Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Coptic John 1:1c, Whose Theology?

When I asked Dr. Ariel Shisha-Halevy, renowned Coptic scholar at Hebrew University in Israel, what a literal, non-theological rendering of Coptic John 1:1c would be, the candid reply was that theolological issues in this verse could not be avoided. "The Word was a god" was confirmed as the literal Coptic reading, with the other possibility being "The Word was godly/divine," according to Shisha-Halevy.

Since theological issues weigh heavily upon John 1:1 – perhaps in any language – an important question is whose theology does the verse represent? Is it the theology of Jesus himself and his disciples, including the apostle John? Or is it the theology which was developed in concert with the philosophy of later fathers and councils of the church?

What light does the entire Gospel of John throw on his thinking at John 1:1? In what manner does John call the Word, incarnate in the Lord Jesus Christ, QEOS (Greek) or noute (Coptic)? Does John speak as a Christian of Hebrew heritage, or as a Greek philosopher, or a thoroughly Hellenized Jew? What does the holy Spirit say through John’s words?

In the Gospel of John, the Savior is shown to be the Son of God who came to reveal God and do His will on earth. Repeatedly, Jesus declares that he came to do the work of the One who sent him, the One who was both his Father and his God. More than any other Gospel, John reveals the heartfelt prayers of Jesus to the One he himself called "the only true God."

Coptic John reports Jesus as saying, Mmngom anok mmoi er laay nhwb haroi mmayaat, "I can do nothing of myself." He repeatedly declared and affirmed that his goal was to honor his Father, not himself, and that the Father was the source of his own life and mission. Throughout the Gospel of John, the representation of Jesus Christ is that of an obedient, loyal, self-sacrificing Son to his Father. And at the end, after making the supreme offering of love for the salvation of humanity, Jesus declared that he must ascend to his God and ours.

The theology of John himself informs the meaning of his describing the Word at John 1:1, and makes all more certain the distinction between hO QEOS and QEOS, between pnoute and ounoute in that verse.

At Coptic John 20:31, the apostle himself sums up the rationale behind his writing: NtauseH nai de Jekaas etetnepisteue Je ihsous pecristos pShre mpnoute pe auw Jekaas eatetnpisteue etetneJi nouwnH Sa eneH Hm peFran, "These things were written so that you may actively believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that having actively believed, you may receive life forever in his name."

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