Qualitative, Indefinite, or Definite?

From: Apokrisis1@aol.com
Date: Mon Sep 08 1997 - 11:12:06 EDT

Hello, Paul:

<<<Greg, et. al.,

For those of us who are getting swamped by the back and forth in this
thread, could someone more precisely define the terms
"qualitative/indefinite" and "qualitative/definite" (and how the difference
could be recognised im a given context). How can one determine if a given
context intends "definiteness" or "indefiniteness"?>>>

I believe Rolf explained the terms well, but if further clarification is
needed please let me know.

As for how to determine if a given context intends definiteness,
indefiniteness, or qualitativeness, it is really quite subjective, although
that should not be taken to mean there can be no measure of certainty
attached to one's decision.

Returning to the example I gave from Polycarp, his intention is to let the
proconsul know who he is (TIS EIMI). He then follows with the statement,
CHRISTIANOS EIMI. So we know that his statement is supposed to communicate
something about Polycarp which the proconsul should recognize, and which
prevents him praising Caesar or reviling Christ.

I suppose one could argue for a primarily qualitative
translation/understanding, but it seems to me that, given the fact that
Polycarp was not the only Christian at that time, and certainly not the only
one who suffered martyrdom, his statement, even if primarily qualitative,
would place him in the group of those who possess the same qualities or
nature. But when the herald announces to the people in the arena (who cry out
(12:1), I cannot think that he meant to emphasize the qualities of Polycarp
so much as the _group_ to which he belongs. Of course, that might naturally
bring to the minds of some people certain qualities that they recognize as
belonging to those who claim to be Christian.

Thus, while I believe that a noun or substantive adjective, when placed
before the copula can have a particular nuance emphasized, I do not believe
that the emphasized nuance therefore becomes the only aspect of the noun that
should be communicated in translation, particularly when the context reveals
other important nuances of the word. I agree with John Kendall when he wrote
in reply to Rolf:

            In this case, isn't the plausibility of this
            category tied closely to the nature of the word? Can you
            think of any example where in English translation an indefinite
            use of the noun 'Christian' would not convey qualitative nuances

I could say the same thing for other nouns, including "god" or "devil." Since
various aspects of the noun are always present, it becomes a matter of

Returning to John 1:1c, I believe the emphasis on the noun is qualitative,
but I cannot say this for certain. However, since such an understanding fits
with the context of the Prologue and the Fourth Gospel as a whole (indeed,
all of Scripture), I accept it. The same is true for the indefinite nuance
that I believe is demanded by 1:1b. The Word is not the same THEOS as the One
he is "with." The distinction John makes between the two is in terms of
THEOS, and so I believe our translations should do the same. I realize that
while "a god" can express qualitativeness and indefiniteness, it is more
likely to express only or primarily indefiniteness, so it is not the _best_
choice. The translation, "the Word was God" is also not the best choice,
particularly in English, for it will almost certainly communicate
definiteness to most readers. It also fails to preserve the distinction

A translation such as "the Word was a divine being" does seem to capture both
the qualitative and indefinite aspects of the noun, which, in my opinion, are
revealed by the syntax and context of the clause. Of course, I think "divine"
or "deity" would probably do just as well.

Anyway, as you can see, there is no clear-cut way to determine whether the
emphasis given to a noun in an anarthrous precopulative construction is
qualitative, indefinite, or definite. We simply need to be sure we consider
all the factors bearing on our translation and understanding of the word. I
believe when we do that, we can achieve a good idea of what the original
meaning was, and find an acceptable modern equivalent. In cases such as John
1:1, the meaning may be more difficult to ascertain. When this is so, the
best we can do is give the reader the possible options, the pros and cons of
each one, give our selection, but ultimately let them decide for themselves.

Hope this helps!

Greg Stafford
University of Wisconsin

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.4 : Sat Apr 20 2002 - 15:38:27 EDT