Of course, Trinitarian apologists do not like the obvious implications of the Sahidic rendering, and try to explain it away. Since they assume that the Sahidic translators must have been Trinitarian, and since most Trinitarians do not know Sahidic - they make obvious blunders when trying to show that when the Sahidic said "the Word was a god," it really meant "the Word was God."
Coptic scholar George Horner produced a translation of the Sahidic NT in the early 20th century. His rendering of John 1:1c is "and [a] God was the Word." Many Trinitarian apologists have jumped on the fact that Horner chose to put the word "a" in brackets. They say this means the "a" in Sahidic John 1:1 is not a necessary translation in English. I have run across this argument several times, which has prompted me to write this post.
As a premier example of this argument, note this excerpt from the article "Jesus as Θεός: A Textual Examination," by Brian James Wright:
Horner translates John 1.1c into English as follows: “. . . and [a] God was the Word.”49 The apparatus, however, states, “Square brackets imply words used by the Coptic and not required by the English, while curved brackets supply words which are necessary to the English idiom.”50 Unlike English, the Sahidic indefinite article is used with abstract nouns (e.g., truth, love, hate) and nouns of substance (e.g., water, bread, meat).51 An example of this can be seen in Horner’s translation of John 19.34b (where there are no Greek articles, καὶ ἐξῆλθεν εὐθὺς αἷμα καὶ ὕδωρ): “. . . and immediately came out [a] blood and [a] water.”52 None of the words in brackets are necessary in English but are still noted by Horner due the presence of the indefinite article in the Coptic MSS.
49 Ibid. [George W. Horner ed., The Coptic Version of the New Testament in the Southern Dialect, Otherwise Called Sahidic and Thebaic, with Critical Apparatus, Literal English Translation, Register of Fragments and Estimate of the Version, 7 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon, 1911-1924), 3.2.], Sahidic, 3.3.
50 Ibid., 3.376 (italics mine).
51 Thomas Lambdin, Introduction to Sahidic Coptic (Macon, GA: Mercer, 1983), 5. Cf. also Bentley Layton, A Coptic Grammar: Sahidic Dialect (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2000).
52 Horner, Sahidic, 3.307. A few other examples from the Gospel of John include: 1.16, 26, 33; 3.5, 6; 5.39; 6.10; 16.33.
There are two problems with the argument in this quotation:
1) Horner is saying that the word "a" in brackets is not needed in the English translation of the Sahidic John 1:1, which would effectively make his translation mean "and God was the Word" in proper English.
2) The author compares the count noun "God" with abstract nouns (such as truth, love, hate) and nouns of substance (such as water, bread, meat).We will deal with issue #2 first.
Comparing Sahidic Count Nouns with Nouns of Substance
Mr. Wright says that the "a" in brackets in Horner's translation of John 1:1 is not necessary in English. He shows an example - John 19:34b - where the "a's" in brackets obviously are not needed in English. However, the author's argument is irrelevant. "God" is not an abstract noun or a noun of substance, it is a count noun. How Sahidic uses the articles with abstract nouns or nouns of substance do not have a bearing on the count noun "god."
Though the author's argument is flawed, the biblical example he provides as a comparison is fundamentally flawed in another way - it actually disproves his point. The Greek of John 19:34b is καὶ ἐξῆλθεν εὐθὺς αἷμα καὶ ὕδωρ. The English translation of the Greek would be ". . . and immediately blood and water came out." In Greek, the nouns blood and water lack the Greek article. The Sahidic translation of this verse is:
"ΑΥѠ ΝΤΕΥΝΟΥ ΑϤΕΙ ΕΒΟΛ ΝϬΙ ΟΥСΝΟϤ ΜΝ ΟΥΜΟΟΥ"A literal interlinear translation into English is:
"and immediately came out namely a blood and a water."In Sahidic, the indefinite article is used to show that some water and blood - not all water and blood - came out. In English, it is not required for us to state the indefiniteness in a sentence such as this - it is implicitly understood. However, we can state such indefiniteness in an English translation of the Sahidic of John 19:34b. We could translate the Sahidic into proper English as:
"and immediately some blood and some water came out."Here we translated the Sahidic indefinite article with the English word "some." In English, "some" is not used as an indefinite article, but it can be used to show the indefiniteness of a substance, as our English translation shows. We can therefore accurately render into English the indefinite articles of Sahidic John 19:34b, with no need to drop out bracketed words.
In fact Bentley Layton's "Coptic in 20 Lessons," on page 15, gives an example of a Coptic noun of substance with the indefinite article. Interestingly, he uses the English word "some" as a translation for the Sahidic indefinite article. He even uses one of the words found in John 19:34b. He says:
"ΟΥ-ΜΟΟΥ = some water"If we apply this to Horner's translation of John 1:1c, we get:
". . . and [some] God was the word."Obviously this doesn't work because "god" is a count noun, not a noun of substance. Therefore, how the Sahidic uses the indefinite articles in John 19:34b and how this relates to English translation has absolutely no bearing on the use of the indefinite article in John 1:1c and its English translation. Sahidic treats count nouns, abstract nouns, and nouns of substance differently in terms of article usage. Like I said before, the comparison is irrelevant.
