John 1:1c usually reads, “The Word was God.” Is this the correct translation?

Summary

John 1:1This article argues against the translation, “the Word was God.

God and THEOS

For some people, “God” is the Trinity, consisting of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as three Persons in one.  For others the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not three persons, but three modes of the same one Person.  Still others believe that the Father alone is God.

The word translated “God” is THEOS. While “God” refers to one specific Being, THEOS is a common noun for all gods.  To identify the only true God, the Bible provides additional identification; often by adding the definite article HO before THEOS.

In John 1:1b the Father alone is God.  This is the consistent pattern in the New Testament.  In sentences that refer to both the Father and the Son, translations refer to the Father alone as God.  This implies that Jesus is not God.

The term THEOS appears more than 1300 times in the Bible. In only seven instances does THEOS possibly refer to Jesus.  Furthermore, the original text or the translations of these seven instances are all disputed.  And even if Jesus is called THEOS, that does not mean that He is God, for THEOS also has other meanings.  The New Testament therefore does not present Jesus as God.

The Missing Article

The wording “the Word was God” assumes a definite THEOS, but THEOS in 1:1c lacks the definite article, and therefore seems to be indefinite:

One might argue that THEOS lacks the article to identify this as the predicate in the phrase, and that THEOS in 1:1c should be understood as definite.

Some people use Colwell’s rule to argue that THEOS in 1:1c is definite, but Colwell’s rule cannot be applied to John 1:1c, for his sample was limited to predicates that were identified beforehand as definite.

Research has shown that predicates in the special grammatical construct of John 1:1c, are primarily qualitative in force.  Qualitative predicates attribute the nature or qualities of the noun to the subject, e.g. “that man is a real tiger.”  This does not mean that that man is literally a tiger, but that he has tiger-like qualities. In John 1:1c it would mean that Jesus has God-like qualities, but that does not justify the translation “the Word was God,” for that identifies Jesus as God.

Some propose that Jesus is fully divine and has the same substance and nature as the Father, but that means that Jesus is God, and is not consistent with the finding that Jesus is called God is a qualitative sense.

Conclusion

The following objections to the translation “the Word was God” are therefore raised:

1. It interprets THEOS as a definite noun, while THEOS in 1:1c lacks the definite article.
2. Research has shown that THEOS in John 1:1c carries a qualitative force, and therefore describes Christ’s nature or qualities; not his person.
3. Since the Word “was with God,” a distinction is required between the THEOS in 1:1b and the THEOS in 1:1c.
4. The New Testament uses “God” for the Father alone.

It is highly significant that Jesus is described as THEOS in the first verse of John, which may be seen as a summary of the entire book, but the translation “the Word was God” goes beyond the grammar or the context, and is based on the Trinity theory.

Introduction

This is an article in the series on the translation of John 1:1c.  The previous articles are:

1. Introduction;
2. Who is “the Word?”
3. Meanings of the word THEOS
4. The translation: “the Word was a god;” and
5. The argument that THEOS is a count noun;

The purpose of the current article is to argue against the translation “the Word was God.

God

Firstly, what is does the phrase “the Word was God” mean?  It has different meanings for different people:

Merriam-Webster defines Trinity as “the unity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as three persons in one Godhead.”  In this view Jesus is God just as the Father is God.

Modalism is the doctrine that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are three modes or aspects of one single “God;” not three distinct and coexisting Persons of the divine Being.

Unitarianism “is a Christian theological movement named for its belief that the God in Christianity is one person, as opposed to the Trinity.”  “Unitarian Christians, therefore, believe that Jesus was inspired by God in his moral teachings, and he is a savior, but he was not a deity or God incarnate.” In this view, “God” refers to the Father alone, and does not include the Son.

The translation “the Word was God” is consistent with the Trinity theory and with Modalism.  In a previous article “the Word” was identified as Jesus, but Unitarianism identifies “the Word” as God’s plan and wisdom, which also brought forth His Son.

THEOS and God

John 1:1Consider, now, the Greek text.  The original Greek text did not contain spaces between words.  Neither did it have periods, commas, semi-colons, etc.  Converted literally to English, the second and third parts of John 1:1 could be presented as:

THEWORDWASWITHTHEGODANDGODWASTHEWORD

The translator has to parse the text; after which it might read:

THE WORD WAS WITH THE THEOS
AND THEOS WAS THE WORD.

From this we note the following:

THEOS is not the same as “God.”

We use the English word “God,” with a capital G, for only one specific Being.  The word “God” functions as the name of the only true God, just like Peter and Paul are names for humans.  The word “God,” in other words, is a proper noun, and is a synonym for the Old Testament name of the Creator: YHVH (pronounced Jehovah or Yahweh).

The word translated “God” or “god.” in the New Testament, is THEOS.  The Greek word THEOS does not have the same meaning as “God,” for THEOS is a common noun that is used for all gods, including false gods and idols, for instance:

1 Corinthians 8:5 … indeed there are many gods (THEOI) and many lords, 6 yet for us there is but one God (THEOS), the Father …

THEOS is therefore similar to our word “god.”  To refer to one specific deity, or even to the only true God, requires additional identification.

HO THEOS is “God.”

John 1:1In the New Testament, for example in John 1:1b, that additional identification is often provided in the form of the definite article preceding THEOS.  HO THEOS identifies this as one specific god.  Which god that is must be determined from the context, but given the context of the Bible, unless contrary identification is provided, HO THEOS refers to the only true God.

