[B-Greek] Can QEOS be used in apposition to MONOGENHS in John1:18-revised
yancywsmith at sbcglobal.net
Thu Nov 5 16:18:23 EST 2009
I note that the Hebrew word sometimes translated μονογενής MONOGENHS in Hebrew, יחיד, YACHID, presents difficulties for the LXX. For example, Judges 11:34, the case of Jephthah's ill-fated daughter. In the LXX she is said to be καὶ αὕτη μονογενὴς αὐτῷ ἀγαπητή, καὶ οὐκ ἔστιν αὐτῷ πλὴν αὐτῆς υἱὸς ἢ θυγάτηρ, KAI AUTH MONOGENHS AUTWi AGAPHTH, KAI OUK ESTIN AUTWi PLHN AUTHS hUIOS H QUGATHR.
It is right to wonder to what extent the author of GJohn 1 was thinking with Hebrew or Syriac-Aramaic, or whether the Greek text represents an over-literal translation of a Semitic original text. Matthew Black gives a nod to Burney's elegant solution to the problem of this text (Aramaic Approach, 11). He suggests that an Aramaic YeCHiDh 'eLaHa "the only begotten of God" was translated MONOGENHS QEOS. And, of course, that could also be "only begotten, beloved one" of God this would make a good link with the bit about being in the KOLPON of the Father.
GJohn 1:18 is not only text that gives a defective or confusing sense in Greek because of interference from Semitic background. But I am intrigued by one of Rolf's comments.
I would like to stress that my words above are strictly linguistic and not theological. As translation theory requires, I reject any mystical element, and take the constructions of
1:1 and 1:18 in the simple and normal linguistic way that is so typical for John.
YWS: I have my doubts about a "strictly linguistic" and non theological reading of a highly theological and somewhat mystical text--the Gospel of John. And within this Gospel, the prologue!
Perhaps we should also remember that GJohn is a highly polemical text in which disciples are also being schooled in crafting, within first century Judasims, non-standard messages about Jesus in a highly volatile social situation. Here in John 1:18 "mistranslation" may be a stealthy way to hedge the statement. In other words, GJohn may be using a cleverness of expression common in Greco-Roman rhetoric, figured expression with built in plausible deniability called EMFASIS, used frequently in moments in which the speaker must speak in a stealthy way. This way of constantly, carefully parsing one's words to simultaneously hide and reveal meaning was a characteristic of Jesus and is a characteristic of oppressed peoples in general, as seen in James Scott, Domination and the Arts of Resistance. Scott's work is used to great effect by Warren Carter in John and Empire: Initial Explorations.
There is a good case to be made for EMFASIS in John 1:18, so I wonder what the utility of a straightforward linguistic, non-theological readings would be or whether it is even possible when discussing a theological text.
Further, it seems that a linguistic reading would simply be a reading that lists possible ways of understanding the code of the text, given the fact that the text might have differing meanings in differing contexts. How would a linguistic reading adjudicate the most likely reading (that is, argue for probability) without regard to pragmatics or social context, which includes theological presuppositions?
From: b-greek-bounces at lists.ibiblio.org [mailto:b-greek-bounces at lists.ibiblio.org] On Behalf Of Rolf Furuli
Sent: Thursday, November 05, 2009 7:32 AM
To: b-greek at lists.ibiblio.org
Subject: Re: [B-Greek] Can QEOS be used in apposition to MONOGENHS in John1:18-revised
There are several fine observations in your post.
Particularly important is it to compare John 1:1
and 1:18. I do not think Ogden's triangle, with
"sign," "meaning," and "reference" at the corners
has any relevance to this discussion. so you do
not miss anything here. First we need textual
criticism: Is QEOS the best rendering? Then we
need to rely on lexicon, grammar and syntax.
I would like to bring two quotes, which in my
opinion illuminate the real issue.
F. Büchel (TDNT 4, p. 740, n 14 says that: "
(MONOGENHS QEOS) can only mean 'only-begotten
god'; to render 'an only-begotten, one who is
God', is an exegetical invention. It can hardly
be the credit of John, who is distinguished by
monumental simplicity of expression."
J. de Waard and E. Nida "From One Language to
Another", p. 33 when discussing bias in
translation says: "Apparently, it takes a special
brand of intellectual honesty to let the Bible
say things which seemingly contradict one's own
The real problem is that theology is so heavily
involved both in the translation of John 1:1 and
1:18. If that was not the case, the situation
would be very simple:
In 1:1 there is one individual who is "God" (hO
QEOS) and another who is "with" hO QEOS, who is
QEOS "a god" (alternatively "divine"). It is
simple logic that one individual who is together
with another individual is not identical with
this other individual-such logic is required by
In 1:18 we again meet God, who is also called
"the father." Then there is another individual
who is "in the bosom position with the father,"
and this other individual is called MONOGENHS
QEOS. Again this other individual (who is the
same one who is "with" God in 1:1) cannot be
identical with the father. I would say that in a
non-theological context every translator would
take MONOGENHS as an adjective qualifying the
following substantive. Ehrmann certainly has a
point when he says that when an adjective
precedes a substantive in the same gender, number
and case, the adjective qualifies the
substantive. In 1:18, the fact that MONOGENHS
QEOS has a particular relationship with the
Father is an additional argument in favor of
If we do not introduce an element of mysticism,
which translators never should do, and we take
the words in the normal lexical sense and
according to normal rules of grammar and syntax,
1:18 tells us that there is one who is God and
there is another who is god with qualification,
namely, "a/the unique god." The same distinction
is found in 1:1 between God and another who is
god in a generic sense, perhaps including a
qualitative flavor, namely, "a god".
