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Robert Hommel's Fourth Reply to Jason BeDuhn

Part 1


Dear friends,

Several months ago, Dr. Jason BeDuhn and I engaged in a dialog on the subject of John 1:1 and the NWT. Dr. BeDuhn, citing responsibilities with preparing for the upcoming semester, graciously offered me the final word. Several weeks later, however, Dr. BeDuhn returned with a 3-part response to my final post. I regret that it has taken me so long to consider Dr. BeDuhn's comments and put together some thoughts in response. A number of new responsibilities came my way just after the first of this year, and they have required much of my attention.

About 1 month ago, I returned to Dr. BeDuhn's 3 posts. Over the course of our dialog, I have appreciated Dr. BeDuhn's cordial and perceptive comments and challenges. Our dialog has helped me understand these issues with greater clarity, and for that I am grateful. I regret that I must continue to disagree with someone I've grown to like and respect. I hope that this post will delineate in greater detail why it is that I do not regard Dr. BeDuhn's arguments convincing. Whether he shall find my counter-arguments to be so - well, hope springs eternal!

And now, on with the show!

Dr. Beduhn accuses me of an error when I made the following statements:

ROBERT (previous): Harner considers theos in (another passage we discussed) to be definite on the basis of the anarthrous theos almost always being definite in the NT. . . . While the anarthrous theos may be indefinite here, theos is often definite in the NT, even when it is anarthrous.

JB: The mistake entailed in the above statements is an error in computing statistics on anarthrous THEOS. The claim that "anarthrous theos (is) almost always . . . definite in the NT," or that "theos is often definite in the NT, even when it is anarthrous" is based on a faulty methodology that combines occurrences of THEOS in the genitive and dative cases with occurrences in the nominative and accusative. The grammatical rules involving Greek genitives and datives make the definite article practically unnecessary, and used only in a limited set of circumstances. So definite nouns in their genitive and dative forms often omit the article. But the opposite is true of Greek nouns in the nominative and accusative cases. In these forms, definite nouns as a rule require the definite article, with a very limited set of exceptions. So any count of anarthrous THEOS that combines these four cases into a single statistic yields erroneous results. Looking just at the nominative and accusative occurrences of THEOS, one would be able to state the opposite of what Mr. Hommel says, namely, that anarthrous THEOS is almost always INDEFINITE. I would be happy to entertain an assessment of every anarthrous THEOS in the genitive and accusative cases to demonstrate this fact.

ROBERT: This is the latest of several of Dr. BeDuhn's assertions that Harner and Colwell erred methodologically. I should point out at this point that Harner is not alone in this assessment; it is echoed by Harris, Wallace, and a number of other scholars. Thus, if Dr. BeDuhn is correct, he is overturning a fairly common understanding in the scholarly community, and I'm sure will garner a significant amount of attention, should he be able to prove his case. Of course, this last statement is the crux of the matter. As with previous assertions of methodological impropriety, Dr. BeDuhn offers no proof of his claims. He does not provide an analysis demonstrating that nominative and accusative THEOS sans article are predominately indefinite. Perhaps we will see a statistical analysis in Dr. BeDuhn's forthcoming book, but without such an analysis, it is difficult to determine the accuracy of his assertions.

Dr. BeDuhn says that a consideration of nominative and accusative THEOS (excluding genitive and dative) would demonstrate that anarthrous THEOS is NOT usually definite in the NT, but rather is usually indefinite. Dr. BeDuhn graciously says that he will "entertain an assessment of every anarthrous THEOS in the genitive (SIC - I believe this is a typo and Dr. BeDuhn actually means "nominative") and accusative cases to demonstrate" that his assertion is correct. If Dr. BeDuhn is suggesting that I should provide such an analysis, I must respectfully point out that HE is the one making an assertion contra Harner and those who agree with him, and thus should shoulder the burden and provide the analysis.

Nevertheless, in the interest of moving the discussion forward, I have undertaken a Gramcord search of all examples of anarthrous THEOS in the NT in the nominative and accusative cases. It's possible I have missed a couple - and I'll be happy to be corrected - but I've tried to be thorough in my analysis.

I have examined each verse and assigned a simple semantic tag (D=Definite; I = Indefinite; Q = Qualitative). I've added a "?" to instances that could possibly be disputed. I realize that a three-tag system can be faulted as being too narrow, but I think it will serve to demonstrate my point.

