In the vision of Daniel 7 four beasts (a lion, a bear, a leopard and a dreadful beast) come out of the sea (v3). The sea is the people of the world. The beasts are not kings, but kingdoms that reign one after the other. Ten horns grow out of the fourth beast-kingdom. These horns exist simultaneously in time; after the fourth empire.
This is an introductory overview of Daniel 7. The reader is advised to first read the entire chapter carefully.
The beasts are not kings, but kingdoms.
The four great beasts are “kings” (v17). Verse 23 explains further that the “fourth beast will be a fourth kingdom on the earth, which will be different from all the other kingdoms”. In other words, each of the four beasts is a “kingdom”, consisting of a series of kings.
The sea is the people of the world.
The beasts arise out of the sea (verse 3). But verse 17 explains that these kings will “arise from the earth”. The “sea” (v3) is therefore a symbol for the “earth”. The “earth” is not the physical earth, but the peoples of the world.
The beast-kingdoms reign one after the other.
These kingdoms will not reign at the same time, but—like the metal-kingdoms of Daniel 2—they will reign one after the other. This can be shown as follows:
The fourth beast “was different from all the beasts that were before it” (verse 7).
The fourth beast will devour the “whole earth” (verse 23), which leaves no place for other beasts at the same time.
The words “after this” in verses 6 and 7, explaining the sequence of beasts, confirms that the beasts will follow one after the other.
The beasts are the same kingdoms as in Daniel 2.
It is generally agreed among commentators that the four beast-kingdoms in Daniel 7 are the same as the four metal-kingdoms in Daniel 2. (See the discussion of Daniel 2.) This is confirmed as follows:
Four:There are four metals in the vision of Daniel 2 and there are also four beasts in Daniel 7.
Successive:As discussed, both the metals in Daniel 2 and the beasts in Daniel 7 represent successive kingdoms.
Fourth Kingdom: The phrase “fourth kingdom” is applied to both the fourth metal-kingdom (2:40) and to the fourth beast-kingdom (7:23).
Eternal:Both series of kingdoms are followed by the eternal kingdom (2:44; 7:24-27).
It is therefore concluded that the four metal-kingdoms in Daniel 2 are the same as the four beast-kingdoms in Daniel 7. The first beast-kingdom is therefore the same as the gold kingdom of Daniel 2, namely the Babylonian Empire.
The Horns are the same as the Divided Kingdom.
The fourth beast has ten horns (7:7). These are explained as ten kings that will arise “out of” the fourth beast (7:24). The following shows that these ten horns are the same as the divided kingdom in Daniel 2:
Compare: The 10 horn-kings of Daniel 7 to The divided kingdom of Daniel 2:
Both are a multitude of kings. By calling it a “divided kingdom” (2:41), Daniel 2 indicates that, during the fifth phase, there will not be a supreme king, but many kings. The horns in Daniel 7 also consist of many kings (7:8; 8:20-22).
Both are related to the fourth empire. In Daniel 2 the fourth kingdom is represented by legs of iron. This is followed by the feet representing a divided kingdom “of iron and … clay” (2:33). This divided kingdom is related to the fourth empire because it contains the same metal (iron). In Daniel 7 the fourth kingdom is represented as a dreadful beast. The horns are similarly related to this beast because they come “out of” this fourth kingdom.
Both continue until the sixth or eternal kingdom. Both the divided kingdom and the horns are followed by the eternal kingdom: “In the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed” (2:44, compare 7:24-27).
These parallels indicate that the horns are equivalent to the divided kingdom of Daniel 2.
Daniel 2 and 7 compared
The visions in Daniel 2 and 7 are therefore parallel:
Daniel 2 1. Head of fine gold 2. Breast and its arms of silver 3. Belly and its thighs of bronze 4. Legs of iron 5. Feet of iron and clay 6. Everlasting kingdom
Critical scholars propose that the horn-kings rule one after the other during the fourth empire:
The most prominent character in Daniel 7 is not any of the beasts nor any of the 10 horns, but actually the evil 11th horn that comes up among the 10 horns. Most of the chapter is devoted to this anti-God character. In the view of critical scholars this evil 11th horn is one of the series of kings in the fourth empire, namely Antiochus Epiphanes.
In contrast, it is proposed here that these ten kings, and therefore also the evil 11th horn, exist after the period of the fourth beast-kingdom has come to an end. This is shown by the parallel to Daniel 2:
The divided kingdom in Daniel 2 follows after the fourth kingdom: The time relationship is indicated by the five different body parts. The head represents the first kingdom, the chest the second, the belly the third, the legs the fourth and the feet, which represent the divided kingdom, are the fifth. The feet “partly of iron and partly of clay” in Daniel 2 therefore exist after the iron legs, not at the same time as the iron legs.
Since the horns in Daniel 7 are parallel to the divided kingdom, the horns follow after the fourth kingdom. In other words, the horns are not individual kings of the fourth kingdom, but separate kingdoms that came about after the end of the fourth kingdom. In Daniel 7 this time relationship is implied by the statement that ten kings will arise “out of” the fourth empire (7:24).
The ten kings exist at the same time.
The divided kingdom consists of a number kings that reign at the same time. This is indicated by the title “divided kingdom” and by the statement, “they will combine with one another in the seed of men; but they will not adhere to one another” (2:43).
