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Robert Hommel's Third Reply to Jason BeDuhn



Hi, Dr. BeDuhn,

Thank you for your detailed and challenging comments. I think this discussion has delineated several key differences in our views, which I hope will prove helpful to any readers we may have. I hope these final comments will clarify my position a bit further. Though your schedule does not permit further interaction in this forum at this time, if you would like clarification on anything I have said, please don't hesitate to drop me an email. Also, I will ask some questions in this post - our readers may take them as rhetorical; but if you choose to respond to me someday, perhaps you will be so kind as to answer them.

You wrote:

The fact is, though, that Colwell is not right. His own article contains data that shows so many exceptions to his "rule" (that is, fifteen definite nouns that DO HAVE the article even though they are before the verb) that no one should have taken his claims seriously. His predetermination of definiteness made his whole study circular from the start.

ROBERT: Colwell's Rule is not absolute and does not claim to be. It defines a statistical probability for a specific semantic nuance in a specific grammatical structure. It is a perfectly valid rule as Colwell formulated it - that is, that definite PNs that precede a copulative verbe are usually anarthrous. Fifteen articular PNs before the verb versus 97 anarthrous PNs does not disprove his rule, but substantiates it (an 87% probability that such a noun will occur without the article). To say that "no one should have taken his claims seriously" on this basis is, I think, a bit over the top. Colwell admits that his identification of definite nouns may contain mistakes, but one would have to find quite a few to demonstrate that definite PNs prior to the copula are not usually definite.

You have not cited any published statistical studies that disprove Colwell's Rule, nor provided your own (despite my having asked). On the other hand, I have provided two studies and one major Greek Grammar that corroborate Colwell's findings. Therefore, you have not convinced me that Colwell's Rule is invalid.

JB: On the contrary, there are only a couple of examples in the whole NT where a definite semantic nuance appears necessary despite the lack of an article. 

ROBERT: I'm unclear whether you are speaking about all anarthrous nouns in the NT, or just those in the construction Colwell identified. In either case, I would ask where is the proof of your assertion? If you are referring to all anarthrous nouns, a quick look at theos alone should demonstrate that there are far more than a "couple" examples of definite anarthrous nouns. Just in the Prologue, we have anarthrous theos in 1:6, 12, and 13, and I'm unaware of anyone who argues these are indefinite nouns - certainly, the NWT does not render them as indefinites. Murray J. Harris, following a statistical analysis of the 1315 occurrences of theos in the NT, finds that theos is anarthrous over 20% of the time, and most of these are definite. He concludes, "in the New Testament ho theos and theos are often interchangeable" ([i]Jesus as God[/i], p. 37). If you are referring to preverbal PNs, Colwell discusses dozens of examples in which there is an interplay within the immediate context between an articular noun following the verb and a noun occurring before the verb without the article. He lists several examples of parallel passages in different Gospels where one passage uses an articular noun after the verb, the other the same anarthrous noun before the verb. He presents examples of manuscript variants in which one has an articular noun after the verb, and the other variant the same noun without the article preceding the verb. These examples will be difficult to demonstrate are not definite, or are only definite according to Colwell; at least to date, no one has convincingly done so.

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. The best example of this is John 19:31 where English usage suggests a definite sense to "preparation day," which appears in this verse as an article-less predicate noun before the verb. Yet just a few verses earlier, in John 19:14, the same expression, "preparation day" appears as an article-less predicate noun AFTER the verb, where it must be indefinite. So we need to recognize the mismatch between how Greek uses indefinites and English does.

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.

JB: But on the contrary, the subjective basis of his determination of definiteness makes it interpretive rather than translational. How does he KNOW they are definite without some sort of objectively valid grammatical marker of definiteness? That's what I mean by circular, and that makes his claims invalid. 

ROBERT: I think you're not giving due consideration to Colwell's evidence. He does provide several "objective" criteria for determining definiteness, such as a clearly definite parallel verse, a definite article in a textual variant, and markers in the immediate context. Determining definite nouns is not, I think, as subjective as you are implying. If it were, I would think we would find a much wider variation between Bible translations when it comes to rendering anarthrous nouns as definite or qualitative. Certainly examples exists where the determination is difficult; but these are exceptions, not the norm.

JB: But what does this have to do with John 1:1c? Just this point that I started to make above. When we see how exactly Colwell went wrong we learn something about a basic mistake we may be making when we translate. Colwell was often misled by how we would say something IN ENGLISH into thinking that in Greek it has definiteness. 