Mk 12:27 (D?); Lk 20:38 (D?); Jn 1:1 (Q?) 1:18b (Q?); 8:54 (D); Ro 8:33b (D); 9:5 (D); 1 Cor 8:4 (D); 8:6 (D); 2 Cor 1:3 (D?); 1:21 (D); 5:5 (D); 5:19 (D); 6:16 (D); Gal 6:7 (D); Eph 4:6 (D); Phil 2:13 (D); 1 Thes 2:5 (D); 2 Thel 2:4 (D?); 1 Tim 2:5 (D); Heb 3:4 (D); Rev 21:7 (D)

Sub Totals: 16 Definte; 0 Indefinite; 6 Disputed

Lk 12:21 (D); Jn 1:18a (D); 10:33 (D?); 20:17 (2x, both D); Acts 14:15 (D?); 28:6 (I); Ro 1:21 (D); 4:2 (D); 8:7 (D); 8:27 (D); 2 Cor 7:9 (D); 7:10 (D); Gal 4:8 (D); 4:9 (D); 2 Thes 1:8 (D); 2:4 (D?); 1 Tim 5:5 (D); Titus 1:16 (D) Heb 6:1 (D); 8:10 (D); 11:16 (D); 1 Pet 3:5 (D); 3:21 (D); 4:6 (D); 5:2 (D); 1 Jn 4:12 (D); 2 Jn 1:9 (D)

Sub Totals: 24 Definite; 1 Indefinite; 3 Disputed

Totals: 40 Definite; 1 Indefinite; 9 disputed.

Even if we grant Dr. BeDuhn the benefit of the doubt and concede that all disputed verses are indefinite, we still have 40 examples of definite THEOS in the NT, to only 10 indefinite. Now, Dr. BeDuhn may wish to further nuance his argument by demonstrating that there are a number of definitizing factors that may come into play with both nominative and accusative nouns. I certainly recognize that some are present in these verses, and have mentioned some of them previously. But I had quoted Harner's statement about anarthrous theos usually being definite in the context of two verses (Mark 12:27; Luke 20:38) which both contain such definitizing factors. (More on this, below). Thus, if Dr. BeDuhn wishes to argue that my sample is skewed towards definiteness, he must explain why the factors which introduce the 'skew' do not function to make THEOS definite in the two verses in question.

I would further point out that in this post, Dr. BeDuhn is arguing that anarthrous nouns in the dative and genitive cases are "often" definite, whereas in prior posts, Dr. BeDuhn has stated categorically that almost all anarthrous nouns are indefintite ("there are only a couple of examples in the whole NT where a definite semantic nuance appears necessary despite the lack of an article"). I think his restatement is somewhat closer the mark, but still misses the target.

For example, Dr. BeDuhn's says: "The grammatical rules involving Greek genitives and datives make the definite article practically unnecessary, and used only in a limited set of circumstances. So definite nouns in their genitive and dative forms often omit the article." Is this what we actually find in the GNT?

If Dr. BeDuhn's assertion is correct, we should expect to see relatively few articular nouns in the dative and genitive cases, with the preponderance being anarthrous (lacking the article). In fact, when we look at nouns in general and THEOS in particular, we do not find evidence supporting Dr. BeDuhn's claim at all:

Articular theos: 482
Anarthrous theos: 168

Articular nouns: 1616
Anarthrous nouns: 1009

Articular theos: 123
Anarthrous theos: 33

Articular nouns: 667
Anarthrous nouns: 477

It does not appear that the article is used "only in a limited set of circumstances," if Dr. BeDuhn is referring to "definite nouns in their genitive and dative forms." Dr. BeDuhn may be speaking in very general terms not about dative and genitive nouns per se, but about grammatical factors associated with them that indicate definiteness, despite the lack of the article. While I'm unaware of any rule of Greek grammar that states that dative and genitive nouns are nearly always definite, a number of grammars define several 'definitizing factors' which signal definiteness in an anarthrous noun. Zerwick lists 3 (proper names, nouns followed by a genitive; object of a prepositional phrase (Zerwick, number 183)). BDF agrees (numbers 255; 259; 260) as does Wallace, who adds an additional 7 (Wallace, pp. 235ff.). While none of these factors is a noun in the dative or genitive case in and of itself, some (but certainly not all) are related to the them (genitive adjuncts - including Apollonius' Canon - and datives following a preposition).

