Saturday, August 1, 2015

John 1:1 as Prooftext: Trinitarian or Unitarian?

To read my 43 page review of Garrett C. Kenney's 44 page book on John 1:1, see:

Ok, so it's not quite 43 pages, but it is overly long, which is somewhat ironic since I praised Kenney for his concision;-)

Friday, July 31, 2015

And the Word was God "Qualitatively"?: Torturing Language and Grammar to Preserve a Preconceived View (Part 3)

Since I haven't had time to address the contribution of P. B. Harner in relation to this series, I decided to make part 3 a reiteration of my response to the rather sloppy article that appeared in the Journal of Theological Studies by Brian J. Wright and Tim Ricchuiti entitled "FROM 'GOD' (QEOS) TO 'GOD' (NOYTE): A NEW DISCUSSION AND PROPOSAL REGARDING JOHN 1:1C AND THE SAHIDIC COPTIC VERSION OF THE NEW TESTAMENT" (JTS, Vol. 62, Pt 2, October 2011)

Note: Caps not mine, but appeared in the original document.

This was not a piece of serious scholarship, and the argumentation offered to support the proposal offered shows breathtaking incompetence, along with a level of bias so extreme that inferences and arguments were not just ill-conceived, but downright bizarre.  Since my criticism is rather harsh, let me offer a few particulars.

Firstly, their approach was methodologically flawed in that they only examined how QEOS is rendered in Coptic.  Their readers would have been better served if they had taken a broader approach and attempted to determine how the Coptic indefinite article is generally used when included in their translation of bounded nouns that originated in PNVS, SVPN, and other types of Greek clauses.  I suspect that the reason they took such a narrow approach is because, had they included other bounded nouns in their sampling, then they would have reached very different results, and their apologetic would have fallen apart.  The Bible is about "the one God" of Jewish and Christian monotheism, and so it is not surprising that most occurrences of the Greek QEOS (God) from the NT and the Coptic NOUTE (God) from the ancient Coptic translation(s) are definite nouns rather than indefinite nouns.  In the NT, God is typically a proper noun, which usually functions like a proper name.

Secondly, their reasoning is so sloppy and distorted toward their goal that it reminds me of the sort of thing I've read from various anti-cult apologists.  I was so struck by this aspect of their approach that I Googled their names and found that they actually do participate in anti-cult apologetics (see the link below):

Their argument appears to have been born as a reaction to the teachings of Jehovah's Witnesses, which, combined with the sloppiness of their approach and oddness of their conclusions, suggests that a truly enhanced understanding of Coptic or even John 1:1 was not their real objective.  It seems pretty clear that they merely sought to turn the tables, as Jehovah's Witnesses have appealed to the Coptic of John 1:1c to support the "a god" rendering found in the New World Translation published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society.

Here's an example of their sloppy reasoning:

"Our small sample size is itself a clue to the Copts' use of the indefinite article, or their neglect of it altogether. Of the 25 instances of the AnNS [QEOS], the vast majority are reflected in the Sahidic Coptic version with the definite article (21/25; 84%). Of these, the vast majority are also in reference to  the God of the Bible' (20/25; 80%).  It is no exaggeration to suggest, then, that the Coptic translators were disinclined to use anything other than the definite article when translating [QEOS]. If the Coptic translators were so reluctant to use the indefinite article with [NOUTE], our question must not be  'what uniformly required the translators to use the indefinite article?' but instead  'what individual circumstances required the use of a disfavoured construction?'" (p. 502)

The "point" they seem desperate to massage from the data simply doesn't follow.  Let me restate the pertinent data:

1. "Of the 25 instances of the AnNS [QEOS], the vast majority are reflected in the Sahidic Coptic version with the definite article (21/25; 84%)."

2. "Of these, the vast majority are also in reference to  the God of the Bible' (20/25; 80%)."

Do you see what they're doing?  They're actually suggesting that the Coptic use of the definite article in contexts where NOUTE is a definite noun implies that the use of the indefinite article with NOUTE should be considered a "disfavored construction"!  This is ridiculous.  The only valid inference that we can make from the data is the rather obvious observation that the Copts would not be inclined to render definite nouns with the indefinite article.

