John 1:1, Philo and the Coptic Translations

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” I know this is by far the most common translation of John 1:1 but recently I have had a lot of trouble with it.

As some of you may know, Jehovah Witnesses translate this in the NWT," In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god." This is done because the Word was God is lacking the definite article in the Greek.

JWs say Jesus is a god in the sense that he was given divine authority with god in a similar (but obviously much greater) sense that the judges in Psalm 82 (which Jesus defends himself with when accused of blasphemy, John 10:35), Moses in Exodus 7:1, and Satan in 2 Corinthians 4:4. So it would appear that if one is given or allowed to have divine authority/power/rulership by God, they can rightfully be called God without the definite article, which in English is often translated god (when it is not applied to the Father).

Apparently a god, God, or divine are all translations consistent with Greek grammar in John 1:1 where it says the Word was God. Then I stumbled upon some of this material, which I was wondering if somebody could explain.

As many of you also may know, Word in John 1 is Logos in Greek which was a philosophical term carrying a lot of meaning in biblical times. John and Paul both use the terminology of Philo (hellenized Jewish philosopher) to describe the Logos/Son in the Bible (firstborn of creation, the thing God created everything through, God revealing himself to his creation, the sustainer of all things).

Check out page 169 of this link…

Here, Philo says that the logos can be called God in the sense that divine authorities like angels and men can be called God, but he is inferior to the True God. He distinguishes them by calling the logos God (like angels and men) and calling the Father the God. Why would John use this culturally familiar concept to describe the Son without 100% clarifying that the Son is not inferior to the Father by using the definite article? Especially if people at the time described the logos as inferior to God by not using the definite article in the Greek…

I had no way to explain this, and then to make things worse I stumbled across this…
If you go to this link and scroll to the post, posted on Wednesday, December 23, 2009, it is called “In Coptic, the Choice of Article IS Significant”
Unlike the Greek, the Coptic language possessed an indefinite article. They translated it “a god.” This is a 3rd century translation and this translation was held by philosopher/early Christian writer Origen.

So if anybody could ease my mind in regards to John 1:1 by explaining to me how I should take all of the above info please help. I would greatly appreciate it as I was brought up with similar views to JW’s in regards to Jesus being God’s first creation and him being inferior to his Father but have been seriously considering converting to the Catholic faith. Please be patient with me and any help would be appreciated.

God Bless

Its quite a stretch to make an Arian claim, unless a jehovah witness or muslim is attempting to prove their position retroactively. The important aspect to remember is that the Christology of the Coptic Orthodox and Coptic Catholic Churches are entirely orthodox and not Arian, despite these claims made by these speculators/proselytizers.
The language was still in flux at this time, see the following:

The early Fathers of the Egyptian Church, such as Anthony the Great, Pachomius the Great, Macarius of Egypt and Athanasius of Alexandria, who otherwise usually wrote in Greek, addressed some of their works to the Egyptian monks in Egyptian. The Egyptian language, now written in the Coptic alphabet, flourished in the second and third centuries. However, it was not until Shenoute that Coptic became a fully standardized literary language based on the Sahidic dialect. Shenouda’s native Egyptian tongue and knowledge of Greek and rhetoric gave him the necessary tools to elevate Coptic, in content and style, to a literary height nearly equal to the position of the Egyptian language in Ancient Egypt.

Jehovah Witnesses don’t want to kneel for Jesus and do not accept his role. They also do not believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ.

John 1:1 “the Word was God”

John 6:63 “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit”

John 4:24 “God is spirit”

Whenever you study any Indo-European language, you’re going to have to deal with articles that don’t work the same way as they do in English. Why? Because articles are “new” language features, and therefore they work different ways wherever they are found.

For example, Latin didn’t really use definite articles (like “the”), and neither does Russian today. Yet a lot of languages descended from Latin use indefinite articles out the wahoo. You get things like definite articles implying ownership or belonging. You get all kinds of weirdness.

You also don’t have to have indefinite articles, as they are also “new.” So most languages tend to play with them. English is an exception, probably because we don’t make as much use of number and gender infixes in nouns.

Here’s what a webpage about NT Greek articles has to say about them:

"The Greek article was originally a weak demonstrative pronoun / adjective (i.e., a weaker form of “this,” “that,” “these,” “those”). It pointed to someone or something, in a subtle way that was still clear and obvious to the listener or reader. It may have been used as a pronoun, as a sort of short and abbreviated reference to someone or something already known through the context of what was being said or written, so the whole name of the person or thing did not need to be repeated in full (e.g., “This is what we are talking about.”). Or it may have pointed to a noun in order to indicate that the noun was now present or previously mentioned (e.g., “That man is the one.”).