If this understanding is what underlies Dr. BeDuhn's general statement, he and I agree that when one or more of these definitizing factors is present, the article is "practically unnecessary." This agreement, however, will occasion a contradiction in Dr. BeDuhn's argument regarding Mark 12:27, which we continue to discuss, below - for in this case, at least two definitizing factors are present, yet Dr. BeDuhn continues to assert that THEOS in this verse is indefinite.

JB: Mr. Hommel has repeatedly argued, and in his latest message continues to argue, for a "qualitative" reading of THEOS in John 1:1c, basing himself appropriately on the article by Harner which first put forward a detailed discussion of a qualitative construction using pre-verb, article-less ("anarthrous") predicate nouns. But Harner himself states that the most accurate rendering of John 1:1c qualitatively would be "The Word was divine." 

ROBERT: In one of Dr. BeDuhn's previous posts, he said: "If in my arguments you detect a bias at work in defiance of the grammatical, literary, and historical/cultural facts, come down on me as hard as you can." I won't go so far as to accuse Dr. BeDuhn of bias in this argument, but it is "in defiance" of the facts, and so - with respect - I'm going to come down hard.

Dr. BeDuhn is wrong. Nowhere does Harner advocate "the Word was divine" as an accurate translation. Instead, he dismisses the "divine" rendering in no uncertain terms. When considering that John could have written HO LOGOS HN THEIOS, Harner says this: "would mean that the logos was 'divine,' without specifying further in what way or to what extent it was divine. It could also imply that the logos, being only THEIOS was subordinate to THEOS. John evidently wished to say something ... more than (HO LOGOS HN THEIOS)" (Harner, p. 85). Harner goes on to quote Vawter's translation, "The Word is divine," but cautions: "Undoubtedly Vawter means that the Word is 'divine' in the same sense that HO THEOS is divine. But the English language is not as versatile at this point as Greek, and we can avoid misunderstanding the English phrase only if we are aware of the particular force of the Greek expression that it represents" (Harner, p. 86). Harner's understanding of qualitative THEOS in John 1:1c is: "the logos has the same nature of THEOS (rather than something else)" (Harner, p. 85). Harner suggests that the translation "the Word had the same nature as God" is one that represents John's thought.

Dr. BeDuhn has an exceptional academic background. He teaches Greek at the university level, has written books on secular Greek texts, and is writing a book on Bible translation. His mishandling of Harner's article - one of the essential texts when considering the translation of John 1:1 - may indicate nothing more than a slip of the memory. On the other hand, it may indicate that Dr. BeDuhn has not researched this topic as much as he needs to, if he's going to write a book on the subject. If the latter, I would urge him in all sincerity to do the research, and try to set aside his preconceptions when he does so. It may be the door to opening his heart to the truth about what John says about the Logos in John 1:1c.

JB: I tried to point out to Mr. Hommel in our exchanges that if he truly adopts the qualitative reading of THEOS in John 1:1c, then he must adopt a translation such as Harner's, and that he contradicts himself by instead proposing to translate John 1:1b-c as "The Word was with the Deity and the Word was Deity." I say "contradicts" because he uses Harner to establish the "qualitative" sense of THEOS, but does not seem to agree with Harner's view of how a qualitative meaning would read in John 1:1.

ROBERT: Perhaps Dr. BeDuhn should reconsider Harner's article. My position actually agrees quite well with Harner's. I am quite happy to accept Harner's translation: "the Word had the same nature as God." How precisely this "contradicts" my preferred rendering, "The Word was Deity," I'm not sure I follow, since anarthrous "deity" may exude a qualitative sense in modern English quite easily.

ROBERT (previous): 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: If we go along with Mr. Hommel is adhering to formal equivalence to that degree (which in many other passages might cause considerable awkwardness in English), then the consistent translation would be "The Word was a divine being" or "The Word was a god" or "The Word was god." The traditional translation, "The Word was God," which Mr. Hommel says he still finds to be the most accurate, is not accurate according to Harner's conclusions, because it does not convey to the reader the qualitative sense. 

ROBERT: Establishing the context of my remark will, I hope, clarify my meaning. I had stated:

ROBERT (previous): As I hope I've clarified, I don't prefer the adjectival rendering. When an adjectival form for a noun exists - as it does with theos/theios - we must ask if the substantive is synonymous with the adjectival form. We must ask if there are examples of it modifying a substantive as an adjective elsewhere in our literature. Such is the case with hamartwlos, which is why (as I have previously stated) I think an adjectival rendering may be appropriate in some contexts ("he was sinful" instead of "he was a sinner"). But this is not the case with theos. 

