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

In the Trinity theory God is three Persons in one Being, but Jesus is not God.

This article has been completely rewritten.  For the new article see:

Given how the New Testament uses the title “God,” Jesus is not God.

The following is a summary of the revised article:

In the Trinity theory, God is one Being but three co-equal and co-eternal Persons; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. 

The New Testament, however, as this article purposes to show, maintains a DISTINCTION between God and Jesus.  In summary:

The Bible is very clear that THERE IS ONLY ONE GOD.  A number of verses in the New Testament contain the phrases “God is one,” “one God,“only God,” or “only true God,” and in all instances the Father alone is God.  These verses often identify Jesus Christ as “Lord.” For example, “There is but ONE GOD, THE FATHER … and ONE LORD, JESUS CHRIST.

All letters of the New Testament commence with making a distinction between God and Jesus, for example, “Peace from GOD our Father, and the LORD Jesus Christ.”  Therefore, if we derive our definition of the term “God” from the New Testament, then we must use that title for the Father only.

Jesus referred to the Father as “My God.” He did this even 60 years after His resurrection when He gave the Book of Revelation.  Paul similarly described the Father as “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  The letter to the Hebrews, speaking to Jesus, similarly talks of God as “Your God.”  And since God is also His God, Jesus prayed to God when He was on earth.

In a number of New Testament verses, God, the Father, is the Ultimate uncaused Cause of all things, in distinction to Jesus.  For example, “There is but one God, the Father, FROM WHOM ARE ALL THINGS … and one Lord, Jesus Christ, BY whom are all things” (1 Cor. 8:6). 

Jesus “is the IMAGE of the invisible God.”  God is invisible, unknowable, and incomprehensible.  God, the Father, “dwells in unapproachable light, whom NO MAN HAS SEEN or can see.” If God is invisible, while Jesus is His visible image, then Jesus is distinct from God.  Jesus is therefore not God, given how the New Testament uses the title “God.”

At His ascension, Jesus “was received up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of GOD” (Mark 16:19). His position, at God’s right hand, is mentioned often in the New Testament.  It is the position of power over the entire universe; subject only to God.  It confirms that Jesus is both DISTINCT from God and SUBORDINATE to God.

Many, many other passages may be listed where God and Jesus are mentioned as distinct from one another.  For example, before He had to suffer and die on the Cross, Jesus pleaded with His Father, “if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me.”  The book of Revelation refers “to God and to the Lamb,” and the Father “alone possesses immortality.”

The amended article (Given how the New Testament uses the title “God,” Jesus is not God) continues to discuss:

    • The controversy about Christ in the fourth century;
    • That Jesus is God, depending on how we define the modern word “God.”
    • Various analyses of Bible books to confirm the conclusion in this article;
    • A short discussion of some possible objections, namely:
      • Jesus is sometimes called “God.”
      • John 1:1; The Word was God.
      • John 1:18: Only Begotten God.
      • Jesus said, “I and the Father are one