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

From: Rolf Furuli (
Date: Thu Sep 04 1997 - 04:45:52 EDT

Dale M Wheeler wrote:

<<<<3) Rolf has suggested that nouns can be *both* indefinite and
qualitative at the same time; I'd be interested in seeing some
unambiguous examples of that phenomenon, in which it is clear that
the writer did not intend a double-entendre, ie., he didn't mean
both things separately, but that he uses the term intending both
things inseparately (ie., I take it that John 1:5 means both
"comprehend" and "overcome", but not that both things are happening
at the same time; they are two separate processes being referred to
by the same word through a deliberate amibuity; I take it that
John does the same thing with ANWQEN). And since John does indulge
himself in deliberate ambiguities, its *possible* that he is doing
so in John 1:1 (I personally doubt it); but if he is, I would
suspect that he means both *definite* and *qualitative*, but
clearly not *indefinite*>>>

Dear Dale,

I agree with your remarks about ANWQEN, but the case with QEOS is,
according to my view, something completely different. Let me illustrate:
When I read your words about ANWQEN, I immediately think of Jesus` words to
Nicodemus, as reported by John. This is because we, in this case, have the
same presupposition pool. Some on b-greek, and many others don`t have this
common understanding, so to try to find what you mean, they have to look up
ANWEN in a lexicon, look at its occurrences in John, and by help of this
try to understand what you mean with "deliberate ambiguities". But this is
the more difficult way to go.

When we try to differentiate between indefiniteness, definiteness or
qualitativeness or when claiming that two of these go together, we are
going the same hard way as the guys with the lexicon. We are looking at the
situation from our modern point of view, and our setting is translation
from Greek into our mother tongue. The original listeners or readers did
not use this approach. Just as I immediately, when you mention ANWQEN and
ambiguity, think of John 3, they, broadly speaking, had the same
presupposition pool as John, and immediately got some kind of impression
when he used QEOS in a particular context. When I therefore speak of a
"double meaning" of QEOS in John 1:1, this is rooted in the presupposition
pool of John, i.e. in a theory of meaning based on psycholinguistic data
supposed to uncover the NATURE of the presupposition pool of John and
others, and not in any ambiguity of a gloss.

I assume that words such as QEOS serve as semantic signals (in the
Saussurean sense) of concepts stored in the mind. These concepts are not
clearly defined but represent bundles of meaning with fuzzy edges.(Two fine
books by Jean Aitchison: "Words in the Mind",1987, Blackwell and "The
Articulate Mammal,1988, Routledge) There is however, strong evidence that
one system of storage in the mind is by word classes, and this is important
as respects QEOS. My theory assumes that meaning is connected with
words/concepts and not with contexts. This again indicates that the role of
the context is to make visible the particular part of the concept
(signalled by the word) that the author wants. Thus in one context KOSMOS
signals "all mankind", in another "all mankind except Christians", in a
third "the environment in which mankind lives" and so forth. These are not
new meanings initiated by the context, but rather sides of the concept
being made visible by the context. KOSMOS is all the time a noun, even in 1
Peter 3:3, but in this context the qualities order and beauty, which is an
important part of the concept KOSMOS are more prominent (In English,
because of the lack of a verb equivalent to KOSMEW,"adornment" in 1 Peter
3:3 is a different concept than "world".In Greek the same concept is used
also in this verse.)

Now to QEOS in John 1:1. The word is a substantive (the corresponding
adjective is QEIOS). Through time a substantive may be transformed into an
adjective and an adjective into a substantive, and this may become a part
of the language by lexicalization, but THE CONTEXT or WORD ORDER cannot
change a substantive into an adjective or an adjective into a substantive.
So when we assess that a particular context primarily makes visible the
QUALITY of a substantive, in no way do we remove its substantive nature.
Any substantive must either be definite (= arthrous) or indefinite (=
anarthrous). In addition, a substantive may be specific or generic, but
these designations don`t always corespond with definiteness/indefiniteness.
And lastly we have qualitativness which may combine with any of the four

Greg«s example with Polycarp is excellent. The word CRISTIANOS is a
substantive, it is indefinite and generic, and it functions as a PN
standing before the verb. These more "fundamental" facts show that the
primary meaning is generic,that Polycarp was a member of the group
"Christians". The position of the noun, its semantic contents and the
context signal or make visible an additionally side, namely the quality of
being a Christian.

We may also use Luke 20:38 as an example. QEOS is a substantive, it is
indefinite and specific and it functions as a PN standing before the verb.
The context does not only make visible the person of God but also a part of
his qualities, and this COULD be conveyed by translating as YNG "He is not
a God of dead men" or Luther "Gott aber ist nicht ein Gott der Toten" or
ASV (and others) "he is not the God of the dead".

So back to John 1:1c. All agree that QEOS is a substantive, is indefinite
and functions as a PN standing before the verb. But is it generic or
specific? It MUST be either of them, and that is the real crux! As shown
above we cannot avoid this crux by saying it is qualitative, because it is
still a substantive, yes a count noun (in contrast to a mass noun), and as
such it must either be generic or specific.

I hope I have answered your questions and will leave it at that. But I
challenge the members of the list to comment on the mentioned crux. I will
later come back with my comments, tying in also a correlation with John


Rolf Furuli
University of Oslo

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