Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Reactions to the Trinity

Several of my readers had vivid reactions to the Trinity doctrine as I outlined it last. It must be recognized that this doctrine is not universal among Christians. Some Christians today, as well as Muslims, view the doctrine as polytheistic even in the form it was framed by the Cappadocians. This criticism of the doctrine is as old as the doctrine itself. The Cappadocians in fact tell us that they were accused of creating a doctrine that allowed for the worship of not just three but even four gods.

One of my readers wanted to know what happened to the female, quoting the Genesis story about God's image being male and female. I am writing on this topic for my new book which I'm calling tentatively, You shall be like God: Sex and the Serpent in Early Christianity. Just a brief overview of one of the chapters on the Trinity which I'm writing. The mother was originally part of the Trinity. She was the Holy Spirit. As long as the Christian tradition remained attached to Aramaic traditions, the Spirit's female gender is retained. But once the church moves away from these roots, more and more into Greek (and eventually Latin) where the Spirit is neutered, the mother falls away, or is dismissed. The result is a very awkward doctrine of a Father god who births a son god from which proceeds a nebulous neutered spirit god. My readers are always asking why the "other" gospels and gnostic materials are important. Here is a case in point. They help us to reconstruct the earliest doctrine of the Trinity as it included the female.

28 comments:

Jim Deardorff said...

April,

I had thought that the Holy Spirit concept, or Holy Ghost, stemmed from "the Spirit of the Lord" and "the Spirit of God," going back to Genesis 1:2 or 6:3. Is it more complicated than that?

JMS Providence said...

Right on, Dr. DeConick...you broke it down...I had no idea of the Aramaic origins!

J. K. Gayle said...

The mother was originally part of the Trinity. She was the Holy Spirit. As long as the Christian tradition remained attached to Aramaic traditions, the Spirit's female gender is retained. But once the church moves away from these roots, more and more into Greek (and eventually Latin) where the Spirit is neutered, the mother falls away, or is dismissed. The result is a very awkward doctrine of a Father god who births a son god from which proceeds a nebulous neutered spirit god. My readers are always asking why the "other" gospels and gnostic materials are important. Here is a case in point. They help us to reconstruct the earliest doctrine of the Trinity as it included the female.

I very much look forward to reading your new book!

Can we also suggest not painting the Greek flowerings (as if from Aramaic roots) with too broad a brush? To do so ignores Sappho and Aspasia and Diotima, and all their goddesses. And can we give some credit also to the one born of the Virgin, yes a son even, who entrusts to women (some Greek speakers even) the most precious good news of birth and rebirth? Mother is not ignored by the Greeks (in parable, in praxis, in pistis, in the pantheon). And F. A. Wright can call Euripides's works "the four feminist plays." (So blame Aristotle, and then Tertullian as Richard Edmondson rightly does in a comment on your last post on the Trinity doctrine.) But the Hellene mother tongue and Greek women and Greek womanly rhetoric and divine notions need not be thrown out with the bathwater of sexist, misogynist Greek men.

May I go on just a bit more? Jim Deardorff has an excellent question here. καὶ πνεῦμα θεοῦ ἐπεφέρετο ἐπάνω τοῦ ὕδατος may be inspired by ὣς ἔφασαν κοῦραι μεγάλου Διὸς ἀρτιέπειαι, ... ἐνέπνευσαν δέ μοι αὐδὴν θέσπιν, ... σφᾶς δ' αὐτὰς πρῶτόν τε καὶ ὕστατον αἰὲν ἀείδειν. That is, the Greek translation of Genesis 1:2 may be inspired by things like Hesiod's Theogony: "So the articulate daughters of Zeus the magnificent spoke, ... They inspired me with vocal, prophetic song, ... Hymning themselves at beginning and end of every poem." (And John's Greek of Jesus's born-again dialog with Nicodemus seems to invoke motherly images of τις γεννηθῇ ἐξ ὕδατος καὶ πνεύματος).

JMS Providence said...

"to the one born of the Virgin"

No disrespect, J.K., but you don't really believe this ol'dusty doctrine, do you??

Or perhaps I'm missing something in the eloquence of your dialogue?

JMS Providence said...

On another note...I find it interesting in having talked to some Hindus that though they are commonly referred to as polytheists, some of their adherents and philosophers claim that their religion is really monotheistic.

Small world, I guess.

J. K. Gayle said...

No disrespect, J.K., but you don't really believe this ol'dusty doctrine, do you??

