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Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Holy Trinity

Even though, as Trinitarians acknowledge, neither the word “Trinity” nor a statement of the Trinitarian dogma is found in the Bible, are the concepts that are embodied in that dogma found there?

Additional Reading:

John 1:1, 2:

RS reads: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” (KJ, Dy, JB, NAB use similar wording.) However, NW reads: “In the beginning the Word was, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god. This one was in the beginning with God.”

Which translation of John 1:1, 2 agrees with the context? John 1:18 says: “No one has ever seen God.” Verse 14 clearly says that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us . . . we have beheld his glory.” Also, verses 1, 2 say that in the beginning he was “with God.” Can one be with someone and at the same time be that person? At John 17:3, Jesus addresses the Father as “the only true God”; so, Jesus as “a god” merely reflects his Father’s divine qualities.—Heb. 1:3.

Is the rendering “a god” consistent with the rules of Greek grammar? Some reference books argue strongly that the Greek text must be translated, “The Word was God.” But not all agree. In his article “Qualitative Anarthrous Predicate Nouns: Mark 15:39 and John 1:1,” Philip B. Harner said that such clauses as the one in John 1:1, “with an anarthrous predicate preceding the verb, are primarily qualitative in meaning. They indicate that the logos has the nature of theos.” He suggests: “Perhaps the clause could be translated, ‘the Word had the same nature as God.’” (Journal of Biblical Literature, 1973, pp. 85, 87) Thus, in this text, the fact that the word the‧os′ in its second occurrence is without the definite article (ho) and is placed before the verb in the sentence in Greek is significant. Interestingly, translators that insist on rendering John 1:1, “The Word was God,” do not hesitate to use the indefinite article (a, an) in their rendering of other passages where a singular anarthrous predicate noun occurs before the verb. Thus at John 6:70, JB and KJ both refer to Judas Iscariot as “a devil,” and at John 9:17 they describe Jesus as “a prophet.”

John J. McKenzie, S.J., in his Dictionary of the Bible, says: “Jn 1:1 should rigorously be translated ‘the word was with the God [= the Father], and the word was a divine being.’”—(Brackets are his. Published with nihil obstat and imprimatur.) (New York, 1965), p. 317.

In harmony with the above, AT reads: “the Word was divine”; Mo, “the Logos was divine”; NTIV, “the word was a god.” In his German translation Ludwig Thimme expresses it in this way: “God of a sort the Word was.” Referring to the Word (who became Jesus Christ) as “a god” is consistent with the use of that term in the rest of the Scriptures. For example, at Psalm 82:1-6 human judges in Israel were referred to as “gods” (Hebrew, ’elo‧him′; Greek, the‧oi′, at John 10:34) because they were representatives of Jehovah and were to speak his law.


"The Word Was God"

Additional Reading:

AT JOHN 1:1 the King James Version reads: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." Trinitarians claim that this means that "the Word" (Greek, ho lo'gos) who came to earth as Jesus Christ was Almighty God himself.

Someone who is "with" another person cannot also be that other person

Note, however, that here again the context lays the groundwork for accurate understanding. Even the King James Version says, "The Word was with God." (Italics ours.) Someone who is "with" another person cannot be the same as that other person. In agreement with this, the Journal of Biblical Literature, edited by Jesuit Joseph A. Fitzmyer, notes that if the latter part of John 1:1 were interpreted to mean "the" God, this "would then contradict the preceding clause," which says that the Word was with God.

Notice, too, how other translations render this part of the verse:

1808: "and the word was a god." The New Testament in an Improved Version, Upon the Basis of Archbishop Newcome's New Translation: With a Corrected Text.

1864: "and a god was the word." The Emphatic Diaglott, interlinear reading, by Benjamin Wilson.

1928: "and the Word was a divine being." La Bible du Centenaire, L'Evangile selon Jean, by Maurice Goguel.

1935: "and the Word was divine." The Bible—An American Translation, by J. M. P. Smith and E. J. Goodspeed.

1946: "and of a divine kind was the Word." Das Neue Testament, by Ludwig Thimme.

1950: "and the Word was a god." New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures.

1958: "and the Word was a God." The New Testament, by James L. Tomanek.

