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Mars Hill  Apologetic Discussions



Robert Hommel's First Reply to Jason BeDuhn



Dr. BeDuhn,

Again, thank you for your previous comments. I would like to ask a couple questions and make some observations, if I may. I do appreciate the time you're giving us on this topic.

I'll introduce your comments with PROFESSOR, my responses with ROBERT.

PROFESSOR: Certainly Metzger is a giant in my field, and he has made very important contributions that are unimpeachable. I can hope to accomplish only a fraction of what he has accomplished in his eighty years, and I am still relatively early in my career. The fact remains that in his published remarks on John 1:1c, Metzger argues primarily on the basis of theology, rather than language. His only linguistic argument is "Colwell's Rule," which he misunderstands, just as you recognize. So on this particular topic, Metzger fares rather poorly, despite his expertise and accomplishments in other areas. 

ROBERT: I agree that he misunderstood the application of Colwell's rule (as did Colwell himself, and scads of other scholars). However, I'm not sure that I agree that his other reasons were on "the basis of theology." At least not entirely. If I recall correctly, he bases at least a portion of his conclusion on his understanding of John's theology. While Metzger's theology may color his understanding of John's to some degree, I think it's painting with too broad a brush to suggest that Metzger bases his conclusion (apart from Colwell) entirely on his own theological preferences. Metzger, I'm sure, has drawn conclusions about John's christology based on the rest of John's Gospel and John's other works, and these conclusions certainly play a legitimate part in his displeasure with the NWT rendering.

I believe you concur with this methodology, for you say: "What John's language does provide is a reference to logos, which has philosophical and theological meaning in the time of John that we can draw on to better understand what he is conveying, and a careful presentation throughout the gospel that fills in some of the things we need to understand about the Word-become-flesh/Christ. That is what the reader should attend to." Since you are not engaging in theology when you attend to these matters in John's Gospel, I don't think its quite fair to accuse Metzger of doing so.

PROFESSOR: Colwell is another person who contributed tremendous advances to our field, and is rightly honored for them. Yet, even though his "rule" cannot, as formulated, settle the translation of John 1:1c, it is in fact a completely imaginary rule of Greek grammar, without any valid foundation. Here again, a mistake has been made by an otherwise great scholar. And it is quite common to find that such mistakes occur where theological interest has temporarily interfered with scholarly objectivity.

ROBERT: I agree that Colwell's Rule is of no value in determining the proper translation of John 1:1c, and that Colwell himself was mistaken when he used it to do so. However, I think you're overstating the case that his Rule "as formulated" is "a completely imaginary rule of Greek Grammar." His rule reads:

"Definite predicate nouns which precede the verb usually lack the article" (Colwell, p. 20). 
This rule, as stated, is, I believe, fairly well substantiated. That is, if one begins with nouns in the semantic category "definite" and examines their occurrence in pre- and post-copulative constructions, it is not hard to demonstrate that "usually" definite nouns in pre-copulative constructions are anarthrous. Colwell himself provides the foundation by the statistics he published in his article. McGaughy verified Colwell's statistics - and, indeed, noted that some exceptions Colwell excluded were not exceptions at all, thus strengthening Colwell's argument (McGaughy, Lane C. 1972. Toward a Descriptive Analysis of EINAI as a Linking Verb in New Testament Greek. SBL Dissertation Series 6. Society of Biblical Literature, pp. 70ff). Wallace affirms it (Wallace, Daniel. 1996. Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, p. 260, n 18). Hartley's statistical study also validates Colwell's Rule, as originally stated (Hartley, Don. 1998. "Revisiting the Colwell Construction in Light of Mass/Count Nouns," , notes 9 and 41). I'm unaware of any study that disputes Colwell's Rule "as formulated."

The problem arises when Colwell himself - and many who followed him - affirmed the consequent of his Rule - that is, "Anarthrous pre-copulative PNs are usually definite." His perfectly valid descriptive Rule was inverted to become a logically invalid and inductively falsifiable prescription for translation. Colwell did not define the converse of his Rule in his article, but he begins to assume it, and finally overtly applies it to John 1:1c.

When most scholars refer to Colwell's rule, they rightly quote the Rule as stated - and it is a valid rule (and useful in the field of textual criticism). However, when they commit the logical fallacy of affirming the consequent, and then apply the result to John 1:1, they are, indeed, creating an "imaginary rule." It's too bad that Colwell himself committed this fallacy and so many conservative scholars eagerly followed him in it; but I am encouraged that it has been conservative evangelical scholars who have exposed the error for what it is.

PROFESSOR: So it is not the person, but the evidence and argument in particular instances that must be judged. Metzger and Colwell, as good as they are, are wrong about John 1:1c, and so citing them on one side of the debate offers no valid support. 

