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Author Topic: "The Word was a god"- John 1:1 According to the Sahidic Coptic Manuscripts  (Read 3094 times) Average Rating: 0
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Severian
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« on: September 01, 2012, 01:47:19 AM »

So I have heard the JW's claim that early Sahidic Coptic manuscripts of John 1:1 read "the Word was a god" (see here.) Can anyone confirm if this is the case or not? If so, how do we explain it? Obviously I am not saying that this would render the dogma of the Trinity false. But, how do we explain it to non-Trinitarians? Was this possibly the doing of some of the heretical groups living in Egypt at the time?
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« Reply #1 on: September 01, 2012, 02:55:52 AM »

Do you know enough Coptic to tell us if "Theos" has multiple meanings in Coptic too?
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« Reply #2 on: September 01, 2012, 03:16:44 AM »

Do you know enough Coptic to tell us if "Theos" has multiple meanings in Coptic too?
Sorry, I do not know that much Coptic. Plus, the Coptic Orthodox Church uses Bohairic Coptic and not Sahidic.

The crux of their argument is that the Sahidic Coptic version contains in the indefinite article 'a', unlike the Greek versions of this verse. They are trying to argue that the author of this Manuscript understood John 1:1 the same way modern JW's do.

EDIT: @dzheremi Thanks for the link. It helped a lot.
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« Reply #3 on: September 01, 2012, 03:27:51 AM »

I don't know Sahidic, obviously, but I found this (Protestant) apologetics site that deals with the JW claims. Normally I would not place much stock in such things, but Ariel Shisha-Halevy is maybe the most well-known scholar on Coptic syntax working today, so assuming the quote given at that site is accurately reproduced, it is very significant. (Bentley Layton isn't too shabby, either; I think he wrote a Sahidic pedagogical text I have that I clearly haven't combed through in a while.)
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« Reply #4 on: September 01, 2012, 07:58:15 AM »

The literal translation is "a God was the Word", and the translator actually puts the "a" in brackets, indicating that it is present in the Coptic but not necessary in English.
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« Reply #5 on: September 01, 2012, 08:19:30 AM »

Word of God was the name of Jesus before birth. See genesis 15:1, Zecharias 12:1. It does not reffer to Bible as Protestants wrongly admit as in Genesis 15:1 it can not be substituted for Bible.
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« Reply #6 on: September 01, 2012, 12:03:34 PM »

Remnkemi in tasbeha knows Coptic really well.  I think you'll do well to ask for his assessment of this question.
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« Reply #7 on: September 01, 2012, 12:58:09 PM »

The literal translation is "a God was the Word", and the translator actually puts the "a" in brackets, indicating that it is present in the Coptic but not necessary in English.

We also have to remember that in the original Greek, "Theos" referred to Christ's divinity. So a better translation would be "the Word was Divine". And because the early Christian witness, Epistle to the Hebrews, claim that Christ is not a mere angel (that is, he is not just an "el"/"son of the Elohim", a divine power) It is pretty clear that everyone understood this to mean Divine with the big D. So even if "the Word was a Divinity" sounds better in Coptic, the meaning remains much the same.
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« Reply #8 on: September 01, 2012, 03:33:38 PM »

Greetings in that Divine and Most Precious Name of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!

I don't know Sahidic, obviously, but I found this (Protestant) apologetics site that deals with the JW claims.

When I read this link, I was thinking, really, do these scholars  have to bring such a boring grammatical explanation something so obvious even by reading at first glance? I would ask how the Jehovah's Witnesses could get so mixed up in the first place, but then again, looking at several aspects of their movement I suppose that much is also obvious Wink

stay blessed,
habte selassie
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« Reply #9 on: September 01, 2012, 04:01:27 PM »

Granted, I'm biased, but I don't think the interpretations of the scholars are boring or unnecessary, given the fact that the JW argument rests on some supposed theological point made by the presence or absence of the article in the Coptic, which is a grammatical question.
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« Reply #10 on: September 01, 2012, 04:08:30 PM »

Greetings in that Divine and Most Precious Name of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!

Granted, I'm biased, but I don't think the interpretations of the scholars are boring or unnecessary, given the fact that the JW argument rests on some supposed theological point made by the presence or absence of the article in the Coptic, which is a grammatical question.

