An introduction to the discussion of John 1:1.


John 1:1 is an important verse in the controversy over the deity of Christ. Some regard this verse as the clearest declaration of His deity.

This article serves as an introduction to the mini-series 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 theos (god) 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 is Jesus 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.


Nicene CreedThe second phrase in John 1:1 is “the Word was with God.” This phrase makes a distinction between Jesus and God, which means that Jesus is not God. But the third phrase reads, “the Word was God.” This contradicts the second phrase. 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, became the leader of the church. At the time, a dispute raged in the church over the deity of Christ. This dispute threatened the unity of the empire. Consequently, Emperor Constantine called a church council specifically to address the dispute. That council, under Constantine’s influence, resulted in the Nicene Creed of 325. For a discussion of the significant influence which Emperor Constantine had 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 (John 1:3).

The dispute over the translation centers on the lack of a definite article (the) before the word theos in John 1:1c. John included the article before theos in 1:1b (literally, AND THE WORD WAS WITH THE GOD), but omited 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 perhaps 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 Biblical statements about Jesus.

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 =

(b) and the Word was with God,
(kaì ho lógos ên pròs tòn theón =

(c) and the Word was God.
(kaì theòs ên ho logos =

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 Ultimate Reality. We do not use “God,” with a capital G, for any other being. “The Word was God” therefore identifies “the Word” as the Ultimate Reality.

The Word was a god” is primarily found only in the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ New World Translation. This translation seems to imply that Jesus is one of a greater number of powerful but created “gods,” which does not seem consistent with the Bible. See – Objections to the translation: The Word was a god.

Moffatt, Goodspeed and some other translations render the phrase as “the Word was divine.” This may be understood to imply that the Word has divine attributes, but that He is not the Ultimate Reality.

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, we read, “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” (Gen 1:26). 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 as “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].

In John 1:18, according to the NASB, He was “in the bosom of the Father.” The NIV translation renders 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 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 articles:

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 (John 1:3). Rather, He was “begotten,” 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.

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As “begotten,” Jesus was generated from the being of the Father.


The Bible refers 50 times to Jesus Christ as “the Son of God.” However, believers are also called sons of God.  But Jesus is not only the Son of God; He is “the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18). That has some important implications, such as that:

      • The Father exists without cause and is the Ultimate Source of all things.
      • Jesus was not created but came forth from the being of the Father.
      • Since He is the “only begotten,” He is the only One ‘born’ of God. We can say that He is the Father’s only true family.
      • The Son is subordinate to the Father.
      • Jesus had a beginning. As far as our time-bound existence in this universe is concerned, the Son has always existed but, in the infinity beyond time, metaphorically speaking, He had a beginning.

More recently, however, scholars argue that the word translated “only begotten” (monogenēs) means “only unique” or “one of its kind.” For example, John 1:18, in the NIV reads, “the One and Only.” This translation removes the concept that the Son was generated from the being of the Father or that He had a beginning. This article argues that:

      • Translations such as “the One and Only” are inadequate.
      • Monogenēs refers to an only child.
      • It should be translated as “only begotten.”

In summary:

(a) Mono means “only” and genes means “born.” Monogenēs, therefore, at least originally, literally meant “the only one born.”

(b) Since mono means “only,” if monogenēs also means “one and only,” then the ending -genēs is redundant.

(c) If monogenês merely means “only,” then Jesus is God’s “only Son” (e.g., John 3:18). But Jesus is not God’s “only Son,” for God has many other (created) sons (e.g. Matt 5:9).

(d) The first meaning of monogenēs in Liddell and Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon is a single child.

(e) Of the 20 examples of the ancient uses of monogenês that are analyzed below:

        • 14 use monogenês for a literal only child,
        • 17 imply that the child or something else was generated, and
        • none of them mean merely “only.”

(f) The Nicene Creed of the year 325 interprets monogenēs as “only-begotten.”

(g) Monogenēs was always translated as “only-begotten,” even in the Latin translations that preceded the first English Bible.

(h) There are also other indications, apart from monogenēs, that the Father generated the Son. For example, the Son:

        • Is “born of God” (1 John 5:18),
        • Lives “because of the Father” (John 6:57), and
        • Received from the Father:
          • “To have life in Himself” (John 5:26); and
          • “All the fullness of Deity” (Col 2:9; 1:19).

(i) John 1:14 refers to Jesus simply as “the monogenēs from the Father.” To give meaning to this statement, translations are forced to add the words “son” (NIV) or “begotten” (NASB).


Jesus is the Son of God.

The Bible refers 50 times to Jesus Christ as “the Son of God.” For example:

Angel talking to Mary

The angel said to Mary, “the holy Child shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35).

At His baptism, God referred to Jesus as “My beloved Son” (Matt 3:17). 

Jesus claimed, “I am the Son of God” (John 10:36; cf. Matt 16:16, 17; 27:43; Luke 1:35; John 1:34; cf. 1 John 5:5; 9:35-37; 10:36).

