JOHN 1:1c: "God," "divine" or "a god" ?

Perhaps the translation that has stirred the most controversy in the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures is John 1:1.

The New World Translation reads here :

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was a god."

Most are familiar with the King James Version :

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

The latter is followed by most, but not all, modern translations, such as:

The Revised Standard Version
The New Revised Standard Version
The Modern Language Bible
The New Testament in Modern English
The New Testament in the Language of the People
The New American Standard Version
New American Bible
The Twentieth Century New Testament
The New International Version
The Jerusalem Bible

The 3 translations by James Moffatt, Hugh J. Schonfield and Edgar Goodspeed has:

"...and the Word was divine."

Todays English Version reads:"...and he was the same as God."

The Revised English Bible reads:"...and what God was, the Word was."

Reflecting an understanding of Jn 1:1 with the New World Translations' :

"and the Word was a god." we have:

The New Testament in an Improved Version(1808)
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)
Das Evangelium nach Johannes(J. Becker, 1979)
The New Testament of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Anointed(J. L. Tomanec, 1958)
The Monotessaron; or, The Gospel History According to the Four Evangelists(J. S. Thompson, 1829)
Das Evangelium nach Johannes(S. Schulz, 1975)

Others from each 'group' could be cited.

So from the incept we can see that "and the Word was God," is only one possible rendering of John 1:1. However, the rendering as found in the New World Translation has come under severe criticism.

One late well known critic, William Barclay, Bible translator and commentator, even saying that such a rendering as, "and the Word was a god," is "grammatically impossible."

One website says, after listing 18 translations that read at John 1:1 as "the Word was God," and 8 others such as the New English Bible and Todays English Bible:

"Out of all the existing translations of the Holy Bible, taken from the original languages, ONLY those published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society deny that Jesus is God."

Clearly, this is not the case, as the above lists shows. Unless of course the writer of the above thinks the Watchtower Bible &Tract Society published those others that say,"a God/god from the "original languages!"

"Evidence of abysmal ignorance," "not held by any reputable Greek scholar," "is erroneous and unsupported by any good Greek scholar," "rejected by all recognised scholars of Greek language," "obsolete and incorrect," "neither scholarly nor reasonable," "pernicious," "reprehensible," "monstrous," "intellectually dishonest," "totally indefensible."(to check up on the credibility of such remarks made go to Is The New World Translation Biased )

The above are some of the strong language used by some towards the New World Translation's rendering of "KAI QEOS HN HO LOGOS." Well, if the above is anything to go by any advocate of the "..a god" translation might as well throw the towel in right now! But let us see. You, our reader, can judge for yourselves whether the case is closed already because of such comments by scholars of 'repute.'

Firstly, is the translation of "theos en ho logos," as "the Word was a god," grammatically impossible?

"Grammatically impossible," so said Dr. William Barclay of the University of Glasgow, Scotland: "The deliberate distortion of truth by this sect is seen in their New testament translations. John 1:1 is translated: '...the Word was a god, ' a translation which is grammatically impossible...It is abundantly clear that a sect which can translate the New Testament like that is intellectually dishonest."-An Ancient heresy in Modern Dress, Expository Times, 65, Oct.1957.

Robert H. Gundry of Westmont College, Ca, USA wrote us:

"As to the translation of John 1:1,"and the Word was a god" is grammatically possible but not grammatically favoured."

D.Moody Smith Jnr, George Washington Ivey Professor of N.T. wrote us:

"As to John 1:1 the translation "a god" is possible, but in the context* clearly not what is intended. "Divine" is better, but John clearly wants to say Jesus was theos°..."

(*on context see below. ° Exactly, again, see below)

Notice that these two scholars are honest enough to say that the rendering of John 1:1c as found in the NWT is grammatically possible! Of course, they both reject such a translation but on grounds other than grammar. So a question does come to one's mind here. Who exactly is being "intellectually dishonest?" Has it been the NWT Translation Committee or the above late scholar?

