Coptic John 1:1 makes it into the Watchtower.

by slimboyfat 75 Replies latest watchtower beliefs

  • Leolaia
    Obviously I am not surprised that someone who is not deeply religious can be interested religion because it is the position I find myself in.

    I am sure that my interest, like yours, was kindled in a similar cauldron of experiential background.

    There is of course a world of difference between saying "I have no personal views" and being a non-religious agnostic.

    Indeed, but I think you miss some of the subtlety of what I have said thus far. When I said "I have no personal views," I added an important qualifier: "I have no personal views of my own, if you are asking about any ontological reality". Yes, I do have an agnostic philosophical outlook, which makes my stance socially-situated and subjective, and I have been explicit about that in talking about what my "beliefs" per se are, e.g. my imperfect but self-correcting understandings of the historical past. From a critical realist position, I feel that it is possible to construct for myself "beliefs" about what more accurately (or, conversely, less accurately) characterizes the history of ideas, but I do not engage in this same process as it pertains to any ontological truth value lying behind these same ideas. That is to say, I do not hold any one of these religious ideas as a belief of my own which I view as probably representing some external truth. I do not have any access to objective knowledge or subjective experience that would lead me to judge between the potentially infinite gamut of positive claims; I feel that considerations of parsimony, induction, and so forth are what lead me closer to "No" than "Yes", but I regard both as positive claims that I cannot adopt as my own. Taking strong atheism as a personally-held belief of external reality is just as much foreign to my thinking as adopting any particularistic theistic model.

    I therefore also find this statement problematic: "Being agnostic means that I do not claim any particular view as my own". Because being agnostic is to take a particular view.

    Correct, but my point is: a view of what? If you read that statement in its proper context, I was talking about a particular kind of view, namely, those views that make positive claims about an external reality of the divine. A philosophical position on whether one can make such claims is distinct in that respect.

    I would also dispute the idea that someone who is agnostic therefore "has no personal stake in the matter". If we have an interest in something then we have a stake in it by definition.

    I agree. However you missed my qualification again. I took pains not to imply that I didn't have a stake by adding in parentheses that I was talking about having a stake "that one particular faith corresponds closest to a 'truth' ".

    Oh dear. Agnosticism does not involve the absence of an interpretive lens.

    Again, you mistake what I am saying. I absolutely was not saying that I do not have an interpretive lens. In fact, I implied almost the opposite -- that if there happens to be an external reality that I one day experience subjectively, I hope my exposure to a wide set of interpretive lenses would give me a richer grasp of my experience than if I had only one lens (such as what I would have if I had remained a committed JW and accepted only that view as having any possibility of representing truth).

  • slimboyfat

    Leolaia to say that you are undecided about the existence of God is to take a position about the ontological reality whether you like it or not. At the very least it means you believe that God, if he exists, is either not capable, or else has chosen not to furnish enough evidence (or, as another possibility, has distorted the evidence to create confusion) to be reasonably sure about his existence. So ironically even the seemingly detached statement "I don't know if there is a God" makes some positive affirmation about what kind of God you can conceive of existing. Agnosticism in other words is not the neat 'get out of jail free' card it might first appear when claiming a neutral position in religious matters.

    Plus a non-religious view of religious texts excludes certain interpretive possibilities that are open to believers. An example of this is the Witness argument that since Jehovah was revealed as God's name in the Old Testament that God would not have allowed his name to fall into disuse in the New Testament. That is a theological argument about the nature of God that relies upon belief in a deity who is consistent and unchanging. An unbeliever does not share those assumptions so cannot engage on that basic level. Instead an unbeliever could point out any historical evidence that undermines that understanding. But it doesn't answer the basic theological point. So it can be argued that a non-religious reading may be poorer depending on your starting assumptions. A critical realist view of the world is not a neutral starting position. It is just as burdened with assumptions about the nature of reality as being a true believer. If you start with the assumption that God guides history you find his hand everywhere. On the other hand if you believe social, economic and cultural factors drive change in the world without outside interference you will find confirmation for that too.

