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Jason BeDuhn's Fifth Reply to Robert Hommel 

Part 3


Dear Robert,

Here is my last set of responses. Thanks for the challenging and stimulating conversation. Maybe you'll write a review of my book! We may both have been hard on each other in a couple spots in this last exchange,but I think we both recognize it's all for a good -- and very important -- cause. I certainly respect your diligence and must commend you for handling the subject at a much higher level of sophistication than I generally find.

best wishes,
Jason B.

Dear readers,

This is the last installment of my responses to RH on the issues of John 1:1c.  With this contribution, I will step away from the on-line debate and let my book and articles on the subject do the talking for awhile.  I'm sure Robert and the rest of you will be interested to see the reaction of academic circles to my arguments in that form. I invite Robert to complete the cycle of discussion if he would like to. But I will not be responding since I feel  that we have aired out every possible relevant angle on the subject, and I concede that it will not be possible for us to ultimately agree on it. No one should be distressed by that lack of agreement. Rather they should learn from it the challenges faced today in translating and interpreting the Bible, a book given to humanity two thousand years ago. It is always best to listen to a variety of voices, to analyze and assess reasons, to understand what is at stake in any position, and to draw one's own conclusions by using that most remarkable of gifts, the human brain.

We are cleaning house a bit here, so these responses amount no more to odds and ends.

A. On a parallel example of an anarthrous noun oftentranslated as definite, involving "a/the devil"

ROBERT: Dr. BeDuhn, I assume, would not translate Luke 21:25 as: "there will be signs in a sun and a moon." If not, I would ask what grammatical evidence Dr. BeDuhn can cite, proving that John 6:70 "cannot" be read "one of you is the devil." Again, Dr. BeDuhn seems to regard all anarthrous nouns as indefinites (except for the few exceptions he has just recently enumerated), which would place him in the minority position - at least if we regard any leading Greek grammar of the past 100 years as credible in this regard.

JB: No, I would not translate Luke 21:25 as "there will be signs in a sun and a moon," because it is nothing like John 1:1c or 6:70. The Luke sentence involves nouns in the dative case and in a prepositional phrase. It is  universally recognized in the study of Greek that datives in prepositional phrases do not require the article to be definite. It is quite another matter with nominatives in copulative (be-verb) sentences. Since DIABOLOS in John 6:70 is in the nominative form and without the article it is either an indefinite or, assuming Harner's arguments are correct, has a "qualitative semantic force" which would have to be translated into English as an indefinite in order for that qualitative force to come through to the reader.  The case is the same with John 1:1c. I do not "regard all anarthrous nouns as indefinites," but rather, in the good company of Greek grammars of the last  100 years, that the lack of the Greek definite article with a noun in the nominative form signifies an indefinite grammatical value unless there is present some other definitizing factor (of which there are very few). There is no such defnitizing factor in either John 1:1c or 6:70.

ROBERT: Further, if we consider the other occurrences of DIABOLOS without the article in the GNT (1 Peter 5:8; Rev 12:9, 20:2), it seems rather clear that it is definite in each case - as it is in the 12 verses in which it occurs with the article. Thus, it would appear that DIABOLOS is definite in all other NT usage, and the burden is on Dr. BeDuhn to prove why it should not be so regarded here. 

JB: In fact, DIABOLOS has the article in both 1 Peter 5:8 and Rev. 12:9. It seems that RH is either relying on some search software or else is unaware that the article may be separated from the noun it modifies by other intervening words. All these words together constitute a nominative phrase (when we are dealing with nominative nouns). Greek can do this even though English cannot. So, in 1 Peter 5:8, two words intervene between the article  and DIABOLOS which characterize this figure as "your opponent." Likewise, in Rev. 12:9, one word intervenes between the article and DIABOLOS. This nominative phrase is hard to render into English; we have to add some words to  make it sound smoothly t our ears: "The (one) called 'devil'." As for Rev. 20:2, there are several manuscripts that have the article and many that do not. When a textual variant is involved, we have to be cautious about drawing grammatical conclusions. As RH points out, the rest of the occurrences of  DIABOLOS in the NT have the definite article. Why, then, if "devil" is almost always definite in the NT, is it not so in the one case of John 6:70?  Precisely because Jesus is using the term not as a direct identification of  "the devil" but as a characterization, a "qualitative" by means of the indefinite of category. And how do we know he is so using the term? how can  we prove that he is using it non-definitely? Precisely because it is signaled in the grammar, by the omission of the article.

