(This information sheet is divided into two sections - the
first explores the meaning of John 1:1, and the second addresses
the more technical subject of the correct translation of the
verse. The second portion will be of interest to those who are
faced with the New World Translation of Jehovah's Witnesses and
its rendering of the last clause of this verse as "the Word
was a god.")
John 1:1-3, 14, 18
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with
God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.
All things came into being by Him, and apart from Him nothing
came into being that has come into being...And the Word
became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory,
glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace
and truth...No man has seen God at any time; the only
begotten God, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has
The prologue to John's Gospel has long been a center of
controversy when discussing the Deity of Christ, and
naturally so. One can hardly read the above sentences without
catching a glimpse of One Who is far beyond the realm of simply
human; even far beyond the realm of the angelic. The logos, the
Word, was in the beginning, was with God, and was God. The Word
created all things, and there is absolutely nothing in existence
that the Word did not create. Remember that the original readers
of John's Gospel would not have already read verse 14, and they
would not have the preconceived knowledge that the Word is
identified as Christ. Try to detach yourself from that knowledge
for a moment, and imagine what kind of being you would be
imagining while reading about this Word. Certainly one can hardly
conceive of a higher Being.
To understand what John is saying, we must delve into the
verses themselves and analyze them carefully. We must bear in
mind that we are reading only a translation of what John wrote,
and hence some mention will have to be made of the Greek
John's first assertion is that "In the beginning
was the Word." Which beginning? Considering the
whole context of the prologue, many have identified this
beginning as the same beginning mentioned in Genesis 1:1. But
most see that the assertion of the Apostle goes far beyond that.
The key element in understanding this, the first phrase of
this magnificent verse, is the form of the word "was,"
which in the Greek language in which John was writing, is the
word en (the "e" pronounced as a long
"a" as in "I ate the food"). It is a timeless
word - that is, it simply points to existence before the present
time without reference to a point of origin. One can push back
the "beginning" as far as you can imagine, and,
according to John, the Word still is. Hence, the Word is eternal,
timeless. The Word is not a creation that came into existence at
"the beginning," for He antedates that beginning.
John is very careful in his language at this point. Throughout
this section, John carefully contrasts the Word, and all other
things. He does so by consistently using en of the Logos, the
Word, and by consistently employing a totally different verb in
reference to all other things. This other verb is "to
become" (egeneto). It is used of John the Baptist in
verse 6, of the world in verse 10, and the children of God in
verse 12. Only when we come to verse 14 does John use "to
become" of the Word, and that is when the Word "became
flesh." This refers to a specific point in time, the
incarnation, and fully demonstrates John's intentional usage of
John is not alone in this. Jesus contrasted Abraham's
"becoming" with His own eternal existence in John 8:58
in the same way. The Psalmist contrasted the creation of the
world with the eternity of God in Psalm 90:2 (LXX) by using the
same verbs found in John 1:1 and 14. Hardly seems coincidental,
We have seen that the Word is eternal. Much has been said
about how John got the term "Logos," the Word.
Some say he borrowed it from Greek philosophy, a sort of
philosophical subterfuge. No one would argue that John just
simply left the Logos as he found it among the philosophers. No,
he filled the Word with personality and identified the Word not
as some fuzzy, ethereal essence that was the guiding principle of
all things, (as the Greeks thought), but as the eternal Son of
God, the One Who entered into time, and into man's experience as
Jesus of Nazareth. The "Word" reveals that Jesus is the
mind of God, the thought of God, His full and living revelation.
Jesus did not just come to tell us what God is like - He showed
us. He is the revelation of God.
John did not stop here, however. He did not leave us to simply
know the eternity of the Word. The next phrase says, "and
the Word was with God." Again we find the verb
"was" cropping up, again pointing to the timelessness
of the subject at hand. The Word was with God. The preposition
John uses here is quite revealing. It is the Greek word pros.
It means "to be in company with someone" (1)
or to be "face-to-face." It speaks of communion,
interaction, fellowship. Remember that this is an eternal
fellowship, a timeless relationship. "Pros with the
accusative presents a plane of equality and intimacy, face to
face with each other."(2)
This phrase, if taken completely alone, would be very
confusing, since John has already asserted the eternality of the
Word. Now he clearly distinguishes between the Word and God. He
asserts that they are distinguishable. "God" and
"Word" are not interchange-able terms. Then, is John
talking about two "gods?" Can more than one being be
fully eternal? John was a monotheistic Jew. He could never
believe in more than one Being Who can rightly be called
"God." How then is this to be understood?