Stan Bruce lecturer in New Testament Greek at All Nations Christian College, Hertfordshire, UK, for over 30 years has written:

"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. Italics his.

Once again, another scholar is stating that on grounds of grammar John 1.1c could be translated the way the NWT renders it. (Note however this scholars 'mistake.' He correctly states that "according to rules of Greek grammar" it could also be translated "The Word was (the)God." While this is true this would make the "Word" the "God" he is said to be with and hence this translation as understanding QEOS(theos) as definite, as "the God," teaches Sabbellianism-a form of Modalism, that the Word was God the Father! Some trinitarian scholars have realised this and now argue against understanding theos here as definite but as qualitative. Bruce goes on to write on the same page "We need to base our decision between these two alternatives on the context. It is surely appropriate that [theos] is understood in the way in which it is used elsewhere in the gospel, and especially in the immediate context, i.e. with reference to God; there is no hint elsewhere in the New Testament of Jesus as a separate deity." If QEOS(theos) is used in John 1.1c in the "way it is used elsewhere in the gospel" this is tantamount to saying that the Word was the God he is said to be with...sabellianism once again! That there is indeed a "hint" that the Word is a "separate deity" can be seen by the fact that the Word is distinguished from HO QEOS(ho theos), the God by the word pros, "with" and hence he is not that "God." There are indeed two theoi("gods") here and they are not one and the same! More on this below. On the following page of Bruce's book on N.T. Greek we can learn why this undoubtedly competent and experienced, if biased towards the Trinity doctrine scholar has erred. For on that page he refers to "Bowman, R. M., Jehovah's Witnesses, Jesus Christ and the Gospel of John" !!)

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. (Again, Harris rejects this translation on grounds other than grammar.)

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.(italics ours)

Again, note "possible translation" and "cannot be faulted." Dodd rejects this translation but on grounds other than grammar

One website quotes R.Bowman who states regarding the 'use' of Dodd here by those who wish to support the "a god" rendering:

"I don't think Dodd says "a god" is an "acceptable" translation. He says it can't be faulted as a "literal" translation, but there's a big difference. Notice how Dodd qualifies the quote you provided: "*If* translation..." His point is that translation is NOT merely a wooden substitution of one English word for one Greek word. If it were, "a god" could not be "faulted." Murray J. Harris in his excellent book, _Jesus as God, also says that "a god" is grammatically possible - as is "God was the Word" and "The Word was God." He also notes that a "literal" translation of Jn 8:44 could be "you belong to the father of the devil," if "only grammatical considerations were taken into account" (p. 60). Clearly, "only grammatical considerations" do not a proper translation make!"

We would answer:

Dodd is saying that to translate the words "theos en ho logos" by "the Word was a god" is grammatically "possible." As we(and most if not all Jehovah's Witnesses)are only quoting Dodd for that reason his comments do indeed support the rendering of the above Greek as "and the Word was a god." Remember, it has been on grammatical grounds that certain scholars have dismissed such a rendering in the past! Of course there can be a "big difference" between a "literal translation" and an "acceptable" translation. Who has argued otherwise we might ask? But a "literal" translation and an "acceptable" translation are not mutually exclusive are they? If so then the translation of "and the Word was God," which is also a literal translation, might not be an "acceptable" one either! But is this the case here with "and the Word was a god" ? We believe that it is both a "literal" translation and an "acceptable" translation because the "literal" translation agree with the context, that is, there are two QEOI here and they are distinguished in the Greek by the use of the word PROS and so should be distinguished by the English translation. This is done admirably by the "literal" translation "and the Word was a god." It is not done by the translation "and the Word was God"! And who has argued that translation is "merely a wooden substitution of one English word for one Greek word". Certainly not the New World Translation Committee! As it has not been how they have approached this or any other Greek contruct/sentence in the N.T. we wonder why Bowman wish to state this by quoting Dodd here? To mislead? To offer a 'red herring'? To create a 'straw man' arguement? Bowman also states: "Clearly, "only grammatical considerations" do not a proper translation make!" Quite! But the New World Translation at John 1:1c has not offered the rendering they did "only on grammatical considerations"! Another 'straw man' from Bowman! And if " "only grammatical considerations" do not a proper translation make" then this applies just as much to the translation that trinitarians prefer, namely, "and the Word was God."

