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Robert Hommel's Fifth Reply to Jason BeDuhn

Part 3


To all:

This is my response to part 3 of Dr. BeDuhn’s 3-part reply to me on John 1:1 and the New World Translation.

Dr. BeDuhn has said that this will be his last reply to me on this subject and that he will let his forthcoming book and articles speak for him in the future.  I agree that we have wrung this discussion out about as much as we can.  I look forward to seeing Dr. BeDuhn’s published work and to the response it garners in the academic community.

Our readers may recall that once previously, Dr. BeDuhn said he was done with our discussion, but returned for two more rounds.  Should he change his mind and decide to reply to what I’ve written here, I will be happy to consider what he has to say, but will likely not reply in detail.  I am content that I have presented my side of the discussion to the best of my ability and little will be gained by further interaction.

I hope that our readers (if any) on both sides of the debate find this discussion helpful in delineating the key issues surrounding the accurate translation of John 1:1.  Dr. BeDuhn has offered one of the most cogent defenses of the "a god" rendering I have encountered.  While we have disagreed - sometimes sharply and with some rhetorical heat - I have enjoyed our discussion immensely.  Once again, I thank Dr. BeDuhn for sharing his thoughts in a professional manner and wish him well in his future publishing endeavors and as he shoulders the awesome burden of teaching the Word of God to his students.


A.     Monadic Nouns – “The Devil”

Dr. BeDuhn had challenged my assertion that John 6:70 was an example of hyperbole.  My answer was that context helps us make this determination.  Dr. BeDuhn then argued:

JB:  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."  

I responded that there certainly were grammatical reasons for considering DIABOLOS as definite, even when anarthrous, because it is an example of a monadic noun.  I had offered "the sun" and "the moon" in Luke 21:25 as examples of monadic nouns.  Dr. BeDuhn rightly points out that these examples are in the dative case, which is a recognized definitizing factor.  But the same grammars that discuss this factor also note that monadic nouns are definite, even without the article (e.g., Wallace p. 248, Young, p. 67, Green, §218, and even Dr. BeDuhn’s classical grammar, Smyth §1141).  "Sun" and "moon" are definite, even when not in the dative case, because they the only one of their kind - just like DIABOLOS.

I had listed three verses (1 Peter 5:8; Rev 12:9, 20:2) as examples of anarthrous DIABOLOS where it is clearly a definite noun.  Dr. BeDuhn agrees that DIABOLOS is definite in two of these verses, but that they are actually examples of articular nouns:

JB:  In fact, DIABOLOS has the article in both 1 Peter 5:8 and Rev. 12:9.  It seems that RH is either relying on some search software or else is unaware that the article may be separated from the noun it modifies by other intervening words.  All these words together constitute a nominative phrase (when we are dealing with nominative nouns).  Greek can do this even though English cannot.  So, in 1 Peter 5:8, two words intervene between the article and DIABOLOS which characterize this figure as "your opponent."  Likewise, in Rev. 12:9, one word intervenes between the article and DIABOLOS.  This nominative phrase is hard to render into English; we have to add some words to make it sound smoothly to our ears: "The (one) called 'devil'."

Later, Dr. BeDuhn says of me: 

JB:  He certainly has a wide command of much relevant literature, including linguistic theory, despite a certain lack of familiarity specifically with the rules that govern Koine Greek.  He obviously makes use of Greek grammars, but applies them in a hit-and-miss fashion to the biblical text (as can be seen in corrections I have made to his examples throughout our exchange).

I thank Dr. BeDuhn for his kind remarks.  I assume that he would consider 1 Peter 5:8 and Revelation 12:9 as examples where I “lack familiarity” with the rules of Koine Greek. 

I have never claimed to be a Greek scholar.  I know I have much to learn and have made my share of mistakes.  However, I don’t think this is one of them.  The noun DIABOLOS (1 Pet 5:8) is not articular. I would syntactically arrange the sentence such that DIABOLOS functions as a nominative in simple apposition to hO ANTIDIKOS.  So it reads, "Your adversary, the Devil," or "Your adversary, namely, the Devil." The article does not modify the "noun phrase."  To say that the article modifies the noun phrase when the "noun phrase" in question is actually two noun phrases, namely, a subject nominative followed by an anarthrous nominative in simple apposition, seems (if I may say so) to be a “lack of familiarity” with the rules of Koine Greek on Dr. BeDuhn’s part – not mine.

Rev 12:9 is also an anarthrous PN.  The article in this sentence functions as a relative pronoun (“He who is…” or “the one who is…”), as Dr. BeDuhn’s gloss suggests (see Wallace, pp. 213-14).  The reason DIABOLOS is anarthrous is probably because DIABOLOS is a monadic noun or perhaps a proper name, and thus is most likely definite.

