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

From: Dale M. Wheeler (
Date: Sat Sep 06 1997 - 11:44:22 EDT

Sorry about the tardiness of this reply; beginning of the semester and all...

Rolf Furuli wrote:

>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.)

I have always held to the same view you explain above, which I refer to as
"sharability", viz., speakers must share a common understanding of the
possibilities of meaning of any communication icon/term for communication
to be possible.

I was, however, not speaking of such an idea with ANWQEN or KATALAMBANW; in
those cases multiple meanings are shared by the author and his readers, but
the real point is that at least 2 *different* meanings (out of all the
possibilities) is signaled by the text/discussion itself. Eg., the
discussion between Jesus and Nicodemus has elements of *both* born "from
above" and "again" embedded in the text (IMHO, Jesus originally meant
"from above", Nicodemus misunderstood and took the meaning "again", Jesus
"ran" with that meaning and then brought him back to the discussion he
had originally intended, namely "from above". This is not sharability, but
deliberate ambiguity; the same is true, in my mind, for KATALAMBANW, in
which, first of all the people don't "comprehend" Jesus' message, but as
soon as certain of them do, they attempt to "overcome" him (12:35; you can
almost divide the book in two with this term). Again, this is not a
issue of sharibility, but rather an author signaling that the readers
should understand 2--rather than the normal 1--meaning for the term (out
of all the possible meanings).

That is what I was asking for; does John (or anyone else) clearly signal
in the text that he is a thorough-going polytheist, and that Jesus is
another (ALLOS) god, different from, separate from the QEOS referred to
in John 1:1 PROS TON QEON ?? If not, then I think one would be hard-
pressed to translate John 1:1c "a god", as if Jesus was another member
of the class "god" (as I understand the term/use of indefinite).

>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 (=3D arthrous) or indefinite (=3D
>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=B4s 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.

"Count" and "Mass" nouns ??? I understand the terms, but will others who
are trying to track with (learn from) the discussion (since there are *both*
Profs and students interacting on the list. When you use "in vogue"
linguistic terms, I know I'd appreciate it if you'd define them the first
time you use them (sometimes, especially linguists use terms that we
aging Greek Profs have used for years in one way, in a totally different

Rolf (and other linguists who post to bgreek) this is a problem for
understanding in your posts; I'm frequently not sure if you are talking
about how Greek functions or speaking in general linguistic terms, and
the two things are not necessarily the same. For example, your statement:

>Any substantive must either be definite (=3D arthrous) or indefinite (=3D

is for Greek demonstrably false; Apollonius' Canon is one example of that
(students look it up, it'll take to long to type out; eg., AGGELOS KURIOU is
THE angel of THE Lord, not AN angel of A Lord), or one could point to the
many places Greek speakers drop the article from definite nouns after a
preposition, etc. *OR*, if you were speaking linguistically, its
demonstrably false in English.

There are two separate things going on in Greek with respect to the
definite article; substantives can either be articular/arthrous (have the
article) or anarthrous (lack the article), which may or may not have
anything *directly* to do with whether they are definite, indefinite, or
qualitative (as pointed out above). In other languages substantives are
"defined" differently; eg., in English we have 3 ways of defining nouns
("the", "a/an", anarthrous), whereas Greek has two (as does Hebrew).

You've repeatedly said in posts that John 1:1c is indefinite and
qualitative; based on your use of terms I don't know if you mean:

1) its *anarthrous* and qualitative, or
2) its an anrthrous noun which has the contextual characteristics of
both indefiniteness (member of a class) and qualitativeness (the
characteristics of class-membership).

This is why I originally asked the question, and I'm still not clear on
what you think is going on in this passage (once I understand your
statement, then I'd like to come back and make some observations on
the Polycarp and Luke 20:38 passages).


Dale M. Wheeler, Ph.D.
Research Professor in Biblical Languages Multnomah Bible College
8435 NE Glisan Street Portland, OR 97220
Voice: 503-251-6416 FAX:503-254-1268 E-Mail:

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