Re: QEOS in Jn 1:1c

From: Jonathan Robie (
Date: Wed Sep 03 1997 - 14:10:34 EDT

At 01:23 PM 9/3/97 EDT, Paul S. Dixon wrote:

>The argument has progressed to this stage, in my judgment. I argued that
>QEOS in Jn 1:1c is qualitative, and not definite nor indefinite, for the
>following reasons:

Personally, I agree with you that it is qualitative, but my belief is based
on my understanding of the rest of the Gospel of John, and I am not sure
that this is the only possibility. If the only data we had were John 1:1, I
would not have an opinion. Despite the fact that I agree with your
conclusion, I have problems with your reasoning...

> 1. It is qualitative, because:
> a. the first two clauses of verse 1 give us two
>qualities (pre-existence and personality) of the Logos and we should
>probably expect a third quality in parallel,

This argument feels a little procrustian to me - EN ARCH is not a quality,
and neither is PROS TON QEON.

> b. the contrasting parallel between QEOS in Jn 1:1c and
>SARX in a similar construction in 1:14 argue for it,

Yet the list that Wes posted does give usages with similar constructions
that are not qualitative, including several that look indefinite to me.

> c. in 94% of occurrences of similar constructions in
>John's Gospel (anarthrous precopulative predicate nominatives) I found
>the significance to be qualitative. In his grammar, "Beyond the Basics,"
>Wallace agrees with my conclusions, though he thinks the percentage may
>be a bit high and cites Harner whose findings elsewhere in the NT were
>closer to 80%. Nevertheless ...

Depending on whom I choose to believe, either 6% or 20% of the uses would
*not* be qualitative, and both you and Wallace felt comfortable looking at
these passages and saying that they were not. You didn't decide that they
probably were because most of the rest of them were.

Or perhaps your argument is "well, we can't say for sure, so let's look at
the statistical probability". I would have problems with this statistical
approach, which uses descriptive statistics for prediction, and which also
accepts confidence levels above the 5% level used for most research.

On the raw grammatical level, without context or theology, I think you would
agree that indefinite ("a god") would be possible, and even though less
frequent, it is frequent enough that the possibility needs to be considered.

> 2. It is not definite, nor indefinite, because:
> a. I assumed, by definition, that the nuance of a noun
>is one and only one of the three possibilities. This assumption has been
>severely criticized by the opponents. While they seem to accept the
>qualitative nuance, they argue the indefinite nuance is also there, and
>therefore the "a god" translation must not and cannot be ruled out as a
>possibility. They have cited Harris and Harner for support of their
>thinking on this.

At the very least, the noun in the original contains a possible ambiguity
which is difficult to preserve in translation. I wonder to which extent the
three categories reflect the choices we use to translate rather than
distinctions made in the original - if NT Greek clearly grammaticalized
these three categories, we wouldn't be spending this much time on the verse ;->

> b. This touches directly upon a basic issue of
>hermeneutics, one which should not be taken lightly. Does scripture,
>including its individual words, mean one thing, or are we to look for two
>or more meanings? I believe there is one and only one essential meaning.
> And, I believe this is essential to the orderliness of God and to His
>revelation. If somebody would like to demonstrate from scripture
>otherwise, fine. Go ahead.

Well, the scripture certainly uses many devices that depend on
simultaneously appreciating more than one meaning: paradox, irony, metaphor,
puns, etc. Naturally, on a higher level, this translates into one meaning,
but the meaning is located on a different plane, one beyond the literal
treatment of the text.

>Finally, I would like to address a point Clay Bartholomew brought up. I
>rejected as a possible translation of Jn 1:1c, "and god was the Word,"
>because it was "bad Greek." Clay cited Harris who argued that it could
>be translated that way and who then appealed to Jn 1:18 for support.

This brings me back to one of my first memories of NT Greek! When I first
started learning Greek, I started by translating John, and when I got to the
end of the first verse, I made just this error, turned to the grammars, and
learned the rule that you cite below:

>In a sentence or clause containing an
>articular noun and an anarthrous noun (such as in Jn 1:1c, but not 1:18)
>the rule is that the subject is denoted by the articular noun. Can
>anybody give me an exception to this rule in the Greek NT? LXX? Other
>Greek writings? Is there any Greek writing where in the same sentence or
>clause an anarthrous noun is the subject and an articular noun is the
>predicate nominative?

I am really interested in the answer to this! So far, I haven't noticed any
exceptions in my reading, but my antenae may not have been on the right
frequency to notice.


Jonathan Robie
POET Software, 3207 Gibson Road, Durham, N.C., 27703

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