Friday, July 22, 2016

Cowell's Rule

Greetings again, my friends:

Today’s post was suggested by something which happened to me this past week.  Among others I do subscribe to a periodical letter which goes out by e-mail from a certain scholar who takes a similar view as mine that we really need to understand the Bible from a Hebraic point of view instead of a Western/Greek view.  He has written a book about the Gospel of John from a Hebraic view.  I noticed, though, that he apparently accepts the common translation used for its first book as authoritative.  So I wrote the author to point out the error to him.

His answer was to send me a PDF copy of the article from a scholarly journal from 1933 where Dr. Colwell outlined what has come to be known as Colwell’s Rule, a rule of Greek grammar often pointed to by people who are not current on matters of Greek Grammar to justify a misleading translation for John 1.1c.  The purpose of this post is to try and examine the issue and where the scholarship on the matter is right now as well as other evidence.

The Background

John 1:1 is a key scripture because it is often the very first verse cited by apologist for the Trinity doctrine as proof for the trinity.  Most translations since the beginning of vernacular translations in the Protestant Era translate it almost word for word like this:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

It seems straightforward enough, doesn’t it?  And this is the standard translation used by the translators of the Bible for the most part to this day.  However, as the printing press made books so much cheaper and affordable to the masses they began to acquire New Testaments in the koine Greek they were passed down in along with Greek Grammar books, lexicons, and shortly after concordances.  As that happened some problems regarding how the translators handled various texts of the bible began to emerge.  Top of the list was John 1:1. Why?

Εν αρχη ην ο λογος και ο λογος ην προς τον θεον, και θεος ην ο λογος.

In beginning was the Word, and the Word was with the God, and god was the Word.

That is John 1:1 according to all the ancient Greek manuscripts I’ve been able to get pictures, facsimiles or whatever of, they all read the same.  I’ve also added a word for word translation without the benefit of English word order.  My capitalization, or lack thereof, is deliberate by reason of Greek grammar.  The first thing to note is that both the “Word” and the first occurrence of “God” are capitalized and the second occurrence of “god” is not.  There is a reason for that.

First of all, Koine Greek preserves some Hebraisms in the Greek such as an interesting device when referring to the God of the Bible in the case of a word which could be cause confusion of adding the definite article, the word the in English to the word.  So we often find sprinkled throughout the Old Testament the word god with the definite article added to it to make it clear that it is talking about the God, Jehovah of Israel.  In practice because the indefinite article would be awkward in the English we simply capitalize the word God because it serves as a proper noun, a name. 

The same construction occurs in the New Testament and the general practice in those instances is the same.  We see that in the first instance of the word God in John 1:1 and the Word on all instances, but it is lacking in the second occurrence of the word god.  If we followed general practice, we should spell the last occurrence of god with the g in lower case since it is referring to a generic god instead of the God.  The meaning of the Greek as written becomes clearer if we insert what the ancient Greek language didn’t have to indicate the indefinite or generic, the indefinite article, thus translating the final clause as “and the Word was a god.”  In order for the verse to read as most often translated the Greek definite article has to be with the second occurrence of the word god, it’s as simple as that.  Colwell’s rule is all about that problem.

Colwell’s Rule

In 1933 a Greek scholar named Ernest Cadmen Colwell published the article A Definite Rule for the Use of the Article in the Greek New Testament in a journal of the time in which he outlined a rule which essentially puts the definite article into the text of John 1:1 as being understood even though it doesn’t appear there.  To quote the scholar DonaldHartley of Southeastern Bible College, who quotes Colwell himself, the rule basically says that “Definite predicate nouns which precede the verb usually lack the article.”  In other words, in copulative clauses the definite article can be understood in the case of predicate nouns which precede the verb.  That’s what we find in the case of John 1:1. For sixty years that rule stood as holy writ for justifying the common translation of the final clause of John 1:1 in a Trinitarian manner.

Colwell’s Rule Reexamined

In time a scholar named Phillip Harner put the rule to the test and reexamined Colwell’s methodology, which he found weak.  As a result, he published the article “Qualitative Anarthrous Predicate Nouns: Mark 15:39 and John 1:1,” which found the application of Colwell’s rule to John 1:1 flawed.  In its stead he proposed that the second god in the verse should be understood as qualitative, functioning more or less as an adjective.  That would mean the clause should be translated along the lines of “and the Word was godlike.”  However, translators generally avoid that one and instead either stand by the old, or as in several cases recently, translate it as “and the Word was Divine” capitalizing the word divine to once again make an association which isn’t in the Greek.