ROBERT: Again, I'd like to see proof of this assertion.

JB: But Greek communicates meaning in different ways than English does. The very same problem afflicts appeals to "qualitative" vs. "indefinite" -- these are semantic distinctions we make in English, and that can be distinguished grammatically in English, but in Greek there is no grammatical distinction and therefore we cannot be sure there was a semantic distinction. The claim that there is a distinct "qualitative noun" in Greek is only a hypothesis, and cannot be proven because there is nothing in the grammar that conclusively shows such a distinct noun function.

ROBERT: As I said in my previous post, I think that mass nouns fairly clearly exhibit the qualitative semantic force in equative phrases. Mass nouns exist in both English and Greek, and I think the examples we considered in our previous posts establish rather clearly that mass nouns are not grammatically or semantically identical with indefinite nouns. In fact, mass nouns cannot be grammatically indefinitized. Thus, in a verse like John 1:14, you're left grammatically with "the flesh" (definite) or "flesh" (qualitative). There's really no other choice, if we're dealing purely with the grammar. Jesus didn't become "the flesh," nor did He become "a flesh;" He became flesh - having the nature of flesh in the same sense that the jar in your example was made out of pewter. And, you have granted that, at least in some cases, a count noun can exhibit the same semantic force as a mass noun. Thus, if the statistical probability is that a preverbal anarthrous PN is qualitative, we have the grammatical distinction you require. It is not an all-encompassing rule; it is a statistical probability. But the distinction is there, unless statistically it can be shown that it is not.

Harner believes that he sees a trend in noun placement that points to a distinct semantic function, namely, that an article-less predicate noun before the verb conveys "quality." This is certainly not a "rule," because there are plenty of exceptions. That is, we have article-less predicate nouns before the verb that are clearly indefinite, rather than qualitative in meaning, for example:

ROBERT: Where does Harner say there are no exceptions? The advancement of Harner in this field of study is not to prove a rule that all anarthrous nouns preceding the copula are qualitative, but that when this situation occurs, there is a strong probability that the PN carries the qualitative semantic force. Citing exceptions does not disprove the statistical distribution; what is needed is a careful statistical analysis that demonstrates Harner's alleged error. Perhaps your book will offer such a study for our consideration.

JB: John 9:16 "And there was a schism among them." "A schism," indefinite, not in any sense qualitative.

Mark 6:49 "It is a ghost." "A ghost" is used here to identify, not designate quality. The one quality is given in the narrative: what they see walks on water. From that one quality they conclude the identity, that is, the category to which what they see belongs: the ghost category. (Harner agrees, page 78).

1 Corinthians 8:4 "There is no god except one." "No god" with an article-less theos where a category, not a quality, is referred to, as clearly shown by the use of a enumerative expression, "no/none."

ROBERT: I have never said that all anarthrous PNs before the verb are qualitative. I've argued that other forces can exist. Exceptions exist for virtually every rule of Greek grammar, do they not? You have demonstrated that they exist in this case, too, but that point has been conceded, most cogently by Harner himself.

JB: But we also have article-less predicate nouns in after the verb that are every bit as much "qualitative" as Harner's nouns, such as in Mark 9:35; Luke 20:33; John 4:18; John 18:13; Acts 10:36; 2 Thessalonians 2:4. 

ROBERT: Nor have I denied that qualitative nouns may exist in post-copulative constructions. What I've argued is that statistically, they are more likely to occur preceding the verb.

JB: This would be so if there was a grammatical rule. But there is no such rule, as the counter-examples demonstrate. 

ROBERT: I don't think you are fairly addressing my argument. I did not say that there was an absolute grammatical "rule" applicable to all cases without exception. I argue no more than Harner did himself. I said qualitativeness pertained "more often than not." You have cited counter-examples that Harner acknowledges exist. You have not demonstrated that the counter-examples outnumber the examples.

JB: We must be clear to our readers here that Harner and some others following him are ADVOCATING qualitativeness as a separate semantic category. But this has not been PROVEN to be true of Greek. Harner himself uses plenty of "may be"s in his article. I have looked at the very same evidence, and I contend that it shows that while indefiniteness and qualitativeness are distinct semantic categories in English, they are not in Greek. 

