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.