Since the horns are the same as the divided kingdom, the ten kings also do not exist one after the other, but at the same time. The following confirm this conclusion:
Among: Although the eleventh horn will come up “after them” (7:24), Daniel saw it “among them” (7:8). “Among” implies that the horns exist simultaneously.
Three: The eleventh horn uproots three of the other horns (7:8). This implies that the other 7 remain.
Daniel 8:There are two other animals in Daniel with horns, and in both instances the horns represent kingdoms that exist at the same time (8:20-22):
The ram in Daniel 8 has two horns, the one representing the Medes of the Mede-Persian Empire; the other representing the Persians (8:20). These two components existed at the same time.
The goat in Daniel 8 grows 4 horns, representing the four divisions of the Greek Empire, which existed at the same time.
It has been shown above that the visions in Daniel 2 and Daniel 7 represent the same six phases of human history. The descriptions of the beasts in Daniel 7, such as heads and wings and horns, give more detail about the kingdoms in Daniel 2. But the most important additional information in Daniel 7 is about an evil king that will reign during the time of the horns. It is symbolized by an eleventh horn that “came up among them” and uproot three of the other horns (7:8). When it comes up it is “little” (7:8), but later it becomes “larger … than its associates” (7:20). Daniel 7 says more about this evil horn than about any of the other kingdoms or kings. It persecutes the saints, blaspheme God, and intend to change times and law (7:25).
John 1:1 is an important verse in the dispute about the deity of Christ (the Word), which is probably the oldest dispute in the Church.
The verse seems to contradict itself, for it says that Jesus was with God, but the traditional translation is “the Word was God,” which identifies Jesus as God. Furthermore, when John referred to the Father, He wrote THE GOD, but when he referred to Jesus as GOD, he omitted the article. Some use this omission as grounds for the alternative translation: “the Word was a god.” This translation implies that Jesus is one of a greater number of powerful but created “gods.”
This article serves as an introduction to the series of articles on the translation of John 1:1. It confirms that Jesus is distinct from God, but not created. This article furthermore proposes that Jesus not only existed in the beginning, but that He Himself was the beginning of all things, and that there therefore was no time that the Son did not exist.
The second phrase of John 1:1 (“the Word was with God”) makes a distinction between Jesus and God, but the third phrase (“the Word was God”) identifies the Word (Jesus) as God. How can the Word be God if He is distinct from God?
This question resulted in much dispute over the past 2000 years. The first church council, after Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, called by Caesar Constantine, specifically addressed the dispute about the deity of Christ, and resulted in the Nicene Creed of 325.
John 1:1 had a significant impact on the development of church doctrines on the nature of Jesus. The proper translation of this verse is at the center of debate between Trinitarians and non-Trinitarians. Some view it as the clearest declaration of the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ to be found anywhere in Scripture. John 1:1 is the best known of the about seven verses in the New Testament where Jesus is called THEOS (GOD). The other verses refer to Jesus as THEOS in the context of the time when the New Testament was written, but John 1:1 refers to Him as THEOS in the context of “the beginning;” when “all things” were created (1:3).
The translation dispute centers on the lack of the definite article (the) prior to the word GOD (THEOS) in John 1:1c. John included the article prior to THEOS in 1:1b (literally, AND THE WORD WAS WITH THE GOD), but omits it before THEOS in 1:1c. Since ancient Greek did not have an indefinite article, some see this omission as grounds for an indefinite translation: “the Word was a god.” The purpose of this article series is to understand what John 1:1 means and how it is best translated.
Purpose of this article
While the majority of Christianity has a one-sided focus on the verses that emphasize the divinity of Christ, Jehovah Witnesses err to the other side, and only focus on the verses that show that Jesus is distinct from and subordinate to God. To find the truth, we need to find an explanation that satisfies all statements about Jesus found in the Bible.
To write this article, the Jehovah’s Witnesses defense of their translation of John 1:1c was read. Various other website resources were studied to identify the key principles. Many experts are quoted in these websites, but this article does not always quote these experts.
This article often refers to the three phrases of John 1:1. Below the majority translation is presented, together with the Greek transliteration.
To understand John 1:1 requires some understanding of some Greek words and grammar, but this article is intended for people that do not understand Greek. Therefore, and since in the original Greek language there was no differentiation between lower case and capital letters, this article presents the Greek literally using CAPITALIZED ENGLISH WORDS:
(a) In the beginning was the Word,
(En arkhêi ên ho logos =
IN BEGINNING WAS THE WORD) (b) and the Word was with God,
(kaì ho lógos ên pròs tòn theón =
AND THE WORD WAS TOWARD THE GOD) (c) and the Word was God.
(kaì theòs ên ho logos =
AND GOD WAS THE WORD)
Some Preliminary Observations
In Greek there is no article before BEGINNING, but the translation inserts the article (“the”). In 1:1b the Greek has the article before THEOS, but the translation omits it. There is no article before THEOS in 1:1c, but it is translated the same as 1:1b.
In Greek, the word order in 1:1c is reversed.
The Greek word for GOD in 1:1c is THEOS, but in 1:1b the word appears as THEON. THEON has the same meaning as THEOS. Each Greek noun normally has 8 or 9 forms (cases) in which it can appear. These forms do not change the meaning of the words, but define the roles which the words play in sentences, for example, to differentiate the subject from the object.