So the following from Walter Martin's "The Kingdom of the Cults" is wholly erroneous when he states: "Contrary to the translations of The Emphatic Diaglott and the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, the Greek grammatical construction leaves no doubt whatsoever that this is the only possible rendering of the text."

One has to wonder how many persons has this late author has managed to mislead?

C.H.Dodd's rejection of the translation, "the Word was a god," are on grounds other than grammar. Jehovah's Witnesses, indeed others, would contend with him on that. Interestingly, 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)."

Note the astute remark by Parkinson, "It is difficult to find objectivity in the translation of John 1:1." He is aware of the problem of Dodd's stance given above by commenting,"as though theological acceptability should be a criterion!". Quite! But on this and whether the Trinity should influence a translator's choice of rendering John 1:1, see the book, The Role of Theology and Bias in Bible Translation by R.Furuli, Chapter 4, 'The Trinity Doctrine as a Translation Problem', pp. 109-140.

Some have claimed that it is on the "mere lack of the article," that the New World Translation came by it's translation.

For instance, we have read:

"Just because a noun is not preceded by the article does not automatically justify the insertion of the English indefinite "a". This is a gross over-simplification of the facts, a practice unfortunately common amongst those who are not properly trained in the Greek language. I am aware that this is a serious charge, however, the facts reveal that the WTB&TS has consistently refused to name any of it's NWT translators...".

This person has accused the NWT of practicing something it does not practice. A straw man has been created. It is a "serious charge". Not least because it's a false one but it also impugns the scholarship of others such as those we have quoted herein. To bolster this charge he trys to show that the anonimity of those behind the New World Translation indicates something unscholarly about their work. An ad hominem. Although the NWT Translation Committee thought that the omission was important(and it is)it is not "merely" because in the phrase "kai theos en ho logos" the word "theos" lacks the article that it so translated. Any one reading what the NWTTC has said(and critics as the above should have done!)will be able to see this. For instance, the NWT Translation Committee have said:

"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 Watchtower, 1975, p.702.

So, in this case before us, Why did the NWT choose to use the English "a" in John 1:1c? Let them answer:

"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."-ibed

So the NWT rendering was due to

(1)The lack of the article in the phrase,"kai theos en ho logos."

(2)Context. The Word was "with" the God[ho theos in John 1:1, 2]

(3)What the rest of the Bible says about Jesus.

On (1) and (2) The Translator's New Testament says:

"There is a distinction in the Greek here between 'with God and 'God'. In the first instance the article is used and this makes the reference specific. In the second instance there is no article and it is difficult to believe that it's omission is not significant. In effect it gives an adjectival quality to the second use of Theos(God)so that the phrase means 'The Word was divine.'"

Vincent Taylor says:

Here, in the Prologue[of John's Gospel]the Word is said to be God, but as often observed, in contrast with the clause, 'the Word was with God', the definite article is not used(in the final clause). For this reason it is generally translated 'and the Word was divine'(Moffatt) or is not regarded as God in the absolute sense of the name. The New English Bible neatly paraphrases the phrase in the words 'and what God was,the Word was',....In neither passage[including 1:18]is Jesus unequivocally called God...."- Does the New Testament Call Jesus God?, Expository Times, 73, No.4(Jan.1962), p.118.

This nicely leads us into this, which we have recently come across on a site critical of the NWT's John 1:1 rendering:

"Merrill C. Tenney comments further, "To say the absence of the article bespeaks of the non-absolute deity of the Word is sheer folly. There are many places in this Gospel where the anarthrous theos appears (e.g. 1:6, 12, 13, 18), and not once is the implication that this is referring to just "a god" (Tenney, Merrill. "The Gospel of John" in The Expositor's Bible Commentary. Grand Rapids: Regency, 1981, p.30). The NWT renders the first three anarthrous appearances of theos Tenney mentions as "God," and the last as "god" (no "a"). But if the WT were consistent in the application of its own Greek "rules" each of these should read, "a god."."

