Here is my last set of responses. Thanks for the challenging and stimulating
conversation. Maybe you'll write a review of my book! We may both have been
hard on each other in a couple spots in this last exchange,but I think we
both recognize it's all for a good -- and very important -- cause. I certainly respect your diligence and must commend you for
handling the subject at a much higher level of sophistication than I generally
This is the last installment of my responses to RH on the issues of John 1:1c.
With this contribution, I will step away from the on-line debate and let my
book and articles on the subject do the talking for awhile. I'm sure Robert and the rest of you will be interested to see the reaction of academic circles
to my arguments in that form. I invite Robert to complete the cycle of discussion if he would like to. But I will not be
responding since I feel that we have aired out every possible relevant angle on the
subject, and I concede that it will not be possible for us to ultimately
agree on it. No one should be distressed by that lack of agreement. Rather they
should learn from it the challenges faced today in translating and interpreting
the Bible, a book given to humanity two thousand years ago. It is always
best to listen to a variety of voices, to analyze and assess reasons, to
understand what is at stake in any position, and to draw one's own conclusions by
using that most remarkable of gifts, the human brain.
We are cleaning house a bit here, so these responses amount no more to odds
A. On a parallel example of an anarthrous noun oftentranslated as definite,
involving "a/the devil"
ROBERT: Dr. BeDuhn, I assume, would not translate Luke 21:25 as: "there will
be signs in a sun and a moon." If not, I would ask what grammatical evidence
Dr. BeDuhn can cite, proving that John 6:70 "cannot" be read "one of you is the devil." Again, Dr. BeDuhn seems to regard all anarthrous nouns as indefinites (except for the few exceptions he has just
recently enumerated), which would place him in the minority position - at least if
we regard any leading Greek grammar of the past 100 years as credible in
JB: No, I would not translate Luke 21:25 as "there will be signs in a sun and
a moon," because it is nothing like John 1:1c or 6:70. The Luke sentence
involves nouns in the dative case and in a prepositional phrase. It is
universally recognized in the study of Greek that datives in prepositional
phrases do not require the article to be definite. It is quite another matter with nominatives in copulative (be-verb) sentences. Since
DIABOLOS in John 6:70 is in the nominative form and without the article it is
either an indefinite or, assuming Harner's arguments are correct, has a "qualitative semantic force" which would have to be translated into English as an indefinite in order for that qualitative force to come through to the reader.
The case is the same with John 1:1c. I do not "regard all anarthrous nouns as
indefinites," but rather, in the good company of Greek grammars of the last
100 years, that the lack of the Greek definite article with a noun in the
nominative form signifies an indefinite grammatical value unless there is
present some other definitizing factor (of which there are very few). There
is no such defnitizing factor in either John 1:1c or 6:70.
ROBERT: Further, if we consider the other occurrences of DIABOLOS without the
article in the GNT (1 Peter 5:8; Rev 12:9, 20:2), it seems rather clear that
it is definite in each case - as it is in the 12 verses in which it occurs with the article. Thus, it would appear that DIABOLOS is definite in all other
NT usage, and the burden is on Dr. BeDuhn to prove why it should not be so
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 t our ears: "The (one) called
'devil'." As for Rev. 20:2, 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. As RH points out, the rest of the
occurrences of DIABOLOS in the NT have the definite article. Why, then, if
"devil" is almost always definite in the NT, is it not so in the one case of
John 6:70? Precisely because Jesus is using the term not as a direct
identification of "the devil" but as a characterization, a "qualitative" by
means of the indefinite of category. And how do we know he is so using the term? how can
we prove that he is using it non-definitely? Precisely because it is signaled
in the grammar, by the omission of the article.
ROBERT: Finally, if I am arguing outside of grammar when I consider the beliefs of Jesus and John about "the Devil," Dr. BeDuhn is
certainly doing so when he argues that the beliefs of John and his readers must
be taken into account in understanding the semantic force of THEOS in John
1:1c. And while I have presented several good reasons based on grammar for
understanding DIABOLOS as definite this verse, a consideration of 1st Century Judaism
will, I think, adequately demonstrate that while there may be "demons
many," there was but one Devil.