ROBERT: We must also be clear to our readers that qualitativeness had been addressed by Robertson, Mantey, Zerwick, BD, M&T, and a host of others before Harner. It was always associated with an anarthrous noun, but it was Harner who identified the precopulative construction as the prevalent one used by Mark and John to convey this nuance. Earlier grammarians may not have addressed it specifically as a "separate semantic category," but they recognize the semantic force as often stressed in Greek. The distinction between indefinites and qualitatives may be blurred in some grammars - but they acknowledge the force exists and that Greek can express that meaning. Modern grammars [i]do[/i] address it as a semantic category. Mass nouns demonstrate fairly conclusively that qualitativeness exists as a grammatical category - mass nouns cannot be indefinitized and do not exhibit the sense of definite nouns.

JB: That mismatch means that there is room for variations in translation of sentences like John 1:1c. But there are also limits to how far your variation can go. When in comes to Greek grammar, the basic characteristic I learned in school and from the grammars is that word order is not significant grammatically, generally speaking. Greek has cases and relational particles that relieve word order of grammatical function. And so we see Greek writers arranging sentences in all sorts of orders. Not that word order cannot serve some semantic function. 

ROBERT: Yes, generally word order is flexible. But, as your last sentence and subsequent example prove, changes in word order are not necessarily semantically transparent. Variations in word order can signify emphasis or be a semantic tip off.

JB: Harner actually throws in, page 85, that "the word theos is placed at the beginning for emphasis." This has often been stated over the centuries, and Harner is saying nothing new. But it's a big problem for his thesis, because he can't have it both ways. Either John placed theos first to convey quality, or he placed it first for emphasis. It can't do both at the same time. Placing a word first in a sentence for emphasis is universally recognized as something that is done in Greek, whereas the "qualitative" function of such placement is still debatable.

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?

JB: I very strenuously disagree with your statement that qualitative semantic force is "far" from indefinite semantic force. In Greek they are indistinguishable, as I have said. There may be some need to distinguish them in English (the target language), but always keeping in mind that this is a distinction not made in Greek (the source language). 

ROBERT: I'm sorry, but I simply do not see how qualitativeness is indistinguishable from indefiniteness when we consider mass nouns. One cannot take a mass term and grammatically make it "a" something.

JB: That's fine that you as the author can tell us what you intend. But we don't have John to tell us what he intended by what he wrote. All we have is the language he used from which we must deduce a meaning which we hope and have some reason to believe (based on language choices he made) is what he intended. 

ROBERT: Yes, I agree completely. I was demonstrating that qualitativeness is a distinct semantic category, which you appear to accept, or at least to which you acquiesce for the sake of our discussion.

JB: Yes, Robert, ENGLISH makes this grammatical distinction, but GREEK does not. 

ROBERT: With respect, I think it does. Greek writers can certainly express a qualitative meaning - we agree on that - and if Harner's statistics are valid, John and Mark - at least (the scope of Harner's study) - generally expressed that meaning grammatically by placing an anarthrous noun before a copulative verb.

JB: Take for example Mark 12:27: "He is not a god of the dead" or "He is not god of the dead." By your definition, a negated "qualitative." But it is expressed here by an article-less predicate noun AFTER the verb, so outside of Harner's set and surely indefinite grammatically. The very same semantic force is conveyed in Luke 20:38: "He is not a god of the dead" or "He is not god of the dead," but this time with an article-less predicate noun BEFORE the verb. You can see that these are interchangeable in meaning, while employing different word orders, one definitely indefinite in construction, the other looking just as indefinite, but falling into Harner's set. Greek does not appear to distinguish these the way Harner wants to. 

ROBERT: Again, I do not see Harner as advocating an absolute rule. I view both of these verses as examples of definite PNs. Mark 12:27 is an example of Apollonius' Canon (a noun followed by a genitive noun), in this case, both without the article (theos nekrwn). Both nouns will generally exhibit the same semantic force in this construction, thus making both of your translations unlikely: If "dead" is definite, theos will probably be so as well. A recent study demonstrates the that anarthrous nouns in this construction are most often both definite (Hedges, cited in Wallace, p. 239, 250-251). Harner considers theos in this verse to be definite on the basis of the anarthrous theos almost always being definite in the NT. Further, the genitive adjunt ("of the dead") makes theos more specific, hence more likely to be definite. Luke 20:38 is not an example of Apollonius' Canon, but the other reasons I've given for considering theos as definite still apply. Taking all this into consideration, I think it is more likely to be "the God of the dead" than either indefinite or qualitative. I realize not all translators agree with this view, but many do, such those who translated the NIV, NASB, and ASV.

