Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Is Coptic John 1:1c primarily qualitative?

A recent article in The Journal of Theological Studies (volume 62, October 2011), continues the trend of some New Testament scholars to view John 1:1c in the Greek text as qualitative. This particular article gives attention to the Coptic version of John 1:1c also, proposing that "the best way to take the indefinite articles in John 1:1c [Coptic]" is also "qualitatively," meaning that the Word "possesses the same qualities as the 'God of the Bible.'"

Viewing the Greek of John 1:1c as qualitative has gained currency since Philip B. Harner's 1973 article in the Journal of Biblical Literature. To be sure, it is an improvement on trying to view the verse as definite, i.e., "the Word was God."

However, the JTS article, in focusing on what it imagines to be a qualitative construction in the Coptic, does not go far enough in exploring the much more obvious indefinite uses of the Coptic indefinite article at John 1:1c. A more careful and objective research of the use of the Coptic common noun NOYTE ("god") with the Coptic indefinite article in the Sahidic Coptic New Testament would show that there is no grammatical reason to prefer a qualitative reading over an indefinite one in the vast number of its Coptic NT occurrences, including John 1:1c. The only reasons that are presented in the paper for Coptic John 1:1c as being "qualitative" are essentially theological ones, not grammatical ones.

And the weakness of many such dissertations is the attempt to tweak qualitativeness back to a definite reading for this verse.

As Thomas O. Lambdin notes in his Coptic grammar book, Introduction to Sahidic Coptic, “the use of the Coptic articles, both definite and indefinite, corresponds closely to the use of the articles in English, only exceptions to this general correspondence will be noted.” (page 5) Throughout the Sahidic Coptic New Testament, even as reflected in Horner’s English translation, the default and normal rendering of the Coptic indefinite article plus common noun (e.g., NOYTE, “god,” as at Coptic John 1:1c) is “a” something, and only in special circumstances (i.e., other classes of nouns such as abstract nouns or substances like water) would this not be the case.

Whereas a Coptic noun in the predicate can also have descriptive (adjectival) significance, the essential meaning of Coptic John 1:1c would not change. Descriptively, Sahidic Coptic ΝЄΥΝΟΥΤΕ ΠЄ ΠϢΑϪЄ can be translated as “the Word was divine” or “the Word was a divine one.” Denotatively, Sahidic Coptic ΝЄΥΝΟΥΤЄ ΠЄ ΠϢΑϪЄ can be translated as “the Word was a god,” and this is the general sense of Coptic indefinite predicate common nouns.

There are no compelling grammatical reasons to view Coptic John 1:1c as qualitative rather than indefinite.

Whether descriptive or denotative, the Sahidic Coptic common noun with the indefinite article can be rendered into standard English with the English indefinite article: “a divine one; a god.” — Bentley Layton, A Coptic Grammar, 2nd Edition (Harrassowitz Verlag, 2004), page 227.

The authors of the JTS article, from Dallas Theological Seminary, present their conclusions as proposals, not as the end of the matter. Still, in wanting to see the verse as "qualitative," they have ignored a great corpus of verses in the Coptic New Testament, including John 1:1c, that are clearly indefinite in significance.

Certain theologies attempt to blur the Biblical distinction between God Almighty and His Son, upon whom He has conferred dignity and lordship. But that distinction is unalterable in the Scriptures and efforts to manipulate the grammar of either Greek or Copic do not succeed in nullifying that distinction.

See also in the Links at right

"Scholarly Misunderstanding of Sahidic John 1:1"

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Coptic Colossians 1:15 and the "Genitive of Subordination"

Some modern English versions of Colossians 1:15 translate it according to what some scholars call the "genitive of subordination," i.e., "firstborn over all creation. This attempts to remove the firstborn mentioned here from among the creation of God. By this means the verse is used by some to "prove" that the Firstborn, Jesus Christ, is not a part of the creation of God.