We have read also, "If one is to dogmatically assert that any anarthrous noun must be indefinite and translated with an indefinite article, one must be able to do the same with the 282 other times theos appears anarthrously...".

One has to wonder who has ever "dogmatically asserted" that any anarthrous noun must be indefinite! Not the NWT Translation Committee at any rate!

Dr Jason BeDuhn shows the ignorance of the above by saying:

"In fact the KIT[Appendix 2A, p.1139]explanation is perfectly correct according to the best scholarship done on this subject. He[one particular critic who said the same as above]goes on to insist that the NWT is inconsistent because other uses of THEOS without the article in John 1 are not translated the same way (a charge repeated by Countess, as mentioned in the Stafford book, from the same ignorance.) He fails to note that not only that the constructs are different, but that these other uses are not nominative (THEOS) but genitive (THEOU); the latter form is governed by totally different rules. The genitive form of the noun does not require the article to be definite, whereas the nominative form normally does. It's that simple."

The above clearly shows that this "ignorance" is consistently repeated.

Notice the following example where the writer gives Countess as his source. We may have here a case of the blind leading the blind!:

"The word "God" appears 282 times in the Greek without the article (anarthrous) in the New Testament. In order to be consistent with their "a god" translation, the New World Translation (NWT) should translate all anarthrous verses "a god." But this is not what we find. Instead, the NWT translates it "God" a whopping 266 times and god, a god, gods, and godly only 16 times! (The Jehovah's Witnesses' New Testament, Robert H. Countess, Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1982, pp. 54-55). This proves the NWT deliberately changed John 1:1 to fit their theology. The verse is correctly translated, "The Word was God."

"The New World Translation overlooks Colwell's rule in Greek which says, "A definite predicate nominative has the article when it follows the verb; it does not have the article when it precedes the verb." Simply stated, the word "God" doesn't need an article in John 1:1 because in Greek it precedes the verb.

"In The New World Translation "God" is capitalized in John 1:6, 12, 13, and verse 18 (twice), yet all are without the articles! This proves once again, the committee that translated the NWT deliberately changed John 1:1 to "a god."

End of quote

We will look later whether the NWT "overlooks" Colwell's rule. The 2nd point made above shows an ignorance of basic Greek! However:

Those who have looked into the construction we find in John 1:1c: "theos [the predicate]was[the verb]the logos[articular subject]say:

"At a number of points in this study we have seen that anarthrous predicate nouns preceding the verb may be primarily qualitative in force yet may also have some connotation of definiteness. The categories of qualitativeness and definiteness, that is, are not mutually exclusive, and frequently it is a delicate exegetical issue for the interpreter to decide which emphasis a Greek writer had in mind. As Colwell called attention to the possibility that such nouns may be definite, the present sudy has focused on their qualitative force. In Mark 15:39 I would regard the qualitative emphasis as primary, although there may also be some connotation of definiteness. In John 1:1 I think that the qualitative force of the predicate is so prominent that the noun cannot be regarded as definite." -P.Harner, Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 92.1, 1973, pp.85, 87.(About Harner and the NWT editors quotation of him here, see below.)

This scotch's the arguement that the definite article was not needed but would be understood, because of the word order of the phrase, so that the phrase should read,"and the Word was God." In the translation of John 1:1: "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God," the reader would not be aware that in the Greek text the first occurrence of "God," has the article, and the second has not. Yet, if the omission in the second case is "significant," then this should be brought out in translation.

So, what is the correct way, even the 'best' way, to translate; "kai theos en ho logos?"

First of all, whenever we come across the indefinite "a" or "an" in an English translation these words are an insertion by the translator to bring out the correct thought inherent in the Greek. When the article is used it identifies a particular noun, so that when we say,"the man," we have a particular man in mind. When we use the indefinite article "a man," we are describing one of a group/class, so that "a man," means "one of mankind." Or, it could be describing the characteristics or qualities of that noun, so that "a man" means "man-like," "is manly." So, in Greek a noun can be definite, indefinite or qualitative, or a combination of them. We have just seen that the predicate noun "theos," in "theos en ho logos," cannot be considered definite. So that must mean it is either indefinite or qualitative or a combination of both indefinite/qualitative.

How have translator's translated singular anarthrous predicate nouns that precede the verb as we find in John 1:1c? Often they have used the English indefinite article. The New World Translation, Reference Edition(1984) has an appendix that lists of 11 instances of this syntax in Mark and John showing how they have been translated in 6 different Bible translations- 5 of whom come from the group above that translate the singular anarthrous predicate "theos" in John 1:1c as definite. In all instances they have, of course, translated them using the English indefinite article. The appendix says, in part:

"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 [theos] in the predicate of John 1:1 to make it read " a god." The Sacred Scriptures confirm the correctness of this rendering."-Appendix 6A, p.1579.

Does this mean that the NWT Translation Committee regarded the anarthrous predicate "theos" in John 1:1c as purely "indefinite"? The 1950 1st edtion of the NWT contained an appendix that discussed John 1:1. Therein we read after citing both Goodspeeds' and Moffatts' translation: "and the Word was divine":

"Every honest person will have to admit that John's saying that the Word or Logos "was divine" is not saying that he was the God with whom he was. It merely tells of a certain quality about the Word or Logos, but it does not identify him as one and the same God.....Careful translators recognise that the articular construction of the noun points to an identity, a personality,whereas an anarthrous construction points to a quality about someone".

This is exactly what one scholar wrote:

An Exegetical Grammer Of The Greek New Testament, William D Chamberlain

page 57:

"d. A qualitative force is often expressed by the absence of the article: en tois propsetais (Heb. 1:1), 'in the prophets,' calls attention to a particular group, while en uio (Heb. 1:2), 'in son,' calls attention to the rank of the Son as a 'spokesman' for God. The ARV in trying to bring out the force of this phrase translates it, 'in his Son,' italicizing 'his.'

The predicate of a sentence may be recognized by the absence of the article: theos en ho logos(Jn. 1:1), the Word was God; kai ho logos sarz egento (Jn. 1:14), 'And the Word became flesh'; esontai oi eschatoi protoi (Mt. 20 :16), 'the last shall be first.' The article with each of these predicate nouns would equate them and make them interchangeable, e. g., ho theos en ho logos would make God and the Word identical. The effect of this can be seen in ho theos agape estin (1 Jn. 4 :8), 'God is love.' As the sentence now stands 'love' describes a primary quality of God; the article he with agape would make God and love equivalents, e. g., God would possess no qualities not subsumed under love." -end of quote.

So, one could summarize by saying:

"The primary function of the article is to make something definite. It may point out something new to the discussion, or something already mentioned.

"Theos en ho logos" is describing the quality of the Logos-Word in that he possessed divine or divinity as the only begotten son of God who was a spirit being like God but not identical to Jehovah God."

(William D.Chamberlain was professor of New Testament language and literature at the Louisville Presbyterian Seminary. It is a text book on Greek grammar that has been recommended by Bruce Metzger.)

So we can see that the NWT Translation Committee recognized that the noun "theos" was primarily qualitative as well as being indefinite. It was considered primarily qualitative because of the Greek word order. If the verb, a form of 'I am', comes before the anarthrous predicate nominative then, as a rule, it would be considered primarily indefinite. If after, primarily qualitative. But the noun would not be wholly qualitative, the noun would not lose its indefinitness or definitiveness. What would this mean to our understanding of John 1:1c? Well, the meaning of "and the Word was a god," would then be that the Word was "godlike"-divine, holy, powerful and not just "a god," in the sense he was just one of many "gods," in the class of "gods." (Yet John 1:18 shows that the Word was in a 'god class' of it's own for the Word was the "only begotten" theos). The Word was a "divine one." Or, as one German translator puts it: "and godlike sort was the Logos."-Das Evangelium nach Johannes, 1978, by Johannes Schneider.

However, the NWT Translation Committee chose to use the indefinite article "a" to so render as it did and not like Moffatt and Goodspeed, because of two factors. One, it's avowed principle of being as "literal as possible" and second, the context*, as the Greek shows a contrast between two that are "theos" but only one is "ho theos," "the God." As the Word was with "the God," the Word could not be that "God," and, yet the Word was "theos"(°-cp. Moody-Smith's comment above,)so the Word must be distinguished from "God" by literally translating "theos." One way to do that is saying that the Word was "a god." A higher case 'G' is rightly used for the One said to be "THE" theos, and hence a lower case used for the Word said to be with this "God," "ho theos," the Almighty God. Can the use of the indefinite article bring out the qualitativeness of a noun though?(* re context-cp. D.Moody Smith's comment quoted above.)

In the book Jehovah's Witnesses Defended, An Answer to Scholars and Critics, the author, Greg Stafford, a Jehovah's Witness himself, cites and discusses three examples where he believes that "a qualitative/indefinite aspect is evident." One of these is Acts 28:4 where it is said of Paul, "the man is a murderer," from the Greek "phoneus estin ho anthropos." We can do no better here than quote Stafford:

"In translations of this verse the qualitative/indefinite aspect of the noun is usually brought out by means of the indefinite article. The indefinite aspect seems clear enough, and the qualitative nuance naturally follows from the noun used to describe Paul. How can he be a murderer without owning the qualities of a murderer? This text provides an exact parallel to John 1:1c, where we have an anarthrous preverbal nominative followed by an articulated subject."

Agreeing with the above are the comments, on this and Stafford's position here, is Dr Jason BeDuhn who has written:

"The Jehovah's Witness editors, in explaining this verse, say that they are trying to convey that the word has qualitative sense- that is, that the word belongs to the class of divine beings. This is correct. In fact, it seems clear to me that the word theos is in this verse a predicate adjective. I would translate as Moffatt and Goodspeed (two excellent scholars of Greek) have: "And the Word was divine."

For the reason why this preference of translation of John 1:1c by Dr. Beduhn does not undermine this site's 'use' of him re the New World Translation click here.

".....I have already told you that "the Word was divine" is a very simple and accurate way to convey the qualitative sense of this construct, and I am pleased to see that Stafford comes to the same conclusion. Towards the end of the chapter, Stafford cites Acts 28:4, which is a perfect choice, and shows how this qualitative sense for the anarthrous predicate nominative before the verb works."

Another "exact parallel" is 1 Kings 18:27LXX. It has the same sentence structure as John 1:1. It says: "Call at the top of your voice, for he is a god"; "a god" is the natural translation of the Greek "theos estin", or "god he is." Stafford gives two other examples of qualitative/indefinite nouns; John 14:19 and from The Martyrdom of Polycarp, 12:1.

There is no doubt then that the use of the English indefinite article can be used to bring out both the qualitative aspect of a Greek noun and the indefiniteness derived from it's context.

How might this discussion be ended. Surely, anyone should be able to agree that the New World Translation rendering here is justifable at least. It breaks no 'rule' of grammar. It properly distinguishes between the one who is "Ho theos," and the Word as "theos." It fits in with the context better than the popular rendition.The context shows two individuals, two beings(not just two 'persons'), one who is said to be "with" the other and so therefore they cannot be identical. True, "ho theos," is the Father, but John is not only distinguishing between the Father and the Word, but between two beings, one described as the theos and one who is an anarthrous theos. A translation should do so aswell. Such translations such as "and the Word was God," certainly do not. Jehovah's Witnesses will say that the NWT's rendering of "a god," agrees with the rest of scriptures that portray Jesus not as "God," "the God," "God Almighty," whose name is, in English, Jehovah, but as his Son, who was sent to do his Father's will and remained subordinate to Him even after his resurrection, and who he called his God(Rev.3:12), the One he too worships and directs all worshippers to(Luke 4:8).(see "Jesus as Theos.")

So what is the real issue involved here in the severe criticism that such a rendering,"and the Word was a god," has been met with. In short it's all to do with theology. Jehovah's Witness deny the trinity and indeed speak out 'against' it. We recommend the Awake 1972, May 22nd, pp.27-28 on this: Is it Grammar or Interpretation?

Lastly, it might be pointed out. Such scholars as Bruce Metzger and the late William Barclay's strong condemnation of the New World Translation here was based on Colwell's rule. At least their condemnation was, back then, in the 1960's, The NWT Translation Committee rejected such a 'rule' here, back then, and still do. They have been joined by others. Who has been proven right? These 'reputable' scholars or the anonymous persons, who were and are still, much maligned and their scholarship brought into question from all quarters? Do we need to tell you?

*Harner- Although he understands that 'theos' in John 1:1c is not definite that does not mean that he believes that "and the Word was a god" is correct. He had written, "Perhaps the clause[John 1:1c]could be translated "the Word had the same nature as God." This would be one way of representing John's thought, which is, as I understand it, that ho logos, no less than ho theos, had the nature of theos."
So BeDuhn is right about Harners "religous commitments." The NWT might agree that "theos" here is qualitative but would then disagree with Harner in believing that the Word was equal to the one called "God" here. The NWT editors cite Harner simply because he says that the anarthrous theos is not definite. Scholars, such as Metzger, had argued strongly in the past against such a translation as "...a god," from the belief that theos here WAS definite. As Stafford points out," use Harners article in support of this view[that the anarthrous theos is not definite but qualitative]is certainly appropriate, since that is one of the primary purposes of his article!" It is quite clear that the belief that Jesus is part of a tri-une God-head has 'influenced' Harner's view of what the qualitative force of theos here indicates about the Word. It is the belief of Jehovah's Witnesses that to do this is erroneous, not least because the Trinity is, in it's full conception, a 4th century doctrine and should have no place in deciding what John was saying at the end of the 1st.
In defending John 1:1c as proof of Jesus' deity in the sense he was "God," we have read: "The WT is ignoring the distinction between "Person" and "essence." The Word is not the same PERSON as God the Father, but it does not then follow He is not of the same ESSENCE as Him." Here we have a prime example of importing a term,"essence," used by later 'theologians' from after the 1st century into John's Gospel. The Bible does not contain that word or the idea that Trinitarians mean by it. It is wholly erroneous to import such a 3rd/4th century word and idea into a discussion of John 1:1. Also, John is not distinguishing the two beings here in terms of person but as two which are "theos." So, what John 1:1 is saying, rather than just "The Word is not the same PERSON as God the Father," it is saying that the "Word" is not the same "theos"("god") as the one with whom he was with. Translations such as "and the Word was God" make out he was the "God" he was "with"! Even Trinitarians disagree with that, for that would mean that the Word was the Father! So we have translations that apparently recognise the confusion inherent in the "Word was God" translations and paraphrase the sentence to read "and he was the same as God."-Today's English Version(1976) Notice the 'addition' of the words "same as." It could be interpreted as saying he, the Word, although "with and the same as" "God" makes him other than "God." We see nothing wrong with this translation despite what the translator's think it is intended to mean. One man can be with another man, a particular "man"("the man")and be the same as them, being "man", that is 'of Mankind,' "a man." But if that was said to anyone would they think the first "Man" was the "man" he was with? No, they would rightly conclude that was the second "man" mentioned was like him is that they were both men but not actually him. Nor, then, was the Word "God"(ho theos)in John 1:1 when John wrote that the Word was with this one and was "theos."

A reproduction of Benjamin Wilson's Emphatic Diaglott as published by Fowler & Wells NY., 1883.
You may notice that in Wilson's interlinear reading of John 1:1 he literally translates John 1:1c "kai theos en ho Logos" as "and a god was the Word." He shows that the Word or "Logos" is not the same "theos" as the one he was with by translating it in his main translation as "and the LOGOS was God." Note that it is "God" in lower case than the other occurrence which he has as "GOD."

Re scholars such as Metzger and Barclay. Any remarks we have said about them above does not take away the fact that they are excellent scholars in their field and we do not wish to be understood as saying otherwise. These two have contributed much over the years which to those who are interested have much benefited. But their remarks do highlight the fact that what credentials you have, whatever qualifications you may have gained, a person's theology can 'get in the way' of an objective approach to Bible translation and understanding.

We have read the following: "...if you are going to insist on a translation,you must be prepared to defend it in such a way as to provide a way for the author to have expressed the alternate translation.In other words ,if theos en ho logos is "a god," how could John have said "the Word was God?"

Good question and one which can be answered.

Greg Stafford, after quoting Wallace where the latter says, "The construction the evangelist chose to express this idea was the most concise way he could have stated that the Word was God and yet was distinct from the Father,"(Greek Grammar,note 31,),writes,"However,there is a more concise way John could have communicated the precise distinction Wallace makes, had he simply written,[[ho logos en pros ho patera[or, pros theos patera], kai theos[or, ho theos]en ho logos("the Word was with the Father[or, 'with God the Father], and the Word was God"). If John had wanted to state that the Word was God but distinct from the Father, then the above, or some variation thereof, is all he need have written. Had he done so, there would be some justification for distinguishing the two in terms of "person," although not necessarily in the later Trinitarian sense in which the Father and Son are distinguished as "persons" in the "Godhead." However, as John 1:1 stands in our Greek texts today, a distinction can only be made in terms of theos, without reading later theology into the text. We agree that ho theos is the Father, but since John is careful to distinguish the being of the Father(ho theos) from that of the Word,we must also do so in our translations of this passage."-Jehovah's Witnesses Defended. 1st edition, p.219-220.(2nd edition now available)


"In the beginning the Word was, and the Word was with God and the Word was a god. This one was in the beginning with God."-New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures.

In the 1950 edition of the New World Translation an appendix at the back discusses the reasons why the NWTTC choose to render John 1:1 as they did. Therein they quoted from A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament by Dana and Mantey which remarks on p.148, paragraph (3): "The article sometimes distinguishes the subject from the predicate in a copulative sentence. In Xenophon's Anabasis, 1:4;6, [lit., "market was the place] and the place was a market, we have a parallel case to what we have in John 1:1[kai theos en ho logos], and the word was deity. The article points out the subject in these examples. Neither was the place the only market, nor was the word all of God, as it would mean if the article were also used with [theos]." The said NWT(1950) appendix went on to say about this remark by the above Grammarians: "Instead of translating John 1:1, and the word was deity, this Grammar could have translated it, and the word was a god, to run more parallel with Xenophon's statement, and the place was a market." Mantey has charged that the NWT appendix has misused his remarks as quoted above. A letter he wrote to a certain individual has been re-produced in various books that are critical of Jehovah's Witness and the New World Translation. However,despite what Mantey has said in that letter what his Grammar does say in regard to John 1:1 and Xenophon 1:4:6,t hat is, they are "parallel" in their sentence construction: both are examples where the predicate nominative is anarthrous and precede the verb and the subject is after the verb and has the article. There is no getting away from it that Dana and Mantey, although not intending to, has given the basis or allowance of the translation of 'kai theos en ho logos' as "and the word was a god." For a deeper discussion of this, between a Jehovah's Witness and a Trinitarian, re Dana and Mantey's Manual Grammar, the NWT(1950)appendix, John 1:1, the letter to Mantey here alluded to and Mantey's response, which has had wide publicity, go to Debatelog/Hommel

(Last reviewed-21st February, 2004)

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