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.

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.

Since my criticisms are 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, the argumentation presented was just plain sloppy.  For example, notice the following argument:

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

2.  "[T]he Coptic translators were disinclined to use anything other than the definite article when translating [QEOS]."

3.  "[T]he Coptic translators were so reluctant to use the indefinite article with [NOUTE] [that] our question must [be] 'what individual circumstances required the use of a disfavoured construction?"

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 preposterous.  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 nonsense to be published in their respected Journal is most unfortunate, and I've informed them that they need better peer review if their journal is to retain its standing as a quality publication.  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.