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Robert Hommel's Fifth Reply to Jason BeDuhn

Part 1


To all:


It has been a number of months since Dr. BeDuhn sent me his 3-part reply to me.  Once again, I find myself apologizing to him and our readers for the lengthy delay in my response.  Once again I must plead other responsibilities.


I wish to thank Dr. BeDuhn for the time he has given to this discussion and for the challenges he has offered me.  It is often in such challenges that our thoughts are clarified, and that has certainly proven true for me in this dialog.

And so, once again into the breach, dear friends!

A.  Jumping Ahead To a Point of Agreement

Before I consider Dr. BeDuhn’s arguments in detail, I’d like to jump ahead to consider something Dr. BeDuhn wrote in the third part of his reply to me:

JB:  John takes advantage of the polyvalence of the word THEOS to do something different than most of the above, to draw a line across the universe, with "God"/"Father" and "Logos"/"Son" on one side of the line, and more-or-less the rest of the universe on the other, and then to tell a story of how the "Logos"/"Son" crossed that line with the intention of, in some respects, dissolving it for those who associate themselves with him….

JB:  The only relevant question is: can John 1:1 be read modalistically?  The answer is no, because of the careful distinction between HO THEOS on the one hand in 1:1b and the Logos as THEOS (having qualities that puts the Logos on the truly divine rather than the creaturely side of the universal order) in 1:1c.

There is nothing in what Dr. BeDuhn says here that I find objectionable.  I agree that by predicating THEOS to the Logos, John is placing the Logos on the “same side” of the universe as the Father – that the Logos is on the “truly divine” side alongside hO THEOS, and everything else is on the “creaturely” side (that is, everything else is a created thing [cf., Jn 1:3]).  If this is what Dr. BeDuhn means by his preferred translation, “The Word was divine,” I agree with him!

I hope I am not reading anything into Dr. BeDuhn’s comments.  If I am not, and if we qualify “divine” in the way Dr. BeDuhn appears to do so here, I have no problem with “The Word was divine” as a possible translation of John 1:1c.  John’s meaning is that the Logos is “divine” in every sense hO THEOS is “divine,” and there is no quality of ‘divinity’ possessed by hO THEOS not also possessed by the Logos.  I still think “divine” is something of a paraphrase, in that John could have used an adjectival form (THEIOS) had this been his meaning (and thus he must have meant something more than this); but I will concede that the qualitative aspect of a noun can sometimes be expressed in translation with an adjective – properly qualified.

However, I don’t think Dr. BeDuhn’s alternate translation, “The Word was a god,” conveys this sense – certainly not to modern readers.  Recall that Dr. BeDuhn’s objection to the traditional rendering (“The Word was God”) is that modern readers may confuse this translation as teaching an identification between hO THEOS and hO LOGOS tantamount to Modalism.  I would suggest that a similar objection should be raised against “the Word was a god.”  If I have understood Dr. BeDuhn’s comments quoted above (and elsewhere in his most recent reply to me), he does not understand John’s use of THEOS to signify that the Logos is “a god” in the sense of a created being.  Nor, I think we agree, is John teaching polytheism.  Yet, one of these two alternatives is, I think, the way most modern readers would understand the “a god” rendering.

Much of what Dr. BeDuhn defends in his most recent reply is the “a god” rendering – particularly in part 2, where he seems to defend it almost to the exclusion of his preferred “divine” rendering.  Therefore, despite the tentative agreement we’ve reached, I think it is still valuable to consider Dr. BeDuhn’s arguments to see if he is justified in regarding the “a god” rendering as synonymous with “divine,” as Dr. BeDuhn here defines it.


B.  The Argument over Harner

As our readers may recall, Dr. BeDuhn had previously suggested that while I based much of my argument on Harner’s study (JBL 92, 1975, pp 75 – 87), I failed to accept his preferred translation: 

JB (previous):  But Harner himself states that the most accurate rendering of John 1:1c qualitatively would be "The Word was divine."