I think you missed my point. I wasn't dissing the linguists, quite the opposite, I am dissing how silly it seems for less educated or exposed folks to read too much into the translation in the first place, when even reading it as it is without the footnotes didn't seem to me to be all that controversial.  I'm not sure many folks would read so much into the difference between "the Word was A God" and "the Word was God" considering that in the context of the Scriptures the "a" which John was referring to was most obviously one and the same with "the" God, which as the link you've so wonderfully provided, explained in what, aside from linguist circles, were excessive details Smiley

stay blessed,
habte selassie
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« Reply #11 on: September 01, 2012, 04:17:47 PM »

Greetings in that Divine and Most Precious Name of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!

Granted, I'm biased, but I don't think the interpretations of the scholars are boring or unnecessary, given the fact that the JW argument rests on some supposed theological point made by the presence or absence of the article in the Coptic, which is a grammatical question.

I think you missed my point. I wasn't dissing the linguists, quite the opposite, I am dissing how silly it seems for less educated or exposed folks to read too much into the translation in the first place, when even reading it as it is without the footnotes didn't seem to me to be all that controversial.  I'm not sure many folks would read so much into the difference between "the Word was A God" and "the Word was God" considering that in the context of the Scriptures the "a" which John was referring to was most obviously one and the same with "the" God, which as the link you've so wonderfully provided, explained in what, aside from linguist circles, were excessive details Smiley

stay blessed,
habte selassie

We're in agreement here, my friend, but that's just it: We're in agreement because our theology isn't build around the presence of an article. The JWs, on the other hand, have quite a lot invested in a particular peculiar interpretation of the Coptic, and hence it takes authoritative interpreters of the Coptic like the scholars linked to show that the JWs are investing more meaning in this than there actually is in a dispassionate, academic understanding of what the text says (not even theologically, but purely functionally; Shisha-Halevy is, as you might expect, a Jew, not a Christian, and so is without a dog in this particular fight).
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« Reply #12 on: September 01, 2012, 04:40:27 PM »

Even in Greek, no article usually corresponds to indefinite article in English. Shisha-Halevy's explanation applies here too. Platon and the neo-plationists use indefinite "theos" in the sense of "one with divine nature".
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« Reply #13 on: September 01, 2012, 05:00:03 PM »

Even in Greek, no article usually corresponds to indefinite article in English. Shisha-Halevy's explanation applies here too. Platon and the neo-plationists use indefinite "theos" in the sense of "one with divine nature".
So do you think that it should be translated "the Word was one with Divine nature" as opposed to "the Word was God?"
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« Reply #14 on: September 01, 2012, 05:11:22 PM »

Even in Greek, no article usually corresponds to indefinite article in English. Shisha-Halevy's explanation applies here too. Platon and the neo-plationists use indefinite "theos" in the sense of "one with divine nature".
So do you think that it should be translated "the Word was one with Divine nature" as opposed to "the Word was God?"

Yes, because we see that just before, theos is used with definite article.

ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν
"The Word was near [the] God"

So it is stated that the Word was near "the God", i.e. God the Father, and that it was itself divine.

This is exactly what we confess in the Symbol of the Faith (or "Creed") when we say "true God from true God".
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« Reply #15 on: September 01, 2012, 05:17:36 PM »

Even in Greek, no article usually corresponds to indefinite article in English. Shisha-Halevy's explanation applies here too. Platon and the neo-plationists use indefinite "theos" in the sense of "one with divine nature".
So do you think that it should be translated "the Word was one with Divine nature" as opposed to "the Word was God?"

Yes, because we see that just before, theos is used with definite article.

ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν
"The Word was near [the] God"

So it is stated that the Word was near "the God", i.e. God the Father, and that it was itself divine.

