Picking up from the last post in the multipart response to the unnamed author (UA) over at the blog One God Worship, after having exposed the numerous false assumptions and logical errors that underlie the foundational claims of those who deny the deity of Christ, we get into the substance of the argument and the accusation that English translators have a fundamental bias in their rendering of John 1:1-3.
Considering the Text
Expanding his argument to include v4, UA focuses in on the translation of the pronouns to refer back to ὁ Λόγος in v1, UA complains,
“Not only did translators use the personal pronouns “he” and “him” to refer to the “Word,” they also capitalized them, further biasing the unsuspecting reader that the “Word” is the pre-incarnate Jesus.
In response I would first like to note that to be consistent at this point, UA must object to any and all instances of capitalization of pronouns in reference to deity. In fact, most Bible translations today, such as the English Standard Version recognize that such practices are “recent innovations” that have no correspondence to either historical translation practice or the original manuscripts.
This fact can be evidenced by this picture from my great-grandfather’s personal Bible, a King James Version, which was printed in 1941; moreover, in the second image from a 1976 edition, we can see that the translators also didn’t capitalize the pronouns. Neither do the NIV (1985, also pictured) translators nor the ESV, nor the NRSV, nor the CSB.
In fact the only one that I can find where translators embrace the practice are the translators of the NASB (1985, 1995).
Again, it appears that UA is making a cherry-picked argument that is not consistent across history of English translations of Scripture and so this argument, about the capitalization of the pronouns, is moot and therefore irrelevant.
Misgendering the Word
A feature of most languages in the world is that they are gendered. That is to say that, for the purposes of subject-verb and sometimes number agreement, languages appear to somewhat arbitrarily inflect nouns with a masculine, feminine, or neuter gender relationship.
UA recognizes this, writing,
“Many languages arbitrarily assign gender to nouns, along with the corresponding pronouns….When translating a referring pronoun (a pronoun used in lieu of the noun) we would exchange the “el” or “he” for the neuter pronoun “it,” because in English we would never refer to a book as a “he.”
This is because, in English, a word like “book”, for the purposes of grammatical agreement, has no grammatical gender. But, let’s say that we were given a grammatical cue that the word “book” was not a common noun, but a proper noun.
I was looking for my book on gardening.
In looking at the sentence we can see that what is being sought out is a reference to an inanimate object composed of a cover and pages on a particular subject matter. Therefore, when replacing the noun with a pronoun it can rightly be replaced with a grammatically neutral pronoun.
It was on the table by my chair.
But what if the same word was a proper name?
I’m looking for works by an author named Book.
This throws a whole new set of problems into the works as, without additional referential frames, it becomes somewhat problematic because there are no additional quantifiers outside of the personal grammatical neutral pronoun “they” by which to refer to the person.
“In like manner, the Greek language assigns a gender to nouns. In John 1, “Word” or logos in Greek is assigned a male gender, and thus masculine pronouns. But when translating the pronouns that correspond to logos into English, we would replace “he” and “him” with the pronoun “it.”
This assumes that the use of the word λόγος is meant to be understood as a common noun. The problem is that the grammar of John 1:1 intends for it, not to be understood as common noun, but as a proper name through the use of the article ὁ (ho).
The demonstrative pronoun used in John 1:2, οὗτος (houtos), can be translated as “it,” however, due to the specifying nature of these types of pronouns it is better translated as “this” or “this one”.
To evidence his argument, UA refers to 3 passages: Matthew 13:20, Luke 11:28, and 1 Corinthians 1:18 in the NASB.
Now, I’m fortunate enough to have a concordance program that will allow me to look up uses of specific words in texts (see embeded Instagram video above). And οὗτος does appear in Matthew 13:20, in adjectival use referring to a person who hears the gospel proclamation with joy but, as v21 continues, falls away. The pronoun that is translated as “it” is a different pronoun, a form of αὐτός (autos), and it refers to the “the word of the kingdom”(v19, τὸν λόγον τῆς βασιλείας).
But what about Luke 11:28?
This is where things get interesting as, depending on which Greek text is used, as eastern texts disfavor the use of the predicate pronoun, leaving it implied, while western texts insert it. Those western texts still use the pronoun αὐτός though, and not οὗτος.
1 Corinthians 1:18 poses a serious problem for the argument in that neither οὗτος nor αὐτός are used, rather the pronoun is derived through grammatical implication.
Now, the fact that nouns are gendered in the original language is simply irrelevant to how pronouns should be translated, rather it is the context that determines how a pronoun should be translated according to its function in the sentence. Moreover, the translation of the pronoun is dependent upon the identity of its antecedent.
