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The New World Translation, the official Bible version of the Watchtower/Jehovah’s Witnesses, translates John 1:1 into English as follows:

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god. NWT, 2013

The Greek text states,

Αʹ ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος NA28

The New World Translation of John 1:1 appears to be unique in using the phrase “a god” to translate the Greek word θεὸς. Unless I am mistaken, all other versions translate it as “God.” For example, the translation in the KJV, NASB, and NIV is identical:

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

Is there any justification in the original Greek text for translating θεὸς into English as “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
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    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
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  • @Paul Vargas - How is Simply a Christian's answer inadequate? If Colwell offers a different answer, then basically we are saying that a rule for interpreting New Testament Greek proposed by a 20th century Protestant theologian provides a more correct reading than that given by Greek Church Fathers in antiquity? – user33515 May 1 '17 at 21:07
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    @user33515 It's very likely they didn't understand all of it -- does anyone? But just like Peter in regard to Paul's writing (2 Peter 3:15-16), enough of it can be grasped to know that it's enlightened. – enegue May 2 '17 at 6:49

17 Answers 17

83

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
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    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
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    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
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    @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
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    @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
34

Introduction

Is there any justification in the original Greek text for translating θεὸς into English as “a god”?

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

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 affirm or deny 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 (bĕrēʾšît) by the Greek ΕΝ ΑΡΧΗ.

Karen H. Jobes wrote,1

Jobes, Karen. Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: 1, 2, & 3 John. 1 John 1:1

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 Second Clause: ΚΑΙ Ο ΛΟΓΟϹ ΗΝ ΠΡΟϹ ΤΟΝ ΘΕΟΝ

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.

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.

ΠΡΟϹ

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. Nevertheless, there is still a precedent for translating ΠΡΟϹ ΤΟΝ ΘΕΟΝ into English as “with God.”4

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 “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.

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 (ʾĕlōhîm). For example:

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

Categorically,

  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.

However,

  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.


Footnotes

1 Commentary on 1 John 1:1
2 cp. John 1:6, 1:14
3 Gen. 1:3
4 Matt. 13:56; Mark 6:3, 9:19, 14:49; Luke 9:41; 1 Thes. 3:4; 2 Thes. 2:5, 3:10
5 [omit]
6 [omit]
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 by the author.
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

References

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.

  • 1
    Thank you for appealing to the Church Fathers and not the dictionary. – user33515 May 1 '17 at 13:42
32

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).

  • 3
    Thanks, the answers I've received here make me really hope BH keeps going! – Wikis May 26 '12 at 21:03
  • So would it be correct to say, "and God the Word was" ? thus showing by word order in English the nominatives in Greek, as you point out . – Nigel J Sep 30 '17 at 22:11
  • Perhaps the question arose early and so John addressed it in 1Jo 5:7. The word for heaven שמימ is formed by the letters with the metaphor of מ Father, ם Word , and ש Spirit. Illustrating he understood Hebrew Word formation. So he certainly saw that bara ברא was formed as 'son' בר who created א, The son was God the creator, and the son was the word. – Bob Jones Jul 27 '18 at 8:42
18

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

  • +1 That quote by Mounce seems to be the pillar of this answer, (which makes sense). Your parallel with "love" is very apropos. But, it would be great to see evidence more contemporary with the text, and not from a source which could be seen as anachronistic or even biased. \o/ I complete agree with the answer, and the illustration using "love" - just not necessarily the reliance on Mounce, (who may not be enough to sway a reasonably minded person). – elika kohen May 3 '17 at 2:07
  • 1
    "That conveys the meaning well for English readers" - I disagree. By using the phrase "was God", it easily misleads the English reader into thinking it's an identity, not a quality. If you wanted to view it as a quality, you might say "was godly" or "was divine". – 4castle Jan 4 '18 at 19:27
  • Your comment "the Word was God in essence" is not as "weird as you think because J. Moffatt renders it as "the Logos was divine." Thus highlighting the nature of Jesus in Hevaen before he came to earth, Vs. 14. *** w93 10/15 p. 28 The Trinity—Is It Taught in the Bible? *** Professor C. H. Dodd, director of the New English Bible project, comments on this approach: “A possible translation . . . would be, ‘The Word was a god’. As a word-for-word translation it cannot be faulted.” – user26950 Nov 11 '18 at 22:24
13

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
  • 2
    Very nice answer, welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics! – Wikis Nov 9 '13 at 7:42
  • 7
    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
  • 3
    No much Bible would be sold and make money if it read "a God". – user2924 Dec 11 '13 at 21:05
  • 2
    @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
  • 6
    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
8

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.