ROBERT (con't): Dr. BeDuhn responded:

JB (previous): 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 (con't): To which, I replied, "Rendering John 1:1c as "the Word was divine" suggests that John used a predicate adjective..."

As I hope the context makes clear, I am not arguing for formal equivalence in translation (though I can see why what I said could be construed that way), but rather that I don't regard the substantive 'theos' synonymous with the adjectival 'theios.' Thus, I think the translation, "the Word was divine" implies that John wrote: "ho logos hn theios," which he did not. Had John wished to predicate 'divinity' to the logos, he could have done so using the predicate adjective. Instead, John predicated theos to the logos - and I submit there is semantic difference between the two.

JB: The contradiction in this position is further highlighted when you say:

ROBERT (previous) : 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.

JB: Since you recognizes that the qualitative is often rendered in English with an indefinite noun, on what grounds do you reject "a divine being" or "a god" as acceptable, accurate translations of THEOS? The article-less qualitative noun has mostly disappeared from contemporary English usage, except for "mass" nouns.

ROBERT: A logical contradiction would be present if I argued that all qualitative nouns in Greek may be accurately rendered with an indefinite noun in English. But this is not my argument. I have instead argued that English idiom often requires an indefinite rendering to yield a sentence that reads smoothly ("You are a prophet" instead of "You are prophet"). In many contexts, since we often use indefinites to convey quality in English, the resulting translation is acceptable. In some cases, however, such a translation may introduce ambiguity - does the author wish to emphasize membership in a class or qualities and characteristics? Is the woman at the well placing Jesus in the class of prophets, like her ancestor Jacob, or is she emphasizing the prophetic gifts that reveal hidden things about her past? Thus, whenever possible, the translator should, in my view, preserve the qualitative nuance in the receptor language, particularly if an indefinite noun would be misleading. In the case of John 1:1, I think we agree that John intends to predicate qualities to the Logos - that is the result of Dr. BeDuhn's preferred translation. He wishes to do so with an adjective, I with a qualitative noun. I have indicated my objection to the adjectival rendering.

Now, Dr. BeDuhn has argued that there is no semantic difference between "the word was a god" and "the word was divine." He says that membership in a class includes a qualitative attribution. I have maintained that there is a distinct semantic difference between indefiniteness (membership in a class) and qualitativeness (attribution of qualities). We may infer qualities from membership in a class, but this is a metaphysical inference outside the grammar itself. In any given case, the author, I maintain, has one meaning in mind (unless he consciously intends ambiguity). I think I covered this topic fairly thoroughly in my previous posts, and Dr. BeDuhn acknowledged my position as "sound" and "defensible." Thus, if John intends to predicate qualities to the logos, he does not simultaneously intend to place the logos in a class. Dr. BeDuhn suggests I am asserting a difference without a distinction. I respectfully disagree.

The fallacy in Dr. BeDuhn's approach may be illustrated by a simple distinction linguists and philosophers of language draw between senses of the verb "to be." This distinction was popularized by Bertrand Russell (and recognized by many linguists and philosophers since), who identified four sense of the verb "to be:" auxiliary verb, "is" of existence; "is" of identity; and "is" of predication. The last two are most pertinent in this discussion. The "is" of identity occurs when we identify a subject with a another noun, such as "John is my son." In this example, "John" is equivalent to "my son." When used with an indefinite predicate, the "is" of identity places the subject in a class or category: "the car is a Buick." The "is" of predication attributes a quality or characteristic to a subject: "the car is red." Dr. BeDuhn's preferred translation assumes the "is" of predication - as does mine. However, the NWT translation assumes the "is" of identity. Dr. BeDuhn argues that the "is" of identity is semantically equivalent to the "is" of predication - and this is simply not true. While, in English usage, the "is" of identity may sometimes be used in place of the "is" of predication ("She is a child" to mean "She has child-like qualities"), nevertheless, one meaning is intended (predicative, in this case), and it is this meaning that should be preserved in translation.