Here's another example of their sloppy thinking:

"The same category applies to John 1:1c. This qualitative/descriptive understanding makes the best sense within John's prologue. The Copts understood John to be saying that  'the Word' has the same qualities as  'the God of the Bible'. On the other hand, if one disagrees with our arguments above, the only other viable interpretations given the other usages would suggest that the Copts understood  'the Word' to be either 'a  god of the pagans' (cf. Acts 28:6) or some  'usurper god' (cf. 2 Thess. 2:4). Yet, this leaves one with much wider problems." (p. 509).

Notice how, once again, they seem desperate to massage the data.  They want to make it seem as though one has to either accept the "qualitative/descriptive" understanding or conclude that the LOGOS was either "a god of the pagans" or "a usurper god".  The problem -- well, one of the problems -- with this silly false dilemma is that, contextually (i.e. in the Prologue) it's impossible to infer that the LOGOS is either a "god of the pagans" or a "usurper god," regardless of translation, because the LOGOS is used by God the Father to create all things, and has a special place at His bosom!

Again, this contribution by Wright and Ricchuiti is not an example of serious scholarship; it is instead a rather flaccid attempt to bring the Coptic of John 1:1c into harmony with their preferred theology over against the Watchtower's NWT, which they oppose as part of their anti-cult apologetic.  That we find this sort of thing coming from people associated with Dallas Theological Seminary is not particularly surprising.  That Oxford University allowed this patent nonesense to be published in their respected Journal is unfortunate.  Since JTS is a peer reviewed journal, dare I speculate that the reviewer(s) was/were also associated with DTS? 

The truth about God and His Son is the truth, regardless what any minority or majority group has to say.  Christians should not feel the need or succumb to the temptation to massage and distort language itself to support a preferred position.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Jesus Identified as YHWH? -- Psalm 102/Hebrews 1:11

Many assert that Psalm 102 is applied to Jesus at Hebrews 1:11 because Jesus is Jehovah.  Is that a necessary or even a likely conclusion?  I don't think so.  First, it's worth noting that other OT verses are applied to Jesus in Hebrews 1, and this is not done to *identify* Jesus as any of the earthly kings referenced in those texts, so there's no reason to assume that Jesus must be identified as the one referenced at Psalm 102.  

The author of Hebrews applied the Psalm to Jesus because he wanted to make the point that the post resurrection Jesus was now immortal and his "years shall have no end" (KJV). Unlike all prior kings, Jesus isn't a king who's going to die and thereby potentially allow his kingdom to be subject to future misrule by some unrighteous successor. Verse 25 from the Psalm was simply carried over with verses 26 and 27 because it was needed to avoid suggesting that Jesus' "partners/fellows" would parish.

Notice what happens when you omit Ps. 102:25 from the quote in Hebrews 1:

"8 [B]ut of the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever; And the sceptre of uprightness is the sceptre of thy kingdom. 9 Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity; Therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee With the oil of gladness above thy fellows. [snip Ps 102:25] 11 They shall perish; but thou continuest: And they all shall wax old as doth a garment; 12 And as a mantle shalt thou roll them up, As a garment, and they shall be changed: But thou art the same, And thy years shall not fail."

When you omit verse 25, then the words AUTOI APOLOUNTAI ("they will parish") in verse 11 of Heb 1 naturally refer to Christ's "fellows". These "fellows" are likely one of two groups of individuals, i.e. the holy angels (they are the only "fellows" in context) or Christians who would reign with Christ in his kingdom. Verse 11 can't apply to either of those groups, as the holy angels won't "parish", nor will and Christian co-rulers in the age to come. So the author retained verse 25 from the Psalm so that the "They" in verse 11 of Heb 1 refers to the heavens and earth that would pass away and be replaced by the "new heavens and new earth" (Matt 24:35; 2 Pet 3:13; Rev 21:1).

As someone who accepts the real personal preexistence of the one who became Jesus the Messiah, I would say that Psalm 102:25 can appropriately be applied to Jesus for another reason: He was the 'Wisdom' or 'LOGOS' through whom God created the original heavens and the original earth.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

John 5:19 - God can do Nothing at All?

“19 Therefore, in answer, Jesus went on to say to them: “Most truly I say to YOU, The Son cannot do a single thing of his own initiative, but only what he beholds the Father doing. For whatever things that One does, these things the Son also does in like manner.”