With regard to Rev 20:2, Dr. BeDuhn says:

JB:  There are several manuscripts that have the article and many that do not.  When a textual variant is involved, we have to be cautious about drawing grammatical conclusions.

Why?  Does Dr. BeDuhn regard the seven variants listed in NA27 as more valid than the hundreds of MSS without the article?  The editors of NA27 and UBS4 certainly didn’t regard these articular variants as likely to be representative of what John actually wrote.  They are of such little significance that Bruce Metzger doesn’t even comment on them in his Textual Commentary.  If a textual variant should make us cautious, perhaps we should beware of drawing grammatical conclusions about John 1:1c on the basis of the Regius MS, which reads, "hO THEOS HN HO LOGOS."

The fact is that DIABOLOS in Rev 20:2 is clearly definite – being in apposition to hO SATANAS - and it occurs without the article in every scholarly edition of the GNT available to us.  Translators have had no trouble seeing it as definite without resorting to obscure textual variants – and since it lacks any of the definitizing factors Dr. BeDuhn recognizes, Dr. BeDuhn must explain either why it is definite (in contradiction to his prior arguments) or why all those translators are wrong.

To conclude, there are very good grammatical reasons for considering DIABOLOS definite, despite the lack of the article in some verses – including John 6:70.  Dr. BeDuhn is wrong when he accuses me of relying on “assumed beliefs” of Jesus and John in this verse – and wrong when he accuses me of similar ungrammatical bias with regard to John 1:1.

Dr. BeDuhn continues to point out that there are no definitizing factors in John 1:1c.  Of course, I have never suggested that there were, nor suggested that THEOS is definite.  The reason I have focused on  verses with anarthrous definite nouns (both here and earlier in our discussion) is to attempt to demonstrate to Dr. BeDuhn that he is mistaken when he assumes that "most" anarthrous nouns in the GNT are indefinite.  Simply put, Dr. BeDuhn does not recognize that there are more definitizing factors than he thinks there are, and this leads him to classify more anarthrous nouns as indefinites than would most other Greek scholars.  This erroneous view is then used to argue that Harner's methodology is wrong.

I invite Dr. BeDuhn to revisit his classifications and consider whether there might be more definite nouns in the mix than he thinks there are, and if so, to reconsider his negative assessment of Harner's study in that light.


B.     Jewish Monotheism (One Last Time!)

Dr. BeDuhn says:

JB:  I have never asserted that the Jews considered YHWH to be in the same category with humans, Satan, and pagan gods.  This is one of RH's straw men.  I have said that the term THEOS was applied more broadly by people speaking Greek, including Jews, than we would tend to define the category "god." 

It is true that Dr. BeDuhn has never said this, specifically.  I took him to be implying this, however, because he has argued that the predication of THEOS to the Logos places the Logos in the broad category of “gods” and also that John places the Logos in the same category as YHWH.  I had thought that, logically, this implied a single, divine category, containing any who were called THEOS.

After reading Dr. BeDuhn’s elaboration on this point (addressed in the opening of Part 1 of my current response), I see that Dr. BeDuhn regards the Logos as being in the ‘divine’ category alongside hO THEOS – and not in the ‘broad category’ represented by other so-called “gods” in the Bible (exalted humans, pagan gods, angels, etc.):

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.

If I understand Dr. BeDuhn correctly, he perceives John to be placing the Logos in the divine category containing hO THEOS (and no other “gods”), and drawing a line between them and all of creation.  If this is so, we are in agreement on this point.  We may still differ on the best way to translate John 1:1c in English, but we are not far apart in understanding the profound statement John is making at the opening of his Gospel.

There is still room for theological debate.  Is John teaching a form of di-theism?  Of Biniarianism?  Or the foundation of Trinitarianism?  I do not, as Dr. BeDuhn (I think) suspects, insist that John has packed his entire Christology into this one verse.  I agree with Dr. BeDuhn that John elaborates and builds upon this opening statement of his Gospel – to show precisely how the Logos is THEOS and precisely how He is intimately related to hO THEOS, and yet how He is distinct from Him.

What John says in John 1:1 is that alongside YHWH in intimate fellowship, there is Another – one who was there in the Beginning; deity in every sense hO THEOS is deity.

On this, perhaps, Dr. BeDuhn and I will agree – and bow to Him whose Name is above all Names.

Soli Deo Gloria,

Robert Hommel

Woodland Hills, February 2003

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