The implications of these observations are explained below.
Alternative Translations of John 1:1c
Three alternative translations may be considered:
“The Word was God” is the majority translation. “God,” with the capital G, is the name we give to the Almighty. We do not use “God,” with a capital G, for any other being. “The Word was God” therefore identifies Jesus as the Almighty.
“The Word was a god” is primarily found in the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ New World Translation. This implies that Jesus is one of a greater number of powerful but created “gods.”
“The Word was divine” in Moffatt, Goodspeed and some other translations. This may be understood to imply that Jesus has divine attributes, but He is not the Almighty.
“The Word” (Greek LOGOS) is widely understood as referring to Jesus, as indicated in John 1:14-17. In the Book of Revelation, which has been written by the same John, “His name is called The Word of God” (Rev. 19:13).
Matthew Henry proposed that Jesus is “theWord” because He was sent to earth to reveal His Father’s mind. In John 1:18 we similarly read that “no one has seen God at any time,” but Jesus “has explained Him (God).” Jesus therefore said, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). Jesus, as “the Word,” is God’s Communication to the universe.
The phrase, “the word of the LORD” is found many times in the Old Testament as an expression of divine power and wisdom. By referring to Jesus as “the Word,” “we preach … Christ (as) the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:23-24).
In the beginning
The “beginning” (1:1a) must be linked to John 1:3, which states that God created all things through Jesus.
The first words in the Bible are: “In the beginning God …” John 1:1 contains the same Greek words for “in the beginning” as are found in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) of Genesis 1:1. “The beginning” in John 1:1a therefore refers to the Genesis creation account.
Genesis opens with “in the beginning God …,” but John elaborates on the creation account by saying “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God.. Later in Genesis 1 God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness” (v26). John 1:1 implies that Jesus was included in the “Us” that made man in Their image.
The phrase THE WORD WAS WITH GOD (1:1b) means more than merely that the Son existed with the Father. The term translated “with” may be explained as follows:
The term translated “with” give “the picture of two personal beings facing one another and engaging in intelligent discourse” [W. Robert Cook, The Theology of John [Chicago: Moody, 1979], 49].
The NASB reads in 1:18 that He was “in the bosom of the Father,” but the NIV translation explains that He was “in closest relationship with the Father.”
Jesus prayed about “the glory which I had with You before the world was” (John 17:5).
Distinct From God
To say that “the Word was with God” (John 1:1b) makes a distinction between Jesus and God. In other words, the title “God” is used here to refer to the Father alone. Another clear example of this is John 1:18, which reads, “No one has seen God at any time.” “God” here excludes the Son, for the Son has been seen. This is a general principle of the New Testament: Of the about 1300 times that the title THEOS (GOD) is used in the New Testament, it almost always refers to the Father exclusively:
The Nicene Creed starts with the words, “We believe in one God, the Father almighty …”
Paul wrote, “for us there is but one God, the Father …” (1 Cor. 8:6)
The opening phrase of John 1:1 reads “in the beginning was the Word.” The thought is repeated in John 1:2a: “He was in the beginning with God.” It does not say that the Word was created or came into existence at the “beginning; He simply “was.” The tense of the Greek word translated “was” expresses continuous action in the past. This implies that the Word (Jesus) had no beginning, but always existed. This seems to be confirmed by the following:
“He is before all things” (Col. 1:17).
“All things came into being through Him” (Jesus), and if “apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being” (John 1:3). The Word therefore must have already existed prior to creation.
The Only Begotten
John 1:18 refers to Him as “the only begotten,” which seems to imply that Jesus had a beginning. But some argue that the Greek word translated “the only begotten” (monogenēs) means “one and only.” This is how monogenēs is consistently translated in the NIV, and does not imply a beginning.
If monogenēs must be understood as “the only begotten,” which implies that Jesus had a beginning, then it is preferred here to understand this as follows:
He was not created, for God created all things through Him (1:3). Rather, He was born, which implies that He came forth from the being of the Father.
Using the literal translation of Colossians 1:18, He IS THE BEGINNING. In other words; He not only existed in the beginning; He Himself was the beginning of “all things.” By giving gave birth to His Son, God created the universe. When we talk about the creation, we come face to face with eternity, which is a complete mystery.
“The beginning” was also the beginning of time. Therefore, even if He is “the only begotten,” it is still valid to say that there was no time that “the Word” did not exist.
John includes the article (the) before THEOS (GOD) in 1:1b, but omits it before THEOS in John 1:1c. Jehovah’s Witnesses see this omission as grounds for an indefinite translation of this phrase: “the Word was a god.”
The following objections to this translation are proposed:
Firstly, the ancient Greek language only has definite articles, and how Greek uses the article is very complex. It uses them in unexpected places and omits them where we would expect to find them.
Secondly, if John wished to say that “the Word was a god.” then there was another way in which he could have done that.
Thirdly, the article is omitted for grammatical reasons, namely to identify THEOS as the predicate.
Fourthly, THEOS appears in other places without the article where it is clear that it must be translated as “God,” for instance, “No one has seen God at any time” (John 1:18).
