Friday, May 8, 2009

The Coptic Version and Theological Questions

It has been asked, "What was the theological outlook of the 3rd century Sahidic Coptic translators?" While that cannot be known with absolute certainty, it is clear that many doctrines, such as the doctrine of the Trinity, had not yet been formulated or adopted by the churches, particularly the Egyptian churches. The most likely influence, if any, might have been Egypt's scholarly Origen, who wrote an early Commentary on the Gospel of John. (Ante-Nicene Fathers, volume 9). Also see:

Not laboring under the burden of later doctrines developed by the church, it is interesting to find insights from the Sahidic Coptic version on theologically significant New Testament verses. For example:

Luke 23:43. Did Jesus say, "Today you will be with me in paradise," or "I tell you today, You will be with me in paradise"? The best Sahidic texts, as found in Warren Wells' Sahidica text, have the Coptic particle je after its word for "today." (For information on the Sahidica text, see):

This is the equivalent of a comma after "today," giving the translation, "Truly I say to you today, You will be with me in paradise." This harmonizes with the Scriptural fact that "today" -- that day -- Jesus was not to be in paradise, but in the grave.

John 8:58. "I am." Sahidic Coptic finishes the statement, rending the Greek egw eimi here as anok tishoop, "I am existing." Since the Coptic sentence begins with empate, "not-yet," comparable to the Greek's prin, the sentence has the force of what Greek scholar Kenneth L. McKay titles the "Extension from Past." (A New Syntax of the Verb in New Testament Greek, 1994, p. 42) Therefore, both the Greek and the Coptic of John 8:58 may be rendered this way: "I have been in existence since before Abraham was born." Jesus is here addressing the matter of prior existence, not Godship. Equating John 8:58 with Exodus 3:14, where God calls himself "I Am" in the King James and other versions, stands on poor scholarship, since the Hebrew term used in Exodus, Ehyeh really means "I will be." Even the King James Version translates Ehyeh as "I will be," not "I Am," just two verses prior, at Exodus 3:12. So do the Greek Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate.

Titus 2:13 and 2 Peter 1:1. These verses are said in some circles to represent the "Granville Sharp Rule" that two nouns connected by kai (Greek, "and") and only the first noun has the definite article, it denotes unity or equality. Thus, in these verses, "the God and Savior Jesus Christ," applies to Christ the titles of both God and Savior. Was this the understanding of the Sahidic Coptic translators?

No. At Titus 2:13 the Sahidic Coptic text reads noute. mn penswthr ihsous pecristos, "God, and our Savior Jesus Christ." Thus, two Persons are in view, not one and the same. The Coptic translators did not know of a "Granville Sharp Rule."

And as for 2 Peter 1:1, the Coptic translators apparently had before them another Greek text, which read "Lord" instead of "God": "Our Lord Jesus Christ, our Savior." (For example, "Lord" instead of "God" is found in the Codex Sinaiticus of the 4th century, and also the Harclean Syriac version.)

Revelation 3:14. Is Jesus "the beginning" of God's creation, or as some modern versions say, "the Beginner" or "the Ruler" of God's creation? The Sahidic Coptic version has houeite as a translation of the Greek's arche, which only means beginning, first. (W. E. Crum, A Coptic Dictionary, p. 738) The Coptic translators made no effort to embellish the meaning of arche in order to serve a (non-existent at the time) Trinity apologetic.

By and large, the Coptic translators were literal and faithful expounders of the Greek texts they used.


  1. what do you make of the textual variant in 2 Pet 1:1?

    Evidence Scribes saw a GS construction and didn't like it? The Divine Name was there and scribes went different ways to "fix" it?

  2. Excuse me but I am not sure where to post my questions and I may have posted this question somewhere else in your blogs,

    But does the Coptic (P Chester Beatty-813) have the book of Mark? - Does it have the long- short or no ending? just the “cliff hanger”? And Where can we find more information on the oldest Armenian (?)manuscripts, "The 99 out of one-hundred that do not contain the long ending”?

    Anyway I have great trust in our Bible and the organization- that keeps sticking to the truth-no matter where it goes... they try to help us see the variations and disputations... they never lie to us- or tickle our ears. Truth, they keep sticking to it. And I am so glad the Coptic just continues to verify the truth!

    Thank you very much.

  3. Even though the Coptic Bible supports the beliefs of Jehovah's Witness's, they made their conclusions originally from the Greek text which means that there is proof in the Greek text itself.

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  5. Hello, I would like to know from the source for the texts of the COPTO for the Old Testament, a URL, if I had one, dictionaries and a more reliable Coptic grammar book, if you could pass that data to me.

    I'm Spanish speaking, it's very hard to find

  6. I've got the Warren Wells' Sahidica text from Internet. And I want to know which is the best Sahidic Text which you said. There are several manuscripts dated at 4th century.(Wikipedia) But I could'nt get these text.

  7. The Cpotic Sahidica Text which I've got reads in two way. In one Text, “je”(that)is after “today”, and in another one, “je” is before “today. In the Warren Wells' Sahidica text, “je”(that)is after “today”.("Sahidica - A New Edition of the New Testament in Sahidic Coptic" 2000-2007, p.222/644;“”)So, if you know the manuscript of the best Sahidica Text, please load up. In the Web above, the manuscript on the luke is “PPalau Rib. Inv.Nr.181 collated against Pierpont Morgan Library M-569”, but, this is not on the Wikipedia. I guess that “M-569”is the original. According to a Web, the “PPalau Rib. Inv.Nr.181” contains complete Text of Luke and Mark in Sahidic.