Thanks, JMS Providence, for supposing me eloquent.

What creed shall I confess? My profoundest belief is this: That the Aramaic speakers who we're trying so hard to reconstruct today may have fancied the novel notion of "ha'almah" (the virgin) as Mother, without any help at all from Aristotle's student Alexander. You know, the myths that this Great son was born of Zeus who came on Philip’s wife (scandal!); or that the conquerer was conceived otherwise by a thunderbolt from heaven; all which prompted him to get his lackey King Ptolemy II to get the LXX translators to corroborate with the Greek cover-up by an ambiguous translation of Isaiah 7:14. And then Matthew falls for it.

I'm being silly. It's April fool's day too. But seriously, reconstruction shouldn't implicate the wrong people. That's what I believe.

Andrew Criddle said...

One important example of an orthodox Trinitarian model with the Holy Spirit as (in some sense) the mother of Christ is found in the writings of the 4th century latin philosopher Marius Victorinus

JMS Providence said...

"And then Matthew falls for it."

Thanks J.K.; in addition to eloquence, it seems your quite masterfully knowledgeable as well!

Richard Edmondson said...

I'm saying this as somebody who speaks only English and a little bit of pigeon Spanish, but Neil Douglas Klotz seems to have some Aramaic translations worth considering. In Prayers of the Cosmos, he renders Abwoon d'bwashmaya (Our Father which art in heaven) as "O Birther! Father-Mother of the Cosmos." --All of which, I suppose, is not to negate the contributions of Sappho et. al.

I'm wondering, with the reference to the serpent in the title, if Dr. DeConick's new book will get into the subject of the Naasenes. It seems to be an area of Gnosticism that hasn't received much attention, at least not in comparison, say, to the Valentinians or Sethians.

I spent last night reading Tripartite Tractate. Some of it's hard to follow and make sense of--and I'm possibly injecting my own subjective interpretation here--but it seems to me that it does profess a trinity (Father, Son, and Church), but it doesn't seem to be a concept that's adhered to very rigidly. Moreover it seems to be a trinity whose membership can be expanded--possibly exponentially.

Gareth said...

I am not sure how much one should push grammatical gender in Semitic languages to identify sex. We know that the words רוח (rûăḥ) and ܪܘܚܐ (ruḥā) are feminine. However, it is another thing completely to say the Spirit is of feminine sex. In Semitic languages, all things and people can only be described as 'he' or 'she'; there is no 'it'. So, if the Spirit is described as 'she', the text could simply be using grammatical gender. In this case, English should translate the text as 'it'.

Early Syriac writings sometimes drift back and forth between referring to the Spirit as ܗܘ (hu — 'he') and ܗܝ (hi — 'she'). This can be interpreted in a a couple of ways: either the imposition of a patriarchal church's male sex on an early church's female sex Holy Spirit, or the establishment of personhood, which happens to be of male gender/sex, on an impersonal noun, which happend to be of female gender.

Perhaps, it's a little too fashionable to believe that there was a 'right-on' church that existed before 'organised religion took over.

Personally, I believe that sex, both male and female, is in the image of God, and that God encompasses human sex, without essentially being one or the other.

I really enjoyed the Modalism/Trinitarianism post, though. It made me realise what a flimsy thing 'orthodoxy' is, very much like the later christological divisions.

JMS Providence said...

Gareth says: "Personally, I believe that sex, both male and female, is in the image of God, and that God encompasses human sex, without essentially being one or the other."

Personally, I've heard this often in the mainstream, conservative Christian circles I've engaged with, but it was an answer that only confused me that much more, as it would seem that God is being compared to hermaphrodite whose image we were created (this aside from assuming it was some sort of religious crime to be "anthropomorphizing" this lofty God so many of us pray to).

Yet, it seems to me that to think of God, though separate divine beings of distinct gender, as being one in will, heart, and mind, sufficiently satisfies the question of how Three distinct Supreme beings (Father, Mother, Son) could be One.

Ian said...

I would tweak Deconick's summary of Trinitarian docrine a little.

In the original Trinitarian formula (as it is drafted at Nicaea) the Spirit (mystically) proceeds from the Father, whereas the Son is (mystically) begotten of the Father; i.e., the Second and the Third Persons of the Trinity are each given a UNIQUE relationship to the First. It is a couple of centuries later at Toledo when the Spirit is said to proceed from both the Father and the son.

