Saturday, July 30, 2016

John 1:1c and the Deity of Christ

Regarding Jn 1:1c, Jehovah's Witnesses and Trinitarians both say that the Logos was deity in a qualitative sense (i.e., he was "divine"):

Careful translators recognize that the articular construction of the noun points to an identity, a personality, whereas a singular anarthrous predicate noun preceding the verb points to a quality about someone. Therefore, John’s statement that the Word or Logos was “a god” or “divine” or “godlike” does not mean that he was the God with whom he was. It merely expresses a certain quality about the Word, or Logos, but it does not identify him as one and the same as God himself (Rbi8, 1579).

The 10/15/93 WT (pp. 27-28) clarifies this statement even more:

The New World Translation, correctly viewing the word “God” as indefinite, as well as bringing out the qualitative aspect indicated by the Greek structure, uses the indefinite article in English: “The Word was a god.”

So Witnesses say QEOS in John 1:1c has both indefinite and qualitative semantic force: the Word is a god or divine being. One difference, however, is that Witnesses employ the adnominal "divine" in its weaker sense, whereas Trinitarians utilize "divine" with a stronger sense or meaning, so that it only applies to God (compare the AT at 1:1c). Professor Dale Tuggy helpfully has made distinctions between the strong and weak sense of "divine" in his work on the Trinity doctrine. I highly recommend his analyses.

Another difference is that while Trinitarians like Richard A. Young or Daniel B. Wallace are inclined to view QEOS in Jn 1:1c as a "monadic" or one-of-a-kind noun, Jehovah's Witnesses evidently believe QEOS is a count noun since we encounter the plural QEOI in both the LXX and NT with no indication that the writers in these particular instances are using the nominal QEOS pejoratively (Ps 8:4-5).

Now it's a well-known fact that Trinitarians make the afirmation, "Jesus is God." But one nagging logical difficulty that I think attends the Trinitarian proposition "Jesus is God" is that Trinitarians seem forced to view the Father, Son and Holy Spirit as "relatively identical" with the Godhead (i.e., God). Yet those who study identity in a non-theological context have pointed out that "relative identity" appears to be a sketchy concept. A logician named Peter Geach developed a sophisticated argument for relative identity that Richard Cartwright and other logicians aptly tried to refute, and did refute IMO.

Some elementary principles of logic are that A = A, identity relations are transitive, and identity is absolute/necessary:

(1) Cicero is Tully.
(2) Water is H20.
(3) Heat is the motion of molecules/atoms.
(4) Hesperus is Phosphorus.
(5) 2 + 2 = 4.

Leibniz' law also comes into play here and says that if X and Y commonly exemplify all properties, then X and Y are identical. The converse of this statement is that if X and Y are identical, then X and Y commonly exemplify all properties. That is why Cicero (X) is said to be identical with Y (Tully), KAI TO LOIPON. 2 + 2 = 4 is also a statement of identity.

But Trinitarians are saying none of the above when they assert that "Jesus is God." Rather, the proposition "Jesus is God" only claims that the Son of God is relatively identical with the Godhead, according to Geach and others. The Trinitarian proposition is thus akin to the assertions: "Aristotle is rational" or "Socrates is wise."


Edgar Foster said...

For the record and purposes of clarification, I have put "Christ" in the blog title post rather than "Logos/Word" because Witnesses and Trinitarians agree that John is discussing the preexistent Christ, who is the Logos. Both camps also share common ground in belieiving that the Christ (Word/Logos) is a person. But we diverge in our understanding of the preverbal anarthrous PN of Jn 1:1c and we also disagree about the terminology "divine" in this case. My post was written to primarily address these issues.

With respect to Jn 1:14, even if one understands the Logos to be an "it" instead of a "he," it's possible to still render 1:1c as "God" rather than "a god." However, these questions go outside the purview of this post.



Alethinon61 said...

Nice post, Edgar. My only question to those who think that QEOS is "qualitative" at John 1:1c, is this: On what basis do you infer "qualitativeness" when the entire context is developing the LOGOS's role in functional categories?

I fear that the NWT translators have unwittingly and uncritically embraced the same highly problematic, un-vetted proposals that have confused matters rather than clarify them for several generations now.


Edgar Foster said...

Thanks, Kaz. Always like your input. I sometimes feel like theologians/scholars/believers have said all that needs to be said about 1:1c. You bring up the functional/ontological issue, and it's a good consideration to have in mind. However, I'm not sure how we'll ever reach near unanimous consent on which category is being used (maybe both?) in the Johannine Prologue. I somewhat agree with the qualitative explanation, but more work needs to be done in order to establish Harner's or NWT's position.

Alethinon61 said...

Thanks, Edgar. BTW, I meant to say that the LOGOS is being developed in functional and relational categories in the Prologue, not just functional.

I guess I'd also say that while it's logically possible that a third category is being hinted at (of course), there must be some reason for assuming that such is the case. What is that reason? Because the noun occurs before the verb? That proposition appears to be unfounded.

