Do various translations of John 1:1 differ because of different underlying base manuscripts, differing opinions of how the Greek should be translated or doctrinal bias?

I know that this is a controversial Scripture.

I’m new at this, so if this is not the correct way to form an answer, please correct me.

John 1:1 NIV

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

John 1:1 KJV

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

John 1:1 NWT

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god. [Footnotes] Or “was divine.”

John 1:1 Goodspeed

In the beginning the Word existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was divine.

The New English Bibe has an interesting take on this:

John 1:1 NET

In the beginning 1 was the Word, and the Word was with God, 2 and the Word was fully God.3

The translation Footnote is:

3tn Or “and what God was the Word was.” Colwell’s Rule is often invoked to support the translation of θεός (qeos) as definite (“God”) rather than indefinite (“a god”) here. However, Colwell’s Rule merely permits, but does not demand, that a predicate nominative ahead of an equative verb be translated as definite rather than indefinite. Furthermore, Colwell’s Rule did not deal with a third possibility, that the anarthrous predicate noun may have more of a qualitative nuance when placed ahead of the verb. A definite meaning for the term is reflected in the traditional rendering “the word was God.” From a technical standpoint, though, it is preferable to see a qualitative aspect to anarthrous θεός in John 1:1c (ExSyn 266-69). Translations like the NEB, REB, and Moffatt are helpful in capturing the sense in John 1:1c, that the Word was fully deity in essence (just as much God as God the Father). However, in contemporary English “the Word was divine” (Moffatt) does not quite catch the meaning since “divine” as a descriptive term is not used in contemporary English exclusively of God. The translation “what God was the Word was” is perhaps the most nuanced rendering, conveying that everything God was in essence, the Word was too. This points to unity of essence between the Father and the Son without equating the persons. However, in surveying a number of native speakers of English, some of whom had formal theological training and some of whom did not, the editors concluded that the fine distinctions indicated by “what God was the Word was” would not be understood by many contemporary readers. Thus the translation “the Word was fully God” was chosen because it is more likely to convey the meaning to the average English reader that the Logos (which “became flesh and took up residence among us” in John 1:14 and is thereafter identified in the Fourth Gospel as Jesus) is one in essence with God the Father. The previous phrase, “the Word was with God,” shows that the Logos is distinct in person from God the Father.

I understand that many Translations (the majority) follow Colwell’s rule and others (the minority) do not. What I’m asking is what is the motivation to choose the rule or not.

Additional Edit. Looking at other answers concerning John 1:1 it seems that most discus the grammar of this verse. My question is not necessarily concerning the choices in grammar, but why those choices are made. Perhaps the reason behind the choice would be pure speculation.

This is why I found the Translation comment from the NET Bible interesting. First the comment says that one of the preferred translations is “the Word was divine” (Qualitative). But the final choice is non-qualitative.

  • 1
    I would say that the question lacks focus, in that it looks at a spectrum of translations (each with their own motivations) and is really asking for a survey of them all. In any case, John's word order is as follows . . . . . and God was the word. (και θεος ην ο λογος). There are various linguistic excuses for mixing up John's own word order, but none of them, to me, make sound sense.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Apr 9 at 21:02
  • There is no dispute about the Greek text of John 1:1. All existing MSS are uniform.
    – Dottard
    Commented Apr 9 at 21:09
  • Welcome to the group Mike. Your question appears to be a duplicate, but don't be discouraged if it gets closed because of that. Commented Apr 9 at 21:21
  • 1
    I appreciate Dottard's comment. This confirms what I concluded. Commented Apr 9 at 21:22


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