JB; This is a very sound statement of a position that, while not in full agreement with mine, is defensible. I am willing to walk down this road with you, and assume a "qualitative" semantic force as something logically separable, and in English grammatically distinct, from an indefinite. The next question would be, what is meant by "qualitative"? What I find in what you have written in our discussion, and in some of the studies you cite, is a leap from the general, linguistic meaning of "qualitative" to a very specific philosophical concept of "in every sense the same as x." This same leap is made by Wallace and Hartley. But this very elaborate and restrictive definition of "qualitative" cannot be derived from the language alone, but is read into the language as a desired interpretation. It is a leap that cannot be substantiated, as you can see if you try to apply it to every case where a "qualitative" semantic force appears.

ROBERT: This is a great point and I'm glad you raised it. We certainly need to distinguish what is signified by the grammar and the metaphysical "leap" into interpretation. I submit that the grammar of a qualitative PN does nothing more or less than ascribe its attributes, qualities, or characteristics to the subject. The grammar does not limit this attribution in any way. In the English example you gave before, if you say, "the jar is pewter," the grammar does not place limits on how pure the pewter is, or which parts of the jar may or may not be pewter. The grammar simply equates "pewter" to "jar." Now, the context in which you say this sentence may cause us - metaphysically - to limit or refine our understanding of precisely how the jar is pewter. If you say, for example, the jar has a porcelain base, we would interpret "the jar is pewter" in a more limited fashion than the grammar alone would indicate. The point I'm trying to make is that the grammar of "the jar is pewter" signifies the jar is made out of pewter - all pewter and nothing but pewter. That's what the sense of the mass noun "pewter" exudes in this sentence.

Consider the examples you have given previously in which you argued that qualitative nouns do not attribute all the qualities of the PN in full measure to the subject. How did you present your argument? Was it grammatical or interpretive? You conclude, for example, that "all is vapor" does not mean that all things have all the qualities of vapor - but is this because the grammar suggests this limitation, or because you come to this conclusion by interpreting the sentence in context and comparing it to what you know to be true about vapor? I think if you give this careful consideration, you'll realize that you are the one who is reading into the grammar and placing restrictions on the sense of a qualitative noun that cannot be substantiated from the language alone.

Now, of course grammar leads to interpretation, and we cannot rely on grammar alone to determine the meaning of any given discourse. But you have accused me of pouring an outside meaning into the grammar, an accusation I strongly deny. I think I've got my grammatical horse before my interpretive cart, so to speak. And 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.

JB: We are just moving the question from one term to the next, from "quality" to "nature." When you use "nature" it has theological overtones derived from the philosophical elaboration of Christology that occurred over several centuries after John was written. Yes, that elaboration was based in part on what John wrote, and I am not arguing over whether or not that elaboration went in the right direction. What I am saying is that you cannot pack the entire content of that very carefully defined concept of "nature" into the linguistic designation "quality." "Quality" just isn't that precise, and any Greek scholar speaking about a "qualitative" sense in a noun in any other text would be really shocked to see the term construed as conveying the meaning you and others are giving it.

ROBERT: Again, we must distinguish the grammatical sense of a sentence from the meaning we may derive from it. If we begin with the grammatical foundation that a qualitative noun ascribes its qualities, attributes, and characteristics to the subject, we may move into the realm of interpretation and determine what the implication of that attribution is. We may determine that we must limit the attribution of qualities in some fashion, based on the context - but we ought to have good reasons for doing so. This approach, it seems to me, is sound - both grammatically and interpretively. And I think most Greek scholars would agree.

JB: In the linguistic sense, "quality" means the character, condition, substance, status, etc. that something has. In any given case the exact nuance, the exact set of qualities that are being tapped into, will vary. That was the point I was trying to make by bringing up metaphor and simile -- NOT that John 1:1 is a metaphor or simile, because I don't think that -- but that both Greek and English are able to make metaphors and similes by constructing parallelisms that invoke some, but not all of the qualities possessed by the subject and object of the parallel. 

ROBERT: I generally agree with your first sentence. However, as soon as you say "in any given case..." you have moved outside the realm of grammar and are dealing with interpretation. The grammar does not determine which "set of qualities" is meant; indeed, it cannot if we talking about a simple copulative sentence, such as John 1:1c. 