Notice that Dr. BeDuhn argues that Harner explicitly “states” that the “most accurate” translation of John 1:1c is “the Word was divine.”  This statement is patently untrue.  I pointed this out in my last post, suggesting that perhaps Dr. BeDuhn was writing from memory and, not having Harner’s article before him, had simply misremembered what Harner actually said.  Harner never says “the Word was divine” is “the most accurate” translation of John 1:1c.

Dr. BeDuhn has now apparently had time to review Harner’s article – he quotes from it several times in his most recent post – yet rather than admitting his error, he finesses his argument as follows:

JB:  Mr. Hommel is incorrect when he claims that Harner “dismisses the ‘divine’ rendering in no uncertain terms.”  Rather, as Hommel himself quotes Harner, Harner looks with cautious favor on “the Word was divine” as suggested by Vawter (pages 85-86)

Dr. BeDuhn’s position has apparently evolved.  Instead of Harner “stating” that “the Word was divine” was the “most accurate” translation, Dr. BeDuhn now has Harner looking “with cautious favor” upon it.  Unfortunately, this new position is still not in agreement with Harner’s.

Harner considers five alternative grammatical constructions John could have used when writing John 1:1c.  Of the fifth, hO LOGOS HN THEIOS, Harner writes:

“It 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” (Harner, p. 85).

Notice that Harner says that merely stating that the Word was THEIOS (“divine”) would not accurately reflect John’s thought.  Harner then considers Vawter:

“Bruce Vawter explains the meaning of [John 1:1c] succinctly and lucidly:  ‘The Word is divine, but he is not all of divinity, for he has already been distinguished from another divine Person.’  But in terms of our analysis it is important that we understand the phrase ‘the Word was divine’ as an attempt to represent the meaning of clause B [ho logos and ho theos…share the same nature as belonging to the reality theos] rather than D [the logos was ‘a god’ or a divine being of some kind, belonging to the general category of theos but as a distinct being from ho theos] or E [the logos was ‘divine’ without specifying further in what way or to what extent it was divine].  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 it represents” (Harner, pp. 85-86, emphasis added).

If there is cautious favor expressed here, it is not towards “the Word was divine,” but rather towards Vawter’s complete explanation of John’s meaning – combined with the cautions Harner adds to it.  Harner says that we will misunderstand “the Word was divine” unless we fully understand the force of John’s language.  Of the “divinity” in John 1:1, Harner writes: “ho logos, no less than ho theos, had the nature of theos (Harner, p. 87, emphasis added).  And, as I noted in my previous post, Harner offers, “the Word had the same nature as God” as one “representing John’s thought” (Ibid).

Harner, then, rejects “the Word was divine” as a ‘standalone’ translation, accepting it only with extreme qualification – that is, only if one understands that the Word no less than hO THEOS has the nature of THEOS – not as “a god” or “a divine being” in the class or category of THEOS, but as One possessing the very nature of the true God.

I would encourage Dr. BeDuhn to reconsider Harner’s article; based on Dr. BeDuhn's recent explanation about what he means by "divine" (placing the Logos alongside hO THEOS, in distinction from all created beings), he may not be as far from Harner as he supposes.

Dr. BeDuhn goes on to suggest, “Harner agrees with neither Mr. Hommel or myself.”  Now, I have repeatedly referred to Harner’s article in my previous posts to Dr. BeDuhn, and explicitly stated at least twice in my last post that I agreed with Harner, so while I understood that Dr. BeDuhn differed from Harner, I was most interested to learn that I did as well.  Dr. BeDuhn offers the following as evidence that Harner’s view differs from my own:

JB:  Yet even Harner, in using “same nature as” does not mean the same thing as Hommel does by “the Word was Deity.”  I assert this on the basis of Harner’s unqualified rejection of the NEB ’s “what God was, the Word was” and the GNB’s “he was the same as God” (page 87).  By capitalizing “Deity,” Mr. Hommel has produced a translation equivalent in meaning to these two rejected by Harner.

