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John 1:1 (NWT):

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

This translation, the Jehovah's Witnesses New World Translation is, I think, unique in using the phrase "a god". All other translations use, "God", e.g., the text in the NASB, the NIV and the KJV is identical:

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

So, is there any justification in the original text for making Jesus merely, "a god"?

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In New World Translation John 1:1 is not talking about Jesus. See John 20:17 (WE). – Jeremiah G Aug 12 '13 at 21:07
According to this wikipedia page‌​, controversy regarding the translation of John 1:1 is not unique to the NWT; translations with a similar rendering include Wilson's Emphatic Diaglott (interlinear reading) and Goodspeed's An American Translation. – Jeremiah G Aug 12 '13 at 21:13

10 Answers 10

up vote 59 down vote accepted

Short answer: no.

Long answer: While the Greek lacks the definite article on theos in the clause under discussion, that doesn't mean the English should be translated with an indefinite article. Greek and English do not enjoy a one-to-one relationship between their words. There are times in Greek when the article is present but not translated into English. Likewise, there are places where the article is not present in the Greek but the English requires it, or in this case, requires something to show the definiteness of the word.

Example 1: John 18:16 in Greek literally says: "...the disciple, the other, the one known to the high priest..." That's horrible English. So it gets translated (rightly) as "the other disciple, who was known to the high priest." As you can see the word order changed coming into English as well as two definite articles dropping out.

Example 2: John 1:1 contains another example of a time without an article in Greek but needed in English. It says, "en arche 'en o logos..." that is (literally) "In beginning was the Word." Notice that there is no definite article before arche. However, even the New World Translation puts the article there. That is how it should be. To leave it out would cause confusion in the English "In a beginning was the Word..." That implies that there were multiple beginnings to the universe, but that isn't what the Bible teaches. It's a difference in Greek and English. Likewise, the Septuagint of Genesis starts with en arche.

The reason the clause at the end of John 1:1 lacks the article deals with rules of Greek grammar. English uses word order to drive the meaning of a sentence. We almost always have subjects first, then verbs, then the objects (excepted Yoda speech is). Greek doesn't use word order to differentiate between types of nouns. They use word order for emphasis (Hebrew does the same thing). To tell the difference in the subject and the object (both of which are nouns), Greek uses case endings. They can then put the object of the verb at the beginning of the clause with the subject after the verb and still know what the sentence means. In English, "dog bites man" and "man bites dog" mean entirely different things.

However, in Greek, they would put case endings on the nouns and comprehend the same meaning even with the word order switched around. In the following example, I am using case endings here as an illustration. [s] means subject, and [o] means object. In Greek there is no difference between "dog[s] bites man[o]" and "man[o] bites dog[s]." They mean the exact same thing. This works with action verbs, linking verbs are different, but the action verbs show how the Greek usually works.

The clause in question (which uses a linking verb) literally reads kai theos 'en 'o logos (literally "and God was the Word" but you won't find it translated that way for good reason). Notice that the word order is switched around with "God" at the front of the clause. Because the verb is a linking verb, the subject and object use the same case ending, the nominative. With a linking verb, the part of the clause that would be the object often drops the article (even though it would use it otherwise), especially when it is in front of the verb (as here). When the object of a clause is a noun like this, it is called the "predicate nominative" and Colwell's Rule allows the translation to indicate the definiteness of the word even when the Greek lacks the article.

In English, we don't put "the" in front of God to show definiteness. We capitalize it. That's what Greek scholars recognize in this verse.

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Wow! We need more people, such as yourself, who really know Greek grammar. I'd like to encourage you to keep up the good work. – Jon Ericson Feb 14 '12 at 19:01
Thanks! My Greek is rusty, and I did a lot more Hebrew than Greek in seminary. Though in one of my favorite classes (Studies in Numbers), we each had to pick a translation to compare to the Hebrew and our translation. I chose the LXX. My wife mostly saw the back of my head that semester as I had to translate both the BHS and LXX into modern English. – Frank Luke Feb 14 '12 at 19:23
Good answer. For more info, I'd pick up a copy of Dan Wallace's "Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics". He has a really good discussion of this issue on pages 266-269 (in my edition, anyway). You might find that useful. The reader will have to know a little Greek, but apparently you do. – Mallioch Feb 15 '12 at 5:37
@Yasky The NT was originally written in Koine Greek. Much of the Aramaic primacy argument relies on the unfounded thesis that Mishnaic Hebrew was not a language of the common people in the time of Jesus. – Frank Luke Sep 3 '13 at 17:05
@Yasky, Links made the first comment long. If nothing else, the Dead Sea Scrolls showed that Mishnaic Hebrew was alive and well. However, there were good reasons to write the NT in Greek. – Frank Luke Sep 3 '13 at 17:09

This answer is supplementary to Frank Luke's, and supports it.

When someone makes a claim about an ancient language's grammar, it always helps me to believe it and internalize it when I can see parallel usages that illustrate the truth of the claim. Thus, I am glad that Frank Luke offered several examples.

I have another which is perhaps even more to the point that came up in my reading of the Greek New Testament: Mark 2:28. My interlinear:

ὥστε κύριός ἐστιν ὁ   υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου καὶ  τοῦ σαββάτου
so   lord   is    the son  the man      even the sabbath

For those of you who don't know Greek, "the man" and "the Sabbath" are in the genitive, which is often rendered by adding an "of" in English. Now the one confusing thing about this verse is that the τοῦ σαββάτου goes with κύριός and not υἱὸς (to claim otherwise would turn the sentence into mumbo-jumbo, especially in context). Therefore, what is happening is that "Lord" has been moved forward in the sentence for emphasis, but the article has been placed only on "son" because that is the subject of the sentence. Thus, something to the effect of: "Therefore, the Son of Man is Lord, even of the Sabbath!" To claim that the Son of Man is "a lord" of the Sabbath would be very odd, obscure the meaning of the wider passage, and raise other strange questions (who are the other lords? etc.).