    It would be nice to think there is some neutral ground from which one could survey the interpretive possibilities of a text, above the tumult of motivations, convictions, desires and so on. No such terrain exists. The best we can do is to acknowledge the shifting ground on which we stand, and not pretend our view is any less shaped by our experience and motivations than others. If anyone says "I don't approach this from any particular position", or "I have no personal stake in the answer here", that's when you need to be most suspicious of all.

  • Leolaia

    I believe our views are closer than you acknowledge in your last post, which contains some excellent criticism but much of it missing the mark. For example, I haven't said nor implied that "I don't approach this from any particular position", or that my views and opinions are "neutral" or objective (words that I have not used in my posts). What I actually wrote is that my philosophical stance is indeed "socially-situated and subjective", my interest was kindled through my "experiential background", and I hold beliefs about the past that as constructions of knowledge reflect my own fallible understandings and experience. I also mentioned the approach of critical realism which most decidedly is not objective nor neutral (it highlights how the critic's own background informs his/her judgment of the evidence), nor was I trying to present it that way; I was in fact trying to distinguish my position from positivist realism which underestimates the critic's lack of objectivity. So, no, I was not construing my agnosticism as producing a truly neutral stance.

    I think you perceive my position as such because you do not recognize the distinction I have been making between my philosophical position (which is subjective and which produces the kind of presuppositions, assumptions, and biases that you draw attention to) and reified opinions, beliefs, etc. (also subjective) which rise above the threshold of consciousness and become articles of faith per se. This distinction was occasioned by the original question which threw this thread off topic, "Might I ask what your personal views are of Jesus". I answered the question with the understanding that designs was inquiring on what my specific beliefs were, not underlying presuppositions. I correctly surmised this, as he/she subsequently added "belief in what may be the better question" and then clarified the question as "do you hold some idea that" X exists. Your excellent example of the kind of logical implications about the nature of "God" that agnostic indeterminism may produce is a case in point. I do not dispute that one's philosophical position may, if followed to its logical conclusion, have certain "non-neutral" implications. In fact, I tried to express this point in my last post. I noted that "considerations of parsimony, induction, and so forth ... lead me closer to 'No' than 'Yes' "; that non-neutral leaning is motivated by my underlying assumptions even though I do not adopt either truth value as a belief. But to go back to your example, I don't think I would have answered designs' question by saying, "Well, I am agnostic, but I can use my agnosticism to generate the following beliefs I hold on the nature of God, etc. etc." While it is possible that agnosticism has some specific theological consequences, I do not hold these personally as ideas on God's existence; they do not (yet) form my "personal views". That's the distinction I was aiming for. I think you need to recognize that, as I have portrayed it, the development of belief is a process for each individual, and allow that not everyone has thought through all the consequences of the philosophical positions that guide their thinking. Assumptions and presuppositions are beliefs too, but usually are not the objects of conscious reflection in the same way as doctrines and faith positions. When I said that I have no "personal views" regarding any "ontological reality" of concepts relating to God or divinity, I meant just that (but see the clarification below). Maybe with time I will develop clearer opinions, particularly through gaining more life experience (as I stated above, I feel I lack the subjectivity to make judgments like "Yes" and "No").

    In part, my answer too was motivated by statements that reniaa has made about me in the past, particularly at Topix. She has mischaracterized me as a "trinitarian" because I have expressed opinions on biblical texts that are in agreement with what some trinitarians say. Of course, that overlooks other statements I have made that are less agreeable to a trinitarian viewpoint, and my position that "trinitarianism" as a systematic theology (or rather a set of theologies) is a later construction that does not represent the views and beliefs of the writers of the NT. But most importantly, the label of "trinitarian" implies that I hold a particular faith position about God, which is most definitely not the case (while, at the same time, I do not reject it as a logical possibility either). So my answer also had an eye on this issue as well.

    However your last post is quite helpful in making me realize an important omission on my part. This omission is understandable since the present discussion emerged in a thread devoted to a discussion of the kind of abstract and potentially timeless questions posed by passages like John 1:1, and then branched forth into the subject of the existence or non-existence of a Supreme Being. But in fact, Jewish and Christian religious traditions focus especially on the intersection of God and history, and I do have some definite opinions of the latter (as mentioned above). In my initial response, I was thinking in terms of an ontological reality that lies beyond observation (like whether God exists or has an internal relation as John 1:1 could be read to imply), but history is in some sense a reality that can be indirectly observed (albeit in a rather fragmentary and incomplete fashion) through various sources. So it is important for me to clarify that I had in mind "personal views" about things that cannot be beheld except through faith.

