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Robert Hommel's Fourth Reply to Jason BeDuhn

Part 2


Dear friends,

Here is the second of my 3-part response to Dr. BeDuhn. It generally divides into three sections:

1. The Relation of Mass Terms to Theos
2. Do Qualitative Nouns Express Qualities in Full Measure?
3. Does the Logos Have the Qualities of "God" or "a god?"


JB: Since THEOS is not a "mass" noun, this whole line of argument has only indirect relevance for our discussion. It has only an indirect bearing for him because he wants to establish the English recognition of a distinct qualitative noun, one that is used without either a definite or an indefinite article. Be that as it may, what Mr. Hommel says about "mass" nouns not being indefinites (because in English we don't use the indefinite article with a "mass" noun) is true IN ENGLISH, but not in Greek. Mass nouns can and are grammatically indefinitized in Greek, that is, written without the definite article. 

ROBERT: My introduction of mass terms was to demonstrate the existence of qualitativeness as a semantic force distinct from indefinite (membership in a class). Having established that point, which Dr. BeDuhn originally denied, I then demonstrated examples where the qualitative force is present with count nouns. For example, in our discussion about John 3:6, Dr. BeDuhn said: 

JB (previous): That which is born of flesh is flesh." Excellent example of two indefinite nouns, indistinguishable grammatically, that convey what I have been saying about category and quality. In short, category defines qualities. Belonging to the flesh category means that one has flesh qualities. You could get away with "fleshly" for the second sarx, but it hardly seems necessary. The same remarks hold true for "spirit" (pneuma).

ROBERT (con't): To which I responded: 

ROBERT (previous): If sarx is a non-count noun in Greek as it is in English, I don't see it as being indefinite in the sense of being a class or category. Again, it seems forced to say that Jesus is placing that which is born of the flesh in the "flesh category." Rather, it seems to me that - just as in John 1:1 - there is an interplay between the same noun used with and without the article - between definite and qualitative: "that which is born of the flesh is (by nature) flesh." At least, I take this to be the essential meaning of what Jesus is saying. Pneuma is, of course, a count noun. Thus, grammatically, it is distinguishable from sarx, at least in this sense. I agree that the count noun in this verse takes on the same semantic force as the non-count noun does - the parallelism virtually demands it. However, since a non-count noun does not denote membership in a class or category, we are left with qualitative in both cases.

ROBERT (con't): Dr. BeDuhn's further prefers to render theos in John 1:1c as "divine," which is a qualitative rendering. Thus, the issue is not whether theos is a count noun, nor whether count nouns can be qualitative, it is how best to render this qualitative count noun in English. It is here that Dr. BeDuhn and I part ways. He says:

JB: Greek, however, has simply definite nouns and non-definite nouns. 

ROBERT: Greek has articular nouns (which are always definite) and anarthrous nouns (which can be definite, indefinite, or qualitative). Harner has argued - and been generally accepted to have demonstrated - that syntax is a marker for qualitativeness. Dr. BeDuhn, though he has tried to undermine Harner to some degree, has not demonstrated that Harner's conclusions (and those of many other Greek scholars) are invalid. Thus, Dr. BeDuhn argues without warrant when he says:

JB: All Greek non-definite nouns, be they count or non-count, have no article, because Greek does not have an indefinite article. But since English does, it must be added when Greek non-definites are translated into English. 

ROBERT: Dr. BeDuhn is correct when he says that all "non-definite" nouns are anarthrous in Greek; it is logically unsound, however, to assert that all anarthrous nouns are "non-definite" (technically, Dr. BeDuhn affirms the consequent - while all dogs are mammals, not all mammals are dogs). Dr. BeDuhn is also wrong when he assumes that all anarthrous nouns are indefinite (not merely "non-definite"). Thus, Dr. BeDuhn's conclusion, which arises from this invalid premise, is also unwarranted: 

JB: Since THEOS is a count noun, not a mass noun, it should have the indefinite article added when translated into English.

ROBERT: Such a translational model would lead us to render Luke 6:5 as "The Son of Man is a lord of the Sabbath;" John 1:18a as "No one has seen a god at any time;" John 3:6 as "that which is born of the Spirit is a spirit," none of which the NWTTC opted for (nor should they have). There are dozens, perhaps hundreds, of such examples. I would ask Dr. BeDuhn to produce a single Greek grammar that states that the indefinite article "must be added" to non-definite count nouns when translated into English.

Dr. BeDuhn seems on the one hand to understand the semantic distinction between indefinite and qualitative when he says: 

JB: But in fairness to Mr. Hommel, there is nothing wrong with "unpacking" this single Greek grammatical category into what we in English consider distinct semantic functions, with more-or-less confidence that we are understanding what the Greek means, depending on the specific case.

ROBERT: But on the other hand, Dr. BeDuhn continues to maintain that an indefinite semantic force is the same thing as a qualitative one: 

JB: In the particular instance of John 1:1c, I have said repeatedly that Harner's qualitative translation "The Word was divine" is an acceptable translation, as accurate a reflection of the original Greek as "The Word was a god.