To translate “HO THEOS” from Greek, we drop the article and capitalize the G.   This applies to John 1:1b as well.  (For a more detailed discussion, see the article THEOS.)

Only the Father is “God.”

But HO THEOS (God) refers to the Father only.  This is seen in John 1:1b, where we read that “the Word was with THE GOD.”  THE GOD therefore refers to the Father and 1:1b means that Jesus was (in the beginning) with the Father.  By translating this phrase as “the Word was with God,” the translators imply that Jesus is not God.

This translation is consistent with the pattern in the New Testament.  The New Testament consistently makes a distinction between THEOS and Jesus.  This is discussed in the article Jesus is not God.  For example:

Jesus prayed, “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3).

Paul wrote, “There is no God but one. … there is but one God, the Father … and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him” (1. Cor. 8:4-6).

John saw, “no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple” (Rev. 21:22).

The following verse explicitly describes Jesus as a “man,” in contrast to the “God:”

I Tim. 2:5 “There is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”

The word THEOS appears more than 1300 times in the New Testament.  In many instances similar to those quoted above, HO THEOS is contrasted with Jesus, indicating that the Father alone is called God, and that Jesus therefore is not called God.

Jesus is called God.

Dr. Murray Harris, in his authoritative book “Jesus as God – The New Testament use of Theos in Reference to Jesus,” was only able to identify seven New Testament passages where Jesus might be called THEOS.  (He allocated different levels of certainty to different texts.)

The best known is John 1:1, which is discussed in the current series of articles, and where the current article argues that Jesus should not be called “God.”

Another example is Romans 9:5, where 50% of the 28 translations of this verse, as listed by BibleHub, translates this verse in such a way that it makes a distinction between God and Jesus.

Still another example is Thomas.  He refused to believe that Jesus rose from death (John 20:25), but when He saw Jesus, exclaimed, “My Lord and my God!” (v28).  It is a bit ridiculous to propose that Thomas, in two seconds, changed from not believing that Jesus rose from death to believing that Jesus is God.

These and others are discussed in the article, Jesus is called God.  It is not possible to prove that the Church, when the New Testament was written, thought of Jesus as God.  Just think of the absurdity of it: More than 1300 times “God” refers to the Father alone and only in seven disputed instances is Jesus perhaps called God.  The first Christians worshiped Jesus, but not independent of God.  It was only in the later centuries that the Church had to deal with the apparent contradiction between the pervasive monotheism of the Bible and Christ’s extremely elevated position.

Conclusion: Since the Bible consistently uses the title “God” for the Father alone, it is not appropriate to apply the same title to Jesus in John 1:1c.

THEOS in 1:1c lacks the article.

This is the crux of the dispute about the translation of John 1:1.  Since “God” is a proper noun, a possible objection to the wording, “the Word was God” is that this is a definite translation of an indefinite noun (THEOS).  In this section we attempt to explain the lack of the article before THEOS in this phrase.

English articles

English has both definite (“the”) and indefinite articles (“a” and “an”):

A definite noun identifies a particular instance.  For instance, when we say, “the rock” or “the man” or “the god,” we have a particular rock or man or god in mind.

An indefinite noun identifies any instance of a group or class.  For instance, “a man,” means any one instance of mankind.  Similarly, “a god” would identify any one instance of the gods.

Greek Articles

The Koine Greek of the New Testament has definite articles, often translated as “the,” but no indefinite articles.  Thus, a Greek writer could use of the article to make a noun definite.  The absence of the article usually signifies indefiniteness.  Therefore, whenever we come across the indefinite “a” or “an” in an English translation, these words were inserted by the translator.

Articles in John 1:1

This distinction between definite and indefinite nouns is relevant to John 1:1c, for THEOS in 1:1b has the article.  This phrase literally reads, “THE WORD WAS WITH THE GOD.” It therefore refers to one specific god.  THEOS in 1:1c, on the other hand, lacks the article.  In the absence of other information, one would assume that that is an indefinite THEOS, which would mean:

That it must be distinguished from the articulated THEOS in 1:1b.
> That it cannot be translated “God,” for “God” is a definite noun.
> That it could be translated as “the Word was a god.”

But before we propose conclusions, let us consider further why THEOS in 1:1c lacks the article.

Word Order is Reversed.

John 1:1c reads: THEOS ÊN HO LOGOS.
Literally translated, it means: GOD WAS THE WORD.

The first task of the translator is to identify the subject of the clause.  In English, word order identifies the subject and object.  ‘Dog bites boy’ is not the same as ‘boy bites dog’.  Greek does not use word order to differentiate between types of nouns.  It uses other techniques:

In phrases with action verbs, Greek uses different word endings (word cases) to identify the subject and the object of the sentence, both of which are nouns.  John 1:1 gives us an example of word endings.  It reads, “The Word was with God (TON THEON), and the Word was God (THEOS).”  THEOS and THEON have the exact same meaning.  The different word endings do not change the meaning of the base word.

In phrases with linking verbs (such as ‘is’ or ‘was’) the subject and object nouns are in the same case.  In such phrases, if one noun has the article and the other does not, the noun with the article is the subject (Dana and Mantey, p. 148; McGaughy, p. 50; etc.).

Greek can consequently switch the word order around and it would still mean the same thing.