Compare this verse now to my interlinear of the relevant portion of John 1:1:

...καὶ θεὸς ἦν  ὁ   λόγος
...and god  was the word

Notice the grammar of this sentence, though, slightly simpler than the above verse, is fundamentally that same: it is a predicative nominative construction (both major nouns in the sentence are in the nominative case and are joined by the standard copulative verb).

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Thanks, the answers I've received here make me really hope BH keeps going! – Wikis May 26 '12 at 21:03


The argument whether the Lord Jesus Christ is "God" (majuscule "g") versus a "god" (miniscule "g") is based on a graphic characteristic not inherent to the Greek text in which the New Testament would have been written.

The early Church fathers never debated the Greek capitalization in John 1:1 since the earliest Greek manuscripts of the New Testament were written in a Greek text that consisted of only majuscules, or "capital" letters. For example, the following is an image of John 1:1 in the Codex Sinaiticus which is dated to the 4th century A.D.:

Codex Sinaiticus, John 1:1

When we reproduce that Greek text in a modern word processing application, the text would appear as follows:

Transcription of John 1:1 in Codex Sinaiticus (with nomina sacra)

The Codex Sinaiticus features lunate sigmas and nomina sacra. Without the nomina sacra, the text would appear as follows:

Transcription of John 1:1 in Codex Sinaiticus (without nomina sacra)

Compare that text to the text of John 1:1 in the Textus Receptus which was written in 1550 A.D.:

Textus Receptus, 1550, John 1:1

While the Textus Receptus does incorporate both miniscules and majuscules, unlike the Codex Sinaiticus, it was written nearly 1 1/2 millennia after the original Greek New Testament was likely written, so it and similar manuscripts are entirely irrelevant to the issue at hand.

With that being said, any exegetical analysis of John 1:1 in order to determine the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ should not be focused on the capitalization of the Greek text or subsequent English translation.

The following is the text of John 1:1 separated into three clauses:

  1. 1:1a: ΕΝ ΑΡΧΗ ΗΝ Ο ΛΟΓΟϹ (ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος)
  2. 1:1b: ΚΑΙ Ο ΛΟΓΟϹ ΗΝ ΠΡΟϹ ΤΟΝ ΘΕΟΝ (καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν)
  3. 1:1c: ΚΑΙ ΘΕΟϹ ΗΝ Ο ΛΟΓΟϹ (καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος)

The First Clause: ΕΝ ΑΡΧΗ ΗΝ Ο ΛΟΓΟϹ

In the first clause, ΕΝ ΑΡΧΗ ΗΝ Ο ΛΟΓΟϹ, the author appears to be alluding to Gen. 1:1 wherein the LXX translates the Hebrew בְּרֵאשִׁית by the Greek ΕΝ ΑΡΧΗ.

Karen H. Jobes wrote,1

enter image description here

The author of the fourth gospel wrote that Ο ΛΟΓΟϹ, which may be translated into English as "the word," "was in the beginning" (ΕΝ ΑΡΧΗ ΗΝ). It is noteworthy that the author does not write ΕΝ ΑΡΧΗ ΕΓΕΝΕΤΟ Ο ΛΟΓΟϹ (ἐν ἀρχῇ ἐγένετο ὁ λόγος), which would suggest that Ο ΛΟΓΟϹ was made or came into existence (ΕΓΕΝΕΤΟ).2 Rather, it suggests that Ο ΛΟΓΟϹ is pre-existent and eternal. In Gen. 1, this "word" was spoken to create the universe.3


The interpretation of this clause is relatively straightforward, with the exception of the preposition ΠΡΟϹ (πρὸς). Ο ΛΟΓΟϹ, or "the word," was ΠΡΟϹ ΤΟΝ ΘΕΟΝ.


The majority of (if not all) commentaries agree that ΤΟΝ ΘΕΟΝ in John 1:1b refers to the eternal creator of the universe, Ο ΘΕΟϹ of Gen. 1:1.


Most English translations translate ΠΡΟϹ (πρὸς) by the preposition "with." However, we might rather expect the Greek to have used the preposition ΜΕΤΑ (μετά), as in ΜΕΤΑ ΤΟΥ ΘΕΟΥ (μετὰ τοῦ θεοῦ), or ΣΥΝ (σύν), as in ΣΥΝ ΤΩ ΘΕΩ (σὺν τῷ θεῷ), to indicate that Ο ΛΟΓΟϹ was with ΤΟΝ ΘΕΟΝ. Why does the author instead use ΠΡΟϹ?

In the very last scripture of the Hebrew Tanakh, it is written,4

And he shall turn the heart of the fathers toward the children, and the heart of the children toward their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.

The LXX translates the Hebrew tex of Mal. 4:6 as,

ὃς ἀποκαταστήσει καρδίαν πατρὸς πρὸς υἱὸν καὶ καρδίαν ἀνθρώπου πρὸς τὸν πλησίον αὐτοῦ μὴ ἔλθω καὶ πατάξω τὴν γῆν ἄρδην

I'm not entirely confident in this exegesis, but could the author be attempting to convey the notion that Ο ΛΟΓΟϹ is the heart of the Father (ΤΟΝ ΘΕΟΝ)? Whereas "Elijah" causes the hearts of the children to turn toward their fathers, and the hearts of the fathers to turn toward their children, in the beginning, Ο ΛΟΓΟϹ, the heart of the Father, "was (and always is) toward" ΤΟΝ ΘΕΟΝ.