  • 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
  • 1
    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
  • An interesting choice of word; "The Word was with God. Wonder how The Word can be WITH God and be God at the same time? – user26950 Oct 28 '18 at 18:39
6

Question Restatement: Does John 1:1 refer to Jesus, the Word, as "The Most High", or simply god, in form and nature, 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. So, any claim that this text asserts some condition for salvation- at the very least - is an incredible distortion of that passage.


Answer, "Divine" should be used instead of "God":

John 1:1 uses specific terms which indicate that the "Gospel of John" was written to people familiar with both Greek Philosophy, and the creation narrative in Genesis.

Given that audience, and during that time, "θεός" would have been understood as "Divine". This was the common use of the word. (See θεός @ logeion.uchicago.edu .)

The context clearly is about "The Word | ὁ λόγος", a Greek / Indian / Persian and Egyptian philosophical reference to "divine reasoning". (See logos @ brittanica.com .) This is not really seen in Hebrew Scripture, though perhaps as "the Wisdom of God" personified in the books of Song of Songs, and Proverbs.

Frankly, "Logos" probably shouldn't even be translated into English - because "Logos" is the formal name of a very specific philosophy, (See John 1:1 - How would Λόγος (Logos) be understood in Hellenistic philosophy?) :

John 1 - The Logos was in the beginning, and divine, and [stood] before The Most High. ... And then, the Logos became flesh and dwelt among us.

Notes: 1.) The incredible significance would have been grasped immediately - by a Greek audience. 2.) The prepositional phrase "πρὸς τὸν θεόν" does not mean "with God". Rather, it denotes "being in front of", or metaphorically, a place of compliance, being in accordance to, standing before [a king]. In English, "before" can imply a sense of time - which is not being conveyed here, in the Greek.

Removing all presuppositions, we know that "divinity / god / the god" was used in literature to indicate a divine nature - and used to even describe Roman Emperors, and of course the Pantheon. So the significance of this statement, to a Greek audience, is not at all an indication that Jesus was "The Most High", that "he is his own Father" ... (Though, references in Revelation get pretty close.)

If the same logic is applied consistently - to assert the text claims 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, here, and actually uses the definite article:

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.

In the end, the emphatic points made in the text clarify how this verse should be interpreted, which are: (1.) Jesus is the Word of God, (the Supreme Logos, Wisdom of God); (2.) that Jesus, as the "firstborn" Son of God, shares the divine nature and form of the Most High - as those who follow him, and are "born again" :

NASB, John 3:6 - That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.

NASB, 1 Corinthians 1:24 - but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

Early Church Interpretation of "God" as an Essence / Divine Nature :

Nicene Creed, 325 (Wikipedia) - ... the Son of God, begotten of the Father [the only-begotten; that is, of the essence of the Father, God of God,] Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father;

Note on Consubstantiality: "One Substance" is actually, "Same Substance", (homo-ousian). The term is also used to describe the common humanity which is shared by all human persons. Thus, Jesus Christ is said to be consubstantial with the Father in his divinity and consubstantial with us in his humanity, (from Consubstantiality, Wikipedia).


Against the Application of Colwell

Colwell's reasoning is often misapplied to justify omitting the indefinite article, "a god" - which would indicate a "divine nature or essence".

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) ...

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.

From Bible.org

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.

See also Wikipedia, John 1:1.


Clear Translation Biases - Robbery, or Not Robbery?

A Unitarian View , 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,

A Trinitarian View, 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

Jesus explicitly clarifies that he is simply saying that he was the Son of God, certainly 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 '?

Jesus argued that people are "gods" as well, (in John 10:34), by quoting the Psalms. The idea that Jesus said this in sarcasm, to stop people from killing him, is soundly disproven by that harsh context, and the source of that quote. In Psalms 82, God is judging Israel because they were neglecting the week, the needy, afflicted, fatherless, and neglecting even justice. There is no rational basis to inject sarcasm into either of these contexts of "death sentences" :

NASB, Psalms 82:6 - I said, “You are gods, And all of you are sons of the Most High. 7 “Nevertheless you will die like men ...

4

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.

