Tuesday, November 2, 2010

John 14:14: To "me" or not to "me", that is the question

With apologies to Shakespeare's Hamlet.

Many modern Bible translations are based on a critical text like the Nestle-Aland 27 (NA27). At John 14:14 such texts read: ἐάν τι αἰτήσητέ με ἐν τῷ ὀνόματί μου ἐγὼ ποιήσω, "If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it." (English Standard Version)

New Testament textual scholars consider the Alexandrian text to be generally "the best text and the most faithful in preserving the original." (Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, p. 5) The "me" reading is found in a number of such ancient textual witnesses, including p66 (2nd century).

The Sahidic Coptic text (2nd/3rd century) is also in the Alexandrian text family. Like still other ancient witnesses, it does not have "me" at John 14:14.

Rather, the Sahidic Coptic text reads: ЄΤЄΤΝϢΑΝΑΙΤЄΙ ΝΟΥϨШΒ ϨΜ ΠΑΡΑΝ ΠΑΙ ϯΝΑΑΑϤ, "If you should ask anything in my name, this I will do."

Some scholars think that "ask me" is original because it is the more difficult reading. That is a consideration, but a more important consideration would be if it squares with everything else that Jesus said and did.

"Ask me" would be logical in the immediate context of Jesus' speaking with his disciples while he was still with them. Even the first Christian martyr Stephen implored Jesus as if he were still present. (Acts 7:59) But it is not unusual that Jesus as a living presence would still resonate with Stephen, since Jesus' ministry and resurrection were recent events for Stephen.

However, beyond that context, Jesus directs Christians to pray to "Our Father" (Matthew 6:9), and the apostle Paul said "I bend my knees to the Father." (Ephesians 3:14)

There is no other verse in the New Testament where Jesus requests or directs that prayer as an act of worship should be addressed to him. If the "me" reading is original, it would be an anomaly that is out of character with the whole New Testament.

"Ask me...in my name" is tautological, a needless repetition that is also ambiguous. Further, in the context of the Gospel of John as a whole, "ask me...in my name" is strange doctrine, if it is taken to refer to prayer.

But the Sahidic Coptic reading, ЄΤЄΤΝϢΑΝΑΙΤЄΙ ΝΟΥϨШΒ ϨΜ ΠΑΡΑΝ ΠΑΙ ϯΝΑΑΑϤ, "If you should ask anything in my name, this I will do," harmonizes with the rest of Jesus' teaching. -- John 15:16; 16:23

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Does Sahidic Coptic John 8:58 Say Jesus is God?

Koine Greek text: πρὶν Ἀβραὰμ γενέσθαι ἐγὼ εἰμί


ΜΠΑΤЄ = "It expresses a present based description of the past in terms of what has not happened up to now and expresses the expectation that it can or will eventually occur; 'before.'" -- Bentley Layton, A Coptic Grammar, p. 261

ϢШΠЄ = "To become, come into existence." -- Thomas O. Lambdin, Introduction to Sahidic Coptic, p. 315

ϢΟΟΠ = "(Is) in existence." -- Ariel Shisah HaLevy, Coptic Grammatical Chrestomathy, p. 248

The standard concept is that the Greek text's ἐγὼ εἰμί, “I Am,” is a reference to Exodus 3:14, where according to the Latin Vulgate and many English versions, God says “I am what I am.” Of course, this is not what the Hebrew text says, or what the Greek Septuagint says. The Hebrew is better translated to say “I will be who I will be,” signifying purpose rather than ontology. The Septuagint says “I am the Being,” which is not a literal translation of the Hebrew text, but a philosophical one. The ancient Greek translations of Aquila and Theodotion restored the meaning of the Hebrew text by using ἔσομαι, “I will be,” rather than εἰμί at Exodus 3:14.

The Koine Greek of John 8:58 literally says “Before Abraham to become, I am.”

The Sahidic Coptic of John 8:58 literally says, “"Before Abraham comes into existence, I (am) in existence.”

Since the Coptic text of John 8:58 closely mirrors the Greek text, what Greek scholar Kenneth L. McKay says about the syntax of the Greek text applies also to the meaning of the Coptic. The Coptic itself indicates this by not leaving ἐγὼ εἰμί to merely say, “I am,” but “I (am) in existence.”