In the Bosom

To substantiate my assertion that Ο ΛΟΓΟϹ is the heart of the Father (ΤΟΝ ΘΕΟΝ), we consider John 1:18. Now, in John 13:23, the disciple whom Jesus loved was reclining "on Jesus' bosom," where the Greek uses the phrase ἐν τῷ κόλπῳ τοῦ Ἰησοῦ, in particular, the preposition ἐν.

enter image description here

However, in John 1:18, the author of the fourth gospel describes Jesus as he "who is in the Father's bosom," where the Greek uses the phrase ὁ ὢν εἰς τὸν κόλπον τοῦ πατρὸς, in particular the preposition εἰς. Ο ΛΟΓΟϹ, the heart of the Father who came out of Him and into the world,5 perfectly expresses the Father's words, thoughts, and love to His creation.6

The Third Clause: ΚΑΙ ΘΕΟϹ ΗΝ Ο ΛΟΓΟϹ

Finally, the clause in question. The author writes that Ο ΛΟΓΟϹ ("the word") ΗΝ ("was") ΘΕΟϹ. In the second clause, ΘΕΟϹ in the form of the definite, accusative ΤΟΝ ΘΕΟΝ referred to the Father (Yahveh, the creator of heaven and earth). But, Ο ΛΟΓΟϹ could not logically be identical with the Father because the second clause also stated that Ο ΛΟΓΟϹ was toward (or "with") the Father. To express a simpler analogy: if David was with Saul, then David cannot be the same person as Saul. Rather, the clause indicates that Ο ΛΟΓΟϹ and ΤΟΝ ΘΕΟΝ (1:1b) are two distinct persons (i.e., Father and Son).

But, if ΘΕΟϹ does not refer to the Father, the creator of heaven and earth (cp. Gen. 1:1), then to what or whom does it refer?

ΘΕΟϹ κατὰ φύσιν or ΘΕΟϹ κατὰ καθήκον

The real issue concerns whether Ο ΛΟΓΟϹ is ΘΕΟϹ κατὰ φύσιν ("according to nature"),7 or ΘΕΟϹ κατὰ καθήκον ("according to office").8

ΘΕΟϹ κατὰ φύσιν

Undoubtedly, Yahveh, the creator of heaven and earth, Ο ΘΕΟϹ of Gen. 1:1, ΤΟΝ ΘΕΟΝ of John 1:1b, is ΘΕΟϹ κατὰ φύσιν. Being ΘΕΟϹ κατὰ φύσιν, Yahevh is eternal and uncreated, omnipotent and omniscient. All else is NOT ΘΕΟϹ κατὰ φύσιν, for all else is created and finite.

ΘΕΟϹ κατὰ καθήκον

Scripture sometimes describe others aside from Yahveh as being ΘΕΟϹ, or its Hebrew equivalent אֱלֹהִים (elohim). For example:

  1. Moses was appointed אֱלֹהִים to Pharaoh.9
  2. The judges of Israel are referred to as אֱלֹהִים (elohim).10
  3. Satan is referred to as ὁ θεὸς of this world.11
  4. Spiritual messengers ("angels") are referred to as אֱלֹהִים (elohim).12

All of these instances have one thing in common: none of those described as ΘΕΟϹ, whether Moses, judges, Satan, or spiritual messengers (angels), are ΘΕΟϹ κατὰ φύσιν, since they are all created. Logically, then, they must all be ΘΕΟϹ κατὰ καθήκον, or "GOD according to office."

One who is ΘΕΟϹ κατὰ καθήκον is identified as ΘΕΟϹ because he is granted authority or power by Yahveh and thus functions in Yahveh's stead. For example, Moses is described as ΘΕΟϹ to Pharaoh because Moses judged Pharaoh and Egypt as Yahveh acted through him to execute judgment against Egypt and its "gods."13 Likewise, the judges of Israel are referred to as ΘΕΟϹ because they judge for Yahveh, and Yahveh is with them in judgment.14 Angels (spiritual messengers) are sometimes referred to as ΘΕΟϹ because they too render judgment on behalf of Yahveh.15 However, in the case of Satan, he is not granted authority, but rather seeks to usurp Yahveh's authority.16

Ο ΛΟΓΟϹ is ΘΕΟϹ κατὰ φύσιν

Is Ο ΛΟΓΟϹ, ΘΕΟϹ κατὰ φύσιν or ΘΕΟϹ κατὰ καθήκον? The answer is determined by answering this simple question: is Ο ΛΟΓΟϹ created or uncreated? If Ο ΛΟΓΟϹ is created, then Ο ΛΟΓΟϹ is ΘΕΟϹ κατὰ καθήκον. However, if Ο ΛΟΓΟϹ is uncreated, then Ο ΛΟΓΟϹ is Yahveh and thus ΘΕΟϹ κατὰ φύσιν.

Although there is a slight allusion to the answer in John 1:1, in order to definitely answer the question, we must skip forward two verses to John 1:3. Referring to Ο ΛΟΓΟϹ, the author wrote,17

3 Everything was made by means of it,18 and not even one thing that was made was made without it.

Γʹ πάντα δι᾽ αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο καὶ χωρὶς αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο οὐδὲ ἕν ὃ γέγονεν

The author writes that "everything was made by means of" Ο ΛΟΓΟϹ, using the preposition δι᾽ (διά). Those who argue that Ο ΛΟΓΟϹ is created emphasize that everything was created "by means of" rather than "by" Ο ΛΟΓΟϹ. Not only is this argument unconvincing, it is inconsequential. Even if we suppose that everything was created "by means of" Ο ΛΟΓΟϹ as the instrumental cause,19 the author still states that everything was created by means of Ο ΛΟΓΟϹ.

Logically, Ο ΛΟΓΟϹ could not have been used by the efficient cause (e.g., the Father) as the instrumental cause to create everything if it had not been created yet. In order for the efficient cause to have used Ο ΛΟΓΟϹ as the instrumental cause to create everything, Ο ΛΟΓΟϹ itself cannot be created, but rather, Ο ΛΟΓΟϹ must have already existed prior to creation. Of course, to exist prior to creation demands that Ο ΛΟΓΟϹ is uncreated, and if Ο ΛΟΓΟϹ is uncreated, then it must be ΘΕΟϹ κατὰ φύσιν.

