John 1:1 in DRB (Douay-Rheims) is:

"... and the Word was God."

This is not literal translation from the Latin Vulgate.

John 1:1 LV:

"...et Deus erat Verbum."

I think the literal English translation should be:

  • "... And a god was the Word", or:
  • "... And God was the Word." Or even:
  • "... And the Word was a god" if we take in account the grammatical changes from Greek to Latin to English.

N.B: In Arabic there's clear distinction between; (الله) and (إله) in pronunciation and in accepting definite and indefinite articles. (الله) means Simply (God) i.e: with Capital G and no articles 'definite or indefinite', while (إله) accepts both 'definite and indefinite' articles i.e: a god=إله, the god=الإله. This distinction not found in Greek or English languages, to my knowledge.

I hope my point of view is clear.

I read about Latin grammar here that there is no definite or indefinite article in Latin, so that rēx can mean "king", "a king", or "the king" according to context.

So, why DRB in this critical verse is not literal?

I will be more glad if you write clearly about:

"... And the Word was a god" from Greek to English,


"... And a god was the Word" from Latin Vulgate to English.

Are these two phrases have something of correctness?

Again!, The main question is: Why DRB in this critical verse is not literal?

  • Could you edit the post adding tag for: Douay-Rheims?
    – salah
    Commented Mar 25, 2020 at 11:39
  • @curiousdannii thank you for your interest.
    – salah
    Commented Mar 25, 2020 at 14:50
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    Ultimately because word-order differs from language to language, and English is neither Greek nor Latin. It is clear from the original Greek that God acts as an attribute of Word, and not the other way around, as one might incorrectly infer from a brutal, naive or simplistic translation into English.
    – Lucian
    Commented Mar 25, 2020 at 14:51
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    Why have you selected an answer that hardly deals with the Latin at all?
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Mar 26, 2020 at 15:10
  • I am not sure if you are using the actual NT Arabic translation especially which dates before Islam, bec I know that the Muslims forced to insert Allah instead of the al-ilah or ilah in the Bible to justify their religion. Allah as you wrote is a proper name of Lah god, not "the-god" with definite article. firmanelohim.org/foundations/Articles/Entries/2013/2/…
    – Michael16
    Commented Aug 16, 2021 at 11:19

4 Answers 4


Neither "And a god was the Word" nor: "And God was the Word" are correct translations for θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος.

To understand the implications of the last clause, you need to understand something of Greek syntax. First, Greek distinguishes the role a noun plays in a sentence by changing the case. In general, if the noun is the subject, it is in the nominative case. If it is the direct object, it is in the accusative case. However, there is a strange class of verbs that do not take a direct object, instead, they take a predicate. There are three verbs that do this in Koine Greek. This means that you have two nouns that are the same case (nominative), where one is the subject, and one is the predicate. So, if both are in the same case, how do you know which is the subject, and which is the predicate?

Here are the rules:

If both nouns have the article attached, then the first is the subject, the second is the predicate nominative.

If NEITHER noun has the article attached, then the first is the subject, the second is the predicate nominative.

If one has an article but the other does not, then the one WITH the article is the subject, and the one without the article is the predicate nominative.

So, in the phrase "και θεος ην ο λογος", we see that λογος has an article (ὁ) and θεος does not. Thus, ὁ λογος is the subject, while θεος is the predicate nominative.

When translated into English, because λογος is the subject, it must be placed first. English has syntactical rules that must be followed as well. So, the only valid translation of θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος is "and the Word was God."

Simply because a noun is anarthrous (not preceded by an article) does not mean it is indefinite. John uses a number of anarthrous nouns in his prologue including θεος yet none are assigned the indefinite article in translation and correctly so. It must also be noted that in Greek there is no such thing as an indefinite article.

First, Koine Greek normally drops the article in a prepositional phrase. The absence of the article in a prepositional phrase is normal and doesn't mean anything. It is the INCLUSION of the article in a prepositional phrase that is unusual and thus means something.

The prepositional phrase "εν αρχη" for example, does not contain an article, but is still properly translated "in the beginning." The prepositional phrase "προς τον θεον," however, does include the article (τον). Since it would have been grammatically proper not to include it, then the INCLSION of the article here means something. In general, the inclusion of an article in Greek when it is not expected means the writer is being specific.

Bill Mounce (who I believe quotes from Wallace) makes this observation in identifying the subject from the predicate in the nominative case.