John 1:1c is an example of a phrase with a linking verb (“was”).  THEOS and LOGOS are therefore in the same case.  But since “the Word” (HO LOGOS) has the article, and THEOS does not, LOGOS is the subject and THEOS is the object.  To translate this phrase to English, where we like to put the subject first, the phrase is reversed and it becomes, THE WORD WAS THEOS.

The question then is, does THEOS in 1:1c lack the article to indicate that THEOS is the predicate in this sentence?  Should THEOS in 1:1c therefore be understood as definite?

Collwell

Supporters of the translation “the Word was God” attempt to use Colwell’s rule to show that THEOS in 1:1c is definite, but this is not a valid conclusion.

Special Grammatical Construct

John 1:1c has a special grammatical construct to which special rules apply.  This construct is called a preverbal anarthrous predicate nominative:

Preverbal: The predicate precedes the verb.
Anarthrous: The predicate lacks the article.
Predicate: A predicate is a noun that says something about the subject.  In John 1:1c (“The Word was THEOS”), “the Word” is the subject, “was” is a linking verb and THEOS says something about the subject.  THEOS is therefore the predicate.
Nominative: this is the case in which the predicate appears in such Greek structures.  This is not important for our discussion.

Colwell’s method

Colwell selected a number of predicates which he beforehand identified as definite on the basis of the context.  Analyzing them, he found, in this special grammatical construct, as in John 1:1c, that such definite predicates usually lack the article.  He therefore concluded that such predicates may be definite, depending on the context.

Some supporters of the translation “the Word was God” read Colwell as conforming that all predicates in such grammatical constructs are definite or usually definite.  But this is an invalid assumption, for Colwell’s sample was limited to predicates that were identified to be definite.  His sample was not representative of all predicates in such constructs.  He was therefore only able to make a statement about definite predicates (see Dixon, pp. 11-12).  His rule does not say anything about other predicates.  It is not valid to reverse his rule to read that predicates without the article (in such constructs) are definite.

Conclusion: Colwell’s rule does not apply to John 1:1c because his sample was limited to predicates that were beforehand identified as definite.

THEOS in John 1:1c is used qualitatively.

Qualitative nouns

Grammarians distinguish between definite, indefinite and qualitative nouns.  Definite and indefinite nouns have been defined above.  They identify or classify the subject of the sentence.  Qualitative nouns signify neither definiteness (a specific instance of a group), nor indefiniteness (any instance of a group). Rather, they attribute the nature or qualities of the noun to the subject of the sentence, e.g. “that man is a real tiger.”  In this way it is possible to describe a person, who is not actually a god, but a human being who is admired by many people for his or her 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.

Research

Harner and Dixon found that 80% of the predicates in the special grammatical construct, of which John 1:1c is an example, are qualitative.  Harner wrote:

“We have seen that anarthrous predicate nouns preceding the verb may be primarily qualitative in force … In John 1:1 I think that the qualitative force of the predicate is so prominent that the noun cannot be regarded as definite.”

This finding means that 1:1c does not classify Jesus as “a god” (indefinite).  Neither does it identify Jesus as “the god” (definite).  However, the translation “the Word was God” interprets THEOS as definite, for “God” is a name.

Fully Divine

In the first centuries, after the New Testament was written, the Church had to deal with the fact that the Bible dictates monotheism, but that Jesus is sometimes described with divine attributes.  Different views developed in the Church.  After the Roman Empire adopted Christianity as its official religion, it took control over the Church.  However, the Arian controversy (about the deity of Christ) caused disagreement in the Church, and that the Empire would not tolerate.  Caesar Constantine therefore called a Church Council in the year 325 in which the dominant view was adopted and the minority was slandered, excommunicated and banned.  The Nicene Creed, formulated for the year 325 Church Council, stated that Jesus was of the same substance and nature as God.  The Nicene Creed thus declared Jesus to be be God.

Since THEOS is most probably used with a qualitative force in John 1:1c, it ascribes god-like qualities to Jesus.  Trinitarians often takes this one step further and claim that the Son possesses all the attributes of God, with the emphasis on “all.”  They sometimes use the words of the Nicene Creed (same substance and nature) to describe the relationship between God and Jesus.  In other words, they argue that the Word fully shares the essence of the Father, though they differ in person.

But to say that Jesus possess the same substance and nature as God goes beyond a qualitative force.  It is to say that He is God.  Then it is not longer a qualitative statement, but a definite one.  For example, when we say “that man is a tiger,” we cannot argue that he has the same substance and nature as a tiger, for then he is a real tiger.  Rather, what we are saying is that he is as tough as a tiger.

Conclusion

The following objections to the translation “the Word was God” are therefore raised:

The English word “God” is a name for one specific being.  In other words, “the Word was God” interprets THEOS as a definite noun.  But in the Greek of 1:1c THEOS lacks the definite article.

John 1:1c has a special grammatical construct.  Grammarians have concluded that predicates in such constructs are primarily qualitative in force.  This implies that THEOS in 1:1c denotes Christ’s nature or qualities; not his person.  The translation “the Word was God,” in contrast, interprets THEOS as definite, for “God” is a name and not a quality.

Considering the immediate context, the Word “was with God” (1:1b).  This requires a distinction between the THEOS in 1:1b and the THEOS in 1:1c.

An analysis of the word THEOS (God) in the New Testament shows that this is consistently used for the Father only.  To apply this as a title to Jesus as well, is contrary to how the Bible uses the title “God.”