This is exactly what we confess in the Symbol of the Faith (or "Creed") when we say "true God from true God".
As a Greek speaker, if we were to take this one verse in isolation, do you think this rendering in any way undermines the complete Divinity of Christ?
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« Reply #16 on: September 01, 2012, 05:32:59 PM »

As a Greek speaker, if we were to take this one verse in isolation, do you think this rendering in any way undermines the complete Divinity of Christ?
On the contrary. It affirms and teaches the divinity of the Logos.
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« Reply #17 on: September 01, 2012, 07:38:04 PM »

One thing which I love is that the JWs say that the lack of a definite article in John 1:1 justifies the translation "the Word was a god", but in Titus 2:13 where the definite article is also lacking they have no problem translating the verse "while we wait for the happy hope and glorious manifestation of the great God and of [the] Savior of us, Christ Jesus". (Emphasis mine)

Talk about Theological bias. laugh

Of course, if any Greek speakers would like to correct/critique my assessment, by all means go ahead. It just seemed rather odd to me.

I am currently in correspondence with a certain JW on Youtube. Do you guys think I should direct her to this thread as a resource when we discuss John 1:1?

EDIT: Anyway, do you guys think the Coptic Scribes rendered the verse "a God" so as to distinguish "the Word" in John 1:1a from "God" mentioned in John 1:1b, in order to differentiate between the two and repudiate Sabellianism?
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« Reply #18 on: September 04, 2012, 11:07:41 AM »

Sorry I didn't respond sooner. I think I found an easier explanation than Layton's and Shisha-Halvey's.

First of all, I'd like to point out that not every Coptic manuscript has the indefinite article. On the Unboundbible.org, the Bohairic and Sahidic versions taken from J Warren Wells' Sahidica uses the definite article in both dialects. This is strange since Wells comment on the Apologetics site Dzheremi' gave us is exactly what the JW's claim - that the Sahidic version always has the indefinite article and that the Logos was "like" God. (Sounds like Arianism to me. But that's a different subject.)

Second, JW's have failed to recognize that the Coptic "ou", the indefinite article, has multiple usages. Linguistically, (and I hope Dzheremi can confirm or correct what follows), I believe "ou" refers to the partitive article. According to Wikipedia, "A partitive article is a type of indefinite article used with a mass noun such as water, to indicate a non-specific quantity of it...The nearest equivalent in English is "some", although this is considered a determiner and not an article." Other mass nouns include water, light, love, air, wind, spirit and God. Just like in English, if I say "Give me water" (no article), I must mean "Give me some water" or more syntactically accurate, "Give me part of the mass noun water". In Coptic, it would be "Ti `noumwou nyi" - (Literally, give me a water.) You must use "ou". You can't use the zero article like Greek. The zero article exists in Coptic, but only with specific prepositions and circumstances that do not apply here. The same is true with 1 John 4:16 "God is love." In one manuscript the Bohairic says "God is a love", the Sahidic says "God is the love". The Greek (I believe uses the definite article). The same is true in the Nicene Creed. The Greek says, "Φῶς ἐκ Φωτός, Θεὸν ἀληθινὸν ἐκ Θεοῦ ἀληθινοῦ," (Light of light, True God of True God). The Coptic uses "ouwouini evol qen ouwouoini. ounouti entaevmi evol khen ounouti entaevmei" To the untrained eye, it could be translated "a light out from a light, a true God out of a true God". Wikipedia's definition of mass noun is "a mass noun (also [called] uncountable noun or non-count noun) is a noun with the syntactic property that any quantity of it is treated as an undifferentiated unit, rather than as something with discrete subsets." It would be completely syntactically wrong to say "a light from a light" since these nouns must be treated as undifferentiated units, not a subset. It is also syntactically wrong to translate John 1:1c as "the Word was a god" in the context given.

JW's have attempted to substantiate their heresy by claiming a conspiracy of hiding the Coptic version. They insist John 1:1c should be read as a common indefinite article and fail to realize that the text uses the partitive article. This reinstates Layton's comment "Don't worry about the indefinite article of John 1.1 in Coptic; it might mean was a god, was divine, was an instance of 'god', was one god (not two, three, etc.). The range of meanings of the Coptic indef. article does not map nicely onto English usage, nor Greek. Once you learn Coptic you will know all of this."

Severian, my answer your last question is no. The fact that there are some versions of Coptic bible with the definite article probably means that some Coptic translators were not concerned about Sabellianism, but rather understood the Trinitarian formula that the Word was (the) God. I think the use of the indefinite article in some manuscripts has to do with a proper recognition of no article in Greek and the various grammatical uses of the indefinite article in Coptic, not found in Greek. It really has nothing to do with theology but JW's made it theological.

