googlef87758e9b6df9bec.html A Sure Word: John 1:1c: Is the Word “God” or “a god”?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

John 1:1c: Is the Word “God” or “a god”?

I had a recent visitor who goes by the name, JohnOneOne. Gee, do you think he has an agenda? Anyway, John left a couple of comments concerning my treatment of John 1:1 in my last post. His first comment was little more than spam so I basically ignored it but his second had a little more substance. John 1:1 was really not the topic of my last post but I get so few comments on my posts dealing with Greek and John 1:1 is certainly worthy of discussion so I was inspired to write a more formal response.

When I write about Greek, I try to do it in such a way that non-Greek readers can still understand the gist of what I'm saying. This subject, though, gets a little complicated so it might be a little more technical than usual. I apologize in advance.

The debate is over the correct translation of John 1:1c, “καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος.” Most modern translations render this as, “and the word was God.” John disagrees and defends the NWT translation of, “and the word was a god.” Now, in John's defense, I did characterize the NWT translation as “amateurish”, which was perhaps a bit hasty. Jehovah's Witnesses have gone to great lengths and much research to justify their translation. I still believe it is wrong, notwithstanding.

It's difficult to discuss John 1:1 without Colwell's Rule coming up. Colwell basically said that when a predicate nominative precedes the copula, and which is apparently definite, it usually lacks an article. If θεὸς in John 1:1c is definite, then it certainly fits Colwell's rule. However, if we assume θεὸς is definite then we are assuming the very thing we are trying to determine! In this regard, Colwell's rule is often abused – especially in the case of John 1:1c. Colwell's rule deals with definite nouns being anarthrous yet people cite it as though it's evidence for anarthrous nouns being definite. In other words, they are arguing the inverse of the rule as though it's a rule. Let me give an analogy: suppose I make a rule that says, “all dogs are mammals.” This is absolutely true without any exception. However, the inverse of this rule, namely that “all mammals are dogs,” would not be true. Therefore, we cannot say that the anarthrous θεὸς in John 1;1c is definite according to Colwell's rule.

However, JohnOneOne seems to suggest something completely contrary to Colwell's rule. He would have us believe that since θεὸς is “a singular anarthrous predicate noun (meaning, without the Greek definite article), but one which is also *preceding the verb and subject noun (implied or stated)*” [which is a fairly close paraphrase to Colwell's rule] then it is necessarily indefinite. In my analogy above, this would be akin to arguing that no mammal is ever a dog!

John cited several verses where predicate, nominative, anarthrous nouns are translated in mainstream Bible versions with an indefinite article. I don't have time to discuss all of them but let us consider the first in his list (John 4:19). Here, the Samaritan woman (the woman at the well) says to Jesus:

Κύριε, θεωρῶ ὅτι προφήτης εἶ σύ., “Lord, I see that you are a prophet.”

Because the word for “prophet” (προφήτης) here is anarthrous, it seems to be indefinite and the English translation has been modified by the indefinite article, “a.” Some people might understand this to mean the woman intended to include Jesus in a class of prophets (i.e. he is another of any number of prophets). It would be in the same manner as saying Jesus is “a carpenter.” In this sense, the use of the indefinite article would include Him into a class of people. This isn't really the correct understanding. Rather, the word prophet here is a qualitative noun describing a characteristic of Jesus. She could perceive that He had the gift of prophecy. She could describe Him in this way even if there were no other prophets. This might be hard to grasp so let's look at a another verse from this same passage that might make it easier to understand.

John 4:24 states πνεῦμα ὁ Θεός. This has been translated as “God is a spirit” and also as “God is spirit.” Either way, the meaning is the same. Spirit is a qualitative noun that describes the nature of God. He is spirit or He is a spirit. He is not simply another in a class of spirits. Likewise, the woman saw that Jesus possessed the gift of prophecy. It was something qualitative about Him; not general.

Θεός in John 1:1c is a qualitative noun in the same category. Ironically, I could live with the translation “a god” if it is understood to be qualitative: that is, Jesus is divine. He is not one of a class of gods but instead has the very nature of God. What God is, the Word is also.

Mounce has described this more succinctly. He said concerning John 1:1:

In brief,[1] its emphatic position stresses its essence or quality: "What God was, the Word was" is how one translation brings out this force. Its lack of a definite article keeps us from identifying the PERSON of the Word (Jesus Christ) with the PERSON of "God" (the Father). That is to say, the word order tells us that Jesus Christ has all the divine attributes that the Father has; lack of the article tells us that Jesus Christ is not the Father. John's wording here is beautifully compact! It is, in fact, one of the most elegantly terse theological statements one could ever find. As Martin Luther said, the lack of an article is against Sabellianism; the word order is against Arianism.

To state this another way, look at how the different Greek constructions would be rendered:

καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν ὁ θεός
"and the Word was the God"
(i.e., the Father; Sabellianism)

καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν θεός
"and the Word was a god"
(Arianism)

καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος
"and the Word was God"
(Orthodoxy).

