Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Importance of the Sahidic Coptic version

The distinguished grammarian and Coptic scholar John Martin Plumley, former professor of Egyptology at Cambridge University and author of Introductory Coptic Grammar, (London: Home & Van Thal, 1948), had this to say about the significance of the Sahidic Coptic version:

"While there are limitations to the use which can be made of the Coptic version as an aid to the recovery of the original Greek text of the New Testament . . . it should also be recognized that by and large the Coptic version can be a valuable aid to the scholar engaged in textual criticism, and because in certain passages it preserves very ancient traditions of interpretation, it ought to be of considerable interest to the scholar working on the history and development of Christian doctrine." -- Quoted in The Early Versions of the New Testament, by Dr. Bruce M. Metzger

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Erroneous Eisegesis

Eisegesis refers to interpreting a text by reading into it one's own ideas, or other ideas foreign to the text itself. Some apologists continue in a futile attempt to do that with Coptic John 1:1c.

For example, it is claimed that the indefinite ou.noute of Coptic John 1:1c should be translated as 'the one and only God,' because the indefinite article denotes unity, not 'a god.' As a "proof," 1 Corinthians 8:6 and Ephesians 4:6 are quoted, where ou.noute n.ouwt is usually rendered as "one God."

But that is erroneous eisegesis. It is a blatant attempt to read philosophical dogma into Coptic grammar. The Coptic indefinite article ou does not of itself 'denote unity.' It simply means "a" when bound with a common or count Coptic noun like noute, "god." The Coptic text of the New Testament contains hundreds of examples that prove this. (For example, see Coptic Acts 28:6, where the anarthrous Greek theos is rendered by ou.noute in Sahidic (Sahidica) and ou.nouti in the Coptic Bohairic version. Horner and Greek-based English versions including the KJV render this as "a god.")

Further, it is not the Coptic indefinite article ou that means "one," but the bound idiom ou______n.ouwt. This idiom literally means "a single, an only," and is used in Coptic to denote "one," adjectivally: "one god," "one man," "one spirit," etc. (For example, see Coptic Romans 5:12; 1 Corinthians 6:16, 17)

Therefore, ou.noute n.ouwt simply means "one god." It is the context, not the grammar, of 1 Corinthians 8:6 and Ephesians 4:6 that mandates the translation "one God" because the specific and definite reference in those verses is p.eiwt, "the Father," whom the Lord Jesus identifies as p.noute m.mauaa.F , "the true God alone" (John 17:3 Horner), "the only true God."

Neither the grammar nor meaning of Coptic 1 Corinthians 8:6 or Ephesians 4:6 is the same as Coptic John 1:1c, so those verses cannot be used to exegete Coptic John 1:1c. Whereas ou.noute n.ouwt means a single god, i.e, "one god" or "one God" (in context, with reference to the Father), the fact remains that ou.noute means "a god." It does not mean some philosophical unity that calls for translating it as 'the one and only God.'

It would be far more honest to read Coptic John 1:1c for what it says, instead of trying to import foreign concepts into it.

And what Coptic John 1:1c clearly says is "the Word was a god." Or, if you prefer, "the Word was divine." But definitely not, "the Word was God."

Friday, October 31, 2008

A Contemporary English Translation of Coptic John 1:1-18

A Contemporary English Translation of Coptic John 1:1-18
© Copyright 2006

1. In the beginning the Word existed. The Word existed in the presence of God, and the Word was a divine being. 2. This one existed in the beginning with God. 3. All things came into existence through him; without him nothing that exists came to be. What came to be 4. through him is life, the life that is the light of mankind. 5. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overtake it.

6. There came a man who was sent by God, his name is John. 7. This one came to bear witness, to bear witness about the light, so that everyone may actively believe through him. 8. He was not the light, but his purpose was to bear witness about the light.

9. The real light which gives light to everyone was about to come into the world. 10. He was in the world, the world which came into existence through him, but the world did not know him.