ROBERT: Yes, Dr. BeDuhn has said this repeatedly, but has not demonstrated linguistically how identification ("is a god") is semantically equivalent to predication ("is divine") without appealing to metaphysical inference. I suppose I must also repeat that "the Word was divine" may be Dr. BeDuhn's qualitative translation, but it is not P.B. Harner's. Harner recognized qualitative theos in John 1:1c as signifying that the Logos had the same nature as ho theos. I agree with Harner on this. It is Dr. BeDuhn who appears to accept Harner's qualitative category, but shies away from Harner's suggested translation - one which fully reflects the qualitative semantic force Dr. BeDuhn admits is present.

JB: Mr. Hommel, showing that he is already aware of the fact that in Greek the "indefinite" category includes both the indefinite and qualitative forces that we can distinguish in English, says:

ROBERT (previous): 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."

JB: In effect, this IS how they spoke in Greek, because Greek does not have an indefinite article. But this is not how we speak in English. So we are not going to start writing English sentences that look like this, are we? 

ROBERT: Dr. BeDuhn is taking my quote out of context and placing it into service to try establish that I am "already aware" that "the indefinite category includes both the indefinite and qualitative forces that we can distinguish in English." The context of my remark will perhaps shed some light on our disagreement. Dr. BeDuhn had provided a list of verses in which an anarthrous predicate noun, while signifying qualities, had to be translated into English using an indefinite noun. I replied that English idiom often requires us to translate a qualitative noun in Greek with an English indefinite. Dr. BeDuhn then said:

JB (previous): 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 (con't): To which I responded:

ROBERT (previous): 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.

Robert (con't): In other words, to prove that all anarthrous qualitative nouns are really indefinite, Dr. BeDuhn was assuming that all anarthrous nouns are really indefinite. I asked him why in Greek a speaker could not say "You are prophet," meaning "You have prophetic qualities." That's precisely Harner's argument - that when a Greek writer places an anarthrous noun before a copula, he most often intends to stress qualities. When a Greek writer places an anarthrous noun after the copula, he most often intends to stress membership in a class. I don't think Dr. BeDuhn is fairly addressing my point.

And let me reassure Dr. BeDuhn that "we" aren't going to start writing English sentences that look like this. Well, not intentionally, anyway! As I tried to make clear, I was not speaking about translation, but challenging Dr. BeDuhn's assertion (which he has now nuanced a bit with regard to specific grammatical cases) that a Greek speaker always conveys quality by using an indefinite noun. A Greek speaker may convey quality with an anarthrous noun - but it is an unproven assumption that all anarthrous nouns are indefinites.

JB: The job of the translator is to convert the Greek into an accurate and grammatically correct form of English. I know you know that, so I am not sure whether I'm supposed to take this seriously as an attempted justification of writing John 1:1c without the indefinite article. Or am I missing something? Are you making a case that ALL Greek non-definites are qualitative? But I have already shown in a previous posting that such is not true (the exceptions to Harner).

ROBERT: I'd like Dr. BeDuhn to consider these remarks as seriously as he has my previous remarks, none of which he characterized in this fashion. If Dr. BeDuhn has been seriously considering my previous posts, he knows that I am not "making a case that ALL Greek non-definites are qualitative." Such a statement seems either to completely misunderstand much of what I have been arguing (and which Dr. BeDuhn seemed to understand at the time), or to have forgotten essential points of our discussion. He also acknowledges that I have "reasonably" based my argument largely on Harner's study. Finally, I have acknowledged the exceptions to Harner's study - and noted that Harner himself acknowledges them as well. So, what Dr. BeDuhn seems to be missing is that Greek speakers did NOT express qualitativeness by means of an indefinite noun, even though we may do so in English. They expressed qualitativeness with an anarthrous noun - and, by Dr. BeDuhn's own criterion, the translator's job is to render qualitativeness "accurately" into English. Sometimes, we can only do so in English with an indefinite noun - but such is not the case with John 1:1c. Yes, "God" is not commonly used in a qualitative sense in English, and so the traditional translation is wanting is some regards, and requires an explanatory footnote. I prefer "Deity" to "God" because it does retain a qualitative sense when used without the article. While I don't think it is the most accurate, Dr. BeDuhn's "divine" rendering is also acceptable, with proper explanation. What is not permissible, if one accepts that John intended to stress qualities (as Dr. BeDuhn does), is the indefinite rendering of the NWT - for while qualities may be inferred by such usage, that is not the primary semantic sense, and thus we are introducing a concept (membership in a class) foreign to John's thought. 

JB: The point I have been making in this exchange is that Harner's distinct "qualitative" noun constructions are grammatically indistinguishable from indefinite nouns, and we must come to terms with how Greek semantic categories may be organized differently than English ones. 