What more can I say? Amen!!

Further reading:

Revelation 13:18: What is the Number of the Beast?

What is the Name of God? A Look at the Tetragrammaton

6 comments:

JohnOneOne said...

Thank you for this opinion of yours and that of others, but opinions they only remain.

On the other hand, the examples I cited do not represent opinions, for they clearly and firmly establish facts specifically relative to the Greek syntax of John 1:1c, especially in the way in which even Trinitarian scholoars, when not feeling compelled to be guided in their renderings of other verses by theological bias to do so.

Perhaps it would interest some to know that, when translating John 1:1c, during the first few centuries after Christianity had begun, two of the earliest known Christian translations of the Greek ‘New Testament’ into a foreign language had utilized their own languages' indefinite article there as well; and again, all in order to complete the proper sense of the phrase from the Koine Greek (of which, people were still using during this period), for both of these translations rendered John 1:1c (when translated to English), "and the Word was a god."

For this, you may wish to examine the contents of the following weblinks:

http://nwtandcoptic.blogspot.com/2006/09/john-11c-word-was-god.html

http://searchforbibletruths.blogspot.com/2010/01/how-does-coptic-text-render-john-11.html

Agape, JohnOneOne.
http://www.goodcompanionbooks.com

RKBentley said...

JohnOneOne,

Thank you again for your feedback. You have merely repeated your defense of your translation but have failed to demonstrate convincingly why it MUST be so. For instance, what about my example from Matthew 12:8, κύριος γάρ ἐστιν ὁ Υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου καὶ τοῦ σαββάτο? Is Jesus “a lord” of the Sabbath? It is a pre-copulative, predicate nominative just like the examples you've cited. Why isn't it indefinite as you seem to insist the construction must demand? Neither have you addressed Colwell's Rule: definite, pre-verbal, predicate nominatives are usually anarthrous but, again, you seem to insist that such constructions can never be definite.

Also, what is the significance of your translation? Is Jesus merely “a god” which the indefinite seems to imply? If there is only one God then that would make Jesus a false god. However, if θεὸς is qualitative, as I have suggested, then “a god” would carry the sense that Jesus is divine. That is, He possesses the same characteristics as God. So even if “a god” is a better translation (which I deny), that alone still doesn't disprove the divinity of Christ.

Thank you again for visiting. God bless!!

RKBentley

Apologiatron said...

Well said RK, I have come across Johnoneone previously on my other blog.

A few points I would add is that, even if a god was the correct translation, none of the early Christians and church fathers got to that the conclusion and followed it to its logical conclusion.

I wouldn't have been so polite regarding the NWT, it is simply dishonest translation that changes and adds words according to its theological presuppositions. This can be obviously seen in Colossians chapter one, where other is added in brackets without warrant.

Anyway keep up the good-work!

Godbless

Anonymous said...

excellent points and the details are more precise than somewhere else, thanks.

- Thomas

Anonymous said...

It agree, this amusing message

FGS said...

Any reader can see from the Scriptures below that the Watchtower score is an F for failure = 1/25! THEREFORE THERE IS NO VALID JUSTIFICATION
FOR USING THE INDEFINITE ARTICLE IN JOHN 1:1c.
The use of the ANARTHROUS PREDICATE indicates quality and means that no article is indicated.
From the Greek ‘anarthros’- ‘an’ = without + ‘arthros’ = joint

A - BIBLICAL THEOLOGY ‘SOLA SCRIPTURA’- FGS ANSWER TO JW “most translations”
1. WYCLIFF (1378) – “In the beginning was the word, and the word was at God, and God was the word. [In the beginning was the word, that is, God's Son, and the word was at God, and God was the word.]”
2. TYNDALE (1536) – “In the beginning was the Word, and the word was at God and was the word.”
3. GENEVA (1557) – “In the beginning was the worde, and the worde was with God and that worde was God.”
4. KJV (1611) – “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
5. NKJV – “IN the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
6. ESV – “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
7. TEV/GNB – “In the beginning the Word already existed; the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
8. NEB/GNT – “In the beginning the Word already existed; the Word was with God, and the Word was God. From the very beginning the Word was with God.”
9. ASV – “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
10. RSV – “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
11. NIV – “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
12. NLT – “In the beginning the Word already existed. He was with God, and he was God.”
13. NW - “In [the] beginning the Word was, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god.”
14. NASB – “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
15. ASV – “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
16. AMPLIFIED – “IN THE beginning [before all time] was the Word (Christ), and the Word was with God, and the Word was God Himself.”
17. DBY – “In [the] beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
18. YNG – “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God;”
19. DR – “IN the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
20. NET – “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was fully God.”
21. RVR - “En el principio era el Verbo, y el Verbo era con Dios, y el Verbo era Dios.”
22. AFRIKAANS – “In die begin was die Woord, en die Woord was by God, en die Woord was God.”
23. VULGATE – “In principio erat Verbum et Verbum erat apud Deum et Deus erat Verbum.”
24. TR – “Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος”
25. MGB –