Now, Dr. BeDuhn may reply that he recognizes the semantic distinction between the "is" of identity and the "is" of predication, but that John's language is ambiguous - and that since we can't tell which he intended, it is best to offer the most neutral translation possible: "the Word was divine." While I would not agree that John's language is ambiguous, I can see the logic behind such a translational approach. The problem arises when Dr. BeDuhn commends the NWT translation of John 1:1c, and views it as semantically equivalent to his preferred rendering. In doing so, he conflates two distinct semantic forces (contra Russell and many others), and - worse for his own stated objectives in translation - moves beyond the neutral translation which allows for differing interpretations to one which identifies the logos as a member of a 'god' class - a god distinct from HO THEOS, another God in that same class.

Finally, I agree that "G/god" is not commonly used qualitatively in English (although even here we may say "Michael Jordan is God," in a qualitative sense). This is precisely why I have suggested "Deity" as an alternative for "God" in John 1:1 - because it can be used qualitatively without the article quite easily in modern English.

JB: Mr. Hommel has defended both the traditional translation and his own suggested alternative on the grounds that capitalization can be used in English not only for proper nouns, such as names and titles, but also for emphasis and for poetic affect. My initial reaction was to say that he was being disingenuous with this claim, using it as a screen for working into the text a capitalization scheme that would lead readers to accept his theological interpretation of the passage. In light of his latest posting, where he objects to my use of "disingenuous," I carefully considered whether that had been a fair characterization. The term implies conscious and deliberate misdirection in argument -- in other words, that the person knows that the point of argument is not true or relevant. That was an unfair assumption on my part, and I apologize for using the word.

ROBERT: Apology accepted! 

JB: Let me speak more carefully. The sort of capitalization for poetic affect, of which he cites several examples in his latest message, has nothing to do with the capitalization patterns in the most commonly used Bibles, such as the KJV, NASB, NIV, NRSV, NAB, TEV, LB, etc. 

ROBERT: I was not offering these examples to demonstrate a poetic scheme of capitalization, but as evidence of usage. Dr. BeDuhn and at least one other poster on this forum had taken me to task for not following proper grammatical rules of capitalization. I responded that modern linguists did not view "rules" of grammar in a prescriptive way, but rather descriptive of actual usage. Dr. BeDuhn did not address this point.

I had asked: "So, do people actually capitalize words in English for emphasis?" I provided the examples from English poetry to demonstrate that yes, indeed, people do capitalize words for emphasis. I selected poetry as my sample because I thought it most closely reflected the style of John's Prologue. I see now that I should have simply relied on the regular pattern of capitalization in modern Bible translations, rather than introducing opportunities for additional confusion.

Be that as it may, having established the general principal that capitalization may be used for emphasis in English usage, I then went on to address the specific question of capitalization of "God" in the English Bible. I had written:

ROBERT (previous): 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. . . . 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. . . . Capitalization emphasizes the noun as referring to the true God - as virtually every English translation does, even when the noun is indefinite.

To which Dr. BeDuhn objected:

JB: So by "emphasis," Mr. Hommel means to emphasize the identity of the noun as "God," the "God of Israel," "Jehovah," "the true God." And that, he adds, is the exact reason why he thinks "God" or "Deity" should be capitalized in John 1:1c. This is a fundamental mistake on his part, and really the key to our whole stalemate on this verse. "God," the individual being, is HO THEOS in Greek, not THEOS. The anarthrous noun THEOS, be it indefinite or qualitative in meaning, is not an identification of the individual being "God." It is a general category of being, or, if you prefer, a defined set of qualities. The exact confusion of these two things in Mr. Hommel's thinking is what happens when you read the traditional translation of John 1:1, and the same confusion will only be perpetuated in Mr. Hommel's proposed translation.

ROBERT: I don't believe Dr. BeDuhn's assertion regarding the meaning of anarthrous theos - made once again without any supporting evidence - will stand up under investigation. I shall address this point further in a moment. But even if he were correct, I think anyone reading my previous posts will not find me to be "confused" about theos when it refers to the person of God and when it refers to the qualities possessed by that God, or even when it refers to a class of "gods." Indeed, my entire argument has been based on my attempts to demonstrate the distinctives of each semantic category.

I have argued that capitalization "rules" are - by modern linguistic understanding - rather more descriptive of actual usage than a set of rigid do's and don'ts. Dr. BeDuhn recognizes that Bible translators capitalize God (even "a God") when it is deemed to refer to the one God - even the NWT does this. He agrees that this is a "well-traveled typographical road." However, Dr. BeDuhn says the NWT translators "made a mistake when the capitalized God in indefinite expressions" and says the fact that most (all?) major English Bible translation regularly capitalize "God" when translating anarthrous theos "doesn't make it right." But on what basis does he declare it to be wrong? Dr. BeDuhn has not engaged my argument that modern linguists view grammatical rules like capitalization to be descriptive of common usage. If most - if not all - English Bible translations actually use "God" to render theos when it refers to the true God, does this not signal common usage, the very criterion I have argued for? 