ROBERT: Agreed. While others may have done so, I don't believe I ever have.

PROFESSOR: You are quite correct that the best judgment of my position will occur when it is assessed by my academic peers. But I trust you have seen enough of my position to know that I argue on the basis of language and literary context, not theology. 

ROBERT: It seems to me that everyone has certain presuppositions which govern their beliefs and conclusions. For example, while you may not consider yourself a theologian, I suspect you have a worldview of some sort. You have a set of beliefs - about whether God exists; about whether the Bible is God's Word or man's word; about whether the Bible's is inerrant; about whether we need to harmonize our translation of John 1:1c with Paul's christology or the hyper-monotheism of the author of Deuteronomy and Isaiah (or Deutero-Isaiah, if you prefer). One's beliefs in these areas will certainly affect how one interprets John 1:1, don't you agree? Or am I missing something fundamental, here? 

The question is not who has theological presuppositions and who has secular presuppositions - the real question, it seems to me, has already been well articulated - by you! It is who can marshall the most reasonable and best supported argument. Whether such will shake the other person's presuppositions remains to be seen.

PROFESSOR: Even at this point of assessment, one can ask: am I citing the rules and properties of Greek grammar accurately? Ask other experts and see for yourself that I am. Once that is established, then we can move on to questions of how best to render the indefinite theos into English. 

ROBERT: At this point, I'm unwilling to concede that the rules and properties of Greek grammar mandate an indefinite semantic force for theos in John 1:1c. Perhaps I'm not as familiar with your position as I should be. Could you elaborate?

Perhaps we should more clearly define our terms. If you ask me what grade my daughter is in, I'll answer "She a second-grader." From my understanding, this would be a classic indefinite usage. I'm saying that she is in the "class" or category of children in the second grade. However, if you ask me if I'm going to take my daughter to see the film The Lord of the Rings, I might answer, "No, she's just a second-grader." Here, my meaning is not that my daughter is a member of a class - but rather that she has the qualities or characteristics of second-graders - that is, she's too young to appreciate the film. This is a qualitative usage. In English, we often use the indefinite article to signify qualitativeness, but not always. Some nouns lend themselves more to a qualitative usage without the article - "man," for instance. If I say to an evolutionist, "Homo Erectus was man," I'm not saying that our ancient ancestor was "a man," (a member of a class or category), nor that he is The Man (definite); instead, I mean that he was fully human - possessing all the qualities, attributes, or characteristics of humanity. Greek grammarians since Robertson (and even some before) have demonstrated that anarthrous nouns in Greek often lay stress on the qualities or characteristics of the noun. The question, then, as you note, is how best to translate this semantic nuance into English. In many occasions, it will have to be with the indefinite article - since English idiom restricts us. In other cases, we may choose an adjective (for example, I think "sinful" works better than "a sinner" for hamartwlos in John 9:24, 25). In some cases, the noun may simply be rendered without either the definite or indefinite article (which is how most translators render kurios in Mark 2:28). The translator must determine what semantic force is predominant (indefiniteness or qualitativeness) and then decide the best English equivalent.

PROFESSOR: Using the indefinite "god" comes first to mind linguistically, but literary context must also be considered, as well as cultural environment which provided meaning to the term logos for John's audience. Harner has argued for a qualitative meaning, and I have no quarrel with his evidence and argument. I have simply asked the question: how does Greek convey quality? And the answer turns out to be either with an adjective or with an indefinite noun of class or category. 

ROBERT: I would argue that Greek conveys quality with a qualitative noun. If one accepts qualitativeness as a semantic nuance, I don't see how it's possible to convey that nuance with an indefinite noun (which has an entirely different semantic nuance). In Greek, that is. While we may, in some cases, translate a qualitative noun with an indefinite noun in English, we must, I think, argue from sense, not translation. Either the author intends to convey the qualities of his subject, or he intends to place that subject in a class or category. And while members of a class or category have the attributes associated with that class, that is an extra-linguistic deduction. The author (unless intending ambiguity) places emphasis on one or the other. He or she intends a specific meaning in using a qualitative construction. When the lady at the well calls Jesus "a prophet," she is not merely placing Him in a category of other prophets, but rather is emphasizing Jesus' prophetic attributes that enabled Him intimately to know about her past. Her emphasis is on the qualities of "prophet," not on membership in the class or category of prophets.

I agree that quality can be conveyed with an adjective, but I think an adjectival sense often is less than is intended by a qualitative noun. The lady at the well is, I think, saying more than Jesus is "prophetic." She is saying that He has all the qualities, attributes, or characteristics of a prophet in full measure. Indeed, though the lady does not know this (but John certainly does), Jesus more completely embodies the qualities of "prophet" than does anyone in the OT that might be considered prophetic - He is the One who has been intimately with the Father "in" the Beginning, who "exegetes" the Father, who speaks only the Father's words, and does everything the Father does in like manner. 