This phrase must be taken with the one that follows. We read,
"and the Word was God." Again, the eternal en. John
avoids confusion by telling us that the Word was with God, and
the Word was God. Jesus, as we know Him as the Word, does not
constitute everything that is included in the Godhead. In other
words, John is not teaching the ancient heresy known as Sabellianism, which taught that Jesus and the Father and the
Spirit are simply three different aspects of one person, i.e.,
Jesus is the Father, the Father is the Spirit, and so on.
Instead, John here asserts the full Deity of Christ, while
informing us that He is not the Father, but that they
("God" and the "Word") have eternally
This last phrase has come under heavy fire throughout the
ages. The correct translation of this passage is here given, and
anyone interested in the technical aspects of the argument are
referred to Appendix A. Basically, the passage teaches that the
Word, as to His essential nature, is God. John does not here call
the Word "a divine one," as some polytheistic Greek
might say. He did not use the adjective, theios, which would
describe a divine nature, or a god-like one. Instead, he used theos,
the very word John will use consistently for the Father, the
"only true God" (17:3). He uses the term three times of
Jesus in the Gospel, here, in 1:18, and in 20:28. It can not be
doubted that John would never call a creature theos. His
upbringing and Jewish heritage forbad that.
How then are we to undertand these two phrases? Benjamin B.
"And the Word was with God." The language is
pregnant. It is not merely coexistence with God that is
asserted, as of two beings standing side by side, united in
local relation, or even in a common conception. What is
suggested is an active relation of intercourse. The distinct
personality of the Word is therefore not obscurely intimated.
From all eternity the Word has been with God as a fellow: He
who in the very beginning already "was,"
"was" also in communion with God. Though He was
thus in some sense a second along with God, He was
nevertheless not a seperate being from God: "And the
Word was" --still the eternal "was"
--"God." In some sense distinguishable from God, He
was in an equally true sense identical with God. There is but
one eternal God; this eternal God, the Word is; in whatever
sense we may distinguish Him from the God whom He is
"with," He is yet not another than this God, but
Himself is this God. The predicate "God" occupies
the position of emphasis in this great declaration, and is so
placed in the sentence as to be thrown up in sharp contrast
with the phrase "with God," as if to prevent
inadequate inferences as to the nature of the Word being
drawn even momentarily from that phrase. John would have us
realize that what the Word was in eternity was not merely
God's coeternal fellow, but the eternal God's self. (3)
The Beloved Apostle walks a tight line here. By the simple
ommission of the article ("the", or in Greek, ho)
before the word for God in the last phrase, John avoids teaching Sabellianism, while by placing the word where it is in the
clause, he defeats another heresy, Arianism, which denies the
true Deity of the Lord Jesus. A person who accepts the
inspiration of the Scriptures can not help but be thrilled at
John goes on in verse two to reiterate the eternal fellowship
of the Father and Son, making sure that all understand that
"this one," the Word, was (there it is again) in the
beginning pros ton theon, with God. Their fellowship and
relationship precedes all else, and it is timeless.
As icing on the cake, John then precludes anyone from
misunderstanding his claim that Jesus is eternally God by writing
verse 3. "All things came into being by Him, and apart from
Him nothing came into being that has come into being." One
can hardly be more inclusive than that. There is simply nothing
that is existent anywhere that was not created by the Word. He
created everything. Obviously, therefore, if one can be described
as creating everything, one must be the Creator, and certainly
not a creation. The Word is the Creator. All people reading
John's words would undertand that the Creator is God, not some
lower being created by God to do the work for Him. By not
qualifying his statement, John assured that we could correctly
understand his intention and his teaching concerning Christ, the
Word. He is eternally God, the Creator.
En arche en ho logos, kai ho logos en pros ton
theon, kai theos en ho logos.
Almost all the controversy surrounding John 1:1 revolves
around the fact that the theos of the last phrase kai
theos en ho logos is anarthrous, i.e., it has no article.
Some have gone so far as to assert that the correct translation,
therefore, is "the Word was a god," basing the argument
on the lack of the definite article ho before theos.
What does the lack of the article indicate? Is it necessary to
what John is saying?
I begin with the most quoted scholar on this subject, Dr.