McKay sees the construction of John 8:58 as representing an “extension from past”: “When used with an expression of either past time or extent of time with past implications…the present tense signals an activity begun in the past and continuing to present time.” McKay would thus render ἐγὼ εἰμί at John 8:58 to say: “I have been in existence before Abraham was born.” -- A New Syntax of the Verb in New Testament Greek, p. 42

This is not really new. The ancient Syriac/Aramaic translators, who used a language similar to that of Jesus himself, also rendered the ἐγὼ εἰμί of John 8:58 with past reference:

"Before Abraham was, I have been." -- Sinaitic Palimpsest

"Before ever Abraham came to be, I was." -- Curetonian Version

"Before Abraham existed, I was." -- Peshitta Version

"Before Abraham was born, I was." -- George M. Lamsa’s English version

But many people existed before Abraham did.

By specifically indicating that existence was implied in the Greek of John 8:58, the Sahidic Coptic version’s ΑΝΟΚ ϯϢΟΟΠ , “I (am) in existence” puts matters in the proper perspective:. The question asked of Jesus was not, if he were God, but whether he had seen Abraham. (John 8:57) Jesus replied that he pre-existed Abraham, as God’s Son in heaven. Neither in Greek nor in Coptic does he say “I am God.”

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Nominal Sentence Predicates and Coptic John 1:1

ΑΥШ ΝЄΥΝΟΥΤЄ ΠЄ ΠϢΑϪЄ -- John 1:1, Sahidic Coptic text

A literal English translation:

In the beginning existed the Word
And the Word existed with the God
And a god was the word.

Did the Sahidic Coptic translators see theos ("god") in the Greek anarthrous construction of John 1:1c as adjectival ("divine") or as a predicate noun ("god/God")? It has become popular for certain scholars to see the Greek of John 1:1c as qualitative in character, matching the descriptive or adjectival use of common nouns like noute ("god") in Sahidic Coptic.

Descriptively (adjectively), Sahidic Coptic ou.noute can be translated as "divine" or "a divine one." Denotatively, Sahidic Coptic ou.noute can be translated as "a god."

Note that whether descriptive or denotative, the Sahidic Coptic common noun with the indefinite article, ou.noute , can be rendered into standard English with the English indefinite article: "a divine one; a god." -- Compare Coptic scholar Bentley Layton, A Coptic Grammar, 2nd Edition (Harrassowitz Verlag, 2004), page 227.

But one important fact must be kept in mind in determining the best English translation at John 1:1c. Although Sahidic Coptic ou.noute may, in context, be denotative ("a god") or descriptive ("divine"; "a divine one") the actual usage of common nouns with the Coptic indefinite article ou- in the Sahidic Coptic Gospel of John (and the Sahidic Coptic New Testament generally) favors the simple denotative function: "a god," "a man," "a woman," "a prophet," etc.

Thus, the first example of this Coptic grammatical form found after John 1:1 is translated denotatively, with the English indefinite article "a" in George William Horner's version as "a man" (ou.rwme). --John 1:6, The Coptic Version of the New Testament in the Southern Dialect, Volume 3 (Oxford, The Clarendon Press, 1911) Similarly, we have "a man" (ou.rwme) again in verse 30; "a dove" (ou.groompe) at verse 32; "a marriage (feast)" (ou.Seleet) at 2:1, and so on denotatively a multitude of times throughout the Sahidic Coptic Gospel of John.

The Sahidic Coptic indefinite article bound to the Coptic common noun is routinely translated denotatively (with the English indefinite article "a") in Horner's Coptic Gospel of John, but not descriptively or adjectivally or "qualitatively" at all.

Coptic scholar Bentley Layton has "a-god" in his interlinear translation of Sahidic Coptic ou.noute at John 1:1c in his Coptic in 20 Lessons (Peeters, Leuven, 2007), page 7.

The tendency to want to view Coptic John 1:1c as adjectival or descriptive ("divine," "a divine one") rather than as denotative ("a god") is that of modern scholars, and does not appear to be the view of the Sahidic Coptic translators, as demonstrated by their regular use of indefinite article - common noun phrases as denotative everywhere else in John's Gospel.