I've looked at every pre-verbal PN I could find in John's Gospel, and in no case does the placement of noun in relation to the verb change the meaning of the noun. In fact, one of the very first things I learned when I started to study Greek was how flexible it is in terms of word order. That's part of Greek 101. I see no reason to set aside that fundamental just so that orthodox believers can avoid perceived problems with respect to one solitary verse!

We all have presuppositions, and I can be mistaken just as easily as anyone else can, but it seems pretty clear to me that the 'Q Hypothesis' vis a vis bounded nouns was invented, whether wittingly or unwittingly, to solve the very problem that Harner and Dixon discussed. I'm not saying that these folks deliberately set out to mislead anyone, but because the controlling presupposition for them was the notion that John 1:1c *must* be saying something that harmonizes with Trinitarianism, and because they perceived that either a definite or an indefinite QEOS would not be in harmony with that presupposition, they came to sincerely believe that QEOS must be something other than a definite or an indefinite noun, there. Their beliefs motivated them to "perceive" (=invent) a linguistic phenomenon out of thin air. Why should we follow where their erroneous presupposition forced them to go?

Incidentally, I referenced a minimum of 5 fundamental problems with the 'Q Hypothesis', here:

As I said in the conclusion of that post, I wouldn't mind if someone were to prove me wrong about the 'Q Hypothesis', as this would merely expand the possibilities by one, but I won't hold my breath;-) The hypothesis was born from presupposition, not from sound linguistic evidence or methodology. Boldly stated assertions from DTS students and faculty don't change that.


Edgar Foster said...

Hi Kaz,

I'm not sure when scholars first began to propose the qualitative idea. Some works I've read seem to argue that the qualities of the subject could be emphasized by certain syntactical constructions, but I think Harner went further.

I'll check out your blog, and I would also like to revisit this subject in the near future. For the record, my position is that qualitativeness could be emphasized by fronting the anarthrous PN (for example), but I'm not backing the Q only semantic force idea ("the Q Hypothesis).

Lastly, what do you think of Slaten's work on qualitative nouns in Paul?

Keefa Ben Yahchanan said...

Hi Dr. Foster

I recognize the worth and quality of the information on your blog and I am benefiting greatly from it. What preponderance does the Sahidic Coptic have in determining how Jn 1:1 c would have been understood in antiquity? Daniel Wallace seems to take the position that in order for the Arian position to validate the word order of Jn 1:1 c should have been:

I have just started learning Greek, but rumor has it that Greek does not depend on word order. So Mr. Wallace statement is probably inaccurate.

Edgar Foster said...

Hi Pierre,

To be honest, the Sahidic Coptic rendering of John 1:1c hardly ever comes into play when the verse is discussed/analyzed. I know you're familiar with the article by Wright (and a fellow-author, I believe) that deals with the issue. But that article--from what I remmeber--doesn't favor an Arian understanding of 1:1c.

Greek does have patterns, and while the function of Greek word order is not exactly like English due to its inflected nature and other factors, we still cannot totally disregard word order either. However, it's sketchy to claim that a writer must have used a certain word order to communicate idea X or Y. That's simply not true.

One of the latest articles about John 1:1 does not represent my views/beliefs by any means. Yet you might benefit from this piece. See

Best wishes,


Edgar Foster said...

Don't know if you've seen this, Pierre.



Alethinon61 said...

Hi Keefa,

IMO, Wallace is definitely inaccurate in asserting (following Harner) that QEOS would have occurred after the verb had an indefinite sense had been intended. That's utter nonsense, and shows just how often fallacies can take on the aura of truth when enough people parrot them. Colwell was fallaciously parroted for generations by those who favored a definite QEOS, and now Harner is fallaciously parroted by those who favor a qualitative QEOS. Yet it appears that there's literally nothing compelling to make us think the assertion vis a vis word order is grounded in anything but orthodox imagination.

In reality, over half of the anarthrous pre-verbal predicate nominatives in John are clearly indefinite nouns. Take a look at John 10:1, where there's no difference between how KLEPTHS (=thief) is handled, which occurs before the verb, and LhiSTHS (=robber) is handled, which occurs after the verb. As far as I can tell, the most that may sometimes be achieved by fronting is a subtle shift in emphasis, like that which is achieved in English by rearranging a sentence from the active to the passive voice (similar function, similar result). Such rearrangements don't cause any of the words to change meaning, but they do sometimes help authors subtly bring something important into focus.

If you're interested, check out my series at the links below that address this very question. I don't claim to be an expert or scholar, but, frankly, I don't think one has to be in order to figure out what's behind the 'Q Hypothesis' (i.e. theology).


Alethinon61 said...

Hi Edgar,

FYI, I responded to your question about Mr. Slaten the other day, but haven't seen the comment get posted. Did it get dumped in your spam folder?


Edgar Foster said...


Sorry, but I could not find your reply in my email box or in the blog spam folder. Not sure what happened.

Alethinon61 said...

Urrgg, I hate when that happens! I'll submit it again, as soon as I have time to recreate it. I just didn't want you to think that I was ignoring your question, as I responded directly to it.