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.