Inaccurate Predictions In The Fourth Gospel To Be Aware Of

Continued from Part 22

In a study made by Philip B. Harner, an examination was conducted of clauses in which an anarthrous predicate noun precedes the copulative verb.  Harner states that:

. . . E. C. Colwell examined this type of word-order and reached the tentative conclusion that “definite predicate nouns which precede the verb usually lack the article.”

In accordance with this rule he regarded it as probable that the predicate noun in both Mark 15:39 and John 1:1 should be interpreted as definite.  Colwell was almost entirely concerned with the question whether anarthrous predicate nouns were definite or indefinite, and he did not discuss at any length the problem of their qualitative significance.  This problem needs to be examined as a distinct issue.25

Harner’s findings “suggest that anarthrous predicate nouns preceding the verb may function primarily to express the nature or character of the subject, and this qualitative significance may be more important than the question whether the predicate noun itself should be regarded as definite or indefinite.”26

According to Harner, the Gospel of John has fifty-three anarthrous predicates before the verb while the Gospel of Mark has eight.  Examining Mark’s usage of this grammatical form, he concludes that it “gives little if any support to the idea that an anarthrous predicate noun preceding the verb is necessarily definite.”27  In examining John’s fifty-three examples of an anarthrous predicate preceding the verb, he finds that there is reason to expect “some qualitative significance in the predicate noun, and we cannot assume that the predicate is necessarily definite.”28  Harner cites John 6:51 and 15:1 as two examples of the type of clause in which an arthrous predicate precedes the verb.  “The fact that John sometimes uses this type of clause supports the view that he did not necessarily regard an anarthrous predicate as definite simply because it precedes the verb.”29  He does not rule out the possibility that “an anarthrous predicate preceding the verb . . . may be definite if there is some specific reason for regarding it as definite.”30 But this type of anarthrous predicate, he emphasizes, would be an exceptional case.  Harner maintains that the majority of anarthrous predicates in the Fourth Gospel are of the type for which “there is no basis for regarding such predicates as definite, and it would be incorrect to translate them as definite.”31

In his detailed examination of John 1:1, Harner states that “our study so far suggests that the anarthrous predicate in this verse has primarily a qualitative significance and that it would be definite only if there is some specific indication of the definiteness in the meaning or context.”32  However, Harner writes that the clause ho logos en pros ton theon, “the Word was with God” “suggests relationship, and thus some form of, ‘personal’ differentiation, between the two.”33  As such, theos en ho logos “means that the logos has the nature of theos (rather than something else)” and that “the word theos is placed at the beginning for emphasis.”34  Therefore, he concludes that:

Perhaps the clause could be translated, “the Word had the same nature as God.”  This would be one way of representing John’s thought, which is, as I understand it, that ho logos, no less than ho theos, had the nature of theos.35

Harner, like Colwell, is a trinitarian, yet his study does not enhance the trinitarian contention that John 1:1 speaks of God and the Logos as being of one essence.  Furthermore, his analysis makes Colwell’s “definite rule” even less definite than ever.  At the end of his study Harner reminds the reader that:

At a number of points in this study we have seen that anarthrous predicate nouns preceding the verb may be primarily qualitative in force yet may also have some connotation of definiteness.  The categories of qualitativeness and definiteness, that is, are not mutually exclusive, and frequently it is a delicate exegetical issue for the interpreter to decide which emphasis a Greek writer had in mind.  As Colwell called attention to the possibility that such nouns may be definite, the present study has focused on their qualitative force. . . .  In John 1:1 I think that the qualitative force of the predicate is so prominent that the noun cannot be regarded as definite.36

It follows that it should be quite acceptable to render theos en ho logos as “the Word was a god” for here John is expressing his belief about the quality or nature of the Word.  He is not identifying the essence of the Word as being one with God.  For the author of the Gospel of John ho theos and ho logos are not interchangeable terms.  If they were, he could not say, “the Word was with God.”  John’s Word is a supernatural being but he is not the Deity.

25 Philip B. Harner, “Qualitative Anarthrous Predicate Nouns:  Mark 15:39 and John 1:1,” Journal of Biblical Literature 92 (1973), p. 76.

26 Harner, p. 75.

27 Harner, p. 81.

28 Harner, p. 83.

29 Harner, p. 83.

30 Harner, p. 84.

31 Harner, p. 84.

32 Harner, p. 84.

33 Harner, p. 85.

34 Harner, p. 85.

35 Harner, p. 87.

36 Harner, p. 87.

© Gerald Sigal