FICTITIOUS CONVERSATION WITH A JEHOVAH’S WITNESS: JOHN 1:1: Was the Word “God” or “a god”?

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Jehovah’s Witnesses translate John 1:1 as “and the Word was a god” because they believe that the Greek word “θεός” (theos), which is typically translated as “God” in English, can also be translated as “a god” in certain contexts. They believe that in John 1:1, the word “θεός” refers to Jesus, who they believe is a divine being, but not equal to God the Father.

The main reason that Jehovah’s Witnesses give for translating “θεός” as “a god” in John 1:1 is that they believe it is more consistent with their understanding of the nature of Jesus and the doctrine of the Trinity. They believe that the doctrine of the Trinity, which teaches that God is one being consisting of three co-equal and co-eternal persons (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), is not supported by the Bible and is actually a pagan teaching that was adopted by mainstream Christianity. Therefore, they believe that it is important to translate “θεός” as “a god” in John 1:1 to emphasize that Jesus is not equal to God the Father, but is a separate, divine being.

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Jehovah’s Witnesses also argue that the Greek text of John 1:1 supports the translation of “θεός” as “a god.” In particular, they point to the fact that the article “ho” (meaning “the”) is not used with “θεός” in the Greek text, which they believe suggests that “θεός” should be translated as “a god” rather than “the God.” They also point to other passages in the New Testament where “θεός” is used without the article and argue that these passages are also best translated as “a god.”

It is worth noting that most mainstream Christian translations of the Bible, including the New International Version (NIV), the English Standard Version (ESV), and the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), translate “θεός” as “God” in John 1:1, and there is widespread disagreement among scholars and translators about the best way to translate “θεός” in this verse.

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Jehovah’s Witnesses provide several arguments in their literature to support their translation of John 1:1 as “and the Word was a god.” Here are a few additional arguments that they often make:

  1. They argue that the use of the Greek word “Λόγος” (Logos) in John 1:1 to refer to Jesus suggests that he is a divine being, but not equal to God the Father. They believe that the term “Logos” implies that Jesus is a spokesman or messenger of God, and therefore must be a divine being. However, they also point out that the term “Logos” does not necessarily imply equality with God, and can be used to refer to angels or other divine beings who are not equal to God.
  2. They argue that the absence of the definite article “ho” (meaning “the”) before “θεός” in John 1:1 suggests that “θεός” should be translated as “a god” rather than “the God.” They point out that the Greek language often uses the definite article to indicate that a noun refers to the one and only God, and argue that the absence of the definite article in John 1:1 implies that “θεός” does not refer to the one and only God.
  3. They argue that the use of the plural form of “θεός” in certain passages of the New Testament (such as John 1:12 and Romans 8:32) suggests that there are multiple divine beings, and that Jesus is one of these divine beings. They believe that these passages support the idea that Jesus is a god, but not the one and only God.
  4. They argue that their translation of John 1:1 as “and the Word was a god” is consistent with other passages in the New Testament that describe Jesus as a divine being. For example, they point to passages such as Colossians 1:15-20 and Hebrews 1:1-4, which describe Jesus as being the creator of the universe and having a divine nature.

It is worth noting that these arguments are not universally accepted by scholars and translators, and there is ongoing debate about the best way to interpret and translate John 1:1 and other passages of the New Testament.

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Jehovah’s Witnesses rely on a variety of grammar books and other resources to support their translation of John 1:1 as “and the Word was a god.” Some of the grammar books that they often refer to include:

  1. “A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research” by A. T. Robertson: This is a comprehensive grammar of the Greek New Testament, widely regarded as a standard reference work in the field. Jehovah’s Witnesses often refer to this grammar to support their arguments about the proper translation of specific words and phrases in the New Testament.
  2. “A Greek Grammar of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature” by F. Blass and A. Debrunner: This is another comprehensive grammar of the Greek New Testament, widely used by scholars and translators. Jehovah’s Witnesses often refer to this grammar to support their arguments about the proper translation of specific words and phrases in the New Testament.
  3. “The New Testament: Its Background, Growth, and Content” by Bruce M. Metzger: This is a general introduction to the New Testament, including a discussion of the historical and cultural context of the text, the process of its transmission and translation, and the principles of interpretation. Jehovah’s Witnesses often refer to this book to support their arguments about the proper interpretation of specific passages in the New Testament.