One of the most remarkable arguments I've seen promoting "the deity of Christ" involves John 5:19, and goes something like this:

"Since Jesus can do nothing at all of his own initiative, but can only do what the Father does, he must be God, because only God can only do what God does.  We can do things of our own initiative, including the commission of both righteous and sinful acts, but Jesus was incapable of doing anything but what the Father does."

This odd argument not only ignores the fact that John 5 obviously presents Jesus role using agency language (i.e. "the agent is equated with the principal" as the Rabbis would put it), but it involves a de-contextualized reading.  Clearly Jesus was speaking in reference to doing God’s work in the carrying out of his commission as God’s representative.  He did not mean that he was incapable of eating, drinking, tying his sandal laces, blowing his nose, etc., without having first beheld “the Father doing [it]”.

The same could be said respecting any number of verses that orthodox folks sometimes tend to de-contextualize.

Take John 16:30 and Matt. 24:36 for example:

John 16:30: "Now we can see that you know all things and that you do not even need to have anyone ask you questions. This makes us believe that you came from God.”

Matt. 24:36: "But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father."

While apparently ignoring context, some will assert that John 16:30 implies that Jesus must be God for he "knows all things" without exception. Yet we know that the verse shouldn't be read that way because Jesus' followers themselves tell us that "This makes [them] believe that [Jesus] came from God" not that Jesus IS God. In other words, the disciples did not have in mind an all-encompassing reference, but they knew that Jesus was not lacking when it came to providing them with the knowledge that they’d need to be empowered for what was to come while they fulfilled their commissions as representatives of God and his Son. Thus, there's no contradiction between John 16:30 and Matt. 24:36, and no need to resort to verbal prestidigitation by asserting that as God Jesus knew all things without exception but as Man he had limited knowledge, as though that were even an intelligible statement.

John 9:32-34 also comes to mind:

“32 From of old it has never been heard that anyone opened the eyes of one born blind. 33 If this [man] were not from God, he could do nothing at all.” 34 In answer they said to him: “You were altogether born in sins, and yet are you teaching us?”

Here Jesus healed a blind man who goes on to defend Jesus to the religious leaders. When the blind man said “If this [man] were not from God, he could do nothing at all”, he didn’t mean that Jesus would be unable to eat, drink, trim his ear hair, etc. The “nothing at all” is clearly in a reference to the sort of miraculous works Jesus had just done.

Note also John 15:5:

“5 I am the vine, YOU are the branches. He that remains in union with me, and I in union with him, this one bears much fruit; because apart from me YOU can do nothing at all.”

Although Jesus tells his disciples that apart from him they can “do nothing at all”, he clearly didn’t mean that in an all-encompassing way. He is speaking in reference to “fruit” that his disciples can bear as “branches”. In other words, he was speaking of the work they would do as representatives of him and his Father, not about other things like eating, drinking, buying fish at the market, etc. And he certainly didn't mean that without Jesus, the disciples would be incapable of sinning!

Friday, June 12, 2015

Before Abraham was, I...what, exactly?

John 8:58 has come up so many times recently in various discussions, that I decided to upload my view here, briefly stated, so that I can stop typing it out and just provide the link in the future.

Here's the argument in a nutshell:

The Greek at John 8:58 fits an idiom described by grammarian Kenneth McKay as the "Extension from Past", which occurs when a present tense verb is "used with an expression of either past time or extent of time with past implications." (A New Syntax of the Verb in New Testament Greek: An Aspectual Approach), p. 41, 42

Based on this understanding of the Greek, McKay offers this superlative English equivalent of what Jesus meant:

"I have been in existence since before Abraham was born."

If we accept McKay's observation that verse 58 is an example of the Extension from Past idiom (and there's no reason why we shouldn't), then Jesus' response (a) makes perfect sense and constitutes an exquisite response in light of the question posed, and (b) would have constituted a stoning offense if untrue. Notice how the pieces fall in place under McKay's view:

Verse 56 - Jesus: "Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.”

Verse 57 - Opponents: “You are not yet fifty years old,” they said to him, “and you have seen Abraham?”

Verse 58 - Jesus: "The truth is, I have been in existence since before Abraham was born!"

