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Robert Hommel's First Reply

To Stafford on John 1:1 and Mass-Count Nouns


To all: 

I thought Don Hartley might like to see Greg's comments, below. He replied that he did, indeed, receive Greg's email, and says that he will respond publicly to Greg's comments on Luke 7:39 in due time. Like Greg, Don is involved in a number of projects at the moment. He also mentioned that he has been reluctant to respond personally to Greg because of the rhetoric and attitude Greg has displayed. Anyone who has followed even some of Greg's apologetic engagements in various places on the Internet will no doubt understand.

I had hoped that Don would have time to respond specifically to Greg's comments on Mass vs. Count nouns and John 1:1. He did not, though he has covered this ground rather thoroughly in his dialog with Greg, which you can find at the link, below, and Greg really offers nothing here in terms of hard evidence to contradict what Don has previously argued (except for his claims regarding Luke 7:39, to which, I'm sure, Don will more than adequately respond).

I'd like to address some of Greg's key points, below:

GREG: Getting back to the issue of count nouns and John 1:1, there is absolutely no evidence to support the theory that singular count nouns placed before a copulative verb convey ONLY the idea of qualitativeness. This is a forced view that is predicated on salvaging an unbiblical view of God and the Word in John 1:1.

ROBERT: Initially, I would question why we should accept an argument from silence. After all, qualitativeness is not in question with regard to mass nouns, and it is easy enough to provide examples in English of count nouns exhibiting a purely qualitative force (e.g., "The subject of my study is man."). There are examples in the GNT of ANTHROPOS being used qualitatively (albeit not in Colwell's Construction), e.g. Gal 1:11 (the NWT translates ANTHROPOS as "human" in this verse, clearly a qualitative rendering). Harner points to John 10:33 as another example, and this verse IS in Colwell's Construction (though here the NWT Translation Committee chose an indefinite rendering). Therefore, it seems the burden of proof lies with you, Greg, and we must wait for you to provide positive proof of your assertion, before we may acquiesce to your point.

No scholar I'm aware of, Trinitarian or otherwise, claims that "singular count nouns placed before a copulative verb convey ONLY the idea of qualitativeness." Grammarians have demonstrated PNs in Colwell's Construction exhibit a range of semantic forces, including qualitative.

Now, an important question to ask is "does the WT agree with your assertion?" The NWT Translation Committee apparently does not, Greg:

Mark 2:28: "Hence the Son of man is Lord even of the sabbath." (KYRIOS ESTIN) Mark 12:35: "...How is it that the scribes say that the Christ is David's Son? (HUIOS DAVEID ESTIN) Mark 15:39: "...Certainly this man was God's Son." (HUIOS THEOU EN) John 3:6: "...what has been born from the spirit is spirit." (PNEUMA ESTIN) John 6:63: "...The sayings that I have spoken to YOU are spirit and are life." (PNEUMA ESTIN)

All are "singular count nouns." All are even "personalistic" (your term), which you used as a further qualification, below. And in each case, the NWT Translation Committee chose a qualitative rendering. Are these examples, perhaps, of an "over-reliance" on Harner by the committee, as you have elsewhere stated? If so, by what authority do you make such a claim? Isn't the translation committee made up of God's Anointed? Are you wiser than they, Greg?

GREG: Indeed, even if we accepted a qualitative-only sense for THEOS in John 1:1c (and that is what the Society argues for in their Appendix in the 1984 Reference Bible, based on the studies of Harner and others [though the sense in which they view the qualitativeness of THEOS is different from Harner, of course])...

ROBERT: "Even if we accepted..." Greg, are not you and all other domestics to "meekly" accept the food that has been placed before you by the Slave? I think we begin to see why the Organization has requested that you and other JWs refrain from dialogs such as this. You appear to be demonstrating an alarming tendency towards independent thinking ;-).

Further, you appear to be assuming that the issue of defining "qualitativeness" is linked with theology (Trinitarianism, Arianism), but that is simply not the issue--this is implied when you say, "though the sense in which they view the qualitativeness of THEOS is different from Harner, of course." But why? And why should it be?

GREG: ...then that would mean that the Word is "with God" (thus he is not the God he is "with" [not simply "the person"]), and is himself an owner of divine nature.