Does this help?
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« Reply #19 on: September 04, 2012, 11:09:41 AM »

^Thank you very much for this explanation. It is quite helpful.
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« Reply #20 on: September 04, 2012, 11:31:36 AM »

If St. John the Evangelist really meant that Jesus was A god, this would mean that Logos is a false god since there is only one true God. If Logos is a false god, he cannot abide in true God, in whom there is no falsehood. Besides, it is written that truth and grace came through Jesus Christ. It would be impossible for a false god to bring truth.
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« Reply #21 on: September 04, 2012, 05:08:59 PM »

I would love to hear what Dzheremi thinks. I am anxiously awaiting your response.

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« Reply #22 on: September 04, 2012, 07:39:58 PM »

Greetings in that Divine and Most Precious Name of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!

If St. John the Evangelist really meant that Jesus was A god, this would mean that Logos is a false god since there is only one true God. If Logos is a false god, he cannot abide in true God, in whom there is no falsehood. Besides, it is written that truth and grace came through Jesus Christ. It would be impossible for a false god to bring truth.

That is the catch, what I think the several linguists from the provided links and brothers like dzhemeri are asserting is essentially the only flaw is not with the Coptic manuscript, rather with the English translation of the definite article to "The Word was (a) God" when it seems that it is merely a grammatical reality, and that the copyists intended this to perhaps be translated into English into what we are already familiar with as "The Word was (the) God" which is explained by the context of this same use of the definite article in other verses in the Gospels referring to Jesus' divinity.  It seems perhaps the JW were going for a transliteration but that is the problem with transliteration sometimes, literally and word for word most Biblical languages, syntax, and grammar do not fit easily into English.  Hence the need for accurate translations which do not necessarily provide accurate verbatim texts of the original languages, but rather convey what seems to be the meaning of the originals themselves.  English is a tricky language like that, it takes a bit of poetic license to properly convey in English thought the mind of writers from different cultures and languages.  The JW, as many Protestants tend towards, have just made a theological big deal of their own mistranslation of the original text into English, and so all the more demonstrate the importance of reading the Bible within the inspiration of Grace in the Orthodox Church, further with the direct assistance often of a spiritual father (or two Smiley )

stay blessed,
habte selassie
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« Reply #23 on: September 04, 2012, 08:14:53 PM »

Unfortunately, I am having some password troubles with my e-reserves folder via the university, so I don't have access to my grammar pdfs, so I can't verify or correct Remnkemi's assertion re: the partitive. Sounds right to me, though. I would not worry about the presence or absence of an article cross-linguistically. There is so much variation even among related languages, without even looking at genetically unrelated languages like Coptic and Greek. I agree with Remnkemi's assertion that the JWs have a great deal of theology wrapped up in this that likely doesn't come into play in the original text.
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« Reply #24 on: September 04, 2012, 09:23:40 PM »

Sorry I didn't respond sooner. I think I found an easier explanation than Layton's and Shisha-Halvey's.

First of all, I'd like to point out that not every Coptic manuscript has the indefinite article. On the Unboundbible.org, the Bohairic and Sahidic versions taken from J Warren Wells' Sahidica uses the definite article in both dialects. This is strange since Wells comment on the Apologetics site Dzheremi' gave us is exactly what the JW's claim - that the Sahidic version always has the indefinite article and that the Logos was "like" God. (Sounds like Arianism to me. But that's a different subject.)