Jesus' opponents inferred from his statement in verse 56 that Jesus had personally observed (first hand) Abraham rejoice over seeing his day. For Jesus to say the equivalent of "I am God's name-bearing agent" (which is a paraphrase of what James McGrath and at least one other scholar argue that Jesus meant by EGO EIMI) as a response would be to utter a non sequitur. On the other hand, if we recognize the Greek idiom at work in the text and translate it the way we almost certainly would were it not for Church tradition, then Jesus' response fits perfectly, even exquisitely in context.

One apologist (Bowman, if memory serves) attempted to dismiss this view by saying something to the effect of, "Claiming to be really, really old wasn't a stoning offense." While that may be true generally speaking, offering such as a response to McKay's argument is really rather silly. Jesus' opponents wanted to stone him, not because a claim to be old was blasphemous, but because his claim to have been in existence since before Abraham was born could only have been viewed as a preposterous lie by them, and for Jesus to present himself as God's living, breathing power of attorney and then proceed to utter a lie while fulfilling his commission as God's agent would make God a liar, because as God's agent, his words were God's words, legally. Now THAT would be construed as blasphemous, especially by those who already sought his death!

McKay's understanding of the Greek isn't new, and sometimes when translators have broken away from committees and the unavoidable pressures such bodies sometimes exert out of allegiance to Church tradition, then they've offered renderings that attempt to capture the idiom.

Note a few examples:

Edgar J. Goodspeed rendered vs 58, "I tell you, I existed before Abraham was born."

James Moffatt similarly offered, "I have existed before Abraham was born."

Catholic James A. Kleist, S.J. offered, "I am here -- and I was before Abraham!" (In the footnote he claims that the utterance intimates eternity, but that's not a necessary implication of the Greek).

Charles B. Williams, whose translation was called "...the best translation of the New Testament in English", in part because it surpassed "...all other translators of the New Testament in bringing out the tense significance of the Greek verbs" (J. R. Mantey, comments on dust jacket), offered this rendering, "I most solemnly say to you, I existed before Abraham was born."

In their Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains, Louw and Nida offer, "before Abraham came into existence, I existed."

All of these are fine attempts to capture the sense of the Greek, yet only McKay's rendering truly does it justice, as only his rendering "...expresses a state which commenced at an earlier period but still continues...", as George Benedict Winer put it [1], or "...which indicates the continuance of an action during the past and up to the moment of speaking...[which action is]...conceived as still in progress..." as Nigel Turner put it [2].

As William Loader asked, "Need ...[the words "I am" at 8:58] mean more than the stupendous claim: I am in existence since before Abraham?" No, they needn't mean *more* but they certainly mean that he WAS in existence since before Abraham was born.

One Unitarian has suggested that since GENESQAI is typically used in the NT in reference to things that had not happened yet in the historical sequence of the story, we should render John 8:58 something like this:

Modern Unitarian: 

"Before Abraham comes to be [in the resurrection], I am [the Messiah]."

Abner Kneeland offered a similar rendering:

"Before Abraham is to be, (manifested understood), I am manifested."

For Abner Kneeland's argument, see: ... se&f=false 

Both of these renderings obviously import elements that are nowhere articulated in the text, and end up placing a non sequitur on Jesus' lips.  We know that GENESQAI must be past tense at John 8:58, because (1) of the context in which the word appears, and (2) because translations based on understanding it to have future tense are (a) non sequiturs, (b) borderline gibberish, and, most importantly, (c) they form responses that would not have had the ability to incite the hostile reaction of Jesus' opponents.


[1] A Grammar of the Idiom of the New Testament, Seventh Edition, p. 267
[2] A Grammar of New Testament Greek, Vol. III, Syntax, p. 62
[3] The Christology of the Fourth Gospel: Structure and Issues, p. 48

Sunday, January 18, 2015

And the Word was God "Qualitatively"?: Torturing Language and Grammar to Preserve a Preconceived View (Part 2)

Below is a list of nouns that Paul Dixon tags as "qualitative" or "probably qualitative" in the appendix of his thesis, but which are actually either indefinite or definite.  