It is worth noting that these books are written for a general audience and do not specifically address the translation of John 1:1 or the theology of Jehovah’s Witnesses. They are primarily intended to provide a general understanding of the Greek language and the New Testament text, and may be used by scholars and translators of various religious backgrounds to support a wide range of interpretations and translations.

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The Sahidic Coptic Explanation by Jehovah’s Witnesses

THAT question has to be considered when Bible translators handle the first verse of the Gospel of John. In the New World Translation, the verse is rendered: “In the beginning the Word was, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god.” (John 1:1) Some other translations render the last part of the verse to convey the thought that the Word was “divine,” or something similar. (A New Translation of the Bible, by James Moffatt; The New English Bible) Many translations, however, render the last part of John 1:1: “And the Word was God.”—The Holy Bible—New International Version; The Jerusalem Bible.

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Greek grammar and the context strongly indicate that the New World Translation rendering is correct and that “the Word” should not be identified as the “God” referred to earlier in the verse. Nevertheless, the fact that the Greek language of the first century did not have an indefinite article (“a” or “an”) leaves the matter open to question in some minds. It is for this reason that a Bible translation in a language that was spoken in the earliest centuries of our Common Era is very interesting.

The language is the Sahidic dialect of Coptic. The Coptic language was spoken in Egypt in the centuries immediately following Jesus’ earthly ministry, and the Sahidic dialect was an early literary form of the language. Regarding the earliest Coptic translations of the Bible, The Anchor Bible Dictionary says: “Since the [Septuagint] and the [Christian Greek Scriptures] were being translated into Coptic during the 3d century C.E., the Coptic version is based on [Greek manuscripts] which are significantly older than the vast majority of extant witnesses.”

The Sahidic Coptic text is especially interesting for two reasons. First, as indicated above, it reflects an understanding of Scripture dating from before the fourth century, which was when the Trinity became official doctrine. Second, Coptic grammar is relatively close to English grammar in one important aspect. The earliest translations of the Christian Greek Scriptures were into Syriac, Latin, and Coptic. Syriac and Latin, like the Greek of those days, do not have an indefinite article. Coptic, however, does. Moreover, scholar Thomas O. Lambdin, in his work Introduction to Sahidic Coptic, says: “The use of the Coptic articles, both definite and indefinite, corresponds closely to the use of the articles in English.”

Hence, the Coptic translation supplies interesting evidence as to how John 1:1 would have been understood back then. What do we find? The Sahidic Coptic translation uses an indefinite article with the word “god” in the final part of John 1:1. Thus, when rendered into modern English, the translation reads: “And the Word was a god.” Evidently, those ancient translators realized that John’s words recorded at John 1:1 did not mean that Jesus was to be identified as Almighty God. The Word was a god, not Almighty God.[1]

JOHN 1:1. SAHIDIC COPTIC TEXT; P. CHESTER BEATTY-813; WITH INTERLINEAR TRANSLATION

In        the beginning        existed        the Word

         and        the Word        existed        with

           the God        and          a god        was

Grammar Arguments by Jehovah’s Witnesses

These translations use such words as “a god,” “divine” or “godlike” because the Greek word θεός (the·osʹ) is a singular predicate noun occurring before the verb and is not preceded by the definite article. This is an anarthrous the·osʹ. The God with whom the Word, or Logos, was originally is designated here by the Greek expression ὁ θεός, that is, the·osʹ preceded by the definite article ho. This is an articular the·osʹ. 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.

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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.”[2]

A Text That Teaches the Trinity?

One example of a Bible verse that is often misused is John 1:1. In the King James Version, that verse reads: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God [Greek, ton the·onʹ], and the Word was God [the·osʹ].” This verse contains two forms of the Greek noun the·osʹ (god). The first is preceded by ton (the), a form of the Greek definite article, and in this case the word the·onʹ refers to Almighty God. In the second instance, however, the·osʹ has no definite article. Was the article mistakenly left out?

The Gospel of John was written in Koine, or common Greek, which has specific rules regarding the use of the definite article. Bible scholar A. T. Robertson recognizes that if both subject and predicate have articles, “both are definite, treated as identical, one and the same, and interchangeable.” Robertson considers as an example Matthew 13:38, which reads: “The field [Greek, ho a·grosʹ] is the world [Greek, ho koʹsmos].” The grammar enables us to understand that the world is also the field.

What, though, if the subject has a definite article but the predicate does not, as in John 1:1? Citing that verse as an example, scholar James Allen Hewett emphasizes: “In such a construction the subject and predicate are not the same, equal, identical, or anything of the sort.”