Trinitarian Interpretation

If “God” refers to the Father alone, the statement that “the Word was God” (1:1c) is Modalism, for then it means that Jesus just is the Father.  But since the Trinity theory has been the dominant theory since the fourth century, it is fair to assume that this is what the translation is based on.  However, to translate THEOS in both 1:1b and 1:1c as “God” contradicts the grammar and the context.

It is, nevertheless, highly significant that Jesus is called THEOS right in the first verse of John; in the context of “the Beginning,” when all things were created (v3).  John 1:1 serves as the introduction to and summary of the entire fourth gospel.

People may find it hard to accept, but John and Paul and Hebrews declared that Jesus existed before He became a human being, and that God created all things through His Son.  He is before all things (Col. 1:17).  Nevertheless, the New Testament maintains a clear distinction between Him and God.  In the centuries after Christ the Church struggled to reconcile these concepts and formulate the Nicene Creed that describes the Son as “true God from true God.”

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God (John 1:1).

Overview

John 1:1 is an important verse in the dispute about the deity of Christ.  Some view this verse as the clearest declaration of His deity.

This article serves as an introduction to the series of articles on the translation of John 1:1.  The dispute over the translation of John 1:1 centers on the lack of the definite article (the) before the word GOD (THEOS) in John 1:1c.  Some see this omission as grounds for an indefinite translation: “the Word was a god.”  This article discusses the following:

● Alternative translations of John 1:1c;
● Why Jesus is called “the Word?
● What is “the beginning?
● The word “with” in the phrase “with God;
● The phrase “the Word was with God” seems to make a distinction between Jesus and God.
● The verse does not say that Jesus was created in the beginning.

Introduction

Nicene CreedThe second phrase in 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.  In the fourth century, Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, and the emperor effectively took control of the Church.  The first church council was called by Emperor Constantine, specifically to address the prevailing dispute in the Church over the deity of Christ.  That council, under Constantine’s influence, resulted in the Nicene Creed of 325.  For a discussion of the major role which Emperor Constantine played in the formulation of the Nicene Creed of 325, listen to Kegan Chandler on the term “homoousios.”

John 1:1 has had a significant impact on the development of church doctrines on the nature of Christ.  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 in which Jesus is called THEOS (GOD).  The other verses refer to Jesus as THEOS in the time when the New Testament was written, but John 1:1 refers to Him as THEOS in “the beginning;” when “all things” were created (1:3).

The dispute over the translation centers on the lack of a definite article (the) before the word GOD (THEOS) in John 1:1c.  John included the article before 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 the current series of articles is to discuss what John 1:1 means and how it is best translated.

Purpose of this article

Jehovah Witnesses The majority of Christianity has a one-sided focus on the verses that emphasize the divinity of Christ.  Jehovah’s Witnesses err to the other side and focus only on 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, as 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 main principles.  Many experts are quoted on these websites, but the current article does not always quote such experts.

Three Phrases

John 1:1The current article often refers to the three phrases of John 1:1.  Below the majority translation is given, together with the Greek transliteration.

To understand John 1:1 requires some understanding of some Greek words and grammar.  However, 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 and upper case 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)

Preliminary Observations

Article: In the 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 the 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 exact 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 between the subject and 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 “the Word” as the Almighty.

The Word was a god” is primarily found only in the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ New World Translation. This translation 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 the Word has divine attributes, but that He is distinct from the Almighty.

The Word

LOGOSThe Word” (Greek LOGOS) in John 1:1 is widely understood as referring to Jesus, as indicated in John 1:14-17.  In the Book of Revelation, which was written by the same John, “His name is called The Word of God” (Rev. 19:13).

Matthew Henry proposed that Jesus is “the Word” 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.

With God

The phrase THE WORD WAS WITH GOD (1:1b) means more than merely that the Son existed with the Father:

The term translated “with” gives “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.”  The NIV translation explains this as that He was “in closest relationship with the Father.”

In His prayer, Jesus spoke 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” here refers to the Father alone.  Another clear example of “God” referring to the Father alone 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 more than 1300 times that the title THEOS (GOD) is used in the New Testament, it almost always refers to the Father exclusively:

The Nicene Creed similarly 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)

For a discussion of this important principle, see Jesus is distinct from God and Jesus is subordinate to God.

Jesus was not created, and always existed.

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 “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 “the 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 birth to His Son, God created the universe.  This sounds mysterious, but when we talk about the creation, then we come face to face with eternity, which is a complete mystery.

The beginning” was also the beginning of time.  Therefore, if He was “begotten” in “the beginning,” then there was no time that “the Word” did not exist.

Articles in the Christology series: Is Jesus God?

   1.    The three views of the Son
  2.    Jesus existed prior to His birth in the form of God.
  3.    Jesus in Colossians
  4.    Does the book of Revelation present Jesus as God?
  5.    Jesus in Philippians: Did He empty Himself of equality with God?
  6.    Who is the Word in John 1:1?
  7.    Jesus is not God.
  8.    God is the Head of Christ.
  9.    Jesus is called God.
 10.   He is the Only Begotten Son of God.
 11.  God created all things through His Son.
 12.  Jesus is worshiped.  Does that mean that He is God?
Worship verses in the New Testament
 13.  Jesus has equality with God.
14. 
Firstborn of all creation (Col. 1:15) 
15. 
Summary of the series of articles

  Interpretation of John 1:1
16. 
Introduction 
17. 
The Word was a god.

