Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Greek Definite Article, John 1:1, and the Word was a God by James Stark 1861


The Greek Definite Article, John 1:1, and the Word was a God by James Stark M.D., F.R.S.E. 1861


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During the Winter 1860–61, I was prostrated on a bed of sickness, and for several weeks sleep nearly forsook me. Many thoughts coursed through my mind during the tedious watches of the night, and more frequently than others the subject of this Treatise. Turning the arguments in my mind in every possible way, I often fervently prayed that some revelation might be vouchsafed to me, which would distinctly leave the impression on my mind that it came from God, and be of such a nature as to shew me whether I had arrived at a right or wrong interpretation of the Scriptures. At that time I was not even thinking of the Greek text, which, to speak the truth, I had rarely consulted for years. One night, after much intense thought on the subject, as by a flash of lightning there was depicted on the tablet of my mind's eye, the words, “If you are right in your conclusions you will find that the original Greek text of the first verse of John's Gospel reads not as translated in the English version, but, 'In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with The God, and a God was the Word.’ You will also find that the passage in Romans ix. 5 will read not as in the English translation, but, “Whose are the Fathers, and of whom came Christ after the flesh. May the Supreme God be blessed for ever. Amen.’” I cannot conceive how these words or these passages occurred to me, for though I certainly might have imagined the first, I never could have conceived it possible that our English translators would so far allow their Trinitarian prejudices to sway them as to make the second passage read so different from the translation—I must call it—revealed to me. No one can conceive what a night of longing I had for the coming of the morning, which would enable me to procure a Greek Testament and enable me to decide whether I was right, or whether, by directing me to these passages, God in his mercy intended to shew me that I was wrong. Daylight came at last, and when my son brought me my Greek Testament, and I then found that the translation revealed to me was indeed the correct one, and not that in the English Bible, need I say how my heart overflowed with gratitude to The God who had thus answered my prayer, and had at the same time directed me to a source which, till then, I had quite neglected. It was only since that night that I compared every passage quoted in this Treatise with the original Greek, and added the definite article where our English Translators had omitted it.

Greek scholars more familiar with the writings of the Ancient Poets than with the peculiarities of the New Testament Greek, which they much neglect, are apt to imagine that I lay too great stress on the presence or absence of the definite article. But it is not so; and it would be very easy to prove that the writers of the New Testament break every classical Greek rule in their use of the definite article, in order that their writings may have a clearness and definiteness of language which they could not have were they to follow the examples of the classical authors. For instance, the classical Greek writer rarely or never repeats the definite article where there is a predicate of the same gender and case before it, so that in their writings the absence of the definite article does not imply that the noun has not a definite signification. In many instances, also, the classical Greek author omits the definite article altogether, though he still intends the noun to be used in its definite sense. The Holy Spirit, however, in selecting the Greek as the language through which the Christian Revelation should be communicated to man, appears to me to have acted otherwise, and wisely judged that it was better to give definite ideas, whether the use or the omission to use the definite article was consonant with the classical Greek rule or not. Why, even at the present day, excepting perhaps the English, there is not a language with which I am acquainted that can convey ideas in that definite form which metaphysical reasonings require to prevent us mistaking their meaning. It was the same in the days of our Saviour. The Greek was the only extant language capable of giving distinct definition to its expressions—not, however, by following the classical rules, but by taking advantage, as has been done in the Holy Scriptures, of the capabilities of the language. Contrast it with the Latin, for instance, the language of the Romans, the conquerors of the world. A language more incapable of distinct definition than the Latin does not exist. When a Roman said, “Deus creavit mundum,” he might mean any of three different ideas:—First, “God created the world;” Second, “A God created the world; ” Third, “The God created the world;” and his language was incapable of telling which of all these ideas he meant to convey to me. The classical Greek, in like manner, frequently omitted the article in similar sentences, but in the Holy Scriptures no such omissions seem to have been made. The Holy Spirit seems to have directed the Evangelists and Apostles to make a free use of the capabilities of the Greek, so as to express in language which could not be misunderstood, what the Holy Spirit meant to teach. Hence, we find these writers violating every classical rule in the use of the definite article; all these violations leading to much clearer conceptions of the ideas they meant to convey, and preventing obscurities which must have arisen had they followed the classical Greek rule. Thus we have again and again the repetition of the article where no classical author would have used it, as O CRISTOS O UIOS--O SWTHR O UIOS--O QEOS O PATER--TO PNEUMA THS ALHQEIAS KAI TO PNEUMA THS PLANHS--TO PNEUMA ESTI TO MARTUROUN--BAPTIZONTES AUTOUS EIS TO ONOMA TOU PATROS KAI TOU UIOU KAI TOU AGIOU PNEUMATOS-—and hundreds of similar instances might be given. There are, it is true, undoubted instances where the classical Greek rule is followed, as, O QEOS KAI PATER, but in every such instance it will be found that the sentence bears that the two nouns undoubtedly refer to one and the same person, so that there was no call for a repetition of the article. In every case, however, where the nouns refer to things, or to persons who might be different, the article is either distinctly repeated if it is intended that the noun should have a distinct definite signification, or it is purposely omitted where the noun is intended to be used in its indefinite SenSe.

