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?


7 Answers 7


JOHN 1:18 – Different Translations Wm Barclay’s Study Bible 1975 edition – No one has ever seen God. It is the unique one, he who is God, he who is in the bosom of the Father, who has told us all about God. (1)

NIV 1987 edition – No-one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known. (2)

NIV Gideon’s edition – No-one has ever seen God, but the Only Begotten Son, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known. (3)

NIV 2008 edition – 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. (4)

GNB 1976 edition – No one has ever seen God. The only Son, who is the same as God and is at the Father’s side, he has made him known. (5)

NLT 2008 edition – 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. (6)

NWT 1984 edition – No man has seen God at any time; the only-begotten god who is in the bosom [position] with the Father is the one that has explained him. [Square brackets denote a word added to the text by the publisher.] (7)

Authorized (KJV) all editions – No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared [him]. (8)

Companion Bible 1885 edition – No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, hath declared [Him]. (9)

Young’s Literal Translation 1898 edition – God no one hath ever seen; the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father – he did declare. (10)

What are the Differences? The first sentence has no differences. But then there is a whole range of different ways of describing one who is, we know, Jesus Christ, with regard to His relationship with God the Father. Though some translations state it is a position that is being described, not His relationship with God. (Nos. 2, 3, 5, 7 speak of being at the Father’s side, which is a position. Most modern translations do that, but Nos. 1, 4, 6 do show relationship (‘in the bosom’ or ‘heart’, of the Father).

Most modern translations also speak of Him being unique / one and only / and God. (Nos. 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7). Older translations speak of Christ’s relationship, and that He is the only-begotten Son of God.

Why are there Differences? The differences arise from which of two ‘pedigrees’ of Greek manuscripts are being used for the translation. Modern translations go by what is called “The Critical Text” that was collated and preferred from the late 1800s onwards. All older translations go by “The Received Text” that was the only collection the Reformers and later Protestants had.

Is there a Problem? Most people cannot see any problem. Yet, when a few questions are asked, this becomes apparent. How can God be in the bosom of God the Father (1) ? How can the one and only God be at God the Father’s side (2) ? Is it true that God only has one son, who is a singularity (4) ? If the son is “the same as God” does that suggest the Father became the son, as some groups teach (5) ? If ‘the unique One is himself God’, does that imply that the Father might not be unique and thus not the same God (6) ? Is there a Big God and a little god (7) ?

Yet with Nos. 8, 9 & 10 there is no ambiguity. The text states a clear distinction between Father and Son, whilst the integrity of their unique relationship in oneness of Being is maintained. The role of the Son was to become the One who declared the Father so that (as He said to the disciples who asked to see the Father) “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father… I am in the Father, and the Father is in me” John 14:9-10. Relationship is a feature of begetting; position is a feature of office.

Is Anything Being Undermined? Is the relationship between the Father and Son being undermined? And is there a confusion of gods taking place in modern translations? Further, if there are two pedigrees of texts, one that says ‘Son’ and another that says ‘God’, they both cannot be right because the Greek for Son is ‘uios’ and the Greek for God is ‘theos’. Does the text say that Jesus is the Son, or does it say that Jesus is the God? We know it says that the Word [Jesus] is God in John 1:1 but if the Holy Spirit inspired John to say in verse 18 that Jesus is ‘the only-begotten Son’ and NOT ‘the one and only God’, there will be a critically important reason for that, namely, to stress the relationship of persons. The raft of questions that can be raised against modern translations that stress position makes this clear.

It is significant that both pedigrees of texts are agreed in saying the Son is the ‘mongenes’, the ‘only-begotten’, while modern translation only deal with the first half of that Greek word, ‘mono’, which means ‘one, single’. But they ignore the suffix, ‘genes’! Why? Genesis has to do with origins and the Christian creeds are adamant that the Son was begotten, not created, so that there is no originating point in time when the Son came into existence. He is the eternal Son, but modern translations focus on ‘one, single’, the singularity – only – of the Son, that He is ‘single, of its kind, only, unique’ instead of the eternal relationship between the Father and the Son in the begetting.