Harner’s objection to these translations is that they may lead the reader to assume a definite semantic nuance for THEOS in John 1:1c, which – in Harner’s view – leads logically to modalism:

“The problem with all these translations is that they could represent clause A [logos and theos are equivalent and interchangeable.  There would be no ho theos which is not ho logos] or clause B [the form John actually uses … ho logos and ho theos … share the same nature belonging to the reality theos],” (Harner, pp 85-87).

Now, it may be that I have produced a translation with the same ambiguity as those discussed by Harner.  I don’t believe I have, because the use of the definite article in John 1:1b (“the Word was with the Deity”) serves to distinguish the semantic nuance from the article-less use in 1:1c (“the Word was Deity”).  Just as in Greek, the definite semantic nuance is not as likely in clause C, given the non-use of the article.  I have argued extensively about what I think John meant with his choice of language, and defended my use of “Deity,” (being more commonly understood as qualitative when used sans article than “God”), and even my use of the capital “D.”  I’ve also agreed with Harner that this verse is difficult to render in English and any translation other than a paraphrase will require some explanation. 

Further, I have stated my agreement with Harner explicitly on more than one occasion, such as:

RH (previous):“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.”

To support this last point, the Oxford English Dictionary includes in its definition of “deity:”

(1) The estate or rank of a god, Godhood, the personality of a god, Godship; (2) the divine quality, character, or nature of God.  Godhood, divinity, the divine nature and attributes, the Godhead; (3) the condition or state in which the Divine Being exists.

Thus, it should be obvious that I agree completely with Harner’s use of the phrase “the same nature as.”  With respect, Dr. BeDuhn’s suggestion that I’m not on the same page as Harner further demonstrates that he misunderstands my argument, misunderstands Harner, or both.

Finally, Dr. BeDuhn states:

JB:  Harner does not say that HO LOGOS, no less than HO THEOS, had the nature of HO THEOS, but rather the nature of THEOS, that is, a being of the THEOS class

Yes, but it is clear that he understands John to be attributing THEOS to the Logos in precisely the same way and precisely to the same extent that John, by implication, attributes THEOS to hO THEOS (Harner, p. 85).  Harner specifically rejects the LOGOS as “a being of the THEOS class.”  Harner forcefully argues that what John wrote must be distinguished from word choices that would mean that the LOGOS was “a god or a divine being of some kind, belonging to the general category of theos but as a distinct being from ho theos” (Ibid).  Dr. BeDuhn is reading his own theory about categorical nouns being equivalent to qualitative nouns into Harner’s argument – Harner distinguishes these semantic forces quite clearly, and states several times that John’s meaning is that Word is no less THEOS than is hO THEOS.

Dr. BeDuhn asserts that there is no grammatical distinction in Koine Greek between indefinite and qualitative nouns, but the evidence he offers in support of this view (and contra Harner) is thin, indeed, and riddled with errors.  It will be interesting to see how he handles this crucial piece of his argument in his forthcoming publications.


C.  Anarthrous nominatives and accusatives-D, I, or Q?

In a prior post, Dr. BeDuhn challenged Harner as follows:

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

I had countered that anarthrous THEOS in Mark 12:27 and Luke 20:38 is most likely definite on the basis of 3 lines of evidence:  1) Apollonius’ Canon; 2) genitive adjunct; 3) Harner considers THEOS to be definite in this verse in any case, in part because anarthrous THEOS is “almost always” definite in the GNT.  Dr. BeDuhn responded only to the last of these points.  Here’s what he said:

JB (previous):  “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.... 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 should first note that even if Dr. BeDuhn is correct, to find fault with Harner’s argument for qualitative nouns on the basis of a noun Harner considers definite is hardly an answer to Harner!  Harner did not argue on the basis of these verses in the first place.

