in his argument that John was
writing primarily to Jews, and goes on to demonstrate that Jews, unique in
their region, were strict monotheists. But it is unlikely that John was
writing primarily to Jews, given that in his gospel the term "Jews" is used of
aliens, outsiders, and enemies to Jesus and his mission. So if indeed John
was writing to those who saw Jews as others, all that RH quotes about the
complex and hierarchical view of the "divine" realm held as "typical of the
Hellenistic world" would apply to John's audience. My own view is that John
keeps both audience carefully in mind, and seeks to bridge their respective
views of the "divine" world in a way that brings across what he has to say
that's "new." I have no disagreement with Hurtado, as quoted by RH, and
indeed wonder how on earth he can cite it as supportive of any of his points
(since it does show the term "gods" used in a Jewish text of the time the way
I have said in the time of John, that it is part of the broader cultural
background in which John was writing, and that contextual reading is
essential, which I have always maintained against RH's jabs against such a
method). There is no doubt that, in Hurtado's words, there is "a deliberate
link of the Logos with God, but without simply homogenizing the two."
Contrary to the implication of RH's line of argument, I have never maintained
that in John 1:1 the Logos is an "angelic being." Rather, John says that the
Logos "was a god" and then goes on to explain in what way he means that. How
that comes out in final theological categories may very well have been outside
of John's concern, and we have a long history of internal debate within
Christianity over how to precisely categorize the Logos in relation to HO
THEOS. John's wording did not provide all that theologians wanted, and so
left room for legitimate difference of opinion (legitimate in the sense that
John's wording did not rule it out). By stating that the Logos had the full
set of qualities of a THEOS, John carefully did not say the Logos had the full
set of quaities of HO THEOS. To have done so would be to simply equate and
"homogenize" the Logos and God. By leaping from a categorical "qualitative"
to a qualitative of identity (such as, "Michael Jordan is God!"), RH has made
a move that is beyond the linguistic range of the non-definite nominative
THEOS, and indeed a move that would "shock" Greek grammarians. He continues
to confuse THEOS with HO THEOS at every step of his argument, and so fails to
see how a "full set of qualities" associated with THEOS is not the same as the
"full set of qualities" of HO THEOS. If John had made an equation of the
Logos with the latter, then we would have a direct identification of the Logos
with God the Father; but RH repeats that he does not intend that. The only
way for him to introduce his narrower, more restricted definition of THEOS as
to make it indistinguishable from HO THEOS, is to bring in a theological
concern that a broader, less-defined THEOS category is unprotected from
unworthy members. I don't fault this concern itself, but it does not belong
in this debate and its effect is to strip John of much of the linguistic play
that allows him to build a very elaborate explanantion of how the Logos,
embodied in Christ, bridges the divide between the divine and human realm, and
how Christ mediates the dissolving of that divide to his followers.
With all best wishes,