John 1:1, John 1:18 in John 20:28 call Jesus God, but only the Father is God.

Purpose

Gospel of JohnThe purpose of this article, and the ones following after it, is to determine whether Jesus is God according to John’s gospel, or whether only the Father is God.  The ultimate purpose is particularly to determine what John meant when he wrote that “the Word was theos (god)” in John 1:1c.  As discussed in the article theos, the word Greek theos has various different meanings.  John 1:1c may, for instance, be translated as:

“The Word was God” (definite) or
“The Word was a god” (indefinite) or
“The Word was like God” (qualitative).

Which of these is the intended meaning should also be the picture of Jesus we find by reading the entire gospel.  To prepare these articles, the gospel was read carefully and all relevant statements were selected and categorized.

Summary

Is Jesus called God in John’s gospel?

The title theos (usually translated “God” or “god”) appears more than 100 times in John’s gospel:

In most instances it is not clear whether it refers to the Father or to the Son, for instance: “There came a man sent from God, whose name was John” (1:6).

In ten instances it is clear that theos refers to the Father exclusively, for instance, “the Word (Jesus) was with God” (1:1b).  God has never been seen (1:18), while Jesus was seen.  The Father is even called “the one and only God” (5:44; 17:3) and Jesus referred to Him as “My God and your God” (20:17).

Three verses are sometimes used to argue that Jesus is called “God:”

John 1:1c

John 1:1c does not use theos in a definite sense, and therefore may not be translated “the Word was God.”  It is used in a qualitative sense, and therefore may be translated, “the Word was like God.”  Or, using the phraseology from Philippians 2, the Word “existed in the form of God” and had “equality with God” (Phil. 2:6).  But, as also argued in the article Jesus in Philippians 2, if Jesus “existed in the form of God” and if He had “equality with God,” then He is still distinct from God.

John 1:18

John 1:18 calls Jesus “the only begotten theos,” but only in some of the ancient manuscripts.  In the manuscript tradition with the widest geographical distribution, He is called “the only begotten huios” (son).  Therefore, the KJV translates this phrase as “the only begotten Son.”  John originally wrote either theos (god) or huios (son), but somebody corrupted the text either on purpose or by accident, and textual critics are not sure what John actually originally wrote.

John 20:28

John 20:28 records Thomas, when he saw the resurrected Jesus for the first time, as saying “my Lord and my God.”  This happened just after Jesus completed his work on earth and just before the apostle took the work forward in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Thomas could not have referred to Jesus as “God,” for the following reasons:

1. Jesus never taught the disciples that He is God.  Jesus consistently made a distinction between Himself and God.

2. When Thomas said these words, the apostles did not believe that Jesus is God.  For example, the two disciples walking to Emmaus spoke of Him as “a prophet” and said “we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:19-21).

3. Afterwards, as recorded in the book of Acts, the disciples did not teach that Jesus is God.

Therefore, if Thomas did apply the title theos to Jesus, it could have been in the sense of God’s representative.  The Bible does use theos sometimes in that sense.  But Thomas actually said ho theos.  This title is used for the Father only, and implies that when Thomas said “my God,” he actually referred to the Father.

Conclusion

The evidence is clear that Jesus is not called God in John’s gospel.  Only the Father is God.  However, the view that Jesus is God does not rely on the argument that He is called God.  It is based on other facts, such as that He is worshiped equal to God.  These matters are discussed in the articles that will follow after this one.

John’s Gospel

Critical scholars believe that John’s gospel was written by a number of writers over a period of time.  But the gospel expresses a coherent and consistent view of God and Jesus.  It does not seem to be written by more than one person.

John’s gospel was written much later than the other (synoptic) gospels.  It was written in the eighties or nineties, and has a much higher Christology (view of Christ) than the other gospels.  Some interpreters understand John’s gospel as saying that Jesus existed before His conception in Mary’s womb, and even that Jesus is God Himself.  The other gospels do not have such a high view of Jesus.  In the other gospels Jesus seems to be just a man; an anointed and sanctified man, but still only a man.  Competing views are therefore expressed, namely:

1.  John contradicts the first three gospels. OR

2.  John does not contradict the other gospels, for Jesus is God the Son also in Matthew, Mark and Luke; as divine as the Father is. OR

3. John does not contradict the other gospels, for John’s gospel is generally misunderstood, and even in John’s gospel Jesus is merely a man; God’s Messiah; and not God.