Caitlin said...

In several conservative Christian circles I have heard the insistance that "The Holy Spirit is not an it, it is a he!" The point being that we should not imagine the spirit as a nebulus entity, but instead as a "person". I think this is a strange reading of Tertullian's point. It doesn't seem to me that Tertullian was worried about making the trinity 3 different literal gendered people, but instead was attempting to distinquish the trinity as 3 legally distinct individuals with one substance/property. (correct me if I am wrong we are just learning this in class) My question is when does this idea get changed from appealing to the idea of the legal distinction of a persona to a literal "person" with a distinct gender? Personally I have a serious problem with insisting that God is a "person"- this seems outrageously anthropomorphic to me. It is possible that they are assumeing that the congregation understands the intricacies of the Trinitarian doctrine- but that seems like very irresponsible preaching.

José Solano said...

“Now a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and her head a garland of twelve stars. Then being with child, she cried out in labor and in pain to give birth.” Rev. 12:1-2

Thank you Dr. DeConick for raising the question of the Trinity and modalism. As you know orthodoxy accepts the Godhead Trinity as a Mystery. It is certainly that, though many would speculate on how it is possible. Modalism is one way in which people try to reason it out. I was for a time a “modalist” and saw the Father as the term for the pre-Jesus God and the Holy Spirit as the post-Jesus God acting in the Church while Jesus was the name of God while he lived on earth. This concept of the trinity as one person manifesting himself in three modes has been around since the earliest days of Christianity and throughout history. There are varied modalist interpretations. Joachim de Flora for instance focused on three dispensations of God’s historical manifestation.

These speculations have biblical inconsistencies and have therefore been declared heresies by both the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches who recognize the Trinity as three persons in One Godhead simultaneously rather than sequentially. Such an understanding presents problems for human reasoning and is therefore accepted as a Mystery. Who says that human reason is capable of comprehending the nature of the Godhead?

Now, the question of the existence of the feminine in the Godhead is another matter. The Bible does intimate in several places that the Godhead does contain a feminine quality. Throughout history there has been a yearning to recognize this femininity in the Godhead and the Church has addressed this need somewhat indirectly by its recognition of the Assumption of Mary. Although established as Dogma by the Catholic Church in 1950 its acceptance by orthodoxy has been around since the fourth or fifth century and perhaps earlier.

This is a fascinating field that I might elaborate on later, as time permits. What might be evolving is a recognition of a Quaternity in the Godhead rather than a Trinity though the Church has not quite gone this far, but it’s very close. Jung observed this years ago and I think readers of this blog would greatly benefit from a sober reading of Jung’s works in this area. I emphasize “sober” because it is so easy for one’s active imagination to get lost in wild speculations when pondering the wealth of symbols in Gnostic and alchemical writings, and even in Scripture.

My advice, that will of course hardly be accepted, is to let the Great Church—as Guilles Quispel and many others would refer to it—be your guide in this study, otherwise interpretations of these works tend to be scarcely more than "eloquent" Tarot card readings.

JMS Providence said...

Caitlin said, “Personally I have a serious problem with insisting that God is a "person"- this seems outrageously anthropomorphic to me.”

Caitlin, what about what Jesus said which would apparently not only apply to Himself, but to ALL of humanity (potentially),created in God’s likeness and image (though this without question, I suppose) ?

Because according to John’s account of what Jesus’ said (as well as the OT)…

John 10
34Jesus answered them, "Is it not written in your Law, 'I have said you are gods'? 35If he called them 'gods,' to whom the word of God came—and the Scripture cannot be broken— 36what about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world? Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, 'I am God's Son'?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Jose said, “As you know orthodoxy accepts the Godhead Trinity as a Mystery.”

Jose, why should "orthodoxy" assume that they’ve got the market on the truth?

And regarding, the Mystery . . . at some point, you must admit . . . ”a mystery” must be revealed. Because according to Matthew’s account of what Jesus said…

Matthew 10
26"So do not be afraid of them. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. 27What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs.”

On the other hand, thank you for pointing this out, “Joachim de Flora for instance focused on three dispensations of God’s historical manifestation.”

This is reasonable to me, as in the OT -- a master-servant relationship is emphasized, and in the NT -- a father-son (daughter) relationship is the norm, and whereas, in Christ 2nd Coming -- a bride-bridegroom relationship is anticipated, and all together they sufficiently (at least to me, at this point) illustrate how God’s nature is progressively revealed through prophets in Judeo-Christian history/providence.