ROBERT: Greg, you are defining terms based on referent, and when the referent changes you redefine the term. It is the referential fallacy. The Word is with THEON the Father (one referent of THEOS), and the Word is THEOS (different referent, same term, linguistically carrying the same characteristics). The first instance occurs with the article indicating personal identity, the second occurs in a construction of a subset proposition. Both referents are THEOS in the same sense but are yet distinct, and as this distinction is made in a construction denoting personal identity (the definite article in 1:1b), it is not unreasonable to interpret the passage (in light of other Scriptures) to conclude a personal distinction, without the denying the unity of nature mandated by 1:1c. This interpretation, at least, cannot be denied linguistically.

GREG: However, if the qualities that define godhood belong to the Word, and they do, then that means he is either a God or a god.

ROBERT: I agree that the qualities that define godhood belong to the Word - that is precisely the implication we must draw from the qualitative force of THEOS. We differ, however, on the definition of "godhood" and the degree to which the Word and the Father share the same Divine Nature. You have stated elsewhere that the Word possesses all the qualities or attributes of THEOS, but in lesser measure. Please demonstrate for us from the GNT any example where a qualitative (or even a qualitative-indefinite) PN describes the subject as having the qualities ascribed "in lesser measure." Until you can do so, the conclusion you draw, above, is a false dilemma. The fact is that qualitative PNs ascribe ALL qualities and attributes to the subject IN FULL MEASURE (John 1:14, for example, as defined by the WT, teaches that the Word became FULLY human). So, if the Word possesses ALL the qualities of Godhood (just as He possessed ALL qualities of Flesh), He may be "a God," but he cannot be "a god." If Scripture declares elsewhere that there is One God, which it does, the Trinitarian position becomes the only option that accords with the fullness of God's Word. The Word is with God, and (fully) shares His nature.

GREG: John 1:18 and many other texts point to the latter, but there is no sense in which THEOS in John 1:1c (or 1:1b!) can be used in support of Trinitarianism. Trinitarians attempt to make use of both clauses only after redefining THEOS in 1:1b and 1:1c to mean the first and second "persons" of the Trinity, respectively.

ROBERT: Strawman, Greg. Though Trinitarians may INTERPRET John 1:1 to describe Two Persons of the Trinity, we do not claim this verse explicitly defines that relationship. It does, however, define the NATURE of the Word as being the SAME as THEOS (cf., Harner, Harris, Wuest, NEB, NLT, Good News for Modern Man, etc.). It is this sense that Moffatt, Mantey, and others, used when they chose "Divine" as their rendering of THEOS in John 1:1c. It is the implications of the Word having the Divine Nature (a Nature unique to the One True God), that lead us to conclude that The Word was God by nature in every way the Father is God by nature..

It is not we who redefine THEOS here, it is you who reduces the characteristics of THEOS when it comes to 1:1c, because the referent is clearly not the Father. What we do is indicate that the referent is different with respect to the term THEOS, not redefine the term to mean the second person any more than the first person. We are not defining terms in respect to referents--that is what you have done . Grammar does not appear to be your guide, but the nature of the referent as you understand it. If so, this is a metaphysical system, not a linguistic one.

GREG: In other words, Trinitarianism is assumed at the outset and used as a grid for (re)interpreting this and a host of other texts. That is why we often go around and around with these folks, because they are trapped in an endless circle of interpretation that is predicated on an assumed truth.

ROBERT: The same could be said for those who promote WT theology. Are we really to believe that you are without presuppositions, Greg? That you approach Scripture from some exegetically "pure" perspective, while your opponents are hopelessly blinded by their biases? Forgive me, Greg, but I don't buy it. Each of us approaches the text with certain presuppositions. If we allow our presuppositions to overwhelm good sense, then we are guilty of bias. I would hope that you would try to stay this side of bias, as I am striving to, and that we can use logic and the understanding of Scripture that God has granted us to argue our points, and refrain from calling the kettle black.

GREG: Thus, while Trinitarians for years misled each other and the scholarly community about the meaning of THEOS (considering it a definite noun per Colwell's thesis), they are now doing everything in their power to force a qualitative-only sense onto a singular count noun used of a personalistic subject (the Word)...