A. T. Robertson:
And the Word was God (kai theos en ho logos). By
exact and careful language John denied Sabellianism by not
saying ho theos en ho logos. That would mean that all
of God was expressed in ho logos and the terms would
be interchangeable, each having the article. The subject is
made plain by the article (ho logos) and the predicate
without it (theos) just as in John 4:24 pneuma ho
theos can only mean "God is spirit," not
"spirit is God." So in 1 John 4:16 ho theos
agape estin can only mean "God is love," not
"love is God" as a so-called Christian scientist
would confusedly say. For the article with the predicate see
Robertson, Grammar, pp. 767f. So in John 1:14 ho Logos
sarx egeneto, "the Word became flesh," not
"the flesh became Word." Luther argues that here
John disposes of Arianism also because the Logos was
eternally God, fellowship of the Father and Son, what Origen
called the Eternal Generation of the Son (each necessary to
the other). Thus in the Trinity we see personal fellowship on
an equality. (4)
As Robertson made reference to his voluminous Grammar in the
above quotation, I will include it in its entirety:
The word with the article is then the subject, whatever
the order may be. So in Jo. 1:1, theos an ho logos,
the subject is perfectly clear. Cf. ho logos sarx egeneto
(Jo. 1:14). It is true that ho theos an ho logos
(convertible terms) would have been Sabellianism. See also ho
theos agape estin (1 Jo.4:16). "God" and
"love" are not convertible terms any more than
"God" and "Logos" or "Logos"
and "flesh." Cf. also hoi theristai angeloi
eisin (Mt. 13:39), ho logos ho sos alatheia estin
(Jo. 17:17), ho nomos hamartia; (Ro. 7:7). The absence
of the article here is on purpose and essential to the true
Note that Robertson translates the phrase, "the Word was
God." His argument is summed up well in the following
A word should be said concerning the use and non-use of
the article in John 1:1, where a narrow path is safely
followed by the author. "The Word was God." It both
God and Word were articular, they would be coextensive and
equally distributed and so interchangeable. But the separate
personality of the Logos is affirmed by the construction used
and Sabellianism is denied. If God were articular and Logos non-articular, the affirmation would be that God was Logos,
but not that the Logos was God. As it is, John asserts that
in the Pre-incarnate state the Logos was God, though the
Father was greater than the Son (John 14:28). The Logos
became flesh (1:14), and not the Father. But the Incarnate
Logos was really "God only Begotten in the bosom of the
Father" (1:18 correct text). (6)
In light of Dr. Robertson's comments, it is indeed
unbelievable that some will quote from the above section and try
to intimate that Robertson felt that Jesus was less than the
Father because he quoted John 14:28. A quick look at his comments
on John 14:28 in Word Pictures in the New Testament, volume 5,
page 256 refutes this idea.
To recap, Robertson says that 1) the translation of the phrase
theos en ho logos is "the Word was God." 2) That
the anarthrous theos is required for the meaning. If the
article were present, this would teach Sabellianism, as then
theos and logos would be convertible terms. 3) That the article
before logos serves to point out the subject of the clause.
H. E. Dana and Julius Mantey utilize John 1:1 to
illustrate the usage of the article to determine the subject in a
The article sometimes distinguishes the subject from the
predicate in a copulative sentence. In Xenophon's Anabasis,
1:4:6, emporion d' en to korion, 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.
As it stands, the other persons of the Trinity may be implied
in theos. (7)
Again, these scholars are pointing out the use of the article
to show the subject against the predicate in a clause. They, like
Robertson, point out that since theos is anarthrous, it
shows that it is not convertible with logos and vice versa.
Dr. Kenneth Wuest, long time professor of Greek at the
Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, commented on this verse:
The Word was God. Here the word "God" is without
the article in the original. When it is used in this way, it
refers to the divine essence. Emphasis is upon the quality or
character. Thus, John teaches us here that our Lord is
essentially Deity. He possesses the same essence as God the
Father, is one with Him in nature and attributes. Jesus of
Nazareth, the carpenter, the teacher, is Very God. (8)
Wuest in his Expanded Translation, renders 1:1:
In the beginning the Word was existing. And the Word was
in fellowship with God the Father. And the Word was as to His
essence absolute deity. (9)
That Wuest brings in the idea that the anarthrous predicate
noun has a characterizing effect, and that it refers more to the
nature of the subject of the clause than to an identification of
it. This is right in line with what Robertson said - that the
Logos is not all of God, and that you cannot say "the God
was the Logos." The very context (kai ho logos en pros
ton theon) demonstrates this fully. Those who would assert
that the Logos is to be identified with all of God (i.e., Jesus
is the Father and the Father is Jesus - Sabellianism) find an
insuperable problem here.
It is good to note Vincent's comment that here "John is
not trying to show who is God, but who is the Word." (10) The Logos is the central character here.
