“The Word Was God”
AT JOHN 1:1 the King James Version reads: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Trinitarians claim that this means that “the Word” (Greek, ho logos) who came to earth as Jesus Christ was Almighty God himself.
Note, however, that here again the context lays the groundwork for accurate understanding. Even the King James Version says, “The Word was with God.” (Italics ours.) 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.
Notice, too, how other translations render this part of the verse:
1808: “and the word was a god.” The New Testament in an Improved Version, Upon the Basis of Archbishop Newcome’s New Translation: With a Corrected Text.
1864: “and a god was the word.” The Emphatic Diaglott, interlinear reading, by Benjamin Wilson.
1928: “and the Word was a divine being.” La Bible du Centenaire, L’Evangile selon Jean, by Maurice Goguel.
1935: “and the Word was divine.” The Bible—An American Translation, by J. M. P. Smith and E. J. Goodspeed.
1946: “and of a divine kind was the Word.” Das Neue Testament, by Ludwig Thimme.
1950: “and the Word was a god.” New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures.
1958: “and the Word was a God.” The New Testament, by James L. Tomanek.
1975: “and a god (or, of a divine kind) was the Word.” Das Evangelium nach Johannes, by Siegfried Schulz.
1978: “and godlike kind was the Logos.” Das Evangelium nach Johannes, by Johannes Schneider.
At John 1:1 there are two occurrences of the Greek noun theos (god). The first occurrence refers to Almighty God, with whom the Word was (“and the Word [logos] was with God [a form of theos]&rdquo
. This first theos is preceded by the word ton (the), a form of the Greek definite article that points to a distinct identity, in this case Almighty God (“and the Word was with [the] God&rdquo
On the other hand, there is no article before the second theos at John 1:1. So a literal translation would read, “and god was the Word.” Yet we have seen that many translations render this second theos (a predicate noun) as “divine,” “godlike,” or “a god.” On what authority do they do this?
The Koine Greek language had a definite article (“the&rdquo
, but it did not have an indefinite article (“a” or “an&rdquo
. So when a predicate noun is not preceded by the definite article, it may be indefinite, depending on the context.
The Journal of Biblical Literature says that expressions “with an anarthrous [no article] predicate preceding the verb, are primarily qualitative in meaning.” As the Journal notes, this indicates that the logos can be likened to a god. It also says of John 1:1: “The qualitative force of the predicate is so prominent that the noun [the·os´] cannot be regarded as definite.”
So John 1:1 highlights the quality of the Word, that he was “divine,” “godlike,” “a god,” but not Almighty God. This harmonizes with the rest of the Bible, which shows that Jesus, here called “the Word” in his role as God’s Spokesman, was an obedient subordinate sent to earth by his Superior, Almighty God.
There are many other Bible verses in which almost all translators in other languages consistently insert the article “a” when translating Greek sentences with the same structure. For example, at Mark 6:49, when the disciples saw Jesus walking on water, the King James Version says: “They supposed it had been a spirit.” In the Koine Greek, there is no “a” before “spirit.” But almost all translations in other languages add an “a” in order to make the rendering fit the context. In the same way, since John 1:1 shows that the Word was with God, he could not be God but was “a god,” or “divine.”
Joseph Henry Thayer, a theologian and scholar who worked on the American Standard Version, stated simply: “The Logos was divine, not the divine Being himself.” And Jesuit John L. McKenzie wrote in his Dictionary of the Bible: “Jn 1:1 should rigorously be translated . . . ‘the word was a divine being.’”