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The James Moffatt translation renders John 1:1 as:

THE Logos existed in the very beginning, the Logos was with God, the Logos was divine.

Acknowledging that the original autographs of Scripture are lost to us, is there warrant within the extant manuscripts to render this as "the Logos was divine" rather than "was God"?

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  • If you're asking about autographs does that mean this is a textual criticism question asking if there is any evidence of an alternate Greek text to the usual NA/UBS text? – curiousdannii Mar 2 at 0:31
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    @curiousdannii Representative of the original only insofar as the extant manuscript evidence can take us. All translations being dependent upon the manuscripts we have to build a case for what was originally written. If there are alternative greek manuscripts I suppose they may be included but weighed appropriately by their age and authenticity. – Mike Borden Mar 2 at 0:58
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According Daniel B Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (GGBB), page 269 -

The most likely candidate for Θεός [in John 1:1c] is qualitative. This is true both grammatically (for the largest proportion of pre-verbal anarthrous predicate nominative nominative fall into this category) and theologically (both the theology of the Fourth Gospel and the NT as a whole) ...

That is, Wallace believes (quite correctly) that in John 1:1c, "the Word was God" is a category statement (such as saying, "my car is a Ford", or, "this animal is a monkey", etc). Wallace continues in the next paragraph -

Such an option does not impugn the deity of Christ. Rather, it stresses that, although the person of Christ is not the person of the Father, their essence is identical.

Interestingly, in David Bentley Hart's translation of the NT, he attempts to convey the same idea by translating John 1:1c as, "the Logos was god" (small "g").

I believe that the brilliant scholar, Moffatt (with whom I often disagree) attempts to convey the same idea by translating, "the Logos was divine".

Therefore, I agree (in this instance) with Moffatt. Perhaps, if one insists upon translating nouns with nouns (some do), then one might "improve" Moffatt's translation by suggesting, "The Word was divinity", but this is awkward.

What John did NOT write

John did write this - καὶ Θεὸς ἦν ὁ Λόγος (literally, the Word was God.)

It is well known that John chose his words very carefully under inspiration. Here is what John did NOT write:

  1. καὶ ὁ Θεὸς ἦν ὁ Λόγος. This makes both nouns articular and thus become a convertible proposition as: "The God was the Word" thus making the Father and the Word the same person.
  2. Θεὸς ἦν Λόγος = God was Word which is not grammatically correct unless one stretches the translation to "a god was a word".
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  • So it would not follow then that "Logos was divine" here carries the same connotation as saying that angels are "divine", for example as Biblical Universalists claim? In other words, "the Logos is God" in a similar way to "the Father is God" is what Moffatt is driving at? – Mike Borden Mar 2 at 1:10
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    @MikeBorden - correct on both fronts. – Dottard Mar 2 at 1:48
  • Thanks for the added detail - the "What John did NOT write" section is really well-said. – Hold To The Rod Mar 2 at 2:29
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Let's take a look at how it's rendered in the Greek (John 1:1 Greek New Testament):

"᾿Εν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ Λόγος, καὶ ὁ Λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν Θεόν, καὶ Θεὸς ἦν ὁ Λόγος."

How was the phrase "God was the Word" rendered in Greek? "Θεὸς ἦν ὁ Λόγος" (Theos ēn ho Logos). Notice that the word Theos is without the article ho.

What is the difference between Theos and ho Theos? (Hermeneia – A Critical and Historical Commentary of the Bible, by Ernst Haenchen, p. 109)

"In order to avoid misunderstanding, it may be asserted here that Theos and ho Theos ('god, divine' and 'the God') were not the same thing in this period. Philo has therefore written: 'The Logos means only Theos (‘divine’) and not ho Theos (‘God’) since the logos is not God in the strict sense.” Philo was not thinking of giving up Jewish monotheism. In a similar fashion, Origen, too, interprets: 'The Evangelist does not say that the logos is ‘God,’ but only that the logos is ‘divine.’' In fact, for the author of the hymn, as for the Evangelist, only the Father was 'God' (ho Theos; cf. 17:3); 'the Son' was subordinate to him (cf. 14:28)."

