Wallace, Countess and the
New World Translation
D.Wallace in his "Grammar Beyond The Basics" wrote in regards the rendering QEOS EN HO LOGOS(lit., "god was the word") as "the Word was a god":
"a. Is theos in John 1:1c Indefinite?
"If theos were indefinite, we would
translate it "a god" (as is done in the New World
Translation [NWT]). If so, the theological implication would be
some form of polytheism, perhaps suggesting that the Word was
merely a secondary god in a pantheon of deities.
The grammatical argument that the P[redicate] N[ominative] here is indefinite is weak. Often, those who argue for such a view (in particular, the translators of the NWT) do so on the sole basis that the term is anarthrous. Yet they are inconsistent, as R. H. Countess pointed out: In the New Testament there are 282 occurances of the anarthrous theos. At sixteen places NWT has either a god, god, gods, or godly. Sixteen out of 282 means that the translators were faithful to their translation principle only six percent of the time. . . .
The first section of John 1:1-18 furnishes a lucid example of NWT arbitrary dogmatism. Theos occurs eight times - verses 1, 2, 6, 12, 13, 18 - and has the article only twice - verses 1, 2. Yet NWT six times translated "God," once "a god," and once "the god." 28 - (R. H. Countess, The Jehovah's Witnesses' New Testament: A Critical Analysis of the New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures 1982 p. 54-55)
If we expand the discussion to the other anarthrous terms in the Johannine Prologue, we notice other inconsistencies in NWT: It is interesting that the New World Translation renders theos as "a god" on the simplistic grounds that it lacks the article. This is surely an insufficient basis. Following the "anarthrous = indefinite" principle would mean that arche should be "a beginning" (1:1,2), zoe should be "a life" (1:4), para theos should be "from a god" (1:6), Joannes should be "a John" (1:6), Theon should be "a god" (1:18), etc. Yet none of these other anarthrous nouns is rendered with an indefinite article. One can only suspect strong theological bias in such a translation." (p. 267, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics)
On page 245 of his book he writes:
"Though by definition an articular noun is definite, an anarthrous noun may also be definite under certain conditions. As was mentioned earlier, there are at least ten constructions in which a noun may be definite though anarthrous. The following is a brief look at these constructions.
1) Proper names
". . . If we read Paulos we do not think of of translating it "a Paul." . . ."
2) Object of a Preposition
"There is no need for the article to be used to make the object of a preposition definite. . . " (
3) With Ordinal Numbers.
4) Predicate Nominative
"If the predicate nominative preeceds the copula, it may be definite though anarthrous. . . ."
5) Complement in Object-Complement Construction
6) Monadic Nouns
7) Abstract Nouns
8) A genitive Construction
9) With a Pronominal Adjective
10) Generic Nouns "
An interested person who had read Wallace's remarks and 'use' of Countess to criticise the New World Translation at John 1:1 in his "Grammar Beyond the Basics" was prompted to write upon this to Professor Dan Wallace himself. This letter we reproduce below, with permission, which clearly shows that Wallace was unsound and mistaken in his use of this particular anti-Witness polemic and his criticism. Please note that this Grammar itself is _not_ being criticised, which otherwise is an excellent and very useful aid to those whose wish is to understand NT Greek. It is just that this reader, aswell as many others it must be said, including those behind this NWT Defense site, are disconcerted to see such a competent professor of Greek employ an arguement by another that is wholly erroneous and not even supported, even undermined, elsewhere in his Grammar. Here is that said letter:
Daniel B. Wallace
Dallas Theological Seminary.
Dear Mr. Wallace,
I have just recently bought your book; "Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics." It is a wonderful book, and will undoubtedly help me understand the Greek language better. I can imagine you are a very busy person, so I hope you at least get to read this. First, I am not one of Jehovah's Witnesses, but I do agree with their theology. I do not wish to debate John 1:1 with you in this letter. If it is your belief that Jesus is God and that you want to express this in your book at places, this is perfectly fine with me. But there was a section in your book that was very displeasing to me. Not that you, as a well known Bible scholar disagreed with the Witnesses, but that you as a Bible scholar with a great knowledge of the Greek language would let someone who is either purposely a deceiver or lacks knowledge of the Greek language speak for you in your book. I am referring to your quote of R. H. Countess on page 267.
It is hard to imagine you would support such an argument as this. The argument revolves around the idea that the NWT basis their rendering of "a god" in John 1:1 on the "simplistic grounds that it lacks the definite article." then it goes on to give examples of why the NWT does not translate the other anarthrous versus in John 1:1-18 as "a beginning", "a life" and "a John", not to mention the other occurrences of God as anarthrous. You present this argument as the lack of the definite article should be the basis of all the anarthrous constructions in the NWT Greek Scriptures since it is their argument for John 1:1. However Mr. Wallace, are you being completely honest here? Are you saying that the NWT translators were utterly unaware of the other ways to deal with anarthrous constructions that you clearly pointed out just a few pages earlier? From pages 243 to 254 (Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics - by Dan Wallance) you demonstrate very nicely how an anarthrous noun can be translated as definite if it fits under any of your 10 categories. So obviously the NWT translators used these categories in translating the other anarthrous constructions of John 1:1-18 and elsewhere in the NT just as all the other Bible translators. But again, obviously the rendering in John 1:1 does not fall under any of the 10 categories you listed. That is precisely why the NWT translators argument is based only on the anarthrous contsruction and context (in this one instance) not all anarthrous constructions as you seem to say in your book. I admit I am only learning Greek, that is why I bought your book. But I know enough to know if John 1:1 fitS under any of the 10 reasons to translate an anarthrous as definite it surely would be plastered all over the literature of Witness' critics, but it is not. I really like your book, I just wish it did not contain misinformation like this. For a man who knows the Greek well enough to write a 800 page grammar, to me seems he also knew exactly what he was doing when he wrote this section of the book.
Just a note on your use of "polytheism." Again, I'm sure you understand the background of the word God, theos, or Elohim. Do you disagree that these words refer to titles many times. In fact, it is only the English word that has the more restricted sense of the Supreme Being. The Greek and Hebrew words don't seem to be as restricted as the English does. I won't speak for the Witnesses here, but my idea is the word God is used very much like the word King. Yes, God is King and so are many others called king in their own rights. So does this also imply polytheism? No, We know that God is the Supreme King of all things. Another is only king in certain respects. The same way, God (Jehovah) is the God and ruler of all things, but others can be gods in certain respects. Moses, Judges, Angels, Satan and Jesus. When the Bible calls Satan ho theos in 2 Corinthians 4:4 is belief in the existence of Satan polytheism?
Thanks for your time, I did not mean to offend anyone with this letter, I just wanted to give my point of view. We all have the right to disagree with each other. That you do not agree with me does not bother me. It only bothers me that you ignored important facts in expressing my side of the issue. But I will continue to enjoy reading your book and learning Greek.
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