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John 1:18 NIV No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.

John 1:18 NLT No one has ever seen God. But the unique One, who is himself God, is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us

John 1:18 YLT reads, God no one hath ever seen; the only begotten Son, who is on the bosom of the Father -- he did declare.

Why do other versions omit the words" is himself God"? Are the words "is himself God" originally in this verse?

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There is a textual matter in John 1:18 that I will not discuss here. However, if we accept the NA28/UBS5 text, then we have:

θεὸν οὐδεὶς ἑώρακεν πώποτε· μονογενὴς θεὸς ὁ ὢν εἰς τὸν κόλπον τοῦ πατρὸς ἐκεῖνος ἐξηγήσατο. = God no one has has ever-yet seen. [The] unique God, the one being in the bosom of the Father, that-one has declared (made known) [Him]. (My translation)

The matter at issue here is how to render μονογενὴς θεὸς ὁ ὢν = unique God the [one] being ..."

I could find no translation that is completely literal. But some are certainly allowable which give:

  • NLT: But the unique One, who is himself God ...
  • ESV: the only God, who is
  • ISV: The unique God, who is
  • NET: The only one, himself God, who is

Several of the versions elect to use the one of the alternate texts which have "Son" instead of God as per the NIV.

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    None of that "explanation" supports a translation of "who is himself God." That is clearly going beyond what the Greek text is saying.
    – Polyhat
    Oct 18 at 9:16
  • @Polyhat - I understand and respect your position and theological somersault. I beg to differ based in the text and message of Scripture.
    – Dottard
    Oct 18 at 10:42
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    I understand why you differ: You would like to see that the Bible supports your Trinitarian theology. But it isn't right to change the wording of the Bible in order to cause it to conform to one's own doctrinal beliefs, as the translators here have done. The Greek simply does not, and cannot logically be made to say, "who is himself God." The first change was to substitute the word "God" for the original word "Son," and the second change was to add the words "is himself" which do not belong there at all--all to support a doctrine that is otherwise lacking in Scripture.
    – Polyhat
    Oct 18 at 11:14
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    @Polyhat - I notice that a translation of the text is conspicuously absent from your answer. Instead of critiquing others, why not supply a translation of the NA28 text yourself? I did that in my answer.
    – Dottard
    Oct 18 at 19:51
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    @Polyhat your point about Trinitarian theology is misplaced -- both the Vulgate and Douay-Rheims render this verse with "only-begotten Son" and both translations are used predominately by Trinitarians. What would aid both you and Dottard would be discussing the textual variants and how we might infer which is original or not. You merely assert in yours that God is a late substitution.
    – eques
    Oct 18 at 20:08
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I tried to look for their explanation in the footnotes of those Bible versions, but it seems they did their best to conceal any explanation for their translation. My take is that this rendering of "himself God" is an interpretation of theos. We don't find ESV "the only God" problematic because it is an unambiguous simple translation of ⸂μονογενὴς θεὸς⸃. But when others translate it "himself God", it becomes confusing. It cries for a translation note. Since they are not interested in clarifying their rendering, we are left to ascertain with our best guesses.

BSB Interlinear:

No one οὐδεὶς has ever seen ἑώρακεν - πώποτε· God, Θεὸν but the one and only Son, μονογενὴς who is Himself God Θεὸς, and ὁ is ὢν at εἰς the τὸν - τοῦ Father’s Πατρὸς, side, κόλπον - ἐκεῖνος has made Him known. ἐξηγήσατο.

  • Variants : (only or unique God) μονογενὴς θεὸς WH, Treg, NA28 ] (only or unique Son) ὁ μονογενὴς υἱός RP. So, those versions using the poor quality manuscript tradition of Byzantine text would have "one and only Son".

Some textual variants background:

  • Terry Bruce's Student's guide to NT Textual variants:

    John 1:18: TEXT: "the only unique God, who is in the bosom"
    EVIDENCE: p66 p75 S B C* L 33 syr(p) cop(north)
    TRANSLATIONS: ASVn RSVn NASV NIV NEBn TEV

    RANK: B
    NOTES: "the only unique Son, who is in the bosom"

    EVIDENCE: A C3 K X {W(supp)} Delta Theta Pi Psi f1 f13 28 565 700 892 1010 1241 Byz Lect {most lat} most vg syr(c,h,pal) TRANSLATIONS: KJV ASV RSV NASVn NIVn NEB NOTES: "the only unique One, who is in the bosom"
    EVIDENCE: one vulgate manuscript
    TRANSLATIONS: NEBn

    OTHER: "the only unique Son, God, who is in the bosom"
    EVIDENCE: cop(south)?
    COMMENTS: The evidence in braces contains an abbreviation of "only unique" and precedes it with "except."Although it is possible that "Son" was replaced by "God" by an early Alexandrian copyist (the difference is only one of one letter in abbreviated form), it is more likely that "God" was here replaced by "Son" to make this verse read like John 3:16, 18; and I John 4:9. The omission of both "God" and "Son" by one manuscript would seem to be a mistake of the eye.

