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

From: Rolf Furuli (
Date: Mon Sep 08 1997 - 10:09:15 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
> 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).

Dear Dale,

Your words "a thorough-going polytheist" are somewhat loaded, but at the
same time they point to the crux of the matter. Even though b-greek is
primarily for linguistic discussion, I think most of those following the
John 1:1 thread will be interested in an elucidation of this question. I
will try to be descriptive rather than apologetic, and don`t want to start
a theological discussion.

It is not impossible that a substantive through time may get the meaning of
an adjective, thus the meaning being lexicalized, but a count-noun of the
class of QEOS and hHLIOS cannot both be a substantive and adjetive at the
same time. My fundamental question regarding QEOS in 1:1c was whether it
was generic or specific. The lack of article and the preposition PROS
signals that QEOS is generic in a grammatical sense. Because of the nature
of the word and because another QEOS is mentioned, I draw the conclusion
that it also is generic in the semantic, uncancelable meaning. If this
conclusion is correct, does it brand John as a polytheist? Not necessarily!

The Greeks believed in many gods; they were polytheists. The Romans
believed in many gods; they were polytheists. The Jews believed in many
gods; they were monotheists (I speak of those following the OT). The
Christians believed in many gods; they were monotheists. What is the
difference? "Polytheism" is defined as "belief in or worship of many gods,
or more than one god; opposed to monotheism." (Webster). I take "belief" in
the qualitative sense, close to "worship", and not just as descriptive, an
acceptance of the existence of many gods. Monotheists therefore worship
only one god, polytheists more than one.

Isaiah (ch 44) shows that carved images are without life, but an opposition
found in the OT is "the true God versus living, false gods which are behind
the lifeless gods"; these false gods are demons (shedim, Deut 32:17). Paul
expressed a similar view in 1 Cor 10:20. More important is it that
Ğelohim/QEOS could be applied to angels. In Ps 8:6 we find the word
Ğelohim; LXX translates it with AGGELOUS, and this word is quoted and used
in Heb 2:7. Also Ps 97:7; 138:1 use Ğelohim for angels (see G.L. Archer, G.
Chirichingo,1983:59, "Old Testament Qquotes in the New Testament"). Also
extra-biblical fragments from Qumran show that angels could be called
"gods" (4Q403 and 405). According to Rev 19:10 these "gods" should not be
worshipped. Therefore, to view the Word as "a god" is not necessarily the
same as polytheism, as viewing him as Philo`s "other god" or as one of the
Greek gods. Monotheism or polytheism depends on how one views the relation
between the Word and the Father.

What is clouding the picture, as I see it, is that people are taught to
view John 1:1 from the angle of traditional christology, which in turn is
rooted in Plato`s world of ideas. I disagree with Will that John used the
Platonic setting, but this setting was used when the church Fathers made
their dogmas. As a matter of fact, all the church Fathers before Nicaea
entertained the view in some form that the Son was subordinated to the
Father. Nevertheless, they also believed that the Reason of the Father was
eternal (just as the ideas), and from this Reason the Word either was
articulated,or born (Tertullian), or that the Word was "continuously being
generated (Origen). While the Fathers were strongly against hellenizing the
Christian faith, it is clear that they to a considerable extent were
influenced by Middle-Platonism, Neo-Platonisn and Stoicism (See E.P.
MEIJERING, 1974, "Orthodoxy and Platonism in Athanasius Synthesis or
Antithesis?"; H.A. WOLFSON, 1970, "The Philosophy of the Church Fathers;,
R.P.C.HANSON,1988, "The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God"). When
people accept that the Word and the Father are different persons but deny
that they are different individuals, they use "person" in a religions sense
shunning definition, a sense which can be traced back to what is mentioned

I will suggest a monotheistic explanation of John 1:1c which takes the
frequently mentioned Father/Son-relationship at face value. There is hardly
one book in the NT which more clearly differentiates between the Father and
the Son than the gospel of John. The Father is the only true God (17:3) and
is even the God of the Son (20:17).In the book of Revelation, however,Jesus
is portrayed as ALMOST on par with God. Honour is given to God "and the
Lamb" (5:23) and the temple of New Jerusalem is God "and the Lamb" (21:22).
Both these viewpoints can be combined in the expression "a
unique/onlybegotten god" of John 1:18. A son is always of the same KIND as
his Father, and Jesus existed in MORFH QEOU (Phil 2:6). He is God`s first
and unique Son,"having become as much superior to angels as the name he has
obtained is more excellent than theirs" (Heb 1:4 RSV). And this highest
position in the universe next to God was "gracefully given" (CARIZOMAI,
Phil 2:9) to the Son by the Father. Something of this may be what John
wanted to convey in 1:1.

The problem can therefore be boiled down to two questions: (1) Are the
Father and the Son different individuals? and (2) Shall we worship the Son
(Heb 1:6)? If we say "yes" to both (1) and (2) we choose polytheism. If we
say "yes" to (1) and "no" to (2) we choose monotheism. If we say "no" to
(1) and "yes" to (2) we choose monotheism.

Conclusion: The word QEOS in John 1:1c is indefinite and refers to an
individual which is a member of the class QEOI. I do not suggest that QEOS
has a double meaning in this passage or elswhere. It is a substantive for
which the gloss "god" is fitting. What I did suggest was that while John
used the word to refer to "a god",the context and the word order COULD
imply that he wanted to focus on the qualities of this "god" rather than on
existence (another god), just as a characteristic of the Father is focussed
upon in Luke 20:39 without giving QEOS a double meaning.

 Any rendition of John 1:1 into English leaves much to be desired. I am not
at all happy with "a god" which most naturally implies polytheism. The
rendition "God" is completely misleading, while "divine" is better, but
being an adjective it does not convey John`s substantival meaning. The use
of "god" is from one point of view the best, but it may be strange for the
English reader. So any rendition just conveys a part of the meaning and
must be explained to the reader.


Rolf Furuli
University of Oslo

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