"Qualitative" and "Probably Qualitative" Nouns that are Actually Indefinite

1.  John 4:19
Greek:            προφήτης εἶ σύ 
B-Greek:        PROFHTHS EI SU
Interlinear:   a prophet are you

"The woman said to him, 'Sir, I see that you are a prophet.'" (NRSV)

2.  John 6:70           
Greek:            διάβολός ἐστιν
B-Greek:        DIABOLOS ESTIN
Interlinear:   a devil is

"Jesus answered them, 'Did I not choose you, the twelve? Yet one of you is a devil.'" (NRSV)

3.  John 8:34           
Greek:            διάβολός ἐστιν 
B-Greek:        DIABOLOS ESTIN
Interlinear:   a slave is

"Jesus answered them, 'Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.'"  (NRSV)

4.  John 8:44           
Greek:            ανθρωποκτονος ην
Interlinear:   a manslayer was

"He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him." (NRSV)

5.  John 8:44           
Greek:            ψεύστης ἐστὶν
B-Greek:        YEUSTHS ESTIN
Interlinear:   a liar he is

"When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies."  (NRSV)

6.  John 8:48           
Greek:            Σαμαρίτης εἶ σὺ
B-Greek:        SAMARITHS EI SU
Interlinear:   a Samaritan are you

"The Jews answered him, 'Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?'" (NRSV)

7.  John 9:8            
 Greek:           προσαίτης ἦν
B-Greek:        PROSAITHS HN
Interlinear:   a beggar was

"The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, 'Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?'" (NRSV)

8.  John 9:17           
Greek:            προφήτης ἐστίν 
B-Greek:       PROFTHS ESTIN
Interlinear:   a prophet he is

"So they said again to the blind man, 'What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.' He said, 'He is a prophet.'" (NRSV)

9.  John 9:24           
Greek:            ἁμαρτωλός ἐστιν
B-Greek:        hAMARTWLOS ESTIN
Interlinear:   a sinner is

"So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, 'Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.'"  (NRSV)

10.  John 9:25         
Greek:            ἁμαρτωλός ἐστιν 
B-Greek:        hAMARTWLOS ESTIN
Interlinear:   a sinner he is

"He answered, 'I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.'" (NRSV)

11.  John 10:1         
Greek:            κλέπτης ἐστὶν 
B-Greek:       KLEPTHS ESTIN
Interlinear:   a thief is

"Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit." (NRSV)

12.  John 10:13       
Greek:            μισθωτός ἐστιν
B-Greek:        MISQWTOS ESTIN
Interlinear:   a hired hand he is

"He flees because he is a hired hand and is not concerned about the sheep." (NASB)

13.  John 12:6         
Greek:            κλέπτης ἦν
B-Greek:       KLEPTHS HN
Interlinear:   a thief he was

"Now he said this, not because he was concerned about the poor, but because he was a thief, and as he had the money box, he used to pilfer what was put into it." (NASB)

14.  John 18:35       
Greek:            Μήτι ἐγὼ Ἰουδαῖός εἰμι
Interlinear:   Not I a Jew am

"Pilate replied, 'I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?'" (NRSV)

15.  John 18:37a     
Greek:            βασιλεὺς εἶ σύ
B-Greek:        BASILEUS EI SU
Interlinear:   a king are you?

"Pilate asked him, 'So you are a king?'"  (NRSV)

16.  John 18:37b
Greek:            βασιλεύς εἰμι ἐγὼ
Interlinear:   a king am I

"Jesus answered, 'You say that I am a king.'" (NRSV)

"Qualitative" and "Probably Qualitative" Nouns that are Actually Probably Definite

1.   John 1:49
Greek:            σὺ Βασιλεὺς εἶ τοῦ Ἰσραήλ
Interlinear:   you the king are of the Israel

"Nathanael replied, 'Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!'" (NRSV)

2.  John 3:29
Greek:            νυμφίος ἐστίν
B-Greek:        NUMFIOS ESTIN
Interlinear:   the bridegroom is

"He who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. For this reason my joy has been fulfilled." (NRSV)

3.  John 5:27
Greek:            Υἱὸς ἀνθρώπου ἐστίν
Interlinear:   the Son of Man he is

"[A]nd he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man." (NRSV)

4.  John 8:33
Greek:            Σπέρμα Ἀβραάμ ἐσμεν
Interlinear:   the seed of Abraham we are

"They answered him: We are the seed of Abraham, and we have never been slaves to any man: how sayest thou: you shall be free?" (Rheims)