To your question: “Who says that human reason is capable of comprehending the nature of the Godhead?”

I would say the Apostle Paul did…

Romans 1:20 For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

And finally, regarding: “My advice, that will of course hardly be accepted, is to let the Great Church—as Guilles Quispel and many others would refer to it—be your guide in this study, otherwise interpretations of these works tend to be scarcely more than "eloquent" Tarot card readings.”

I would say, the “Great Church” of 2 millennia found our Lord’s revelations completely unacceptable as it assumed ALL authority, and now look at the state of the “Holy Land”.

Yeah, that’s my position, quick and dirty, but thanks for listening!

José Solano said...

I’m afraid JMS Providence that Mt. 10:26 has nothing to do with the “mystery” the Church is talking about with regard to the Trinity and Rom. 1:20 has nothing to do with our knowing everything about the Godhead. It merely addresses the fact that God has revealed to us enough for us to be without excuse when we sin.

Life is filled with mysteries and the fullness of God’s nature will always be a mystery to us. This helps us enormously in maintaining some degree of humility.

I have no idea how you imagine the “Great Church . . . found our Lord’s revelations completely unacceptable.” We must try to temper our anti-Church wrath by avoiding bizarre exaggerations.

Through Christ many mysteries have been revealed but we deceive ourselves if we imagine that we will some day be all knowing. Amazingly enough we frequently reject the mysteries that have been revealed.

Peace.

JMS Providence said...

Oh . . . no need to be afraid, especially if one sides with orthodoxy.

Richard Edmondson said...

This is kind of off the subject of Trinitarianism, and for that I apologize, but I have a question I've been wondering about for a long time. Possibly Gareth might know the answer, since he obviously knows a great deal about Semitic languages. So here's the question: The Aramaic word "hayye" meaning life, or life energy--is it possible, given that Aramaic was once spoken in parts of India, that it may be roughly comparable to the Sanskrit word "prana", which can also mean life or life energy? Sanskrit is not a Semitic language, I guess--but is it possible that Sanskrit speakers using the word "prana" and Aramaic speakers using the word "hayye" could have meant roughly the same thing? If anybody has any thoughts on this I would be extremely grateful if you would share them. Thanks!

paulf said...

OK, Jose, let's say I accept your idea that the "Godhead," which is nowhere explained in the Bible, is somehow a "mystery."

How then can you be certain of the Trinity? Maybe the mystery is that God is 16 persons, or 100 or two. Maybe he is a he and a she.

Orthodoxy says that we must believe what we cannot comprehend. I submit that one cannot actually believe such a thing.

Christians can recite a belief in the Trinity out of rote and because ... well, just because it is what everyone else believes. It is akin to a child believing that Santa drops presents on Christmas Eve. That is not the same thing as actual belief.

JMS Providence said...

Btw: I was referring to the Pharisees and the Sanhedrin.

RE: “Great Church” of 2 millennia

Excuse my simple play with words.

Memra said...

Ancient Egypt and other nations had Trinities that included goddesses and I have found historical Christological debates interesting, but my belief system does not encompass a denominational Trinity.

I also find it interesting that the old Coptic version of the Gospel of John 1:1 departs from what is found in tradition from the Vulgate to the King James Version. It does not say 'and the Word was God.'

Rather, it reads more like the English versions of James Moffatt, Edgar Goodspeed, etc, in saying merely that 'the Word was divine': auw neunoute pe pSaJe.

Although the modern Coptic Church is Trinitarian-Monophysite, it claims St. Mark as its founder, and the canonical Gospel of Mark is perhaps the least Trinitarian of the canonical Four, to the extent any of them, including John, can be labeled Trinitarian.

At any rate, I prefer the old tradition that says that God is One and Spirit, with gender terms being used only because "the Torah speaks in the language of humans."

lightseeker said...

jms providence wrote:
I find it interesting in having talked to some Hindus that though they are commonly referred to as polytheists, some of their adherents and philosophers claim that their religion is really monotheistic.

and paulf wrote:
Maybe the mystery is that God is 16 persons, or 100 or two. Maybe he is a he and a she.

and Richard said:
So here's the question: The Aramaic word "hayye" meaning life, or life energy--is it possible, given that Aramaic was once spoken in parts of India, that it may be roughly comparable to the Sanskrit word "prana", which can also mean life or life energy? Sanskrit is not a Semitic language, I guess--but is it possible that Sanskrit speakers using the word "prana" and Aramaic speakers using the word "hayye" could have meant roughly the same thing?