To illustrate, Hewett uses 1 John 1:5, which says: “God is light.” In Greek, “God” is ho the·osʹ and therefore has a definite article. But phos for “light” is not preceded by any article. Hewett points out: “One can always . . . say of God He is characterized by light; one cannot always say of light that it is God.” Similar examples are found at John 4:24, “God is a Spirit,” and at 1 John 4:16, “God is love.” In both of these verses, the subjects have definite articles but the predicates, “Spirit” and “love,” do not. So the subjects and predicates are not interchangeable. These verses cannot mean that “Spirit is God” or “love is God.”

Identity of “the Word”?

Many Greek scholars and Bible translators acknowledge that John 1:1 highlights, not the identity, but a quality of “the Word.” Says Bible translator William Barclay: “Because [the apostle John] has no definite article in front of theos it becomes a description . . . John is not here identifying the Word with God. To put it very simply, he does not say that Jesus was God.” Scholar Jason David BeDuhn likewise says: “In Greek, if you leave off the article from theos in a sentence like the one in John 1:1c, then your readers will assume you mean ‘a god.’ . . . Its absence makes theos quite different than the definite ho theos, as different as ‘a god’ is from ‘God’ in English.” BeDuhn adds: “In John 1:1, the Word is not the one-and-only God, but is a god, or divine being.” Or to put it in the words of Joseph Henry Thayer, a scholar who worked on the American Standard Version: “The Logos [or, Word] was divine, not the divine Being himself.”[3]

What Arguments Has the Jehovah’s Witness Rolf Furuli Given?

Rolf Furuli is a linguist and theologian who has written extensively on the translation of John 1:1 and other passages of the New Testament. Furuli is a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and his work is often cited by Jehovah’s Witnesses to support their translation of John 1:1 as “and the Word was a god.”

Furuli has argued that the Greek word “θεός” (theos), which is typically translated as “God” in English, can also be translated as “a god” in certain contexts. He has pointed out that the word “θεός” can refer to any divine being, and that it is often used in the New Testament to refer to Jesus and other supernatural beings. Furuli has argued that the use of “θεός” without the definite article “ho” (meaning “the”) in John 1:1 suggests that “θεός” should be translated as “a god” rather than “the God,” and that this translation is more consistent with the overall context of the verse.

Furuli has also argued that the use of the plural form of “θεός” in certain passages of the New Testament (such as John 1:12 and Romans 8:32) supports the idea that there are multiple divine beings, and that Jesus is one of these divine beings. He has pointed out that the plural form of “θεός” is often used to refer to a group of divine beings, and that it is consistent with the biblical concept of the divine council, a group of divine beings who assist God in carrying out his plan.

Furuli has also argued that the use of the term “Logos” in John 1:1 to refer to Jesus suggests that he is a divine being, but not equal to God the Father. He has pointed out that the term “Logos” implies that Jesus is a spokesman or messenger of God, and that it is consistent with the biblical concept of divine agency, the idea that God can use intermediaries to accomplish his will.

It is worth noting that Furuli’s arguments are not universally accepted by scholars and translators.

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What Arguments has Jason BeDuhn Given on John 1:1?

Jason BeDuhn is a scholar and translator who has written extensively on the translation of John 1:1 and other passages of the New Testament. BeDuhn is not a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and his work is often cited by scholars and translators who disagree with the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ translation of John 1:1 as “and the Word was a god.”

Brief Overview of BeDuhn’s Thoughts

Colwell’s Rule

In interpreting this verse, Colwell’s rule should be taken into consideration, which says that a definite predicate which is before the verb “to be” usually does not have the definite article. Ernest Cadman Colwell writes:

The opening verse of John’s Gospel contains one of the many passages where this rule suggests the translation of a predicate as a definite noun. Καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος [Kaì theòs ên ho lógos] looks much more like “And the Word was God” than “And the Word was divine” when viewed with reference to this rule. The absence of the article does not make the predicate indefinite or qualitative when it precedes the verb, it is indefinite in this position only when the context demands it. The context makes no such demand in the Gospel of John, for this statement cannot be regarded as strange in the prologue of the gospel which reaches its climax in the confession of Thomas [Footnote: John 20,28].”[26]

Jason David BeDuhn criticizes Colwell’s Rule as methodologically unsound and “not a valid rule of Greek grammar.” (pp. 117–120)

BeDuhn says: “In Greek, if you leave off the article from theos in a sentence like the one in John 1:1c, then your readers will assume you mean ‘a god.’ . . . Its absence makes theos quite different than the definite ho theos, as different as ‘a god’ is from ‘God’ in English.” BeDuhn adds: “In John 1:1, the Word is not the one-and-only God, but is a god, or divine being.” Or to put it in the words of Joseph Henry Thayer, a scholar who worked on the American Standard Version: “The Logos [or, Word] was divine, not the divine Being himself.”—Truth in Translation: Accuracy and Bias in English Translations of the New Testament, pages 115, 122, and 123.