 18.  But THEOS is a count noun.
  Jesus in the Old Testament
19.
  Jesus in the Old Testament

Theos (God) is a Count Noun. Does that mean that John 1:1c must be translated “the Word was a god?”

Overview

Jesus is 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.
Jesus is Lord.
He is God.
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.”

The Word

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.

For a further discussion, see Jesus is not God and God is the Head of Christ.

God is a count noun.

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 JW “position is that THEOS must always be a count noun.”  Hartley agrees: THEOS is a count noun because it can be both indefinite and plural, regardless of its context or understood “meaning.” 

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.

YHVH, pronounced Jehovah or Yahweh

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 is a 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. 

Other Examples

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.

He is God” (Deut. 4:35, 39, 7:9; Joshua 2:11; 1 Kings 18:24, 39). 

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.” 

Conclusion

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.

Articles in the Christology series: Is Jesus God?

   1.    The three views of the Son 
  2.    Jesus existed prior to His birth in the form of God. 
  3.    Jesus in Colossians
  4.    Jesus in Philippians: Did He empty Himself of equality with God? 
  5.    Who is the Word in John 1:1?
  6.    Jesus is not God.  
  7.    God is the Head of Christ
  8.    Jesus is called God. 
  9.    He is the Only Begotten Son of God. 
 10.  God created all things through His Son. 
 11.  Jesus is worshiped.  Does that mean that He is God?  
       Worship verses in the New Testament   
 12.  Jesus has equality with God. 
 13. 
Who is Jesus? – Summary of the series of articles 
 14.  Where do we find Jesus in the Old Testament?

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).

Does the book of Revelation present Jesus as God?

John 1:1

The writer of Revelation wrote in John 1:1 as follows:

(a) In the beginning was the Word,
(b) and the Word was with God,
(c) and the Word was God.

John 1:14 identifies “the Word” as Jesus.  In John 1:1(b) “God” refers to the Father.  The statement that “the Word was with God,” makes a distinction between God and Jesus, as if Jesus is not God.  But this seems to be contradicted by the statement in (c) that “the Word was God.”  Different people explain this apparent contradiction differently.

Theos

The Greek word translated “God” is theos.  There are at least three possible ways in which theos is used:

(1) As a common noun (group name) for exalted beings;
(2) As a common noun (group name) for the Trinity;
(3) As a proper noun (a name identifying one specific Being), namely the Father;

The question is in what way or ways theos is used in John 1:1.  These three possible uses of theos, and their implications, may be explained as follows:

Theos as an exalted being

The Jehovah Witnesses propose that Jesus is a created being; the first created being that created all other beings; nevertheless, a created being.  Their New World Translation therefore renders John 1:1(c) as, “the Word was a god.”  They find support for this interpretation in the following:

Firstly, the Greeks used theos for their multitude of gods.  The deities that the ancient Greeks believed were hardly anything at all like the God of the Bible. Instead, they were essentially just immortal, glorified humans with supernatural powers.  Theos may therefore be used for any real or factitious being that is exalted above others.  The New Testament sometimes uses theos in this sense.  It several times uses theos for “gods made with hands” (Acts 19:26), and even once for Satan, as “the god of this world” (2 Cor. 4:4).

Secondly, the original Greek text of the New Testament does not differentiate between upper and lower case letters.  Theos may therefore be translated either as “God” or as “god.”

Thirdly, the Greek language has a definite article (the).  Theos in (b) has the definite article, and literary translated reads “the God.” Theos in (c) does not have the definite article, and could therefore literally be translated “a god.”

The translation “the Word was a god” implies that Jesus is one of perhaps many similar created but exalted beings.

Theos as group name for the Trinity

When we say “Peter is a human,” then “Peter” is a name that identifies a specific being (WHO he is).  “Human,” on the other hand, is a common noun that explains WHAT Peter is.  Similarly, when we say “Jesus is God,” then “Jesus” is a name that identifies one specific being.  “God” is a common noun that explains WHAT Jesus is.

The Jehovah Witnesses understand theos in John 1:1(c) as a common noun for exalted beings.  An alternative understanding of theos is that it adopts a more specific meaning in the New Testament.  Specifically, some propose that theos is used in the New Testament as a common noun (a group name) for the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  If that is the true, then theos in John 1:1(b), which refers to the Father, and theos in John 1:1(c), which refers to the Son, have exactly the same meaning.  Then theos in these statements describe both the Father and the Son as “Godhead,” a term which we can borrow from Colossians 2:8.  With this understanding of theos it is concluded that Jesus is co-equal with the Father; two Persons, but one divine Being.

Theos as a proper name for the Father exclusively

Others propose that theos in the New Testament adopts an even more specific meaning, namely that theos is used as a proper noun (a name) for the Father exclusively.  It is then proposed that John 1:1 uses theos in two ways:

In John 1:1(b) theos is used as a proper noun (a name) for the Father exclusively.

In John 1:1(c) theos is used as a common noun to describe Jesus as the Christian God; the One whom Christians worship, admire and obey.  The Greeks who worshiped Zeus and Apollos and many other gods, but Christians worship Jesus.

Purpose

This is a huge topic, which is discussed in a series of articles on this website.  One of the considerations, to decide between these alternatives, is how the New Testament uses the term theos.  The purpose of this article is particularly to determine how the book of Revelation uses theos:

Is theos used as a common noun or as a name?  Stated differently, is theos used as a name for one specific being (a proper noun), or for group of beings (a common noun)?

Specifically, is Jesus described as theos (God), or is theos only used for the Father?