The Chinese call the life force "chi" and we tend to call it spirit (Holy Spirit) or Source energy or Life Force or even consciousness. It's the ineffable essence of God (whatever one wants to call the creative principle, source/creator of all that is, seen and unseen) which is present within and animates all living things (it is even present in all matter, even rocks, the Earth itself).

Genesis tells us that we were created in God's image. To take that concept further, for me, God is the collective consciousness of all that is (I AM WHO I AM), which includes human consciousness (and that of all life forms and matter in the cosmos). We are a reflection of God and God is a reflection of us - our consciousness.

In this sense, from the human standpoint, God is both male and female, all races, nationalities, etc.

Therefore, God has many,many faces. This is why, I believe, that we see/have seen polytheistic cultures with many gods. And this is why we see the Trinity in Christianity - an attempt to explain the different "persons" (characteristics or attributes) of an ineffable, mysterious Godhead that is yet as one, indivisible. This is why the face/s of God seem to evolve over the millennia. Our concept of God evolves - from many Gods, to one anthropomorphic God to an ineffable Godhead - as human consciousness itself evolves.

I'm glad it was also pointed out that the coptic version of John actually says "the Word was divine," and jms providence cited John 10:34-36. WE ALL EMANATE FROM GOD, created in the image of God! This is the mystery which is to be revealed - that we are all part of God. In a sense, WE ARE GOD.

If one must hold on to a concept of a Trinity within the multi-faceted Godhead, then I see it as this:

Entity #1) The Godhead - which created and contains/reflects THE ALL

Entity #3) Spirit/Consciousness (prana/chi/hayye) - which moves through, animates and *connects* all living things and matter (FYI - physicists are now beginning to identify this as the "unifying field" underlying the fabric of the universe!)

Entity #2) Mankind/Children of God - manifestations or reflections of God expressed in flesh/matter (i.e., the "gods" of "ye are gods" with a lower case g). Jesus, as prophet/revealer and master/teacher of this Truth, was and is the head, as our "eldest brother," of this *family* of the 2nd entity of the Trinity (I prefer entity to person - person limits our thinking to the human physical form).

I believe Jesus was an incarnation of a higher level of spirit/consciousness - that of the collective human consciousness (or perhaps just of the Hebrew peoples of 1st century AD Palestine, historically speaking). I.e., he was/is a reflection of all of us (or as a reflection of the people of his time/place when he walked the Earth)! But because he emanated from higher up the consciousness ladder, closer to God/Source, and was therefore perhaps far more spiritually advanced than most of us human souls or "gods," he was *perceived* to be very God-like or divine, yet he was not equal to or at the same level of the Godhead. (And this is why the debates raged for 3-4 centuries about whether Jesus was human, divine or both! And he was both, as we all are!)

I am quite certain the historical Jesus never claimed to be God, and "Son of God" was a semitic/Hebrew idiom that referred to holy men/prophets/saints - it was NOT literal.

If there is to be evolution in orthodox Church doctrine regarding the Trinity, I believe and hope it should be to INCLUDE ALL of mankind as part of the second person. If some judge my beliefs as heretical, then so be it, but this is my sense of how the tide of spirituality and human consciousness is flowing and evolving.

God/the Word spoke through Jesus via the Holy Spirit. Take Jesus (and his mother Mary, too!) off that lonely, untouchable, Godly pedestal and let him rejoin the rest of us, the brother-/sister-hood of the human race. He was one of us (and still is, as an eternal, discarnate entity/consciousness), and we are ALL "gods." We are all divine ("perfect") in our spiritual nature, and we can also be so while we're in the flesh if we only intend and aspire to be, "like your Father in heaven is perfect," as Jesus, our oldest brother taught us - by his living example.

Just as Jesus did 2 millennia ago, we all need to learn to acknowledge and honor the divine essence of God which dwells within each one of us - and think, speak and act the part, with unconditional Love toward ourselves and our neighbors, like the godlets we are. In this way we all have the potential to be "the Word made flesh," and that is how we bring the "reign of God" to Earth here and now.

Peace, Love and Light to all.

José Solano said...