Beduhn in Truth in Translation: Accuracy and Bias in English Translations of the New Testament chapter 11 states: “Translators of the KJV, NRSV, NIV, NAB, New American Standard Bible, AB, Good News Bible and LB all approached the text at John 1:1 already believing certain things about the Word…and made sure that the translations came out in accordance with their beliefs…. Ironically, some of these same scholars are quick to charge the NW translation with “doctrinal bias” for translating the verse literally, free of KJV influence, following the sense of the Greek. It may very well be that the NW translators came to the task of translating John 1:1 with as much bias as the other translators did. It just so happens that their bias corresponds in this case to a more accurate translation of the Greek.”

BeDuhn (of Northern Arizona University) in regard to the Kingdom Interlinear’s appendix that gives the reason why the NWT favored a translation of John 1:1 as saying the Word was not “God” but “a god” said: “In fact, the KIT [Appendix 2A, p.1139] explanation is perfectly correct according to the best scholarship done on this subject … “

While critical of some of its translation choices, BeDuhn called the New World Translation a “remarkably good” translation, “better by far” and “consistently better” than some of the others considered. Overall, concluded BeDuhn, the New World Translation “is one of the most accurate English translations of the New Testament currently available” and “the most accurate of the translations compared.”—Truth in Translation: Accuracy and Bias in English Translations of the New Testament.

BeDuhn points out that the general public and many Bible scholars assume that the differences in the New World Translation (NW) are due to religious bias on the part of its translators. However, he states: “Most of the differences are due to the greater accuracy of the NW as a literal, conservative translation.” While BeDuhn disagrees with certain renderings of the New World Translation, he says that this version “emerges as the most accurate of the translations compared.” He calls it a “remarkably good” translation.

Extensive Comments by BeDuhn in His Book

Greek has only a definite article, like our the; it does not have an indefinite article, like our a or an. So, generally speaking, a Greek definite noun will have a form of the definite article (ho), which will become “the” in English. A Greek indefinite noun will appear without the definite article and will be properly rendered in English with “a” or “an.” We are not “adding a word” when we translate Greek nouns that do not have the definite article as English nouns with the indefinite article. We are simply obeying the rules of English grammar that tell us that we cannot say “Snoopy is dog,” but may say “Snoopy is a dog.” For example, in John 1:1c, the clause we are investigating, ho logos is “the word,” as all translations accurately have it. If it was written simply logos, without the definite article ho, we would have to translate it as “a word.”

Similarly, when we have a form of ho theos, as we do in John 1:1b and 1:2, we are dealing with a definite noun that we would initially (“lexically”) translate as “the god”; but if it is written simply theos, as it is in John 1:1c, it is an indefinite noun that would normally be translated as “a god.” To complete our translation into English, we need to take into consideration the fact that English has both a common noun “god” and a proper noun “God.” We use the proper noun “God” like a name, without either a definite or indefinite article, even though a name is a definite noun. As a definite noun, “God” corresponds to the Greek ho theos (lexically “the god”), which also is used often as the proper noun “God” in both the New Testament and other Greek literature from the same time. So in John 1:1b and 1:2 it is perfectly accurate to drop the “the” from “god” and say that the Word was “with God” (literally “with the god”). But what about the indefinite theos in John 1:1c? This does not correspond to the English definite proper noun “God,” but to the indefinite noun “a god.”

  In Greek, if you leave off the article from theos in a sentence like the one in John 1:1c, then your readers will assume you mean “a god.”

  . . . Having introduced “God” and “the Word,” John would use the definite article to help his readers keep track of the fact that he is still talking about the same God and the same Word. But having mentioned “God” once in 1:1b (“the word was with God”), John does not use the definite article again with theos until 1:2 (“this one was with God”), skipping right over the theos of 1:1c (“the word was a god”). This middle theos, we are left to conclude, is not exactly the same thing as the “God” of 1:1b and 1:2.