What does Theos without the article ho mean in this instance? "divine". Hence, the rendering "the Logos was divine" is correct.

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  • Wouldn't it be unnecessary to say "the word was with God and (the) God was the word"? The definite article isn't needed when the referent is obvious. To be super specific it might have been "the word was with (the) God and (that) God was the word.". Not necessary. – Mike Borden Mar 9 at 0:57
  • Theos is a common noun and hence requires the article, the same way that Logos is paired with the article in each instance. Also take note that the Word is with God, and if the Word is God in nature and is with another God, that would indicate that there are two Gods, hence the Word is not literally God in nature, but rather divine. – carsonfel Mar 9 at 6:46
  • So then, it should read "the word was with the God"? It being a common noun? Also in John 1:2, 1:6, 1:12, 1:18, and so many more? I say in these instances God is being used more as a proper noun, explaining why the definite article is not used. – Mike Borden Mar 9 at 12:25
  • @MikeBorden τον in John 1:2 is the accusative form of the article. The other cases are genitive nouns "θεου" rather than "θεος". – carsonfel Mar 9 at 12:36
  • @MikeBorden And yes, "the word was with the God" is the literal translation. – carsonfel Mar 9 at 12:47
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The word in question here is the Greek word θεός (Theos), which is a noun. If "divine" is being used as a noun that is synonymous with "God", I don't see any issue here. On the other hand, if "divine" is being used as an adjective, that would be an incorrect rendering of the Greek. Theos is not an adjective describing god-like qualities, but a noun referring to God.

Theos is a very standard term for referring to God. Theos occurs 311 times in the New Testament and always refers to God or false gods. (see here). It also occurs more than 1,000 times in various forms.

If Theos doesn't mean God there are an awful lot of passages we would need to re-translate, including significant statements like:

I am the God of Abraham (Matthew 22:32)

Who can forgive sins but God alone? (Luke 5:21)

Should Theos be translated as "divine" in those passages? My two cents are that the translation "divine" artificially complicates the passage by hinting at an adjectival meaning not found in the Greek.

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  • That is all very well but the matter at hand here is Logos is articular and theos is not - hence the qualitative rendering of Maffatt. Note the Greek construction - καὶ Θεὸς ἦν ὁ Λόγος. – Dottard Mar 2 at 1:50
  • Oh, I don't necessarily disagree with a qualitative interpretation. I thought "my car is a Ford" or "this animal is a monkey" were good illustrations. I just think in English the use of "divine" can lend itself to misunderstanding because divine is both a noun and an adjective. – Hold To The Rod Mar 2 at 2:07
  • if you feel any more comfortable, then "The Word was Divinity" might help. I will update my answer to add more information. – Dottard Mar 2 at 2:16
  • Good clarification; I agree "Divinity" is awkward. Ah, the joys of translation! – Hold To The Rod Mar 2 at 3:12
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Translations have to pay attention to grammar, but they also have to pay attention to basic logic and cultural cues. Saying "the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God" makes no sense. It fails a basic logic test - something cannot be with something and also be that something on a normal understanding of these sorts of words. So something's gotta give. The question is what.

Moffatt's translation has the advantage of making sense. Something can be both with God and divine. The question "is it representative of the original" is vague. The question I have is, what was the intent with the original sentence? What was John trying to say? How would it typically be received? Was he trying to make a logically (seemingly) paradoxical sentence? Some trinitarians would say he was! Or was he trying to express something else?

Related to this are background beliefs about John's conception of the logos, John's conception of God, and John's conception of Jesus. It is basically impossible to translate this sentence without working beliefs about those respective concepts re John, IMHO.