  • Chris - A.) You said, "Second, to switch from talking about the God in the two previous clauses, then to a god, and back to the God seems disjointed" B.) I think this answer would be tremendously improved if you could show other passages, in John, where abstract nouns with, and without, the article - very clearly - point to the same referent; (Especially passages starting without context); C.) Given the writer - it seems unreasonable to dismiss the probability that the author chose that wording on purpose. D.) Though, there might be a similar burden of proof in contra. – elika kohen May 3 '17 at 2:16
2

I would translate John 1:1 like this:

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

Details:

enter image description here

There are three phrases here, each containing the verb ἦν, with the following structure:

In A *ἦν* B, and B *ἦν* with C, and C *ἦν* B

Where:
A = *ἀρχή* - beginning  
B = *Λόγος* - word  
C = *θεός* - God

Take note of the last phrase. What is the justification for flipping the order of the nouns, which is what must be done to get, "and the word was God"?

The logic of John's argument is obvious: that B is C and C is B, which is simply a different take on Jesus' own words:

I and the Father are one.
-- John 10:30

The KJV has "my father" here, but there is no genitive case.

enter image description here

Additional Comments

Perhaps the appeal to John's logic is insufficient evidence, so it might prove profitable to investigate a couple of other instances of θεός where the definite article is missing.

  1. In reply to the Sadducees' question about the wife that was passed from one brother to another as each of them died, Jesus said:

    Furthermore, he is not the God of the dead, but of the living. For, all to him are alive.
    -- Luke 20:38

    Details:

    enter image description here

    There are three possibilities in regard to how θεός might be translated in this verse:

    • he is not a God of the dead, but [a God] of the living
    • he is not the God of the dead, but [the God] of the living
    • he is not God of the dead, but [God] of the living


    There is an implied reiteration of the subject in the second part of the statement, since whatever he is not for the dead, he is for the living (bracketed).

    The first possibility can be eliminated pretty-easily, since it really isn't likely that Jesus, or the writer recording his words, would imply there was more than ONE God of the living, which is what one gets from "he is [a God] of the living".

    Now, the only reason for choosing the third possibility, would be a stubborn reluctance to include the definite article, since there can be no doubt the writer of Luke's Gospel believed/knew, as did Jesus, that there is but ONE God of the living.

  2. This next example, John 1:18, is an absolute corker:

    KJV:
    No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.

    NIV: A whole bunch of words here that are not in the Greek
    No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and1 is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.

    ESV: What does "the only God, who is at the Father's side" mean?
    No one has ever seen God; the only God,2 who is at the Father’s side,3 he has made him known.

    NASB: Who is the "only begotten God"?
    No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.

    I would translate John 1:18 like this

    No man has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, the one who is in the bosom of the father, he has made him known.

    Details:

    enter image description here

    The second instance of Θεὸς that appears in WH Greek but not TR, has been ignored, since attempts to accommodate it (see NIV, ESV, NASB above) introduce ideas that are not only foreign to the Gospel of John, but foreign to the entire NT. It clearly has no logical place in the author's argument.

    Regardless of all the issues the additional Θεὸς has caused for translators, the Θεὸς that remains, having no definite article, could not possibly be translated as "a God". If the Gospel writer has used Θεὸς without the definite article in John 1:18, and no one is in any doubt that he is referring to "the" Θεὸς, then its appearance as such in John 1:1 shouldn't be an issue, either.


Notes:
1. Some manuscripts: but the only Son, who
2. Or the only One, who is God; some manuscripts: the only Son
3. Greek: in the bosom of the Father

2

It might be God to look at what other texts say to show if it should read "a god" or God."

“My God” who is He?

To whom was Jesus calling to at:-

Matthew 27:46 “About the ninth hour Jesus called out with a loud voice, saying: "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?" that is, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"”

Which is literally rendered "this is the God of me, God of me."-'The NASB-NIV parallel N.T. in Gk. & Eng.' with Interlinear Translated by Alfred Marshall*

Who is Jesus referring to at:-

John 20:17 “Jesus said to her: “Stop clinging to me. For I have not yet ascended to the Father. But be on your way to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father (Literal Gk. “Father of me”^) and YOUR Father and to my God (Literal Gk. “God of me”^) and YOUR God.’” ^'The NASB-NIV parallel N.T. in Gk. & Eng.' with Interlinear Translated by Alfred Marshall