Fifthly, John 1:1c has a special grammatical construct, and in this construct predicate nouns without the article are more likely to be definite.
Grammarians who have studied this special grammatical construct have concluded that predicates in such constructs are primarily qualitative in force. That implies that 1:1c should not be interpreted as definite (“the god”). Nor does John 1:1c mean that Jesus is one of a number of gods, and it therefore cannot be translated as “the Word was a god” in an indefinite sense, for a qualitative sense means that 1:1c describes god-like qualities to Him.
It is technically possible to translate 1:1c as “the Word was a god” to reflect a qualitative sense, but not in the context of 1:1c, for the Bible declares that only one God exists. In general, if only one instance of a predicate exists, it cannot be translated to English by inserting the indefinite article “a.”
Lastly, Jesus is unique. He is “the Only Begotten Son of God.” “Through him all things were made.” He is not just one of many such gods. He is not “a god.”
John included the article before THEOS in 1:1b (literally, THE WORD WAS WITH THE GOD), but omits it before THEOS in John 1:1c, (literally, GOD WAS THE WORD). Jehovah’s Witnesses see this omission as grounds for an indefinite translation of this phrase: “the word was a god.” This implies that Jesus is one of many similar created beings with divine qualities.
If a translation was merely a matter of substituting words, 1:1c (THEOS EN HO LOGOS) could certainly be translated “the Word was a god.” To pagan Greeks this would have been a perfectly sensible statement. They would understand this as saying that “the Word” is one of the many Greek gods, such as Zeus, Poseidon or Apollo.
The following objections to the translation “the Word was a god” are proposed:
This is a complex matter.
Firstly, how the ancient Greek language uses the article is a very complex matter. It is notorious for not using articles where we would expect to find them:
An example of a noun without the article that must be definite, is John 1:2. In Greek, there is no definite article before BEGINNING. It reads, HE WAS IN BEGINNING WITH GOD. It makes sense to include the definite article “the” and to translate this phrase as, “He was in the beginning with God.” If we insert “a,” it would imply that there was more than one beginning.
Greek also uses the article in places we never would. For instance, a literal translation of John 1:12 reads: TO THOSE WHO BELIEVE INTO THE HIS NAME.
Thomas Middleton has written an entire volume of over 500 pages solely on the uses of the Greek article in the New Testament [The Doctrine of the Greek Article, London: Rivington & Deighton, 1841]. Balz and Schneider concluded that THEOS is used either with or without the article “without any apparent difference in meaning” [Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans), Vol. 2. 140].
Thus, if an indefinite article (“a”) is assumed to be implied in every place where the definite article (the) does not appears in Greek, it will often corrupt the meaning of a passage.
Another way to say “the Word was a god.”
If John wished to say that “the Word was a god.” then there was another way in which he could have done that. When the predicate without the article follows after the verb, then, as a rule, the predicate would be considered primarily indefinite. Therefore, if John wrote HO LOGOS ÊN THEOS (THE WORD WAS GOD), that would have indicated an indefinite use. But he reversed the word order and wrote, GOD WAS THE WORD.
The article is omitted for grammatical reasons.
In English the word order identifies the subject of the sentence, but Greek uses noun cases (word endings) for that purpose. However, 1:1c is an example of a linking verb (“was”); as opposed to an action verb. With linking verbs, the subject and predicate are in the same case. In such instances, wherever the subject has the article and the predicate does not, the word with the article is the subject. [Robertson, A. T. (2006). A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research (pp. 767–769).]
In other words, in 1:1c, where LOGOS has the article, the article was omitted before THEOS not to make it indefinite, but to identify it as the predicate.
THEOS without the article is many times definite.
THEOS appears 1343 times in the Greek New Testament. In 282 instances it is without the article. If THEOS without the article must always be translated as “a god,” then one would expect to find “a god” in each of these 282 passages. But in 266 of the 282 instances we find THEOS translated as “God” in the New World Translation; not as “a god.” “God” is a definite interpretation of THEOS, for “God,” with a capital G, is our English name for the Almighty; it identifies one specific Being. The question is then, is the NWT inconsistent when it translates THEOS without the article in John 1:1c as “the Word was a god?”
Jehovah Witnesses correctly respond that in many instances THEOS is in the genitive form, e.g. “from God” (John 1:6) or “of God” (John 1:12). In this form THEOS changes to THEOU, and does not require the article to be definite.
But there also are many instances where THEOS is (a) without the article and (b) not in a genitive form, and where all agree this must be translated as “God;” not as “a god.” For instance:
“No one has seen God at any time” (John 1:18). “He is not the God of the dead but of the living” (John 20:38). “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself” (2 Cor. 5:19).
Since non-genitive forms of THEOS without the article in these instances are translated as “God,” the question remains whether the NWT is inconsistent in translating 1:1c as “the Word was a god.”
Special Grammatical Construct
Jehovah Witnesses (JWs) further respond that John 1:1c is different from these instances because 1:1c has a special grammatical construct, and in this construct unique rules apply. It is true that 1:1c is a special grammatical construct. In this construct the predicate (THEOS in 1:1c) precedes the verb “to be” (“was” in 1:1c). This construct has been researched extensively:
EC Colwell published his study of the use of the Greek article in 1933. He selected predicates which he identified as definite by virtue of the context and found that 87% of such definite predicates in such special grammatical constructs were without the article. He formulated the following rule:
“Definite predicate nouns which precede the verb usually lack the article” (Colwell, p. 20).