  1. If everything was made by means of Ο ΛΟΓΟϹ (1:3a),
  2. And not even one thing that was made was made without it (1:3b),
  3. Then Ο ΛΟΓΟϹ cannot be made,
  4. Because something not yet made (i.e., that does not yet exist) cannot be used to make itself.

ΘΕΟϹ in John 1:1c defines φύσις or οὐσία

While ΤΟΝ ΘΕΟΝ in John 1:1b (and therefore Ο ΘΕΟϹ in Gen. 1:1) refers to the person20 of Yahveh, i.e., the Father, ΘΕΟϹ in John 1:1c refers to the φύσις or οὐσία of Ο ΛΟΓΟϹ, often translated into English as "nature."

Aristotle's Categories

Perhaps 500 years prior to the conception of Christianity, Aristotle wrote many philosophical discourses concerning the nature of the things in the universe. In one such discourse, entitled "Categories" (Κατηγορίαι), he defines two types of οὐσίαι or "natures," the former being "the primary natures" (αἱ πρῶται οὐσίαι), and the latter being "the secondary natures" (αἱ δεύτεραι οὐσίαι).

Primary οὐσίαι, he wrote, are things such as "the certain (individual) man" (ὁ τὶς ἄνθρωπος) or "the certain (individual) horse" (ὁ τὶς ἵππος). Other examples would be "Peter," "Paul," "Yahveh," and you the reader.

On the other hand, secondary οὐσίαι categorically encompass the primary οὐσίαι. For example, Peter is a human (ἄνθρωπος), which loosely refers to his species (εἶδος), and he is also an animal (ζῷον), which loosely refers to his genus (γένος). The εἶδος and γένος, human (ἄνθρωπος) and animal (ζῷον), respectively, are secondary οὐσίαι.


  1. Genus (γένος) - δευτέρη οὐσία (e.g., "animal")
    1. Species (εἶδος) - δευτέρη οὐσία (e.g., "human")
      1. Individual (ὁ τὶς) - πρώτη οὐσία (e.g., "the individual human")

Just as ἄνθρωπος ("human") is a πρώτη οὐσία, so is θεός ("god"). Hippolytus wrote the following concerning Aristotle,21

Aristotle, who was a pupil of this man (Plato), reduced philosophy into an art, and was very logical, hypothesizing that the fundamental elements of all things were "nature" (οὐσίαν) and "accident" (συμβεβηκός): one nature (οὐσίαν) underlying everything, but nine accidents (συμβεβηκότα): quantity, quality, relation, where, when, possession, posture, action, passion. Thus, nature (οὐσίαν) is such a thing as "god" (θεὸν), "human" (ἄνθρωπον), and each of the potentials falling under a similar denomination.

Ἀριστοτέλης τούτου γενόμενος ἀκροατὴς εἰς τέχνην τὴν φιλοσοφίαν ἤγαγεν καὶ λογικώτερος ἐγένετο. τὰ μὲν στοιχεῖα τῶν πάντων ὑποθέμενος οὐσίαν καὶ συμβεβηκός. τὴν μὲν οὐσίαν μίαν τὴν πᾶσιν ὑποκειμένην, τὰ δὲ συμβεβηκότα ἐννέα. ποσὸν ποιὸν πρός τι ποῦ πότε ἔχειν κεῖσθαι ποιεῖν πάσχειν. τὴν μὴν οὖν οὐσίαν τοιαύτην εἶναι οἷον θεὸν ἄνθρωπον καὶ ἕκαστον τῶν τῷ ὁμοίῳ λόγῳ ὑποπεσεῖν δυναμένων.

When we speak of something's οὐσία, we are attempting to define "what it is." You, let's call you by the name "Joe," are human, or ἄνθρωπος. ἄνθρωπος is your οὐσία (secondary οὐσία, according to Aristotle). But, as Yahveh is living, He, too, must have an οὐσία. What is Yahveh? The οὐσία of Yahveh is θεός (i.e., Yahveh is θεός).

All too often, Christians misinterpret θεός as being a name, but properly, it is a common noun referring to a thing. It primarily identifies what something is, not who someone is. On the other hand, a proper noun, or name, primarily identifies an individual, i.e., who someone is. For example:

  1. Peter (a name identifying "who?") is human (a nature identifying "what?").
  2. Yahveh (a name identifying "who?") is god (a nature identifying "what?").

John of Damascus wrote,22

“We have frequently stated that essence (οὐσία) is one thing and hypostasis (ὑπόστασις) another, and that essence (οὐσία) signifies the common and general species (εἶδος) of hypostases of the same species (ὁμοειδῶν), such as “God” (θεός), “human” (ἄνθρωπος), but hypostasis (ὑπόστασις) signifies the individual, that is to say, “Father,” “Son,” “Holy Spirit,” “Peter,” “Paul.” Well then, one must know that “divinity” (θεότητος) and “humanity” (ἀνθρωπότητος) are names of essences (οὐσιῶν) or natures (φύσεών), but “God” (θεὸς) and “man” (ἄνθρωπος) are applied in reference to natures (φύσεως), whenever we say, “God is an incomprehensible essence (οὐσία),” and “God is one.” But, it is also understood of in reference to hypostases (ὑποστάσεων) when the name of the more general is applied to that which is more specific, as when the scripture says (Psa. 45:7), “Therefore, O’ God, your God has anointed you...” (for behold, it indicates the Father and the Son), and as when it states, (Job 1:1), “There was a certain man in the land of Uz” (for, it only indicated Job).”

