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

John 17:3 – God is One; The only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent

John 17:3 summarizes this article, for it makes the three points discussed in this article:
      1 –  God is One; There is but one true God.
      2 – Jesus is contrasted with the one true God.
      3 – The Father is greater than the Son, for He sent Him.

The previous article explains the three views of the Son of God:

(1)   A created being
(2)   Derived from the Father
(3)   Always existed; co-equal with the Father.

The current article compares the Son to the Father.

This is an older article, and has been replaced with two other articles, namely Jesus is not the same Person as God and  God is the Head of Christ.

God Is One.

God is OneThe Bible declares that God is One;

There is no other God besides Me …
For I am God, and there is no other
” (Isaiah 45:21-22).

Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!”. (Deut. 6:4-5)

When the scribes asked Jesus what the most important commandment is, He started by quoting this truth from Deuteronomy:

The foremost is, ‘hear, o Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord” (Mark 12:28-30).

And James also wrote God is One:

Christianity and Judaism are monotheistic religions, compared to the surrounding cultures with their multitudes of gods.

The Bible clearly and repeatedly distinguishes between God and Jesus.

For instance, while Joseph and Mary were still carrying the baby Jesus around, God told Joseph where to go (Mt 2:12, 22).  And Jesus said:

John 17:3

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

This verse confirms that God is one, and then continues to contrasts Jesus to God.  Paul similarly wrote:

For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5)

Image of the invisible GodHe (Christ) is the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15), which implies He is not “the invisible God“.

God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 6:13).

The book of Revelation several times contrasts Christ with God, for instance “the throne of God and of the Lamb (Christ)” (Rev. 22:3; see also 14:4; 11:15; 21:22-23; 22:1, 3).

These are merely a few examples of the many, many instances where the Bible contrasts God with Jesus, implying that Jesus is not equal to God.  One may protest by noting that these quotations all apply—not the Son of God before He became a human being—but to the human being named Jesus.  We must also remember the point made in the previous article, namely that “although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men” (Phil. 2:6-7).

The Father is greater than the Son.

The names Father and Son imply that the Father is greater than the Son.  The quotations below also indicate that the Father is greater than the Son.  As stated, to become a human being, the Son emptied Himself (Phil. 2:6-7).  It may therefore be argued that the statements below have been made in the context of the Son after He emptied Himself.  However, the phrases in bold orange seem to say that the Father was greater than the Son even before He became a human being, and will always remain greater than the Son:

The Son can do nothing of HimselfThe Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing” (John 5:19; cf. John 14:31).

I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me” (John 8:28; cf. 5:30).

The works which the Father has given Me to accomplish—the very works that I do—testify about Me, that the Father has sent Me” (John 5:36).

My teaching is not Mine, but His who sent Me” (John 7:16, cf. 17:3).

The Father therefore told His Son what to do and the Father has sent His Son to this world.  These things happened before He became a human being and provide evidence of the Son’s eternal subservient position, relative to the Father.

the Father is greater than IJohn 14:28 records Jesus saying, “If you loved Me, you would have rejoiced because I go to the Father, for the Father is greater than I”.  He made this statement while talking about going to the Father, implying that the Father will be greater than Him even after He has returned to the Father.

The Father … has given all things into His hand” (John 3:35).

The Father has given all judgment to the Son” (John 5:22).

Paul concluded, “the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ” (I Cor. 11:3).  Paul made this statement long after Jesus ascended to heaven.  We therefore need to accept that the Father always has been and always will be greater than His Son.

Conclusion

This article states that God is One and that the New Testament contrasts Jesus with that one true God.  The New Testament also claims that the Father is greater than the Son.  If this was all we knew about Jesus, we would have had to conclude that He is not divine.  But in the articles to follow statements will be analysed which seem to confirm the Son’s divinity.  The last article in the series combines all this evidence into a conclusion.

Series of Articles

This is the second in a series of seven articles:

(1) The three views of the Son of God.
(2) God is One, the Son contrasted with God and the Father is greater than the Son.
(3) What the Son does: He created and upholds all things.
(4) What the Son is: fullness of Deity
(5) The Son is worshiped.
(6) The Son is Yahweh of the Old Testament.
(7) Conclusion: Is He created, derived or eternally co-equal?