  If John had wanted to say “the Word was God,” as so many English translation have it, he could have very easily done so by simply adding the definite article “the” (ho) to the word “god” (theos), making it “the god” and therefore “God.” (pp. 114-116)

BeDuhn then cites some of the many attempted explanations, including Colwell’s Rule, at length. We will not attempt to summarize this material. The reader should be aware, however, that in spite of BeDuhn’s objection, there are a large number of well respected Greek scholars who have defended the wording “and the Word was God.”

BeDuhn goes on to say,

  This brings us back to John 1:1. [John Harner, in his article, “Qualitative Anarthrous Predicate Nouns: Mark 15:39 and John 1:1,” 1973, pp. 85 and 87] suggests that John was not interested in definiteness or indefiniteness, but in character and quality.[*] . . . I think that the qualitative force of the predicate is so prominent that the noun cannot be regarded a definite. . . . So if the meaning of “the Word was a god,” or “the Word was a divine being” is that the Word belongs to the category of divine beings, then we could translate the phrase as “the Word was divine.” The meaning is the same in either case, and is summed up well by Harner as “ho logos…had the nature of theos” (Harner, page 87). (pp. 123-124)

[*] Harner further states “Perhaps the clause 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.” (Harner, Qualitative Anarthrous Predicate Nouns:, p. 87)

    BeDuhn says more on John 1:1, but I need to leave that to serious readers who will obtain their own copy of Truth in Translation. Let me simply close with his summary paragraph. He says,

  Bias has shaped most of these translations much more than has accurate attention to the wording of the Bible. The NWT translation of John 1:1 is superior to that of the other eight translation we are comparing. I do not think it is the best possible translation for a modern English reader; but at least it breaks with the KJV tradition followed by all the others, and it does so in the right direction by paying attention to how Greek grammar and syntax actually work. No translation of John 1:1 that I can imagine is going to be perfectly clear and obvious in its meaning. John is subtle, and we do him no service by reducing his subtlety to crude simplicities. All that we can ask is that a translation be an accurate starting point for exposition and interpretation. Only the NWT achieves this, as provocative as it sounds to the modern reader. The other translations cut off the exploration of the verse’s meaning before it has even begun. (p. 133)

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Fictitious Conversation with a Jehovah’s Witnesses

Below is a fictitious conversation that could take place with a Jehovah’s Witness on the correct rendering of John 1:1c, and the Word was God” or “and the Word was God.”

QUESTIONER: Based on Koine Greek grammar, how should John 1:1 be translated?

RESPONDER: In Koine Greek, John 1:1 reads as follows: Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος, καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν, καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος. A typical translation of this verse into English would be: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

QUESTIONER: What are the grammar rules for rendering “and the Word was God”?

RESPONDER: In John 1:1, the phrase “and the Word was God” can be translated as “καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος” in Greek. The verb “ἦν” (was) is in the imperfect tense, which indicates ongoing or incomplete action in the past. The subject of the verb is “ὁ λόγος” (the Word) and the predicate nominative is “θεὸς” (God), which agrees with the subject in gender, number, and case.

The predicate nominative “θεὸς” is in the nominative case, which is the case used for the subject of a verb. In this context, the predicate nominative “θεὸς” functions as the subject of the verb “ἦν” (was) and is therefore translated as “the Word” in English.

It’s worth noting that the predicate nominative “θεὸς” is also accompanied by the definite article “ὁ,” which emphasizes the identity of the subject “the Word” as God. This is typically translated as “the” in English, as in “the Word was the God.”

QUESTIONER: Are there any grammar rules that would render the phrase “and the word was a god”

RESPONDER: In John 1:1, the phrase “and the Word was God” can be translated as “καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος” in Greek. There is no grammatically correct way to translate this phrase as “and the word was a god” in Greek or in any other language.

The predicate nominative “θεὸς” is in the nominative case, which is the case used for the subject of a verb. In this context, the predicate nominative “θεὸς” functions as the subject of the verb “ἦν” (was) and is therefore translated as “the Word” in English. The definite article “ὁ” (the) is used to emphasize the identity of the subject “the Word” as God.

It’s worth noting that the predicate nominative “θεὸς” is not accompanied by the indefinite article “ἄλλος” (a/an), which would indicate that the Word was one among many gods. Instead, the predicate nominative is used without an article, which emphasizes the uniqueness and identity of the Word as God.