    Anyway, I hope that clarifies things well enough for your satisfaction.

  • slimboyfat

    Thank you for your thoughtful replies Leolaia, I enjoy reading them.

    If someone asks, "what colour do you believe the fairies are that live at the bottom of the garden?" it might technically be true to answer, "I don't have an opinion about that". But the problem with that answer is that it invites misunderstanding. A true believer in fairies at the bottom of the garden could certainly be forgiven for concluding: "Leolaia does not have a committed view about the colour of the fairies, it's their other qualities such as kindness and generosity that are important."

    Therefore a more fully transparent answer to a question about your views on God might look something like: "I have no personal views of my own because I am not convinced there is a God."

    It was not my imagination that your response would be misunderstood because as if to make my point designs responded to your statement that you "have no personal views" about Jesus:

    Slimboyfat, I would take Leolaia's comment in a way that Erasmus mused- We will not be judged on whether we view the Holy spirit proceeding from the Father alone or from the Father and the Son, but we will be judged on whether or not we practice the fruitages of the spirit, love, joy peace etc.. paraphrased.

    You write:

    I think you perceive my position as such because you do not recognize the distinction I have been making between my philosophical position (which is subjective and which produces the kind of presuppositions, assumptions, and biases that you draw attention to) and reified opinions, beliefs, etc. (also subjective) which rise above the threshold of consciousness and become articles of faith per se.

    I don't think a clear distinction can be drawn between a philosophical position on the one hand and beliefs on the other, because your starting philosophical position necessarily entails beliefs. I am not accusing you of being dishonest, I just think you have not fully thought out the implications of what you write sometimes, and you are being a bit overcautious in revealing your own beliefs and this leads to misunderstanding.

    I have also taken issue with what I perceive to be the tendency of both you and Narkissos to tell believers how they should go about believing despite not sharing the faith. Most pointedly in concluding comments on a Watchtower Study article last year about the nearness of the end you wrote:

    What Christ’s disciples should do is what they did in the second century when they realized that the pa-rou-si'a was still not realized. THEY GOT ON WITH THE REST OF THEIR LIVES. Sure, they hoped and waited and were ready in case Judgment Day suddenly beckoned unannounced. But that did not prevent them from living normal lives. It is one thing to be ready in case it happens, it is an entirely different thing to falsely claim with certainty that it is at hand.

    I am uncomfortable with the idea that an agnostic is in a position to tell Christian believers how they should go about their believing. If Christians or Jehovah's Witnesses or others believe that the end of the world is near, and adjust their lives accordingly then that is a decision for them to make. It seems pernicious for an unbeliever to get involved in that debate as if from the inside.

    It's similar when Narkissos goes on about Jehovah's Witnesses having the wrong view of Jesus. I understand that because of his history Narkissos has an attachment to a certain conception of Jesus that has somehow managed to survive even his doubts about the historical Jesus. I have heard him make the comment that 'Jesus was the name that brought me freedom from the Witnesses' or something similar. It's as if he is saying he does not believe in the existence of fairies, but if he did he certainly wouldn't believe they were sky blue! By all means let's discuss the history and development of beliefs and be open about where we are coming from. But let's leave pronouncements on the colour of fairies to people who believe in fairies.

  • Kas


    It looks like I found this thread 6 months to a year late. I decided to offer comment because I noticed that the article by P.B. Harner has been referred to a number of times in a favorable manner, and I wondered if anyone here noted one of the flaws in Harner's argument. Namely, he argued that the noun QEOS would more likely be indefinite if it occurred after the verb, and that it's occurrence before the verb makes it "qualitative", apparently in a way that can't, in his opinion, be captured by employing the indefinite article (= "a god"). Not only was Harner wrong to assume that the English indefinite isn't a valid tool to use when a noun's qualitative force is "more important" than whether a noun is definite or indefinite, but, surprisingly, he never demonstrates the validity of the assumption vis a vis word order. If one were to set aside the Johannine sacred cow and focus on other verses in John's Gospel that are like John 1:1c, one finds ample evidence that undermines his theory.