A marked instance of this last is to be found in the Gospel by John iv. 25:--PNEUMA O QEOS. Here it is clear as daylight that John means to use the noun PNEUMA in its indefinite sense, and it is rightly translated in our English Bible “a Spirit,” though our translators have omitted the essential definite article before the word God, for the Greek says, “The God is a spirit.” More definite language could not be used. Exactly in the same manner, John says in his first chapter, QEOS HN O LOGOS, which must be translated, “a God was the Word,” or, “divine was the Word,” seeing the word QEOS/theos has no definite article before it; and the whole context clearly shews that the word QEOS was here used in its indefinite sense, by the circumstance that both before and after telling us that “the Word was a God” (or that “the word was divine”). John most carefully and pointedly informs us that “the Word was with The God.” This very circumstance clearly proves that John never meant to say that the word was the God, or he would not both immediately before and immediately following that statement, have pointedly said that “the Word was WITH The God.” Besides, as John is one of the writers who violates all the classical Greek rules in the use of the article, it cannot for a moment be doubted that had he intended to teach us that “the Word was the God” he would have said so, in which case he would have been saved twice repeating the fact that “the Word was with The God;” for, of course, if the Word was The God, it would have been words of supererrogation to add that he was also with The God. The very fact, however, that John carefully omits the article before QEOS proves to every reasoning mind that he meant to convey to us, what, indeed, the whole Scriptures prove, that Jesus was a divine Being present WITH The God, but was not “The God” himself.

Just see how all the conclusions of this Treatise are supported by that very passage on which unthinking theologians frequently rest as the foundation of the Trinitarian Doctrine,—“Go ye therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” Now, bring to bear on this passage all possible grammatical criticism, and the sole conclusion which can be arrived at is, that Three Distinct Persons are named, while not the slightest hint is given that these three are one. Had either Jesus Christ himself, or the Evangelist Matthew, intended us to receive as doctrine that these Three distinct Divine Beings were one God, sure am I they would have used words which would have conveyed that meaning to us. An additional word or two would have done it; nay, dropping out the articles would have almost implied it; and yet neither was done. For instance, Jesus might have said, “Baptizing them in the name of God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,” which would have taught the Trinity in unity by implication. Or he might have said, “Baptizing them in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, one God,” which would have been a direct teaching of the Trinity in Unity Doctrine. But Jesus did neither of these; and as the Holy Spirit does nothing carelessly, as man would do it, there must be a reason for the three names being mentioned in such a distinct manner, repeating the definite article before each, in opposition to every Greek classical rule; and a comparison of the passage with the whole of the rest of the Scriptures proves clearly that the reason of the repetition of the definite article before each of the names was, to render it apparent to every one that these were the names of Three distinct Divine Beings interested in the work of man's redemption, but that they neither constituted One God, nor were parts or persons of One God. Hear, then, the conclusion of the whole matter—the only conclusion at which the Scriptures allow us to arrive, the only Doctrine which they teach on this subject. There is “One only true God”—“God The Father,” who is above all, who is Father of all, who is God of all; not only The Father and The God of angels and of men, but The Father and “The God of our Lord Jesus Christ” himself. This Supreme God, in the work of man's redemption, employs the agency of two Divine Beings—Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost; and when the purposes for which they were specially set apart shall have been accomplished, and Jesus shall have resigned into the hands of the Supreme God that power and dominion which had been entrusted to him, and shall have laid down his Office as Mediator, he will resume his place as a subject, that “The God may be all in all.”

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