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.


Andrew said...

The Word was a god (or divine) means that he shared in the divine essence / nature. In other words, it means that the Word was God.

Abernathy said...

"The Word was a god (or divine) means that he shared in the divine essence / nature. In other words, it means that the Word was God."

That is a non sequitur.

If John 1:1c means that the Word was God, John could have explicitly stated that by using the definite article. But he didn't. Neither does John use the Greek terms for "essence" or "nature."

Sounds like a case of misplaced eisegesis, and not sound exegesis.

Seeker said...

The fact is that Jesus is a divine being , who has been exalted by the father. JESUS himself refers to the Father as The ONLY true God .Does this make Jesus a false God ? Not unless one is intellectually challenged and cannot distinguish from the Hebrew and Greek useage of the words Elohim and Theos when the context refers to supernatural beings in a qualitive sense or to God in the absolute and fullest sense as Jesus does when he calls the Father The ONLY true God ...

Seeker said...

JESUS absolutely shares the divine nature , however this does not make him God in the same sense that the father Is God . Christians will share this divine nature when glorified , and will also become "gods" or divine beings in a qualitive sense as promised by Jesus ....

Yochanan Heimeyer said...

It should also be noted that a missing definite article would indicate an emphasis on "beginning" I.e. "that the Logos always existed".
The original rendering is"...Kai Theos e'n o' Logos" or "...and God was the Word."
Bottom line is that the Word is God!

Carl S said...


John could not use the definite article ("ton"), because he used that with "theon" in John 1:1b. What John is doing is distinguishing two persons (the Father and Jesus).

The occurrence of "ton theon" in the 2nd clause is in reference to the Father. Many times in the Synoptics "the God" is in reference to the Father.

John could not use the definite article ("the") in the 3rd clause because he would be saying that Jesus (the Word) was the Father, which is incorrect. The Father is not the Son, nor is the Son the Father. They are two distinct persons. What he is telling us is that Jesus has the divine nature (the Word is made out of the same stuff as the Father is).

Thus, the MEANING of John 1:1 being conveyed is:

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God [the Father], and God was the Word [the Word had the nature of God]."

Your claim of a non sequitur is misapplied because you do not understand the meaning behind the terms used in the Christian Church and academic circles. You only understand what the Watchtower wants you to understand. The Watchtower teaches that God = the Father, or that Jehovah = the Father. Thus, when you hear Christians say, "Jesus is God," your mind interprets that to mean, "Jesus is the Father." This is not the Trinitarian view, but is a distortion put there by the Watchtower.

Thus, Andrew's conclusion is logical. Think of the premises.

1) Scripture teaches strict monotheism (the existence of only one being holding the nature of divinity).

2) John tells us the Father (ton theon) has the divine nature (John 1:1b).

3) John tells us the Word (Jesus) has the divine nature (John 1:1c).

Whoa! Is John advocating two gods contrary to what Scripture teaches? Is he really advocating that there are two beings with divine natures?

If Jesus is "a god", he is a god nonetheless. The means there are two gods (polytheism).

If Jesus is "god-like", "divine", or "deity", that still makes him a god and that still means there are two gods (polytheism).

How then do we reconcile what John is saying with the rest of Scripture?

If Jesus has the divine nature, then he is of the same stuff the Father is made of. Jesus and the Father share the same nature. Therefore, Jesus is God and the Father is God. That is logical. One "What" and two "Who's" (three "Who's" counting the Holy Spirit, but that is another lengthy matter altogether. We'll just stick with Jesus and the Father for now.).

By the way, what are the Greek terms for "essence" and/or "nature"?

And this is not "misplaced eisegesis" but is sound exegesis. For how then do you reconcile the Watchtower version of John 1:1 with the following (we'll use the Sahidic version since it is all the rave on this blog site):

John 1:18 (Sahidic version)
"God did not any see ever; God, the only Son, he who is being in the bosom of his Father, that (one) is he who spake of him." (NOTE: the Son is called God.)

John 5:18 (Sahidic version)
Because of this therefore more were seeking for him the Jews to put him to death; because not only was he breaking the sabbath, but he was saying also, My Father is God, equalizing himself with God. (NOTE: Jesus makes himself EQUAL with the Father.)

John 20:28 (Sahidic version)
Answered Thomas, said he to him, My Lord and my God. (NOTE: you can't get more clearer than that.)

In light of the above verses by John, from the Sahidic, how then should John 1:1 be interpreted? What is John telling us?

Carl S said...


What on earth are you saying? You acknowledge the fact that Jesus is a divine being, which means you believe he has the same nature that the Father has (the nature of God). Then you pose the question if Jesus is a false God. Jesus cannot be a false god, but at the same time he cannot be a true god for there is only ONE God (just as you pointed out). So what is John trying to tell us about Jesus?

If some thing has a divine nature, that thing is God. Jesus has the divine nature (and you have declared you believe this). Therefore, follow it to its logical conclusion: Jesus is God just as the Father is God.

The Father is God by virtue of his nature. Since Jesus shares that nature, by virtue of that same nature, he too is God.