Now, it may be that Harner was wrong about the semantic force of THEOS in these verses, and this might suggest his understanding of the semantics of Greek nouns was flawed – thus undermining his argument.  On the other hand, the same holds true for Dr. BeDuhn – if he is unable to correctly identify the semantic force of THEOS in these verses, perhaps his argument regarding THEOS in John 1:1 is suspect.  To determine who might be right, and since Dr. BeDuhn did not offer any statistical analysis to prove his point, I decided to check all the occurrences of anarthrous THEOS in the GNT that occurred in the nominative or accusative case.  I listed these in a reply to Dr. BeDuhn, including a semantic tag, which indicated whether I saw that noun as Definite, Indefinite, or Qualitative.  The results validated the assertion that anarthrous THEOS was usually defininte, even if we restricted the data sample as Dr. BeDuhn suggested.  I then concluded:

RH:  “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.”

As it turned out, this is precisely what Dr. BeDuhn did.  He writes:

JB:  What is worth noting, I think, is that each of the verses where he and I agree in seeing as definite, there is some definitizing element in the verse itself.  These, then, are special cases that override the general rule that anarthrous nominatives are indefinite, which they are in the absence of such definitizing elements. 

However, I had gone on to say:

RH:  “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…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."

Perhaps Dr. BeDuhn missed this statement, for while he addresses a number of other verses, he does not directly address the verses we have been discussing.  He continues to class them as indefinite (or “I/Q”).  He graciously acknowledges that he spoke “more broadly” than he should have, and thanks me for bringing these “special cases” to his recollection.  I would simply ask him why, now that he has recalled that factors other than the presence of the article can make a noun definite, he does not regard these factors as relevant to the two verses we have been disputing.  Does this not suggest a contradiction in Dr. BeDuhn’s argument?

As for these definitizing factors being “special cases,” we may note that by Dr. BeDuhn’s own analysis, these “special cases” account for over 50% of the sample (Dr. BeDuhn classes 25 out of 43 verses with anarthrous THEOS as definite).  This is hardly the “limited set of exceptions” Dr. BeDuhn has previously argued.

I wish to thank Dr. BeDuhn for providing his reading of the verses in my list.  It has confirmed for me why he regards THEOS in John 1:1c as indefinite – he regards far more examples of THEOS as indefinite than I do.  In fact, Dr. BeDuhn regards THEOS as being indefinite far more often than does any Greek scholar I’ve encountered.  This does not, of course, mean that Dr. BeDuhn is necessarily wrong.  It does, however, place a significant burden of proof upon his shoulders, for he will have to convince his readers that he has obtained insights into Greek that few – if any – other scholars have acquired.

In addition to his idiosyncratic approach, Dr. BeDuhn also appears to be somewhat careless in ways that skew the data in his favor.  For example, Dr. BeDuhn states that previously, he “forgot to mention possessive phrases” as constructions in which anarthrous nouns are definite.  He now suggests that possessives definitize THEOS in John 8:54 , 20:17 , 2 Cor 6:16, and Heb 11:16.  However, he classes THEOS in Rev 21:7 as I/Q, despite the fact that it is a possessive also.  Dr. BeDuhn says that 2 Cor 1:21 , 5:5, and Heb 3:4 are examples of definite THEOS, but they are “not anarthrous.”  THEOS in each of these verses is, indeed, anarthrous; the article in each case goes with the following participle, not with THEOS.  I’m sure Dr. BeDuhn will be more careful in his forthcoming publications, but errors like these (and those I’ve detailed elsewhere) make it difficult to grant Dr. BeDuhn his other arguments.

With regard to the verses I classed as ‘definite’ and Dr. BeDuhn as ‘indefinite/qualitative,’ Dr. BeDuhn writes:

JB:  As for Rom 8:33b, 2 Cor 5:19, Gal 6:7, Phil 2:13 -- Paul has a rhetorical way of making an argument that drawn upon the general understanding of his audience about “gods.”  He uses the indefinite to make a point about the significance of interaction with a god.  So, everyone in his environment understands that “A god is not to be mocked” (Gal 6:7).  Likewise, he can argue that “If a god declares (one) innocent, who can condemn (that person)?”

