Monday, December 21, 2009

Conclusions Based on the Coptic Text Itself

Relative to Coptic John 1:1c, what conclusions can be drawn from a multi-year study of the Sahidic Coptic language, including a detailed study of the entire Sahidic Coptic New Testament?

1- That the translation of Coptic neunoute pe pSaje into standard English as "the Word was a god" is literal, accurate, and unassailable. It is simple, but not simplistic. It is what the Coptic text actually says and literally conveys. Any other translation of it amounts to interpretation or paraphrase.

2- That rendering a Sahidic Coptic common ("count") noun, like noute, god, when bound to the Coptic indefinite article, ou, into English as "a" + noun is so prevalent, as for example in Coptic scholar George Horner's 1911 English translation of the Sahidic Coptic New Testament, that this is beyond dispute.

As just the nearest example of this, after John 1:1c itself, is John 1:6. Here we have the Coptic indefinite article, ou, bound to the Coptic common noun rwme, man: aFSwpe nCi ourwme eautnnoouF ebol Hitm pnoute . In Horner's English translation we read: "There was a man having been sent from God." That is the simple, literal, and accurate translation. Likewise, "a god" is the simple, literal, and accurate translation of ou.noute at John 1:1c, the same Coptic indefinite article + common noun construction as found in John 1:6 and elsewhere. Only with respect to Coptic "mass" or abstract nouns is there no need to translate the indefinite article into English, but this is not the situation at Coptic John 1:1c, because noute, god, is a Coptic common or "count" noun.

3 - That, whereas some Coptic grammarians hold that ou.noute may also be translated into English adjectivally as "divine," they give no examples favoring this usage in the Sahidic Coptic New Testament itself. Coptic ou.noute is not used adjectivally or "qualitatively" in the Sahidic Coptic New Testament. The published works of these scholars have been heavily invested in the Nag Hammadi Gnostic Coptic "gospels" like Thomas, Philip, and Judas. Perhaps translating ou.noute as "divine" fits the esoteric or philosophical context of the Gnostic "gospels." But there are no examples in the canonical Coptic New Testament that justify an adjectival translation of ou.noute as "divine," whereas a literal translation of ou.noute as "a god" is both grammatical and contextual. Although "divine" is not altogether objectionable, since a god is divine by definition or attribution, a paraphrase is unnecessary when an adequate, understandable literal translation is available.

4- That all the primarily Trinitarian-based objections to translating ou.noute as "a god" at Coptic John 1:1c amount to little more than theological presuppositions or special pleading. Though such faulty, superficial objections have been cut and pasted frequently on the Internet, they are poorly researched, disingenuous, and misleading. Their main purpose has been, not to explain Coptic grammar, but to support a Trinitarian apologetic.

In one such apologetic, promising full disclosure of what some Coptic scholars "really said," the conclusion that ou.noute at John 1:1 fundamentally means "a god" is not changed. Rather, we read from such scholars that "it might mean was a god, was divine, was an instance of 'god', was one god (not two, three, etc.)"; "In Coptic, "ounoute" can mean "a god" or "one with divine nature"; "So literally, the Sahidic and Bohairic texts say "a god" in the extant mss. ... A rather clumsy reading might be: The Logos was in the beginning. The Logos was with God. The Logos was like God (or godlike, or divine) with the emphasis on his nature; not his person."

Not ONE of the scholars appealed to by the apologists said that Coptic John 1:1 should be translated to say "The Word was God." Not one. Not one said that "a god" was an incorrect translation of Coptic ou.noute. In fact, the interlinear reading for Sahidic Coptic John 1:1c in scholar Bentley Layton's Coptic in 20 Lessons (2007)specifically reads "a-god is the-Word."

The Coptic text of John 1:1c was made prior to the adoption of the Trinity doctrine by Egyptian and other churches, and it is poor scholarship to attempt to perform eisegesis by "reading back" a translation such as "the Word was God" into any exegesis of the Coptic text. Such a rendering is foreign to Coptic John 1:1c, which clearly and literally says, "the Word was a god."

5- That, stated succinctly, translating Sahidic Coptic's neunoute pe pSaje literally into standard English as "the Word was a god" stands on solid grammatical, syntactical, and contextual ground.

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