[B-Greek] Sahidic Coptic Version (was "Another example of a qualitative Q...
hholmyard at ont.com
Mon Jul 10 21:54:34 EDT 2006
>But I thought that an indefinite article in Coptic was used with both with abstract nouns and nouns of substance. I'm no expert but I thought that the indefinite article does not always denote class membership. It can also used to attribute qualities or characteristics.
HH: Yes, you're right. Here, again, are a few comments in response to
This reference is to an English translation of John 1:1c in the Coptic
dialect known as Sahidic. One feature of Sahidic that makes it
interesting in terms of understanding the meaning of the underlying
Greek is that it has both an indefinite and definite article. It is
thus closer to English than Greek in this regard. The quotation from
Mr. Wells is from a section of his paper called "Note on Christology in
the Coptic Versions of John." Though he does not say directly, he
implies that the use of the indefinite article in the Sahidic
translation indicates that the Coptic translator understood the
anarthrous theos in his Greek original of John 1:1c to be indefinite
(that is, "a god").
If an early translator (third Century or earlier) understood John to
have written "and the Word was a god," this would appear to be evidence
in favor of the NWT's rendering. But, as we shall see, appearances can
The full citation of Horner's Coptic New Testament is as follows:
The Coptic Version of the New Testament in the Southern Dialect
otherwise called Sahidic and Thebaic, 4 Volumes (Oxford, 1911).
Horner's English translation of John 1:1c is as follows:
"...and [a] God was the Word."
Horner's critical apparatus defines the use of square brackets as
follows: "Square brackets imply words used by the Coptic and not
required by the English" (p. 376).
How can Horner say that the indefinite article, while present in the
Sahidic original, is not required in English?
The answer lies in the usage of the Sahidic indefinite article itself.
We may first note that, unlike English, the indefinite article is used
in Sahidic with abstract nouns and nouns of substance (Walters, CC, An
Elementary Coptic Grammar of the Sahidic Dialect, p. 12). An example
of this usage may be found in John 1:16, which Horner translates:
Because out of fulness we all of us took [a] life and [a] grace in place
of [a] grace.
More importantly, the indefinite article does not always denote class
membership. It can also used to attribute qualities or characteristics
(what in Greek grammars is called a "qualitative usage" [e.g.,
Wallace, p. 244]):
one specimen of the lexical class of ... ;
one specimen having the quality of the lexical class of ... (Layton,
Bentley, A Coptic Grammar With Chrestomathy and Glossary - Sahidic
Dialect, 2nd edition, p. 43, "..." in original).
Dr. Layton explains further:
The indef. article is part of the Coptic syntactic pattern. This
pattern predicates either a quality (we'd omit the English article in
English: "is divine") or an entity ("is a god"); the reader decides
which reading to give it. The Coptic pattern does NOT predicate
equivalence with the proper name "God"; in Coptic, God is always
without exception supplied with the def. article. Occurrence of an
anarthrous noun in this pattern would be odd.3
So, the use of the indefinite article in the Sahidic does not
necessarily mean that the Coptic translator understood John to have
written "a god." He was not equating the Word with the proper name
God, but he could have understood John to be using theos in a
qualitative sense, as many Greek scholars have argued. Dr. Layton says
it is up to the reader to decide, but is there any indication in the
immediate context to help us?
I believe there is significant evidence in favor of a qualitative
reading. In the Sahidic version of John 1:18b, the anarthrous theos in
the Greek is translated with the definite article. Horner's
translation reads as follows:
"God, the only Son."
It would seem unlikely in the extreme that a translator would
understand John to have designated the Word "a god" in John 1:1 and
"the God" in John 1:18. Instead, his use of the definite article in
verse 18 would make more sense if he understood John to be ascribing
the qualities of Deity to the Word in John 1:1.
>>I agree that the Sahidic Coptic version is very valuable. According to J.
>>Warren Wells of the Nova Sahidica Project, both Bruce Metzger and the Alands
>>highly praise the Coptic text as an aid to understanding the GNT and for
>>critical studies of it. Wells notes also:
>>"Coptic was the first language the New Testament was translated into that
>>has the indefinite article; and the only language with the indefinite article
>>that was produced during the Koine Greek period.
>>The is of interest because, in Coptic versions, John 1:1b is commonly
>>translated "the word was with God and the word was a God" using the Coptic
>>indefinite article; with some variation in word order.
>>In the proto-Bohairic version (Papyrus Bodmer III, the text of which was
>>partially reconstructed by Rodolphe Kasser) the first occurrence of "God" in
>>John 1:1 is in the Nomina Sacra form, whereas the second occurrence is spelled
>>out. In John 1:18 the word "God" (which no one has seen) is in the Nomina
>>Sacra form, while the word "God" (only-begotten) is spelled out."
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