I would like to stress that my words above are
strictly linguistic and not theological. As
translation theory requires, I reject any
mystical element, and take the constructions of
1:1 and 1:18 in the simple and normal linguistic
way that is so typical for John. Further do I
reject any arguments that are based on
consequence, which go like this: "But if we
translate in this way the consequence is
polytheism, or henotheism or..." Such arguments
are theological. They and are outside of the
realm of understanding the Greek text and
translate it, and they are irrelevant in this
discussion. Our theology should be based on the
text and not the text on our theology. In some
instances "a special brand of intellectual
honesty" is highly required.
A few words about Wallace: He is a fine
grammarian, but sometimes his conclusions are
biased, because they are more theological than
linguistic. Particularly in contexts with
important theological implications, we should be
cautions when we read his grammar.
University of Oslo
>----- Original Message -----
>From: "Blue Meeksbay" <bluemeeksbay at yahoo.com>
>To: "Mark Lightman" <lightmanmark at yahoo.com>
>Cc: <b-greek at lists.ibiblio.org>
>Sent: 4. november 2009 23:18
>Subject: Re: [B-Greek] Can QEOS be used in apposition to MONOGENHS in
>Your way of looking at this text has made me
>think of it from a new perspective.
>We talked about Hebrew chiasms recently. Related to this is the common Hebrew
>"inclusio" or in a more popular term, the sandwich structure. This means that
>the beginning and end of a section has striking
>parallelisms in both words used
>and topic. When we are dealing with John 1:18 this is clearly the end of a
>section beginning with 1:1. The writer of John's
>Gospel was apparently a Jew who
>was still stooped in his mother tongue thought
>patterns while writing in Greek,
>similar to some of us who use English as a second language.
>Can we gain anything from comparing the first and last verse of the section?
>1a ?ÉÀ ?É¦É'? ?ÉÀ ? ÉŠ?É¡ÉÕV, EN ARCH HN hO LOGOS
>1b É»Éø? ? ÉŠ?É¡ÉÕV ?ÉÀ ¼É¦?V É-?ÉÀ ÉÉˆ?ÉÀ, KAI hO LOGOS HN PROS TON QEON
>1c É»Éø? ÉÉˆ?V ?ÉÀ ? ÉŠ?É¡ÉÕV. KAI QEOS HN hO LOGOS
>18a ÉÉˆ?ÉÀ ÉÕ?É¬Éˆ?V ??É¦ÉøÉ»ÉˆÉÀ ¼?¼ÉÕÉ-ÉˆØ
>QEON OUDEIS hEWRAKEN PWPOTE
>18b É ÉÕÉÀÉÕÉ¡ÉˆÉÀ?V ÉÉˆ?V ...?É»Éˆ?ÉÀÉÕV
>?ÉÃÉ‰É¡?É-ÉøÉ-ÉÕ MONOGENHS QEOS... EKEINOS
>18b' ? ?ÉÀ Éˆ?V É-?ÉÀ É»?ÉŠ¼ÉÕÉÀ É-ÉÕ?
>¼ÉøÉ-É¦?V hO WN EIS TON KOLPON TOU PATROS
>Partly from the usage in John 1:14, 3:16,18, I take MONOGENHS throughout to
>refer to Jesus just as LOGOS in v. 1 refers to
>Jesus. There is similarity of 1b
>and 18b'. Being together with and close to God
>the Father is equivalent to being
>in the bosom of the Father.
>LOGOS has a certain affinity to EXHGHSATO. In the "beginning" God and
>LOGOS/MONOGENHS were present before humanity existed, and even later no human
>has actually seen God the Father (18a). But the
>Father sent LOGOS/hUIOS AUTOU in
>order that LOGOS should reveal or explain (EXHGEOMAI) the Father.
>The natural way of reading (?) É ÉÕÉÀÉÕÉ¡ÉˆÉÀ?V
>ÉÉˆ?V (hO) MONOGENHS QEOS is as you have
>said the "unique/only-begotten God". The problem
>I have had with this reading is
>that we then have to take QEON in 18a as
>referring to God the Father and QEOS in
>18b as referring to God the Son/MONOGENHS.
>However, I have exactly the same problem in
>verse 1. TON QEON at the end of 1b
>refers to God the Father, but QEOS in 1c refers to God the Son. This seems an
>abrupt shift to me in my Western thinking
>pattern, but it may not have been such
>an abrupt shift to the writer (or readers) of
>John's gospel. After all, QEOS is
>a very broad word in Greek with many possible
>references. Why not read it as if
>John is calling Jesus MONOGENHS QEOS in v. 18?
>Maybe that is what some of the English versions
>meant to communicate in a rather
>awkward and explanatory way? For instance, NLT
>says: But the unique One, who is
>With this understanding, (hO) MONOGENHS QEOS has the same referent as (hO)
>MONOGENHS hUIOS and the two possible texts give essentially the same meaning,
>since both expressions refer to Jesus and QEOS
>here does not refer to the Father
>God. Is my problem that I did not adequately distinguish between sense and
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