10. He came to those who were his own, yet those who were his own did not receive him. 12. But he gave authority to become children of God to those who did receive him, to those actively believing in his name. 13. The origin of these was not flesh and blood, nor human will; they were begotten from God.

14. The Word became flesh and lived among us. We saw his dignity, the dignity possessed by a Father’s only Son; he was filled with divine loving-kindness and truth. 15. John bore witness about him, calling out and declaring, “This was the one concerning whom I said, ‘He who comes behind me has come to be ahead of me, because he existed prior to me.’” 16. From his fullness we all received life, and divine loving-kindness upon divine loving-kindness. 17. The Law was given through Moses, but the divine loving kindness and the truth came to be though Jesus, the Christ. 18. No one has ever seen God at any time. The divine being, the only Son who is in the bosom of his Father, is the one who has revealed him.

Verse 1c. Coptic, ΝЄΥΝΟΥΤЄ ΠЄ ΠϢΑϪЄ neunoute pe pSaje, literally, “the Word was a god.” Alternatively, “the Word was divine.”

Verse 14, dignity. Or, “glory.”

Verses 14, 16, 17, divine loving-kindness. Or, “unmerited favor.” (Greek, charis)

Verse 18. The Coptic text here (“divine being…only Son”) is apparently a conflation of the early Greek variant readings for this verse: monogenhs theos (Vaticanus; p66, etc.); ho monogenhs theos (Sinaiticus (c); p75, etc.) and ho monogenhs huios (Alexandrinus, etc.)

The Coptic text translated is based on the texts of George W. Horner, and J. Warren Wells (by permission).

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Magazine article about Coptic John 1:1

The November 1, 2008 issue of The Watchtower magazine, currently printing 37.1 million copies per issue in 169 different languages, has a significant article that mentions the Sahidic Coptic translation of John 1:1.

The title of the article is: Was the Word “God” or “a god”?


Hn tehoueite nefshoop ngi pshaje
Auw pshaje nefshoop nnahrm pnoute
Auw neunoute pe pshaje

A literal translation of the Sahidic Coptic:

In the beginning existed the word
And the word existed in the presence of the god
And a god was the word

Unlike the contemporaneous versions in Syriac and Latin, the Sahidic Coptic language has both the definite and indefinite grammatical articles in its syntactical system. The Coptic translators used the Coptic definite article in identifying the God that the Word was with, and they used the Coptic indefinite article in identifying the divinity of the Word. This is a feature in both the Sahidic and the Bohairic Coptic versions.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

James Moffatt and Coptic John 1:1, 18

Dr. James Moffatt (1870-1944) was a notable scholar of Biblical Greek and translator of the 1934 Bible version which bears his name. I've had him on the shelf for some time and recently looked at his translation of John 1:1 and John 1:18.

What interested me is that Moffatt's English translation of the Greek text(s) was quite close to what an accurate English translation of the Sahidic Coptic text would say, the Coptic text itself being based upon ancient Greek texts.

In other words, it appears that Moffatt took a similar message from those Greek texts that the Coptic translators did when they rendered their Greek texts into their own Egyptian Coptic language.

At John 1:1 Moffat renders:

The Logos existed in the very beginning, the Logos was with God, the Logos was divine.

The Sahidic Coptic text, with my 2006 Contemporary Translation:

Hn teHoueite neFSoop nCi pSaJe auw pSaJe neFSoop nnaHrm pnoute auw neunoute pe pSaJe
In the beginning the Word existed. The Word existed in the presence of God, and the Word was a divine being.

At John 1:18 Moffatt renders:

Nobody has ever seen God, but God has been unfolded by the divine One, the only Son, who lies upon the Father's breast.