ROBERT: Finally, if I am arguing outside of grammar when I consider the beliefs of Jesus and John about "the Devil," Dr. BeDuhn is certainly doing so when he argues that the beliefs of John and his readers must be taken into account in understanding the semantic force of THEOS in John 1:1c. And while I have presented several good reasons based on grammar for understanding DIABOLOS as definite this verse, a consideration of 1st Century Judaism will, I think,  adequately demonstrate that while there may be "demons many," there was but one Devil.

JB: I have always approved of CONTEXT as a factor in understanding the biblical text, and I have no problem with it being introduced here. There certainly are several references to a singular figure, "the Devil" in the NT,  and in the contemporary Jewish literature to a singular figure "the Satan."   But both words could be used indefinitely (and in the plural) in Greek and  Hebrew, respectively, as a perusal of the texts of the time shows. In John 6:70 we are dealing with a categorical/qualitative/characterizing/metaphorical use of the term which works best in Greek in the indefinite.  It also works in English best in the indefinite, because in the definite it would confuse readers into thinking that one of Jesus disciples was literally the Devil.  The same sort of confusion of identification in place of characterization is involved in the traditional translation of John 1:1c that RH still(!) says is fine with him, even though it obviously implies a one-to-one identification of  the Logos with God the Father, the one WITH which the Logos was said to be in the beginning.

B. 1st century Judaism and "gods"

Elsewhere in part 3 of his response, RH refers again to my "suppositions."  As I said in  response to part 2, this is another straw man RH resorts to. Of course, every straw man is built  of bits and pieces of what an opponent has actually said, so I carry some responsibility for creating the possibility of his miscontrual. But it is a misconstrual, because it mixes together things I said about Greek vocabulary, John's thought-world, the cultural understanding of John's audience (likely to be as much or more non-Jewish as Jewish), and the language and concepts employed in the Bible, as well as in other contemporary religious literature.  Let me as clear as I can: 1st century Jews were monotheists; they also believed in other super-human beings (angels, demons); they could use words  such as elohim and theoi in contexts that referred to these supernatural beings without meaning to compromise their monotheism; non-Jews, of course, could use the word THEOS both for what we would call their god, and for other  sorts of superhuman beings; John takes advantage of the polyvalence of the word THEOS to do something different than most of the above, to draw a line across the universe, with "God"/"Father" and "Logos"/"Son" on one side of the line, and more-or-less the rest of the universe on the other, and then to tell a story of how the "Logos"/"Son" crossed that line with the intention of, in some respects, dissolving it for those who associate themselves with him.

C. Shifts in meaning from 1:1b to 1:1c and translation options.

ROBERT: As I have argued previously, there is considerable grammatical and rhetorical evidence that the sense of THEOS in John 1:1 does not change between clause b and clause c. We have yet to see a similar argument from Dr. BeDuhn beyond the assertion that because humans, Satan, and pagan gods are called THEOS in the NT, the Jews understood YHWH to be in the same broad category with them.

JB: On the contrary, there is very clear grammatical evidence that the sense of THEOS changes between 1b and 1c, namely, John's very careful and meaningful omission of the article. There is another rule of Greek grammar that applies here as well. Even if we were not dealing with the nominative case, and the  very strong distinction (relative to the other cases) made by inclusion or omission of the article, in Greek when you are referring to the same person or thing just mentioned, and want to make clear that you mean "the aforementioned  God," you use the article to reinforce that identification. John doesn't do that, either.

I have never asserted that the Jews considered YHWH to be in the same cateogry with humans, Satan, and pagan gods. This is one of RH's straw men. I have said that the term THEOS was applied more broadly by people speaking Greek, including Jews, than we would tend to define the category "god." The proof is  right in the NT itself, where the term is used in this broad manner. I understand the distinction RH draws between "true God" and "so-called gods" (some falsely so-called, some apparently metaphorically or "functionally" so-called). I certainly think, based on a contextual reading, that John himself would make some distinction like that (although some "qualities" that  define a THEOS are apparently promised to humans through Christ).  Unfortunately, the Greek language employed by John is not so precisely defined. Because I recognize the difficulty and burden of relaying some of  these distinctions to the English-speaking Bible reader, I do not simply settle on "a god" as unarguably the best rendering. I would be interested in some sort of survey that tested the number of alternatives I have said are within the range of the Greek to see what people get out of them for meaning (and I would like to see RH's suggestion included as well,
along with the traditional translation).

ROBERT: I favor the traditional rendering over those Dr.BeDuhn offers because it requires far less explanation.