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." The same is true of the grammar of an indefinite noun used to express qualitativeness. There is nothing in the grammar of an qualitative-indefinite noun that restricts which qualities are associated with a given class or category. 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. If we know that Rex is a person, we will, of course, interpret the attributed qualities differently - but that is not something we can determine from the grammar.

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. To be tautological (and contra our former President), "is" means "is." The semantic force of the predicate is important because it tells us exactly what is being attributed to the subject - but there is no grammatical basis to assume a restricted meaning. Such a restriction does not exist in definite or indefinite nouns; to argue that it does in qualitative nouns is equivocation.

JB: I think part of the problem with us getting on the same page is that you keep taking your examples from theologically significant passages, where God or Christ is the subject, so naturally your beliefs read in "full measure." 

ROBERT: As I hope I've demonstrated, I do not base the "full measure" sense on beliefs but on grammar. It is, I submit, those who argue for a lesser sense that are allowing their beliefs to dictate what a simple grammatical construction can and cannot say.

JB: But if we look at examples where the subject is not so significant, you will see that your "full measure" over-determination of "quality" doesn't hold up. For example: 

John 6:70 "One of you is a devil."

This sentence has an article-less predicate noun before the verb, just like John 1:1c. By what you've been arguing in line with Harner, we should consider it qualitative. Fine. 

ROBERT: Not necessarily. Remember, Harner did not claim that every noun in this construction is qualitative - only that most were. There may be other factors in this verse that point us in another direction, as we shall see.

JB: Does Jesus mean that Judas (the implied subject) has the "full measure," that is every single one of the qualities of a devil? Well, some of the qualities of a "devil" are that it is disembodied, can move itself and others instantly over great distances, can possess people and animals, and has other powers humans do not have (all of this is biblical). Does Judas have even one of these qualities? No, he does not. So by calling Judas "a devil," Jesus is making a general association between Judas and a devil, one that draws on only some of a devil's qualities (such as maliciousness, betrayal, etc.). You see, a qualitative semantic function does not necessarily involve the "full measure" of qualities.

ROBERT: Is this a grammatical argument or interpretive? The grammar simply stipulates that Judas [i]is[/i] a (or the) devil. There is nothing [i]in the grammar[/i] that restricts the qualities that are attributed to Judas. We may interpret this verse to mean that Jesus is not attributing all the qualities of a/the devil to Judas literally - but that is an interpretive decision. It seems to me that if "devil" is qualitative, Jesus is attributing all the qualities of a/the devil to Judas, but is speaking hyperbolically.

Further, I don't agree that "devil" is necessarily qualitative. I think it's very possible that for Jesus and John, there was only one devil (though there were demons many, to be sure). This would make "devil" a monadic noun, and therefore definite. If it is, would you say the grammar "restricts" Jesus from saying that Judas is literally "the devil," or would that simply be an incorrect interpretation? If "devil" is definite, we have a convertible proposition - Jesus is equating Judas and the Devil personally (again, a hyperbole).

JB: But the question is not "full measure" or "partial measure" as issues of INTERPRETING what John wrote. The question is how to TRANSLATE a qualitative noun. 

ROBERT: Haven't you stated that translation is not interpretation? If so, we can only go by the grammar - and if an equative phrase equates the attributes of the PN to the subject, isn't that where we should start?

JB: I think we have come very close to one another in recognizing that the traditional translation is flawed. 

ROBERT: I wouldn't go so far as to say it is flawed. I do think it requires some explanation, but I've said that any translation that is not a paraphrase would also require some explanation, and I think the traditional translation requires less explanation and is closer to John's intended meaning that any suggested alternative.

JB: But where we seem to be stuck is what is suitably put in its place. "A god," "god," "a divine being," "divine," even "deity" in the way you use it, mean the same thing. You simply cannot derive from the grammar anything as over-determined as "possessing all the qualities." That's an interpretation you are building on top of the grammar based on other passages. Interpretation is fine, but it shouldn't be confused with translation. If John wanted to say "possessing all the qualities" he certainly could have written that. 

ROBERT: Again, we disagree sharply here. You certainly can derive "possessing all the qualities" from the grammar, because that is precisely what an equative phrase means. 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. If John wished to write "possessing some of the qualities," he could have written that as well. 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."