The Sahidic Coptic text, with my 2006 Contemporary Translation:

pnoute mpelaau nau eroF eneH. pnoute pShre nouwt petSoop Hn kounF mpeFeiwt petmmau pe ntaFSaJe eroF
No one has ever seen God at any time. The divine being, the only Son who is in the bosom of his Father, is the one who has revealed him.

I was translating the Coptic, Moffatt was translating the Greek, but this similarity is amazing. Perhaps it is simply that both Moffatt and the Coptic translators were concerned with grammatical accuracy in these verses or had the same understanding of their meaning in the context of John's Gospel as a whole.

It is worth noting that, unlike John 1:1, the ancient Greek texts for John 1:18 exist in a number of variants, the notable ones being 1) monogenhs theos; 2) ho monogenhs theos; 3) ho monogenhs huios, i.e., "only [- begotten] god," "the only [- begotten] god," and "the only [- begotten] son."

Translators today usually put their preferred rendering in their main text and others in their footnotes. However, it appears that the Coptic translators did not footnote the variants, but conflated them. Perhaps they believed there was equal weight for both the "son" and the "god" readings found variously in manuscripts or papyri like the Vatican 1209, p66, p75 ("god") and Alexandrinus, Ephraemi Rescriptus, etc. ("son").

It is less likely that they postulated "son" from monogenhs alone, since this Greek term appears in the New Testament along with huios, which would give a redundant reading, something like "only-son son." At any rate, what is known for sure is that both the "son" and the "god" readings are attested in the ancient Greek manuscripts, and those manuscripts or their predecessors were likely available to the 2nd/3rd century Sahidic Coptic translators.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Notable use of Sahidic Coptic prepositions in John 1

I note that the Sahidic Coptic version translates the Greek preposition pros at John 1:1, 2 by two different Coptic prepositions.

Pros itself has several meanings. It is often rendered into English as "with," as in "with God." (John 1:1, 2) According to the Greek lexicon abbreviated as BDAG, at John 1:1 the significance of pros is 'by, at, near;
be (in company) with someone.' (page 875)

In the Sahidic Coptic version, pros at John 1:1 is rendered by the Coptic
preposition nnahrn. This word comes from the Coptic word for "face," and implies "in the presence of," "before." (Crum 649b; Lambdin, pp. 10, 23)

However, in the Sahidic Coptic version, the Greek pros at John 1:2 is rendered by the Coptic preposition hatn. This preposition is said to derive from the Coptic word for "hand" (Crum 428b), and has the significance of "under the hand of; beside; with." The later (6th century) Coptic Bohairic version uses hatn (haten) in both verses.

All of which means that, although we could translate both John 1:1 and John 1:2 in the Coptic to say merely that the Word was "with" God, a careful translation of the Sahidic more clearly shows that the Word was distinct from the God whom he was "in the presence of" or "under the hand of" or "beside."

I don't know why the Coptic translators of the Sahidic version used two different prepositions in their text of John 1:1, 2 to translate the one Greek preposition pros. But it surely could indicate that they did not believe the Word and the God he was "with" were one and the same.

And if the Sahidic translators meant hatn instead of nnahrn in verse 2 in its significance that implies "under the hand of," it could even signal that they believed the Word to be definitely subordinate to God. Otherwise, why use two different prepositions at all?

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

On the Date of the Coptic Version

"The Sahidic is probably the earliest of the [Coptic] translations,
and also has the greatest textual value. It came into existence no
later than the third century, since a copy of 1 Peter exists in a
manuscript from about the end of that century."

20th century Coptic scholar and New Testament translator George W. Horner gives a date closer to 188 CE, based on "the internal character of the Sahidic [version]," which, he says, "supplies confirmation of a date earlier than the third century."

Coptic scholar C. S. Malan said, "The Sahidic Version was made when Greek was a living language even in Egypt, possibly in the second century."

The Coptic Church gives the date of 200 A.D.

The Sahidic Coptic version is likely as old, and as valuable, as the more well-known Old Italian, Vulgate, and Syriac versions.