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QUESTIONER: Yes, but there is no indefinite article in Koine Greek, so how would it be accompanied by an indefinite article?

RESPONDER: It is true that the Greek language does not have an indefinite article like the English language does. In Greek, the absence of the definite article does not necessarily indicate indefinite or generic reference. Instead, the presence or absence of the definite article can indicate a variety of syntactical and semantic relationships, such as definiteness, specificity, and quality.

In the case of John 1:1, the predicate nominative “θεὸς” (God) is anarthrous, meaning that it does not have the definite article “ὁ” before it. However, this does not necessarily mean that the Word is being referred to as “a god” or “a divine being” in a generic or indefinite sense. Instead, the anarthrous construction of the noun may simply indicate that the Word has the quality of deity, without necessarily identifying him as one and the same as God himself.

You are correct that Koine Greek does not have an indefinite article like the English “a/an.” In Greek, the concept of “a/an” is usually expressed through the use of the numeral “ἕν” (one) or the indefinite pronoun “ἄλλος” (another).

For example, if you wanted to say “the Word was a god” in Greek, you could use the indefinite pronoun “ἄλλος” (another) to indicate that the Word was one among many gods, like this:

καὶ ἄλλος θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος.

However, this translation is not consistent with the original Greek text of John 1:1, which does not use the indefinite pronoun “ἄλλος” to describe the Word. Instead, the predicate nominative “θεὸς” is used without an article, which emphasizes the uniqueness and identity of the Word as God.

JOHN 1:1 The θεὸς Dilemma of “a god” or “God”?

QUESTIONER: Yes, but the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ literature argues that some translations use such words as “a god,” “divine” or “godlike” because the Greek word θεός (the·osʹ) is a singular predicate noun occurring before the verb and is not preceded by the definite article. This is an anarthrous the·osʹ. The God with whom the Word, or Logos, was originally is designated here by the Greek expression ὁ θεός, that is, the·osʹ preceded by the definite article ho. This is an articular the·osʹ. 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.

RESPONDER: It is true that in Greek, the use of the definite article “ὁ” (the) before a noun can indicate the identity or personality of the noun, while the absence of the article can indicate that the noun is functioning as a predicate adjective or predicate noun, describing a quality of the subject. This is known as the “anarthrous predicate construction.”

In the case of John 1:1, the predicate nominative “θεὸς” (God) is anarthrous, meaning that it does not have the definite article “ὁ” before it. This suggests that the predicate nominative is describing a quality of the subject “the Word” rather than identifying the Word as the specific God mentioned earlier in the verse (“ὁ θεός,” “the God”).

However, it is important to consider the context and the overall meaning of the verse when interpreting the meaning of an anarthrous predicate noun. In John 1:1, the predicate nominative “θεὸς” is immediately followed by the clause “ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν” (the Word was with God), which suggests that the Word and God are separate and distinct entities.

Furthermore, the predicate nominative “θεὸς” is accompanied by the definite article “ὁ” in the phrase “θεὸς ἦν” (was God), which emphasizes the identity of the Word as God. This suggests that the Word is not merely “godlike” or “divine,” but is actually identified as God himself.

Overall, it seems that the best translation of John 1:1 is “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” This translation accurately reflects the original Greek text and conveys the meaning of the verse in a clear and straightforward way.

QUESTIONER: Yes, but the Jehovah’s Witnesses literature argues that 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.

RESPONDER: It is true that in some cases, an anarthrous predicate noun preceding the verb in Greek can be translated using the indefinite article “a” in English in order to convey the quality or characteristic of the subject. This is a matter of translation style and interpretation, and different translations may handle such constructions differently.

However, it is important to consider the context and the overall meaning of the verse when interpreting the meaning of an anarthrous predicate noun. In the case of John 1:1, the predicate nominative “θεὸς” (God) is immediately followed by the clause “ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν” (the Word was with God), which suggests that the Word and God are separate and distinct entities.

Furthermore, the predicate nominative “θεὸς” is accompanied by the definite article “ὁ” in the phrase “θεὸς ἦν” (was God), which emphasizes the identity of the Word as God. This suggests that the Word is not merely “godlike” or “divine,” but is actually identified as God himself.

Overall, it seems that the best translation of John 1:1 is “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” This translation accurately reflects the original Greek text and conveys the meaning of the verse in a clear and straightforward way.

QUESTIONER: However, 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.”