In Hebrews 11:17 the literal Greek reads “and the monogene he [Abraham] did offer up” (i.e. Isaac) yet Abraham had begotten a prior child, Ishmael. The text does not read ‘his monogene’ but ‘the monogene’. ‘The’ monogene in Greek scripture specifically refers to the generation of a person. The article in Greek is a matter of identification, and as Isaac prefigured Christ, then, in John’s Gospel THE monogene appears and receives the promises. In John 1:18 it is the perceived relationship of God to the other person concerned that is the key point. But by stressing the singularity of the Son, in modern translations, and speaking of His position at the Father’s side instead of His intimate relationship IN the Father’s bosom, the danger arises of losing sight of the eternal begetting in the Trinity. Monogenes expresses personal relationship, not a solitude.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, reveals God as He truly is: Father and Son in perfect unity, in an eternal begetting, in one Holy Spirit. Thus – and only thus – is God, One. God is Spirit, and only by eternal generation, in one spirit, can God have a Son. That is how the three relate in the One Being of God, as they subsist in the One Being of God. That is why, whenever the Bible uses ‘monogenes’ to speak of the Son, it must be translated ‘only-begotten’ and never ‘one and only’ or ‘single of its kind, unique’, for that is to detract from the eternal relationship between the Father and the Son. God is not begotten. The Son is, and uniquely so because of this eternal relationship.

CONCLUSION - Every time the Greek text has ‘monogenes’ with regard to Christ, we should read it as ‘only-begotten’ instead of the truncated ‘only’, or ‘single’ or ‘one’, as if Christ didn’t really have such an incredibly intimate relationship with the Father, as the Greek term uniquely conveys. This means that there is no justification for adding "is himself God" in any translation.

  • +1 I agree with every word of your conclusion, and the questions you ask are very important ones to consider. However, the notion of "eternal begetting" is deeply flawed and has no Biblical support. The Bible speaks of a "day" in which Jesus was begotten, and never once mentions a separate moment in time in which he was again begotten. All the same, thank you for a worthwhile addition to this discussion.
    – Biblasia
    Commented Jun 24, 2023 at 9:29

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)

    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

    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.

  • 2
    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
    Commented Oct 18, 2021 at 12:16
  • 1
    @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
    Commented Oct 18, 2021 at 12:23

I think I can help provide some insight here, but this will require us to make some presuppositions up front. We are going to presuppose the textual certainty of NA27/28:

Θεὸν οὐδεὶς ἑώρακεν πώποτε μονογενὴς θεὸς ὁ ὢν εἰς τὸν κόλπον τοῦ πατρὸς ἐκεῖνος ἐξηγήσατο

It is not our purpose here to discuss μονογενὴς. For the purposes of this post, we can assume that μονογενὴς can mean any of the following: “only-begotten,” “unique,” “one and only,” “only One,” or “only Son.”

The question that needs to be asked is simple: Does μονογενὴς in Jn. 1:18 function as a noun or an adjective? The answer to this question will, of course, shed light on the OP's question, “What is the justification for adding the words ‘is himself God’ in John 1:18 of the New International Version and New Living Translation bibles?”

Just four verses earlier in Jn. 1:14, μονογενὴς functions as a substantive (“only One,” “One and Only”), in that it does not modify the term υἱός (“Son”). However, in other passages such as Jn 3:16, 3:18; 1 Jn. 4:9, it functions as an adjective modifying the noun (υἱός, “Son”).

So on the surface it may seem that Jn. 1:18 resembles the adjectival usage (Jn. 3:16, 3:18; 1 Jn. 4.9), with the word θεὸς (“God”) taking the place of υἱός (“Son”). However, in these three clear adjectival uses of μονογενὴς (Jn 3:16, 3:18; 1 Jn. 4:9), John pairs μονογενὴς with the article (ὁ μονογενὴς). However, in the substantival use in Jn. 1:14, he does not (nor does he do so in Jn. 1:18).

