Friday, September 29, 2006

Value of the Coptic Version

In The Fourth Gospel, the late Edwyn Clement Hoskyns, Bart., D.D. (St. Andrews), Fellow of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, writes concerning John 1:1:

" It is impossible to reproduce in English this contrast [between hO QEOS and QEOS]. The Coptic version alone has been able to reproduce the meaning of the original Greek. The Word is distinguished from the Father, without, however, thereby introducing any suggestion of lack of complete union between them....The Word of God is no neuter thing, no mere power: He acts with personal consciousness and will....The emphasis upon the transcendent dependence of the Word upon the Father conditions the whole narrative which follows. As the incarnate Word or Son of God, the words and actions of Jesus are the manifestation to men of what He has seen with the Father (i. 18, vi. 46, viii. 38). Finally, the revelation completed, He prays that He may be glorified again with the glory that was His before the Creation (xvii. 5)."
-- (emphasis added) -- ( Faber and Faber Limited, London, Second edition 1947), pp. 141, 142

Why would Hoskyns state that "the Coptic version (of John 1:1) alone has been able to reproduce the meaning of the original Greek"? No doubt because he appreciated the precision of this ancient version that possessed both definite and indefinite articles in its grammatical structure, unlike the contemporaneous versions in Latin and Syriac. The Coptic version was and is able to clearly distinguish the nuance of meaning between the Word as a divine being and the divine Being the Word was with or, as the Coptic says literally, was "in the presence of."

Yet until recently, it has been the Latin and Syriac versions which have been getting the scholarly attention and adulation, whereas by contrast, the Coptic version has been slighted. In the October 22, 2001 edition of Christianity Today, in an article titled "Raising the Bar," scholars were advised to give more attention to the study of Coptic and the Coptic versions, and in the past few years new impetus has been given especially to critical scholarly study of the Coptic New Testament. The Sahidica Project of J. Warren Wells is a prime example of this.

"The ancient versions are significant in the search for the most likely original Greek text, especially the three earliest ones, Coptic, Syriac, and Latin." -- Stanley E. Porter, ed.,
Handbook to Exegesis of the New Testament, pp. 67, 68

The Latin and Syriac versions have had their day; it's time for the Coptic text to step into the limelight of New Testament scholarship and appreciation.

Update: The importance of the Sahidic New Testament is being greeted in the scholarly world by offerings from Logos Bible Sofware, featuring the Coptic New Testament of J. Warren Wells in several editions. See: