Reply To: What About John 1:1 in the NWT?

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I think John 1:1 is a pretty interesting scripture.

I think it's a central scripture used in proving the trinity belief.

So, let's discuss it.

I do not claim to be an authority on Greek, but here goes.

I'm putting the following down to save people time with words like “anarthrous.”




“God [predicate] was [verb] the Word [subject].”

God [the predicate] was [the verb] the logos [articular subject]
God (theos) was (en?) the (ho) word (logos)

kai–primary particle (“and, also, even, indeed, but”)
theos–the predicate (a god or the God)
en-the verb (was)
ho–definite article (the)
logos–articular subject (Word)

Anarthrous: “no article.”
Definite article: “the”
Indefinite article: “a” or “an”

1) theios = godlike, divine, godhead
2) theiotes = divinity (comes from theios).
3) theotes = divinity, godhead

“While the Greek langauge has no indefinite article corresponding to the English “a,” it does have the definite article ho, often rendered into English as “the.”…Frequently, though, nouns occur in Greek without the article. Grammarians refer to these nouns as “anarthrous,” meaning “used without the article.” Interestingly, in the final part of John 1:1, the Greek word for “god,” theos, does not have the article ho before it. How do translators render such anarthrous Greek nouns into English?
“Often they add the English indefinite article “a” to give the proper sense to the passage…..This does not mean, however, that every time an anarthrous noun occurs in the Greek text it should appear in English with the indefinite article. Translators render these nouns variously, at times even with a “the,” understanding them as definite, though the definite article is missing.”
“The New World Bible Translation Commitee chose to insert the indefinite article “a” there. This helps to distinguish “the Word,” Jesus Christ, as a god, or divine person with vast power, from the God whom he was “with, “Jehovah, the Almighty….Alfred Marshall explains why he used the indefinite article in his interlinear translation of all the verses mentioned in the two previous paragraphs[Jn.4:19; 6:70; 8:34, 44; 10:1, 13; 18:26, 37.],and in many more: “The use of it in translation is a matter of individual judgement….We have inserted 'a' or 'an' as a matter of course where it seems called for.” Of course, neither Colwell(as noted above)nor Marshall felt that an “a” before “god” at John 1:1 was called for. But this was not because of any inflexible rule of grammar” It was “individual judgement” which scholars and translators have a right to express. The New World Bible Translation Committee expressed a different judgement in this place by the translation “a god.”…The translation “a god” at John 1:1 does no injustice to Greek grammar. Nor does it conflict with the worship of the One whom the resurrected Jesus Christ called “my God” and to whom Jesus himself is subject- John 20:17; Rev.3:2, 12; 1 Cor.11:3; 15:28.”
-The Watchtower, 1975, p.702.

The New World Translation rendering was due to
(1)An anarticular theos(a theos without the article)which is sandwiched between two articular occurences.
(2)Context. The Word was “with” ho theos, the God.
(3)What the rest of the Bible says about Jesus.

If a passage can grammatically be translated in more than one way, what is the correct rendering? One that is in agreement with the rest of the Bible. If a person ignores other portions of the Bible and builds his belief around a favorite rendering of a particular verse, then what he believes really reflects, not the Word of God, but his own ideas and perhaps those of another imperfect human.–Reasoning Book

Which translation of John 1:1, 2 agrees with the context?
John 1:18 says: “No one has ever seen God.”
John 1:14 clearly says: “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us . . . we have beheld his glory.”
Also, verses 1, 2 say that in the beginning he was “with God.” Someone who is “with” another person cannot be the same as that other person. In agreement with this, the Journal of Biblical Literature, edited by Jesuit Joseph A. Fitzmyer, notes that if the latter part of John 1:1 were interpreted to mean “the” God, this “would then contradict the preceding clause,” which says that the Word was with God.
At John 17:3, Jesus addresses the Father as “the only true God”; so, Jesus as “a god” merely reflects his Father’s divine qualities.—Heb. 1:3.

For anyone to say that the Word was God, “the only true God,” would be contrary to what the apostle John proves by the rest of his writings:

JOHN 1:34
“And I have seen [it], and I have borne witness that this one is the Son of God.””
(What did John the Baptist bear witness to regarding Jesus?)

JOHN 1:49
“Nathańael answered him: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God, you are King of Israel.”” (How did Nathanael identify Jesus?)

JOHN 11:27
“She [Martha] said to him: “Yes, Lord; I have believed that you are the Christ the Son of God.”” (What did Martha believe about Jesus?)

JOHN 20:31
“But these have been written down that YOU may believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God.” (Why did John write what he did? What did he want us to believe?)

JOHN 1:34
“I have borne witness that this one is the Son of God.” (Did John bear witness that Jesus was God Almighty, or God’s Son?)

1 JOHN 4:15
“Whoever makes the confession that Jesus Christ is the Son of God . . .” (According to John, if we are to remain in union with God, what must confess?)

1 JOHN 5:5
“Who is the one that conquers the world but he who has faith that Jesus is the Son of God?” (According to John, what must we have faith in–that Jesus is God, or the “Son of” God?)

(It seems that John bore witness that Jesus was the “Son of” God, that he wrote what he did so that we would believe that Jesus was the “Son of” God, telling us to have faith that Jesus is the “Son of” God, and to confess that Jesus is the “Son of” God.)

In the last book of the Bible, namely, in Revelation 19:13,
JOHN calls him “The Word of God,” saying: “And his name is called The Word of God.” (AV; Dy)
Note that his name is not called “God the Word,” but is called “The Word of God,” or God’s Word. Hence John 1:1 must mean, at most, that the Word was of God.

Is the rendering “a god” consistent with the rules of Greek grammar?
Simply put, there is no question that the answer is yes. They reject the “a god” translation on grounds other than grammer.
Some reference books argue strongly that the Greek text must be translated, “The Word was God.” But not all agree. In his article “Qualitative Anarthrous Predicate Nouns: Mark 15:39 and John 1:1,” Philip B. Harner said that such clauses as the one in John 1:1, “with an anarthrous predicate preceding the verb, are primarily qualitative in meaning. They indicate that the logos has the nature of theos.” He suggests: “Perhaps the clause could be translated, ‘the Word had the same nature as God.’” (Journal of Biblical Literature, 1973, pp. 85, 87)
Thus, in this text, the fact that the word the·oś in its second occurrence is without the definite article (ho) and is placed before the verb in the sentence in G
reek is significant.
Interestingly, translators that insist on rendering John 1:1, “The Word was God,” do not hesitate to use the indefinite article (a, an) in their rendering of other passages where a singular anarthrous predicate noun occurs before the verb. Thus at John 6:70, JB and KJ both refer to Judas Iscariot as “a devil,” and at John 9:17 they describe Jesus as “a prophet.”
John J. McKenzie, S.J., in his Dictionary of the Bible, says: “Jn 1:1 should rigorously be translated ‘the word was with the God [= the Father], and the word was a divine being.’”—(Brackets are his. Published with nihil obstat and imprimatur.) (New York, 1965), p. 317.
Referring to the Word (who became Jesus Christ) as “a god” is consistent with the use of that term in the rest of the Scriptures. For example, at Psalm 82:1-6 human judges in Israel were referred to as “gods” (Hebrew, ’elo·hiḿ; Greek, the·oí, at John 10:34) because they were representatives of Jehovah and were to speak his law.

Just to dispell what many have already falsely insinutated on this forum:
The Bible—An American Translation (1935), J. M. Powis Smith and Edgar J. Goodspeed.
“the Word was divine”
(The translation by Hugh J. Schonfield is the same.)????

A New Translation of the Bible (1934), James Moffatt:
“the Logos was divine”

The New Testament in an Improved Version, Upon the Basis of Archbishop Newcome’s New Translation: With a Corrected Text (1808), published in London:
“the word was a god.”

Todays English Version:
“and he was the same as God.”

The New English Bible (The Revised English Bible):
“and what God was, the Word was.”

The Emphatic Diaglott (1864; as printed in 1942), Benjamin Wilson’s Interlinear reading:
“and a god was the Word.”

La Bible du Centenaire, L’Evangile selon Jean, by Maurice Goguel (1928):
“and the Word was a divine being.”

The New Testament of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Anointed, by James L. Tomanek. (1958):
“and the Word was a God.”

Das Evangelium nach Johannes, by Siegfried Schulz, Göttingen, Germany(1975):
“and a god (or, of a divine kind) was the Word.”
(This one and the following two are translated from German.)
Das Evangelium nach Johannes, by Johannes Schneider, Berlin (1978):
“and godlike kind was the Logos.”

Das Evangelium nach Johannes by Jürgen Becker, Würzburg, Germany (1979)
“and a god was the Logos”

The Four Gospels—A New Translation, by Professor Charles Cutler Torrey:
“and the Word was with God, and the Word was god.”

Reflecting an understanding of Jn 1:1 with the New World Translations' :
“and the Word was a god,” we also have:

The New Testament in Greek and English(A. Kneeland, 1822.)

A Literal Translation Of The New Testament(H. Heinfetter, 1863)

Concise Commentary On The Holy Bible(R. Young, 1885)

The Coptic Version of the N.T.(G. W. Horner, 1911)

The Monotessaron; or, The Gospel History According to the Four Evangelists (J. S. Thompson, 1829)

Other readings, by German translators, follow.
By Böhmer:
“It was tightly bound up with God, yes, itself of divine being.”

By Stage:
“The Word was itself of divine being.”

By Menge:
“And God (= of divine being) the Word was.”

By Ludwig Thimme: (Das Neue Testament)
“And God of a sort the Word was.”

All these renderings highlight the quality of the Word, not his identity with his Father, the Almighty God. Being the Son of Jehovah God, he would have the divine quality, for divine means “godlike.”—Col 2:9; compare 2Pe 1:4, where “divine nature” is promised to Christ’s joint heirs.

I should have perhaps pointed out from the beginning that the noun “theos” in question at John 1:1 is was primarily qualitative as well as being indefinite. (More on this later)

This is taken from an appendix in the NWT:
APPENDIX 6A in the NWT with References.
These translations use such words as “a god,” “divine” or “godlike” because the Greek word θεός (the·oś) is a singular predicate noun occurring before the verb and is not preceded by the definite article. This is an anarthrous the·oś. The God with whom the Word, or Logos, was originally is designated here by the Greek expression ο θεός, that is, the·oś preceded by the definite article ho. This is an articular the·oś. Careful translators recognize that the articular construction of the noun points to an identity, a personality, whereas a singular anarthrous predicate noun preceding the verb points to a quality about someone. Therefore, John’s statement that the Word or Logos was “a god” or “divine” or “godlike” does not mean that he was the God with whom he was. It merely expresses a certain quality about the Word, or Logos, but it does not identify him as one and the same as God himself.
In the Greek text there are many cases of a singular anarthrous predicate noun preceding the verb, such as in Mr 6:49; 11:32; Joh 4:19; 6:70; 8:44; 9:17; 10:1, 13, 33; 12:6. In these places translators insert the indefinite article “a” before the predicate noun in order to bring out the quality or characteristic of the subject. Since the indefinite article is inserted before the predicate noun in such texts, with equal justification the indefinite article “a” is inserted before the anarthrous θεός in the predicate of John 1:1 to make it read “a god.” The Sacred Scriptures confirm the correctness of this rendering.
In his article “Qualitative Anarthrous Predicate Nouns: Mark 15:39 and John 1:1,” published in Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 92, Philadelphia, 1973, p. 85, Philip B. Harner said that such clauses as the one in Joh 1:1, “with an anarthrous predicate preceding the verb, are primarily qualitative in meaning. They indicate that the logos has the nature of theos. There is no basis for regarding the predicate theos as definite.” On p. 87 of his article, Harner concluded: “In John 1:1 I think that the qualitative force of the predicate is so prominent that the noun cannot be regarded as definite.”

I should really state the following, because basically, this is what this all centers around: Colwell's rule:

“…predicate nouns preceding the verb cannot be regarded as indefinite or So it’s abundantly obvious that the absence of the definite article can not be used as lexical proof that the noun is ‘indefinite’ in reference to Jesus in John 1:1c. simply because they lack the article; it could be regarded as indefinite or qualitative only if this is demanded by the context and in the case of John 1:1c this is not so.” A Definite Rule for the Use of the Article in the Greek New Testament,” Journal of Biblical Literature, 52 (1933), p. 20.
(As quoted on page 340 of trinity thread)


“It is indefinite [“a” or “an”] in this position only when the context demands it.”
For someone who is a trinitarian the context does not demand it because if God is a trinity with Jesus, this all makes sense. For someone who looks at the verse itself and the rest of the Bible and doesn't see a trinity, the context definitely demands something. Whether an “a” is the right thing….Greek and English perhaps don't translate perfectly.

“Does the context require an indefinite article at John 1:1? Yes, for the testimony of the entire Bible is that Jesus is not Almighty God. Thus, not Colwell’s questionable rule of grammar, but context
should guide the translator in such cases. And it is apparent from the many translations that insert the indefinite article “a” at John 1:1 and in other places that many scholars disagree with such an artificial rule, and so does God’s Word.”
–Trinity broshure.

Again, I say this: The scholars that will be quoted by the other side agree that “a god” is grammatically “possible” but not grammatically favoured, or they say it is grammatically possible, but not what was intended. I have read many of the scholars that argue against the “a god” translation say this. It is grammatically possible but because of how they perceive the context or their own theology, they reject it.

“Although it has to be acknowledged that [theos hn ho logos] could be translated The Word was a god, there is no doubt whatever, according to the rules of Greek grammar, that the phrase can also mean The Word was(the)God.”-Introduction to New Testament Greek Using John's Gospel, 1999 Hodder and Stoughton publishers, “Lesson 3,” p.23.

Over and over again this thought has been expressed.

Murray J. Harris:
“According, from the point of view of grammar alone,[theos en ho logos]could be rendered “the Word was a god.”-Jesus As God, 1992, pp.60.

C.H.Dodd has also written:
“If a translation were a matter of substituting words, a possible translation of [theos en ho logos]; would be “The Word was a god”. As a word-for-word translation it cannot be faulted, and to pagan Greeks who heard early Christian language,[theos en ho logos]might have seemed a perfectly sensible statement, in that sense[“signifying one of a class of beings regarded as divine”-Dodd, ibed)…..The reason why it is unacceptable is that it runs counter to the current of Johannine thought, and indeed of Christian thought as a whole.”-Technical Papers for The Bible Translator, Vol 28, No.1, January 1977.
(Although stating that this is a “possible translation,” Dodd rejects this translation but on grounds other than grammar.)

James Parkinson has written:
“It is difficult to find objectivity in the translation of John 1:1. If Colwell's rule is correct (that the definite predicate nominative does not take the article) then “the Word was God” would be allowable. This translation is rejected on two sides. Because the indefinite predicate nominative would also not take the definite article, “the Word was a god” should be no less allowable. Still others think the Greek theos here implies a quality and translate it as “the Word was divine.” Rejecting all three, the New English Bible says, “What God was the Word was.” The ancient reading of John 1:18 mentioned above will impact the translation of verse 1. C. H. Dodd, driving force of the NEB, acknowledges of the Word was a god–“As a word-for-word translation it cannot be faulted.” He rejects it, saying, “The reason why it is unacceptable is that it runs counter to the current of Johanine thought, and indeed of Christian thought as a whole” (as though theological acceptability should be a criterion!) Paralleling with John 4:24 (“God is [a] spirit”), Dodd rejects also the AV rendering of John 1:1 in favor of that of the NEB. As for the original text of John 1:18, he dismisses it as “grammatically exceptional, if not eccentric.(Actually the Greek from here is not identical to that of John 4:24, but to that of I Timothy 6:10).”



Actually, I think I need to organize my thoughts on this better.

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