"In English the subject and predicate nominative are distinguished by word order (the subject comes first). Not so in Greek. Since word order in Greek is quite flexible and is used for emphasis rather than for strict grammatical function, other means are used to distinguish subject from predicate nominative. For example, if one of the two nouns has the definite article, it is the subject. A good illustration of this is John 1:1c. The English versions typically have, “and the Word was God.” But in Greek, the word order has been reversed..... We know that “the Word” is the subject because it has the definite article, and we translate it accordingly: “and the Word was God.”

It has been brought to my attention that I have not yet addressed the major point of the question of the poster. For this I apologize. As a disclaimer, I have no skills with Latin so, I am certainly open to correction on this score. However, I do know a little about the Douay-Rheims Bible. The Douay-Rheims Bible is devoted to the Latin text. If you will read the preface to the Douay-Rheims Bible it is quite clear that the translators had little regard for the original language text. They felt that the Greek text had been corrupted and the Latin text had not. It must be understood that the Latin text is nothing more than a translation of the Greek text. For one to use the Latin text (or any other translation) as a standard for creating a new translation is most irresponsible. What we wind up with is nothing more that a translation of a translation. In the 1582 publication of the Douay-Rheims translation, the clause is translated, "and God was the Word." While the sentiment may be correct, it is not an accurate translation of the Latin text. In the later publications of the Douay-Rheims, et Deus erat Verbum has been corrected to agree with both the Latin and the Greek - "And the Word was God."

  • 1
    @oldhermit could it be translated as: "...And the Word was a god"?
    – salah
    Commented Mar 24, 2020 at 19:59
  • 2
    @oldhermit you talked about greek grammar but not Latin grammar. We know that DRB is translation to Latin Vulgate.
    – salah
    Commented Mar 24, 2020 at 20:03
  • 2
    The original language of the New Testament is Greek, not Latin. The Latin text is itself merely a translation from the original language.
    – oldhermit
    Commented Mar 24, 2020 at 20:27
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    You say these are 'rules' but you have not substantiated these 'rules'. Could you supply documentation to show that these are not, just, your 'rules', please.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Mar 24, 2020 at 21:24
  • 2
    How can the word be with God and at the same time be that God?
    – user35499
    Commented Apr 20, 2020 at 12:32

It is a literal translation. The word order is the same as the Greek (which means the same): kai theos en ho logos ("and the Word was God"). In Latin and Greek, word order can be used to emphasize a noun; or in this case, denote its being a qualitative noun ('the Word was God [i.e. as to his nature]').

The word order in Greek and Latin, as well as the lack of article, convey to Greek and Latin speakers what the accent on "was" does in the English, "and the Word was God."

  • 2
    I think the literal English translation is: "... And a god was the Word" or "... And God was the Word"
    – salah
    Commented Mar 24, 2020 at 19:17
  • 1
    "And a god was the Word" isn't really English; if one wanted to translate what in Greek meant that the Word was a god, they would have to translate it, "and the Word was a god." However, the Word being "a god" in the sense of "in the beginning God,.. and with God," was not a Jewish or New Testament category. Jesus is not a renegade god apart from the Father. What it means for the Word to be theos cannot be that he is a god among many gods, since the type of God meant here is already established clearly to refer to having the quality of being theos - i.e. divinity, being God by nature. Commented Mar 24, 2020 at 19:40
  • 2
    The idea that grammar depends on theology is a fundamental misconception of the nature of language and human communication. Commented Mar 24, 2020 at 20:02
  • 2
    @NihilSineDeo I mean we should read the text then adopt an opinion, not vise versa.
    – salah
    Commented Mar 24, 2020 at 23:16
  • 1
    @salah My point is you cannot get "a god" from either the Greek or the Latin text. Even if the indefinite article is appropriate, it has no bearing on capitalization. This is the deceptive aspect of answers to this question: hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/1161/… Because there are really two issues, one is only grammatical ("a" or no "a"). The other is clearly only interpretation ("God" or "god"). Settling "a god" on the basis of grammar alone is impossible. Commented Mar 24, 2020 at 23:47

There are 2 versions of the Douay–Rheims Bible. The original (circa 1582) was translated solely from the Latin Vulgate, but was filled with odd prose phrasings, and "Latinisms" caused by a near word-for-word translation from a language with a different grammatical structure.