1975: "and a god (or, of a divine kind) was the Word." Das Evangelium nach Johannes, by Siegfried Schulz.

1978: "and godlike kind was the Logos." Das Evangelium nach Johannes, by Johannes Schneider.
At John 1:1 there are two occurrences of the Greek noun the·os' (god). The first occurrence refers to Almighty God, with whom the Word was ("and the Word [lo'gos] was with God [a form of the·os']"). This first the·os' is preceded by the word ton (the), a form of the Greek definite article that points to a distinct identity, in this case Almighty God ("and the Word was with [the] God").

On the other hand, there is no article before the second the·os' at John 1:1. So a literal translation would read, "and god was the Word." Yet we have seen that many translations render this second the·os' (a predicate noun) as "divine," "godlike," or "a god." On what authority do they do this?

The Koine Greek language had a definite article ("the"), but it did not have an indefinite article ("a" or "an"). So when a predicate noun is not preceded by the definite article, it may be indefinite, depending on the context.

The Journal of Biblical Literature says that expressions "with an anarthrous [no article] predicate preceding the verb, are primarily qualitative in meaning." As the Journal notes, this indicates that the lo'gos can be likened to a god. It also says of John 1:1: "The qualitative force of the predicate is so prominent that the noun [the·os'] cannot be regarded as definite."

So John 1:1 highlights the quality of the Word, that he was "divine," "godlike," "a god," but not Almighty God. This harmonizes with the rest of the Bible, which shows that Jesus, here called "the Word" in his role as God's Spokesman, was an obedient subordinate sent to earth by his Superior, Almighty God.

There are many other Bible verses in which almost all translators in other languages consistently insert the article "a" when translating Greek sentences with the same structure. For example, at Mark 6:49, when the disciples saw Jesus walking on water, the King James Version says: "They supposed it had been a spirit." In the Koine Greek, there is no "a" before "spirit." But almost all translations in other languages add an "a" in order to make the rendering fit the context. In the same way, since John 1:1 shows that the Word was with God, he could not be God but was "a god," or "divine."

Joseph Henry Thayer, a theologian and scholar who worked on the American Standard Version, stated simply: "The Logos was divine, not the divine Being himself." And Jesuit John L. McKenzie wrote in his Dictionary of the Bible: "Jn 1:1 should rigorously be translated . . . 'the word was a divine being.'"

Violating a Rule?

SOME claim, however, that such renderings violate a rule of Koine Greek grammar published by Greek scholar E. C. Colwell back in 1933. He asserted that in Greek a predicate noun "has the [definite] article when it follows the verb; it does not have the [definite] article when it precedes the verb." By this he meant that a predicate noun preceding the verb should be understood as though it did have the definite article ("the") in front of it. At John 1:1 the second noun (the·os'), the predicate, precedes the verb—"and [the·os'] was the Word." So, Colwell claimed, John 1:1 should read "and [the] God was the Word."

But consider just two examples found at John 8:44. There Jesus says of the Devil: "That one was a manslayer" and "he is a liar." Just as at John 1:1, the predicate nouns ("manslayer" and "liar") precede the verbs ("was" and "is") in the Greek. There is no indefinite article in front of either noun because there was no indefinite article in Koine Greek. But most translations insert the word "a" because Greek grammar and the context require it.—See also Mark 11:32; John 4:19; 6:70; 9:17; 10:1; 12:6.

Colwell had to acknowledge this regarding the predicate noun, for he said: "It is indefinite ["a" or "an"] in this position only when the context demands it." So even he admits that when the context requires it, translators may insert an indefinite article in front of the noun in this type of sentence structure.

Does the context require an indefinite article at John 1:1? Yes, for the testimony of the entire Bible is that Jesus is not Almighty God. Thus, not Colwell's questionable rule of grammar, but context should guide the translator in such cases. And it is apparent from the many translations that insert the indefinite article "a" at John 1:1 and in other places that many scholars disagree with such an artificial rule, and so does God's Word.


"and the Word was divine."

