Saturday Links 25/8/18

 

Sorry posts have been a bit sparse lately, I have just started a full time (secular) job. I still need to work out how I am going to manage my time between all of my projects.

John 1:3, NA28, and the Deity of Christ

During a recent discussion with a Jehovah’s Witness, I deployed the standard argument for the deity of Christ from John 1:3. The argument is one that I use in my previous summary of scriptural support for the Trinity. Here is the passage in question, from the NASB;

All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men.

The argument briefly is this: Here the Logos (Christ, clearly, from v14) is the mechanism by which all things came into being. All things which came into being did so through Him. We create two categories of things: Things that didn’t come into being, and things that came into being through Christ. The non-Trinitarians here believe that Christ is something that came into being, so they can’t put Christ in either box. And so Christ cannot have come into being.

However in the most recent edition of the critical text, the NA28, we see that the Greek is rendered slightly differently. You can see the new Greek here, but since this isn’t a textual criticism blog I won’t go into many details. It concerns the placement of some grammatical marks that didn’t exist at all in the original Greek. So the underlying Greek text (no spaces between words, no grammar) remains unchanged, but the scholars now believe that the sentence division should be two words earlier. I am also no Greek scholar, but I will offer a tentative amateur translation of the new Greek here:

All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him, not even one did. What emerged in Him was life, and the life was the Light of men.

You can see here the difference right at the boundary between the two sentences. And my interlocutor claimed that this difference invalidated my argument. They claimed that since the ὃ γέγονεν is connected to the second sentence, we immediately are given an exception to the “all things”: the life and light. And since that exception exists, then we have grounds for thinking that Christ Himself is another exception.

I do not think this is a good counter-argument. I think even the new sentence 1 is very clear: It not only says “All things”, but it still contains the phrase “not even one” (οὐδὲ ἕν). John is doubly emphatic here: all things emerged through Him, and not even one emerged apart from Him. It doesn’t seem like John is leaving a lot of room for exceptions here.

So can the life and the light be an exception? First, notice that the previous sections discuss what emerged through the Logos, but here we are talking about what emerges in the Logos. For us to have an exception, we’d have to have that the light and life emerged in the Logos but not through the Logos. Is that reasonable?

Certainly not, especially when we consider that the life and the life are the Logos Himself. He Himself is the Light, He Himself is the Light. But John describes Him this way because they emphasize two aspects of the Logos: the Light because He opposes the darkness and shines on men, so that we may see God. And the Life, because not only is He the origin and source and guiding principle of all life, but also because by Him we may “have life, and have it to the full”, that we may have true life in this life and eternal life in the next.

The life and light emerged in Him, they became apparent, they were unfolded, because He came down to us. The Logos being the Life and Light are related to the Incarnation. This doesn’t get the Unitarian out of the “not even one”. Through Christ, everything was made. Without Christ, not even one of them was. The clear, natural, obvious reading is that Christ is unmade. Otherwise, there would be no “not even one”.

Although in this conversation I didn’t get a chance, in previous similar conversations I asked my colleague what John could have possibly written here to indicate that Christ really was uncreated and created all things. And their answer was that if the sentence division really was in the traditional place, rather than in the place indicated by the NA28, then that would do it.

Consider what that means. John didn’t write a full stop. John didn’t write using any grammatical marks. John only wrote the Greek letters. My Unitarian friend says that if John had written “…οὐδὲ ἕν ὃ γέγονεν. ἐν αὐτῷ ζωὴ ἦν…” instead of “…οὐδὲ ἕν. ὃ γέγονεν ἐν αὐτῷ ζωὴ ἦν…” then that would be sufficient proof that Christ was uncreated. But think about that, that’s just untrue. Because if John *did* write the first case, then they’d still read it as the second, because John didn’t write with any punctuation!. I ask them what would possibly convince them that they’re wrong, and they answer by telling me that what already exists would be enough. But the fact is that even if John did write precisely what the Unitarian says would convince him, the Unitarian would just move the sentence division around until it didn’t say that. Because that’s precisely what they have done.

And notice that for this entire argument, I have simply accepted the NA28 reading, because I don’t think it helps the Unitarian case at all. In the discussions where this has come up, the Unitarian has, even after I’ve granted the NA28 for the sake of discussion, spent much time trying to justify it. But that’s not the point. I am no Greek scholar, I’ll just accept whatever the experts say. Which at the moment is probably the NA28. But even granting that, we still deduce that Christ is the Uncreated Creator. 

Textual Variants in the Quran

When I debate with Muslims, they often claim that Islam is superior to Christianity because the Quran that they read is identical to the Quran that Muhammad received, while the bible is corrupted and changed and we are uncertain of the original. This discussion often comes down to a discussion of textual variants: differences between biblical manuscripts. And certainly there are textual variants in the Bible, we make no secret of that. And my Muslim friends will claim that since there are textual variants, the bible cannot be trusted.

However my Muslim friends often overlook the fact that there are textual variants in the history of the Quran as well. And if we apply the same standards to the Quran that we do to the Bible, then we must conclude that the Quran is also unreliable. I don’t make any claims here about whether textual variants make a text unreliable, I only want to point out the double standards.

I won’t examine many textual variants today, perhaps I will in future posts. But for now, here is an interesting example: the Sana’a manuscript. This is a Quranic manuscript, but really it is two Quranic manuscripts. It is an 80 folio collection of Quran manuscripts from 578 CE to 669 CE (radiocarbon dating), which was then erased and rewritten in the late 7th or early 8th century. The lower text has been partially recovered, and while it is a Quranic text it contains significant textual variants. A list of some of these can be found here. Not only does it add or remove or change words in some cases, there is at least one case in which an entire verse is missing. There are textual variants here, no-one would deny that.

So if the Muslim tries to undermine Christianity through use of textual variants in scripture, they undermine themselves. Now it is true that the Bible has more variants than the Quran does. But that is the result of two differences in the transmission of the texts. First, the bible was never controlled by a central authority who enforced a particular textual tradition, as the Quran was. Uthman, as is well known, attempted to destroy any copies of the Quran that differed from his own. And after him, an Islamic authority was always policing these other traditions. That doesn’t mean the tradition that they used as a standard was the accurate one, as we’ve seen there existed other traditions pre-Uthman. But they did attempt to standardize it.

Furthermore, there were simply fewer copies made of the Quran. There exist orders of magnitude more New Testament manuscripts than Quranic manuscripts, and so we would expect there to be orders of magnitude more textual variants within the New Testament textual tradition.

But as James White regularly points out, these facts actually make the Biblical text more reliable, not less. Because no central authority controlled the transmission of the Biblical text, there was no opportunity for anyone to deliberately change it. And because there were many copies made, we can compare a greater number of manuscripts in order to reconstruct the originals. The factors that lead to the Bible having more textual variants actually make the Bible more reliable in general.