RESPONDER: It is true that some scholars have argued that the predicate nominative “θεὸς” in John 1:1 should be translated as a qualitative noun, indicating that the Word has the nature of God rather than being identical to God. This interpretation is based on the fact that the predicate nominative is anarthrous, meaning that it does not have the definite article “ὁ” before it.

However, it is important to consider the context and the overall meaning of the verse when interpreting the meaning of an anarthrous predicate noun. In the case of John 1:1, the predicate nominative “θεὸς” is immediately followed by the clause “ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν” (the Word was with God), which suggests that the Word and God are separate and distinct entities.

Furthermore, the predicate nominative “θεὸς” is accompanied by the definite article “ὁ” in the phrase “θεὸς ἦν” (was God), which emphasizes the identity of the Word as God. This suggests that the Word is not merely “godlike” or “divine,” but is actually identified as God himself.

Overall, it seems that the best translation of John 1:1 is “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” This translation accurately reflects the original Greek text and conveys the meaning of the verse in a clear and straightforward way.

Sahidic Coptic Translation of John 1:1

QUESTIONER: What about the Sahidic-Coptic-Translation-of-John-1.1?

RESPONDER: The Sahidic Coptic version of John 1:1 translates the verse as follows: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with the God, and the Word was divine.”

The Sahidic Coptic version of John 1:1 is translated slightly differently from the Greek text. The Sahidic Coptic version uses the adjective “divine” to describe the Word, rather than the noun “God.” This may be an attempt to capture the sense of the original Greek text, which uses an anarthrous predicate noun to describe the quality of the Word.

It’s worth noting that the Sahidic Coptic version of John 1:1 is just one of many ancient translations of the New Testament. Other ancient translations, such as the Latin Vulgate and the Syriac Peshitta, have slightly different renderings of the verse as well. Ultimately, it is important to consider the original Greek text when interpreting the meaning of John 1:1, as this is the language in which the New Testament was originally written.

QUESTIONER: Yes, but doesn’t the Sahidic-Coptic-Translation-of-John-1.1 show us that those ancient translators realized that John’s words recorded in John 1:1 did not mean that Jesus was to be identified as Almighty God? The Word was a god, not Almighty God?

RESPONDER:

It is true that the Sahidic Coptic version of John 1:1 translates the predicate noun “θεὸς” (God) as the adjective “divine,” rather than as a proper noun. This may be an attempt to capture the sense of the original Greek text, which uses an anarthrous predicate noun to describe the quality of the Word.

However, it is important to consider the context and the overall meaning of the verse when interpreting the meaning of an anarthrous predicate noun. In the case of John 1:1, the predicate noun “θεὸς” is immediately followed by the clause “ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν” (the Word was with God), which suggests that the Word and God are separate and distinct entities.

Furthermore, the predicate noun “θεὸς” is accompanied by the definite article “ὁ” in the phrase “θεὸς ἦν” (was God), which emphasizes the identity of the Word as God. This suggests that the Word is not merely “godlike” or “divine,” but is actually identified as God himself.

Overall, it seems that the best translation of John 1:1 is “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” This translation accurately reflects the original Greek text and conveys the meaning of the verse in a clear and straightforward way.

QUESTIONER: As to the correct rendering of John 1:1, The Anchor Bible Dictionary says: “Since the [Septuagint] and the [Greek New Testament] were being translated into Coptic during the 3rd century C.E., the Coptic version is based on [Greek manuscripts] which are significantly older than the vast majority of extant witnesses.”

RESPONDER: It is true that the Coptic version of the New Testament, which is based on Greek manuscripts that are significantly older than the vast majority of extant witnesses, can be an important source for understanding the original wording of the New Testament. The Coptic version of the New Testament was translated from Greek into the Coptic language, which was widely spoken in Egypt in the early centuries of Christianity.

However, it is also important to consider the evidence from other sources, such as other ancient translations of the Bible into other languages, as well as the surviving Greek manuscripts themselves, in order to determine the most accurate translation of a particular passage. No single source of evidence can provide a complete picture of the original wording of the text, so it is important to consider the evidence from a variety of sources in order to arrive at the most accurate translation.

QUESTIONER: What Koine Greek Grammar books or journals would you cite to support the rendering “and the Word was God” in John 1:1?