ROBERT: No, as I've said before, Harner's distinct "qualitative" noun constructions ARE grammatically distinguishable from indefinite nouns. One is placed before the copula, the other is placed after. That was the entire thrust of Harner's study. Not simply that qualitativness existed as a semantic category (lots of folks recognized that prior to Harner), but that qualitativness was often signaled by the so-called Colwell Construction (precopulative anarthrous PN). 


JB: Mr. Hommel and I are exchanging charges of "limiting" the meaning of words and phrases, and I want to explain the difference between Mr. Hommel's claim that I am limiting the meaning of a qualitative THEOS -- a claim founded on theology -- and my claim that he is limiting the meaning of a qualitative THEOS (not to mention an indefinite THEOS) -- a claim founded on language, literary context, and cultural environment.

ROBERT: Dr. BeDuhn's characterization that my assertion is "founded on theology" while his is "founded on language, literary context, and cultural environment" is nothing more than the pretended neutrality fallacy. In my previous post, I argued carefully from linguistics and grammar alone. I said nothing about "literary context" or "cultural environment" or any other mechanisms for inserting one's preferred view into a text. I argued from the standpoint of grammar alone - and I invite anyone to read my previous post to verify this fact.

I had asked Dr. BeDuhn on several occasions what in the grammar limited the semantic force of a given text. I note Dr. BeDuhn offers not a single response to these questions. I argued that if definiteness or indefiniteness does not limit the semantic force, it is equivocation to suggest that qualitativeness is limited. Dr. BeDuhn does not respond to this point, either.

Dr. BeDuhn's position on the precise semantic of a qualitative noun expressed in this post is contradictory - not only with his previous position, but with itself. On the one hand, he says:

JB: But contrary to Mr. Hommel, I do not go on from that to somehow limit the meaning of that "qualitative" description (technically, a noun-complement) of "the Word."

ROBERT: Dr. BeDuhn says that he does not limit the meaning of qualitative theos, but he had previously argued:

JB (previous): 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....In any given case the exact nuance, the exact set of qualities that are being tapped into, will vary.

ROBERT (con't): In previous posts, Dr. BeDuhn offered examples of qualitative nouns which he felt did not convey all the qualities of the PN to the subject. In this post, he suggests that metaphors and similies fall into this category. Yet, he goes on to assert:

JB: I have never suggested introducing some qualification or limitation into the equation of John 1:1c....I completely agree with Mr. Hommel that the Word has the full measure of the defining qualities of THEOS as a category that John is employing.

ROBERT: I'm glad that Dr. BeDuhn has come to this understanding of qualitativeness, but this is not the position he originally espoused. He then clarifies this understanding by stating:

JB: To use your language, the Word is in full and complete measure what the class designation "god" signifies. It is crucial to note that the Word was in full and complete measure THEOS, not HO THEOS. Whether the first leads logically to the second is a matter of interpretation, not translation.

ROBERT: Thus, Dr. BeDuhn accepts that qualitative nouns express qualities "in full measure." The important question regarding "the full measure" of what (ho theos or theos) will be covered in the next section.

On the other hand, Dr. BeDuhn later asserts:

JB: Grammar "does not determine which set of qualities is meant." It does not determine either the full and complete set, nor a particular limited set. Grammar leaves this more defining determination open.

ROBERT: So, Dr. BeDuhn agrees that qualitative theos signifies the full measure of the defining qualities of the "theos category," and goes so far as to posit those qualities are "fixed," but then says that grammar cannot determine the "defining set of qualities." I'm confused.

The "full measure" connotations of equative phrases is so well established in linguistics, that some philosophically inclined linguists (such as Alfred Korzybski and his followers) have advocated "non-Aristotelian language systems" to deal with the fact that while, grammatically, "the rose is red," attributes all the qualities of "red" to the rose, in reality, the rose is merely perceived by our minds as red, and is not really "red" at all. Some linguists have even gone so far as to promote a "dialect" of English (E-Prime) which eliminates the "is" of identity and the "is" of predication entirely - so that supposed philosophical disjunctions between "language" and "reality" are avoided.


JB: To use your language, the Word is in full and complete measure what the class designation "god" signifies. It is crucial to note that the Word was in full and complete measure THEOS, not HO THEOS. Whether the first leads logically to the second is a matter of interpretation, not translation.

ROBERT: This is an excellent point, and I'm glad Dr. BeDuhn raised it. It is, in my view, the very heart of our disagreement. I think we have reached substantial agreement that John intends a qualitative meaning in his use of theos in John 1:1c, and that qualitativness - at least in this case - signifies the complete set of qualities represented by THEOS. Our final - and most significant - obstacle to full agreement lies with this crucial question: What qualities would John's readers most naturally associate with theos?