JB: I have always approved of CONTEXT as a factor in understanding the biblical text, and I have no problem with it being
introduced here. There certainly are several references to a singular figure, "the
Devil" in the NT, and in the contemporary Jewish literature to a singular
figure "the Satan." But both words could be used indefinitely (and in the
plural) in Greek and Hebrew, respectively, as a perusal of the texts of the time
shows. In John 6:70 we are dealing with a categorical/qualitative/characterizing/metaphorical
use of the term which works best in Greek in the indefinite. It also works in
English best in the indefinite, because in the definite it would confuse
readers into thinking that one of Jesus disciples was literally the Devil.
The same sort of confusion of identification in place of characterization is involved in the traditional translation of John 1:1c that RH still(!) says is
fine with him, even though it obviously implies a one-to-one identification of
the Logos with God the Father, the one WITH which the Logos was said to be in
B. 1st century Judaism and "gods"
Elsewhere in part 3 of his response, RH refers again to my "suppositions."
As I said in response to part 2, this is another straw man RH resorts to. Of course, every
straw man is built of bits and pieces of what an opponent has actually said, so
I carry some responsibility for creating the possibility of his miscontrual. But it is a
misconstrual, because it mixes together things I said about Greek vocabulary,
John's thought-world, the cultural understanding of John's audience (likely to
be as much or more non-Jewish as Jewish), and the language and concepts employed
in the Bible, as well as in other contemporary religious literature.
Let me as clear as I can: 1st century Jews were monotheists; they also believed in other super-human beings (angels, demons); they
could use words such as elohim and theoi in contexts that referred to these
supernatural beings without meaning to compromise their monotheism; non-Jews, of course, could use the word THEOS both for what we would call their
god, and for other sorts of superhuman beings; 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.
C. Shifts in meaning from 1:1b to 1:1c and translation options.
ROBERT: As I have argued previously, there is considerable grammatical and
rhetorical evidence that the sense of THEOS in John 1:1 does not change between clause b and clause c. We have yet to see a similar
argument from Dr. BeDuhn beyond the assertion that because humans, Satan, and pagan gods are
called THEOS in the NT, the Jews understood YHWH to be in the same broad
category with them.
JB: On the contrary, there is very clear grammatical evidence that the sense
of THEOS changes between 1b and 1c, namely, John's very careful and meaningful
omission of the article. There is another rule of Greek grammar that applies here as well. Even if we were not dealing with the nominative case, and the
very strong distinction (relative to the other cases) made by inclusion or
omission of the article, in Greek when you are referring to the same person or
thing just mentioned, and want to make clear that you mean "the aforementioned
God," you use the article to reinforce that identification. John doesn't do
I have never asserted that the Jews considered YHWH to be in the same cateogry
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." The proof is
right in the NT itself, where the term is used in this broad manner. I understand the distinction RH draws between "true God" and
"so-called gods" (some falsely so-called, some apparently metaphorically or "functionally"
so-called). I certainly think, based on a contextual reading, that John himself would make some distinction like that (although some
"qualities" that define a THEOS are apparently promised to humans through
Christ). Unfortunately, the Greek language employed by John is not so
precisely defined. Because I recognize the difficulty and burden of relaying some of
these distinctions to the English-speaking Bible reader, I do not simply
settle on "a god" as unarguably the best rendering. I would be interested in
some sort of survey that tested the number of alternatives I have said are
within the range of the Greek to see what people get out of them for meaning
(and I would like to see RH's suggestion included as well,
along with the traditional translation).
ROBERT: I favor the traditional rendering over those Dr.BeDuhn offers because it requires far less explanation.