Hence, when we see that the Word was, as to His nature God, we
can understand exactly how He can be with God and yet be God.
F. F. Bruce's comments on this passage are valuable:
The structure of the third clause in verse 1, theos en
ho logos, demands the translation "The Word was
God." Since logos has the article preceding it, it is
marked out as the subject. The fact that theos is the
first word after the conjunction kai (and) shows that the
main emphasis of the clause lies on it. Had theos as
well as logos been preceded by the article the meaning would
have been that the Word was completely identical with God,
which is impossible if the Word was also "with
God". What is meant is that the Word shared the nature
and being of God, or (to use a piece of modern jargon) was an
extension of the personality of God. The NEB paraphrase
"what God was, the Word was", brings out the
meaning of the clause as successfully as a paraphrase
can...So, when heaven and earth were created, there was the
Word of God, already existing in the closest association with
God and partaking of the essence of God. No matter how far
back we may try to push our imagination, we can never reach a
point at which we could say of the Divine Word, as Arius did,
"There was once when he was not." (11)
Another scholarly source along this line is found in the
Expositor's Greek Testament:
The Word is distinguishable from God and yet Theos en
ho logos, the Word was God, of Divine nature; not "a
God," which to a Jewish ear would have been abominable;
nor yet identical with all that can be called God, for then
the article would have been inserted...(12)
A slightly different tact is taken by another group of
scholars. These scholars refer to what is known as Colwell's
rule, named after E. C. Colwell, who first enunciated his
rule in the Journal of Biblical Literature in 1933. (13) The rule says, "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." (14) This is the view
taken by Morris, Metzger, Griffith and others. Though Colwell's
rule is not exceptionless, it is a valuable guide. At the very
least, it is a good guide to translation in this case. Those
scholars who see the verse in this light are not necessarily in
contradiction with the others already cited. First it should be
noted that Robertson and Nicoll had passed away before the work
of Colwell, and their comments reflect this. Also, both
approaches lead to the same conclusion - the passage teaches the
Deity of Jesus Christ. Some scholars see the anarthrous theos
as emphasizing the nature of the Word, and all agree that it is
not simply an adjectival type of description, saying that Christ
is merely a "god-like one." A more recent authors work
(March 1973) bears on this issue as well. Philip B. Harner
did an extensive study of anarthrous predicate nouns which was
published in the Journal of Biblical Literature as well (15). His research led to some realignment in
viewing Colwell's rule, it is true. It should also be noted that
his article has been used extensively by those who would deny the
Deity of Christ and mistranslate this passage. Sufficent at this
point is a quotation from Harner's article itself:
In all of these cases the English reader might not
understand exactly what John was trying to express. 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. (16)
The authoritative reference source, Kittel's Theological
Dictionary of the New Testament, is quite direct on John 1:1:
A similar ascription is more common in the Johannine
writings, and for the most part incontestable. Jn. 1:1 says
of the Pre-existent: kai theos en ho logos...The lack
of the article, which is grammatically necessary in 1:1, is
striking here, and reminds us of Philonic usage. The Logos
who became flesh and revealed the invisible God was a divine
being, God by nature. The man born blind has some sense of
this when, after his healing, he falls down in believing
adoration before Christ, who addresses him with the divine
"I" (Jn. 9:38f). The final veil is removed,
however, when the Risen Lord discloses Himself to Thomas and
the astonished disciple exclaims: ho kurios mou kai ho
theos mou (Jn. 20:28). In Jn. 1:1 we have Christology: He
is God in Himself. Here we have the revelation of Christ: He
is God for believers. (17)
To summarize: The phrase kai theos en ho logos is most
literally translated as "and the Word was God."
(Robertson, Bruce). The reason that theos is anarthrous is
both that it is the predicate nominative (Robertson, Dana and Mantey) and that it is demanded by the fact that if it had the
article, it would be then interchangeable with logos, which is
contextually impossible. (Robertson, Dana and Mantey, Bruce, Nicoll) Colwell's rule also comes into play at this point. We
have seen that the majority of scholarship sees the theos as
indicating the nature of the Word, that He is God as to His
nature. The noun form is here used, not the adjectival theios,
which would be required to simply classify the Word as
Hence, John 1:1 teaches that the Word is eternal (the
imperfect form of eimi, en), that He has always
been in communion with God (pros ton theon), and hence is
an individual and recognizable as such, and that, as to His
essential nature, He is God. Anything less departs from the
teaching of John, and is not Biblical.
What about "a god?"