    If we exclude nouns that are not like QEOS (i.e. non-count/mass nouns like "love" and "flesh"), and focus solely on nouns that are truly similar, i.e. that are (i) pre-verbal, (ii) predicate nominatives, (iii) not qualified (i.e. by a qualifying phrase of any kind, such as "of Israel", "of the Jews", "of the Sabbath", etc.), (iv) are bounded (=count), (v) do not name a qualities, and (vi) are not definite (this is an assumption, because QEOS at 1:1c certainly could be definite), then one finds a clear pattern as to how translators handle such nouns. Here are all of the examples in John's Gospel that I found that fit the stated criteria:

    John 4:19: PROFHTHS EI SU
    ("a prophet" NRSV)

    John 6:70: DIABOLOS ESTIN
    ("a devil" NRSV)

    John 8:34: DOULOS ESTIN
    ("a slave" NRSV)

    ("a murderer" NRSV)

    John 8:44: YEUSTHS ESTIN
    ("a liar" NRSV)

    John 8:48: SAMARITHS EI
    ("a Samaritan" NRSV)

    John 9:17: PROFHTHS ESTIN
    ("a prophet" NRSV)

    John 9:24: hAMARTWLOS ESTIN
    ("a sinner" NRSV)

    John 9:25: hAMARTWLOS ESTIN
    ("a sinner" NRSV)

    John 10:1: KLEPTHS ESTIN
    ("a thief" NRSV)

    Note: At John 10:1, notice that there's no difference between how KLEPTHS (=thief) is handled, which occurs before the verb, and LhiSTHS (=robber) is handled, which occurs after the verb.

    John 10:13: MISQWTOS ESTIN
    ("a hired hand" NRSV)

    John 12:6: KLEPTHS HN
    ("a thief" NRSV)

    John 18:35: IOUDAIOS EIMI
    ("a Jew" NRSV)

    John 18:37a: BASILEUS EI
    ("a king" NRSV)

    John 18:37b: BASILEUS EIMI
    ("a king" NRSV)

    Some have said that these verses include the indefinite article to conform to English idiom, which is true, of course. The crucial question is whether the English renderings of these verses accurately capture the sense of the underlying Greek, and I doubt that thoughtful consideration can yield anything but an affirmative answer. This negates Harner's assertion about word order, which, again, he never even attempts to justify using any scientifically testable linguistic methodology or paradigm.

    In light of this, I think that the Coptic probably does support the NWT's rendering, for the Greek almost certainly does, and the Coptic translator(s) was/were attempting to convey the sense of the underlying Greek. If John wanted to say that the Logos was "divine" he probably would have used theios; if he wanted to say that the Logos was "deity" he probably would have used theotes; if he wanted to say that the LOGOS was "a god", perhaps with a hint of emphasis, then I would argue that he would have said exactly what he did.


  • Kas

    Hello again,

    I had said (with the point of focus in this post underlined):

    "Not only was Harner wrong to assume that the English indefinite isn't a valid tool to use when a noun's qualitative force is "more important" than whether a noun is definite or indefinite, but, surprisingly, he never demonstrates the validity of the assumption vis a vis word order."

    I wanted to clarify that I didn't mean to suggest that Harner didn't attempt to demonstrate his proposed assumption, for he does make an effort. He simply doesn't succeed, and he employed circular argumentation vis a vis at least one of the cited examples he addresses. Also, surprisingly, he and his proponents seem to have missed one of the elephants in the room: The "evidence" that he offers to support a qualitative sense for the various nouns involved an analysis of the context, i.e. what the speaker was trying to convey as implied by the context, in Harner's view. Do you see the problem? One could argue that whatever "qualitativeness" Harner felt he discerned didn't emerge from fronting but from the very context he offers to support the sense he felt was present.


  • PSacramento

    If one is to take ALL of the GOJ and then view what John says in John 1:1 in the context of the WHOLE of the GOJ then, "a god" would NOT be correct.