Going back to our example of distinguishing between a common (book) and proper noun (Book), if the author’s name was say, “John Book” then, by default, the proper pronoun to use would be “he” or a similar masculine pronoun form depending on the use of the name in the sentence.
“He,” “She,” or “It”
UA, going further along on this cherry-picking argument, appeals to a number of early English translations that rendered the pronoun in the gender-neutral pronoun form “it”, such as the Geneva Bible, The Tyndall Bible, The Bishop’s Bible, and any number of English translations prior to the King James.
“All of these major translations dropped the Greek masculine pronouns assigned to “word” or logos and used the neuter pronoun “it” or the phrase “the same” instead. (footnote removed)
To correct what is said here is to say that what those translators did was ignore the basic rules of Greek grammar, if they were in fact translating the underlying Greek text. The problem is that most translations tend to follow their predecessors, rather than generating their own translation. For example, both the Geneva and the Bishop’s Bible while translated from scholarly editions of the Greek and Hebrew texts, followed Tyndall and Coverdale’s translation. In fact, most bible translations recognize and state this fact. So the fact that a later translation follows the habit of one that proceeds it is in fact not an argument for the rightful rendering of a word, especially a pronoun, in another language. In fact it reeks of circular reasoning.
When we need to look at earlier translations and consider them, such as the Latin Vulgate, which uses the accusative case form of the singular masculine intensive pronoun ipse in v3.
Now, the chart below shows that the singular masculine accusative case form of the pronoun, ipsum, is shared by the neuter in both the nominative and accusative form (highlighted in red). However we should also note that the neuter plural form in the nominative and accusative case is shared with the feminine nominative form (highlighted in blue). Why is this important? It is important because whatever grammatical rule that you use to translate the Latin has to recognize what is being spoken of and be able to make a coherent distinction between both the grammatical gender and how it is to be understood in another language.
Going back to our previous example distinguishing between proper names and common nouns, if I were to say, “The book is on the table,” in German, which is a gendered language, I would say,
“Das Buch ist auf dem Tisch.”
The articles das and the accusative dem reflect the grammatical gender of the words Buch, which is neuter, and Tisch, which is masculine. I need to know that so that if I need to distinguish it from a different book on the table, saying that the book has a green cover, I would say, “Es hat eine grüne Adbdeckung.” But what if the grammatically neuter word referred to something that has a different grammatical gender. For example, “girl” which is obviously grammatically feminine in English is the grammatically neutral “Mädchen” in German, however you would not refer to a girl as an “it”.
Falling back to the argument made about 1 John 1:1-3, which was refuted here, but just to briefly reiterate, UA misses the fact that sometimes relative pronouns do not agree with the gender of their antecedent. And the simple fact is that it’s not clear exactly what the antecedent of the four pronouns are tied to, in fact the interpretational debate is wide open, but seems to be tied to the substance of what is proclaimed. So to base your conclusion on how the a different pronoun in a different context should be translated is a non sequitur of the highest order.
UA brings this section of his post to a close writing,
“By retaining and capitalizing the Greek masculine pronouns, “he” and “him” instead of exchanging them for “it” in the prologue of John’s gospel, the translators have once again, brought their bias into the text and mislead the reader.
Playing largely on the ignorance of his audience, our unnamed author has pointed out facts that are not relevant to the matter of translation. Therefore he has failed to demonstrate that there is, in fact, any “bias” on the part of the translators.
The use of capitalization of pronouns is irrelevant since it is a recent feature and is only present in only a few translations from the middle of the 20th century that follow a certain practice.
Further, citing English translations that favor his personal choice of translation, rather than any necessary grammatical considerations of the original language that should inform our translation is to argue in a circle.
UA is doing exactly what he accuses the translators of doing: misleading the reader.
So, with that being said, we will pick up with the rest of part 2 in the next post.
- “Preface to the English Standard Version”. The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. Crossway Publishing. 2001. (LOGOS Bible Software)
- This was established in Unitarian Fallacies, Part 1B.
- William D. Mounce. Basics of Biblical Greek Grammar, Second Edition. Zondervan Publishing. 2003. p.107,109
- “Luke 11:28”. Apparatus for the Greek New Testament: SBL Edition. The Society of Biblical Literature. 2011. (LOGOS Bible Software)
- Mounce, p.100-1
- Ibid, p.99
- Shout-out to all the John Wayne fans.
- The ESV notes in its preface, “The words and phrases themselves grow out of the Tyndale–King James legacy, and most recently out of the RSV, with the 1971 RSV text providing the starting point for our work.”
- Daniel B. Wallace. The Basics of New Testament Syntax: An Intermediate Greek Grammar. Zondervan Publishing. 2000. p.275/675 (Scribd)
- Karen H. Jobes. Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: 1, 2, and 3 John. Zondervan Publishing. 2014. p.44-5.