It is due to the lack of the article that most modern translations such as the NIV, Lexham, NASB have taken μονογενὴς θεὸς to function as two substantives in apposition, i.e., “the only One, God,” “the only One, who is God,” “the only-begotten, who being God” “the only-begotten, himself God,” “the only-begotten, who is himself God,” etc. The words, “who being” are supplied (though they are not needed) to help place emphasis on apposition. With (“the only One, who being God”) or without (“the only One, God”) the words, “who being,” the same meaning is intended.

Take for instance, these couple examples of apposition,

“Abraham, the believer” (Gal. 3:9)

“did not spare the ancient world, but preserved an eighth, Noah, a preacher of righteousness” (2 Pt. 2:5)

Had the apostle wished to use μονογενὴς unambiguously as an adjective, he could have written ὁ θεὸς ὁ μονογενὴς. Or he could have even made the adjectival force far more likely by writing ὁ μονογενὴς θεὸς.

In his written work, Contra Celsum Book II.71, Origen cites Jn. 1:18,

μονογενής γε ὢν θεός ὁ ὢν εἰς τὸν κόλπον τοῦ πατρός ἐκεῖνος ἐξηγήσατο [1]

However, notice here that Origen utilizes a gloss which helps identify nouns in apposition (ὢν = being, who is, who being). He literally states here (my translation),

“...μονογενὴς, who being (ὢν) God; the One who is in the bosom of the Father; that One has made Him known.”

Further worth noting is that the Coptic scribes who brought us the Sahidic New Testament understood Jn. 1:18 in a similar way. In Jn. 1:18, the Copts took μονογενὴς to function as a substantive (which they translate in Jn. 1:18 as, “the only Son”), just as they previously did in 1:14, a passage where the term υἱός (“Son”) is nowhere present, and where there is no possibility of textual variance, or even a conflated text. Thus, Coptic scribes render and understand Jn. 1:18 in a similar way as the NIV, and the NRSV: “God, the only Son” — as two substantives in apposition. This may also be the way the Diatessaron (Arabic version) renders it (though there may be some ambiguity), so this view does have some historic precedence rooted in Origen and the Sahidic NT.

The Sahidic not only understands μονογενὴς θεὸς as two substantives in apposition, but also uses a gloss when translating μονογενὴς — a gloss that has no reference to begettal.

There is one other instance in ancient literature that I have been able to confirm (thanks to textual critic, James Snapp Jr.) that is on par (or is in agreement) with the Sahidic's rendering of Jn. 1:18. In J.P. Migne's Patrologia Graecae (1857 ed.), it contains a Greek copy of Titus of Bostra’s (d. 378) Against the Manichaeans. In this letter, it uses a Greek gloss, which makes the apposition all the more forceful and leaves no room for wiggle, ὁ μονογενὴς υἱὸς θεὸς (“the only Son, God”).[2]

I hope that helps shed some light on your question!

[1] Henry Chadwick, Contra Celsum; Paul Koetschau, Origenes Werke; M. Marcovich, Origenes Contra Celsum libri VIII

[2] J.P. Migne, Patrologia Graecae, Volume 18, pg. 1240, line 12


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.

  • 5
    None of that "explanation" supports a translation of "who is himself God." That is clearly going beyond what the Greek text is saying.
    – Polyhat
    Commented Oct 18, 2021 at 9:16
  • 7
    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
    Commented Oct 18, 2021 at 11:14
  • 1
    @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
    Commented Oct 18, 2021 at 19:51
  • 1
    Thank you for your feedback and invitation. I took you up on that...please see the translation notes as added to my answer.
    – Polyhat
    Commented Oct 18, 2021 at 20:05
  • 2
    @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
    Commented Oct 18, 2021 at 20:08

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


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


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.

  • 1
    @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
    Commented Oct 18, 2021 at 9:01
  • 2
    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
    Commented Oct 18, 2021 at 10:44
  • 1
    @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
    Commented Oct 18, 2021 at 11:08
  • 2
    @Michael16 The links in my answer will lead you to the official copyright guidelines. You may find them informative.
    – Polyhat
    Commented Oct 18, 2021 at 12:08
  • 2
    @Polyhat well reasoned 'A' with proof / evidence to back it up - Bible has a history of manipulation, amended to suite a particular doctrine. Commented Jun 21, 2023 at 9:12

Really good question, Alex.

