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John Pacheco and Jason BeDuhn
On the NWT and John 1:1
(an excerpt from Babylon's Rebuttal: The New World Translation (NWT) of the Holy Scriptures)
The entire dialog between Mr. Pacheco and Dr. BeDuhn may be found here
The NWT translates Jn 1:1 as ‘... and the Word was WITH God as the Word was a god’. How can the Word (Jesus) be ‘a god’ if God says in Deut 32:39, "See now that I-I am he, and there are NO gods together WITH me...."?
I don't know, you would have to ask John. He no doubt faced similar objections from Jews and Jewish-Christians in his own time when he made the bold step of declaring even that "The word was divine" (which is how I would translate John 1:1). The NWT translation is an improvement over the traditional one, but it only raises more problems than it solves for a modern audience. In any case, for John to say "the word was with God and the word was God" would be a real stretch in comprehension for a 1st Century audience. First of all, it's a non sequiter. Second, the Greek construct he uses would mean that only exceptionally. John is putting the Word into the divine class of things (as opposed to the human, or animal, or vegetable, or what have you). That's a bold enough step beyond what the other gospels do, and I don't think we should ask more of John 1:1 than the Greek allows.
You state "for John to say ‘the word was with God and the word was God’ would be a real stretch in comprehension for a 1st Century audience." Oh really? Why is that? We KNOW that the early Christians worshipped Jesus as God as evidenced by their creeds so why would this be a ‘real stretch in comprehension.’ Later you state "it's a non sequiter". It is no such thing. It would be a non sequiter if you start with the PRESUPPOSITION that Jesus was NOT God. Actually Professor, your claim of a ‘non sequiter’ is actually a circular argument. You are beginning with the premise that Jesus was not God in order to prove that the phrase ‘the Word was with God and the Word was God’ is a non sequiter. In fact, the phrase actually points to the Trinity, does it not? Jesus, the Son, was God and He was ‘WITH’ God, the Father.
Apparently you mistook my remark about a non sequiter. It is a non sequiter simply because John has just said the Word was with God (using the correct form so that we know that he was with THE GOD). Something is not "with" itself. So its a lapse in linguistic sense to say x with y, x=y. Instead, John says the Word was with the God, and so (because the Word was alone in the divine realm with God) was itself divine, or belonged to the divine class of things. Both mainstream Christianity and the JWs can derive their different Christologies from this statement. It allows both interpretations. If you don’t like that, you can't blame the JWs or me, you have to blame John (or God himself if you believe in word-for-word divine inspiration of scriptures)
Let’s back up a bit professor. You claim that I ‘misunderstood your remark about the non sequitur’. I must disagree. A non sequitur, by definition, is an argument that tries to support a proposition on the basis of irrelevant premises. In order for you to prove it is a non-sequitur, you must first show that the doctrine of the Trinity is an impossibility. If the Trinity is possible, then St. John’s statement makes perfect sense. So for you to claim it is a non sequitur is really a circular argument. It can only be a non sequitur if the Trinity is rejected as a possibility in the first place. This is really beside the issue I wish to pursue in this passage, however.
I meant a linguistic non sequiter, not a philosophical one. In this case, the careful distinction John makes by dropping the article avoids the non sequiter, which is introduced only in the English translation.
Your original point was that the passage was a ‘non sequitur’. There is no such thing as a ‘non sequitur’ in language, but only in philosophy since the term is used to describe a fallacious conclusion drawn on irrelevant premises. You conveniently try to side step the issue by insisting that John’s comment is a ‘linguistic non sequiter’, thereby allowing yourself to deny one of the foundations of the Trinity. You beg the question.
Earlier, I suggested using the historical context of the early Christians as one instrument in translating from one language to another. In fact, I think it’s quite an objective and legitimate way of determining which translation is the best one. I also happen to believe that other biblical passages can certainly suggest if not decide the true meaning of other passages.
Again, it is our basic difference in premises that makes it impossible for us to see eye to eye on these issues. I agree that historical evidence is important for establishing the correct interpretation of biblical passages, but you have to take account of the interests of the other sources, as well as of the full range of sources, and not a selection of only those that agree with the interpretation you favor. As far as using other biblical passages as a source of interpretation -- again, I understand your commitments that make that a viable method. But what we have in the bible is a diversity of voices, and John does not control what Paul meant, nor does Paul control what Matthew meant, and so forth. God could have dictated the whole thing to one person if he thought that was important, couldn’t he?
It seems to me, professor, that the question that you must address is: who speaks for Christianity?
By the way, in your previous response, you did not answer the original question regarding Deuteronomy 32:39. If there are no other gods WITH God, how can Jesus be ‘a god’ as the NWT translates it. This is a direct contradiction. Compare:
"…there are NO gods together WITH me...." with "the Word was a god."
It seems to me that the only way one can maintain that there are no contradictions in the bible and still make sense out of John 1:1 is to understand this passage in the traditional Trinitarian formula, no?
More to the point, Mr. Pacheco, how can John have the audacity to say "WITH God" in the face of Deuteronomy. 32:39? The answer is that John's thought world is not the world of Deuteronomy. The kind of radical monotheistic commitment of Deuteronomy was not the primary concern of John. The traditional Trinitarian formula is not the only solution of the tensions in the Bible. Obviously the Arians and other Christians worked out alternative solutions to those tensions.
Exactly, professor, St. John could not have said WITH God unless Jesus WAS God. Again, while the Arians and other ‘Christians’ have ‘worked out’ certain ‘tensions’, our concern should be to find out WHO speaks for Christianity because, after all, we want the truth not people who can ‘work out tensions’