Continued from Part 21
- C. Colwell offers a grammatical rule explaining the use of the article with a predicate nominative in the Greek New Testament.22 This rule seems to justify the trinitarian translation of John 1:1. Colwell says:
A definite predicate nominative has the article when it follows the verb; it does not have the article when it precedes the verb. Of course, this can be claimed as a rule only after it has been shown to describe the usage of the Greek New Testament as a whole or in large part. . . .
The opening verse of John’s Gospel contains one of the many passages where this rule suggests the translation of a predicate as a definite noun. Kai Theos en ho logos looks much more like “And the Word was God” than “And the Word was divine” when viewed with reference to this rule. The absence of the article does not make the predicate indefinite or qualitative when it precedes the verb; it is indefinite in this position only when the context demands it. The context makes no such demand in the Gospel of John, for this statement cannot be regarded as strange in the prologue of the gospel, which reaches its climax in the confession of Thomas.23
On closer examination, one finds that rather than supporting the trinitarian view, Colwell’s evidence and conclusions disprove the belief that John teaches the doctrine of a triune deity. Colwell’s evidence indicates that this is not an absolute rule but one which has a number of exceptions.24 In addition, citing John 1:1 as an example, he states that context is important in determining whether a predicate nominative before a verb is indefinite. However, in support of his position that context demands that the predicate be definite in this verse, he states that this Gospel “reaches its climax in the confession of Thomas” (John 20:28) in which Thomas refers to Jesus as “my Lord and my God.” At the heart of Colwell’s statement is a theological bias on his part, not a judicious opinion based on either grammar or context. Colwell says: “The absence of the article does not make the predicate indefinite or qualitative when it precedes the verb; it is indefinite in this position only when context demands it.” According to his explanation, a predicate noun, e.g., “god,” in the predicate nominative “and god was the Word,” is indefinite before the verb only when the context demands it. He then asserts that “the context makes no such demand in the Gospel of John.” Actually, the very opposite is true. In John 1:1, context does demand that the second “god” mentioned in this verse be indefinite. In fact, considering the context of the entire New Testament, Colwell’s rule is not applicable to John 1:1. John 1:1 is the most obvious exception to his rule; no definite article is to be implied before the second mention of “god” in John 1:1. Translating theos as “divine” or “a god” in order to express the nature of the Word, rather than identifying his person, is consistent with John’s use of Philo’s teachings and terminologies in order to explain his own Logos doctrine. The lack of the definite article before the word “god” most certainly represents John’s theological intention.
22 E.C. Colwell, “A Definite Rule for the Use of the Article in the Greek New Testament,” Journal of Biblical Literature 52 (1933), pp. 12-21.
23 Colwell, pp. 13, 21.
24 Colwell, pp. 16-18.