Colwell’s Rule

So we’re into the second week back at College, and my eyes are already nearly worn out from reading.
I’m continuing on with Hebrew and Greek, but now our Old Testament and New Testament classes are conducted as studies of the text in the original languages.
Christian TriquetraFor Greek, that currently means reading and studying through the Gospel of John. Our year is divided into 3 classes, I’m studying under David Peterson, who has just come back to Moore from being the Principal of the Oak Hill College in England.

Here is a [ridiculously long] quote from our lecture notes today. Don’t expect it to make sense – it does, just not in normal Ingerlish.
The context is John 1:1

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

καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος ought to be translated ‘the word was God’ (not ‘a god’ or ‘divine’). One noun is the subject and one is a predicate nominative.
[Our Greek Grammar] Wallace, 42, says the subject is the known entity and is distinguished in three ways: it can be a pronoun, have an article, or be a proper name. Here the subject has the article. ‘Colwell’s Rule’, has often been applied to John 1.1 to demonstrate that the verse is teaching the divinity of Jesus. Wallace, 256-70, argues that Colwell’s rule has been misunderstood and therefore misapplied. Colwell’s rule states that ‘definite predicate nouns that precede the verb usually lack the article’ While this means that predicate nouns without an article that appear before the verb might be definite, Wallace says that this rule was understood to say that they will definitely be definite. Wallace goes on to suggest that a general rule about pre-verbal anarthrous (no article) nouns is that they are normally qualitative, sometimes definite and only rarely indefinite. Qualitative means the noun refers to the quality or ‘kind’ of thing that is being referred to. What are the implications for John 1.1? The translation could be ‘a god’ (indefinite); the God/God (definite); or divine (qualitative). He points out that if it is indefinite then it would be the only example in the Fourth Gospel. Moreover, contextually, the fact that the Word existed in the beginning makes the translation ‘a god’ unlikely. Wallace suggest that a definite understanding means that the Word = God, which is a form of Sabellianism. He suggests that a qualitative meaning is best (‘divine’), a translation that preserves the thought that the essence of the Word and God is identical (‘Jesus shared the essence of the Father, though they differed in person’, Wallace, 269). However, the translation ‘the Word was divine’ might be misleading in English because we can apply the adjective to angels. NEB ‘what God was, the word was’ captures the thought well: the Word had all the attributes and qualities that God had.
(David Peterson, Lecture Notes)

This is very cool. Particulourously, as I had a good long chat with a Jehovah’s Witness in a Cafe on Friday. It was a very civil conversation about all sorts of things, but about 40mins into it she could resist dropping this:
[JW]”You know we don’t believe in the Trinity”
[DA]”I had heard that, actually…”
[DA]”I think you’re wrong on that”

Well, I wasn’t going to break out Colwell’s rule on her was I? It turns out I’d have been wrong anyway.
Still, it is an absolute tragedy not to believe in the Trinity.

These are the opening words of Robert Jenson’s, The Triune Identity: God According to the Gospel.

It need not be argued that the Western church now little uses or understands Christianity’s heritage of trinitarian reflection and language. So long as Christianity was the established religion of the West, the Western church could just barely survive this debility. The doctrine of the Trinity comprises, as we shall see, the Christian faith’s repertoire of ways of identifying its God, to say which of the many candidates for godhead we mean when we say, for example, “God is loving” or “Dear God, please….” So long as we could suppose it obvious which putative god would truly be God if there were any, Western Christians could shut their eyes to the disuse of these means. We no longer have that luxury.

Know your God.
Get educated about the Trinity.

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