However, not all New Testament scholars agree that Colossians 1:15 in the Greek is representative of a "genitive of subordination," but rather, a partitive genitive, "firstborn of all creation," including the firstborn mentioned there as part of the creation.

The Sahidic Coptic translators performed their work with a background of 500 years of Koine Greek history, and at a time when Koine Greek was still a living, spoken language.

So it is instructive to note what the Coptic translators saw when they rendered the Greek text into Coptic. Did they see a "genitive of subordination," or a partitive genitive?

The Sahidic Coptic translators rendered the Greek text's πρωτότοκος πάσης κτίσεως as ΠϢΡΠΜΜΙСЄ ΝСШΝΤ ΝΙΜ.

The use of Ν.СШΝΤ marks this clearly as a partitive construction in the Coptic.

"N- marks...partitive relationship (the relationship of individual to class...)" --Bentley Layton, A Coptic Grammar, p. 164

Therefore, the Sahidic Coptic text of Colossians 1:15 says "the firstborn of all creation." -- George W. Horner, volume 5

"Over" is expressed in Sahidic Coptic with the use of ЄϪΝ-, which is not used at Colossians 1:15 in the Coptic text.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Overview: Sahidic Coptic NT and Textual Criticism and Interpretation

“The Coptic New Testament is among the primary resources for the history of the New Testament text. Important as the Latin and Syriac versions may be, it is of far greater importance to know precisely how the text developed in Egypt.” –The Text of the New Testament, Kurt and Barbara Aland (Eerdmans, 1987), p. 200

“Coptic” means Egyptian, specifically of or relating to Egyptian Christians. There was a sizeable Jewish community in 1st century Egypt, and a school in Alexandria under the famed Jewish philosopher Philo. There were also Egyptians associated with Christianity from its earliest days (Acts 2:10; 18:24), although the date of the origins of the Egyptian Gentile church are less certain. Tradition assigns the founding of that church to the evangelist Mark.

The term “Sahidic Coptic Version” of the New Testament does not refer to the Gnostic gospels found at Nag Hammadi in Egypt in December, 1945 (the “gospels” of Thomas, Philip and Judas). Those “gospels” were also translated into and are primarily extant in Sahidic Coptic. But “Sahidic Coptic Version” of the New Testament means the Egyptian translation of the Greek canonical writings of the New Testament.

The Sahidic Coptic version is represented in the scholarly Nestle-Aland Greek critical text (NA27, comparable to UBS4) by the symbol “sa.” The usefulness of “sa” to New Testament critical scholars is attested in the numerous times it is referenced in Bruce M. Metzger’s A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 2nd Edition ( Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1994) and the Greek critical text Novum Testamentum Graece.

In the English Introduction of the NA27, Novum Testamentum Graece (Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1993) we read: “In the present scholarly manual edition of the Greek New Testament the principal emphasis is on the Latin, Syriac and Coptic versions. These versions were unquestionably made directly from the Greek and at an early period. They are also the most fully studied. And finally, their value as witnesses to the textual tradition of the Greek New Testament, which is our concern at present, has become increasingly clear through decades of debate.” – p. 63

Although numerous papyrus and parchment Greek manuscripts were discovered in the 20th century, “the versions still enjoy an important role in critical decisions because they represent Greek witnesses of an early period.” – ibid, p. 64.

Modern textual scholars group the various early textual witnesses into types or “families.” The Alexandrian text (so named from Alexandria in Egypt) is considered by many to be “the best text and the most faithful in preserving the original…The Sahidic and Bohairic [Coptic] versions frequently contain typically Alexandrian readings” and the Sahidic Coptic version is generally classed as an Alexandrian witness although containing some readings found in other text types as well. – Metzger, pp. 5, 15