As it might be thought that what Dr BeDuhn has written regarding how best to render QEOS EN HO LOGOS as "the Word was divine" and this somehow undermines the rendering of "the Word was a god" and even obviates the Witnesses 'use' of Dr BeDuhn regarding the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, the following may prove helpful to explain a little more this scholars reasons for his preference in both translation _and_ understanding. Dr BeDuhn himself has written:

"It is true that the most formal, literal translation of the words in John 1:1c would be "and the Word was a god." The grammatical rules involved in this passage weigh very heavily against the more commonly seen, traditional translation, "and the Word was God." However, translation is not only about rendering a passage word-for-word. It involves also consideration of broader syntax and the meaning of a passage as a whole.

"The grammatical construction used here can be called the qualitative or categorical use of the indefinite. Basically, that means x belongs to the category y, or "x is a y." The examples I used in a letter now widely circulated are "Snoopy is a dog"; "The car is a Volkswagen"; and "John is a smart person." The common translation "The Word was God" is as erroneous for this construction as it would be to say in English "Snoopy is dog"; "The car is Volkswagen"; or "John is smart person." The indefinite article is mandatory because we are talking about a member of a class or category.

"Sometimes in English we can accomplish the same syntactical function by using a predicate adjective in place of the indefinite noun phrase. In the examples I gave above, this only works with "John is a smart person," which means the same thing as "John is smart." What Harner calls the qualitative sense is the same as what I call the categorical sense. In the many examples throughout the New Testament of the same grammatical construct as found in John 1:1c, the indefinite noun used is always a class or category to which the subject is said to belong. But in several of these examples, the category is used to suggest the quality the subject has, as in the many "a son of x" expressions found in the New Testament.

"Because of this evidence, we cannot rule out the possibility that for John quality was the center of focus rather than category"" Being honest to the original Greek, we cannot narrow the range of acceptable translation of John 1:1c any further than to say it is EITHER "And the Word was a god" OR "And the Word was divine." I can, if pressed, explain at length why these two translations amount to the same thing FOR JOHN. But I also recognize that they leave open interpretation to a range of possible understandings. I am afraid I cannot do anything about that. If I were to say that the NWT translation is the only possible one, I would be committing the same offense as those who have said that "And the Word was God" is the only possible translation. The whole point of my work is to get us past these false assertions, and follow the original Greek, and follow it only as far as it takes us.

"What I can say is that "And the Word was God" is extremely difficult to justify, because it goes against the plain grammar of the passage. Either of the other two translations are acceptable, because the Greek allows them, while it does not obviously allow the traditional translation. What your correspondent needs to understand, in dealing with others on this question, is that the wording "The Word was divine" agrees 100% in meaning with "The Word was a god" and only 50% with "And the Word was God." What must be given up from the latter wording is the absolute identity between Word and God that the traditional translation tried to impose. John clearly did not intend to make such an absolute identification, and that is precisely why he very carefully manipulates his word in the passage to rule it out. But, yes, John is putting the Word into the "god" or "divine" category, and that is as true if the wording is "a god" or "divine."

"Remember, the Word is not a human person, and John does not use "god" for the Word to say he is talking about a prophet or a leader or an important person. The Word is a superhuman (hence "divine") essence or being, very intimately connected to The God. How intimately? In what way connected? In what precise relationship? The answers to those questions are much more involved, and must be based on a reading of the Gospel of John as a whole, where John works very hard to make it all clear. And yes, there will be disagreements about how to understand this larger picture John is trying to convey.

"Of course, if your correspondent is using what I have written in arguments with people who favor the traditional translation, they are likely to seize upon my acceptance of "The Word was divine" as somehow a defense of their view. That is also something that cannot be helped. The idea of a Trinity developed over the centuries after the Gospel of John was written precisely as one solution to the questions raised by John's wording. The JWs have a different solution to those same questions. I am not in a position to arbitrate such historical interpretations of the text. I think John went as far as he felt inspired to go in his understanding of things, and I do not fault him for not going further and for not answering all of the additional questions people have been able to raise since his time.

"The bottom line is that "The Word was a god" is exactly what the Greek says. "The Word was divine" is a possible meaning of this Greek phrasing. "The Word was God" is almost certainly ruled out by the phrasing John uses, and it is not equivalent to "The Word was divine" because without any justification in the original Greek it narrows the meaning from a quality or category (god/divine) to an individual (God)."

Jason BeDuhn:
Associate Professor of Religious Studies, and Chair
Department of Humanities, Arts, and Religion
Northern Arizona University.