John 1:1 in Coptic Translation

by slimboyfat 78 Replies latest jw friends

  • slimboyfat
    1) What is an "inseparable preposition"??

    When I was learning Hebrew I was told that it is single letters (such as lamedh you mention with regard to Jer 29:10) attached to words. I realise now I must have made a mistake in using this term for the Coptic here since an "inseparable" article is involved rather than a preposition.

    2) You speak as if the "force" of the rendering is already known and I am "undermining" it by seeking illuminative (counter)-examples. If that is the case, when and where did you learn Coptic? Because the actual sense of the indefinite article is NOT known until one either understands the language or looks at how the article is used.

    I am relying entirely on the comments from the scholar from the link provided by Narkissos who has the adavantage over all of us in that he is apparently familiar with Coptic. So it is not as if we are going at the subject blind. What we have is a scholar familiar with Coptic who has stated that the text presents the second "god" as indefinite; so that is why you can be said to be trying to "undermine" that position: not my position, his.

    That is why I pointed out the text in Ephesians because it clearly uses the indefinite article in a way that CONTRASTS with English, is more generalized than English, and more critically for John 1:1, shows that the Father can be "a god" too. It suggests that some caution may be needed in interpreting the phrase, and the further examples from the Passio Mecurii may possibly suggest the same thing as well.

    I am not convinced that Eph 4 does provide an illuminative parallel for the reason Narkissos has given. And you have not addressed his response as far as I can see.

    But you need to bear in mind that translation is an interpretive act, it often tells more about the thinking of the translator (especially in making choices between different options of rendering an ambiguous text) than it does about the text being translated.

    Be that as it may, it cannot be entirely uninteresting to note how translators dealt with the problematic construction, especially when they were so much closer to the composition of the original than later exegetes who have grappled with text.

    To remedy somewhat the tone of my previous message I want to thank you Leolaia for you knowledgeable and informative comments on this subject. I am learning a lot from reading the contributions from Narkissos and yourself.

    I approach the issue from the point of view that I am no longer convinced of the inspiration of any sacred texts. However, I have also come increasingly to the view that JWs can claim far greater support for their theological positions from the sacred texts and early Christian writings than their critics often claim. As BeDuhn argues, JWs may have allowed themselves a more reflexive reading of the sacred texts as a result of their more radical break from mainstream Christianity than that occasioned by the Reformation. That is not to say they have everything right (far from it, and they have powerful "traditions" of their own which warp their reading of many texts), but they did approach the Bible with a freshness thay allowed them to rediscover some aspects of the theology of the early church that centuries of dogmatic reflection had somewhat obscured.

  • LittleToe


    Sheesh, what a grouch!

    LOL - sometimes

    I like your analogy, though wouldn't it best be applied to the music critic (John) rather than the composer?

    I agree completely. I guess that all I was saying with that comment is that it could be better seen as supporting the Mormon perspective than the JW one. They accept that Jehovah/Jesus is "God", even though it's in a p0olytheistic sense rather than monotheistic (though they would attempt to argue otherwise)

  • Midget-Sasquatch

    My english translation of the italian translation of the passage from the coptic Passio Mecurri: "Because of this miracle many believed in God and became christians. The holy martyr was put in a very beautiful and striking place and many healings occured in that area by means of the power of God and of his holy one St. Mercurio."

    Leolaia makes a valid point. That passage is clearly talking about the god. If the indefinite article is indeed used there, then how can one confidently say that coptic John 1:1c means "a god"?

    That aside, I'm not adverse to some distinction being made though, because it would fit in nicely with a gnostic view of the emanation(s) from the god and their relationship to the godhead.

  • Narkissos


    I think you are placing the bar rather high for the Witnesses in terms of what they can claim in their support when you suggest that even if the Coptic supports their linguistic view as regards theos being indefinite in John 1:1C, they can't lay claim to that as evidence because the Coptic translators probably did not have in mind the same conception of Jesus as a divine creature as JWs do.

    The classical objective of Biblical exegesis is determining the meaning(s) of a specific text in its (relatively) original context. In the present case, the meaning of the Greek phrase kai theos èn ho logos in the narrow context of the Greek Johannine Prologue and in the broader context of the Greek Fourth Gospel. To this, an essential parameter -- even more essential than the syntax of the article -- is the Johannine notion of theos, which cannot be taken for granted. As I have said many times, both sides of the Trinitarian debate (whether in the 4th or the 19th century) agree on an exclusivistic notion of "God" which rules out the more inclusivistic and potentially pluralistic Gnostic notion, an early form of which is evidently implied in the Fourth Gospel. This is bound to poison the debate and make the so-called "evidence" desperately inconclusive.