Dr. BeDuhn expresses concern that capitalizing "God" may lead unwary readers to accept my theology. But surely, if capitalizing anarthrous "God" when referring to the true God is misleading, so is NOT capitalizing it! And further, what more theological "leading" could be envisioned than by rendering theos in John 1:1c as "a god?"

I shall address momentarily whether it is "proper" to capitalize a qualitative noun. But first I'd like to address Dr. BeDuhn's assertion that anarthrous theos in the GNT is always "a general category of being" or "a defined set of attributes." Consider the following verses:


o So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God (lK 12:21).

o No one has seen God at any time (Jn 1:18a - compare Jn 1:1b).

o I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God. (Jn 20:17 - compare Jn 20:28).

o solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God (Acts 20:21).

o For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God (Ro 4:2).


o God is the one who justifies (Ro 8:33).

o God blessed forever (Ro 9:5).

o He who establishes us with you in Christ and anointed us is God (2 Cor 1:21).

o Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God (2 Cor 5:5)

o namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself (2 Cor 5:19).

These examples can easily be multiplied. They should be sufficient, however, to demonstrate that anarthrous theos is often definite in the GNT, and not always indefinite or qualitative. Anarthrous nouns, assuredly, can convey the semantic forces Dr. BeDuhn suggests: a class or category (indefinite) or qualities (qualitative). But there are a host of factors that may make the noun definite, aside from the presence of the article. I hope it is not presumptuous for an amateur such as myself to suggest that Dr. BeDuhn's reluctance to consider these definitizing factors has led him to believe that all (or most) anarthrous nouns in the nominative and accusative cases are indefinite, and this belief shapes his translation of John 1:1 and his endorsement of the NWT rendering.

JB: What is at issue for these capitalizations of indefinite "god" in the Bible, and for Mr. Hommel, is a confusion between characterization and identification, between THEOS as a quality or category, and HO THEOS as an individual. This basic mistake of thinking the Word is identified with HO THEOS in John 1:1c is reflected in the capitalization "God" (or "Deity"). Printing "God" in John 1:1c has the effect of confusing readers familiar with normal English capitalization. In the Greek New Testament, HO THEOS functions as a name, hence as a proper noun, and that is why "God" is capitalized in those instances where the Greek reads HO THEOS. Everywhere THEOS is not used as a name (determined by the lack of an article or by context), "god" should not be capitalized. By capitalizing as well THEOS without the article, Mr. Hommel creates a sentence like "Snoopy is Dog." Yes, Snoopy has the full and complete set of "dog" qualities, as Mr. Hommel would say. But in English we would convey this neither by capitalizing "dog" nor by leaving off the indefinite article. Capitalizing the second "Deity" (or "God") does not follow normal English usage and misleads the reader with respect to the grammatical form and function of THEOS in 1:1c.

ROBERT: The analogy Dr. BeDuhn offers lacks context, and is therefore not convincing. Let me try to frame it in a way at least somewhat akin to John 1:1. Suppose we are reading a book on the evolution of dogs (it doesn't matter whether we accept evolution as a valid theory or not). We read, "With the advent of canis about 30,000 years ago, we have the first appearance of true Dog." The capitalization of "Dog," here is used here to emphasize that the "category" (to use Dr. BeDuhn's term) of "Dog" is distinct from other categories of proto-dogs or near-dogs that may exist in the fossil record. ("Man" is often capitalized in books on human evolution for precisely this reason). In this context, imagine a paleo-bioligist who has found an ancient fossil - dated at 100,000 years BCE - which he dubs "Snoopy." He believes the fossil to be virtually identical to modern canis. He may very well say, "This is unprecedented! Snoopy is (true) Dog!"

The reason I believe this analogy is a bit better than that offered by Dr. BeDuhn is that I've established a context in which there is only one true "Dog," though there may be other "dogs" which - though similar - are distinct from true Dog. This, I think, mirrors fairly closely what we have in the Bible. Though there are "gods" many, there is but one true God - and English Bible translations regularly capitalize theos when it refers to this one God - whether theos is definite (referring to the being) or, as Dr. BeDuhn wishes, categorical (referring to the category - of which YWHW is the sole member). 