JB: I think this shows that RH still thinks in terms of a direct identification, despite his disavowals. He has said that THEOS in 1c has no shift in meaning from HO THEOS (accusative form TON THEON) in 1b. But in 1b,  the Logos is WITH HO THEOS, whereas in 1c the Logos IS THEOS. This may not be relevant to our discussion, but a Trinitarian would acknowledge a key shift in the meaning of THEOS from 1b to 1c, with the former being used in the restrictive sense (God the Father) and the latter in the broader sense (the Godhead). I wonder if RH has considered that. I have maintained all along that both a Trinitarian and a non-Trinitarian theology can be derived by a trajectory of logic from what John says here. And a "trajectory of logic" is precisely how elaborated theologies were crafted from the biblical raw material by the church leaders in the first four centuries of Christianity, and after.

ROBERT: The task of the translator is to render John 1:1 in such as way as to accurately reflect what John wrote. As Harner has advocated, a possible translation that does so would be: "The Word had the same nature as God." Dr.  BeDuhn might even agree with this translation.

JB: It is itself an ambiguous translation, I'm afraid, though no more or less so than the ones I have proposed. What does one mean by "same nature." Our argument has been over whether the "short list" of qualities for THEOS or the  "long list" of qualities for HO THEOS is invoked.

ROBERT: I have suggested "The Word was Deity." Dr. BeDuhn agrees that this is  possible, but disagrees with the capital "D." I have offered reasons, in an earlier post, why I believe the capital letter is warranted - to signify that  the nature pointed to is that of the true God.

JB: I understand this reason, and do not disagree that John meant to associate the Word with the "true God." I don't think that is at issue, but rather how far the language goes in spelling out the exact character of that association.  Not as far as we might wish, I say. Thankfully, we have the rest of the gospel to elaborate that association for us, which I think it does quite well and clearly. Even if that elaboration agreed in all important respects with RH's view (I think in certain significant respects it does not), I still would argue that we have no right to import all of that elaboration into the wording  of John 1:1. I say let John tell it his way.

ROBERT: I do not regard it likely that John intended a shift in the sense of  THEOS from 1:1b to 1:1c. Clearly, HO THEOS possesses qualities that distinguish Him from other so-called "gods," and I have yet to see a  compelling argument why HO LOGOS - who is qualitatively called THEOS just two words after HO THEOS - does not Himself possess that same set of qualities.  Indeed, that is precisely what I understand John to be writing.

JB: The reason that HO LOGOS does not possess "that same set of qualities" as HO THEOS is because an exactly matching "long list" of qualities means identity between the two terms. Here, as so many times before, RH seems to make an argument for identification OF SOME SORT. I think he means to make an identification in terms of the Trinitarian view of the Godhead, even though he maintains there is no shift of meaning between 1b and 1c, without which Trinitarianism would dissolve into Sabellianism or Modalism (the idea that the Logos/Son is merely a "mode" or manner of presentation of God, rather than a distinct being/person). But that is mere assumption on my part, and RH could in fact be a fully self-conscious modalist. To be fair, his exact theological position is beside the point. I just mean to point out where his argument leads, taken at face value. The only relevant question is:can John 1:1 be read modalistically? The answer is no, because of the careful distinction  between HO THEOS on the one hand in 1:1b and the Logos as THEOS (having  qualities that puts the Logos on the truly divine rather than the creaturely  side of the universal order) in 1:1c.

As always, it has been a pleasure to engage Robert Hommel in this discussion, which has been carried on at a very high level of information and argument.  He certainly has a wide command of much relevant literature, including linguistic theory, despite a certain lack of familiarity specifically with the rules that govern Koine Greek. He obviously makes use of Greek grammars, but  applies them in a hit-and-miss fashion to the biblical text (as can be seen in corrections I have made to his examples throughout our exchange). I think some of our more drawn-out exchanges have been due to this problem, although certainly not all.  He has taken his stand on several positions that I understand and can appreciate, even when I don't agree. I have no AUTHORITY that trumps his, or Harner's or Colwell's or anyone else's.  All I have are the facts, examples, and reasoning I apply to the issue at which parameters that I regard as the legitimate ones fro the subject. He is quite correct to point out that I am merely one voice from the field of biblical studies, and that my position deserves no more adherence than any other unless proved and demonstrated by the relevant evidence at hand. Time and the rigorous process of academic review will test my stance, though it is not mine alone. It is built upon and joins with that of many in my field.  This is work we do together, sometimes in agreement, sometimes sharply at odds -- but always for the greater good of those who are eager to understand better and know more, even if they are not in a position themselves to pursue it as we do.

With all best wishes,
Jason B.

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