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Nominal Sentence Predicates and Coptic John 1:1

-- 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.

Even 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.