  • Metzger on the external evidence:

With the acquisition of 𝔓66 and 𝔓75, both of which read θεός, the external support of this reading has been notably strengthened. A majority of the Committee regarded the reading μονογενὴς υἱός, which undoubtedly is easier than μονογενὴς θεός, to be the result of scribal assimilation to Jn 3:16, 18; 1 Jn 4:9. The anarthrous use of θεός (cf. 1:1) appears to be more primitive. There is no reason why the article should have been deleted, and when υἱός supplanted θεός it would certainly have been added. The shortest reading, ὁ μονογενής, while attractive because of internal considerations, is too poorly attested for acceptance as the text.

Some modern commentators take μονογενής as a noun and punctuate so as to have three distinct designations of him who makes God known (μονογενής, θεός, ὁ ὢν εἰς τὸν κόλπον τοῦ πατρὸς …).

Metzger, B. M., United Bible Societies. (1994). A textual commentary on the Greek New Testament, second edition a companion volume to the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament (4th rev. ed.) (pp. 169–170). London; New York: United Bible Societies.

Given the explanation from Metzger, many translators render it as 3 distinct descriptions or nouns instead of two. Not "one and only God and closest to the father" but "(a)one and only, (b) God, and (c) closest to the father". This punctuation of the sentence may have forced them to add himself for clarification or a better readability. Good News Translation puts it The only Son, who is the same as God and is at the Father's side. These are totally justifiable supplemental words or clauses in translation which is common in every Bible version. However, they ought to mention it in the translation notes every time they add such clauses.

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    The problem with this answer is that it does not acknowledge that 1) the word "theos" in the Greek text is a known late 1800's variant, introduced by Westcott and Hort; and 2) it provides no MSS evidence of a variant that would support "is himself" at all. This translation is clearly not supported by any known manuscript, and is an interpolation.
    – Polyhat
    Oct 18 at 12:16
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    @Polyhat the mention of the WH and NA28 versions for the accurate text has been quoted with proper note that the later manuscript tradition of Syria was corrupted and bad. I explained that "himself" is a translation gloss. All bible translations have to add words to supply meaning. It is not a computer translation which would give one word for one greek word. Adding a phrase for translation is their job and it is nothing objectionable; except for the need for footnote explanation, which they fail to do, causing confusion.
    – Michael16
    Oct 18 at 12:23
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The Greek text for John 1:18 says:

θεὸν οὐδεὶς ἑώρακεν πώποτε ὁ μονογενὴς υἱός, ὁ ὢν εἰς τὸν κόλπον τοῦ πατρὸς ἐκεῖνος ἐξηγήσατο (TR)

Let's break that down, word-by-word, in order to help understand it.

Greek Word Transliteration Strong's # Grammatical Notes Meaning
θεὸν Theon G2316 N-AMS God
οὐδεὶς oudeis G3762 Adj-NMS no one
ἑώρακεν heōraken G3708 V-RIA-3S has seen
πώποτε pōpote G4455 Adv ever yet
ho G3588 Art-NMS the
μονογενὴς monogenēs G3439 Adj-NMS only begotten
υἱός huios G5207 N-NMS Son
ho G3588 Art-NMS the
ὢν ōn G1510 V-PPA-NMS being
εἰς eis G1519 Prep in
τὸν ton G3588 Art-AMS the
κόλπον kolpon G2859 N-AMS bosom
τοῦ tou G3588 Art-GMS of the
πατρὸς Patros G3962 N-GMS Father
ἐκεῖνος ekeinos G1565 DPro-NMS He
ἐξηγήσατο exēgēsato G1834 V-AIM-3S has made [Him] known

Translation from the Greek

As you look at each of the words in the table above, which are listed down in the same order they appear in the Greek, you will see that in places they appear to be switched around as compared to an English translation. That is because Greek words have grammatical forms, called declensions, which indicate the role of the word in the sentence. English is always SVO (subject-verb-object) in basic sentence structure and order; but Greek can put the object first, or place the words in a different order, because each word indicates whether or not it is the subject, the object, etc. Verbs and adjectives also indicate the same declensions, and can be tied to the noun or pronoun for which they are applied. Verbs, like in Latin languages, carry the pronoun/person of their subject as well.

It so happens that the first word of this verse actually is an object. "Theon" is the "accusative masculine singular" noun for God, and "accusative" means it is the object of the verb.

The adjective which follows is in "nominative masculine singular" form, with "nominative" applying to the subject. Greek does not need to repeat subjects, or even supply their place with a pronoun, if the subject can already be inferred from a prior mention, etc. In this case, this clause of the verse has no subject, but the verb, together with this adjective, imply the subject as "no one."

When we get to the next noun, notice the sequence of definite article, adjective, and noun, ALL three of which indicate "NMS" (nominative masculine singular). This indicates plainly that these three are all part of the nominative clause--they are together: "the only begotten Son."

