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Robert Hommel's Fourth Reply to Jason BeDuhn

Part 3


Dear Friends,

Here is the final installment of my response to Dr. BeDuhn. Many of Dr. BeDuhn's remaining points seem to be elaborations on ones he raised earlier, which I believe I've already answered. I will respond to several specific points which may remain unclear.

JB: If we embrace Mr. Hommel's apparent confusion between individual and category in John 1:1, then human beings, the devil, and the Greek gods would likewise possess the full measure of qualities of God.

ROBERT: The fact that THEOS may be applied to human beings, Satan, and pagan gods does not establish that Jewish monotheists conceived of these beings as residing in the same category as YHWH, as I hope I have established in Part 2 of this series. If we embrace Dr. BeDuhn's "apparent confusion" between YHWH and other beings who are called THEOS, then the only distinction between these beings and YHWH are individual distinctions, such as those that differentiate a dachshund and a doberman, or me from Dr. BeDuhn!

JB: It was wrong of me to direct by critique primarily to his "full measure" language, which is perfectly acceptable so long as the predicate noun is correctly read qualitatively rather than definitely. The "full measure" of attributes of a class of objects or beings" is that set that defines the class. If that is what Mr. Hommel meant all along, I apologize for being such a dunderhead. 

ROBERT: Yes, as I hope I've made clear, that is essentially my argument (though I do not regard THEOS in John 1:1c as a class). Apology accepted, and please accept mine for any lack of clarity. From one dunderhead to another ;-)

JB: The consequence of that "full measure" attribution will be an equation of the subject to the qualities of the class, in John 1:1c to the "god" or "deity" or "divinity" class. Now, we can assume we know the definition and associated qualities of that class, or we can look to the text to spell them out for us. I have maintained that the assumptions of a modern Christian reader are at odds with the assumptions of John's original audience, and I point to the broader application of the term THEOS in the Bible as evidence for that difference. My interpretation of Mr. Hommel's argument is that he has been misled by that modern Christian assumption into squeezing the THEOS category down until it matches the modern English "God," when in fact its actual use in John and the Bible generally corresponds to modern English "god."

ROBERT: As I hope I've illustrated in my previous post, I don't think I've been misled by a "modern Christian" assumption about the God category (the one including the true God, YHWH) - there is ample evidence in favor of the understanding that YHWH was conceived as unique - in class and kind - in Jesus' day and long before. If I may be so bold (again, speaking as an acknowledged dilettante), I would suggest that perhaps Dr. BeDuhn has been misled by his research in non-Biblical Greek texts to expand the God category beyond what John and the Bible generally teach about the incomparability of YHWH.

JB: You acknowledge this range of equation when you say that the equation of Judas with the (or a) devil in John 6:70 is a case of hyperbole. The grammar here is quite clear: "One of you is a devil." It cannot be read "one of you is the devil," and your argument for reading it "the devil" is not grammatical, but an assumption about the beliefs of Jesus and John about an individual figure called "the devil." 

ROBERT: Monadic nouns are one of a number of definitizing factors recognized by Greek grammarians (e.g., Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, p. 248-49). Dr. BeDuhn, I assume, would not translate Luke 21:25 as: "there will be signs in a sun and a moon." If not, I would ask what grammatical evidence Dr. BeDuhn can cite, proving that John 6:70 "cannot" be read "one of you is the devil." Again, Dr. BeDuhn seems to regard all anarthrous nouns as indefinites (except for the few exceptions he has just recently enumerated), which would place him in the minority position - at least if we regard any leading Greek grammar of the past 100 years as credible in this regard. Further, if we consider the other occurrences of DIABOLOS without the article in the GNT (1 Peter 5:8; Rev 12:9, 20:2), it seems rather clear that it is definite in each case - as it is in the 12 verses in which it occurs with the article. Thus, it would appear that DIABOLOS is definite in all other NT usage, and the burden is on Dr. BeDuhn to prove why it should not be so regarded here. 

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

JB: But even assuming for the moment that you were right, you explain away the direct identification of Judas with the devil as hyperbole. How do you know it's hyperbole? How do you know that Jesus didn't recognize the devil in disguise among his apostles? 

ROBERT: Because context makes it clear. Outside of any surrounding context, by what warrant would Dr. BeDuhn argue that "One of you is the Devil" doesn't mean, "One of you is the Devil" in every sense? I think we agree on this point, as Dr. BeDuhn acknowledges:

JB: When an equation is made to a definite -- say HO THEOS for example -- we both agree that the subject is being IDENTIFIED as that definite, specific PN. You are right that any qualification or "restriction" of that equation or identification is not given in the grammar of the clause itself, but may be supplied from context (just as "I am the vine" would be qualified or "restricted" by the context of its use and not be taken "literally").

ROBERT: Since we agree, and Dr. BeDuhn knows we both agree, I'm not quite sure I follow his objections, particularly when he goes on to say:

JB: In any case, your willingness to invoke hyperbole here shows that you recognize that equation is open to contextual definition as to whether it is absolute or qualified, literal or hyperbolic, identification or similitude. So all of a sudden your "full measure" position starts to look like a "full-measure-but-not-really" position.

ROBERT: Yes, I recognize that context may limit the grammatical equation, as I've maintained all along. My "full measure" position is with respect to grammar alone - which is where Dr. BeDuhn originally took issue with me. My "not really" qualification is - as it has always been - a recognition that meaning is not bound by grammar alone, but is found in larger chunks of discourse, surrounded by concentric circles of context. I sincerely hope we have cleared up this point of confusion and apologize if I've been unclear when attempting to say this previously.