Extant Sahidic Coptic Biblical manuscripts date to “about A.D. 300,” indicating that the actual translation of the Christian Bible into Coptic took place some time prior to that. --Bentley Layton, A Coptic Grammar, 2nd Edition (Harrassowitz Verlag, Wiesbaden, 2004), Introduction, p.1. The Coptic Orthodox Church gives a traditional date of about 200 AD for the composition of the Coptic New Testament, and grammarian George W. Horner, who also translated the Coptic New Testament into English from 1911 – 1924, gives a date as early as sometime after 180 A.D. Dates for such early texts cannot be exact, but are based largely on “external and circumstantial factors” such as the style of writing and the place where they were found. – The Text of the Earliest New Testament Greek Manuscripts, edited by Philip W. Comfort and David P. Barrett (Tyndale House, 2001), p. 20

The value of the Sahidic Coptic version lies also in its being a witness or additional witness to several theologically important verses in the New Testament. For example, it supports the deletion of the Pericope Adulterae at John 7:53-8:11. Also, the Coptic reading ΠΑΙ ΝΤΑϤΟΥШΝϨ ЄΒΟΛ ϨΝ ΤСΑΡΞ , “this one who was manifested in the flesh,” supports the reading of the best Greek texts which say “he” or he who” [ὃς ] rather than “God” [Θεὸς ] was manifested in the flesh, at 1Timothy 3:16.

Significantly, the Sahidic Coptic version also sheds light on how certain Greek grammatical constructions were understood by people who spoke Greek and who were part of a living culture of the Koine Greek language, which was true of the Coptic translators. For example, at Titus 2:13, the Coptic translators understood the Greek text’s μεγάλου θεοῦ καὶ σωτῆρος ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ as a reference to two persons rather than one. Instead of a possible “our great God and Savior Jesus Christ,” the Coptic has as ΜΠΝΟϬ ΝΝΟΥΤЄ ΜΝ ΠЄΝСШΤΗΡ ΠЄΧΡΙСΤΟС ΙΗСΟΥС i.e., "the great God, and our Savior Jesus Christ"

Perhaps a most outstanding example of this aid to interpretation, as understood by these early Christian translators, is found at John 1:1c, the meaning of which has filled a plethora of volumes over many centuries.

Unlike the other two ancient textual witnesses, the Latin and Syriac texts, the Sahidic Coptic version was composed in a language that has both the definite and indefinite grammatical articles. The Coptic usage of the articles is similar to English, varying with respect to abstract nouns. But there are no abstract nouns at John 1:1c, only common nouns, so this difference between the Coptic usage of the articles and the English use does not apply to this verse.

The Coptic form of John 1:1c does not support a definite reading for καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος , such as “the Word was God.” The Coptic translators could have written ΝЄ ΠΝΟΥΤΕ ΠЄ ΠϢΑϪЄ, “the Word was God,” if that is what their understanding of living Koine Greek dictated. But they did not write that. Rather, they translated the Greek of John 1:1c to say ΝЄΥΝΟΥΤЄ ΠЄ ΠϢΑϪЄ, i.e. “the Word was a god.”

Whereas a Coptic noun in the predicate can also have descriptive (adjectival) significance, the essential meaning of Coptic John 1:1c would not change. Descriptively, Sahidic Coptic ΝЄΥΝΟΥΤΕ ΠЄ ΠϢΑϪЄ can be translated as "the Word was divine" or "the Word was a divine one." Denotatively, Sahidic Coptic ΝЄΥΝΟΥΤЄ ΠЄ ΠϢΑϪЄ can be translated as "the Word was a god," and this is the general sense of Coptic predicate common nouns.

Note that whether descriptive or denotative, the Sahidic Coptic common noun with the indefinite article can be rendered into standard English with the English indefinite article: "a divine one; a god." -- Bentley Layton, A Coptic Grammar, 2nd Edition (Harrassowitz Verlag, 2004), page 227.

Therefore, whether for textual criticism or textual interpretation, the Sahidic Coptic version is of significant value to both students and scholars of the Bible.