Theos is used about 100 times in Revelation.  Most instances do not provide further identification, for instance:

The great wine press of the wrath of God” (14:19), or
The wrath of God” (15:1).

This article only considers uses of theos in Revelation that provide further identification that help us to understand who is intended.

Jesus is distinct from God.

(1) Revelation opens with the words,

The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him …” (1:1).

This immediately makes a distinction between God and Jesus, which means that theos (God) is used for the Father exclusively.  The following further examples show that Revelation consistently and clearly makes a distinction between God and Jesus:

(2) In the next verse John testifies of “the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ” (1:2).  There are many similar phrases in Revelation, making a distinction between God and Jesus:

the word of God and the testimony of Jesus” (1:9);
the commandments of God and … the testimony of Jesus” (12:17);
the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus” (14:12);
their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God” (20:4).

(3) Speaking about Jesus, John wrote “He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father” (1:6).

(4) Jesus similarly refers to God as “My God.” He said, for instance, “He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God” (3:12, 13; cf. 3:2;).

(5) In Revelation 5 Jesus appears in the throne room as a Lamb.  Then “they sang a new song, saying … You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe” (4:9-10).

(6)a great multitude … standing before the throne and before the Lamb, … and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb” (7:9-10).

(7) The woman of Revelation 12 “gave birth to a son … and her child was caught up to God and to His throne” (12:5).  (To see that this Child is Jesus, compare this verse with 19:15.)

(8) After Michael won the victory over Satan, “I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, ‘Now the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come’” (12:10).

(9) The 144000 “have been purchased from among men as first fruits to God and to the Lamb” (14:4).

(10) Those who have “a part in the first resurrection … will be priests of God and of Christ” (20:6).

(11) John was given a vision of the New Jerusalem.  He “saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple” (21:22).  Similarly, “the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb” (21:23).

(12) John saw “a river of the water of life …coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb” (22:1).  “The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it (the New Jerusalem)” (22:3).

These examples show clearly that Revelation consistently makes a distinction between God and Jesus.  Theos is used about 100 times in Revelation.  The 12 points above show that in about 17 instances theos (God) refers to the Father exclusively.  In not a single instance in Revelation is theos used for Jesus.  This means that when we read of “God” in Revelation, we must always assume that the writer refers to the Father specifically.

God and Jesus are often mentioned together.  God communicates with the Church through Jesus (1:1).  Jesus make us priests to His God (1:6), but they become priests of both God and of Christ (20:6).  Jesus purchased for God with His blood men from every tribe (4:9-10).  Together God and Jesus are the temple and the light of the New Jerusalem (21:22, 23).  Together they will rule over the New Jerusalem (22:1, 3).  (The throne is a symbol of the right to rule.)  They are even worshiped together at the end of Revelation 5, but they are distinct.

Conclusion: Theos (God) is used in Revelation as a name (proper noun) for the Father exclusively.  Theos is not used for Jesus.

Him who sits on the throne

Further examples of the distinction between God and Jesus can be found if we recognize:

(1) That “Him who sits on the throne” is God, and
(2) That Jesus is presented as distinct from “Him who sits on the throne.”

The word “throne” is found about 100 times in the Bible.  Fifty of those are in Revelation.  The throne is therefore a central concept in Revelation.  Much happen “around the throne” (4:3, 6; 5:11; 7:11, etc.), “before the throne” (4:5, 6, 10; 7:9, 11, etc.) and comes “from the throne” (4:5; 16:17; 22:1; etc.).

Revelation 4 may be called the throne room chapter.  The word “throne” appears at least 10 times in that one chapter alone.  Jesus is absent from this chapter; He will only appear in chapter 5.  The description of God in Revelation 4 therefore refers to the Father only.  In that chapter John saw:

A throne was standing in heaven, and One sitting on the throne. And He who was sitting was like a jasper stone and a sardius in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, like an emerald in appearance” (4:2-3)

This is not a very specific description, but then we must remember that John also wrote that “No one has seen God at any time” (John 1:18).  God certainly manifests Himself in different forms at different times, for instance in this vision, but God Himself cannot be seen, for He exists beyond the physical realm. “God is spirit” (John 4:24).

After the introduction of “One sitting on the throne,” He is often called “Him who sits on the throne” (4:9, 10; 5:1, 7, 13; 6:16).

Him who sits on the throne” is God:

This already clear from the context in Revelation 4, where “Him who sits on the throne” (4:10) is called “God” (4:8, 11).  This is confirmed by the following:

The “great multitude” “cry out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation to our God who sits on the throne’” (7:9-10). 

A few verses later it says that the “great multitude” “are before the throne of God” (7:15).

The son of the woman of Revelation 12 “was caught up to God and to His throne” (12:5).

The twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who sits on the throne” (19:4).

Jesus is distinct from “Him who sits on the throne.

This is already shown by Revelation 4, where Jesus is absent, and where “Him who sits on the throne” is worshiped.  The following confirm the distinction between Jesus and “Him who sits on the throne:”

In Revelation 5 Jesus appears as a Lamb.  “He came and took the book out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne” (5:7).

At the end of Revelation 5 “every created thing … I heard saying, To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb” (5:13).

At the return of Christ, the lost masses cry, “Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb” (6:16).

The saved “great multitude,” in contrast, stands “before the throne and before the Lamb.”  They “cry out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.’” (7:9-10).  (Jesus is called “the Lamb” about 30 times in Revelation.)