Unless otherwise stated, all quotes are from the NASB of John’s gospel.

Jesus is distinct from God.

Rather than referring to Jesus as God, John’s gospel reserves the title “God” for the Father.  The following phrases make a distinction between Jesus and God:

The Word (Jesus) was with God” (1:1b).

No one has seen God at any time” (1:18).  (Jesus was seen.)

God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” (3:16-17)

You do not seek the glory that is from the one and only God” (5:44).

This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent” (6:29).

You are seeking to kill Me, a man who has told you the truth, which I heard from God” (8:40).

I proceeded forth and have come from God“ (8:42).

Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me” (14:1-2).

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

John 17:3

Most of these quote Jesus’ words, making a distinction between Himself and God.  Two of these quotes refer to “the only true God” (17:3; cf. 5:44).  God is invisible (1:18), sent His Son (3:16-17; 6:29; 8:42; 17:3) and taught Jesus the truth (8:40).  His disciples, listening to these words, would not get the idea that Jesus is God.  To the contrary, in 8:40 Jesus refers to himself as “a man.”  Therefore, why would Thomas refer to Jesus as “my God” in John 20:28?  Where did he get the idea that Jesus is God?

The Father is God.

Jesus refers most often to “God” as the “Father.” It is important to understand that in John’s gospel, and in the entire New Testament, the title “God” is a synonym for “the Father,” for instance:

Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places” (14:1-2).

Jesus said to Mary, “I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God” (20:17).

If only the Father is God, then it obviously follows that the Son is not called God.  But there are some Trinitarians that view the Father and Son to be a single self, and in Modalism the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are simply three modes of the same single divine Being.  Contrary to these views, the following shows that Jesus is distinct from the Father:

Thinking about His approaching death, Jesus said, “Now My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour” (12:27).
(In Gethsemane He similarly prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will” (Mt. 26:39).  This shows that the Father and Jesus two separate wills.)

If you loved Me, you would have rejoiced because I go to the Father, for the Father is greater than I” (14:28; cf. 10:29).

The Father and the Son are therefore distinct Beings.  And, in the way that the New Testament uses the title “God,” only the Father is God

The Father is God for Jesus.

The following verse even identifies the Father as Jesus’ God:

Jesus said to Mary, “I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God” (20:17).

John, who also wrote the Revelation, quotes Jesus saying, “He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God” (Rev. 3:12; cf. 3:13).

Conclusion

The title theos (usually translated God or god) appears more than 100 times in John:

In most instances it is not clear whether it refers to the Father or to the Son, for instance: “There came a man sent from God, whose name was John” (1:6).

Above ten instances are mentioned where theos refers to the Father only.

On the other hand, there are three instances (1:1, 18 and 20:28) where theos perhaps refers to Jesus.  Separate articles have been placed on this website for each of these verses.  Below these articles are summarized:

John 1:1c

John 1:1This is usually translated “the Word was God.”  A series of articles on this website addresses the translation of John 1:1c.  One article evaluates the translation “The Word was God” and another the translation “The Word was a god.”  In these articles it is shown that neither of these translations are appropriate because the word theos is used in a qualitative sense in that phrase, as grammarians agree.  It should rather be translated as “the Word was like God.”

Both John 1:1 and Philippians 2 describe Jesus before He became a human being.  The article Jesus in Philippians 2 proposed that “the Word was theos” can be understood as equivalent to the statements in Philippians 2 that Jesus “existed in the form of God” and had “equality with God” and “at the name of Jesus every knee will bow” (Phil. 2:6, 10).  But, as also argued in that article, if Jesus “existed in the form of God” and if He had “equality with God,” then He is still distinct from God.

John 1:18

This verse is discussed in the article: John 1:18. In the NASB, this verse reads,

No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.”

The word “God” appears twice in this verse.  The first “God” refers to the Father, who is described as invisible.  Since God is invisible, the conclusion can be that Jesus is distinct from God.

