Thursday, July 30, 2009

Corroborating Early Christian Christology

The Sahidic Coptic version corroborates early Christian Christology in many of its readings. This is especially true regarding the doctrine of the Trinity, since the most that can be read from Coptic John 1:1c is that "the Word was divine," not "the Word was God." Literally, what the Coptic version says is "the Word was a god."

This is consistent with what historians know about the development of the doctrine of the Trinity. As one edition of the New Encyclopedia Britannica puts it, "Neither the word Trinity, nor the explicit doctrine as such, appears in the New Testament....The doctrine developed gradually over several centuries and through many controversies." (Micropedia, Volume X, p. 126) It was not until the 4th Christian century that the doctrine of the Trinity was firmly established in the churches.

Likewise, the book Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, edited by Everett Ferguson, says, "Primitive Christianity, like Judaism, was distinguished from paganism by its unqualified monotheism." (page 912) This "unqualified monotheism" also distinguished the Christology of primitive Christianity from later Trinitarianism.

Since the Sahidic Coptic version pre-dates the 4th century, being dated in the late 2nd or early 3rd century, it is not surprising that it does not labor under the doctrine of the Trinity. Not only does the Coptic version refrain from identifying Jesus as God Almighty at John 1:1c. It also does not contain the Trinitarian addition at 1 John 5:7 ("these three are one"), nor speak of 'the church of God which he purchased with his own blood,' (Acts 20:28) nor does it say that 'God was manifested in the flesh.' (1 Timothy 3:16) Rather, it speaks of the "church of the Lord" and says merely "this one who" was manifested in the flesh at 1 Timothy 3:16, not "God." Nor does it contain the added words at John 3:13, "[the Son of man] who is in heaven," which incorrectly indicates that Jesus could be God in heaven and Man on earth at the same time. Instead, like the earliest extant Greek manuscript of the Gospel of John, the p66 [Papyrus Bodmer II], the Sahidic Coptic text omits that unauthorized addition.

Other renderings of the Sahidic Coptic version also corroborate the fact that early Christian Christology, while an exalted Christology, was 'unqualifiedly monotheistic,' not Trinitarian. The Coptic readings are theologically neutral and frequently very literal readings of the New Testament Greek text.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Coptic John 1:1c: What Conclusions Can Be Drawn?

Relative to Coptic John 1:1c, what conclusions can be drawn from a multi-year study of the Sahidic Coptic language, including a detailed study of the entire Sahidic Coptic New Testament?

1- That the translation of Coptic neunoute pe pSaje into standard English as "the Word was a god" is literal, accurate, and unassailable. It is simple, but not simplistic. It is what the Coptic text actually says and literally conveys. Any other translation of it amounts to interpretation or paraphrase.

2- That rendering a Sahidic Coptic common ("count") noun, like noute, god, when bound to the Coptic indefinite article, ou, into English as "a" + noun is so prevalent, as for example in Coptic scholar George Horner's 1911 English translation of the Sahidic Coptic New Testament, that this is beyond dispute.

As just the nearest example of this, after John 1:1c itself, is John 1:6. Here we have the Coptic indefinite article, ou, bound to the Coptic common noun rwme, man: aFSwpe nCi ourwme eautnnoouF ebol Hitm pnoute . In Horner's English translation we read: "There was a man having been sent from God." That is the simple, literal, and accurate translation. Likewise, "a god" is the simple, literal, and accurate translation of ou.noute at John 1:1c, the same Coptic indefinite article + common noun construction as found in John 1:6 and elsewhere. Only with respect to Coptic "mass" or abstract nouns is there no need to translate the indefinite article into English, but this is not the situation at Coptic John 1:1c, because noute, god, is a Coptic common or "count" noun.

3 - That, whereas some Coptic grammarians hold that ou.noute may also be translated into English adjectivally as "divine," they give no examples favoring this usage in the Sahidic Coptic New Testament itself. Coptic ou.noute is not used adjectivally or "qualitatively" in the Sahidic Coptic New Testament. The published works of these scholars have been heavily invested in the Nag Hammadi Gnostic Coptic "gospels" like Thomas, Philip, and Judas. Perhaps translating ou.noute as "divine" fits the esoteric or philosophical context of the Gnostic "gospels." But there are no examples in the canonical Coptic New Testament that justify an adjectival translation of ou.noute as "divine," whereas a literal translation of ou.noute as "a god" works just fine. Although "divine" is not altogether objectionable, since a god is divine by definition, a paraphrase is unnecessary when an adequate, understandable literal translation is available.

4- That all the primarily Trinitarian-based objections to translating ou.noute as "a god" at Coptic John 1:1c amount to little more than presupposition or special pleading. Though such faulty, superficial objections have been cut and pasted frequently on the Internet, they are poorly researched and often misleading.

In one such apologetic, promising full disclosure of what some Coptic scholars "really said," the conclusion about ou.noute at John 1:1 remains the same, i.e., "it might mean was a god, was divine, was an instance of 'god', was one god (not two, three, etc.)"; "In Coptic, "ounoute" can mean "a god" or "one with divine nature"; "So literally, the Sahidic and Bohairic texts say "a god" in the extant mss. ... A rather clumsy reading might be: The Logos was in the beginning. The Logos was with God. The Logos was like God (or godlike, or divine) with the emphasis on his nature; not his person."

Not ONE of the scholars appealed to by Trinitarian apologists said that Coptic John 1:1 should be translated to say "The Word was God." Not one. Not one said that "a god" was incorrect. In fact, the interlinear reading for Sahidic Coptic John 1:1c in scholar Bentley Layton's Coptic in 20 Lessons specifically reads "a-god is the-Word."

The Coptic text of John 1:1c was made prior to the adoption of the Trinity doctrine by Egyptian and other churches, and it is poor scholarship to attempt to "read back" a translation such as "the Word was God" into any exegesis of the Coptic text. Such a rendering is foreign to Coptic John 1:1c, which clearly and literally says, "the Word was a god."

5- That, stated succinctly, translating Sahidic Coptic's neunoute pe pSaje literally into standard English as "the Word was a god" stands on solid grammatical and contextual ground.