Ὅτι μὲν οὖν ἕτερόν ἐστιν οὐσία καὶ ἕτερον ὑπόστασις, πλειστάκις εἰρήκαμεν, καὶ ὅτι ἡ μὲν οὐσία τὸ κοινὸν καὶ περιεκτικὸν εἶδος τῶν ὁμοειδῶν ὑποστάσεων σημαίνει οἷον θεός, ἄνθρωπος, ἡ δὲ ὑπόστασις ἄτομον δηλοῖ ἤτοι πατέρα, υἱόν, πνεῦμα ἅγιον, Πέτρον, Παῦλον. Ἰστέον τοίνυν, ὅτι τὸ μὲν τῆς θεότητος καὶ τῆς ἀνθρωπότητος ὄνομα τῶν οὐσιῶν ἤτοι φύσεών ἐστι παραστατικόν, τὸ δὲ θεὸς καὶ ἄνθρωπος καὶ ἐπὶ τῆς φύσεως τάττεται, ὁπόταν λέγωμεν· Θεός ἐστιν ἀκατάληπτος οὐσία, καὶ ὅτι εἷς ἐστι θεός· λαμβάνεται δὲ καὶ ἐπὶ τῶν ὑποστάσεων ὡς τοῦ μερικωτέρου δεχομένου τὸ τοῦ καθολικωτέρου ὄνομα, ὡς ὅταν φησὶν ἡ γραφή· «Διὰ τοῦτο ἔχρισέ σε ὁ θεὸς ὁ θεός σου» (ἰδοὺ γὰρ τὸν πατέρα καὶ τὸν υἱὸν ἐδήλωσε), καὶ ὡς ὅταν λέγῃ· «Ἄνθρωπός τις ἦν ἐν χώρᾳ τῇ Αὐσίτιδι» (τὸν γὰρ Ἰὼβ μόνον ἐδήλωσεν).

As John of Damascus noted, the name of a nature may be applied in reference to a an individual, i.e. a primary οὐσία.

For example,

  1. Peter is human (ἄνθρωπος).

Here, ἄνθρωπος refers to species, or secondary οὐσία.


  1. Peter is the human (ὁ ἄνθρωπος).

Here, ἄνθρωπος is used to refer to a particular individual of the species ἄνθρωπος (i.e., ὁ τὶς ἄνθρωπος); the individual is also known as a ὑπόστασις (hypostasis). If you recall, earlier we said that ὁ τὶς ἄνθρωπος referred to a primary οὐσία; thus, a ὑπόστασις is also equivalent to οὐσία in the sense of primary οὐσία, not secondary οὐσία.

ΘΕΟϹ in John 1:1c defines φύσις or οὐσία (continued)

In John 1:1b, ΤΟΝ ΘΕΟΝ identifies a particular individual who is ΘΕΟϹ in nature; this person or ὑπόστασις is Yahveh (the Father). The definite article indicates a reference to an individual or ὑπόστασις.

On the other hand, ΘΕΟϹ in John 1:1c identifies the secondary οὐσία (nature) of Ο ΛΟΓΟϹ. ΘΕΟϹ tells us what Ο ΛΟΓΟϹ is. Since we established that Ο ΛΟΓΟϹ is ΘΕΟϹ κατὰ φύσιν, and only Yahveh is ΘΕΟϹ κατὰ φύσιν, then Ο ΛΟΓΟϹ must also be Yahveh, like the Father (ΤΟΝ ΘΕΟΝ in 1:1b). What the Father is, the Son is. Both are god in nature. The capitalization of "god" is irrelevant. The fact that both are god in nature, rather than office, indicates that both are the eternal creators of the universe.


1 Commentary on 1 John 1:1

2 cp. John 1:6, 1:14

3 Gen. 1:3

4 Mal. 4:6

5 John 8:42

6 Perhaps it is no wonder that the Gospel of John as well as the Johannine epistles are characterized by love moreso than any other books of the New Testament.

7 Lat. secundum naturam

8 Lat. secundum officium

9 Exo. 7:1; LXX: θεὸν

10 Exo. 21:6, 22:8, 22:9; Psa. 82:1

11 There is some debate whether ὁ θεὸς τοῦ αἰῶνος τούτου refers to Yahveh or Satan. My interpretation is that it refers to Satan as the instrumental agent of the blinding, while elsewhere Yahveh is identified as the ultimate agent of the blinding (Isa. 6:10 cp. John 12:40). Also cp. 2 Sam. 24:1; 1 Chr. 21:1.

12 LXX: ἀγγέλους cp. Heb. 2:7, 2:9

13 Exo. 12:12

14 2 Chr. 19:6

15 1 Chr. 21:16

16 Whether Isa. 14:13-14 and Eze. 28:2 refer to Satan even by allusion is inconsequential. More importantly, they demonstrate that anyone who attempts to usurp Yahveh's authority is a "god" in their own mind.

17 There is no necessity to write majusculars as the Greek word θεὸς does not occur in this verse and there is no possibility of confounding the topic of discussion.

18 At this point in the prologue, I would prefer to translate the pronoun as "it" because anyone reading this passage for the very first time (also, 2000 years ago) would not have assumed by v. 3 that Ο ΛΟΓΟϹ is actually the pre-incarnate Lord Jesus Christ. This is methodically and intentionally introduced shortly thereafter.

19 Rather than as the effective cause, where δι᾽ (διά) might be properly translated as "by."

20 πρόσωπον, and in later philosophical and theological discussions, ὑπόστασις.

21 Book 1, Ch. 17, p. 24-25

22 Book 3, Ch. 4, p. 997-998


Hippolytus. Origenis Philosophumena sive Omnium Hæresium Refutatio. Ed. Miller, Emmanuel. Oxonii: E Typographeo Academico, 1851.

Jobes, Karen H. Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: 1, 2, & 3 John. Ed. Arnold, Clinton E. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014.

John of Damascus (Ἰωάννης ὁ Δαμασκηνός). “An Accurate Exposition of the Orthodox Faith” (Ἔκδοσις Ἀκριβὴς τῆς Ὀρθοδόξου Πίστεως). Patrologiæ Cursus Completus: Series Græca Prior. Ed. Migne, Jacques Paul. Vol. 94. Petit-Montrouge: Imprimerie Catholique, 1857.