If you think that logos here = Jesus = person of trinity, you might not have a problem with the typical translation, because 'God' is basically a category containing 3 persons - so the sentence makes sense (in a mysterian kind of way). It could be paraphrased as "God the Son was with God the Father, and God the Son was of the category 'God'".

Yet, is this how ancient Greek culture would have understood the term 'logos'? No. It was, indeed, something related to words - discourse, reason, God's unfolding principle - things like that. If that's your view, how do you translate the last part of John 1:1?

Consider REV commentary on John 1:1

"“the word.” “Word” is translated from the Greek word logos (#3056 λόγος ). It refers to God’s reason as played out in His plan and purpose. It is important that Christians have a basic understanding of logos, which is translated as “Word” in most versions of John 1:1. Most Trinitarians believe that logos refers directly to Jesus Christ, so in most Bibles logos is capitalized as “Word” (some versions even put “Jesus Christ” instead of “Word” in John 1:1). However, a study of the Greek word logos shows that it occurs more than 300 times in the New Testament, and in both the NIV and the KJV it is capitalized only 7 times (and even those versions disagree on exactly when to capitalize it). When a word that occurs more than 300 times is capitalized fewer than 10 times, it is obvious that when to capitalize and when not to capitalize is a translators’ decision based on their particular understanding of Scripture. Below are five points to consider. [...]"

I recommend the rest of the commentary at the link above.

As with many things in scripture, where you stand on a 'representative' translation of this line is going to depend on where you sit in terms of background beliefs about the word 'logos', the writer John's beliefs about that word, and so on. Because the REV translators understand 'logos' here as meaning roughly 'plan', they translate John 1:1 as

In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and what God was the word was. (ibid.)

And what if we paraphrased it to more accurately convey the intended meaning?

Once we understand the logos in John 1:1 to be God’s purpose and plan, we can see that if John 1:1 was written in today’s English, we would likely say something like, “In the beginning was the plan, and God had that plan, and what God was the plan was.”

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  • I think it attempts to get across that there is no ontological difference between what God plans/thinks and who God is (as in, He is as good as His word). He is Spirit of infinite integrity and what He thinks IS God so when His thoughts are made flesh then so is He. The thinker and the thought are separate and yet identical. – Mike Borden Mar 9 at 0:49
  • ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν literally the the Word was turned toward God. The idea that the Word was with God as you interpret would be expressed differently, For example ἡνίκα ἡτοίμαζεν τὸν οὐρανόν συμπαρήμην αὐτῷ. It is συμπάρειμι which conveys the type of "with" you interpret. In addition, there are several other words to say "with" which would have conveyed "with" closer to the way you interpret. The fact the writer used πρὸς contradicts your assertion that it makes no sense. Just the opposite. it is the second part καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος which establishes unity. – Revelation Lad Mar 10 at 17:27
  • @RevelationLad I'm just going with the standard translation. For yours, similar deal. Something cannot be 'turned toward' something else and be that something else. It makes no sense. – One God the Father Mar 10 at 18:17
  • Well, that is what the Greek states, and the Son can be turned toward the Father. – Revelation Lad Mar 10 at 18:21
  • @RevelationLad Only if you are imposing a trinitarian (or what have you) lens! Which I discuss in the 4th paragraph above. The text does not say 'turned towards the Father'. That would of course make it much less problematic and be much more strongly a statement supporting trinitarianism. A trinitarian 'makes sense' of the typical sort of translation by implicitly paraphrasing the sentence. – One God the Father Mar 10 at 18:24
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It is not representative of the original:

First, "divine" is an adjective, θεὸς is a noun. If the original writer had intended to make such a statement, they could have used the adjective, θεῖος, which means "divine." For example:

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. (2 Peter 1:3-4 ESV)

Second, if the writer intended to represent the Word as having only a divine nature, that was done by the first two statements:

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

There is no need to "muddy the waters" by adding καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος.

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