Re: Jn 1:1, Colwell, Nelson Stdy Bible

From: Rolf Furuli (
Date: Tue Sep 02 1997 - 08:52:23 EDT

Dear Paul,

Thank you for your answer. It was clear and to the point.

I agree that theology must play an important role in Bible translation.
There are even passages which are doctrinal important where grammar and
syntax are not decisive and theology is the principal factor behind the
chosen rendition (ex: Tit 2:13:2 Pet 1:1: Rom 9:5). In passages such as
John 1:1 a translator will: (1) find the linguistic possibilities (lexis,
grammar and syntax),(2) find the contextual possibilities (the one sentence
of the verse consisting of three clauses has priority over the whole
discourse),(3) reason about how a certain choice affects theology
("comparing scripture with scripture" as you write), and (4) reason about
the connotations and the natural understanding of the readers of the chosen
translation. Point (3) is not for b-greek but I have some comments on (1)
and 4).

Colewell was the first to show that the place of the anarthrous predicate
nominative in the clause could have semantic importance, but his opposition
was definiteness/indefiniteness and he did not take qualitativness into
account. You have made an excellent study of the qualitativness of the
mentioned constructions in John with the opposition
qualitative/definite,indefinite. P.B. Harner (JBL 1973:75-87) studied the
mentioned constructions in Mark and John from the point of view of
qualitativness without any oppositions. His conclusions were that in
predicate nominatives preceding the verb the qualitative force usually is
prominent but they may at the same time also be definite or indefinite, and
one of these latter characteristics may even be the most prominent one.
QEOS in Luke 20:38 is an example whith prominent qualitative force AND
definiteness; DIABOLOS in John 6:70 is an example of prominent qualitative
force AND indefiniteness.

Colewell studied the whole NT. He used his material in an intelligent way,
but as he himself said, his conclusions were "tentatively formulated". What
is needed is a study of predicate nominatives in the whole NT where all
instances are judged on the basis of qualitativnes AND definiteness AND
indefiniteness. For such a study there is much good to be found in
Colewellęs data, but they must be compared with your better approach and
other studies.

>>Using only the grammar and syntax I see four possible English
>>(1) "and the Word was God"
>>(2) "and god was the Word"
>>(3) "and the Word was divine"
>>(4) "and the Word was a god"

>>Do the conclusions of your thesis nullify any of these renderings, or
>>are all four compatible with your thesis?

>Only 1 and 3 are possible. Number 2 is ruled out simply because it is
>bad Greek. The rule here is: given an anarthrous noun and an articular
>noun in a sentence or clause, the subject is always denoted by the
>articular noun.
>Number 4 is ruled out simply because it stresses membership in a class of
>2 or more, but the stress is qualitativeness.

Regarding the connotations/understanding of the English readers: Provided
that QEOS of 1:1c is qualitative,there are stronger reasons to exclude
>>(1) than >>(4). Says M.J. Harris,"Jesus as God", 1992:69: "But in normal
English usage "God" is a proper noun, referring to the person of the Father
or corporately to the three persons of the Godhead." "God" with capital "G"
is normally not qualitative in english. On the other hand can a noun
preceded by a/an in English be understood as qualitative ("he is a
devil."). Regardless of which way 1:1 is translated, it cannot stand alone,
but must be explained to the readers. So it seems that your thesis should
rule out "God" before it ruled out "a god".

For may years, even up to the present, Colewellęs rule has been used to
rule out the rendition "a god" and also "divine". You have in an able way
shown this to be erroneous because Colwell only took into consideration the
opposition definiteness/indefiniteness and not qualitativeness. Now it is
important that your rule does not take over the erroneous place of
Colwell`s, because you have only considered qualitativeness and not
definiteness/indefinitess. This means that on the basis of your thesis it
cannot be ruled out that QEOS in 1:1 is both qualitative and indefinite,
thus justifying the English "a god". In fact, as shown above, even if QEOS
is only qualitative, the "a god" rendition cannot rightly be ruled out,
even though "divine" would be better in that case.

The conclusion is that >>(1),>>(3) and >>(4) are equally possible on
linguistic grounds; contextually speaking, because of the phrase PROS TON
QEON, the preference is on >>(3) or >>(4); but the ultimate choice of words
must be based on theology. Pauvre lecteur!


Rolf Furuli
University of Oslo

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