The point is that these guys would rather swallow razor blades than admit that the verse isn’t the Trinitarian mainstay it is used as.  For many years mainstream theologians have condemned the Jehovah’s Witnesses for translating the clause in their New World Translation as “and the Word was a god,” thus removing any support for the Trinity doctrine in the verse.  To admit in the slightest that translation is the correct one for the clause is a career killer so they keep on seeking to justify anything but that.  So right now the current scholarly stand is that the word there is qualitative, much like the similar construction in 1 John 4:8 “God is love.” 


In speaking of the “last days,” Daniel the prophet was told that “But you, Daniel, shut up the words and seal the book, until the time of the end. Many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase.” (Dan. 12:4, ESV) We believe this was a prophecy of what happened starting in the 1800s, when knowledge became so widely available, cheaply available along with an education.  Back then those in the high school grades were often expected to learn at least the basics to biblical Greek as well as Latin.  That increase in knowledge led to the wonderful standard of living we enjoy today made possible by advancing technology.

That very increase in knowledge made a very big problem for nominal religious leaders in Christendom because now the masses ad access to the bible in its original languages as well as various aids which could help anyone who wanted to understand what it’s message was better.  One of those problems was the discovery that the bible didn’t really teach in John 1:1 that Jesus is God almighty in the flesh.  In 1933 Dr. Colwell published what seemed to be the perfect answer to the problem, a way to insert the definite article into the text where it didn’t appear in the first place and solve the problem by making the text say what nominal Christians leaders say it says.

However, recent scholars have reexamined the rule and have tossed it aside altogether in respects to John 1:1 as a misuse of the rule.  Instead they propose in its place to assert the passage speaks qualitatively.  Okay, as long as we keep in mind that being divine, or godlike is not the same as being God himself in a triune relationship we have no trouble with seeing it that way.  But the bottom line is to realize that even with that nuance the verse does not say what it is often alleged to say.  John consciously separated the Word, Jesus, from God as a separate being with godlike qualities.

Until next time!

Monday, July 4, 2016

430 Years Where? : The Deads Sea Scrolls and Bible Chronology.

Above is a screenshot I took of a fragment which is part of the Dead Sea Scrolls collection and to reach it I used the identifier 4qedxcex12c.  This is taken from the Dead Sea Scrolls Project online and what we learn from the identifier is that it is from a group of fragments belonging to a particular scroll covering Exodus Chapter 12.  I went looking in the Dead Sea Scrolls to find out what they might show us about Exodus 12:40-41, which records the fulfillment of an earlier prophecy given to Abraham.  The problem is that there are two different variants of this passage and those variants are often cited among Bible Students in regards to the matter of Bible Chronology, and in a wider context regarding Bible veracity.  This is what I found.

Exodus 12:40 reads:

"The time that the people of Israel lived in Egypt was 430 years"

It seems straightforward enough, doesn't it?  However, we run into several problems with that passage, which is from the Masoretic Text (MT).  The first is that it appears to conflict with the prophecy itself which we find at Genesis 15: 12-16 and is as follows:

”And He said to Abram, Knowing you must know that your seed shall be an alien in a land not theirs; and they shall serve them. And they shall afflict them four hundred years; and I also will judge that nation whom they shall serve; and afterward they shall come out with great substance. And you shall come to your fathers in peace. You shall be buried in good old age. And in the fourth generation they shall come here again; for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full." 

The first is the difference in years mentioned, and the second is the number of generations.  a quick check of the genealogical record shows that four generations does not cover four hundred years.  It just does cover the time from when Jacob enters Egypt at the invitation of his son, Joseph and the reigning Pharoah until they leave.  So what is going on here?  what appears is the case is that there is a difference in reckoning matters god has set up to confuse things a bit.  Genesis apparently does two things.  The promise counts four hundred years from when the promise was made and the generations which actually resided in Eygpt.  In Exodus Moses, under inspiration, counts the time from when Abram entered the land of Canaan after leaving Haran when his father died.  Stephen invokes Genesis in his exposition in Acts 7:2-6 and Paul invoked Exodus in his exposition to the Galatians, 3:17.  However, even with that realization we are still left with a problem because the scriptures say the sons of Israel spent 430 years in Egypt or do they?