I looked through myself, and even though I preached on this text a Christmas or two ago, I missed the update in the NIV. This gave me the opportunity to dig in further.

As Michael16 notes, the translation notes in some of these English versions are sparse. I'm not going to play "pile on", since there are some places I've wanted bibles to add more notes. And other times I thought they went 'over-kill'. There are, however, two versions that add a few more details:

  • The ESV adds this note:

Or the only One, who is God; some manuscripts the only Son

<ESV Notes. 1st, Accordance electronic ed. (Wheaton: Crossway Bibles, 2011), paragraph 61205.>

  • The NET (which usually usually provides an overabundance of details, especially in TC issues) gives us even more details:

The textual problem μονογενὴς θεός (monogenēs theos, “the only God”) versus ὁ μονογενὴς υἱός (ho monogenēs huios, “the only son”) is a notoriously difficult one. Only one letter would have differentiated the readings in the MSS, since both words would have been contracted as nomina sacra: thus ⲑⲥ or ⲩⲥ. Externally, there are several variants, but they can be grouped essentially by whether they read θεός or υἱός. The majority of MSS, especially the later ones (A C3 Θ Ψ ƒ1,13 𝔐 lat), read ὁ μονογενὴς υἱός. 𝔓75 ℵ1 33 have ὁ μονογενὴς θεός, while the anarthrous μονογενὴς θεός is found in 𝔓66 ℵ✱ B C✱ L. The articular θεός is almost certainly a scribal emendation to the anarthrous θεός, for θεός without the article is a much harder reading. The external evidence thus strongly supports μονογενὴς θεός. Internally, although υἱός fits the immediate context more readily, θεός is much more difficult. As well, θεός also explains the origin of the other reading (υἱός), because it is difficult to see why a scribe who found υἱός in the text he was copying would alter it to θεός. Scribes would naturally change the wording to υἱός however, since μονογενὴς υἱός is a uniquely Johannine christological title (cf. John 3:16, 18; 1 John 4:9). But θεός as the older and more difficult reading is preferred. As for translation, it makes the most sense to see the word θεός as in apposition to μονογενής, and the participle ὁ ὤν (ho ōn) as in apposition to θεός, giving in effect three descriptions of Jesus rather than only two. (B. D. Ehrman, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, 81, suggests that it is nearly impossible and completely unattested in the NT for an adjective followed immediately by a noun that agrees in gender, number, and case, to be a substantival adjective: “when is an adjective ever used substantivally when it immediately precedes a noun of the same inflection?” This, however, is an overstatement. First, as Ehrman admits, μονογενής in John 1:14 is substantival. And since it is an established usage for the adjective in this context, one might well expect that the author would continue to use the adjective substantivally four verses later. Indeed, μονογενής is already moving toward a crystallized substantival adjective in the NT [cf. Luke 9:38; Heb 11:17]; in patristic Greek, the process continued [cf. PGL 881 s.v. 7]. Second, there are several instances in the NT in which a substantival adjective is followed by a noun with which it has complete concord: cf., e.g., Rom 1:30; Gal 3:9; 1 Tim 1:9; 2 Pet 2:5.) The modern translations which best express this are the NEB (margin) and TEV. Several things should be noted: μονογενής alone, without υἱός, can mean “only son,” “unique son,” “unique one,” etc. (see 1:14). Furthermore, θεός is anarthrous. As such it carries qualitative force much like it does in 1:1c, where θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος (theos ēn ho logos) means “the Word was fully God” or “the Word was fully of the essence of deity.” Finally, ὁ ὤν occurs in Rev 1:4, 8; 4:8; 11:17; and 16:5, but even more significantly in the LXX of Exod 3:14. Putting all of this together leads to the translation given in the text.

These notes from the NET (which, if I were a betting man would be Daniel Wallace's contribution) help a bunch.

First, they let us know where the phrase “who is himself God” comes from. If you adopt ⲑ︦ⲥ︦ (God) as the variant then (as others have noted above) ⲑ︦ⲥ︦ becomes the first word in the thought unit as an appositional/explanatory clause: "God who is in the lap of the Father."