Dr. BeDuhn lays out his argument as follows:

JB: Mr. Hommel says that I unfairly "limit" the meaning of qualitative THEOS by not acknowledging that it means the full set of qualities carried by the term. But the term he means is apparently HO THEOS, not THEOS. It is precisely the point that THEOS is not interchangeable with HO THEOS. In what I have said about how Greek uses categories (indefinite) to establish character or quality, I have tried to find common ground with what Mr. Hommel means when he speaks about the full set of qualities. In Greek, a category such as "man," "ghost," "son," or "god" has implicit in it an understood definition of that term -- and what I mean by "understood" is: generally known to people within the culture where the Greek category is employed. So when John wrote "the Word was a god," or "The Word was god" (using phrasing more akin to what Mr. Hommel has been arguing for), he could count on his readers understanding the categorical definition he was invoking, and that is how he was able to communicate the inspiration he had about how to understand Jesus. Putting the Word into the "god" category was the first step in a lengthy explanation by which he further elaborated the basic definition, and sought to make clear in what sense the pre-incarnate being who became enfleshed as Jesus was in the "god" category rather than some other. John's audience had a working definition of a "god" that included things like superhuman knowledge and power, extremely long or immortal existence, transcendence of physical limitations, etc. To be in the "god" category, a being would be assumed to have the necessary qualities. But not every being in the "god" category would be assumed to be identical in every way, only the same in the critical qualities necessary to be considered a "god." In short, one could be THEOS without being HO THEOS, because the latter term refers to a specific being within the larger THEOS category.

ROBERT: Dr. BeDuhn says that I "apparently" mean to ascribe the full qualities of ho theos to the logos, not merely theos. He later accuses me of a "serious logical flaw" in this regard, saying that if the Word had all the qualities of ho theos, ho logos and ho theos would be the same individual. I think a review of my previous posts will show that I have never argued that the logos had all the qualities of ho theos. Instead, I have argued that the logos had all the qualities of theos, just as ho theos does. For example, I said: 

ROBERT (previous): The Logos has the qualities, attributes, or characteristics of theos....The Word had the attributes of theos....If John wishes to place an emphasis on the anarthrous theos, is that emphasis intended to diminish the Logos as theos in comparison to ho theos, or is it intended to elevate the Logos to the level of ho theos? I think we agree that it is the latter - theos is emphasized. 

ROBERT (con't): Dr. BeDuhn argues that John's readers would understand that John is including ho logos in the same category as ho thoes - and on this point we generally agree. But we part company when he says that the category of theos would have included ho theos and a number of other divine beings as well. Dr. BeDuhn has previously accused me of pouring my theology into this text - an accusation I tried to answer by providing a grammatical argument on the semantics of a qualitative noun in an equative phrase. Dr. BeDuhn now introduces the "working definition" of "a god" into the discussion. I'm more than willing to consider the relative merits of his argument, but I must point out that we have left the field of grammar in favor of one's preferred view of 1st Century Jewish monotheism. This field of study is fascinating and well worth investigating in detail, but it must be stressed that scholars have not reached anything like a consensus regarding how 2nd Temple Jews understood "divine beings" who were not ho theos. Dr. BeDuhn asserts that they would have considered these beings as belonging to a divine class of beings alongside ho theos. This is a problematic assertion, as I hope to demonstrate momentarily, and Dr. BeDuhn provides no evidence supporting his claims for us to consider. And while I will not accuse Dr. BeDuhn of pouring his theology into the text, I believe his argument is at least as subjective as he claims my own to be, if not moreso.

Before discussing how John's audience would understand the "god category," I'd like to remain in the realm of grammar and semantics a bit longer to stress several reasons why I believe that theos in John 1:1c should be understood as having the same set of qualities that ho theos possesses.

A quick perusal of any leading Greek lexicon will demonstrate that the semantic range of theos does, indeed, contain the meaning Dr. BeDuhn suggests - a divine being. It is used in this sense in the OT to refer to pagan gods. It may refer to God's holy angels in the OT (though never in the NT), exalted humans, the stomach, and Satan. A qualitative noun with this sense would predicate all the qualities of a divine being to the subject (a rather broad 'category,' but one which - I will argue - would not contain ho theos). Theos is also used to refer to the true God of Israel, both with and without the article. A qualitative theos used in the latter sense would predicate to the subject all the qualities that make the God of Israel the true God. Context will help determine the sense in any given passage. Dr. BeDuhn argues that the 'context' of 2nd Temple Jewish monotheism (as he sees it) should determine the precise sense of theos John intends. I do not - not only because I disagree with him about Jewish monotheism, but also because I believe there are grammatical and syntactic markers that point rather clearly to the sense for which I have argued.

1. Contextual Circles
Moises Silva defines various levels or "circles" of context - ranging from the immediate context (a phrase), to a larger one (a passage), to a still larger one (a chapter), and so on to a book, a related group of books (like Paul's epistles), and even to the entire Bible. He considers the relative weight we should give to the various levels of context, and argues:  "Without suggesting that we can come up with immutable laws to be applied mechanically, one must recognize that the smaller the circle, the more likely it is to affect the disputed passage (_Biblical Words and Their Meaning_, p. 156). From the standpoint of the immediate context, where theos is used in John 1:1b to refer to the true God of Israel, it would seem unlikely that John intends a different sense just two words later. This sense is reinforced by larger contextual circles, including the striking conclusion of John's Gospel - the confession of Thomas, who calls Jesus ho theos mou.

