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Should John 1:1 be translated, “The Word was God” or “The Word was a god”?

Jehovah's Witnesses deny the deity of Christ, and claim that John 1:1 merely calls him “a god,” but not full deity. They rest their case on three facts of Greek grammar:

  1. There is no such word as “a” or “an” in Greek, so we sometimes have to add “a” to translate into English, (Acts 28:6).

  2. The Greek word used here (theos) has two meanings: usually the supreme God revealed in Scripture, but sometimes lesser beings like the gods of Greek mythology.

  3. The Greek word “the” is often attached to the word “God” or theos, but it does not appear in John 1:1. Hiding behind the Witness rendering of the verse is an unspoken equation: God + “the” (ho theos) = Jehovah, the Almighty God, God - “the” (theos) = a created being with divine qualities. Witnesses claim that the apostle John deliberately omitted a “the” in the final phrase to show the difference between God and the Word. As the New World Translation (p. 775) explains:

    John's inspired writings and those of his fellow disciples show what the true idea is, namely, the Word or Logos is not God or the God, but is the Son of God, and hence is a god. That is why, at John 1:1,2, the apostle refers to God as the God and to the Word or Logos as a god, to show the difference between the Two.

    Is this the proper translation?

    No. The equation underlying the Witness rendering breaks down within a few verses. John 1:18 contains theos twice, without “the” either time. According to Watchtower assumptions, we would expect to translate both as “god” or “a god.” Instead, the New World Translation says “God” the first time and “god” the second time. The context overrules their rule.

    Why did John choose not to put “the” on the word “God”?

    1. To show which word was the subject of the sentence. In English, we can recognize the subject of a sentence by looking at word order. In Greek, we must look at the word endings. John 1:1 is trickier than most verses, because both “God” (theos) and “Word” (logos) have the same ending. The usual way to mark off the subject clearly was to add “the” to the subject and leave it off the direct object. That is precisely what John did here.

    2. To conform to standard Greek grammar. E.C. Colwell demonstrated in an article in the Journal of Biblical Literature in 1933 that it was normal practice to omit “the” in this type of sentence. John was simply using good grammar, and making it clear that he intended to say, “The Word was God” rather than “God was the Word,” a statement with some theological drawbacks. John constructed his sentence in the one way that would preserve proper grammar and sound doctrine, declaring that “the Word was God.”

Author: Dr. John Bechtle

More information

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  • If Jesus was the Son of God, why did He call Himself the Son of Man? Answer

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  • Jesus Christ: His Identity, Life, Death & ResurrectionLearn much more about Jesus Christ—his identity, life, death and resurrection

  • Christian Answers EffectiveEvangelism™ site - Learn how to be more effective in sharing the GospelIf you are a follower of Jesus Christ who is interested in sharing your faith with Jehovah's Witnesses, visit our special evangelism help pages about Jehovah's Witnesses on our EffectiveEvangelism.com site.

    Included are further articles, stories from those who have come out of the JW movement, recommended resources, and more.

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