5.  John 8:37
Greek:            σπέρμα Ἀβραάμ ἐστε
Interlinear:   the seed of Abraham you are

"I know that you are the children of Abraham: but you seek to kill me, because my word hath no place in you." (Rheims)

6.  John 8:54
Greek:            Θεὸς ἡμῶν ἐστιν
B-Greek:        QEOS HMWN ESTIN
Interlinear:   God of us He is

"Jesus answered, 'If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, he of whom you say, ‘He is our God'" (NRSV)

7.  John 10:2
Greek:            ποιμήν ἐστιν
B-Greek         POIMHN ESTIN
Interlinear:   the shepherd is

"The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep." (NRSV)

8.  John 10:36
Greek:            Υἱὸς τοῦ Θεοῦ εἰμι
B-Greek:        hUIOS TOU QEOU EIMI
Interlinear:   the Son of the God I am

"[D]o you say of Him, whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’?" (NASB)

9.  John 19:21
Greek:            Βασιλεύς εἰμι τῶν Ἰουδαίων
Interlinear:   the King of the Jews I am

"Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate: Write not, The King of the Jews; but that he said, I am the King of the Jews." (Rheims)

As you can see, Dixon's list of "qualitative" and "probably qualitative" nouns doesn't actually contain a single count noun that is not logically inferred to be either definite or indefinite.  In my next entry in this series I'll address a couple problems with P.B. Harner's contribution to the "qualitative" theory.

And the Word was God "Qualitatively"?: Torturing Language and Grammar to Preserve a Preconceived View (Part 1)

Those who are familiar with the debate over the third clause at John 1:1 probably appreciate how much theology influences the answers folks will accept to the question: What or Who was the Word according to John?  Those who accept the real personal heavenly preexistence of the one who became Jesus the Messiah want to know whether the LOGOS was 'God,' 'a god,' or 'divine,' and whether the application of the divine title was primarily functional or ontological in its significance. 

In my view, John was developing Jesus' relationship to God in primarily functional categories in the Prologue, and in the rest of the Gospel.  I have no problem with either a definite or an indefinite rendering of John 1:1c, as both "the Word was God" and "the Word was a god" are grammatically possible and theologically and contextually appropriate when interpreted properly.  But for most orthodox Christians this verse is perhaps the most sacred of all theological cows, which must either state that Jesus is "God" definitely (i.e. identifying him as the one God of the Bible), or that he is God "qualitatively," which is presuppositionally nuanced to mean that he fully shares the 'divine nature' with the Father within a trinitarian Godhead.   

As I read the various arguments by people who are referenced to support taking QEOS "qualitatively" at John 1:1c -- i.e. Paul Dixon [1], P.B. Harner [2], Don Hartley [3], etc -- it became very clear that these folks are theologians, not professional linguists.  If you compare a good secular study in linguistics and grammar with these studies, you'll probably be struck by how qualitatively different the religiously motivated thesis is.  

Unfortunately, it's pretty clear that the "qualitative" thesis has never been properly vetted.  Rather, it was embraced with alacrity because it provided exactly what the doctor ordered, namely, a solution to problems that began lurking in the shadows as people came to realize that the previous answer probably wasn't the right answer after all.  What was the previous answer?  It was, as so many had argued prior to the 1970s and some continue to argue today, that QEOS is definite at John 1:1c, per Colwell's Rule, which was articulated by E.C. Colwell in 1933 [4].  Colwell's Rule as (mis)applied to John 1:1c was also embraced uncritically and with great alacrity for many years, but then folks began to perceive problems. 

What were the problems?  Firstly, Colwell's rule states that "Definite predicate nouns which precede the verb usually lack the article," [5] yet most theologians, including Colwell himself (it seems), assumed that the converse were true, i.e. that anarthrous predicate nominatives that precede the verb are usually definite, which is obviously incorrect.   If you review part 2 of this series, you'll see that there are many anarthrous predicate nouns that appear before the verb in the Greek NT, which are clearly not definite.  Secondly, theologians came to believe that if QEOS were definite at John 1:1c, then this would result in Sabellianism.  This isn't necessarily correct, but it is a commonly accepted presupposition.  So these problems -- one legitimate and one assumed -- necessitated a 'new solution' to the problem of John 1:1c.