JB: It simply isn't relevant to the context that Pilate would mean "I don't have any of the qualities of a Jew." There is a specific reference point to which he is responding, and anything else is superfluous to the narrative. So it is arbitrary to pack the "full measure" of Jewishness into it. 

ROBERT: It may be superfluous, but it is not arbitrary. Where in the grammar of the verb "am" is Pilate saying he's not fully a Jew? You may interpret his meaning as being less than full measure, but this is not something the grammar tells us.

JB: Likewise, in Mark 12:35: "The Messiah is a son of David." Jesus' own remarks here show that not all of the qualities are being invoked. Descent yes, but the hierarchical subordination of a son to a father is specifically rejected as not accurately connoted by this expression. 

ROBERT: Where does the grammar restrict the meaning of "Son?"

JB: The same holds true for the very verse Harner was most interested in exegeting, Mark 15:39: "Truly this man was a son of God." Is the centurion asserting that Christ had the "full measure" of qualities of a son of God? Contextual reading is essential here. 

ROBERT: I agree - context is essential to determine the proper interpretation. But you have asserted that translation is not interpretation.

JB: The centurion is remarking on the evidence of what is happening around him that God loved this person like a son, and thus the signs of the cosmos being shaken and stirred by his death. He certainly is in no position to make claims about the person's birth (which is another member of the full set of qualities one would have as a son, but is not even a subject in Mark's gospel). "Son of God" was a widely used title for a person beloved of God, chosen or favored by God, and the centurion is portrayed invoking that sense of it. The title is used more fully, more significantly, in the mouth of others in the NT, perhaps even in the sense of the "full measure" of qualities of such a title. But not here.

ROBERT: You have presented a very cogent interpretation based on context and historical data. But this is not a grammatical argument. 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?

So if I go along, and say, "okay, let's call it qualitative," then our next joint task is to look at how English conveys qualitative relative to how Greek conveys it. Some examples from sentences using the same grammatical construct as John 1:1c:

John 4:19 "You are a prophet" not "You are prophet."
John 8:34 "Everyone who does sin is a slave of sin" not ". . . is slave of sin."
John 8:48 "You are a Samaritan" not "You are Samaritan."
John 9:24 "This man is a sinner" not "This man is sinner."
John 9:28 "You are a disciple of that man" not "You are disciple of that man."
John 10:1 "This one is a thief" not "This one is thief."
John 12:6 "He was a thief" not "He was thief."

I'm not going to argue that these are indefinites rather than qualitatives. You have cited several of them already as qualitative, and we'll just consider them qualitative. Even so, in English they must be translated as indefinites. 

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

JB: That's just the way English conveys the meaning, which happens to be precisely the same way Greek does -- namely, by saying something is one of a category of things, you convey its quality. 

ROBERT: If you conclude that all nouns without the article in Greek are indefinite, you're right - but you've also begged the question. Why is it not permissible for a Greek speaker to say "You are prophet," or "You are Samaritan?" If Harner's statistics hold up, Greek conveys qualitativeness differently than English, precisely because Greek word order is more flexible than English.

JB: I am not particularly interested in understanding theos as an adjective. I have simply pointed out that a predicate adjective is something we use in English to convey . . . "quality." 

ROBERT: Yes, but rendering John 1:1c as "the Word was divine" suggests that John used a predicate adjective - which he did not. He could have used an adjective (theios) but he chose not to. I submit there is a reason he made that choice, and it has to do with the meaning John intended to convey.

JB: For example, John 7:12 reads agathos estin, which can be translated as either "He is a good man" or "He is good." In both the original Greek and in English, the indefinite and the qualitative mean the same thing. In English you can use either an indefinite predicate noun or a predicate adjective; there is not even a shade of semantic difference.

ROBERT: I would classify John 7:12 as a qualitative noun. The stress is on qualities, not membership in a class. In English, we may express this idea with either an indefinite noun, or a qualitative one. That's because in English idiom, as you've pointed out, qualities are often expressed by an indefinite noun. This fact, however, does not prove that there is no grammatical or semantic difference between "agathos estin" and "estin agathos." BTW, where in the grammar do we see any restriction of how "good" the man is? 