Second, JW's have failed to recognize that the Coptic "ou", the indefinite article, has multiple usages. Linguistically, (and I hope Dzheremi can confirm or correct what follows), I believe "ou" refers to the partitive article. According to Wikipedia, "A partitive article is a type of indefinite article used with a mass noun such as water, to indicate a non-specific quantity of it...The nearest equivalent in English is "some", although this is considered a determiner and not an article." Other mass nouns include water, light, love, air, wind, spirit and God. Just like in English, if I say "Give me water" (no article), I must mean "Give me some water" or more syntactically accurate, "Give me part of the mass noun water". In Coptic, it would be "Ti `noumwou nyi" - (Literally, give me a water.) You must use "ou". You can't use the zero article like Greek. The zero article exists in Coptic, but only with specific prepositions and circumstances that do not apply here. The same is true with 1 John 4:16 "God is love." In one manuscript the Bohairic says "God is a love", the Sahidic says "God is the love". The Greek (I believe uses the definite article). The same is true in the Nicene Creed. The Greek says, "Φῶς ἐκ Φωτός, Θεὸν ἀληθινὸν ἐκ Θεοῦ ἀληθινοῦ," (Light of light, True God of True God). The Coptic uses "ouwouini evol qen ouwouoini. ounouti entaevmi evol khen ounouti entaevmei" To the untrained eye, it could be translated "a light out from a light, a true God out of a true God". Wikipedia's definition of mass noun is "a mass noun (also [called] uncountable noun or non-count noun) is a noun with the syntactic property that any quantity of it is treated as an undifferentiated unit, rather than as something with discrete subsets." It would be completely syntactically wrong to say "a light from a light" since these nouns must be treated as undifferentiated units, not a subset. It is also syntactically wrong to translate John 1:1c as "the Word was a god" in the context given.

JW's have attempted to substantiate their heresy by claiming a conspiracy of hiding the Coptic version. They insist John 1:1c should be read as a common indefinite article and fail to realize that the text uses the partitive article. This reinstates Layton's comment "Don't worry about the indefinite article of John 1.1 in Coptic; it might mean was a god, was divine, was an instance of 'god', was one god (not two, three, etc.). The range of meanings of the Coptic indef. article does not map nicely onto English usage, nor Greek. Once you learn Coptic you will know all of this."

Severian, my answer your last question is no. The fact that there are some versions of Coptic bible with the definite article probably means that some Coptic translators were not concerned about Sabellianism, but rather understood the Trinitarian formula that the Word was (the) God. I think the use of the indefinite article in some manuscripts has to do with a proper recognition of no article in Greek and the various grammatical uses of the indefinite article in Coptic, not found in Greek. It really has nothing to do with theology but JW's made it theological.

Does this help?
Another issue is the rather slavish translation Coptic does from Greek, trying to replicate the literal words if at all possible.  So if the Greek had no definite article, the Coptic will avoid it if at all possible.  In Coptic, this would syntactically tend to demand the indefinite article, which doesn't exist in Greek and so doesn't spoil the literal translation.
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and urgent strife sheds blood.
If you blow on a spark, it will glow;
if you spit on it, it will be put out;
                           and both come out of your mouth
HabteSelassie
Ises and I-ity
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Faith: Oriental Orthodox
Jurisdiction: Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church
Posts: 3,332



« Reply #25 on: September 06, 2012, 01:40:13 PM »

Greetings in that Divine and Most Precious Name of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!

By coincidence I was reading Saint John Chrysostom's homilies on Galatians and here is our father's two-cents on the matters of the indefinitive article in the Gospel of John chapter 1..

Quote
"God the Father."

Here again is a plain confutation of the heretics, who say that John in the opening of his Gospel, where he says "the Word was God," used the word eov without the article, to imply an inferiority in the Son's Godhead; and that Paul, where he says that the Son was "in the form of God," did not mean the Father, because the word eov without the article. For what can they say here, where Paul says, apo eou atrov, and not apo tou eougt And it is in no indulgent mood towards them that he calls God, "Father," but by way of severe rebuke, and suggestion of the source whence they became sons, for the honor was vouch-safed to them not through the Law, but through the washing of regeneration. Thus everywhere, even in his exordium, he scatters traces of the goodness of God, and we may conceive him speaking thus: "O ye who were lately slaves, enemies and aliens, what right have ye suddenly acquired to call God your Father? it was not the Law which conferred upon you this relationship; why do ye therefore desert Him who brought you so near to God, and return to your tutor?

stay blessed,
habte selassie
« Last Edit: September 06, 2012, 01:40:27 PM by HabteSelassie » Logged

"Yet stand aloof from stupid questionings and geneologies and strifes and fightings about law, for they are without benefit and vain." Titus 3:10
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