ROBERT: Scholars have been quick to counter the mis-statements regarding Colwell's rule. As most of them are Trinitarians, I think it demonstrates that 1) Trinitarians are human and make mistakes; and 2) when the mistake is recognized, it is admitted. We might ask the same from the WT, which had to create the entire "new light" doctrine to explain the various changes in its teachings over the years. I suppose the rest of your argument might have some weight, if it could be demonstrated that Trinitarians suddenly started considering THEOS in John 1:1c qualitative post-Colwell. In fact, many Trinitarians PRIOR TO Colwell argued for a qualitative rendering: Westcott, Robertson, Lange, Chemnitz, Alford; even Luther. So, this is hardly a case of jumping on the qualitative bandwagon. Indeed, if anything, a case could be made that it is the WT that jumped, as soon as it believed Harner had given them reason to suppose that their indefinite rendering could be justified.

Furthermore, no one "forces" a qualitative sense on John 1:1c. The fact that the sense exists, and that most pre-copulative PNs in the Gospel of John happen to fall in line with Q statistically, favors the Q sense. Thus if one wishes to be reasonable, one will accept the probability that THEOS in John 1:1c exhibits the Q sense, and (if he believes that sense cannot be theologically supported) seek avenues to prove why some other sense should appy, rather than categorically denying the Q force for a (hypothetical) subset of nouns from the outset - particularly when the qualitative-only force is "what the Society argues for in their Appendix in the 1984 Reference Bible" by your own admission.

GREG: ...because they now see that that view (the qualitative-only view) is the only one they can possibly attempt to associate with the assumed truth of Trinitarianism, which cannot survive a definite or indefinite semantic for THEOS in John 1:1, or elsewhere.

ROBERT: Well, since the WT has declared THEOS is qualitative in John 1:1c, you're in the same boat as we are - at least insofar as John 1:1 is concerned. The fact that Trinitarianism can "survive" only one semantic here is hardly a problem, if that semantic can be logically, scripturally, and grammatically demonstrated. I suppose the WT is in a somewhat weaker position, for their view of John 1:1 cannot "survive" a D, Q-D, or Q semantic. Indeed, unless you can demonstrate how a Q-I semantic ascribes all qualities to the subject IN LESSER MEASURE (recall, Greg, this is your assertion in your most recent response to me), it cannot even survive that semantic nuance. The only semantic sense that adequately reflects WT theology is Indefinite (the Word is a member of a class of divine beings who are, by nature, not the True God), but the WT doesn't argue for that semantic idea. Amazing! Elsewhere? Let's consider that point, below:

GREG: This last point (about other uses of THEOS for Jesus) is very important, for how will Trinitarians get a qualitative-only sense out of its use, say, in Hebrews 1:8, even if their preferred translation ("Thy throne, O God...") were granted? They cannot appeal to the fronting of a PN before a copula, but they really don't need to! Regardless of the grammatical construction of the text, any verse that they accept as an instance where Jesus is called THEOS MUST MEAN that he shares in the nature of God, as "God the Son the second person of the Trinity." Again, an assumption is used to override the sense of any such passage, so that, ultimately, it can be brought into harmony with Trinitarian theology.

ROBERT: Greg, you'll have to explain further why Trinitarians must be bound by the restrictions you'd like to place upon us with regard to the usage of THEOS. I think you may be getting sense of the term (Q, Q-d, I, I-Q, D, D-Q) and meaning of the term, as well as the referent of the term confused again. Unless you can show an example of Jesus being called God in a convertible proposition (which John 1:1c would be, if the semantic force of THEOS were definite), Jesus being called "God" with a definite or Q-D semantic in a non-equative phrase (particularly a vocative, like Heb 1:8) is certainly no problem for Trinitarianism at all. Indeed, it is a further claim in its favor, for if Paul, John, or the Father Himself call the Son God, why should we question that appellation? The WT makes the assumption whenever Christ is called "God," it must mean in the sense of a secondary "god," based on the "grid" of its interpretation of other Scriptures, so that these verses can be brought into harmony with WT theology. The heart of the matter is that Christ is not only called "G/god" (as are others in certain contexts), but that He possesses the Divine Nature of God (which no other so-called "gods" do). The WT (and you) must therefore demonstrate how God's Nature may be possessed FULLY by the Son, and yet claim that the Son is not equal in nature to Him.

Best regards,


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