Thursday, May 10, 2007

The Sahidic Coptic Indefinite Article at John 1:1

“The use of the Coptic articles, both definite and indefinite, corresponds closely to the use of the articles in English.” – Thomas O. Lambdin, Introduction to Sahidic Coptic, page 5 (my emphasis)

What is the primary difference? Lambdin continues: “Indefinite nouns designating unspecified quantities of a substance require an indefinite article in Coptic where there is none in English.” Further, “abstract nouns such as *me*, truth, often appear with either article, where English employs no article.” (page 5)

These are the distinctions that some apologists would make of great consequence when faced with the indefinite article at Coptic John 1:1c. But making an issue of this is a smokescreen that hides either ignorance or outright deception. Why? Because these exceptions have absolutely nothing to do with Coptic John 1:1c. Why not? Because the noun used here, *noute*, god, does not fall into either of the categories mentioned above. *Noute* is not a noun designating quantities of a substance. It is not an abstract noun. Rather, it is a regular Coptic noun which, joined with the Sahidic Coptic indefinite article, *ou*, is usually translated by means of the English indefinite article “a”.

Lambdin gives two examples of this usage quite early in his grammar book. For example, on page 17 he gives the sentence *n ounoute an pe*, translatled in the key as “He is not a god.” On page 18 we have the sentence *ntof ounoute pe*, which Lambdin translates as “He is a god.” Not “he is God.” Not “he is Divine.” But, “he is a god.” This same indefinite article – regular noun construction is found at Coptic John 1:1c: *auw neunoute pe pSaje*

Therefore, there are sound grammatical reasons for rendering Sahidic Coptic John 1:1c by what it actually and literally says, “a god was the Word.” (Note: In Coptic, the "e" in *ne* is elided with the "o" in *ou* giving neunoute instead of neounoute when the words are spelled together.)

Nothing is gained by verbose, philosophical attempts at explaining that "a god was the Word" is not what the Coptic text “means.” That’s clearly what it says, so why should that not be what it means? To impute a different meaning to what the Coptic text actually says is eisegesis, not exegesis. It is special pleading of the worst kind. It is bringing theological suppositions into the Coptic text that the text itself does not support.

True, the Coptic text is a translation of the Koine Greek text of John 1:1c , but that text also can be translated literally to say “a god was the Word.” The Sahidic Coptic translators were translating the Greek text as they understood it, from the background of 500 years of Koine Greek influence in Egypt.

The challenge to those scholars and apologists who argue for a qualitative or definite reading for Coptic John 1:1c is that they have the burden of proof to show clearly, by Scripture references, where else the Sahidic Coptic indefinite article before the noun *noute*, god, has a qualitative or definite meaning.

Until they find such verses, their arguments are hollow, shallow, irrelevant, and immaterial.

It is not sufficient to merely suppose and guess that the Sahidic Coptic indefinite article before a regular noun has qualitative or definite significance. Show the proof from the Coptic Scriptures.

On the other hand, there are many verses in just the Gospel of John alone where the Sahidic Coptic indefinite article, joined to a regular noun like *noute*, god, is translated with the English indefinite article “a” in Reverend George Horner’s classic English translation of the Sahidic Coptic text, as well as in other Sahidic Coptic literature that has been translated into English.

In simple terms: Apologists and scholars, don’t continue to give us your theological biases, disguised as grammatical treatments. Don’t continue to throw up verbose smokescreens in attempts to hide the truth of what the Sahidic Coptic text says. Your arguments are built on sand.

Show us the proof of your assertions from actual Sahidic Coptic New Testament verses, if you have any.