My primary purpose here is to point out some of the methodological problems, unsupported assumptions, dubious and faulty assertions, and unwarranted conclusions that have been promoted by advocates of the "qualitative noun" thesis, and to reveal the true motivation behind it.   

Let's start with the last item, i.e. what motivates some to embrace and promote the notion that QEOS at John 1:1c is "qualitative"?  Paul Dixon gives the game away on page 2 of his DTS Masters thesis, The Significance of the Anarthrous Predicate Nominative in John, to wit:
"The importance of this thesis is clearly seen in the above example (John 1:1) where the doctrines of the deity of Christ and the Trinity are at stake.  For, if the Word was 'a god,' then by implication there are other gods of which Jesus is one.  On the other hand, if [QEOS] is just as definite as the articular construction following the verb because, 'the dropping of the article…is simply a matter of word order,' then the doctrine of the Trinity is denied."
So, in Dixon's view, either an indefinite or a definite QEOS is problematic and must be rejected.  The former would supposedly result in polytheism, while the latter would supposedly result in the demise of his favored doctrine, the Trinity.  While both of these assumptions are highly dubious, what is certain is that, as a student of DTS, Dixon was doubtless compelled to secure an understanding that is not out of harmony with the Trinity doctrine.  Note that "the Trinity" is the first of the "Essential Doctrinal Commitments" for DTS students: 

So Dixon had to secure a third alternative: A "qualitative" use of QEOS.  In order to make this objective at least appear to work, he made a move that represents the first of the methodological problems I want to address.  Notice how Dixon sets up his approach:
"An indefinite noun is a noun which stresses neither definiteness, nor qualitativeness, but membership in a class of which there are other members.  Technically, any noun which is not definite is indefinite.  For expediency, however, we exclude qualitative nouns from the class of indefinite nouns."  (ibid, p. 9)
Dixon erroneously asserted that indefinite nouns only stress membership in a class of which there are other members, and then used that faulty assumption (or assertion) to justify the "expedient" upon which his entire thesis hangs: The separation of indefinite nouns that are used to stress nature from those that are used to stress categorization, and re-dubbing them "qualitative" as a third distinct category.  Ironically, his use of "expediency" was singularly appropriate, for "expedient" means "Suitable for achieving a particular end in a given circumstance," [6] and in this case I suspect that the "end" was determined before the thesis was begun: He needed an alternative to the two natural understandings of John 1:1c [7].

In reality, indefinite nouns are used to categorize, to stress nature, and to convey blended nuanceMoreover, it is critical to note that when an indefinite noun is used to stress 'nature,' the "qualitativeness" we infer depends on the noun's indefiniteness.  For example, if you wanted to say that a woman is "beautiful," you could say (among a number of available choices):

"She's a beauty."    


"She's beautiful."

These two sentences mean essentially the same thing, but in one case an indefinite noun is used to stress the quality of the woman's appearance, while in the other an adjective is used for this purpose.  Moreover, in the first example, the noun "beauty" must be indefinite lest the meaning become obscuredNotice that if you omit the indefinite article or insert the definite article in its place, you get the following:

"She's beauty." 


"She's the beauty." 
You wouldn't typically say "She's beauty," or "She's the beauty," if your sole purpose were to assert that the "she" in question is "beautiful." The lack of indefiniteness as signaled in English by the indefinite article changes the statement to an abstract one, perhaps suggesting that "she" is the personification or embodiment of beauty.  Moreover, "beauty" would be an abstract noun in that case (=a mass noun), not a count noun like QEOS at John 1:1c. This could ultimately mean the same thing, but the meaning is arrived at differently, i.e. not via the application of a "qualitative" count noun, but with an abstract noun instead.   On the other hand, the presence of the definite article makes the assertion specific, and could be viewed as shifting the focus from "beauty" to the "She" (depending on context, of course).

Interestingly, definite nouns can also be used to stress 'nature,' and, once again, the "qualitativeness" that we infer depends on the noun's definiteness.  For example, if someone wanted to really ram home how wicked he felt another person is (e.g. Hitler), he might say: "That monster is the Devil himself."  Here "qualitativeness" is emphasized by a formal lie, and "Devil" is clearly definite. 

