Re: mass/count nouns

From: Dan-Ake Mattsson (
Date: Thu Sep 11 1997 - 15:52:11 EDT


Regarding your question about count/mass-nouns I think we must start with
what is fundamental and proceed toward what is specific. We therefore
cannot start our study of John 1:1 with the definition of Louw & Nida,
because this definition builds on reference rather than on the concept
behind the word. We should start any study with as few presuppositions as

I do not think it can be disputed that ELOHIM/QEOS must be classified as
count-nouns. While ELOHIM is plural, it is used of single gods. In OT KOL
"all/every" precedes ELOHIM in 48 instances,including Psalm 97:7 where the
reference possibly is to angels (see LXX). There are 267 examples of the
plural form of QEOS in the LXX and 8 in the NT. But in most instances
ELOHIM/QEOS denote "the one supreme supernatural being as creator and
sustainer of the universe", and this is also true in John 1:1b. There is no
doubt that ELOHIM/THEOS in these cases denote one "who is the only one of
his kind"..

There is evidence, such as the use of "the most high God" and "the God of
gods" that ELOHIM by those writing the OT were viewed, not as a proper
noun,( YHWH was the name) but as an apellative, thus being a count-noun
also when denoting YHWH. The use of the Hebrew article in a third part of
the occurrences accords with this. So while the person YHWH is specific and
not generic (belonging to a kind), a count noun was in OT used to refer to
him. He was "the God", "the true God" in contrast to other gods.

The word CRISTOS is viewed both as an appellative and as a proper noun in
the NT, but it is of course difficult to be sure in each case. How was QEOS
viewed? There are two possibilities: a) John used QEOS in the same way as a
proper noun, and therefore QEOS, when referring to the Father was not a
count noun. Thus the person referred to was specific and the the word used
was specific. b) John used QEOS in the OT tradition, and together with the
article it meant "the god", "the true God" in contrast to other Gods. Thus
the person referred to was specific, but the word used was countable. I opt
for alternative a), but there are reasons why b) also is a strong
alternative. Paul shows in 1 Cor 8 that there is no real God except one.
But the use of OUDEIS QEOS in v 4 (including the Father) and hEIS QEOS in v
6 accords better with the view that QEOS in these instances is a
count-noun rather than a proper noun.

In any case we cannot be sure of whether a) or b) is correct, and that was
the reason why I suggested that we start with what is fundamental - namely
that QEOS is a count noun, and only when the context demands it must we
view it as a proper noun. In all the English examples quoted by you and
David R. Mills it is perfectly clear from the context when a count noun
becomes a non-count noun vice versa. Similarly, we should only view QEOS as
a non-count noun when the context demands it.

When we come to the anarthrous QEOS of 1:1c we must also start with its
nature as count noun. The arguments presented in earlier posts have
adequately pointed to the strong signals from the context upholding its
countability. We cannot exclude a qualitative use in this case, even an
exclusively qualitative use, but this would be highly exceptional in the
case of QEOS and can only be taken seriously if clear examples of this use
of QEOS is produced or if the context definitely shows it. If this is not
done, I see only two alternatives: a) the anarthrous theos is a count-noun
and generic, b) it is a proper noun and is specific. A measure of
qualitativeness may be added in both cases.

In view of the use of QEOS both among the Hebrews and the Greeks, the
general (count noun-use) must be more original than the specific (proper
noun-use). The suggested approach, therefore, is both methodological sound
and the approach which is more neutral theologically speaking.

Greetings from
Dan Mattson

>>>>>Although I use it as defined in an earlier post, I still feel a little
>>>>>shifty about the "qualitative" category. I've tried using Rolf as a
>>>>>sounding board to clarify my thoughts, but I'm not sure we've shed
>>>>>much light. Help, anyone?

Also I'm still wondering about the word QEOS. Assuming that the most commonly
used of its lexical meanings can be defined as "the one supreme supernatural
being as creator and sustainer of the universe" (Louw & Nida), I deduced that
QEOS in this sense was a non-count noun in that it cannot be pluralised and
retain the same meaning (nor, for instance, can it be preceded by 'every'). It
seems to me that such nouns do not fall into the category of things which may
be perceived both as one and more than one. QEOS in this sense is clearly
monadic. But how do monadic nouns relate to the count/non-count distinction in
Greek? >>>>>>

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