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Well, this post got a bit of a make-over! – Caleb May 18 at 8:42

The meaning of the English article

In English the article ("the") is used to make a word definite.

This is how you would demand an indefinite pizza:

  Bring me a pizza

This is how you would demand a definite pizza:

  Bring me the pizza

The meaning of the Greek article

The meaning of the Greek article is slightly different, which can make it difficult for English speakers to grasp.

"The primary function of the [Greek] article is not to make a word definite.

  • When the article is present, it is emphasizing identity

  • When the article is not present, it is generally emphasizing the quality of the substantive."

-Mounce, BBG, p. 334

This is how you would speak with reference to an identified love:

  τὴν ἀγάπην τῆς ἀληθείας οὐκ ἐδέξαντο

"they did not receive the love of the truth" -2 Thessalonians 2:10, NASB

This is how you would speak with reference to a "love essence":

  ὁ Θεὸς ἀγάπη ἐστίν.

"God is love." -1 John 4:8, NASB

You would not translate that verse "God is a love" because that is not what the Greek is saying.

John 1:1

Likewise, John 1:1 is not saying "the Word was a god," but is rather saying something somewhat like, "the Word was God in essence*"... which is weird English, so we translate it "the word was God" and that conveys the meaning well for English readers.

For a very thorough treatment of this issue, see Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar: Beyond the Basics, pp.256-269

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Short Answer: Yes.

I am sure that this is not the answer that most people want to hear. From a purely grammatical perspective, before claiming that Jehovah’s Witnesses added “a God”, see why many Trinitarian Bible translations have translated John 1:1 as “a God”. The NWT was published in 1951 and I am quoting from the appendix of the New World Translation for their decision. Similar rendering can be found in nearly 60 different translations. I can’t explain it better.

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, London.

1864 “and a god was the Word”
— The Emphatic Diaglott (J21, interlinear reading), by Benjamin Wilson, New York and London.

1935 “and the Word was divine”
— The Bible—An American Translation, by J. M. P. Smith and E. J. Goodspeed, Chicago.

1975 “and a god (or, of a divine kind) was the Word”
— Das Evangelium nach Johannes, by Siegfried Schulz, Göttingen, Germany.

1978 “and godlike sort was the Logos”
— Das Evangelium nach Johannes, by Johannes Schneider, Berlin.

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

These translations use such words as “a god,” “divine” or “godlike” because the Greek word θεός (the·os′) is a singular predicate noun occurring before the verb and is not preceded by the definite article. This is an anarthrous the·os′. The God with whom the Word, or Logos, was originally is designated here by the Greek expression ὁ θεός, that is, the·os′ preceded by the definite article ho. This is an articular the·os′. Careful translators recognize that the articular construction of the noun points to an identity, a personality, whereas a singular anarthrous predicate noun preceding the verb points to a quality about someone. Therefore, John’s statement that the Word or Logos was “a god” or “divine” or “godlike” does not mean that he was the God with whom he was. It merely expresses a certain quality about the Word, or Logos, but it does not identify him as one and the same as God himself.

In the Greek text there are many cases of a singular anarthrous predicate noun preceding the verb, such as in Mr 6:49; 11:32; Joh 4:19; 6:70; 8:44; 9:17; 10:1, 13, 33; 12:6. In these places translators insert the indefinite article “a” before the predicate noun in order to bring out the quality or characteristic of the subject. Since the indefinite article is inserted before the predicate noun in such texts, with equal justification the indefinite article “a” is inserted before the anarthrous θεός in the predicate of John 1:1 to make it read “a god.” The Sacred Scriptures confirm the correctness of this rendering.

In his article “Qualitative Anarthrous Predicate Nouns: Mark 15:39 and John 1:1,” published in Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 92, Philadelphia, 1973, p. 85, Philip B. Harner said that such clauses as the one in Joh 1:1, “with an anarthrous predicate preceding the verb, are primarily qualitative in meaning. They indicate that the logos has the nature of theos. There is no basis for regarding the predicate theos as definite.” On p. 87 of his article, Harner concluded: “In John 1:1 I think that the qualitative force of the predicate is so prominent that the noun cannot be regarded as definite.”

Following is a list of instances in the gospels of Mark and John where various translators have rendered singular anarthrous predicate nouns occurring before the verb with an indefinite article to denote the indefinite and qualitative status of the subject nouns.

Abbreviations used in the following table:

  • KJV: King James Version
  • AAT: An American Translation
  • NIV: New International Version
  • RSV: Revised Standard Version
  • TEV: Today’s English Version

                    KJV          AAT          NIV           RSV              TEV
        Mark 6:49   a spirit     a ghost      a ghost       a ghost          a ghost
        Mark 11:32  a prophet    a prophet    a prophet     a real prophet   a prophet
        John 4:19   a prophet    a prophet    a prophet     a prophet        a prophet
        John 6:70   a devil      an informer  a devil       a devil          a devil
        John 8:44   a murderer   a murderer   a murderer    a murderer       a murderer
        John 8:44   a liar       a liar       a liar        a liar           a liar
        John 9:17   a prophet    a prophet    a prophet     a prophet        a prophet
        John 10:1   a thief      a thief      a thief       a thief          a thief
        John 10:13  an hireling  a hired man  a hired hand  a hireling       a hired man
        John 10:33  a man        a mere man   a mere man    a man            a man
        John 12:6   a thief      a thief      a thief       a thief          a thief

For those needing more explanation, you might find the book Truth in Translation: Accuracy and Bias in the English Translation of New Testament by Professor Jason Beduhn of Arizona University to be helpful. He is not one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, but he defends the NWT on John 1:1. Dr. Beduhn says,

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.”

However, the NWT Translation Committee chose to use the indefinite article “a” (“divine” in footnote) to so render as it did and not like Moffatt and Goodspeed, because of two factors. One, its 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”. For more scholars who endorse John 1:1 as “a God” or “divine” see the article JOHN 1:1c: “God,” “divine” or “a god”?