“my poss[essive]. pron[oun]. (attrib.) 1 of or belonging to me. 2 affectionate, patronizing, etc. form of address (my dear boy). 3 in expressions of surprise (my God!; oh my!). 4 colloq. indicating a close relative etc. of the speaker (my Johnny's ill again). my Lady (or Lord) form of address to certain titled persons. [from *mine1] .”-Oxford Dictionary

“god n[oun]. 1 a (in many religions) superhuman being or spirit worshipped as having power over nature, human fortunes, etc. b image, idol, etc., symbolizing a god. 2 (God) (in Christian and other monotheistic religions) creator and ruler of the universe. 3 adored or greatly admired person. … .”-Oxford Dictionary

Jesus must have been calling to the Almighty, the Father, his God, see John 20:17, “my God”, (Lit. Gk. "God of me" 'The NASB-NIV parallel N.T. in Gk. & Eng.' with Interliner Translated by Alfred Marshall) quoting from Ps 22:1 where King David was, showing that God is somone other than himself. No, Jesus cannot be Almighty God if he plainly says in the above texts that he himself has a “God”!

We can also add to the above, the following words, where Jesus is speaking from an exulted heavenly postion:-

Revelation 3:12-13 "‘The one that conquers—I* will make him a pillar in the temple of my God**, and he will by no means go out [from it] anymore, and I* will write upon him the name*** of my God** and the name of the city of my God**, the new Jerusalem which descends out of heaven from my God**, and that new name of mine. Let the one who has an ear hear what the spirit says to the congregations.’”

*Jesus Christ **Which in litrealy rendered "the God of me."-'The NASB-NIV parallel N.T. in Gk. & Eng.' With Interliner Translated by Alfred Marshall ***Jehovah

JOHN 1:1-2 Literal translation from Greek in beginning was the word and the word was toward the god and god was the word this (one) was in beginning toward the god A help.

“The title ho theos [the God, or God], which now designates the Father as a personal reality, is not applied in the N[ew] T[estament] to Jesus Himself; Jesus is the Son of God (of ho theos). . . . Jn 1:1 should rigorously be translated ‘the word was with the God [=the Father], and the word was a divine being.’”—Dictionary of the Bible (1965), by John L. McKenzie, S.J.

So if Jesus called out to "MY [HIS] GOD" then how can he be "God"? So therefore we can conclude that Jesus must be a divine or superhuman being; "a god" when in heaven as in John 1:1 and when on earth he called out to "Ho Theos" or "God" of John 1:1.

FURTHER TO THE ABOVE:- NWT Colossians 1:15 “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation;”

(ALT) who is [the] image of the invisible God, first-born of [fig., existing before] all creation,

(ASV) who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation;

(BBE) Who is the image of the unseen God coming into existence before all living things;

(CEV) Christ is exactly like God, who cannot be seen. He is the first-born Son, superior to all creation.

(Darby) who is image of the invisible God, firstborn of all creation;

(DRB) Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature:

(ESV) He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.

(GB) Who is the image of the invisible God, the first begotten of every creature.

(GNB) Christ is the visible likeness of the invisible God. He is the first-born Son, superior to all created things.

(GNT-WH+) ος3739 R-NSM εστιν2076 V-PXI-3S εικων1504 N-NSF του3588 T-GSM θεου2316 N-GSM του3588 T-GSM αορατου517 A-GSM πρωτοτοκος4416 A-NSM πασης3956 A-GSF κτισεως2937 N-GSF

(GW) He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.

(HNV) who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.

(KJV+) Who3739 is2076 the image1504 of the3588 invisible517 God,2316 the firstborn4416 of every3956 creature:2937

(>LITV) who is the image of the invisible God, the First-born of all creation.

(MKJV) who is the image of the invisible God, the First-born of all creation.

(MRC) He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation.

(WEB) who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.

(Webster) Who is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of every creature:

(YLT) who is the image of the invisible God, first-born of all creation,

Stong’s Greek No. 4416 πρωτοτοìκος prōtotokos pro-tot-ok'-os From G4413 and the alternate of G5088; first born (usually as noun, literally or figuratively): - firstbegotten (-born). Thayer Definition: 1) the firstborn 1a) of man or beast 1b) of Christ, the first born of all creation Part of Speech: adjective A Related Word by Thayer’s/Strong’s Number: from G4413 and the alternate of G5088 Citing in TDNT: 6:871, 965

Strong’s No. 3956 πᾶς pas pas Including all the forms of declension; apparently a primary word; all, any, every, the whole: - all (manner of, means) alway (-s), any (one), X daily, + ever, every (one, way), as many as, + no (-thing), X throughly, whatsoever, whole, whosoever.