2. Maximum Redundancy
Linguist Martin Joos has demonstrated how the inherent redundancy of human language is helpful in determining the meaning of a disputed word. He calls this principle "maximum redundancy." The example he gives is a dictionary definition of per contra: "The female is generally drab, the male, per contra, brilliant." Joos argues that if we consider the three words "drab," "per contra," and "brilliant," we need know the meaning of only two, to determine the meaning of the third. He suggests we define a disputed word:

"in such a fashion as to make it contribute least to the total message derivable from the passage where it as at home, rather than, e.g., defining it according to some presumed etymology or semantic history ("Semantic Axiom Number One," Language 48 (1972), pp. 257-265).

Applying this principle to John 1:1, it seems clear that theos should be understood with the same sense in both clause b and clause c (the former with a definite semantic force, the latter qualitatively). If we know what "ho theos" means, and we know what "ho logos" means, we should be able to intuitively understand what "theos" means when it is predicated of the Logos in John 1:1c.

3. Stairstep Parallalism
The syntactical positioning of Jn 1:1 seems to be deliberately set in a specific manner to function as a rhetorical device for the purpose of emphasis: "One favored device among classical rhetoricians was to end an expression with a word and to begin the following expression with the same word" (cf., _Style and Discourse_, Nida, Louw, Snyman and Cronje, p. 27). An example of this rhetorical feature is found in Romans 5:3b-5a "trouble produces endurance, endurance produces approval, and approval produces hope and hope does not disappoint." Interestingly, the Greek text reveals that the repeated nouns are articular when they are the subject of the clause, and usually anarthrous when they are the predicate; there is no semantic distinction between the use and non-use of the article. The above-mentioned work also cites John 1:1 as an instance of this rhetorical feature: 

"In John 1.1 a similar rhetorical arrangement occurs .... one should note that for the sake of rhetorical patterning the predicate element theos is put in initial position in the third clause, but it exists without an article and thus is clearly marked as predicate in meaning." (IBID).

In Jn 1:1a the subject is the Word. In 1:1b the subject is also the Word, and in 1:1c the subject is still the word. John is being consistent in his thoughts, keeping the Word as the subject throughout the entire verse. However, this pattern conveys all the characteristics of a common rhetorical feature that was found to be used among classical rhetoricians. By positioning theos before the verb the writer is consistently following the rhetorical device used in the entire verse. As we know, one of the reasons that theos is without the article is because the Word is still the subject and theos the predicate. Thus the writer maintains two things: (1) the rhetorical device used for overall emphasis and (2) attention on the subject of the Word. 

Granted, if John had used the article before the theos in 1:1c, he could have also kept the rhetorical device intact. However, this would have been done at the expense of losing track of the subject. On the other hand, by explicitly writing what he did, John has managed to (1) keep the integrity and effect of the rhetorical device for overall emphasis (also an effective mnemonic device) by positioning theos at the beginning of 1:1c before the verb; and (2) maintain the focus on the subject ("the Word"). John is a careful writer, forcefully expressing his thoughts.

If the theos in 1:1b is not the same semantically as the theos in Jn 1:1c, the rhetorical feature is destroyed; no longer is the device ending one phrase with a word and then beginning the following phrase with the same word (the whole purpose of the rhetorical device in the first place).

4. Chiasm
This passage also demonstrates an inverted parallelism (most commonly known in rhetorical studies as a chiasm, the form of an x). An example of this can be seen in Mk 2:27:

(A)  sabaton (B) dia    (C) anthropon  
(C') anthropos     (B') dia   (A') sabaton.

Notice that (A) sabaton crisscrosses with the same term (A') sabaton. Likewise notice that (C) anthropon also criss-crosses with (C') anthropos. In order for this rhetorical feature to have its full effect, the terms have to be the same terms conveying the same semantic sense. This rhetorical device is found in Jn 1:1: 

(A)  Logos         (B) hn    (C) theon 
(C') theos         (B') hn   (A') Logos. 

Notice that (A) Logos crisscrosses with the same term (A') Logos. Likewise notice that (C) theon also criss-crosses with (C') theos. Again, in order for this rhetorical feature to have its full effect, the terms have to be the same terms conveying the same semantic sense. Now, if the semantic meaning of theos in (C) is not the same as the semantic meaning of theos in (C') then again the rhetorical feature is destroyed and is placed off balance. In Mk 2:27 the (A) and (A') have the same reference as do the (C) and (C').  From a rhetorical perspective, one can argue that if in John 1:1 the Logos in (A') is no "lesser" than the Logos in (A) semantically, then likewise, the theos in (C') is no "lesser" than the theon in (C) semantically. Only by understanding of the passage in this way can one maintain the full force of this common rhetorical device.