“The absence of the article does not make the predicate indefinite or qualitative when it precedes the verb … If the context suggests that the predicate is definite, it should be translated as a definite noun in spite of the absence of the article.” [E.C. Colwell, “A Definite Rule for the Use of the Article in the Greek New Testament,” JBL, 52 (1933), 12-21.]
In another study, Harner found that 20% of the predicates in this special construct are definite.
In conclusion, the absence of the article in such special constructs does not necessarily mean that such nouns are indefinite. We cannot assume that John 1:1c must be translated “the Word was a god” simply on the basis of the absence of the article.
The special rules which apply in the special grammatical construct of 1:1c is actually the opposite of what JWs would like it to be:
As stated above, when a predicate without the article follows after the verb, the predicate is generally indefinite. But the research mentioned above shows that THEOS (without the article) is more likely to be definite in this special construct than in the usual constructs.
Noun categories and the articles
Grammarians distinguish between:
Indefinite nouns, which identify any instance of a group or class. Definite nouns, which identify a specific instance of a group. Qualitative nouns, which attribute qualities of the noun to the subject of the sentence.
Qualitative nouns signify neither definiteness (a specific instance of a group), nor indefiniteness (any instance of a group). It is, for example, possible to describe somebody, who is not actually a god, but who is a human being who is admired by many people for his or her god-like superhuman abilities, as “a god.” In this case “god” is used in a qualitative sense; it does not identify the person as one of the gods.
The articles help to distinguish between definite and indefinite nouns. For instance, “a god” is an indefinite use of the noun and “the god” is a definite noun. But the articles do not distinguish between indefinite and qualitative uses. For example, if “he” is one of the Greek gods, then “he is a god” is indefinite. But, as explained above, “he is a god” may also be qualitative.
Grammarians who studied the special grammatical construct of John 1:1c (predicate without the article before the verb “to be”) concluded that the predicates in such constructs are primarily qualitative in force:
Harner categorized such predicates in Mark and John and found [pp. 85, 87]: 80% are qualitative. 20% are definite. None are exclusively indefinite.
He concluded: “anarthrous predicate nouns preceding the verb may be primarily qualitative in force.” (p. 75). (Anarthrous means without the article.)
Dixon’s substantiated Harner’s findings: “When the anarthrous predicate nominative precedes the verb it is qualitative in 50 of 53 occurrences, or 94% probability.” (Predicate nominative is the case in which Greek nouns appear in such special constructs. To simplify matters, this website uses the more generic term “predicates.”)
Hartley found that, in John’s Gospel, 56% of such predicates are qualitative, 11% are definite, 17% are indefinite and 17% are qualitative-indefinite.
These findings mean that THEOS in John 1:1c is most probably qualitative. If that is the case, then 1:1c does not mean that Jesus is one of a number of gods, and it cannot be translated as “the Word was a god” in an indefinite sense. However, it may still be translated as “the Word was a god” in a qualitative sense.
Jehovah Witness response
To defend their translation of John 1:1c (“the Word is a god”) against the conclusion that this phrase is most probably qualitative in force, Jehovah Witnesses (JWs) point to other phrases in the New Testament with the same special construct as 1:1c, but that are translated by inserting the English indefinite article “a” before the predicate, for example:
The woman at the well said to Jesus, “I perceive that You are a prophet” (John 4:19; cf, 9:17; Mark 11:32).
When a snake bit Paul, but he did not die, the people said, “he was a god” (Acts 28:6). This example is particularly relevant because the predicate in this phrase is also THEOS (GOD).
JWs argue that 1:1c may similarly be translated as “a god” to convey the qualitative sense of THEOS.
A may only be inserted if more than one exists.
It is only valid to insert “a” before the predicate if more than one instance of the predicate exists. In other words, it is only valid to insert “a” before “god” if more than one “god” exist. To illustrate:
“The Son of man is Lord of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:28), also has the same special grammatical construct, cannot be translated as “a Lord of the Sabbath” because there is only one “Lord of the Sabbath.”
In Acts 28:6 “a god” is a valid translation because these pagan people believed that many gods exist. When Paul did not die as result of the snake bite, they assumed he must be one of those gods.
Since there are many prophets, it is also valid to say that somebody is “a prophet” (John 4:19; 9:17; Mark 11:32).
Similarly, because many murderers, ghosts, devils, thieves and robbers are believed to exist, it is also valid to say that somebody is “a murderer” (Acts 28:4) or “a ghost” (Mark 6:49) or “a devil” (John 6:70) or “a thief and a robber” (John 10:1). The same principle applies to “a liar” (John 8:44), “a Samaritan” (John 8:48), “a thief” (John 10:1; 12:6), “a hired hand” (John 10:13), “a man” (10:33), “a sinner” (John 9:24) and “a king” (John 18:37).
These examples show that an “a” may be inserted in the translation of both indefinite and qualitative predicates:
The Jews said to Jesus “You are a Samaritan” (John 8:48). This is an example of an indefinite use of the noun.
Jesus said to the twelve, “one of you is a devil” (John 6:70) is an example of a qualitative sense, for Judas was not really a devil.