Thayer Definition: 1) individually 1a) each, every, any, all, the whole, everyone, all things,everything 2) collectively 2a) some of all types Part of Speech: adjective A Related Word by Thayer’s/Strong’s Number: including all the forms of declension Citing in TDNT: 5:886, 795

So if Jesus was born of God and the first one to be so how can he be "God"?

0

When 'the' is placed before Theos, I understand that to be definitive, therefore to be a matter of Divine Person, rather than Deity as a matter of nature.

When it is absent, I would understand that Divine Nature, as such, is being emphasised.

Thus "and Deity was the Logos" emphasises that Divine Nature was that which is a matter of Logos.

And the addition of the definite article, "the Logos" then emphasises the individual spoken of.

So the same phrase, "and Deity was the Logos" emphasises both Divine Nature and Divine Person.

  • I come to the same conclusion. – Sola Gratia Sep 30 '17 at 23:23
  • Having a divine nature do not allways make one God. That would make humans God for example it sat at 2 Pe 1:4 (NJB) "Through these, the greatest and priceless promises have been lavished on us, that through them you should share the divine nature and escape the corruption rife in the world through disordered passion." So it would seem that at John 1:1 it relative to be in the divine natuire or like God but not being God. – user26950 Oct 17 '18 at 19:41
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Cowell's Rule argues that it should read "and the LOGOS was God". However, Cowell's work has come under fire and I for one believe it should be taken as a qualitative predicate: "the utterance was God-utterance":

"...Fourth, Colwell seems to have misunderstood what a definite semantic to the noun entailed linguistically.33 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. But here is where the problem of his method shows up starkly. Because John 20:28 has the articular qeov", he assumes that its pre-copulative anarthrous occurrence bears the same semantic. But this is simply an example of pigeonholing a noun into a semantic box based completely on the semantics born out in a separate construction. Count nouns can bear different nuances without the article than it can with the article—Colwell has not properly understood this principle.34 In short he begged the question by making his rule prescriptive rather than descriptive of the majority of cases involving definite nouns preceding the copulative verb..." https://bible.org/article/revisiting-colwell-construction-light-masscount-nouns

In other words, the utterances of God are different from human utterances in that they carry divine power and authority. IE: "Let there be light and there was light".

However, that isn't the only grammatically viable option. The other is "a god". This has the advantage of accommodating that the logos was "with God" without upending millennia of Jewish monotheism.

I'm currently torn between the two.

  • @ Ruminator :I suggest you get a copy of the book "Truth in Translation" by Jason David Be Duhn and read chapter 11 then you will not be torn. There scores of verses in the scriptures which have the structure as John 1:1, for example John 18:35, 19:21 , 6:60, 4:24, 18:35, 12:6, 12:36,1:14, 8:44, 8:48 and many others. But Just to soften your heart the Greats of Greek translation wrote: Moffat: 1 THE Logos existed in the very beginning, the Logos was with God, the Logos was divine. Goodspeed:1 In the beginning the Word existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was divine – Ozzie Nicolas Apr 22 at 20:21
  • I like to remind people that John 1:1-3 does not mention: 1) Trinity 2) Jesus 3) "spirit" Nor does it speak of "Word". Instead it speaks of God's utterance. He is referring to "Let there be x". Nothing was made without that utterance. – Ruminator Apr 22 at 20:32
  • That "divine utterance" is what was made flesh in John 1:14. Jesus is not the "Word" of God but rather his "utterance" and the one who accomplishes what God commands: [Isa 55:11 ESV] (11) so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. – Ruminator Apr 22 at 20:37
  • Of course, it is all metaphor, just like the metaphor of wisdom personified as a woman "justified by her children". – Ruminator Apr 22 at 20:38
0

To summarize Robertson's Grammar on this, predicate nominatives usually don't have the article, and this distinguishes the predicate from the subject, i.e. the Word was God, not God was the Word. The Word was a god violates Greek grammar.