Could you please tell me whether the anarthrous pre-verbal PNs in the following verses are indefinite or adjectival, in your view: Mark 2:28 (kurios estin); John 1:14 (sarx egeneto); John 3:6(sarx estin; pneuma estin); John 6:63(pneuma estin; zwe estin).

PROFESSOR: I seem to recall that you maintained the importance of distinguishing "class" from "nature." But Greek has no specific grammatical form for conveying something as tightly defined as "nature." Instead, what you have is a choice between individual and class. 

ROBERT: Harner and others have written that a qualitatitve noun attributes the qualities, attributes, or characteristics of the noun to the subject. I'm not sure how one could define "nature" without saying that it is the sum total of a being's qualities, attributes, and characteristics. If one of the characteristics of ho theos is self-existence, is that not part of His nature? Isn't that one of the attributes of the true God that distinguishes Him as categorically distinct from other so-called gods in the Bible? Doesn't that make the true God's nature unique?

PROFESSOR: You are absolutely correct that reading theos in John 1:1c as individual yields a kind of modalism, conflates God and Word indistinguishably. But that is precisely what is conveyed by the traditional English translation in the absence of any sort of commentary or explanation. 

ROBERT: Actually, I think the English word Deity works a bit better, in that we are more accustomed to seeing it used qualitatively: "The Word was with the Deity and the Word was Deity." I prefer "Deity" to "divine" because it signifies all that makes God, God (or a god, a god), whereas "divine" can mean a mere god-like quality. Qualitative nouns - even those that may include some indefiniteness - attribute all the qualities or characteristics of the noun to the subject; at least, I have not found any that clearly attribute only some qualities or all qualities in lesser measure. But on the whole, I prefer the traditional translation to other alternatives - all require some sort of explanation, but I think the traditional rendering conveys more of the essential truth of what John was writing. Of course, I know you disagree...

PROFESSOR: I wouldn't be concerned with that problem if that is what John wrote. But in fact John was very careful to distinguish the individual definite God from the Word which is characterized as belonging to the god/deity/divine class.

ROBERT: Again, I don't see the grammatical necessity for an indefinite semantic force. John, it seems to me, is saying much more than the Logos is a member of a "divine class." I think Harner's study is helpful, here. We should consider why John wrote 'theos hn ho logos' and not 'ho logos hn theos,' or 'ho logos hn theios.' The first would have been unambiguously indefinite; the second clearly adjectival. Why did John write what he did, and not one of these alternatives? The stairstep construction in John 1:1 places emphasis on the repeated words: "...ho logos kai ho logos...ton theon kai theos... This device seems to me more than a poetic decoration - John is setting forth the theme of his Gospel: The Word - God. The stress John places on theos is, I think, more than the indefinite nuance can bear. John is saying more than the logos is a member of a class - he is stressing the qualities of the logos - for the logos is "in" the Beginning, intimately with ho theos. Through the logos, all things came into being, and not one thing came into being apart from Him. The Son is the "one and only" - he is unique, not merely the member of a class, but in a class by Himself. Throughout his Gospel, John will distinguish ho logos from ho theos, as you rightly say. But he will also define precisely how ho logos "theos is" as well. 

PROFESSOR: Philosophically and theologically you can define that class ("sharing the same nature") and set limits to it (monotheism), but the language of John does not itself provide those philosophical and theological fine points in John 1:1. What John's language does provide is a reference to logos, which has philosophical and theological meaning in the time of John that we can draw on to better understand what he is conveying, and a careful presentation throughout the gospel that fills in some of the things we need to understand about the Word-become-flesh/Christ. That is what the reader should attend to.

ROBERT: Do you find that Trinitarian scholars who've written on the Gospel of John have not done so? I'd be interested to hear your opinion of Carson's commentary on John, or Ridderbos' or Beasley-Murray's.

PROFESSOR: My position is simply to let John present the material in the way and order it has been formulated in his mind by remaining true to the language he uses and translating it as directly as possible into corresponding English sentences. I don't consider that the Bible needs my help, or the help of any translator, to fill in what it somehow fails to say or to artificially restrict or qualify what it does say. If that position is so radical that it puts me outside the mainstream in my profession then maybe that mainstream should consider whether it is in the right place.

ROBERT: Well said. Though I have my presuppositions like everyone else, I strive also to let John say what he says. I suspect that everyone who has written on this subject - including Metzger and Colwell - would say the same as well. The fact that some have allowed their presuppositions to override clear thinking is a cautionary tale for all of us.

Kind regards,


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