If “Him who sits on the throne” is God, and if Jesus is distinct from “Him who sits on the throne,” then Jesus is distinct from God, which means that Revelation uses theos (God) to refer to the Father exclusively.

Revelation 22 refers to “the throne of God and of the Lamb” (22:1, 3).  This again makes a distinction between God and Jesus, but now it is the throne also of Jesus.  Revelation 3:21 explains why: Jesus said, “I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne” (3:21).  This is consistent with the frequent message in the New Testament that Jesus sits “at the right hand of God” (e.g. 1 Peter 1:22).  It therefore remains the Father’s throne.

Titles unique for the Father

Revelation 4 introduces the throne room.  In this chapter Jesus is absent.  He only enters the throne room in Revelation 5.  Revelation 4 therefore describes the Father.  In it we find the following description of Him:

4:8 … the four living creatures … day and night they do not cease to say, “HOLY, HOLY, HOLY is THE LORD GOD, THE ALMIGHTY, WHO WAS AND WHO IS AND WHO IS TO COME.” 4:9 And when the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, to Him who lives forever and ever, 4:10 the twenty-four elders will fall down before Him who sits on the throne (cf. 4:2; 5:1, 13; 6:16; 7:10), and will worship Him who lives forever and ever, and will cast their crowns before the throne, saying, 4:11 “Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.”

This quote describes this Being as theos (God) and twice as “Him who sits on the throne.”  This confirms that this quote describes the Father, in distinction to Jesus.  But this quote provides additional descriptions of the Father, namely as:

Who Was and Who Is and Who Is to Come,
The Almighty,
“Him who lives forever and ever” (twice), and
“You created all things

These descriptions are discussed below.

Who Was and Who Is and Who Is to Come

The context in which this title is found in Revelation 2 implies that this refers to the Father, as distinct from Jesus.  The following is further proof:  

Firstly, in Revelation’s introduction, John brings wishes of grace and peace to the seven churches from the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit (1:4-5).  In these verses the Father is called, “Him who is and who was and who is to come.”

Secondly, Him “who is and who was and who is to come” is also called”Lord God” (1:8; 11:17).  Since it was already shown above that Revelation applies theos (God) exclusively to the Father, the phrase “Lord God” means that this is the Father speaking.  

In 11:17, since the kingdom of the world has already become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, the “to come” is omitted, and the Father is only called, “who are and who were.”

It is proposed here that the title “who are and who were” may be understood as the “I AM WHO I AM” of Exodus 3, where YHVH (Yahweh or Jehovah) identified Himself:

I AM WHO I AM … Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you. … Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘The LORD (YHVH).’ This is My name forever” (Ex. 3:14-15)

LORD” in the Old Testament, in capital letters, translates God’s proper name YHVH.  These verse from Exodus explains the meaning of the name YHVH as “I AM WHO I AM.”  This may be understood to mean the One who exists without cause, but Who is the Cause of everything that exists.

Personal note: It always scares me to think about why things exists.  Why is there not nothing?  The answer is that all things exist because God exists.  In fact, He is that which exists.  Everything that exists came from within Him.  But these thoughts scare me.  My entire existence depends on Him.  But then I thank Him for the revelation which He gave of Himself through Jesus Christ.

The Almighty

Almighty” is used about 27 times in the Bible.  It is found 4 times in the Pentateuch, 9 times in Job and also 9 times in Revelation.  This is therefore also an important term in Revelation.  In Revelation this title is never used for Jesus; only for the Father, as is confirmed by the following:

I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple” (21:22).

This verse makes a distinction between God and the Lamb.  It also identifies God as “the Almighty,” which means that Jesus is not “the Almighty.” 

We already saw that the contents of the book of Revelation was created by God, and given to Jesus (1:1).  The title “Father” also means that He is the ultimate Source of all things.  As stated above, Jesus referred to the Father as “My God”  (e.g. 3:2).

Further proof that “the Almighty” refers to the Father only is that the title “Him who is and who was and who is to come” and “God.” both of which have already been identified as the Father, are often combined “the Almighty”:

I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty” (1:8).

And the four living creatures… do not cease to say, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy is The Lord God, The Almighty, Who Was and Who Is and Who Is To Come.’” (4:8)

And the twenty-four elders … worshiped God, saying, “We give You thanks, O Lord God, the Almighty, who are and who were” (11:16-17).

Those who had been victorious over the beast … sang … saying, “Great and marvelous are Your works, O Lord God, the Almighty” (15:2-3)

I heard the altar saying, ‘Yes, O Lord God, the Almighty, true and righteous are Your judgments’” (16:7).

The war of the great day of God, the Almighty” (16:14)

I heard something like the voice of a great multitude … saying, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns” (19:6).

The Word of God … treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty” (19:13-15).

I saw no temple in it (the New Jerusalem), for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple” (Rev. 21:22).

Him who lives forever and ever

This title is used of the Father in 4:9, in 4:10 and in 10:6.  In 7:2 He similarly is “the living God.”  He is specifically called “God, who lives forever and ever” in 15:7.  Revelation always uses “God” for the Father exclusively.

In Revelation 1 Jesus says “I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore” (1:18).  “The Son also gives life to whom He wishes” (John 5:21), but we must always remember that “just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself” (John 5:26).  The Father is the ultimate Source of life, but that life flows through the Son to other beings.