(i) NOUNS IN THE PREDICATE. These may have the article also. As already explained, the article is not essential to speech. It is, however, “invaluable as a means of gaining precision, e.g. θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος.” As a rule the predicate is without the article, even when the subject uses it. Cf. Mk. 9:50; Lu. 7:8. This is in strict accord with the ancient idiom. Gildersleeve (Syntax, p. 324) notes that the predicate is usually something new and therefore the article is not much used except in convertible propositions. Winer,4 indeed, denies that the subject may be known from the predicate by its having the article. But the rule holds wherever the subject has the article and the predicate does not. The subject is then definite and distributed, the predicate indefinite and undistributed. The word with the article is then the subject, whatever the order may be. So in Jo. 1:1, θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος, the subject is perfectly clear. Cf. ὁ λόγος σὰρξ ἐγένετο (Jo. 1:14). It is true also that ὁ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος (convertible terms) would have been Sabellianism. See also ὁ θεὸς ἀγάπη ἐστίν (1 Jo. 4:16). “God” and “love” are not convertible terms any more than “God” and “Logos” or “Logos” and “flesh.” Cf. also οἱ θερισταὶ ἄγγελοί εἰσιν (Mt. 13:39), ὁ λόγος ὁ σὸς ἀλήθειά ἐστιν (Jo. 17:17), ὁ νόμος ἁμαρτία; (Ro. 7:7). The absence of the article here is on purpose and essential to the true idea. Cf. also ἀνθρωποκτόνος and ψεύστης (Jo. 8:44). In Eph. 5:23, ἀνήρ ἐστιν κεφαλή, the context makes it clear (W. H. marg. ἀνὴρ κεφαλή ἐστιν) that ἀνήρ is subject even without the article. In Jo. 9:34, ἐν ἁμαρτίαις σὺ ἐγεννήθης ὅλος, the article with ὅλος is not needed, a neat use of the predicate adjective. But the article is quite frequent with the predicate in the N. T. and in strict accord with old usage. It is not mere haphazard, however, as Winer rather implied. Hence W. F. Moulton, in his note to Winer, properly corrects this error. He finds that when the article is used in the predicate the article is due to a previous mention of the noun (as well known or prominent) or to the fact that subject and predicate are identical. The words that are identical are convertible as in the older idiom.4 If he had added what is in Winer-Schmiedel,5 that the article also occurs when it is the only one of its kind, he would have said all that is to be said on the subject. But even here Moulton’s rule of identity and convertibility apply. The overrefinement of Winer-Schmiedel’s many subdivisions here is hardly commendable. In a word, then, when the article occurs with subject (or the subject is a personal pronoun or proper name) and predicate, both are definite, treated as identical, one and the same, and interchangeable. The usage applies to substantives, adjectives and participles indifferently. Cf. ὁ λύχνος τοῦ σώματός ἐστιν ὁ ὀφθαλμός (Mt. 6:22), ὑμεῖς ἐστὲ τὸ ἄλας τῆς γῆς (Mt. 5:13), ὁ δὲ ἀγρός ἐστιν ὁ κόσμος (13:38), σὺ εἶ ὁ Χριστός (16:16), εἶς ἐστιν ὁ ἀγαθός (19:17), τίς ἄρα ἐστὶν ὁ πιστὸς δοῦλος (24:45), τοῦτό ἐστιν τὸ σῶμά μου, τοῦτό ἐστιν τὸ αἷμά μου (26:26, 28), σὺ εἶ ὁ βασιλεύς (27:11), σὺ εἶ ὁ υἱός μου (Mk. 1:11), οὐχ οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ τέκτων (6:3), οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ κληρονόμος (12:7), οὐ γάρ ἐστε ὑμεῖς οἱ λαλοῦντες (13:11), ἡ ζωὴ ἦν τὸ φῶς (Jo. 1:4), ὁ προφήτης εἶ σύ (1:21), σὺ εἶ ὁ διδάσκαλος (3:10), οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ προφήτης (6:14), οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ ἄρτος (6:50; cf. 51), τὸ πνεῦμά ἐστιν τὸ ζωοποιοῶν (6:63), ἐγώ εἰμι τὸ φῶς (8:12), οὐχ οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ καθήμενος (9:8; cf. 19 f.), ἐγώ εἰμι ἡ θύρα (10:7), ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ποιμήν (10:11), ἐγώ εἰμι ἡ άνάστασις καὶ ἡ ζωή (11:25, note both articles), ἐγώ εἰμι ἡ ὁδὸς καὶ ἡ ἀλήθεια καὶ ἡ ζωή (14:6, note three separate articles), ἐκεῖνός ἐστιν ὁ ἀγαπῶν μς (14:21), οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ λίθος (Ac. 4:11), οὗτός ἐστιν ἡ δύναμις (8:10), οὐχ οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ πορθήσας (9:21), οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ ἄνθρωπος (21:28), οὐκ ἄρα σὺ εἶ ὁ Λἰγύπτιος (21:38), ἡ κεφαλὴ ὸ Χριστός ἐστιν (1 Cor. 11:3), ὁ δὲ κύριος τὸ πνεῦμά ε͂στιν (2 Cor. 3:17), αὐτός ἐστιν ἡ εἰρήνη ἡμῶν (Eph. 2:14), ἡμεῖς ἡ περιτομή (Ph. 3:3), ἡμεῖς γάρ ἐσμεν ἡ περιτομή (3:3), ἡ ἁμαρτία ἐστὶν ἡ ἀνομία (1 Jo. 3:4), ἐγώ εἰμι τὸ Ἅλφα καὶ τὸ Ὦ (Rev. 1:8), ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ πρῶτος καὶ ὁ ἔσχατος (1:17, note both articles), σὺ εἶ ὁ ταλαίπωρος (3:17), etc. This list is not exhaustive, but it is sufficient to illustrate the points involved. Note ὁ βασιλεύς (Mt. 27:11) and βασιλεύς (Jo. 1:49). Even the superlative adjective may have the article as in Rev. 1:17 above. But see οἱ ἔσχατοι πρῶτοι καὶ οἱ πρῶτοι ἔσχατοι (Mt. 20:16) for the usual construction. Cf. ἐσχάτη ὥρα (1 Jo. 2:18). See further ἐν ἐσχάταις ἡμέραις, Jas. 5:3; 2 Tim. 3:1; ἐν καιρῷ ἐσχάτῳ, 1 Pet. 1:5, and τῇ ἐσχάτῃ ἡμέρᾳ, Jo. 6:39. For the common predicate accusative see chapter XI (Cases), VII, (i). In the N. T. most examples are anarthrous (Jo. 5:11; 15:15), and note 1 Cor. 4:9 ἡμᾶς τοὺς ἀποστόλους ἐσχάτους ἀπέδειξεν. Cf. Gildersleeve, Syntax, p. 326.