The argument actually disproves the author's point, because "blood" and "water" have the indefinite article in the Sahidic, and a good English translation implicitly retains the indefiniteness - we understand that "blood and water came out" means that some blood and water came out. We can't count them because they are nouns of substance, but we get the sense that an indefinite amount of those substances came out.
Now we will deal with the first problem of the quote.
Dropping Horner's Bracketed Words
The first problem contained in Mr. Wright's quote above is that Horner says the "a" in brackets of his translation of John 1:1c is not needed in English. It is easy to prove that Horner, although a Coptic scholar, is in fact wrong about this when dealing with John 1:1c.
If Horner is right about John 1:1c, and if "a" is not needed in English, then his translation rendered properly into English would be:
"and God was the word."We discarded the [a] because, according to Horner, it is not needed in English. Horner's full translation of John 1:1 would be:
"In the beginning was being the word, and the word was being with God, and God was the word."Now we will show how this works using the two verses used in Mr. Wright's quotation.
1) John 1:1c as it stands -
". . . and [a] God was the word."2) John 1:1c dropping the bracketed indefinite article -
". . . and God was the word."3) John 19:34b as it stands
". . . and immediately came out [a] blood and [a] water."4) John 19:34b dropping the bracketed indefinite articles -
". . . and immediately came out blood and water."Note that whereas in translation #4, blood and water remain implicitly indefinite in English, translation #2 becomes implicitly definite in English. Comparing these two verses is not a fair comparison at all.
As my post about the English word "God" showed, "God" with a capital G is inherently definite in meaning in English. With the implied definiteness in blue, and dropping the "a" in brackets, we have:
"and (the) God was the word."Horner's complete translation of John 1:1 with the brackets removed, and with the implied definiteness would therefore be:
"In the beginning was being the word, and the word was being with (the) God, and (the) God was the word."Here is a clear case of a controvertible proposition, with both "Gods" in John 1:1 being one and the same. That is, "God was the Word" = "The Word was God," and the Word who is God in John 1:1c is the same God as the God the Word was with in John 1:1b. This is what Horner's English translation is saying if the bracketed "a" is truly not needed in English.
Also consider that most biblical Greek scholars believe that the "god" of John 1:1c is possibly definite in meaning, though most now consider this unlikely (See Daniel Wallace, GGBB, pgs. 259-269). They say it is more probable that "god" is qualitative in meaning, but the Greek does have some ambiguity. However, it is impossible for the Sahidic "god" of John 1:1c to be definite in meaning. Yet that is basically what Horner is saying. For if we drop the "a" in brackets, we are left with a capitalized "God," which is definite in English and not distinguishable from the God the Word was with.
With the above facts available to us, it is clear that Horner was not making an unbiased scholarly translation of John 1:1c, but was in error.
Other Coptic scholars do not believe that the "a" of Sahidic John 1:1c should be left untranslated. One example is the translation by Coptic scholar Lance Jenott. Basing his translation on Horner's text, he renders John 1:1 as:
ϨΝ ΤЄϨΟΥЄΙΤЄ ΝЄϤϢΟΟΠ ΝϬΙΠϢΑϪЄ, ΑΥѠ ΠϢΑϪЄ ΝЄϤϢΟΟΠ ΝΝΑϨΡΜ ΠΝΟΥΤЄ. ΑΥѠ ΝЄΥΝΟΥΤЄ ΠЄ ΠϢΑϪЄ
In the beginning existed the Word, and the Word existed with God, and the Word was a God.
In conclusion, it must be pointed out that Sahidic John 1:1c can most certainly be translated as ". . . and the Word was a god." There is absolutely nothing wrong with this translation from the standpoint of translating the Sahidic text. An alternate valid translation would be ". . . and the Word was divine." This would be taking "god" in the verse as an adjectival predicate. On page 34 of Bentley Layton's "Coptic in 20 Lessons," he has:
ΟΥΝΟΥΤЄ ΠЄThis matches part of the syntax of Sahidic John 1:1c. He says there are two possible meanings:
He is a god
He is divine
One who is "divine" could be thought of being "a god-like one," one having the qualities of a god. In no way could it be said that the Word shared the same nature, essence, or substance of the God mentioned earlier. Such cannot be drawn from the Sahidic text. We are not dealing with a Greek anarthrous pre-verbal predicate nominative. This is Sahidic, and it tells us that the Word was just a god, a god-like one, divine. He is either a god or adjectivally divine. Those who say that the Word was more than simply "a god" or "divine" in Sahidic John 1:1c are working with a Trinitarian understanding of the Greek John 1:1c, and not with the Sahidic text itself. Those reading the Trinity into the Sahidic of John 1:1 are reading their theology into the text, because the Sahidic is only saying that the Word is a god, a god-like one, divine.