"Thus, the Greek article originally served a completely different function than the English definite article “the.” Then the Greek article developed many uses which are far more closely related to its original Greek function than to the functions of the English definite article. The Greek article definitely is not just an equivalent to the English definite article “the.” Nor is the absence of the Greek article simply an equivalent to the English indefinite article (“a” or “an”)."

There’s a ton more about it on the webpage.

Anyway, the other thing to know about Indo-European languages is that, even when they use definite articles, they pretty much always have the power to drop them. Dropping a definite article has the effect of making a noun into a name, or at least a name for a thing. It is also more poetic, in many cases; and sometimes, it’s just not needed or makes it sound more definite, rather than less.

This other page points out that the very same verse says, “In beginning en arche] was the Word.” Yet nobody, not even the JW translation, translates that as “in beginning” or “in a beginning.”

Why? Because they know perfectly well that John’s talking about THE beginning, Genesis Chapter 1. There’s only one beginning, in that context, just like there’s only one God, as far as John and other believing Jews are concerned. Also, you have a situation where “God” can be used as one of His Names, not just as a generic noun.

But just to cement things, there’s an interesting discussion of a Greek grammatical feature called the “predicative nominative.” You will find this in poetic usage in a lot of languages. It explains some stuff about the word order used in translating John 1:1 into English, and why they can’t just use the Greek word order.

If you go further down the page, there are more examples of similar grammar usage, like saying “the LORD” without an article. Nobody translates that as “a lord,” as far as I know, in any of the situations where we know it’s being used as the Name.

There’s also a discussion of why no Greek article is used for “love” in “God is love.” You could talk about “a love” in minor things, like Bob having a love for that girl he just met and will never see again. But love itself doesn’t need an article, either definite or indefinite.

Word order provides important, contextual clues to translation in Greek. Theos is first in the phrase, and this means that the author is putting emphasis on it. Had logos been first and theos last, putting an indefinite article in translation may be appropriate and we could all be polytheistic. If a definite article was used, then perhaps we should all be modalists and not Trinitarian. But putting theos first without the definite article is consistent with Trinitarian belief. At the very least, arguments that an indefinite article is more appropriate or at least 50-50 with no article are very weak.

Koine greek does not use the article the same way we do. Heck, they used it in front of names, even (The Jesus said this, The Jesus went there . . .) and if I remember right could even function a little as a pronoun.

Pay no attention to the Arian behind the curtain! The Church - the one which Christ founded on Peter - is the only authentic interpreter of scripture. Period. Dismiss all others, as there are forces in the spiritual realm which greatly desire that we lose our faith. JWs have fallen for the devil’s trick of denying Christ’s divinity. Even worse, they deny the existence of hell.

Do not look away from the true Christian faith - rather look deeper into it.

I have in my library a good sized book the deals specifically with that one verse, John 1:1, cover to cover. Hard to believe someone could write that much about one verse! The book is very thorough in looking at all possible aspects of how to translate that verse correctly in Greek. Your first sentence above though, is the key, and basically agrees with the conclusion in that book.

here is a great explanation that helped me to understand years ago…

We know that “the Word” is the subject because it has the definite article, and we translate it accordingly: “and the Word was God.” Two questions, both of them of theological import, should come to mind: 1) Why was θεὸς (Theos) thrown forward? And 2) why does it lack the article? In brief, its emphatic position stresses its essence or quality: “What God was, the Word was” is how one translation brings out this force. Its lack of a definite article keeps us from identifying the person of the Word (Jesus Christ) with the person of “God” (the Father). That is to say, the word order tells us that Jesus Christ has all the divine attributes that the Father has; lack of the article tells us that Jesus Christ is not the Father. John’s wording here is beautifully compact! It is, in fact, one of the most elegantly terse theological statements one could ever find. As Martin Luther said, the lack of an article is against Sabellianism; the word order is against Arianism.

To state it another way, look at how the different Greek constructions would be rendered:

καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν ὁ θεὸς “and the Word was the God” (ie, the Father, Sabellianism)

καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν θεὸς “and the Word was a god” (Arianism)

καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος “and the Word was God” (Orthodoxy)

Jesus Christ is God and has all the attributes that the Father has. But He is not the first person of the Trinity. All this is concisely affirmed in καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος.

Daniel Wallace quoted in William D. Mounce, Basics of Biblical Greek, Zondervan, 1993, p. 28-9.

Do you still have a site where you can search for ECF commentary based on Scripture verse? The link in your sig is down btw. :o

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