JB:  (Rom 8:33b).  And against those who think that Christ acted on his own authority, which may or may not carry much weight with Paul’s audience, he asserts that “through Christ a god was reconciling a world to himself”-stated thus abstractly, “a god” and “a world” as a way of describing what Paul has been explaining about a particular (only) God and a particular (only) world.  Similarly, for those who may wonder what agency (demonic?) was operating in them after undergoing Christian initiation, Paul asserts “The one working within/through you is a god” (Phil 2:13 -- a very close grammatical parallel to John 1:1c).

JB:  Rom 1:21 offers another good example of what I said above concerning Paul’s use of indefinite THEOS, here combined with his tendency towards abbreviated phrasing: “Although they knew God, they did not praise or thank him as a god (should be praised and thanked).”  Gal 4:8 brings this set of examples close to what Mr. Hommel and I are debating.  Paul uses the indefinite: “When you did not know a (real) god, you served the ones who in nature are not (real) gods.”  He is clearly drawing attention to the “qualitative,” that is to the nature or character of the being he is talking about (Father/God), and he does so by distinguishing his rights, as opposed to theirs, to be called, that is classed as, “god,” “divine.”

I am unaware of any Greek scholar – whether translator, lexicographer, or commentator – that agrees with Dr. BeDuhn on these verses.  While Dr. BeDuhn may chide me for “relying too much on existing English translations,” it might help Dr. BeDuhn’s argument if he could point to at least one major English translation, lexicon, or commentary that understands THEOS in these verses in the same way he does.  While I reject Dr. BeDuhn’s characterization that I rely “too much” on English translations (I think I’ve provided ample evidence for my views in previous posts quite apart from English translations), comparing one’s views to those of recognized scholars in the field, it seems to me, is merely a prudent means of validation.

Interestingly, not even the NWT, which Dr. BeDuhn is defending with regard to John 1:1, provides him support on these verses.

Let’s consider one of Dr. BeDuhn’s examples.  In Romans 1, Paul is specifically discussing the denial of the true God by the unrighteous, who, though they know God through the display of His eternal attributes and divinity in nature, nevertheless suppress the truth.  They exchanged the worship of the true God for idolatry – the worship of false gods.  It is simply not credible that in the midst of a polemic against idolatry, Paul would suddenly introduce the idea that the problem for the unrighteous is simply that they do not render to God the worship proper to “a god.”  Paul’s meaning could not be clearer:  The unrighteous know God (through natural revelation) but refuse to worship Him as God.  All English translations I consulted – including the NWT – render THEOS in this verse as definite.  This semantic force makes perfect sense, exegetically, while Dr. BeDuhn’s does not.  Dr. BeDuhn suggests that if THEOS lacks the article (and absent any definitizing factors), THEOS must be indefinite.  This ‘rule’ leads him down some interesting and idiosyncratic translational paths, but not ones on which I see good reasons for following him.  Particularly when he appears to be alone in his travels.

I could make similar comments about each of the other verses Dr. BeDuhn mentions.

Dr BeDuhn concludes:

JB:  The overarching concern for all of the above verses, nominative and accusative is this: in the absence of the one certain marker of definiteness in Greek-the definite article-on what basis does Mr. Hommel declare an anarthrous noun to be definite? 

I think Dr. BeDuhn has lost sight of the original discussion.  We were discussing Mark 12:27 and Luke 20:38.  Dr. BeDuhn was attempting to undermine Harner by arguing that THEOS in each of these verse – both anarthrous, one after the verb, the other before it – had an indefinite semantic force.  Dr. BeDuhn asserted that Harner’s grammatical distinction between indefinite and qualitative nouns didn’t hold up, based on this.  This despite the fact that Harner does not regard THEOS in Mark 12:27 as qualitative, but definite.  I have argued that THEOS is definite in both verses because of the presence of at least two definitizing factors, as well as the parallel passage in Matthew, in which THEOS is articular, according to many MSS. 