5. One or Two Senses of Theos?
At this point, Dr. BeDuhn may suggest that he is not really arguing for two senses of theos in John 1:1. Rather, he may suggest that theos simply means "a divine being" or a member of the "category of gods." When combined with the definite article (ho theos), it refers to the God of Israel. In certain contexts, however, it may refer to other "gods," who are not YHWH. In all cases, he may say, the sense is still "a divine being."

The problem with this view, it seems to me, is that the God of Israel possesses qualities that distinguish Him from all other so-called "gods." If, as Dr. BeDuhn implies, the category 'theos' is defined as qualities A-D, the God of Isreal possesses qualities A-Z. Thus, we may recognize two categories (to use Dr. BeDuhn's term) of theos - that which is defined by qualities A-D (lesser "gods) and that which is defined by qualities A-Z (true God). These two categories point to the two semantic senses of theos - senses recognized by every Greek Lexicon with which I'm familiar, and which Dr. BeDuhn also later seems to affirm when he writes: "The equation itself does not specify which sense of "god" is being invoked."

By way of analogy, we may consider Dr. BeDuhn's argument in terms of the category "cat." Suppose we agree that "the Cat" is a specific domestic housecat. The category "cat" includes all other housecats. However, there also exists a superordinant category "cat" which includes domestic housecats, tigers, lions, cheetahs, pumas, etc. As Dr. BeDuhn might say, a particular feline may be a cat without being the Cat. Indeed, this feline may or may not even be a domestic housecat. There are, thus, two senses of the word "cat." Taken in isolation, a phrase like "Felix is a cat" does no more than predicate membership in the superordinant "cat" category. Felix may be a housecat, a lynx, or a leopard. As such, he may share some or all of the distinguishing qualities of "the Cat." I take this analogy to be similar to what Dr. BeDuhn is arguing for when he distinguishes between the qualities possessed by ho theos and the general qualities he sees in the broader category of theos.

But let's put Felix into a specific context: "In the beginning was Felix, and Felix was with the Cat, and a cat was Felix." Dr. BeDuhn would, I presume, suggest that we must not read too much into Felix being "a cat." After all, in the broader context of the word "cat," Felix could be a Bengal Tiger. But is this conclusion reasonable in the immediate context? If we apply the grammatical and rhetorical principles I've suggested, above, I don't believe that it is. I think most of us would naturally understand that placing "cat" two words apart in a sentence like this would virtually insure that the word has the same sense both times. Add to this the rhetorical devices discussed and the principle of maximum redundancy. Finally, factor in the surrounding context in which there are no cats other than housecats, and the activities Felix is said to partake in are those commonly known only to be performed by housecats. I would suggest that the conclusion is nearly certain - Felix is a housecat, just as much as "the Cat" is.

I simply cannot see how the superordinant category can be in view in such a context.

Now, yes, I recognize that I've just used an indefinite noun in English to signify qualities. This is a dictate of English idiom: as Dr. BeDuhn has pointed out, we don't generally write sentences like, "Felix was cat." And, if there were Gods that existed in the "true God" category alongside YHWH, I would not object to rendering qualitative theos in John 1:1c as Dr. BeDuhn suggests. The problem is that from the perspective of Biblical monotheism, YHWH is unique - there is only one being in the true God category. This is why I favor the traditional rendering over those offered by Dr. BeDuhn. Granted, we are not used to seeing "God" used qualitatively in modern English, which is why I've suggested a translation using "Deity" instead. This suggestion may, in terms of our analogy, take a form such as: "In the beginning was Felix, and Felix was with the Feline, and Feline was Felix." Again, to argue that Felix was less Feline than 'the Feline,' or a different kind of feline, would seem difficult to sustain, if the context were anything analogous to John 1:1.

6. Biblical Monotheism
Departing from our grammatical analysis, Dr. BeDuhn suggests that Jews in John's day would have recognized the category of 'theos' as containing ho theos and a host of lesser gods. I have questioned this assertion and just now claimed that YHWH was seen as unique in John's day - with no other gods being in His category of Deity. Which of us is correct?

Since Dr. BeDuhn offers no evidence in support of his view, it is difficult to determine how he has arrived at the conclusion he has. I do note, however, that he bases much of his understanding of John 1:1 upon this view - indeed, it seems a fundamental presupposition. Otherwise, it is difficult to understand how he could argue that "the Word was a god" was semantically equivalent to "the Word was divine." Now, I will concede that if this presupposition rests on a solid factual foundation, it is possible that the larger context of Jewish thought might be sufficient to cast at least some doubt on the grammatical, syntactic, and rhetorical arguments I've suggested, above. If, however, it is not at all clear that Jews in the 2nd Temple period placed YHWH as the highest member of a divine class of beings, the arguments I've presented thus far would seem strengthened - particularly as Dr. BeDuhn has yet to offer similar arguments in favor of his position.