Another interesting fact is that one of the earliest languages into which the Greek New Testament was translated was Coptic in the 3rd Century, prior to the adoption of Trinity by Egyptian churches. Coptic has the definite article, and existing 3rd/4th century manuscript read “a God”! Trinitarians try to use a weak defense, saying that the Coptic text could also be translated into English as “God”. See more details in the article Coptic John 1:1c: What Conclusions Can Be Drawn?

One user has answered that John 1:3 would contradict with 1:1 if the translation is “a God”. Again, the translation submitted by him is the problem. Many translations, including NWT, translate it as “through him” not “by him”. For example, the NIV translates it as, “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” That is why Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that Jesus is “a God”, or a powerful person with Godlike qualities, a mighty God himself, but not Almighty God Jehovah. Note that the Bible uses the word “God” for Satan and for human beings, denoting a powerful person. These are in harmony with Colossians 1:15, where it states that Jesus is the “firstborn of all creations” and all other things were made “through him and for him”.

And finally there are other scriptures which are translated as "a God" though the context may be different. See below.

             KJV         ESV          NIV        NET Bible      Young's literal
Acts 12:22   a God       a God        a God         a God            a God
Acts 28:6    a God       a God        a God         a God            a God
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Very nice answer, welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics! – Wikis Nov 9 '13 at 7:42
This is mostly good content, but it isn't the full story. The other translations not covered here have various reasons for doing so that are not arbitrary (and not even all theological). Only if you were to review the rest of the picture with the same rigor as you do here would a whole picture emerge. – Caleb Dec 11 '13 at 13:03
No much Bible would be sold and make money if it read "a God". – user2924 Dec 11 '13 at 21:05
@FrankLuke Wallace believes Jesus is God and part of a Trinity. If John's intention was to confirm Trinity won't we expect a clear scripture at-least the word "Trinity" in Bible? I am no scholar in Greek, but I see that NWT rendering is not unique as shown above, and have Grammatical basis. While I have full respect for Jesus, a mere reading of the Bible says me Jehovah (Yahweh or YHWH) is the God that Jesus as a Jew worshiped and Jesus paid ransom to God. How can God pay ransom to himself? No God when Jesus died? Trinity is a pagan teaching and a messy topic. – user2924 May 27 '14 at 19:44
I would like to hear from those so called scholars who claim that "a God" is not a valid translation how should be the Greek version of John 1:1 if the writer wanted to render "a God". Although I am no Greek expert, not even newbie, I would argue that the sentence would be rendered the same way. I'd like to hear some thoughts on that. Cheers. – Marcelo Aug 5 '14 at 19:48

The translation of 'THEOS' as 'a god' is not a good choice. On the other side, however, the widely accepted decision not to make any distinction between articulated 'HO THEOS' and unarticulated 'THEOS' apparent in this context is not very good either because it seems not to represent the gospel writer's intention adequately. The Word, HO LOGOS, has everything that belongs to God. He shares the very essence of the One with whom all originates. The Word was with the God, in the beginning. HO LOGOS ÊN PROS TON THEON.

In English or German it cannot be said as in the Greek. To translate God was the Word is not what John intended to say. Otherwise he would have said it thus. HO THEOS ÊN HO LOGOS would have been perfectly possible to say if that was what he wanted to say. To translate 'A god was the word' is a foolish attack. Quite senseless and contradictory. No reason to boast.

Any translation must fall short in this case. Maybe this is what we should come to appreciate.

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Privately I would translate – hannes May 8 '13 at 4:50
Of God was the Word and all God was He. – hannes May 8 '13 at 4:52
Regarding the Witnesses here and where they come from I would write god uncapitalized. (Or vice versa: capitalized for them and not for others. For myself I almost dare not to. He is too great to speak as if I knew him.) – hannes May 8 '13 at 13:25

I am surprised that only two people mentioned Colwell's rule in relation to this passage. Colwell's rule applies to about 80% of the cases where an articleless predicate noun and an articled noun appear. That is really good for a Greek rule. There are major textual clues which support using Colwell's rule here. First, the passage is chiasmic with the clause before. Second, to switch from talking about the God in the two previous clauses, then to a god, and back to the God seems disjointed to say the least. Most Greek rules are merely strong guidelines, except for Sharp's rule but it is so rarely applicable that it stands as the exception. Greek is notorious for not using articles and for using them in places we never would. This is why literal translation is not best. If we take John's Gospel as a whole, then translating 1:1 as a God would be in contradiction with 14:6, 10:30 and others. Good Hermeneutics is about digging deeper based on holistic knowledge (in this case the large Gospel of John). To argue that a lack of article means an indefinite God, one would have to translate many passages of the NT as a god and would drastically alter the natural context of simple and uncontested verses. For instance, there is no article in front of the word God in the first 4 verses of Romans, is that all to be read "a god?" No. So, long and short, Colwell's rule applies (as well as it can) and the context combine with literary indicators and larger intent of John's Gospel all point to "God" and not "a god" as the appropriate translation.

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Question Restatement: Does John 1:1 refer to Jesus, the Word, as "The Most High", or simply god, in form, being the Son of God?

Significance of the Question: Whether it is a doctrinal condition for salvation that one must believe that "Jesus is the Most High, the Father", is WAY out of the scope of--John 1, and never even hinted at as a "Pillar Tenet of the Faith". So, force-fitting that text to assert some condition for salvation--at the very least--is an incredible distortion of that passage.

Answer: Removing all presuppositions, we know that "god/the god" is used when referring to Roman Emperors, and of course the Pantheon. So the significance of this statement, in a Greek Text, is certainly not conclusive to indicate that Jesus was believed to be the Most High, his Father ... If you apply that same logic that this passage implying that Jesus is The "Most High", then we end up interpreting "THE GOD" of "This Age", (presumably Satan), as the "Most High", because the Greek is not at all ambiguous and actually uses the definite article, and the word "god" together:

2 Cor. 4:3-4, NASB - 3 But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, 4 whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them.