JB: I think this shows that RH still thinks in terms of a direct
identification, despite his disavowals. He has said that THEOS in 1c has no shift in meaning from HO THEOS (accusative form TON THEON)
in 1b. But in 1b, the Logos is WITH HO THEOS, whereas in 1c the Logos IS
THEOS. This may not be relevant to our discussion, but a Trinitarian would
acknowledge a key shift in the meaning of THEOS from 1b to 1c, with the former being
used in the restrictive sense (God the Father) and the latter in the broader sense (the
Godhead). I wonder if RH has considered that. I have maintained all along
that both a Trinitarian and a non-Trinitarian theology can be derived by a trajectory of logic from what John says here. And a "trajectory of logic" is
precisely how elaborated theologies were crafted from the biblical raw material by the church leaders in the first four centuries
of Christianity, and after.
ROBERT: The task of the translator is to render John 1:1 in such as way as to
accurately reflect what John wrote. As Harner has advocated, a possible translation that does so would be: "The Word had the same
nature as God." Dr. BeDuhn might even agree with this translation.
JB: It is itself an ambiguous translation, I'm afraid, though no more or less
so than the ones I have proposed. What does one mean by "same nature." Our
argument has been over whether the "short list" of qualities for THEOS or the
"long list" of qualities for HO THEOS is invoked.
ROBERT: I have suggested "The Word was Deity." Dr. BeDuhn agrees that this is
possible, but disagrees with the capital "D." I have offered reasons, in an
earlier post, why I believe the capital letter is warranted - to signify that
the nature pointed to is that of the true God.
JB: I understand this reason, and do not disagree that John meant to associate
the Word with the "true God." I don't think that is at issue, but rather how
far the language goes in spelling out the exact character of that association.
Not as far as we might wish, I say. Thankfully, we have the rest of the
gospel to elaborate that association for us, which I think it does quite well
and clearly. Even if that elaboration agreed in all important respects with
RH's view (I think in certain significant respects it does not), I still would
argue that we have no right to import all of that elaboration into the wording
of John 1:1. I say let John tell it his way.
ROBERT: I do not regard it likely that John intended a shift in the sense of
THEOS from 1:1b to 1:1c. Clearly, HO THEOS possesses qualities that distinguish Him from other so-called "gods," and I have yet
to see a compelling argument why HO LOGOS - who is qualitatively called THEOS just two
words after HO THEOS - does not Himself possess that same set of qualities.
Indeed, that is precisely what I understand John to be writing.
JB: The reason that HO LOGOS does not possess "that same set of qualities" as
HO THEOS is because an exactly matching "long list" of qualities means identity between the two terms. Here, as so many times
before, RH seems to make an argument for identification OF SOME SORT. I think he means to make an
identification in terms of the Trinitarian view of the Godhead, even though he
maintains there is no shift of meaning between 1b and 1c, without which Trinitarianism would dissolve into Sabellianism or
Modalism (the idea that the Logos/Son is merely a "mode" or manner of presentation of
God, rather than a distinct being/person). But that is mere assumption on my
part, and RH could in fact be a fully self-conscious modalist. To be fair, his
exact theological position is beside the point. I just mean to point out
where his argument leads, taken at face value. 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.
As always, it has been a pleasure to engage Robert Hommel in this discussion,
which has been carried on at a very high level of information and argument.
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 think
some of our more drawn-out exchanges have been due to this problem, although
certainly not all. He has taken his stand on several positions that I understand and can appreciate, even when I don't agree. I
have no AUTHORITY that trumps his, or Harner's or Colwell's or anyone else's.
All I have are the facts, examples, and reasoning I apply to the issue at
which parameters that I regard as the legitimate ones fro the subject. He is
quite correct to point out that I am merely one voice from the field of biblical studies, and that my position deserves no more
adherence than any other unless proved and demonstrated by the relevant evidence at hand. Time
and the rigorous process of academic review will test my stance, though it is
not mine alone. It is built upon and joins with that of many in my field.
This is work we do together, sometimes in agreement, sometimes sharply at odds
-- but always for the greater good of those who are eager to understand better
and know more, even if they are not in a position themselves to pursue it as
With all best wishes,