Re: (long) Jn.1:1b word order

From: Rolf Furuli (
Date: Fri Feb 13 1998 - 11:44:42 EST

Dear Paul,

We had the following exchange (> you) (>> I):

>>A schematic review of earlier discussions:
>>(1)The words KAI QEOS HN hO LOGOS can be translated "correctly" at
>>least in three ways: (A) "and the Word was God", (B) "and the Word was
>>divine", and (C) "and the word was a god". None of these violate any
>>grammatical or syntactical rule.

>The upshot of my thesis was to demonstrate that in the vast majority of
>similar constructions (precopulative anarthrous predicate nominative) in
>John's Gospel, the significance was qualitativeness (94% of occurrences).
>If statistics mean anything, then we probably should not expect the
>force to be that of (C) above.
>>(2) The words hOUTOS HN EN ARCHi PROS TON QEON makes (A) very
>>problematic because the most natural interpretation of the English words
>>is that "the Word" and "God" are convertible terms, and this clashes
>>with the preposition PROS. One individual who is PROS another individual
>>hardly be identical with this individual.

>Only if you assume: 1) a non-trinitarian position, and 2) that the
>translation "God" cannot denote qualitativeness, does a problem exist.
>The point remains, that when time began (EN ARCHi) the LOGOS, who was
>QEOS, was already existing (HN) with TON QEON. So, we have two persons
>face to face when time began, the LOGOS who was QEOS and One who is
>identified anaphorically as the well-known God of the Old Testament (TON

My present comments:

As R. Bultmann and others correctly have argued, no person does theological
research (or Bible translation for that matter) without presuppositions. We
all use our hermeneutical circles, interpreting texts in the light of what
we know and believe, and, let us hope, readjust our thinking because of the
texts we read. All our arguments, however, do not have theological
overtones. My claim above that John 1:1c can be translated "correctly" in
at least three ways, including "and the Word was a god" is purely
philological - only an elementary knowledge of NT Greek is enough to
understand this. But what about your arguments?

As a comment to hOUTOS HN EN ARCHi PROS TON QEON you say that "we have two
persons face to face when time began". The word "person" is a modern
chameleon in the theological vocabulary, meaning anything from "individual"
to "mode" or "characteristic"; i.e. "non-individual". Leaving alone both
theology and mysticism, everybody will admit that someone who is said to be
PROS another is not the same individual as the other one. Are you prepared,
Paul, to substitute "person" with "individual" and say that the PROS of
John 1:1b shows that "we have two INDIVIDUALS face to face when time
began"? If not, tell us the reason for your reluctance to equate "person"
and "individual". Does it build on a preconceived theology or on philology?

>>(3) What about (B)? Paul Dixon did a very good job with his thesis
>>where he showed that Colwell`s rule cannot be applied to John 1:1 and
>>where he made a strong case for a qualitative interpretation of the
>>QEOS. However, if I understand Paul correctly, we agree that even if
>>John wanted to stress the quality (divinity) of the LOGOS, still LOGOS is a
>>substantive and as such he is also either "a god" or "God". (I am not
>>aware of >any example where a count noun signifying a person, or other
>>count nouns for that matter, turns into an adjective and looses its
>>force because of word order.)

>No, to say, QEOS HN hO LOGOS, and to see QEOS as being qualitative, does
>not imply, or even suggest, that QEOS in 1:1b is either definite or
>indefinite. Only if one persists on imposing either definiteness or
>indefiniteness upon QEOS here does a problem surface.

My present comments:

This seems to be a different view from a posting of yours some weeks ago
where you admitted that Harner`s discussion of some substantives as both
qualitative and definite was correct. The importance of this question,
whether or not QEOS in John 1:1c is a substantive which is completely
adjectivized, can be illustrated by help of MONEGENHS QEOS in John 1:18.
Lexically speaking MONEGENHS is an adjective and QEOS a substantive.
However, look at the following renditions where the two words are taken

MONOGENHS taken as an adjective qualifying the substantive QEOS: "the only
begotten God" NASB
Both MONOGENHS and QEOS rendered substantivally: "God the One and Only"
NIV (1984)
MONOGENHS rendered substantivally and QEOS rendered adjectivally: "the only
One, who is the same as God" GNB (1966 and 1971).

The differences are great, and they build on different views of adjective
versus substantive. (For John 1:1c, viewing QEOS completely as an adjective
at the expense of its substantival force will remove any individual
personality from the Word, while a retaining of the substantival force will
give either "a god" or "God" with stress on the quality of godship.) Given
the UBS text in John 1:18, there is a particularly strong backing for the
NASB rendiditon because there is no example of an adjective immediately
preceding a substantive, both being in the same state, number and case,
signifying anything else but a qualification of the substantive. But the
examples show how important it is to look for guiding principles, and here
I am in want of examples corroborating your position regarding 1:1c.

Discourse factors such as word order may indicate what is foreground and
background information and which thoughts are stressed, but I am not aware
of any claim that such factors can change a substantive into an adjective
in a language such as Greek. I participate in a weekly seminar in
semantics. Last week I asked a professor, who is a leading figure in formal
semantics in Norway, whether the adjectivizing of a substantive is
something which is often discussed, and he answered that he had never heard
of it. I therefore ask you for two kinds of evidence:

(1) Grammars or monographs commenting on, or giving rules for how
substantives can be changed into adjectives by help of discourse factors
such as word order.

(2) Examples of substantives in the same class as QEOS (count nouns such as
AGGELOS, ANHR and GUNH) which, because of word order or other discourse
phenomena, are completely adjectivized to the point where they lose all
their substantival force, neither being definite nor indefinite. What is
crucial regarding such examples is what is conditioned by lexicon and what
is conditioned by grammar. Your example from John 1:14 KAI hO LOGOS SARX
EGENTO simply will not do because SARX can LEXICALLY be used both as a
count noun and as a mass noun. And your claim is GRAMMATICALLY conditioned,
demanding that you give examples of a grammatical/syntactical force
changing substantives into adjectives.

By way of conclusion I bring a quote from M.J. Harris, 1992, "Jesus as God"

"On John 1:1c R.H. Strachan comments: "Here the word *theos* has no
article, thus giving it the significance of an adjective." Strachan is not,
of course, suggesting that an authors choice not to use the article with a
noun virtually converts the noun into an adjective. But it remains doubtful
whether even an adjectivcal *significance* may attach to an anarthrous
substantive (cf Griffiths 315). EGW EIMI ANQRWPOS does not exactly mean "I
am human" (ANQRWPINOS). Similarly, QEOS HN hO LOGOS does not exactly mean
"the word was divine" (QEIOS). Especially when there exists an adjective
corresponding to the substantive, the anarthrous noun should not be deemed
adjectival. A careful distinction should be drawn between the potentially
*qualitative* sense of an anarthrous noun (se appendix IA5c) and issues of
translation that may be resolved by the use of an adjective."


Rolf Furuli
University of Oslo

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