The second “God” in 1:18 refers to Jesus, but appears only in some translations.  Twelve of the 27 translation of this verse, as listed by BibleHub, describe Jesus as God in this verse.  The other (mostly older) translations, use a different source text, which actually has the widest geographical distribution, and which describes Jesus as “the only begotten Son.”  John originally wrote either theos (god) or huios (son), but somebody corrupted the text either on purpose or by accident.  It is the task of the textual critic to determine which was the original wording.  As discussed in the article Is Jesus God in John 1:18? neither the external or internal evidence is conclusive.  Because of this uncertainty, this verse should not be used as evidence that Jesus is called God.

John 20:28

This verse is discussed in the article on John 20:28.  Thomas would not believe the reports that Jesus was raised from death, but when He saw Jesus in person, a few days later, he exclaimed, “My Lord and my God” (20:28)!  Jesus did not reprove Thomas.

For some this provides the best evidence that Jesus is God.  It is said that Jesus is here without doubt called “God.”  However, strong circumstantial evidence exists that Thomas could not have referred to Jesus as God:

1. Jesus did not teach the disciples that He is God.  Jesus never used the term θεός (theos = god) for Himself, but described Himself as the Christ and as the Son of God.  As discussed above, Jesus consistently made a distinction between Himself and God.  John summarized the main thesis of his book as follows:

These have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (John 20:31).

2. The events in the immediate context of John 20:28 show that the disciples did not believe that Jesus is God.  The two disciples walking to Emmaus demonstrate the thoughts of Jesus’ followers at that time.  Speaking to the resurrected Christ, whom they mistook as just a traveler, they described Jesus as “a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God…and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:19-21).

3. The events in the book of Acts began a few weeks after Jesus appeared to Thomas.  If the apostles really believed that Jesus is God, that would have been their message in Acts, but such a statement is never even once found in Acts.

4. Paul was given the task of interpreting the dramatic Christ-events and to teach the church through his letters.  He did not teach that Jesus is God, but wrote the head of Christ is God” (1 Cor. 11:3).   According to some translations of Romans 9:5, Paul referred to Jesus as God, but the article on Romans 9:5 shows that it is all a matter of punctuation, and all punctuation in the Bible is interpretation.

The article on John 20:28 analyses possible interpretations of Thomas’ exclamation.  Since the word theos has many different meanings, Thomas might have described Jesus as God-like or as mandated by God to speak for Him.  These are valid alternative meanings of the word theos.  See the article THEOS.  Another option is that Thomas did not address Jesus, but that He addressed the Father as “my God.”  Since Thomas did not merely say theos, but ho theos, this is quite possible.

But which of these is what Thomas actually meant is not important.  What is important is that the immediate and wider context prevents us from understanding John 20:28 as saying that Jesus is God.

Conclusion

The evidence is clear that Jesus is not called God in John’s gospel.  Only the Father is God.  However, the view that Jesus is God does not rely on the argument that He is called God.  It is based on other facts, such as:

He is worshiped equal to God.
The Jews thought that Jesus “was … making Himself equal with God” (5:18).
Jesus said, “Before Abraham was, I am” (8:58), “I and the Father are one” (10:30) and “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (14:9).

These matters are discussed in the articles that will follow after this one.

NEXT:  Did Jesus claim to be God?

Is the New Word Translation of John 1:1c as “the Word was a god” appropriate?

Overview

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:

1) The ancient Greek language only has definite articles, and how Greek uses these articles is very complex.  It uses them in unexpected places and omits them where we would expect to find them.

2) If John wished to say that “the Word was a god.” then there was another way in which he could have done that.  

3) The article is omitted for grammatical reasons, namely to identify THEOS as the predicate.

4) 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). 

5) John 1:1c has a special grammatical construct, and in this construct predicate nouns without the article are more likely to be definite. 

6) 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.”

7) 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.”

Introduction

The Word was GodJohn 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.”

BibleIf 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.

The Word of God

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?”

Genitive Form

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).  

He concluded,

“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.

Qualitative

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.

Probably 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). 

Other examples are:
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 8:24); and
a king” (John 18:37) 

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. 

Count Nouns

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).

UniverseIt 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.”

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?   
 15.  But THEOS is a count noun.