Robertson, A. T. (2006). A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research (pp. 767–769). Logos Bible Software.

  • You've provided a reference, but you have not stated your answer to the question, "In John 1:1c, should the Greek word θεὸς be translated into English as 'a god' or 'God'?" I'm pretty sure that falls short of what is required on this site. – enegue Feb 4 '18 at 22:07
0

It has been said the The NWT is the 'only' translation which renders John 1:1 as "a god" . etc.. Here is a link that shows this not to be the case:--

https://simplebibletruths.net/70-John-1-1-Truths.htm

I could cut and paste them here but that would be quite a lot of text, better to go and have a look for yourselves. Therein some do follow the 'traditional' rendering but many follow the NWT.

0

How can Jesus be God & High Priest of God & an Apostle & a Medatior, between man and God & be God?

Texts NWT

Hebrews 3:1 "Consequently, holy brothers, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the apostle and high priest whom we acknowledge—Jesus."

1 Timothy 2:5 "For there is one God, and one mediator BETWEEN God and men, a man, Christ Jesus,"

All services rendered to God my a lesser person than God!

Example; God cannot be a "High Priest" as a "High Priest" serves God and man!

Further to the above after Jesus had been resurrected by God:-

Acts 2:24 "But God resurrected him [Jesus' see vs.""] by releasing him from the pangs of death, . . ."

Jesus later said :-

John 20:17 "Jesus said to her: “Stop clinging to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father and to my God and your God.’”

So if Jesus thinks of his "Father" as "my "God" how can Jesus be Almighty God Also??

  • This doesn't answer the question. My question is about the text of John 1:1. – Wikis Oct 21 '18 at 20:05
  • I think it does matter because a Priest cannot be God! An Apostle cannot be God but both can be divine and thus "a god" if "Ho Theos" ordains it to be so. – user26950 Oct 22 '18 at 0:05
-2

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.

  • 9
    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
  • 1
    @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
  • The original of John 4:24 reads "Pneuma ho Theos". The definite article is there. – Nigel J Sep 30 '17 at 23:02
-6

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.

  • 2
    As the comments on your other answer point out, your reasoning there is fatally flawed. – Jack Douglas Sep 3 '13 at 6:06
  • 3
    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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