This is then followed by another definite article of the same form, but which must be assumed to apply to a new noun. However, that noun is not present. This is because Greek grammar does not require the noun to be repeated if the same one as was just addressed is still in focus. We can understand, therefore, that it is the Son still being referenced. In English, this might be translated as an appositive, or as a dependent clause based on the earlier noun with a word like "who" or "which" so as not to repeat the word "Son" when it has not been explicitly repeated in the Greek.

The word "being" is the verb here. It is "present participle active - nominative masculine singular." Remember, verbs carry their subject pronouns with them, so we know that the subject must be masculine (grammatical gender) and singular--and the word "Son" certainly fits this.

Next comes the object, indicated by the "accusative" words "the" and "bosom."

The following definite article is of a different declension: it is genitive. This means one of several things, but usually it implies possession or belonging and is translated with "of" in English, in addition to the word with which it is associated--in this case the article (the), which is why the translation is rendered as "of the." The genitive noun to which the article corresponds also indicates its grammatical use in the sentence, completing the expression "of the Father."

Finally we have a demonstrative pronoun in nominative masculine singular form, where, again, the "nominative" indicates the word is a subject.

The final verb is in a special Greek form that has no English equivalent. It is the aorist indicative middle voice, third-person singular. While it could apply to either gender, we are already given the masculine gender explicitly in the prior word, so we know that it applies to a he/him. This Greek verb can be translated to a reflexive verb in English (which is why the "him" appears in brackets), even though it's technically not the same thing in Greek. There is no direct translation possible when one language lacks the same grammatical form.

If I were to summarize this translation, and render it in my own words, I would read it as:

No one has yet seen God. The only begotten Son, being in the bosom of the Father, he has revealed Him.

As you can see, the Greek grammar fairly tightly controls how it can be read or interpreted. There is much more degree of detail to its grammar than we would have in English. Even then, ambiguities can sometimes exist, but in this particular passage, it would be difficult to point to any ambiguity of significance.

As is readily apparent, the expression "who is himself God" is NOT in the Greek text here. There is one variant reading of this text, known to be a late manuscript change, in which the word "Son" is changed to "God" (Theos). But even this textual variant cannot account for this added phrase in the NIV or the other versions referenced. For simplicity, I will address only the NIV in what follows.

Why the NIV Adds "who is himself God"

While I cannot speak authoritatively for the translators of the NIV, it is worthy of note that in order to copyright a derivative work based on some prior text, a certain percentage of the content must be changed. That percentage is not quantified, mathematically (for example, the 30% rule is a myth), but it is qualified in terms of being significant or substantial changes or additions.

The NIV was most certainly among the most highly copyright-protected Bibles when it first came out. The publishers have relaxed their stance somewhat since then (current rules for licensing), but, for example, any website wishing to include the NIV originally was required to pay $10,000USD up front, with additional royalties based on visitor counts afterwards. In order to obtain this copyright, substantial changes were required. (I heard they had to change 15% at minimum, but there seems to be no actual numerical figure encoded in the law--perhaps this was just their own goal in order to substantiate their claim to copyright.)

Actual legal instruction for copyrighting a derivative work can be found HERE.

Evolving NIV

By the way, the current NIV has "who is himself God" in this text. The NIV of 10+ years ago did not have this addition. The NIV copyright rules enforce immediate and unannounced upgrade of their text in all official websites once they make a change (no prior copies are allowed to remain). I happen to have a copy of the NIV text from before this change was made. If you have a print edition from a decade ago, you may be able to verify this.

From a hardcopy of the NIV of a few years back:

No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father's side, has made him known. (John 1:18, NIV)

The front of the Bible has these lines:

Copyright © 1986, 1992, 1996 by The Zondervan Corporation
Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society

Question

If the modern Bibles are evolving, does the truth itself change over time?

Conclusion

The NIV and NLT have no textual support for their "who is himself God" addition. The NIV's own track record stands at odds with its current reading.

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  • You comments do not stand much scrutiny because a few others also have "who is himself God" such as NLT, BSB.
    – Dottard
    Oct 18 at 8:58
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    @Dottard I have checked multiple copies of the Greek text and found no basis for it. There are thousands of manuscript portions out there--do you know of one that has this variant? Even the online NIV's footnote makes no indication for what the source is for this, it only comments that "Some manuscripts but the only Son, who".
    – Polyhat
    Oct 18 at 9:01
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    Your answer does not address the Q. The point on copyright issues under the actual relevant heading of the Q, makes no sense at all. You need to edit and give a real substantive answer.
    – Michael16
    Oct 18 at 10:44
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    @Michael16 The copyright issues are part of the justification for changes made in certain Bible versions--they have to change a certain amount in order to obtain a new copyright. There is no justification in the underlying Greek text for this verse for the particular words highlighted in the Question--so this is a portion of the potential "justification." If you have inside information for how the NIV translators justified this added/altered phraseology, please submit your own answer--I would like to see it. (Is it, perhaps, to create some support for a Trinitarian theology?)
    – Polyhat
    Oct 18 at 11:08
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    @Michael16 The links in my answer will lead you to the official copyright guidelines. You may find them informative.
    – Polyhat
    Oct 18 at 12:08

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