Monday, February 8, 2010

Coptic John 1:1, Assumptions vs. Facts

ΑΥШ ΝЄΥΝΟΥΤΕ ΠЄ ΠϢΑϪЄ -- John 1:1, Sahidic Coptic text

It has been postulated that the Egyptian Coptic translators of the 2nd-3rd centuries would not have meant to say that "the Word was a god" -- even though that is precisely what they wrote -- ΝЄΥΝΟΥΤΕ ΠЄ ΠϢΑϪЄ -- because their translation would have been informed by the theology of the great Egyptian theologians like Clement of Alexandria. As translated into English by (Trinitarian) scholars, the writings of Clement appear to promote the concept that "the Word was God."

But it is only an assumption, not fact, to suppose that the Coptic translators would have been influenced by Clement of Alexandria, who had left Egypt for Jerusalem and Antioch, Syria, by 202 AD. (Ante-Nicene Fathers, volume 2, p. 167) Besides, Clement was a "pagan philosopher," a disciple of Socrates and Plato before adopting Christianity, and his works show his continued interest in such philosophy to the point where he has been accused of "corrupting the gospel with Greek philosophy." (Ante-Nicene Fathers, volume 2, pp. 165, 166; Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, p. 216)

According to its own tradition, the Coptic Church was founded by the evangelist Mark. We need only read Mark's Gospel to see what he preached, and what the earliest Egyptian Christians would have believed. Mark's Gospel has the simplest of Christologies and there is no doctrine of the Trinitiy in the Gospel of Mark.

The Coptic translation of John 1:1c lacks the 'corruption of Greek philosophy' that found its way into the church after the death of the apostles of the Lord. And that is still another reason why the Coptic translation matters.

Coptic John 1:1c is a prime example. The Coptic translation says ne.u.noute pe p.Saje: "the Word was a god (or, divine)," not "the Word was God." That is documented evidence, a fact, not an assumption. The Coptic language has both indefinite and definite articles in its grammatical structure. If the Sahidic Coptic translators held the doctrine that "the Word was God," or if the Coptic translators understood the Greek text to say "the Word was God," the Coptic language had the grammatical tools to say so.

But they manifestly did not write "the Word was God." They wrote "the Word was a god." Unlike the assumptions, that is a fact. It is a fact that can be verified by reading the extant Coptic texts as evidence.

Facts are always better than assumptions.


  1. Hi Memra.

    You might or might not be interested in this link:

    Online Coptic texts in PDF format.