JB: Incidentally, this is precisely the same reasoning behind Nicene Trinitarianism, which argues that Christ according to his divine nature is not the same person as God the Father. He possesses all the qualities of godhood, but not all the qualities of God the Father. So I am not using some novel or obscure reasoning on this point. And I have repeatedly acknowledged that the Trinitarian position can be derived by a path of reasoning from passages such as John 1 -- it would be foolish of me to maintain otherwise, since precisely such a path of reasoning occurred historically in the development of Christian theology. This path of reasoning applied to passages such as John 1 a postulate: there is only one member of the class "god." Once that postulate was applied, something like Nicene Trinitarianism is a necessary solution to John 1. But while this postulate may be true theologically and metaphysically, it is not the case linguistically in the NT, which employs "god" as a class designation more broadly. John may be invoking the metaphysical truth of one and only one god, or he may be invoking the language-use truth of several beings referred to as "god." Which he is doing is a matter of interpretation. The equation itself does not specify which sense of "god" is being invoked.

ROBERT: Again, this is the heart of the disagreement between us. Dr. BeDuhn's assertion that he is using "linguistics" to employ "god" as a broad class is, I think, as subjective as he claims my assertions to be. He relies on certain presuppostions about how Jews understood the relationship of YHWH to other so-called "gods." The only possible basis upon which Dr. BeDuhn can claim that he is making a "linguistic" argument is that the semantic range of THEOS may be broadened to include deified humans, angels, Satan, and even (hyperbolically) the stomach. Yet, as James Barr and a host of others have cautioned, translations and interpretations based on "word studies" are often misguided. D.A. Carson defines the unwarranted expansion of a word's semantic range beyond what context requires as a common fallacy (Exegetical Fallacies, p. 60). Of course, he also defines the unwarranted restriction of semantic field as another fallacy (IBID, p. 57). The remedy in both cases, according to Carson, is to consider context.

When Dr. BeDuhn says that the "equation does not specify which sense of 'god' is being evoked," he acknowledges that THEOS has two senses - one when applied to the true God and another when applied to lesser gods. While the "equation" may not specify which sense of 'god' is intended, context certainly does. As I have argued previously, there is considerable grammatical and rhetorical evidence that the sense of THEOS in John 1:1 does not change between clause b and clause c. We have yet to see a similar argument from Dr. BeDuhn beyond the assertion that because humans, Satan, and pagan gods are called THEOS in the NT, the Jews understood YHWH to be in the same broad category with them.

JB: Even when you argue for "full measure" you are not arguing for "full measure" to the point of identity, are you?

ROBERT: Not at all. If I have written something that would lead to that conclusion, I apologize.

JB: But you and I agree that the task of the translator is to simply convert the wording of the original straightforwardly into English, to simply let the equation made in 1:1c stand without modification or limitation either in the sense of restriction or in the sense of overdeterminination. Since the predicate noun is THEOS, not HO THEOS, that equation CANNOT BE of the Word and God. In place of the traditional translation's "God" we must put some more accurate communicator of the qualitative attribution John is making. That can be "a god," "god," "a divine being," "divine," "a divinity," "divinity," "a deity," "deity." But "God" is not correct.

ROBERT: The task of the translator is to render John 1:1 in such as way as to accurately reflect what John wrote. As Harner has advocated, a possible translation that does so would be: "The Word had the same nature as God." Dr. BeDuhn might even agree with this translation. I have suggested "The Word was Deity." Dr. BeDuhn agrees that this is possible, but disagrees with the capital "D." I have offered reasons, in an earlier post, why I believe the capital letter is warranted - to signify that the nature pointed to is that of the true God. Again, as I've said before, any translation of John 1:1 that is not a paraphrase requires some explanation. I favor the traditional rendering over those Dr. BeDuhn offers because it requires far less explanation, IMHO. For the reasons stated in Part 2 of this post, I do not regard it likely that John intended a shift in the sense of THEOS from 1:1b to 1:1c. Clearly, HO THEOS possesses qualities that distinguish Him from other so-called "gods," and I have yet to see a compelling argument why HO LOGOS - who is qualitatively called THEOS just two words after HO THEOS - does not Himself possess that same set of qualities. Indeed, that is precisely what I understand John to be writing.

JB: So I would like to think -- and I hope I am not deluding myself here -- that with these clarifications of what you mean and what I mean that reveals so much common ground, with the ways you have helped me see I was arguing a bit off the point here and there, and with the little persuasiveness of argument I have tried to apply to those few areas where I think you may have slipped up a little bit in maintaining the necessary distinctions of grammatical form and function, that we may find ourselves surprisingly close to an agreed common base of careful, accurate, precise translation that leaves the interpretive options exactly where John left them (providing plenty of opportunity for debates of an entirely different kind).

ROBERT: For my part, I hope that we are indeed approaching a clearer understanding. I think I have a better handle on Dr. BeDuhn's reasons for regarding John's language "open" to various interpretations. I don't agree with them, in the main, but I do thank him for going into further detail about his suppositions regarding 1st Century Jewish monotheism. I also thank him for helping me see where I have argued with less clarity than I could have, and I apologize for any fuzzy language I may have used (no doubt due to fuzzy thinking ;-) ) that caused undo confusion.

I do not know if Dr. BeDuhn will be inclined to respond to this post. I certainly understand if time constraints prevent him from doing so. On the other hand, I would warmly welcome any comments he may wish to make. I have enjoyed our interaction tremendously. Dr. BeDuhn has earned my respect and affection.

Wishing Dr. BeDuhn and any of you who have "persevered to the end" many...

Kind regards,

Robert Hommel
Woodland Hills, CA 6/2002
Soli Deo Gloria

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