With all due respect and love for each person here that expresses his/her perceptions and feelings, I must be honest and say that some of the things I’m hearing are “classic” sychretistic mumbo-jumbo, New Age gobbledygook, as irrational as any I’ve ever heard. I wish I had the time to address all the wild and absurd statements being so dogmatically affirmed, but it’s just too thick for me to effectively cut through in any soundbite. The best I think I can do is simply sound the alarm to perhaps alert any readers who might be thinking, “Whaaat?”

I am working on a book to address some of these all too common fantasies which since Timothy Leary, Alan Watts and Joseph Campbell have reached epidemic proportions, creating a veritable Laputa’s Dept. of Speculative Learning at the Academy of Lagado in which “flappers” are necessary to bring the “scientist-scholars” back to reality for “Their heads were all reclined either to the Right, or the Left; one of their eyes turned inward, and the other directly up the Zenith.”

But let me specifically address here one of the comments as the rest tends be Hinduistic-pantheistic imaginings, totally foreign to Scriptural thinking.

Memra is essentially transmitting the Jehovah Witness’ account of John 1:1. John was written in Greek not Coptic and what she imagines the Coptic is saying via Hoskyns, I’m informed, is not even what Hoskyns is saying. In both the Greek and the Coptic the meaning is “and the Word was God,” NOT “a god.” My wife—who studied some Greek—and I covered this problem with visiting Jehovah Witnesses several years back and they quickly and quietly exited our home when their mouths were stopped by the evidence. “By Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth . . . .” Col. 1:16

Here is a site that more thoroughly addresses the Memra/Jehovah Witness misunderstanding:
http://forananswer.blogspot.com/2006/10/hoskyns-and-coptic-john-11.html
See also http://home.earthlink.net/~gbl111/martin5.htm

Do Jehovah Witnesses and others actually imagine that orthodox Christendom with its thousands of scholars over two millennia could overlook such a simple reading? People are just so Gulliver, eh, I mean gullible. Sorry, like it or not, that Word that was God became flesh according to the John.

On the question of trinities there are of course all sorts of things that could be identified as “trinities,” (Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva), “triads,” “trios,” etc. These have nothing in common with the Christian Trinity other than the number three.

Oh, one other quick point. It’s quite the illusion to imagine there is any overall “evolution” of spirituality or consciousness. There has been material advancement but humans are as spiritually wretched today, if not worse, than they have ever been. When in doubt just read the newspaper. There is little hope for anything other that individual spiritual growth or evolution of consciousness.

Peace and sobriety.

Memra said...

With respect to Coptic John 1:1, noted Coptic grammarian Bentley Layton (whom I believe is not one of Jehovah's Witnesses) has:
"auw ne-u-noute pe p-SaJe And past tense marker-a-god is the-Word." (page 7, Coptic in 20 Lessons, 2007)

On page 34, Layton shows that the Coptic construction *ne-u-noute" may also be translated as "divine."

Dogma aside, both Coptic and Greek grammar have been found by reputable translators in many languages to mean that "the Word was divine." I mentioned James Moffat and Edgar Goodspeed earlier.

That does not satisfy orthodox Trinitarianism, but those are the facts.

Memra said...

After reviewing the link provided by another poster here, I have some few additional observations:

The writer is a Trinitarian apologist, not a Coptic scholar. And whereas I have no desire to enter a theological debate, I will just note that throughout Christian history, there have been well-qualified scholars who refused to accept the doctrine of the Trinity.

The Coptic *neunoute pe pSaje* at John 1:1 clearly means "the Word was a god" (Bentley Layton and others) or "the Word was divine." (Ariel Shisha-Halevy and others). Greek scholars, Protestant and Catholic (even Jesuits) have translated John 1:1 similarly, rejecting the traditional "the Word was God."

It just may be that the Coptic translation of John 1:1 is not more widely known because there was no interest on the part of Trinitarian scholars to do so. Certainly, it does not comfortably fit Trinitarian theology.

However, the Copts had a 500-year history of interaction with Koine Greek, the language of the New Testament. Many Greek words are found, untranslated, in the Coptic New Testament. Koine Greek was still a living language when the Coptic NT was likely rendered.

Therefore, it just may be that the Coptic translators understood the Greek of John 1:1 quite well. And even though it is "merely" a translation of the Greek text, it is an informed, judicious one. Besides, for years English scholarship depended on other translations like the Latin Vulgate. And the early Christian Church utilized another "mere" translation, the Greek Septuagint.

I prefer to deal with the objective grammar, not with the subjective emotionalism of theology.

José Solano said...