Later, a revised version - the Challoner Revision - was produced between 1749 and 1777. This aimed to render the text into English grammar, making it easier to read, and the translators cross-referenced against King James Bible (translated from the Greek) to help clear up ambiguous passages.

I suspect that the passage you are quoting is one of those which has been tidied up to better resemble the original Greek.

For example, compare Ephesians 3:6–12 in the Original DRB:

The Gentiles to be coheires and concorporat and comparticipant of his promise in Christ JESUS by the Gospel: whereof I am made a minister according to the gift of the grace of God, which is given me according to the operation of his power. To me the least of al the sainctes is given this grace, among the Gentils to evangelize the unsearcheable riches of Christ, and to illuminate al men what is the dispensation of the sacrament hidden from worldes in God, who created all things: that the manifold wisdom of God, may be notified to the Princes and Potestats in the celestials by the Church, according to the prefinition of worldes, which he made in Christ JESUS our Lord. In whom we have affiance and accesse in confidence, by the faith of him.

With the Challoner Revision:

That the Gentiles should be fellow heirs and of the same body: and copartners of his promise in Christ Jesus, by the gospel, of which I am made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God, which is given to me according to the operation of his power. To me, the least of all the saints, is given this grace, to preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ: and to enlighten all men, that they may see what is the dispensation of the mystery which hath been hidden from eternity in God who created all things: that the manifold wisdom of God may be made known to the principalities and powers in heavenly places through the church, according to the eternal purpose which he made in Christ Jesus our Lord: in whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him.

You may have come across amusing passages of text online, where a normal message has been translated from English into a second language, then from that into a third language, and then back into English, and the final message bears very little resemblance to the original text - this is exactly what the Challoner Revision was aiming to avoid:

Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.


Τέσσερα οκτώ χρόνια και πριν από επτά χρόνια, οι πατέρες μας έφεραν, σε αυτή την ήπειρο, ένα νέο έθνος, που ελευθερώθηκε και αφιερώθηκε στην πρόταση ότι όλοι οι άνθρωποι δημιουργούνται ίσοι.


Et septem annos quattuor et octo annorum, duxit patres nostri in hoc continente novam nationem genuerunt, et liberati sunt dicata est ad propositum quod omnes homines pares creantur.


Four and seven years, eight years, our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived and delivered by the dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

  • 1
    "and the translators cross-referenced against King James Bible (translated from the Greek) to help clear up ambiguous passages" Source? I have been acquainted with the Douay-Rheims probably too much (as many every day translation) and every translation choice seems to be a consistent and natural translation of the underlying Latin. Commented Mar 26, 2020 at 20:14
  • @SolaGratia I have added a link (where it is explained that the original DRB influenced the KJV, which in turn influenced the revised DRB), and some excerpts from both the Original and Revised DRB to illustrate my point Commented Mar 27, 2020 at 8:45
  • I disagree with the 'article' linked to I think Challoner's translation was an actual translation this time, of the Vulgate, whereas the original Doauy-Rheims was a unduly Latinized English translation to the point of ugliness - and that he was this time translating into KJV-style English anyway which was coincidentally the standard of English by that time. I also find it hard, although not impossible, that a bishop like Challoner would ever stoop (according to the Catholic worldview, that would be) to the level of taking notes from a Protestant translation emblematizing disobedience to the C. Commented Mar 27, 2020 at 21:52

Probably because the context of chapter 1 implies that The Word was The Christ and Christ is God and as there is just one Christ there is just one God: Christ, The Word, The King of Kings.


Origen of Alexandria, a teacher in Greek grammar of the third century, wrote about the use of the definite article: We next notice John's use of the article in these sentences. He does not write without care in this respect, nor is he unfamiliar with the niceties of the Greek tongue. In some cases he uses the article, and in some he omits it. He adds the article to the Logos, but to the name of God he adds it sometimes only. He uses the article, when the name of God refers to the uncreated cause of all things, and omits it when the Logos is named God [...] Now there are many who are sincerely concerned about religion, and who fall here into great perplexity. They are afraid that they may be proclaiming two Gods, and their fear drives them into doctrines which are false and wicked. Either they deny that the Son has a distinct nature of His own besides that of the Father, and make Him whom they call the Son to be God all but the name, or they deny the divinity of the Son, giving Him a separate existence of His own, and making His sphere of essence fall outside that of the Father, so that they are separable from each other. [...] The true God, then, is "The God."[8



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