This does not make Jesus the Father, or the Father Jesus, (for they are two distinct persons) but this makes them both equal to each other. They are not two separate gods, but are the ONE God.

The Watchtower teaches you that Jehovah = the Father. When you hear someone say, "Jesus is God," or "Jesus is Jehovah" you immediately think they are saying Jesus is the Father. That is far from the truth. That is not the Trinitarian view, that is the Watchtower's distortion of the Trinitarian view. Christians believe that the all encompassing name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is Jehovah. Jehovah is not simply the Father. This view is prevalent in the Old Testament.

It is proper to say Jehovah is God and is the ONLY God there is by nature. Jehovah is one "what" and three "who's." The "what" is the essence (or stuff) of godhood, and the "who's" are the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. So when Christians say the Father, or Jesus, or the Holy Spirit is God, they are not saying they are each other (Jesus is the Father, the Spirit is Jesus, the Father is the Spirit, etc.). They are saying they are Jehovah (the one true being who by nature is God).

The Father is not the Son or the Spirit, the Son is not the Father or the Spirit, nor is the Spirit the Father or the Son. They are three distinct personages who share the same nature. And by virtue of sharing that nature, that makes them co-equal, co-eternal, and co-powerful.

The Father is Jehovah, the Son is Jehovah, and the Spirit is Jehovah, and Jehovah is God.

John is telling us a new revelation (or understanding) about God (Jehovah) that was not known in Old Testament times. Jehovah (God) has revealed more of His self to us. He has revealed Himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (in the case of John 1:1 as the Father and Son). Yet these are not three gods, but one God. John is saying:

"In the beginning was Jesus, and Jesus was with the Father, and Jehovah was Jesus."

That is what John is telling us. Shed the Watchtower definitions and examine it for yourselves. Let Scripture interpret Scripture. Don't isolate this one verse and make is say something contrary to the rest of Scripture.

Let us echo what the John faithfully records the Apostle Thomas say to Jesus, "My Lord and my God!"

Jetty Johnny said...

I don’t suppose to understand Greek like some do, but if anyone looks at the text of John 1:1 seriously, it is plain, and only logical that,
someone can not be with someone and be that someone too!

Just take these examples:
- When man begets a son, that son is man-kind.
- When a duck begets a duck, that quack is animal-kind.
- When God begets a son, that son is god-kind.

JimSpace said...

Carl S has presented a classic case for Trinitarianism, one that has been analyzed and dismantled in my blog entries:

Biblical monotheism is...
Did Thomas Teach Trinitarianism at John 20:28?
What a tangled web we weave...
A Lesson from Jesus’ Rebuke
Dismantling Trinitarianism

And others on Jesus' resurrection body:
Jesus’ Resurrection Body
Passing Through the Curtain

abealamguitar said...


You're arguments do a fantastic job of proving Jesus is God. You are correct, Jesus said "You have seen me, you have seen the Father." and Thomas worshipped him rightly. Read the Sahidic translation of John 20:28. "Thomas answered, said he to him (Jesus), my Lord and my God". The answer is as clear as day.

Carl S., your logic is sound. Great Job.

abealamguitar said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
JimSpace said...

Hi abealamguitar,
I’m afraid your comment does a “fantastic job of proving” that you have abysmally poor reading comprehension. (See what happens when you reply with bitter sarcasm? You open yourself up to pointed critique.)

But hey, let’s be civil, shall we? Let’s excise unnecessary sarcasm and caustic rejoinders.

Jesus’ words at John 14:9 must be juxtaposed with his words at John 14:28 and 17:3. Thus, Jesus represents his Father (John 7:29) the “only true God” who is greater than him. Regarding John 20:28, you can read it in Greek, Sahidic, or English, or any other language you prefer, and the meaning remains the same as I carefully explained in my essay on that scripture: John 20:28.

John 14:9 or 20:28 are not automatic proofs for Trinitarianism, as that would contradict scores of other scriptures. All the relevant scriptures must be included, not leaving any out. I explained this situation here:

A Lesson from Jesus’ Rebuke
A Rebuttal of Trinitarianism

All interested persons are cordially invited to professionally and prayerfully read my essays.

JimSpace said...

See also regarding the Trinitarian logic of “worship to Jesus proves he is God (as in the 2nd person of the Trinitarian Godhead)”:

The Person of Christ

As I show, this “logic” produces an unintended consequence, due to being ignorant of or ignoring relevant scriptures.

Keefa Ben Yahchanan said...

[you said]You're arguments do a fantastic job of proving Jesus is God

[reply] Is this your argument?, that because God/god is predicated of Jesus that he is a person of God. This is called the shared name fallacy and if one appeal to this notion then every figure in the Bible that is called ELOHIM/QEOS is inside of God. In my humble opinion, the Trinity doctrine of three divine persons forming "one God" is strictly speaking an absurdity and/or a contradiction, and that it is, therefore, incapable of any biblical support. This doctrine has many errors and obfuscating clear plain literal statements of scripture only put one at odds with the biblical data.