I hope it goes without saying that YHWH is unique in His being. Scripture presents YHWH alone as the Creator, the Sovereign over all things, the self-existent One, who alone is worthy of worship and praise. While YHWH is not the only heavenly being, He is the only true God. Other "divine" beings are never included with YHWH, other than by proximity, and are always distinguished from Him. Larry Hurtado asserts that in the 2nd Temple period:

"there is concern to assert God's uniqueness, which is characteristically expressed by contrasting God with the other deities familiar to ancient Jews in the larger religious environment....It is important to note that this concern for God's uniqueness also comes to expression in a contrast between God and his loyal heavenly retinue, the angels. For example, angels can be distinguished as created beings from God who is uncreated" (Hurtado, "First Century Jewish Monotheism," Journal for the Study of the New Testament, p. 13).

It is precisely because the Jews understood their God to be unique - beyond all categories of created beings - that He alone was to be worshipped. While there might be degrees of divinity in Greek religion, with a 'high God' above all others, such thought was foreign to Judaism:

"The typical Hellenistic view was that worship is a matter of degree because divinity is a matter of degree. Lesser divinities are worthy of appropriate degrees of worship....The notion of a hierarchy or spectrum of divinity stretching from the one God down through the gods of the heavenly bodies, the daemons of the atmosphere and the earth, to those humans who were regarded as divine or deified, was pervasive in all non-Jewish religion and religious thought, and inseparable from the plurality of cultic practices in honor of a wide variety of divinities. Jews understood their practice of monolatry to be justified, indeed required, because the unique identity of YHWH was so understood as to place him, not merely at the summit of a hierarchy of divinity, but in an absolutely unique category, beyond comparison with anything else. Worship was the recognition of this unique incomparability of the one God" (Bauckham, God Crucified: Monotheism and Christology in the New Testament, p. 15).

J.W. Adams summarizes the views of F.W. Cross, E.G. Kingsbury, P.D. Miller, H.W. Robinson, and C.R. Seitz when he writes:

"The Old Testament gives no indication that God is merely the high god of a pantheon as was so common in the ancient Near Eastern religions. The Old Testament does present Yahweh as having a council whose members offer advice and are delegated certain responsibilities....Yet in contrast to Urgartic and Mesopotamian mythology, those assembled around God are always depicted as nameless heavenly beings without personality or profile....The members of Yahweh's council are understood as heavenly beings but are rarely, if ever, identified as 'elohim, "gods" (and in the few places where one might argue that they are, it is clear that the members of the council are different in kind from Yahweh)" (Adams, "The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Joseph Smith," The New Mormon Challenge, p. 171 and p. 447n 99).

Others could be added to the chorus of scholarly voices singing this refrain: Collins ("The Worship of Jesus and the Imperial Cult," The Jewish Roots of Christological Monotheism, Newman, Davila, Lewis, eds, p. 235ff); Dynerness (Themes in Old Testament Theology p. 22-23); Korpel (A Rift in the Clouds, p. 256); Smith (Old Testament Theololgy pp. 164ff); N.T. Wright (The New Testament and the People of God, p. 250).

The Shema (Deut 6:4) declares that YHWH is "one" (echad). In context, this can only signify YHWH's uniqueness of being. C.L. Labuschagne points out that echad when referring to a person, signifies:

"somebody who has no family, and, applied to Yahweh, this means that He does not belong to a family of gods. This aspect distinguishes him from all other gods....He is also unique in His kind, to the exclusion of all others; He is not merely a God amongst the host of gods, but, to say the least, One over against those many" (Labuschagne, The Incomparability of Yahweh in the Old Testament, p. 137, emphasis in original). Moses tell us exactly what is meant by the Shema in other passages in Deuteronomy:

"You were shown these things that you might know that the LORD is God; besides him there is no other" (Deut 4:35).

"Acknowledge and take to heart this day that the LORD is God in heaven above and on earth below. There is no other." (Deut 4:39).

For other OT verses that declare the ontological uniqueness of YHWH, see 1 Sam 2:2; 2 Sam 7:22; 1 Kings 8:23; Ps 18:31; 86:8-10; Isa 40:12-26; 43:10; 44:6-7; 46:5, 9; Jer 10:10. See in particular Ps 89, in which YHWH is "above" the "sons of God." The Psalmist asks, "Who is like you, O mighty LORD?" The answer to this rhetorical question is obvious - none of the "holy ones" are like YHWH - He is contrasted with them in the strongest terms.