The overarching concern, really, is this:  Has Dr. BeDuhn presented convincing evidence to support his contention that anarthrous THEOS in the GNT is overwhelmingly indefinite?  Readers will recall that Dr. BeDuhn has had to refine his original argument several times over the course of our discussion, and even now, when he says, “What I asserted holds true if we set aside special definitizing elements,” we can only agree if we accept his idiosyncratic assessment of verses like those discussed above.  If we do not (and I think there will be a very great many that do not), Dr. BeDuhn has not made his case, and we must conclude that Harner’s methodology has yet to be undone.

My answer to Dr. BeDuhn’s question is the same one I’ve offered a number of times before – meaning is determined by context.  Absent any definitizing factors, a garden-variety anarthrous noun is probably indefinite, but not always so.  Contextual or other factors may argue for a definite or qualitative meaning.  In the case of Mark 12:27 and Luke 20:38, there are definitizing factors that lead me to conclude THEOS is definite in both verses, and thus Dr. BeDuhn’s objection to Harner’s methodology is not sound.  I agree with Dr. BeDuhn there are no such definitizing factors in John 1:1, but then, I have not suggested otherwise, nor contended that THEOS in 1:1c is definite.


D.  “Is” of identity and “is” of predication

In my previous post, I attempted to explore why Dr. BeDuhn argues “the Word was divine” means the same thing as “the Word was a god.”  I have never quite understood this aspect of Dr. BeDuhn’s argument.  In fact, I viewed it (and continue to view it) as the main issue of contention between us.  If Dr. BeDuhn merely argued in favor of “The Word was divine,” and not that “The Word was a god” was its semantic equivalent, we could achieve a large degree of agreement (leaving only the proper understanding of the precise nature of John’s predication of THEOS to the Logos to be resolved).  As it is, I view these two translations as semantically distinct, and have attempted to delineate this distinction by noting that “the Word was divine” is an example of the so-called “is” of predication, while “the Word was a god” is an example of the “is” of identity.

Dr. BeDuhn responds:

JB:  In his latest response, Mr. Hommel says the NWT translation “the Word was a god” represents a usage we can agree to call the “’is’ of identity” while an accurate qualitative rendering of the verse would employ the “’is’ of predication.”  Surprisingly, he uses as an example of the “is” of predication, “The car is red,” employing a predicate adjective, just as I do when I suggest “The Word was divine” as an acceptable translation of John 1:1c.  Since Mr. Hommel has taken me so much to task for my suggestion, I think I get to say “gotcha” here. 

Before Dr. BeDuhn says, “gotcha,” he might want to re-read what I had said about this:

RH:  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. 

So, of course I recognize that an adjective expresses predication – as does a qualitative PN.  That’s essential to the point I was making.  Dr. BeDuhn’s preferred rendering and mine both agree on this point.  The ‘bone of contention’ is whether “the Word was a god” and “the Word was divine” (identity and predication) are synonymous, as Dr. BeDuhn suggests.  I maintain they are not.  Dr. BeDuhn recognizes a distinction in meaning, if not in grammar, when he says: “Of course, the crux here is knowing, based on Greek phrasing that may be equivalent to either ‘identity’ or ‘predication’, which meaning to settle upon.” In other words, Dr. BeDuhn acknowledges a distinction in meaning between ‘identity’ and ‘predication,’ and suggests we must “settle upon” one of them apart from grammar.

Dr. BeDuhn argues that John’s meaning is the predication of qualities to the Logos – which, again, is semantically distinguished – by his own admission – from identity as member of a class; yet he suggests that because (in his view) there is no grammatical distinction in Greek between these two semantic forces, we should translate John 1:1c in such a fashion that it mirrors grammatically what John wrote.  For Dr. BeDuhn, John ascribes qualities to the Logos by placing Him in a class or category.  Now, even if that’s true (and Harner demonstrates that there is a grammatical distinction between qualitative and indefinite nouns – and Dr. BeDuhn has yet to present a convincing argument otherwise), there is no good reason, other than a rigorous fidelity to formal equivalence in translation (which Dr. BeDuhn has previously said he does not favor), to ascribe qualities to the Logos by placing Him in a class or category in English.  Dr. BeDuhn may defend his “the Word was divine” translation as transparently qualitative, but he cannot say the same about “the Word was a god.”