    John states over and over the union, the perfect union, of Jesus and God and, trinitarian views aside, to read John's words when Jesus says " I am in the Father and the Father in me", or "he who sees me sees the Father" and then read John 1:1 and read it as "the word was God", makes perfect cohezive sense, but to take those same passages and then read John 1:1 as "a god" doesn't make "sense".

  • rmnnoute

    Reading John 1:1 as "the word was a god" instead of "the Word was God" makes perfect sense, not only in light of the Gospel of John, but in light of the New Testament and the Bible as a whole. None of the "proof texts" for the Trinity unambiguously support that doctrine, nor does the Greek grammar of John 1:1c.

    As for Coptic John 1:1, it clearly says "the Word was a god," and no real case has been made for translating that Coptic verse "qualitatively" or adjectivally. There is no use of ou.noute ("a god") adjectivally anywhere else in the Coptic New Testament; noute ("god") is clearly a common or count noun there.

    Even Coptic scholar Bentley Layton translates (o)u.noute as "a-god" in his interlinear translation of Coptic John 1:1c. -- Coptic in 20 Lessons, (Peeters/Leuven, 2007), page 7.

  • Kas

    Hello PSacramento,

    Thank you for sharing your faith-based conviction that John 1:1c should be rendered, "the Word was God". It would seem that the Greek allows for that rendering, and so I would accept it as a potentially valid alternative translation. Further, I think that it can be shown that this rendering harmonizes well with Witness theology. In fact, if anyone were to solicit my advice vis a vis John 1:1 in a new translation of the Bible, I would suggest that "the Logos was a god" should be in the main body of the text of John and that "the Logos was God" should be placed in a footnote as an alternative rendering. I would use "Logos" instead of "Word" to stimulate inquiry, and I'd include an article about the Wisdom, Memra, and Logos traditions of the biblical period in the appendix, along with a list of other discussions of these concepts as suggested reading.

    Bear in mind, though, that the primary focus of this thread deals with the Coptic, and based on what I've read and on correspondence I've had with a Coptic scholar, "the Word was God" would not be a good translation based on the Coptic.

    Now, please note that my post was very specific as to its objective, and so to redirect matters I'd like to ask you a few questions:

    (i) Since you feel that "the Word was God" is the right translation of John 1:1c, can I assume that you disagree with P. B. Harner in relation to what he offered in his 1973 JBL article? I've listed the title of the article below my signature for your reference. I ask because it was the favorable comments about Harner's article that prompted me to submit my first post here, and Harner considered your preferred translation to be problematic.

    (ii) Can you clarify what the translation "the Word was God" means in your view? Do you take "QEOS" (="God") at John 1:1c to be definite, indefinite, qualitative, or a combination of these? Do you understand "God" to be a proper name, a proper noun, a title, a singular count noun, a mass noun, an abstract noun, or something else?


    P.B. Harner's JBL article is entitled, "Qualitative Anarthrous Predicate Nouns: Mark 15:39 and John 1:1" (Journal of Biblical Literature, volume 92, No. 1, March 1973), pp. 75-87

  • Kas

    Hello rmnnoute,

    I agree with you, of course, that "the Word was a god" harmonizes well with the Bible as a whole. Since Trinitarianism seems to be inherently circular anyway, requiring it's proponents to employ equivocation and embrace the impossible (e.g. that Jesus can know all things yet not know all things at the same time), I propose that they should just render the Greek in a strait-forward, natural way (i.e. "a god") and work out the problems theologically, just as they do now. I'm sure that they could rise to the occasion if they put their minds to it.

    One of the things that caught my attention in relation to this thread is the criticism that was offered against the WTS because they didn't discuss the "qualitative" alternative that the Coptic may allow. This may be a legitimate criticism, yet, if so, then the same criticism should be offered in relation to the myriad theologians, commentators, scholars, etc, who have discussed John 1:1 yet failed to mention that "a god" is a valid grammatical alternative rendering of the Greek of 1:1c. I suspect that most who would criticize the WTS's omission would be quite forgiving of the corresponding omission by those with whom they happen to agree.


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