 

Creator

It is said of the Father, “You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created” (4:10-11).  Later we hear:

The angel …  swore by Him who lives forever and ever, Who created heaven and the things in it, and the earth and the things in it, and the sea and the things in it” (10:5-6)

“Fear God, and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come; worship Him who made the heaven and the earth and sea and springs of waters” (14:7)

The Father created all things, but again, God created all things through His Son.  Jesus is the Mediator between us and God in all things:

There is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tit. 2:5).

Worship

Worship” is another of Revelation’s key words.  This word is found about 150 times in the NASB translation of the entire Bible, of which more than 20 are in Revelation.  What we experience today a war for the minds of the people.  While “all who dwell on the earth will worship” the beast (13:8; 14:9), a strong message goes out world-wide: “Fear God, and give Him glory … worship Him who made the heaven and the earth and sea and springs of waters” (14:7).  The Creator alone must be worshiped.  

In Revelation 4—the throne room chapter—“Him who sits on the throne” is worshiped.  Similarly, during the seven last plagues, it is announced:

O Lord God, the Almighty … all the nations will come and worship before you.” (15:3-4)

Twice John fell down before the angel to worship him and twice the angel prevented him from doing so:

Do not do that; I am a fellow servant of yours and your brethren who hold the testimony of Jesus; worship God” (19:10; cf. 22:9).

Since Revelation reserves the title “God” for the Father, these are instructions to worship the Father only:

The twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who sits on the throne” (19:4).

All the angels … fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God” (7:11).

The twenty-four elders, who sit on their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshiped God” (11:16).

But in Revelation 5 Jesus is also worshiped:

When He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each one holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints” (5:8).

In Revelation 5 “every created thing” worships “Him who sits on the throne, and … the Lamb” (5:13-14).

In the article Jesus is worshiped.  Does that mean that He is God? it is argued that Jesus is not worshiped independent or co-equal with God, but that He is worshiped:

  • Because God instructed the angels to worship Him (Heb. 1:6);
  • Because God gave Him “the name which is above every name” (Phil. 2:9);
  • To the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:11).

Conclusion

In Revelation “Jesus Christ” (1:5) is many times called the “Lamb.”  He is also called “Lord of lords and King of kings” (17:14), “Ruler of the kings of the earth” (1:5), “Faithful witness” (1:5), “Faithful and True” (19:11), “Firstborn of the dead” (1:5), “the first and the last” (1:17; 2:8), “One like a son of man” (1:13) and “the Son of God” (2:18).   “His name is called the Word of God” (19:13).

The Word was a god

Jehovah Witnesses point out that Jesus is also called “the Beginning of the creation of God” (3:14), and propose that this means that He is a created being.  But the same John, who wrote Revelation, also wrote that Jesus is “the only begotten from the Father” (e.g. John 1:14).  If He was begotten from the Father, then He was not created.  See Only Begotten Son of God.  John is also clear that,

All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being” (John 1:3)

If He created all things, then He Himself is not created.  In any case, it is clear from Revelation that Jesus is worshiped with God.  Jesus also said,

All will honor the Son even as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him” (John 5:23).

Furthermore, Jesus “has the seven Spirits of God” (3:1; cf. 5:6).  “He has a name written on Him which no one knows except Himself” (19:12).  For these reasons the New World Translation of John 1:1(c) as “the Word was a god” is not accepted. 

Co-equal

It is, on the other hand, also clear that theos (God) is used exclusively for the Father.

Of the about 100 times that theos is used in Revelation, about 17 instances provide further information that help us to determine who is intended.  In all 17 instances theos is not used as a group name for the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, but used to refer to the Father exclusively. 

The letter to the Colossians was also analyzed to see how that letter uses theos.  See Is Jesus God? – A study of the letter to the Colossians.  That articles shows that God created all things through Jesus, that Jesus holds all creation together and that Jesus rules over all.  But Colossians also presents Jesus as distinct from God.

Theos is used about 1300 times in the New Testament.  The article Jesus is not God shows many clear examples from the other books of the New Testament that theos is used as a name for the Father only.  Therefore, when we encounter theos (God) in the New Testament, we must assume it refers to the Father exclusively. 

However, in about 7 instances the New Testament refers to Jesus as God, of which John 1:1(c) is the best known.  It is proposed that, in those seven instances, theos is used is a different way, namely to say that Jesus is the One Whom Christians worship and obey. The Greeks who worshiped Zeus and Apollos and many other gods, but Christians worship Jesus.  This does not make Him co-equal with the Father.  The Father alone is God; the Source of all things.  The article Jesus is subordinate to God shows that Jesus was subordinate to God both prior to His birth and after His ascension.  Nevertheless, Jesus is our God, for He is the One whom we worship and admire.

Articles in the Christology series:
Is Jesus God?

  1.    The three views of the Son 
  2.    Jesus existed prior to His birth in the form of God. 
  3.    Jesus in Colossians
  4.    Jesus in Philippians: Did He empty Himself of equality with God? 
  5.    Who is the Word in John 1:1?
  6.    Jesus is not God.  
  7.    God is the Head of Christ
  8.    Jesus is called God. 
  9.    He is the Only Begotten Son of God. 
 10.  God created all things through His Son. 
 11.  Jesus is worshiped.  Does that mean that He is God?  
       Worship verses in the New Testament   
 12.  Jesus has equality with God. 
 13. 
Who is Jesus? – Summary of the series of articles 
 14.  Where do we find Jesus in the Old Testament?