A potential biblical example of this may be John 6:70, where DIABOLOS may be a definite noun (possibly, though I take it to be indefinite).  Wallace believes that it is monadic, and, like Tyndale, favors the rendering "one of you is the Devil" (Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics), p. 265.  If so, then here again we have the 'nature' of a subject stressed via a definite noun offered in the context of a formal lie.  

With both examples the word "Devil" is used to stress the 'nature' of a subject, and the "qualitativeness" we infer depends on the definiteness of the nounsIf they were purely qualitative then we wouldn't know whose "qualities" are being transferred to the subject via formal lie, as quality isn't a who.

So, both definite and indefinite bounded nouns can be used to convey the nature of a referent (="qualitativeness"), and in all cases the qualitativeness actually depends on the definiteness or indefiniteness of the terms.  I would argue that this applies in biblical Greek just as it does in English.  The difference is that in Greek there is no indefinite article to signal that a noun is not definite, and so this must be inferred from context.    

The problems with Dixon's approach don't end with employing an invalid expedient.  In order to massage the statistics in his "favor," he misidentifies categorical indefinites as "qualitative" nouns, even though they don't appear to be stressing nature at all.  With this flawed two-fold approach, i.e. (a) placing indefinites used to stress nature in a third distinct category dubbed "qualitative," and (b) identifying indefinites that aren't even used to stress nature as "qualitative," he manages to end up "concluding" (=asserting) that there is only one solitary indefinite predicate nominative in all of John's Gospel! [8]  Sound plausible to you?  It doesn't to me, either.  

I'm sure that Paul Dixon is a fine man with many admirable qualities, but the thesis that won him fame is not a serious piece of linguistic/grammatical research.  It is an apologetic piece, inspired by fidelity to his doctrinal commitments.  This is hardly surprising coming from a student of Dallas Theological Seminary!   

In my next blog entry I'll list many of the nouns that Dixon claims are "qualitative," which are actually either definite or indefinite.  It's quite revealing.


[1] The Significance of the Anarthrous Predicate Nominative in John, Th.M. thesis, Dallas Theological Seminary (May 1975).

[2] Qualitative Anarthrous Predicate Nouns: Mark 15:39 and John 1:1, JBL, Vol. 92 No 1 (March 1973), pp. 75-87.

[3] Criteria for Determining Qualitative Nouns with a Special View towards Understanding the Colwell Construction, Th.M. thesis, Dallas Theological Seminary (1996).

[4] A Definite Rule for the Use of the Article in the Greek New Testament, JBL, Vol. 52 (1933), pp. 12-21.

[5] Colwell, “A Definite Rule,” p. 20.

[6]  See:

[7] J. Gwyn Griffiths was also critical of the view that Θεὸς is used "adjectivally" (yesteryear's term for "qualitatively") at John 1:1c, and observed that, "Taken by itself, the sentence καὶ Θεὸς ἦν ὁ Λόγος could admittedly bear either of two meanings: (I) 'and the Word was (the) God' or (2) 'and the Word was (a) God.'"  (The Expository Times, Vol. 62, October 1950 — September 1951), p. 315.  Griffiths favored the former because of πρὸς τὸν Θεόν whereas I favor the latter for the same reason.  While I'm confident that the former rendering is acceptable if interpreted properly (=functionally), I highly doubt that the Evangelist could have said or his readers heard that someone was literally Θεὸς and  πρὸς τὸν Θεόν (i.e. "God" and "with God") without necessitating further explanation about how such a paradox could be true.   We must bear in mind that at the time the Gospel of John was written, the Trinity doctrine did not yet exist as a conceptual grid into which such seemingly paradoxical statements could be placed to avoid cognitive dissonance.  It is therefore historically unlikely that the Evangelist intended or his readers inferred what orthodox expositors tell us the controversial verse means, because if he did have such meaning in mind, then there would have been concerns expressed and disputes severe enough for us to hear about them, along with a call for discussion and clarification.  That discussion, once begun, would have led quickly to the sorts of disputes that occurred only later, on the road to Nicaea.  

[8] "The Significance...," p. 57.  Dixon lists John 11:38 as the only verse in all of John's Gospel that contains an indefinite predicate nominative!