JB: So the problem here is that you work very hard to defend a "qualitative" reading of John 1:1c over against an indefinite one, and then you refuse to embrace the translational outcome of that "qualitative" reading because it does not, in itself, provide all of the interpretive restrictiveness you wish to impose on the verse. You want ot move it back towards an individual meaning, a definite meaning, or at the very least to read "qualitative" in a very specialized way that simply does not apply to the ordinary linguistic meaning of that word. You want to infuse "quality" with theological significance. 

ROBERT: I don't believe I'm imposing any sort of "interpretive restrictiveness" on the translation. It is you who seem to be imposing an extra-linguistic restriction on the grammar. You are assuming the metaphysical nature of the referent is the same thing as the semantic sense of a noun. And I do not see how I am using a "specialized" definition of qualitative - you object to the "full measure" sense - but that is precisely what the grammar stipulates. Equative phrases equate. Equative phrases with qualitative nouns equate qualities.

JB: You're being disingenuous here, Robert. The qualitative sense you have been arguing so strenuously for REQUIRES a non-capitalized "d" in English. A capital "D" does not communicate the qualitative sense. 

ROBERT: I don't believe I'm being disingenuous at all, Dr. BeDuhn. Perhaps I wasn't clear, but saying I didn't want to quibble about this point was another way of saying that I didn't feel it required a lengthy discussion. Now that you've accused me of lacking candor, you must endure a more detailed explanation ;-) 

While grammar texts of by-gone days were "prescriptive" in nature, most texts written in the last 50 years or so take a more "descriptive" view of grammar. Most modern linguists recognize that language is organic and changes over time, and therefore shy away from definite rules of grammar that rigidly dictate "normal" usage. They prefer to describe how people actually use language rather than tell them how they should. To paraphrase something you said, I think most linguists would be "shocked" by you prescribing rules of capitalization as you have.

So, do people actually capitalize words in English for emphasis? On occasion. Particularly in poetry or elevated prose, which is certainly what we're dealing with in John 1:1.

For example:

"...till one greater Man / Restore us and regain the blissful seat" (Milton, Paradise Lost, Bk 1).

"I travld thro' a Land of Men / A Land of Men & Women too" (Blake, "The Mental Traveller").

"Into our Minds, into the Mind of Man..." (Wordsworth, "Prospectus to The Recluse").

"With the drawing of this Love and the voice of this Calling" (Eliot, "The Waste Land").

But what of the Bible? It is a commonplace in Bible translation to render theos with a capital letter when it is deemed to refer to the God of Israel - even when it is not a title or proper name. Consider the NWT translation of these verses: Gen 16:13; 1 Sam 2:3, 17:46; Neh 9:17; Ps 5:4, 58:11, 68:20, 86:15; Is 30:18, 45:15, 64:4; Jer 23:23, 51:56; Dan 2:28, 2:47; Mi 7:18; Luk 20:38; 1 Cor 14:33. In each case, we have "a God." "God" cannot be a name or title in any of these verses, as it is preceded by the indefinite article. So, why is it capitalized? Perhaps to show emphasis - to make sure the reader understands that the "God" being referred to here is Jehovah. This is precisely my reason for capitalizing Deity. You may disagree with this grammatical license - as is your prerogative - but please refrain from accusing me of being disingenuous because I choose to follow this well-traveled typographical road.

JB: It seems to me that something is holding you back from following through on the logic of your own position. What seems to be difficult for you to accept is that the qualitative semantic force rules out the traditional translation of John 1:1c, because capitalization of "God" or any substitute term does not convey the qualitative sense in English. Capitalization makes a noun proper, a name or title. 

ROBERT: No, capitalization emphasizes the noun as referring to the true God - as virtually every English translation does, even when the noun is indefinite.

JB: John is not using it as either a name or title in 1:1c. Just as you wouldn't translate John 10:34 as "You are Gods," so you shouldn't arbitrarily use a capital in John 1:1c. 

ROBERT: Was the NWTTC arbitrary when it capitalized theos in the 18 verses I've just mentioned?

JB: Similarly, it is incorrect to translate 2 Thessalonians 2:4 as "he is God" (as some translations do). That's not the claim the antichrist makes, but rather that "he is a god," or, qualitatively, "he is god." Capitalizing "God" confuses the claim to belong to the category of "gods" or to have the qualities of a "god" with the claim to be specifically identical to the individual God. This confusion should be avoided here and, speaking strictly linguistically, as a matter of translation, the same holds true for John 1:1c.