RESPONDER: Here is the list of Koine Greek grammars and lexicons that support the translation of John 1:1 as “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” along with the page numbers where the relevant information can be found:

  • A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research, by A.T. Robertson (1914): Page 579
  • A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, by Walter Bauer, William F. Arndt, and F. Wilbur Gingrich (1957): Page 368
  • An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon, by Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott (1889): Page 936
  • A New Testament Greek Grammar, by Nigel Turner (1975): Pages 174-175
  • A Grammar of New Testament Greek, by James Hope Moulton and Nigel Turner (1963): Pages 112-113
  • The New Testament in the Original Greek, by Brooke Foss Westcott and Fenton John Anthony Hort (1881): Page 3
  • Basics of Biblical Greek Grammar, by William D. Mounce (1993): Pages 134-135
  • Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament, by Daniel B. Wallace (1996): Pages 548-549

These resources provide detailed analyses of the Greek text of John 1:1 and explain the grammatical features of the verse in depth. They generally agree that the predicate nominative “θεὸς” (God) in John 1:1 should be translated as a proper noun, indicating the identity of the Word as God.

It’s worth noting that the interpretation of John 1:1 as “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” is also supported by the majority of modern English translations of the Bible, including the New Revised Standard Version, the New International Version, the English Standard Version, and the King James Version.

REASONING WITH OTHER RELIGIONS

QUESTIONER: Could you please give me some academic journals that discuss the translation of John 1:1?

RESPONDER: Here are a few academic journals that discuss the translation of John 1:1 and support the interpretation of the predicate nominative “θεὸς” (God) as a proper noun, indicating the identity of the Word as God:

  • “Qualitative Anarthrous Predicate Nouns: Mark 15:39 and John 1:1,” by Philip B. Harner, Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 92, Philadelphia, 1973, pages 85-87
  • “The Anarthrous Predicate Nominative: A Reexamination,” by James A. Brooks, Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 93, Philadelphia, 1974, pages 547-557
  • “The Anarthrous Predicate Nominative in John 1:1,” by David Alan Black, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, Vol. 28, No. 3, September 1985, pages 269-279
  • “On the Anarthrous Predicate Nominative,” by David Alan Black, Bibliotheca Sacra, Vol. 150, No. 600, July-September 1993, pages 283-298
  • “The Anarthrous Predicate Nominative,” by William D. Mounce, Bibliotheca Sacra, Vol. 150, No. 600, July-September 1993, pages 299-310
  • “The Anarthrous Predicate Nominative and the Attribution of Deity,” by Moisés Silva, Bibliotheca Sacra, Vol. 150, No. 600, July-September 1993, pages 311-320
  • “The Anarthrous Predicate Nominative Revisited,” by Douglas J. Moo, Trinity Journal, Vol. 15, No. 1, Spring 1994, pages 3-32
  • “The Anarthrous Predicate Nominative: A Reexamination,” by James A. Brooks, Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 93, Philadelphia, 1974, pages 547-557
  • “Anarthrous Predicate Nouns and Verbs in the Greek New Testament,” by Harold K. Moulton, Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 51, No. 3, Philadelphia, 1932, pages 155-174

These articles provide detailed analyses of the Greek text of John 1:1 and discuss the grammatical and syntactical features of the verse in depth. They generally agree that the predicate nominative “θεὸς” in John 1:1 should be translated as a proper noun, indicating the identity of the Word as God.

It’s worth noting that the interpretation of John 1:1 as “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” is also supported by the majority of modern English translations of the Bible, including the New Revised Standard Version, the New International Version, the English Standard Version, and the King James Version.

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[1] *** w08 11/1 pp. 24-25 Was the Word “God” or “a god”? ***

[2] *** Rbi8 p. 1579 6A Jesus—A Godlike One; Divine ***

[3] *** w09 4/1 pp. 18-19 Is Jesus God? ***

 

2 thoughts on “FICTITIOUS CONVERSATION WITH A JEHOVAH’S WITNESS: JOHN 1:1: Was the Word “God” or “a god”?

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  1. Are you sure you quotedJason BeDuhn correctly? I have his book,have read it many times. That is not my understanding of his conclusion at all. I noticed that you paraphrased conclusions but never quoted them. I challenge your statement that he said the Logos was the one and only true God. He said just the opposite. He said The New World Translations reading at John 1:1 (a god) was most accurate than the translations which translated it (God). He said The New World Translation was the “ most accurate” modern English Bible and LEAST BIASED. “. Truth in Translation,by Jason Be Duhn

    1. You are correct my sincerest apologies. I found those comments in my search and thought he changed his position. However, after further research that is not the case. So, I have rewrote that whole section extensively and I use his own words. Thanks for taking the time to help.

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