E.  Capitalization and “Common Usage”

Dr. BeDuhn continues to chastise me for capitalizing “Deity” in my preferred rendering of John 1:1c.  In previous posts, I had appealed to a descriptive rather than prescriptive grammar (as taught by virtually all modern linguists) and noted that ‘common usage’ (particularly in Bible translations, but also in other texts), capitalizes qualitative nouns for emphasis.  Dr. BeDuhn now says he accepts the descriptive model, but still objects to capitalizing THEOS in John 1:1c:

JB:  Contemporary “common usage” does not capitalize qualitative English nouns.  His appeals to literature of previous centuries or to the special genre of poetry, or to the preserved conventions of English Bibles have nothing to do with “common usage.”

In my last post, I noted that while “contemporary usage” may not regularly capitalize qualitative nouns, I was focusing on “common usage” in English Bible translations:

RH:  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 says this usage represents “preserved conventions.”  To which, with respect, I must respond – so what?  Regardless of the reason (and I don’t agree this is a ‘preserved convention’), it is common in English Bibles to translate THEOS with a capital when referring to the true God.  Dr. BeDuhn may not like this; he is free to disagree with the scores of Bible translators on this point if he wishes.  But to continue to argue that such capitalization is “a grammatical mistake” is without warrant.

Dr. BeDuhn also finds a terrible inconsistency in my argument regarding the fossil dog.  Dr. BeDuhn writes:

JB:  Finally, on “true Dog”-Mr. Hommel repeats a lapse he has made several times before.  After very carefully setting up a context in which “Dog” may be used qualitatively, and the capital “D” may help to convey this sense, he confuses that categorical/qualitative function (that is, this fossil can be called “(true) Dog” because it has the set of qualities by which science has defined the “dog” species) with an altogether different meaning, one in which he has “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.” 

Dr. BeDuhn seems to take my statement about there being “only one true ‘Dog’” as meaning there is only one individual dog that is true Dog.  This was not my intention – and I apologize if I was unclear.  I meant to argue (using biological terms) that within the genus canis, there was a species of ‘true Dog’ (canis veritas).  As Dr. BeDuhn says:

JB:  …a fossil that matches an abstracted (categorical) definition of “dog” derived from establishing a set of qualities shared by all members of the “dog” species.

Yes!  This particular fossil matches the categorical definition (or “has the qualities of”) the species canis veritas – true Dog – not merely the canis genus, or some other species within that genus.

Dr. BeDuhn continues:

JB:  If “Dog” is used to represent this defining set of qualities, then it is not true that there are “other ‘dogs’ which-though similar-are distinct from true Dog.” 

There are other members of the genus canis, but not all of them are members of the species canis veritas.  That is, while there are a number of species of dogs in our hypothetical fossil record (all are ‘dogs’ with a lower case ‘d’), there is only one ‘set’ of dogs that are members of the ‘true Dog’ species.  And we may use the capital “D” to distinguish dogs (genus) from Dogs (specific species).

Thus, when our paleontologist says of his fossil find: “Snoopy is (true) Dog!” He is saying that this particular fossil has the qualities of the species canis veritas.  And the capital is used to make the distinction from other generic ‘dogs.’

Now, Dr. BeDuhn may not agree that it is appropriate to capitalize what he would term a ‘categorical’ noun in this context, but if we posit a situation like THEOS in English Bible translations, in which virtually every biological text used this capitalization scheme, it would seem difficult to claim it is “a mistake.”

Recall that Dr. BeDuhn had originally complained that we would never capitalize “dog” in the following sentence: “Snoopy is dog.”  My invented scenario was merely an attempt to create a context analogous to John 1:1, in which capitalizing “dog” for emphasis was reasonable and grammatically sound.  I believe I’ve met this burden.


This concludes part 1 of my response to Dr. BeDuhn.  More to follow!


Kind regards,

Robert Hommel


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