We really have two variations witnessed to in the manuscripts.  The first is found in the Masoretic Text and is as follows:

וּמוֹשַׁב֙ בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל אֲשֶׁ֥ר יָשְׁב֖וּ בְּמִצְרָ֑יִם שְׁלֹשִׁ֣ים שָׁנָ֔ה וְאַרְבַּ֥ע מֵא֖וֹת שָׁנָֽה׃ 
"The time that the people of Israel lived in Egypt was 430 years. At the end of 430 years, on that very day, all the hosts of the Lord went out from the land of Egypt."

The second is witnessed to by the LXX, the Samaritan Pentateuch and the Bohairic Coptic:

Η δε κατοικησις των υιων Ισραελ ην κατωκησαν εν γη Αιγυπτω και εν γη Χανααν ετν τετρακοσια τριακοντα

And the sojourning of the children of Israel, while they sojourned in the land of Egypt and the land of Chanaan, was four hundred and thirty years.
(Brenton's English Septuagint)

So which is it?  Were they in Egypt the entire 430 years or not.  This is where the fragment above comes in as it is the oldest witness to the text of interest here and Bible Students generally prefer the older witness.  In the catalog of Dead Sea Scrolls, the fragment is listed as following the Masoretic text.  However, as we looked closer we saw reason to question that view.  Here is a close up of the portion of the fragment containing the passage of interest:

What we see here are verses 39 & 40.  Those who can read Hebrew have no problem seeing that verse 39 is completed while verse 40 appears to start on the next line at "land of Egypt..." and this is apparently the basis for the judgment on the part of the cataloger.  Obviously, something is missing here, the portion of the text from the beginning of verse forty to the word "land."  We have no way of knowing the quality of the photo the cataloger had to work with or if he was working with the manuscript itself.  This photo is from the newer enhanced digital photographs now available online for scholars and others with an interest in the Scrolls to consult and of better quality than the other two.  And that's where things get interesting.

Now look at what we circled in red.  That is where the line ends and is a clue to what is missing from the text.  We see a break in the material but right after that is the letter "נ" or "n."  That letter is easily missed even in this image if one isn't careful.  In earlier images, it probably is even harder to spot.  Here is the text again of verse forty with the missing portion in red:

וּמוֹשַׁב֙ בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל אֲשֶׁ֥ר יָשְׁב֖וּ בְּמִצְרָ֑יִם שְׁלֹשִׁ֣ים שָׁנָ֔ה וְאַרְבַּ֥ע מֵא֖וֹת שָׁנָֽה׃

And here is what is there with the "נ" and another word, the Hebrew "ארץ" in the text in red, which shouldn't be there if it follows the MT:

  ן ארץ בְּמִצְרָ֑יִם שְׁלֹשִׁ֣ים שָׁנָ֔ה וְאַרְבַּ֥ע מֵא֖וֹת שָׁנָֽה׃ 

However, it makes all the difference in the world.  That is because the only way the letter and word would be there at all in that spot would be if the text originally read "The time that the sons of Israel lived in the land of Canaan and the land of Egypt was four hundred ad thirty years."  Add to that the space of the missing text is more consistent with that that than the shorter Masoretic text.  So instead of following the Masoretic reading, as the catalog states, the fragment instead follows the alternate text preserved in the LXX.

We know from the Dead Sea Scrolls that there were a number of different versions of the OT text found in the caves of Qumran, all of them dating anywhere from the second-century bc to the first-century ad.  The Masoretic and the LXX represent the two most witnessed to with the Masoretic first followed by the Hebrew-LXX.  Since we don't know the methodology in making that determination we are not going to give the exact percentages here since there are parts of the OT where there is more agreement between the two than differences and the Pentateuch is one of those parts.

But the important point here for us is that the oldest witness to a key Hebrew passage in the Exodus clarifies a problem the Masoretic Text actually makes and resolves an apparent contradiction for us.  God apparently included the land of Canaan in the four hundred years of prophecy probably because it was under Egyptian domination for much of that history and not fully independent.  But it also gives us a starting point marked in the bible beginning when Abram left Canaan which is prophetically important since Paul invoked it in Galatians.

We are living in an exciting time, my brothers and sisters.  We now have the Dead Sea Scroll witness because God broke the small cartel of scholars who kept it under lock and key away from the rest of us.  Many other manuscripts have come to life.  and thanks to the efforts of such men as Dr. Daniel Wallace even more and even in some cases, older manuscripts of the NT in Greek are coming to light.  We have much more in the way of ancient material to work with than Brother Russell had and some of that increases the light thrown on the languages themselves.  And I am sure there will be much more to come in the time left as God makes preparation for the kingdom to come. 

Let's enjoy these times and make the most of them as we complete our course.