    If you admit at least the possibility for variation of meaning in the main signifier "g-God," the problem is the following. The text can be construed as saying either "the logos was Theos^1" or "the logos was a theos^1". What the Trinitarian debate wonders is whether "the logos was Theos^2" or "the logos was a theos^2". A totally different question. Because of the exclusivistic notion of "theos^2" the second proposition implies "pagan" polytheism and is rejected by the Trinitarians. On the same grounds Unitarians opt for the second proposition but they have to add, somewhat arbitrarily, that "theos^2" is then to be taken in a figurative way because they don't want to be polytheists either. This was not a problem with "theos^1" as the argument in John 10:33ff shows.

  • OHappyDay

    Maybe someone can find a copy of the English translation of the coptic John 1:1 by the Rev. George William Horner in 1911. He was a coptic scholar and a church man.

    I am told that he translated it to say "a God was the Word."

  • OHappyDay

    I found this more recent translation (2003) on the internet.

    It also says, "the Word was a God."

  • Leolaia

    slimboyfat....Thanks for the response, I just want to give one small clarification....I was not at all questioning the site author's claim that the Coptic translator had used an indefinite article, for that is what Wells was commenting on. So what I observed was not "undermining" his claim that the version used an indefinite article; what I was curious about was what the nuance of the indefinite article would be in this text and how it might be rendered in an English translation. The author does not comment on this issue per se, other than to note that Coptic is very similar to English, and it is here where I was posing my question because English is not exactly the same as Coptic, and the examples provided by Narkissos and me also suggest that the usage of the indefinite article differed from that in English, so the precise nuance of the indefinite article in this passage is still somewhat of an unsettled question without further clarification from a Copic scholar. Apparently Thomas Lambdin, as quoted by Wells, notes that there are some cases in which Coptic usage differs from English, and it would be great to consult Lambdin and see which specific texts these are.

    The translation (and the other presumed translation) provided by OHappyDay are much better, but are still laconic (e.g. why is "a God" capitalized? Is this due to the theological bias of the English translator, or is there a nuance that the translator is trying to capture by having BOTH an indefinite article AND a capitalized unique "God").

    Midget-Sasquatch....So good to see you!

  • Terry
    Little Toe: I like your analogy, though wouldn't it best be applied to the music critic (John) rather than the composer?

    That is an important question!

    Is the verse in John 1:1 simply John speaking__as though__the spirit of god were "inspiring" him?

    Is the verse in John 1:1 the actual expression of God's mind chanelled through human means?

    Is the verse in John 1:1 the human interpretation of a "messege" implanted in his mind by God?

    Is the verse in John 1:1 the human interpretation of an idea he thinks is implanted by God?

    Is the verse in John 1:1 the result of a religious fanatic creating whimsical epiphany out of thin air and passing it off as inspiration?

    You see, the whole matter isn't simply a this or that decision on the part of an interpreter reading those verses.

    There could be much, much more to it.

    The verse in John 1:1 could have been tampered with early on by a copyist with an agenda.

    The verse in John 1:1 might just be somebody's honest interpretation of a general idea that was floating around from some hearsay testimony of the actual John. Then, the authorship was merely attributed to John (the phrase "according to" John).

    And so on..........

    The mind boggles! (My mind, at least)


  • Terry

    Think of God as the ocean.

    If a tidal wave destroys something in its path we single out the wave itself as having "caused" the destruction. Yet, it is, after all the OCEAN which is involved.

    Perhaps making a distinction between Jesus and God is the same as making a distinction between the ocean and a tidal wave.

    Just my two cents.

    Sometimes making such distinctions is merely a reflection of conceptual framing devices and not on any actuality of a specific identity.


  • Narkissos

    You sound like the guy who would break up into a concert shouting that music is just noise; in a library shouting that literature is just ink scribble on paper; in an art gallery shouting that painting is nothing but paint spots on canvasses.

    Of course he would be right. He might even be mildly interesting in a sort of surrealistic way -- albeit for a short while.

    In any case isn't he missing something? Doesn't even he know that?

    Edited to add that this doesn't apply to your latest comment which was quite... mystical.

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