But if that is the reading you go with, in the English, you still need to clarify that this "God" is a different person than the first "God" mentioned (the Father). So they add "himself" to make explicit in English what was implicit in the Greek.

If one goes with the other variant, ⲩ︦ⲥ︦ (son), then the verse is a whole lot more easy to bring into English. And, Before we leave the issue, there is weight to include the ⲩ︦ⲥ︦ (son) variant. After all, as the NET (probably Wallace) reminds us, in the text, it would be easy to miscopy ⲑ︦ⲥ︦ as ⲩ︦ⲥ︦ (or vice versa).

And while the UBS/NA28 texts include ⲑ︦ⲥ︦ (God) in their printed text and relegate ⲩ︦ⲥ︦ (son) to the footnote, The newer Tyndale House GNT includes this as their reading:

“ὁ μονογενὴς υἱὸς ὁ ὢν εἰς τὸν κόλπον τοῦ πατρός” (Ἰωάννην 1·18 THGNT-T)

In the end, like so many variants (especially) in John's corpus, it's difficult ascertain the precise wording. And when you decide on a base text, the translation and exegetical issues surface, which make it even more difficult. All of the versions I consulted did an ample job of taking these issues into consideration (CSB,NIV,NET,NLT).

So there you have it: "is himself God" is what you have to do in the English when you go with the ⲑ︦ⲥ︦ (God) reading to distinguish one "God" (Father) from the other person who is also "God" (i.e. the Son).

Finally, in the areas this answer overlaps with the previous ones, you have my apologies. But I thought it'd be good to approach it with a slightly different perspective.


-θεὸν οὐδεὶς ἑώρακεν πώποτε μονογενὴς θεὸς ὁ ὢν εἰς τὸν κόλπον τοῦ πατρὸς ἐκεῖνος ἐξηγήσατο [mGNT]

-θεὸν οὐδεὶς ἑώρακεν πώποτε ὁ μονογενὴς υἱός ὁ ὢν εἰς τὸν κόλπον τοῦ πατρὸς ἐκεῖνος ἐξηγήσατο [TR]

In addition to the questions from the variant texts, there is no one single English translation which expresses what the Greek composition conveys. First, ἐξηγήσατο can mean to declare or to be a leader. Second, ὁ ὢν can mean who is or it can mean the name God Himself gave to Moses:

And God said to Moses, "I am The One Who Is." And he said, "Thus are you to say to the sons of Israel, 'The One Who Is has sent me to you.'" (LXX-Exodus 3:14 NETS)
καὶ εἶπεν ὁ θεὸς πρὸς Μωυσῆν ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ὤν καὶ εἶπεν οὕτως ἐρεῖς τοῖς υἱοῖς Ισραηλ ὁ ὢν ἀπέσταλκέν με πρὸς ὑμᾶς

Since any English translation is incapable of conveying what is present in the original, every translation which presents a single meaning is going to be lacking to some extent. There are different ways to handle this, one is to add that which is implied: is Himself God. The NIV Study Bible explains:

1:18 God the One and Only. An explicit declaration of Christ's deity (see vv. 1, 14 and notes; 3:16; see also note on Romans 9:5)...1

After reading the entire Gospel, the words who is Himself God is an accurate understanding of either μονογενὴς θεὸς ὁ ὢν or ὁ μονογενὴς υἱός ὁ ὢν. The writer of the Gospel states this was the understanding of the Jewish audience:

This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God. (John 5:18 ESV)

The Jewish understanding of what Jesus said was that He made Himself equal to God. The Prologue simply functions to explain this at the beginning and to express it more completely. This equality with God which was in the beginning is now in the bosom of the Father. Since no man can see God and live (see Exodus 33:20) much less lead men into the bosom of the Father, the Son must himself be God.

1. NIV Study Bible, Fully Revised, Revision Editors Kenneth L. Barker, John H. Stek, Walter W. Wessel, Ronald Youngblood, Zondervan, 2002, p. 2162

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