Dr. BeDuhn says that the qualities associated with 'gods' in the minds of John's Jewish contemporaries, "included things like superhuman knowledge and power, extremely long or immortal existence, transcendence of physical limitations, etc." In this category, I suppose, might be placed pagan gods (if they were conceived as actual beings, as Moses (Deut 32:17) and Paul (1 Cor 10:20) seemed to), angels, and deified humans. The context of John 1:1 precludes pagan gods and deified humans, leaving only angels as a possibility. If John is calling the Logos an angelic being, it is the only example in the NT where theos is predicated to an angel in a positive sense in the entire GNT (Satan is called "the god of this age" in 2 Cor 4:4). It is interesting to note that while elohim is used in the OT of angels, by the time of the LXX, there seems to have been a movement away from calling angels theoi. Some time ago, I wrote to Larry Hurtado about this point and asked if he was aware of any examples in the literature of the 2nd Temple period in which angels were called theoi. Here is his answer:

The only place right off I know of where "gods" is applied to what we call angels is in 11QMelchizedek, where a Psalm passage that refers to "Elohom taking his stand in the midst of the elim" is interpreted as Melchizedek standing forth among the heavenly beings/angels.

This sort of terminology is archaic, derving from the pre-Israelite pagan background, where all heavenly beings are "gods" of one kind or another. That's why the language survives in the Bible only in poetic texts (poetry, after all, in all languages tends to play on traditional vocabulary and preserves longest archaic forms of speech for rhetorical effect).

I've argued that the term "god/elohim/theos" by itself doesn't clinch what is being referred to. It's the context, and in particular whether the figure so referred to is offered worship (in the Jewish context) that determines what is meant. Words acquire specific meaning in sentences (key principle of modern linguistics), and in the larger contexts of meaning. The larger context of John makes it clear that "theos" in 1:1 is a deliberate link of the Logos with God, but without simply homogenizing the two. The Logos has a quite specific function and "identity" in relation to God, though the Logos is also what God can show of himself to the world.
(Hurtado, personal email dated 6/15/2000).

Thus, it would seem problematic that John would ascribe THEOS to an angelic being - or that John's audience would have conceived of one called THEOS as an angel (unless they were reading an intentional archaism).

The topic of Jewish monotheism has been hotly debated among scholars. Scholars like Theophile Meek, Peter Hayman, Margaret Barker, and (to some degree) Paul Sanders have argued against a view of 'strict' monotheism (not particularly effectively, IMHO). Others, such as those I have cited, argue strongly that Jews in the 2nd Temple period understood that YHWH was unique in kind and class, utterly distinct from other so-called "gods." I doubt Dr. BeDuhn and I will reach agreement on this vast topic - particularly in a forum such as this. However, Dr. BeDuhn's translation of John 1:1 presupposes a view of Jewish monotheism that is questionable, at best. My preferred translation - as I have tried to demonstrate throughout our discussion - is based on not merely on historical/theological factors, but also on grammar and rhetoric. I think Dr. BeDuhn is, perhaps, overlooking some of these factors or has not given them due consideration. I hope I have articulated them in a way that will encourage him to do so. And I trust I have demonstrated that while I have strong theological commitments, I have good reasons apart from them to understand John 1:1 as I do. I hope I have refuted Dr. BeDuhn's claim that my conclusions are "founded on theology" while his are "founded on language, literary context, and cultural environment." I have offered evidence in each of the areas Dr. BeDuhn mentions, while he has, on the whole, merely made assertions. Indeed, I think an objective review of our discussion might reveal that the situation is precisely the opposite of Dr. BeDuhn's accusation.

One final point. I had said:

ROBERT (previous): 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.

ROBERT (con't): To which Dr. BeDuhn replied:

JB: Yes, it is sound and most would agree. But you have argued before that semantically a qualitative inherently attributes the full and complete set of qualities, have you not? If this were true, then the language would PROHIBIT you from making this now concessive qualification of your position, that context may permit us to loosen up the attribution of qualities. 

ROBERT: I would ask Dr. BeDuhn to review my previous comments. Dr. BeDuhn originally said that my view of qualitativeness would "shock" Greek grammarians. He now admits that my approach is "sound," but that somehow I have introduced a contradiction in my argument. To summarize the position I previously articulated, grammatically, the sense of qualitativeness is that of full attribution. Recall that Dr. BeDuhn was arguing (and continues to assert, in apparent contradiction to his own argument regarding the full set of 'divine' qualities being ascribed to the Logos) that one could not derive something as philosophically nuanced as "full set of qualities" from the grammar alone. My response was to argue that the grammar alone asserts the full set of qualities (and I provided quite a bit of support for this view), but that meaning is not contained in grammar alone; it is dictated by context. As Dr. BeDuhn knows (if he recalls my previous comments), I certainly recognize that in many contexts - particularly metaphor and hyperbole - the meaning is not the full set of qualities. Indeed, I even offered several examples where context limits the attribution outside of metaphor (e.g., the pewter and procelain mug). Thus, my statement is far from "concessive." It is rather part and parcel of my entire argument. If we start with the grammatical attribution of the full set of qualities of THEOS to the Logos - a fact Dr. BeDuhn has "concessively" admitted - we should only conclude that the meaning of John 1:1c is a limited set of qualities if context requires this limitation - which it doesn't.

This completes Part 2 of my response to Dr. BeDuhn. The third and final part will follow shortly.

Kind regards,

Robert Hommel

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