But irrespective of whether an indefinite or qualitative force is intended, “a” may only be inserted if more than one instance of the noun exist.
There is only one God.
This principle must be applied to John 1:1c.
If John 1:1c was found in an ancient Greek context, it would have been possible to translate 1:1c, as the New World Translation does, as “ the Word was a god.” It would mean that the Word is one of the many Greek gods.
But it is not valid to translate John 1:1c as “the Word was a god” because, in the context of the Bible, there is no group of true gods. Both the Old and New Testaments teach monotheism; that only one God exists:
“Before me there was no God formed; nor shall any be after me” (Is. 43:10).
“I am the First, and I am the Last; and there is no God except Me” (Isaiah 44:6).
“There is no god besides Me” (Deut. 32:39)
“There is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him” (1 Cor. 4:6)
Jesus prayed to the “only true God” (John 17:3).
Therefore, in the context of the Bible, Jesus cannot be described as “a god,” irrespective of whether “god” is used in an indefinite or qualitative sense.
In exceptional instances the Bible does refer to people and angels as “gods” (John 10). But those meanings cannot be applied to John 1:1 because this verse describes THE LOGOS, who existed with God in the beginning (1:1b), when he was WITH THE GOD (1:1b), and when God created all things through Him (1:3).
The Bible essentially is a book that tells about the one true God in contrast to a multitude of false gods. In that context the translation “the Word is a god” actually implies that Jesus is a false god.
JWs have developed a sophisticated defense of their translation of John 1:1c, which argues that the word GOD is a count noun and count nouns must always be either definite or indefinite, even when used with a qualitative sense. And since “the Word” is distinct from THE GOD in 1:1b, He cannot be “the god,” and must be “a god.”
This argument is discussed in a separate article which agrees that the word GOD is a count noun, that GOD is used in a qualitative sense in 1:1c and that the New Testament presents Jesus as distinct from God. But that article uses a number of examples, such as, “Jehovah is God,” to show that it is not always possible to insert the indefinite article when translating anarthrous count nouns that are used with a qualitative sense:
“Jehovah is God” means that He is the only true God; a statement which only a worshiper of Jehovah would make. To insert an “a” and to translate this as “Jehovah is a god” completely changes the meaning of the phrase.
Jesus is unique
A last reason why it would not be appropriate to describe Jesus as “a god” is that He is unique.
Jehovah Witnesses translates the phrase with “a god” because they assume that Jesus is one of many powerful created beings with godlike (divine) qualities. In their view Jesus may be the divine person with the most power, but He is still only one of many. But there are no other being like Jesus. For example:
He is “the Only Begotten Son of God.”
“In Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form” (Col. 2:9).
“Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made” (John 1:3). Through Him God continues to maintain all things (the universe – John 1:3; Col. 1:15).
The entire creation worships Him (Rev. 5).
It is true that John 1:1b shows a distinction between God and the Word: As the Word was “with” God,” the Word could not be that “God.” On the other hand, to refer to the Word as THEOS (GOD) in this context, which says that God began all things through Jesus, and which refers to the Father as TON THEOS (THE GOD), lifts the Word high above all other beings. He is not just one of many such gods. He is not “a god.”
In most Bibles John 1:1c reads, “the Word was God.” But the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ (JWs) New World Translation (NWT) reads, “the Word was a god.” JWs understand Jesus to be one of many powerful created beings.
JWs have developed a sophisticated defense of their translation of this phrase, which argues that the word GOD is a count noun and count nouns must always be either definite or indefinite, even when used with a qualitative sense. And since the Word is distinct from THE GOD in 1:1, He cannot be “the god,” and must be “a god.”
This article agrees that the word GOD is a count noun, that GOD is used in a qualitative sense in 1:1c and that the New Testament presents Jesus as distinct from God, but does not agree that count nouns, when used with a qualitative sense, must necessarily be translated by inserting the indefinite article. For this purpose, this article mentions and discusses a number of example:
“Jehovah is God.”
is God and man is man.”
“The Son of man
is Lord also of the Sabbath.”
This argument is analyzed and discussed below. First, some background information:
The word “god”
The Greek word translated “god” is THEOS. THEOS is equivalent to our word “god,” with a small g, for it is used for all gods. Since the Bible is a book about the true God, THEOS in the Bible is mostly used for the true God, but additional information is provided to indicate that the true God is referred to, for instance:
● Many times the New Testament adds the Greek definite article HO (the) to indicate that the god referred to is known to the reader. ● The context could make it clear that the true God is intended. ● Descriptive phrases such as “the living God” identify the true God.
The Hebrew Scriptures similarly did not use the Hebrew word for “god” (ELOHIM) as the semantic equivalent to God’s personal name, Jehovah. To identify Jehovah, without using His name, “god” was qualified, for instance, “I am the God of Bethel,” “God of Abraham,” “your God,” “the most high God” or “the God of gods.“
The word “God”
We have something which the ancient Greeks did not have, namely the distinction between small and capital letters. THEOS is therefore not equivalent to “God.” THEOS is a common noun, but our word “God” is actually a proper noun: a name for the true God; perhaps equivalent to Jehovah in the Old Testament. The word “God,” in a sense, therefore does not appear in the Bible. The New Testament many times refers to the one true God as HO THEOS (THE GOD). We translate this phrase by dropping the definite article HO and by capitalizing the G.