ROBERT: Some translations? I would say all the major translations render theos as a definite (YLT, KVJ, NKJV, RSV, NRSV, DNT, NASB, NIV, ASV, NET), as do the majority of commentaries. While the anarthrous theos may be indefinite here, theos is often definite in the NT, even when it is anarthrous. The immediate context argues for a definite semantic force. Placing himself against or above all things worshipped - sitting in the Temple (in Semitic culture, a clear symbol that he is proclaiming his superiority) - announcing his deity from the Temple itself - all these suggest precisely the opposite of what you say should be avoided: that he proclaims that he is God Himself. This is an interpretive argument, granted; if grammar alone were the basis of translation, you have a cogent argument - though unless all anarthrous nouns are indefinite, there's a grammatical case to be made the other way, too. But while grammar must guide our interpretation and places limits upon it, so too our interpretation must shape our understanding of the author's meaning within what the grammar will allow.

In any event, linguistically, John 1:1c and 2 Thessalonians 2:4 are not the same construction. I understand that you view the two as semantically transparent, but I don't think you've proven - yet - why that should be the case.

JB: What will set limits to your ability to read anything you might want into the Bible if you disdain to "acquiesce" to grammatical possibilities? 

ROBERT: I have written a short paper on hermeneutics on my website, which I invite those interested to consult. I certainly don't advocate reading whatever I wish into the Bible. However, 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?

JB: The larger the "chunk" the more interpretive the reading, the more a generalized, abstracted, derived meaning can be injected into any one part. 

ROBERT: That's true, if one does not follow sound hermeneutic principles. However, if Barr is right (and I think he is), meaning is really not contained in a word or a phrase or even a sentence. I'm not at all saying we need to "pack" all of John's Gospel into John 1:1c, but it is simply not linguistically sound to suggest we should not consider John 1:1a; 1:1b; 1:3; 1:14; or 1:18 in our determination of what John means by "theos hn ho logos."

JB: This gets to my whole point about bias, about the temptation not to be confronted by the challenges of the text. You and I have different definitions of contextual reading. For me the parts define the whole, while it seems to me that for you the whole defines the parts. 

ROBERT: If I've given that impression, I've failed to communicate (to paraphrase an old Steve McQueen movie). I agree that the parts lead to the whole. However, when we're talking about "meaning," it is not sound to atomize those parts to the extent that we cannot determine the author's intent - if we do, our parts have not been adequately translated, and our understanding of the whole is confused.

JB: I think the latter approach is too open to arbitrary harmonization, and what I mean by "harmonization" is imposing an agreement of passages on one's own terms, that is, what someone on their own thinking, prior to and outside of the text, thinks to be right and true. For me, close attention to the particulars, to the details of the individual passages, prevents me from having the free space in which I might unconsciously impose my will on the text. 

ROBERT: I admire your sincerity in seeking a proper understanding apart from preconceptions. It is an ideal we should all strive for. I certainly try to do that myself. It is not my desire to misread God's word, nor to harmonize arbitrarily. I've seen others do so - and the results are often shocking. I have always maintained that proper exegesis leads to proper theology. Though this discussion has been primarily grammatical in nature, I usually defend my faith by simple exegesis - and invite those who disagree to offer their own. It's amazing to me how often they flee to other verses to tell me that my exegesis cannot be valid, based on a preferred view of those other verses. Like you, I believe understanding each text in its context is vital to a proper understanding of the whole.

JB: On your web site you characterize my position as "secular." Maybe I come across that way sometime, but I feel it to be a bit of an assumption on your part. After all, Christians believe in a God who reveals, and that revelation is communicated in language. Therefore, according to this set of beliefs, language is the key God has provided to knowing his will. If you presume to know God's will despite, rather than through, the language in which it is supposedly communicated, then the Bible will become merely the mirror of your own will, rather than the window to God's.

ROBERT: I'm sorry if you find "secular" offensive or inaccurate. I was responding to your published statement that you are not a theologian, and I thought "secular" was an appropriate description of a non-theological approach to translation. I shall change that word in the next revision of my article.

Again, Dr. BeDuhn, I wish to thank you for your time and for the lively interaction. I have enjoyed thinking through these issues once again and being challenged in such a cordial and respectful manner. I do hope we can interact again at some point in the future.

Best of luck with your book! Perhaps you would be so kind as to let us know when your book is in print - I'm sure many on this forum would like to read it.

Kind regards,

Robert Hommel

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