Thursday, November 16, 2006

Trinitarian Modalist Translations

Another attempt to explain away the clear evidence that is presented by Coptic John 1:1, "the Word was a god," goes like this:

"Here's a word-by-word translation...'In the-beginning [past] the-word is, and the-word it-was-dwelling in-the-presence-of the-god, and [past] a-god is the-word.'" (My emphasis)

Very good! Excellent translation! So, what's the problem? This writer even goes on to say "when 'god' refers to the One God, it always has the definite article." (My emphasis)

Very good again! And since "god" at John 1:1c does not have the definite article, it does not refer to the One God. So again, what's the problem?

Obviously, the "problem" is not in the grammar of John 1:1c, since it is universally recognized that Coptic John 1:1c literally says, "the Word was a god."

But... and for some people, there is always the "but"... this honest and accurate reading does not fit in with certain theological presuppositions. So, the writer continues: "The Coptic use of the indefinite article...also [refers to] 'a state of.' In this latter sense, it is found with abstract nouns: 'in a-peace' (= in a state of peace), 'in a-poverty' (= in a state of poverty)." (My emphasis)

Excellent, again. But totally irrelevant for John 1:1c, since the noun here, noute, is not an abstract noun.

Nevertheless, trying to make a case for this, the writer continues: "So I would explain 'a god' in this context as meaning 'a state of being god.' So a proper English translation of John 1:1 should be something like: 'In the beginning the Word was, and the Word was dwelling with God, and the Word was God.'"

Huh? After acknowledging that the Coptic translation is indefinite, how does the standard Trinitarian modalist translation fit in here? It doesn't, and this is a clear case of more 'taking definiteness out by the front door, while sneaking it in again through the back door.'

Of course, the writer says this improper translation of the Coptic of John 1:1c is his "explanation." But it is an explanation at variance with the Coptic text. In fact, it is an "explanation" which totally ignores, twists, and flatly contradicts what the Coptic text actually says, and what the writer himself earlier admitted to by saying: "Here's a word-by-word translation...'and [past] a-god is the-word.'"

Even allowing for the so-called 'state of being god' explanation, it has to actually mean 'state of being god,' not 'state of being God,' due to the lack of the Coptic definite article in this verse. The writer has already admitted that "God," with the capital "G" requires the Coptic definite article, which is not used at John 1:1c.

However, 'state of being god' actually gives us no more than "was a god." Which is exactly what this writer confessed at the beginning.

So, why all this jumping through mental and grammatical and theological hoops to make the Coptic text say something it does not say at all? As Coptic grammarain Ariel Shisha-Halevy has said, the Coptic text of John 1:1c admits to only two categories of English translation: "the Word was a god" or "the Word was divine," or similar. Under no circumstances does the Coptic text say "the Word was God," and there is no justification for translating it that way in English. Such an "explanation" or interpretation or translation simply is not found in the Coptic text, and should not be interpolated there.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Translating The Indefinite Article at Coptic John 1:1c

Some Trinitarian apologists are trying hard to make the Coptic text of John 1:1c support a qualitative meaning rather than an indefinite one. They have to acknowledge the witness of Coptic grammarians who have said that "the Word was a god" is a perfectly legitimate translation there, because the Coptic indefinite article is clearly present.

But just like they look at YHWH in the Hebrew text of the Bible and yet come away denying that God has a unique Name, or insist that His name is Lord, they try to deny what is plainly in front of their face: Coptic has the indefinite article; the indefinite article is used at John 1:1c; and the regular translation of the Coptic indefinite article into English is "a."

'It's all so difficult to understand,' they opine. 'It will take years and years of Coptic study to fathom the "mystery" of the Coptic indefinite article'! For example, one such apologist writes:

"The grammar, alone, cannot prove that the Word was 'a god,' 'a God,' or 'had the quality of God' in the minds of the Coptic translators. Indeed, a thorough study of the Sahidic Translation, based on the published MSS, is needed to even begin such a task."

I agree that there should be a thorough study of the Sahidic translation, but not because this is needed to understand how the Coptic translators used the indefinite article. Just about any currently-present Coptic grammar book explains that quite well. Also, there is Coptic scholar Reverend George W. Horner's 1911 English translation of the Coptic text, still available, though hard to find.

In just the book of John, how does Horner's English translation render Coptic sentence constructions that are just like John 1:1c? Well, let's look at a few. The Coptic construction found at John 1:1c is the, construction: neunoute pe pSaje, with noute being the Coptic word for "god," and pSaje meaning "the word."

Look at some other constructions, translated into English by Horner:

John 8:44 neureFHetb rwme pe = “was a murderer”
John 12:6 neureFjioue pe = “was a thief”
John 18:40 neusoone pe = “was a robber.”

So why should John 1:1c, neunoute pe be rendered as anything in English other than “was a god”????

In each of the other instances of the indefinite article before the noun in the Gospel of John, Horner accurately translates the indefinite article into English as “a” and does not put any brackets around the “a, ” as he does, without any grammatical cause, at John 1:1c.

After years of insisting that the anarthrous QEOS of John 1:1c is definite, the new theory of Trinitarian apologists is that it is "qualitative." But then they try to define "qualitativeness" to mean definiteness anyway! This is a disingenuous attempt to put definiteness out by the front door, while slipping it back in through the back door, and it doesn't work.

An indefinite construction can be "qualitative" in meaning when translated into English, and to say "the Word was divine" does not actually differ from saying "the Word was a god." But it does distinctly differ from saying "the Word was God."

Therefore, whereas the Coptic sentence at John 1:1c literally reads, "the Word was a god," it would not be incorrect to convey that into English also as "the Word was divine." But this is not to be overlooked or glossed over: The Coptic of John 1:1c definitely and specifically does not say "the Word was God." Indeed, that is ruled out by the Coptic indefinite article in that verse.

And you don't need to examine any further than the rest of the Coptic Gospel of John to affirm that point. Though, of course, it is quite beneficial to 'make a thorough study of the Sahidic translation' for other insights, or for the sheer joy of doing so.