YHWH is a name, but ELOHIM is used in the OT is not as a name (a proper noun), as shown by the phrases “the most high God” and “the God of gods.“
The Word is distinct from “God.”
John 1:1b, in most Bibles, read, “the Word was with God.” Since Jesus was “with God,” “God” refers to the Father and Jesus cannot be “God.”
This conclusion is supported by the articles. The Koine Greek of the New Testament has a definite article (“the”) but no indefinite articles (“a” or “an” in English). Thus, a Greek writer could make a noun definite by use of the article, but would omit the article before non-definite nouns. In 1:1b the article HO precedes THEOS, and is rendered in all translations as “God.” But THEOS in 1:1c, referring to Jesus, is without the article, which supports a distinction between HO THEOS (God) and Jesus.
This distinction between “God” and Jesus is found all over the New testament. Perhaps the best known is Paul’s definition in 1 Corinthians 8, where He makes a distinction between God (identified here as “the Father”), Jesus and false gods:
1 Cor. 8:4 … We know that there is no such thing as an idol in the world, and that there is no God but one. 5 For even if there are so-called gods whether in heaven or on earth, as indeed there are many gods and many lords, 6 yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him.
A count noun is anything that can be counted, such as cats. The opposite is called mass nouns, namely things that cannot be counted, such as courage. Since gods can be counted, “god” (and THEOS) are count nouns.
The important point, for the discussion of the translation of 1:1c, is that “a countable noun always takes either the indefinite (a, an) or definite (the) article when it is singular,” for example “a cat” or “a category.” Mass nouns, on the other hand, cannot be used with the articles. One would not say ‘the courage’ or ‘a water’. (Count and Noncount Nouns 1988, Purdue Online Writing Lab).
The reader will realize where the JW argument is heading, namely:
(1) If THEOS is a count noun, and if count nouns always always takes either the indefinite or definite article, then 1:1c cannot be translated “the Word was God.” (2) Since the LOGOS is “with” THE THEOS (1:1b), He cannot himself also be THE THEOS. John 1:1c, therefore, cannot be translated “the god.” (3) We need to distinguish between the HO THEOS of 1:1b and the anarthrous (without the article) THEOS of 1:1c. John 1:1c must therefore read “the Word was a god.”
There is, however, a complication:
Count nouns may be used with a qualitative sense.
This statement refers to when we use a noun to describe the subject of a sentence, for example, “that animal is a lion.”
Hartley concluded that all mass terms exude a purely qualitative force. For example, the predicate “flesh” in the phrase “the Word became flesh” (John 1:14) is a mass term, for one does not say “the flesh” or “a flesh.” In this verse “flesh” exudes a purely qualitative force onto “the Word;” the Word (LOGOS) came to possess the qualities or attributes of “flesh.”
Count nouns as predicates generally do not have a qualitative sense, but are usually used to identify the subject, for example, “that animal is a lion” or “Jim is my son.” But count nouns can also be used in a qualitative sense, for instance, “that rugby player is a tiger,” meaning that he is tough. Here we use a noun (tiger) with a qualitative sense to describe the qualities of a tiger to the rugby player.
THEOS is used in a qualitative sense in 1:1c.
The JW argument does not state this directly, but implies this. The background to this is that 1:1c has a special grammatical structure (noun without the article precedes the verb “to be”). Phillip Harner and several other grammarians have studied phrases with this special grammatical construct. They concluded that the predicates in such a construct function primarily to express the nature or character of the subject.
This does not mean that THEOS in 1:1c definitely is used qualitatively, but the probability is high. If it is a qualitative use, then 1:1c does not identify Jesus as THEOS, but attributes the qualities and characteristics of THEOS to Him.
Count nouns must always be definite or indefinite, even when used with a qualitative sense.
JWs admit that count nouns, such as THEOS, are sometimes used with a qualitative sense, but respond to this challenge that count nouns cannot be purely qualitative . They argue that count nouns retain their “countability” when they emphasize qualities and must therefore still be either definite (e.g. the god) or indefinite (e.g. a god):
“Count nouns denoting persons such as theos and logos, must be either definite or indefinite, and a stress of qualitativeness is an additional characteristic, not an alternative one (Furuli, p. 217; emphasis in original).
“I view [the category Qualitative-Indefinite] as a noun with an indefinite semantic, having a primarily qualitative emphasis (Stafford, p. 344). [Note his distinction between semantic (definite or indefinite) and emphasis (qualitative). Witness apologists Kidd, Stafford, and Furuli all make this distinction.]
Phillip Harner said something similar. He said that qualitativeness may coexist with either a definite or indefinite semantic force, but this qualitative significance may be more important that the question whether the predicate noun itself should be regarded as definite or indefinite (p. 75).
We see an example of how this works in the phrase “that rugby player is a tiger.” Even though this a qualitative use of the noun “tiger,” an “a” precedes the predicate noun. Simon and Gurfunkel similarly sang, “I am a rock, I am an island.”
However, it is proposed here that the definite and indefinite article cannot always be inserted when count nouns are used with a qualitative sense, for example:
Jehovah is God.