Dr. BeDuhn is free to disagree with the premise that there is a category of "true THEOS," as he is free to disagree with capitalization schemes he doesn't like; however, the fact is that there are reasons why Bible translators capitalize THEOS as they do, and they cannot be faulted - at least, if one follows a descriptive model of English grammar, as do most linguists of the past half-century.

JB: In a previous posting, I compared Mark 12:27: "He is not a god of the dead" to Luke 20:38 (which has the exact same translation in English), in order to show an anarthrous THEOS after the verb with the same meaning as an anarthrous THEOS before the verb. Mr. Hommel disagreed with my example, maintaining that both passages should be read definitely, as "the God of the dead," despite the fact that there are no definite articles in either of these two sentences. 

ROBERT: Yes. As I have argued - and as every Greek Grammar I've aware of confirms - the lack of the article may not always be taken to signal indefiniteness. As I pointed out, there are definitizing factors in these verses that argue strongly for a defintite semantic force.

JB: He brings various arguments in support of his reading, including a rule of Greek grammar known as "Apollonius' Canon" (for Mark 12:27), and the view of Harner (on Luke 20:38). It is certainly true that Matthew's version of this saying (Mt. 22:32), written differently than either Mark's or Luke's, is to be read "the god of (the) dead," because unlike them Matthew writes HO THEOS, "the god." 

ROBERT: I think the evidence I presented in my last post makes it fairly clear that "the God of the dead" is the correct translation of this saying in all three Gospels. Both Mark and Luke are nouns followed by a genitive adjunct ("of the dead," one of the definitizing factors recognized by the three grammars I cited, above). Mark is further an example of Apollonius' Canon, which stipulates that if "dead" is definite, "God" most likely is as well. Finally, I did cite Harner's comment about anarthrous 'theos' usually being definite in the GNT, and the statistics I've presented in this post bear out that supposition.

Further, Dr. BeDuhn stated, above, that the grammar of genitive nouns makes the article "practically unnecessary." If by the grammar Dr. BeDuhn means genitive adjuncts and Apollonius' Canon, then he admits that 'theos' here is most likely definite. Now, Dr. BeDuhn may believe these definitizing factors do not signal definiteness in Mark and Luke, but if so, he has yet to tell us why. 

Finally, it seems to me that Matthew pretty much seals the deal. The Biblical authors understood their native syntax better than we do. I believe that unless there is good reason to assume otherwise, it is best to regard parallel statements in different Gospels as having the same meaning, regardless of syntactic variation. Thus, if Matthew writes 'ho theos,' I would submit that Luke and Mark intended the same semantic force in their gospels - as I think the arguments I previously presented make clear.

JB: Now why have I not capitalized "god" even in this case, where the form HO THEOS is employed? Quite simply, in English we properly capitalize "God" when we use it as a name, but do not capitalize it when we use it to refer to a class of beings. And this distinction is further maintained by the use of the English articles. When we speak in English of the individual God, we do not say "the God," but simply "God." We do not put articles in front of names. This is proper English usage. Nevertheless, Mr. Hommel is quite correct that in the Bible translation tradition, the capitalized "God" has often been used even in sentences where "the" and "a" appear with it. This is an error of translation based upon a confusion between the individual "God" and the class "god" which occurs in English precisely because we use God (rather than, say, Yahweh or Zeus) as a proper name as well as a title.

ROBERT: I applaud Dr. BeDuhn's consistency. If he wishes to distinguish theos as a name from theos as a class of beings by means of capitalization, he is welcome to do so. I even agree that there may be some confusion regarding whether the person or class is referred to if both are capitalized (just as there will be if "god" is not capitalized, when referring to the true God), though I think it is an unjustified assumption to characterize this as an "error of translation," as if the translators were unaware of the semantics of theos in any given usage.

I agree that capitalization is a symptom of the larger disagreement between Dr. BeDuhn and me. I reject, however, Dr. BeDuhn's assertion that I am being inconsistent or biased in my decision to capitalize Deity in my preferred translation of John 1:1. Capitalizing anarthrous theos when it refers to the class or qualities of the true God is grammatically sound, given that "rules" of capitalization are generally regarded by modern linguists to be governed by usage, and - as Dr. Beduhn admits - such capitalization occurs in Bible translations all the time.

This completes Part 1 of my response to Dr. BeDuhn. The second installment will follow shortly.

Kind regards,


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