Against the Application of Colwell

See also, the related question, which discusses "subset" and "convertible" propositions, which can alternatively be applied, rather than Colwell's Rule.

It must be noted, by any casual observer, that all of the summary references to Colwell's Rule are brutally over-simplified, and don't take into account the many scholarly refutations to the application of this rule to John 1:1, (which would seems to violate his own rule) ...

In Other Words: any argument presented with the intellectualism of men, can be debated with the intellectualism of men, and is not going to evoke an inspired answer--so if this question is trying to find a divine/dogmatic response, I think this is the wrong venue to find a Prophet ...

In the end, you simply have to stick with the context of the text, and assert the "knowables", that is, the text states: (1.) Jesus is the Word of God; (2.) that Jesus, as the Son of God, by nature, and form, shares the nature and form of the Most High, (that which is born of flesh is flesh, that of the spirit, spirit; etc.

Fourth, Colwell seems to have misunderstood what a definite semantic to the noun entailed linguistically. His improper method of prescription, based on his analysis, led him to commit a category mistake by foisting a semantic upon a certain group of nouns (pre-copulative PNs) that he failed to appreciate on their own terms. Because of this, and apparently without considering the ramifications of what the semantic suggested, he applied it to John 1:1c and argued against the indefinite or qualitative sense. But this was an improper use of his own rule, for his rule was only to be applied post hoc to nouns clearly understood to be definite from context


At issue is whether Colwell's rule applies to John 1:1 and if it is a reliable standard by which grammatical constructions of this type should be measured. It has been pointed out that Colwell's rule does not help by determining definiteness.[22] Rodney J. Decker stated, "it has often been misused by well-intentioned defenders of the deity of Christ."[23]

Daniel B. Wallace argues that the use of the anarthrous theos (the lack of the definite article before the second theos) is due to its use as a qualitative noun, describing the nature or essence of the Word, not due to Colwell's rule.

From Wikipedia, John 1:1.

Robbery, or Not Robbery?

In the end, presuppositions and bias pollute this entire debate.

Try picking between completely contradictory translations, both of which assert that Christians are to share the same viewpoint as Jesus, regarding his own nature:

Phil 2:5, NKJV - Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God,

Or ...

Phil 2:5, NASB - who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped,

Jesus' Own Words, His Own Defense, John 10:33-36

Translators capitalize the word "God" here, in this text, yet there is no definite article.

But regardless, Jesus explicitly goes on to clarify that he is simply saying that he was the Son of God, he certainly is not equating himself with God :

John 10:36, NASB - do you say of Him, whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, 'You are blaspheming,' because I said, 'I am the Son of God '?

The idea of multiple gods is not at all foreign to Scripture, or that people are "gods" as well, (John 10:34). The idea that Jesus said this in sarcasm, in defense to stop people from killing him, is soundly disproven by referring to the source of that quote, where God was judging Israel because they were neglecting the week, the needy, afflicted, fatherless, neglecting even justice, in Psalms 82:6--It is not possible to infer this passage was sarcastic.

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The definite article is left off to highlight a difference. Many times the definite article is left off of the predicate of a sentence.

John 4:24 (ESV)
24  God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

Jesus is a god. Apart from god Jesus created all things.

Colossians 1:15 (ESV)
15  He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.

He is image of god -- he looks like him but He was created. Almighty god was the creator Jehovah.

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In order to judge what you were saying here, I had to sort through your post and fill in articles -- both definite and indefinite as appropriate. How are we supposed to buy an unsubstantiated claim about the usage of articles out of a post that doesn't use them correctly? Beyond that, the verses you pick are terribly out of context. Colossians goes on to describe how all the fullness of God was made visible in the person of Jesus. I'm voting this down because I don't see how the argument holds water. Perhaps you can edit to fill in the gaps and make a full argument for us? – Caleb May 8 '13 at 7:30
@lang. I did not think your citation from Colossians was out of context. It is speaking of the same One, who is all of God, having all from God, received (firstborn) and begotten (son). I noticed your translation wrong in this other instance (John 4:24 which you quoted from ESV). God is (in Jesus' words) not a spirit (out of many). He is spirit (meaning not to be perceived physically but by his force). The indefinite article means one out of many. That is why it is unsuitable in either instance (John 1:1 and 4:24). Can you see that? – hannes May 10 '13 at 2:57

No, it is clear in the original greek text that it is "God", not "god". See my answer in: What is the original Greek translation of John 1:1?:

It is "God", not "god":

Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ Λόγος, καὶ ὁ Λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν Θεόν, καὶ Θεὸς ἦν ὁ Λόγος.

The Greek word for "God" is "Θεός" and has survived in English in words like "Theology", "Theism" etc. "Θεόν" in the text above is third person inflection.

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As the comments on your other answer point out, your reasoning there is fatally flawed. – Jack Douglas Sep 3 '13 at 6:06
Even as somebody who strongly agrees with the conclusion that the text refers to one God in specific, I must point out that this argument is invalid for coming to that conclusion. Not only is there not a definitive case for a definite article from this sentence alone (one must look at the context of the passage and John's writing) but Greek at the wasn't even written with the capitalization and punctuation you are looking at in the bit of text you quote. Any deductions from such are bogus. Even if you happened to get to the right conclusion, this way of "proving" is invalid. – Caleb Sep 3 '13 at 9:07
Not to mention, this noun doesn't have the linguistic feature of 'person'. Θεόν is an accusative, singular, masculine noun, but is also somewhat irrelevant since it occurs in the phrase "...and the word was with (to/toward) God...," not in the main phrase of contention (which uses the noun in the nominative case, or arguably the 'predicate nominative'). – Dan Dec 11 '13 at 0:45

protected by Dan Dec 11 '13 at 1:01

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