Monday, March 12, 2012

PROS in John 1:1b and Divine Personhood

Knowing that PROS implies "being with" or "toward" or even in proximate communion with someone else, certain theologians have tried to explain Jn 1:1b-c by resorting to a priori categories of person and substance. However, John McKenzie has pointed out that John did not differentiate between the divine substance and divine Persons who are identical with the divine substance. John simply used QEOS to describe the Being he identified as the only true God (John 17:3). This Being is distinct from the man who was called Jesus Christ on earth, and He is also set apart from the LOGOS who was with the only true God before the world was (John 17:5).

The problem that has not been satisfactorily addressed by Trinitarian theology accordingly involves in what sense the Son and Spirit are Persons. To be sure, theologians have endeavored to cut the Gordian knot of this troublesome antinomy. Nevertheless, not one thinker has satisfactorily explained how Persons who are not Persons in the Cartesian sense (COGITO ERGO SUM) can subsist with (PROS) one another
and enjoy meaningful communion or love one another.

G. R. B. Murray says that PROS TON QEON (Jn 1:1b) means: "in the presence of God" or "in the fellowship of God." He probably is suggesting that God the Son communed with God the Father. B.M Newman and E.A. Nida reject the "in the presence of God" understanding for this construction and opt for the notion of "a kind of interactive reciprocality between the Word and God."

None of these explanations make sense to me within the context of a non-social Trinity doctrine. Of course, if one posits a social Trinity, then tritheism must be avoided or the idea that there are three "I thinks" within God. Trinitarians, please don't multiply antinomies beyond necessity. With apologies to Ockham!



aservantofJehovah said...

I've noticed that in many debates about this passage there is a lot of toing and froing about whether "Theos" is to be understood as a mass noun or a count noun.
Does it in your opinion matter whether theos is a mass noun or a count noun in John1:1?

Edgar Foster said...

I don't know if you've ever read Hartley's discussion about John 1:1, but reading that study might show why the distinction is important in Trinitarian and non-Trinitarian dialogues. The passage will be understood much differently if one construes Theos as a mass noun. So I would say that the distinction matters. But there are other related disagreements as well. For instance, the semantic force of the predicate nominative construction (i.e. whether it's qualitative, indefinite, etc). The mass and count noun issue affects the semantic force question also.

aservantofJehovah said...

Well I guess what I really wanted to know is does the distinction matter in a way that necessarily advances the trinitarian argument.
Aren't trinitarians starting the narrative in middle,don't they first have to demonstrate that the bible writers make the distinction between person and being that they do,before the count/mass noun distinction becomes relevant to their argument.

Edgar Foster said...

If the trinitarians are correct, then the mass/count distinction would seem to advance their argument, IMO. But I agree that the person/being (nature) distinction should be proved, although that will probably never happen. It is either assumed that John is working with a person/being distinction by most trinitarians or they believe that the data of scripture and reason (along with ancient culture) lend themselves to the concept of a person/being distinction.

Anonymous said...

The count/mass noun distinction, which, in the context of this discussion is really a question about whether QEOS is "qualitative" (presuppositionally defined) at John 1:1c, is important to some Trinitarians because they can't accept what they assume a definite or an indefinite sense of QEOS at 1:1c would supposedly suggest. This was explicitly stated by one of the proponents of the theory of the qualitative count noun, Paul Dixon, who wrote the following:

"The importance of this theses is clearly seen in the above example (John 1:1) where the doctrines of the deity of Christ and the Trinity are at stake. For, if the Word was 'a god,' then by implication there are other gods of which Jesus is one. On the other hand, if QEOS is just as definite as the articular construction following the verb because, 'the dropping of the simply a matter of word order,' then the doctrine of the Trinity is denied.'"
(The Significance of the Anarthrous Predicate Nominative in John), p. 2

So, clearly, in Dixon's mind, his theology *required* the existence of the qualitative count noun, and I'm sure he's convinced that his research produced what the doctor ordered.

One of the problems that will likely continue to plague this discussion is the lack of critical review by qualified piers. In the sciences, when someone promotes a theses, it has to go through pier review, and, after such critical review, analysis, testing, interaction with counterarguments, etc, the thesis may gain a following and become widely accepted. However, this never happened with Dixon's study, or Harner's, or even Colwell's, for that matter. In Colwell's case, many misunderstood and misapplied the rule that now bears his name, or, more tragically, never bothered to read it at all but merely heard that it supported the theologically preferred translation of the subject text and so referenced it in their writings as supporting evidence.

Unfortunately, this isn't likely to change anytime soon. It is unlikely that professionals in the linguistic sciences whose research is conducted without overriding theological presuppositions will have any interest in the specific, odd proposals of Harner et al. Unbiased, professional linguists would likely see the work of Harner and Dixon for what I think it really is: Theologically motivated silliness.