“Jehovah [the LORD] is God” (Joshua 22:34; 1 Kings 8:60, 18:21; Psalm 118:27) is comparable to 1:1c (“the Word was THEOS”). Both Jehovah and “the Word” identify one specific being, and in both cases the predicate is “God,” which is a count noun.
“Jehovah is God” is a statement which only a worshiper of Jehovah would make. “God” is here used with a qualitative sense to stress qualities, nature, or character. It describes Jehovah as the only true God; the Supreme One who has all authority in heaven and on earth.
To say “Jehovah isa god” would also be a true statement, but has a very different meaning; identifying Jehovah merely as another god; one of many. Even a Muslim would be willing to say “Jehovah is a god.”
“Jehovah is God.” does have a definite semantic force, but to translate it as “Jehovah is the god” would also corrupt the meaning. This phrase identifies Jehovah as the god we are currently speaking about, but this statement does not say anything about Him. A Muslim may also make this statement.
The following statements are similar to “Jehovah is God,” and also illustrate that, to insert an “a” or a “the” before the count term, would distort the meaning.
“Jesus is Lord” (1 Cor. 12:3). [“Lord” is a count noun, for lords can be counted. “Lord” is used in a qualitative sense, attributing the nature or character of true Lordship to Jesus. To translate this as “Jesus is a lord” or even as “Jesus is the lord” significantly changes the meaning.
“God is God and man is man.” Slaten offered a helpful example. The first “God” is our name for the one true God. The second “God” is a count noun used as a qualitative predicate; indicating God’s nature. To say “God is a god” would distort the meaning. The meaning seems best brought out by adding “by nature:” ” God is (by nature) God and man is (by nature) man.”
JWs argue that count nouns, such as THEOS, in certain contexts emphasize qualities, but that count nouns cannot be purely qualitative, but retain their countability. They argue that count nouns therefore always must be definite or indefinite, even when used with a qualitative sense. According to this logic, THEOS in 1:1c “is a count noun and therefore must be either definite (the god) or indefinite” (a god).
But we have seen that, to insert an article in the translation of a count noun that is used with a qualitative sense, would in some instances distort the meaning of the phrase. In other words, when count nouns are used in a qualitative sense, it does not necessarily follow that the English indefinite or definite articles must be inserted in the translation from Greek. Consequently, even though “god” is a count noun, it is perfectly possible to translate 1:1c as “the Word is God.”
When is “a” added?
We have seen that sometimes the indefinite article “a” must be added and sometimes not. Linguists are fond of classifying words and phrases, and they need to tell us when “a” is added and when not.
One option is that the indefinite article is not used in phrases such “Jehovah is God” and “the Son of man is Lord also of the Sabbath” because these phrases stress uniqueness.
Another option is to distinguish between literal and figurative uses of the predicate:
● When we say ‘Jim is a god’, meaning that he is a human being with near superhuman abilities as a basketball player, then the count noun “god” is used with a qualitative sense. It also is a figurative statement, for we know that Jim is not a god. We then add the indefinite article.
● Similarly, if we know that Jim is not a murderer, but say ‘Jim is a murderer’ to predicate the qualities of “murderer” to him, in other words, to say that he destroys people’s lives, then this is a figurative statement, and we insert “a”. But if Jim actually murdered somebody, then ‘Jim is a murderer’ is an indefinite use of the predicate.
● In contrast, the statement “Jehovah is god” is a literal use of the predicate, for we know that Jehovah is God Almighty.
● Similarly, when we say ‘Jim is man’, the count noun ‘man’ is used with a qualitative sense; John is fully human. But it is not a figurative statement, but a literal one, and we omit the “a”.
These examples seem to imply that, when a predicate with qualitative force applies literally to the subject, “a” must be omitted, for if we insert “a,” the statement becomes indefinite. This point is, however, not important for the purpose of this article. The mere fact that sometimes the articles are omitted when a count noun is used with a qualitative sense, is sufficient to counter the JW argument.
How should 1:1c be translated?
Consider 1:1c literally translated from Greek, using the English word order: THE WORD WAS GOD.
From the majority perspective, where Jesus is viewed as God, THE WORD WAS GOD seems like a literal use of the noun, which means that “a” may not be inserted in the translation.
In the Jehovah Witness tradition, where Jesus is not viewed as God, THE WORD WAS GOD seems like a figurative use of the noun, implying that an “a” should be inserted.
The question is therefore what the Bible’s perspective of Jesus is. We have to translate the phrase from that perspective. If the Bible declares Jesus to be God, then it is a literal phrase, and an “a” may not be inserted, and vice versa. In other words, the classification of predicate nouns as count nouns or mass nouns does not help us at all with the translation of 1:1c.
For a discussion of the major role which Caesar Constantine played in the formulation of the Nicene Creed of 325, listen to Kegan Chandler on the term “homoousios” The famous church historian Eusebius tells us that it was the emperor Constantine who suggested using the word homoousios. Chandler ventures an educated guess as to what Constantine was thinking… and it has something to do with Egypt!
For a discussion of the church fathers, showing that they all believed that Jesus is subordinate to the Father, and that the idea of Christ being equal to the Father only developed during the Middle Ages, see the discussion by Dr. Beau Branson on the Monarchy of the Father (Trinities 240).