Until 1950, an extra section dealing with a translation of
John 1:1 as "the Word was a god" would not have been
necessary. No one would dare publish such a
"translation." However, in 1950, the Watchtower Bible
and Tract Society published its own translation of the Bible, The
New World Translation of the Greek Scriptures. This version
translates John 1:1 in this way. A number of appendices have
appeared in the NWT attempting to defend this translation by
making reference to many of the same scholars that have already
been quoted. Aside from the comment of The Expositor's Greek
Testament above, the following from F. F. Bruce sums up the truth
It is nowhere more sadly true than in the acquisition of
Greek that "a little learning is a dangerous
thing". The uses of the Greek article, the functions of
Greek prepositions, and the fine distinctions between Greek
tenses are confidently expounded in public at times by men
who find considerable difficulty in using these parts of
speech accurately in their native tongue. (18)
A footnote appears after the comment on the article, and it
Those people who emphasize that the true rendering of the
last clause of John 1:1 is "the word was a god",
prove nothing thereby save their ignorance of Greek grammar.
This translation violates the following principles:
- Monotheism in the Bible - certainly it can not be argued
that John would use the very word he always uses of the
one true God, theos, of one who is simply a
"god-like" one or a lesser "god." The
Scriptures do not teach that there is a whole host of
intermediate beings that can be called "gods."
That is gnosticism.
- 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. For an example of
the chaos that would create, try translating the
anarthrous theos at 2 Corinthians 5:19. There is simply
no warrant in the language to do this.
- It ignores the position of theos in the clause -
it comes first, and is emphatic.
- It ignores a basic tenet of translation: 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?" We have already seen that if John had employed
the article before theos, he would have made the terms
theos and logos interchangeable, amounting to Sabellianism.
- The translation tears the phrase from the immediately
preceding context, leaving it alone and useless. Can He
who is eternal (first clause) and who has always been
with God (second clause), and who created all things
(verse 3) be "a god?"
- 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
Watchtower Bible and Tract Society has consistently
refused to name any of its NWT translators, and of those
who have been discovered, none had any more than two
years of Greek and no formal Hebrew. (19)
Others could be added, but this is sufficient. There is
obviously no scholarly support for the rendering of "a
god," and there is massive scholarly argument against it. It
is not a valid translation in any way.
1. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of
the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 2nd
edition edited by F. W. Gingrich and Frederick Danker, (Chicago:
The University of Chicago Press, 1979) p. 719.
2. A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New
Testament, 6 vols., (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1932), 5:4
3. Benjamin Breckenridge
Warfield, The Person
and Work of Christ, (Philadelphia: The Presbyterian and Reformed
Publishing Company, 1950), p. 53.
4. A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New
Testament, vol. 5, pp. 4-5.
5. A. T. Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New
Testament in the Light of Historical Research, (Nashville:
Broadman Press, 1934) p. 767-768.
6. A. T. Robertson, The Minister and His Greek
New Testament, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1977) pp. 67-68.
7. H. E. Dana, Julius
Mantey, A Manual Grammar
of the Greek New Testament, (New York: The MacMillan Company,
1950) pp. 148-149.
Wuest, Word Studies in the Greek
New Testament, vol. 3, "Golden Nuggets," p. 52.
9. Wuest, Word Studies, vol. 4, p. 209.
10. M. R. Vincent, Word Studies in the New
Testament, vol. 1, p. 384.
11. F. F. Bruce, The Gospel of John, (Grand
Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1983), p. 31.
12. W. Robertson
Nicoll, ed., The Expositor's
Greek Testament, 5 vols, (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans
Publishing Company, 1983), 1:684.
13. E. C. Colwell, "A Definite Rule for
the Use of the Article in the Greek New Testament" (Journal
of Biblical Literature, 1933) pages 12-21. See also discussion in
footnote, Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, (Grand
Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1971), p. 77.
14. Morris, The Gospel According to John, p.
15. Philip B.
Anarthrous Predicate Nouns Mark 15:39 and John 1:1" (Journal
of Biblical Literature, March 1973), 92:75-87.
Harner, pg. 87.
Kittel, and Gerhard Friedrich,
Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 10 vols. Translated
by Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing
Company, 1964) vol 3:105-106.
18. F. F. Bruce, The Books and the
Parchments, (Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Company,
1963), p. 60-61.
19. This information was made available
during a trial in Scotland, Douglas Walsh v. The Right Honorable
James Latham Clyde, M.P., P.C., etc., Scotland, 1954. I include
this to demonstrate the non-scholarly, non-factual approach
utilized in defending this erroneous translation.