Thursday, September 19, 2013

John 1:1 and The 70 Translations

According to BeDuhn:

  Greek has only a definite article, like our the; it does not have an indefinite article, like our a or an. So, generally speaking, a Greek definite noun will have a form of the definite article (ho), which will become "the" in English. A Greek indefinite noun will appear without the definite article, and will be properly rendered in English with "a" or "an." We are not "adding a word" when we translate Greek nouns that do not have the definite article as English nouns with the indefinite article. We are simply obeying the rules of English grammar that tell us that we cannot say "Snoopy is dog," but may say "Snoopy is a dog." For example, in John 1:1c, the clause we are investigating, ho logos is "the word," as all translations accurately have it. If it was written simply logos, without the definite article ho, we would have to translate it as "a word."

  Similarly, when we have a form of ho theos, as we do in John 1:1b and 1:2, we are dealing with a definite noun that we would initially ("lexically") translate as "the god"; but if it is written simply theos, as it is in John 1:1c, it is an indefinite noun that would normally be translated as "a god." To complete our translation into English, we need to take into consideration the fact that English has both a common noun "god" and a proper noun "God." We use the proper noun "God" like a name, without either a definite or indefinite article, even though a name is a definite noun. As a definite noun, "God" corresponds to the Greek ho theos (lexically "the god"), which also is used often as the proper noun "God" in both the New Testament and other Greek literature from the same time. So in John 1:1b and 1:2 it is perfectly accurate to drop the "the" from "god" and say that the Word was "with God" (literally "with the god"). But what about the indefinite theos in John 1:1c? This does not correspond to the English definite proper noun "God," but to the indefinite noun "a god."
  In Greek, if you leave off the article from theos in a sentence like the one in John 1:1c, then your readers will assume you mean "a god."

  . . . Having introduced "God" and "the Word," John would use the definite article to help his readers keep track of the fact that he is still talking about the same God and the same Word. But having mentioned "God" once in 1:1b ("the word was with God"), John does not use the definite article again with theos until 1:2 ("this one was with God"), skipping right over the theos of 1:1c ("the word was a god"). This middle theos, we are left to conclude, is not exactly the same thing as the "God" of 1:1b and 1:2.

  If John had wanted to say "the Word was God," as so many English translation have it, he could have very easily done so by simply adding the definite article "the" (ho) to the word "god" (theos), making it "the god" and therefore "God."(pp. 114-116)

  This brings us back to John 1:1. [John Harner, in his article, "Qualitative Anarthrous Predicate Nouns: Mark 15:39 and John 1:1," 1973, pp. 85 and 87] suggests that John was not interested in definiteness or indefiniteness, but in character and quality.[*] . . . I think that the qualitative force of the predicate is so prominent that the noun cannot be regarded a definite. . . . So if the meaning of "the Word was a god," or "the Word was a divine being" is that the Word belongs to the category of divine beings, then we could translate the phrase as "the Word was divine." The meaning is the same in either case, and is summed up well by Harner as "ho logos...had the nature of theos" (Harner, page 87).(pp. 123-124)

[*] Harner further states "Perhaps the clause could be translated, 'the Word had the same nature as God.' This would be one way of representing John's thought, which is, as understand it, that ho logos no less than ho theos had the nature of theos." (Harner, Qualitative Anarthrous Predicate Nouns:, p. 87)

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