I must repeat, the Gospel of John was written in Greek not Coptic. If the Coptic translation is ambiguous we do better by using the original Greek. The scholars that speak of the Coptic Jn. 1:1 say it is ambiguous not that it must be translated as “was divine, “was a god,” etc. The confusion hinges on the need for the Coptic to use an indefinte article before nouns which does not exist in the Greek.

It would seem rather disingenuous for someone to try and make an argument on the meaning of a particular passage of a Pablo Neruda poem by relying on the English or German translation when we have the original Spanish. For a good summary of what the scholars are really saying about Coptic Jn. 1:1see http://www.forananswer.org/Top_JW/ScholarsAndCopticJohn.htm AND http://forananswer.org/Top_JW/Scholars%20and%20NWT.htm#Horner

I personally do not know Coptic or Greek. Do you Memra? If not we rely entirely on what we think scholars in the field are saying. Apparently a very small minority accept your interpretation of the Coptic but none see this in the Greek original.

Now, having emphasized this, it’s important for sycretists to realize that they can take no solace in relying on the Jehovah Witness interpretation to support a view of Jesus as a man that becomes divine or godly. The JW understanding, with its supposed Coptic translation support, interprets Jesus as a pre-existent demigod through which the universe was created. This is the problem with the mish-mash approach of trying to reconcile completely contradictory teachings into some sort unified system. It simply betrays a lack of rigor and objectivity in one’s learning and thinking.

Memra said...

Dear Jose,

I find it disingenuous for you to keep referring to Jehovah's Witnesses in the matter of the Coptic translation of John 1:1, since the Copts were not Jehovah's Witnesses, nor is Bentley Layton, nor Ariel Shisha-Halevy, nor several other Coptic scholars of which I have knowledge.

Also, it is disingenuous to keep referring to web pages by Trinitarian apologists like Robert Hommel, who is not a Coptic scholar.

I respect that fact that you and others support Trinitarianism, but I and others do not. My lack of support for Trinitarianism is based upon my own reading of the New Testament, in English and Greek, and my knowledge of Church history, including the writings of the Ante-Nicene Fathers.

And yes, I know Coptic, and do not find Coptic John 1:1 to be "ambiguous" at all. Perhaps a Trinitarian would find it "ambiguous," but I find that it faithfully translates the anarthrous pre-verbal predicate noun of the Greek in John 1:1.

José Solano said...

Dear Memra,

I respect your opinions and of course your right to believe and spread them. Nevertheless, the vast majority of scholars simply do not accept the Jehovah Witness interpretation of the John 1:1 Coptic original, which happens to be yours, JW or not. I’ve already given references to that and there are plenty more that can be offered. The truth of a particular assertion is certainly not determined by a majority vote. We must examine the evidence and make an informed judgment.

But, be that as it may, I repeat that John was written in Greek and it is therefore the Greek to which we must appeal, not the Coptic. You say the Coptic faithfully translates the Greek in John 1:1. Somehow the vast majority of scholars disagree with you and I think only the Jehovah Witness NWT Bible places an article before theos so as to reduce the divinity of the Word. Perhaps there are others. The NEB states, “What God was, the Word was.”

Though you bring up “Trinitarianism” that is not the issue in this particular question, even if it is the issue of the thread. The polytheism that your interpretation brings out with its preexistent demigod through whom the universe was created is not the issue either. (Note, a Trinity in the Godhead can be derived from the prologue and the rest of John even if the reading is “a god” because the distinction of three Persons in One God remains implicit. The question becomes merely one of whether or not you capitalize God. Incidently, I understand there is a Greek term for god-like and that’s the adjective theion, which John could have used if he wanted to.)

But the primary issue at this time is simply, what is John saying in the Gospel prologue? This is more than just a grammatical examination of the given words but rather an understanding of what John is telling us. Assuming, as you and the Jehovah Witnesses do, that the Word was “a god” in a non-Trinitarian sense, what can John be telling us by that? This alternative I believe becomes rather weird for our entire understanding of the apostolic teaching and for Judaism.

You tell me Mamre. What is John telling us by presenting the Word as a demigod who creates the universe and then becomes flesh, incarnates, lives, does miracles, suffers, is crucified, resurrects, and has Thomas exclaim “My Lord and my God”? Would you flesh this one out for us or is this grammar exercise merely a weak effort to undermine a Trinitarian understanding of the Godhead? I know how the Jehovah Witnesses think about this.

Peace.