Paul referred to Jesus as “His beloved Son” (Col 1:13).

John explains the purpose of his gospel as “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (John 20:31).

Believers are sons of God.

The title “Son of God,” by itself, does not mean that Jesus is God, for believers are also sons of God:

Adam is called the son of God in both the Old and New Testaments (Gen 6:2, 4; Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7; Luke 3:38; Rom 8:14).

In the Old Testament, both Israel (Exo 4:22–23; Hosea 11:1) and the king (Psalm 2:7) were called God’s son.

But I say to you
Sermon on the Mount

The New Testament many times refers to believers as “sons of God:”

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matt 5:9).

“All who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God” (Rom 8:14).

“As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12; cf. Luke 20:35-36; 1 John 3:1; Phil 2:15; John 1:12; Matt 5:9; Rom 8:14, 19 and Gal 3:26).

The Only Begotten

But Jesus is not only the Son of God; He is “the only begotten Son of God:”

The apostle John wrote of Jesus as “the only begotten from the Father” (John 1:14; cf. 1:18; NASB):

“By this the love of God was manifested in us,
that God has sent His only begotten Son
into the world” (1 John 4:9; cf. John 3:16, 18; NASB).

The Greek word translated “only begotten” in the NASB is monogenēs.  When applied to Jesus, “begotten” has some important implications, such as:

That Jesus came from the being of the Father,
That Jesus had a beginning, and
That Jesus, therefore, is subordinate to the Father.

The One and Only

More recently, scholars argue that monogenēs is not related to the verb gennao (“begotten“), but to ginomai (“to be“). Monogenēs would then mean “only unique” or “one of its kind.” This understanding has been adopted by many modern versions. For example, monogenēs in John 1:18, referring to Jesus, is translated as:

“The One and Only” by the NIV,
“The Only” by the ESV, and as
“The unique” by the ISV.

This translation of monogenēs takes away the implications that Jesus came from the being of the Father, or that He had a beginning.

Only Child

Other scholars disagree and propose a third option, namely that monogenēs, when used of people, has the meaning of an only child. It is, therefore, possible to identify three possible senses of the word monogenēs:

      1. One of a kind: meaning unique;
      2. An only child, which means one of a kind within a parent-child relationship;
      3. Only begotten, which additionally carries with it the concept of begetting or generation. This implication is also present in the meaning “only child,” but is much stronger in “only begotten.”

Arguments for Only-Begotten

To prove or disprove that Jesus was brought forth from the being of the Father is very important for our understanding of who Jesus is. It is proposed here:

That to limit monogenēs to meaning “unique,” as for instance in the NIV translation of monogenēs as “the one and only,” is not justified.

That monogenēs does contain the notion of derivation or begetting, and should be translated as “only begotten.”

This is done in four steps, namely that Monogenēs:

1. Means more than simply “unique” or “only,”
2. Includes the concept of a child.
3. Means more than “only child,” and
4. Means “only begotten.”

1. Monogenēs does not mean purely “only.”

This is argued as follows:

1.1 Mono means “only.” If monogenēs also means “one and only” or “unique,” then the ending -genēs is redundant.

1.2 None of the examples of the ancient uses of monogenês, on Wikipedia’s page on monogenēs, have the meaning of purely “only.” See the analyses below. Wikipedia concludes:

Of the Liddell Scott references for “unique” (monogenes being used purely as monos) that leaves only Parmenides, which is no longer considered a likely reading of the Greek text.

1.3 If monogenês means “only,” then Jesus is God’s “only Son” (e.g., John 3:18). But Jesus is not God’s “only Son,” for God has many other (created) sons (e.g. Matt 5:9). Monogenês, therefore, must mean something more specific than “only.”

1.4 “Unique” is only the second meaning of monogenēs in Liddell and Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon. The first meaning is “only child.” 

1.5 Some variants of verse 18 of John 1 (John 1:18) describe Jesus as monogenês theos (god). If this is what the author originally wrote, then it must mean more than merely “only God,” for Jesus is not the only God.

Monogenês, therefore, includes the concept of “only,” but means something more specific than purely “only.”

2. Monogenēs means only child.

This is based on the following arguments:

2.1 The first meaning of monogenēs in Liddell and Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon is a single child.

2.2 The Greek text of John 1:14 describes Jesus as “the monogenēs from the Father” without the word “son.” To translate John 1:14 as “the only from the Father” is not meaningful. Something must be added. Following the instances where Jesus is described as “monogenēs son” (John 3:16, 18; 1 John 4:9), the NIV adds the word “son.” The NASB adds “begotten.” In both translations, the concept is that of an only child.

2.3 In Hebrews 11:17, monogenēs, without the word “son,” explicitly refers to Abraham’s son Isaac; symbolically his only son.

2.4 Fourteen of the 20 examples of the ancient uses of monogenês (see analysis below) refer to a literal only child.

3.  Monogenēs means “only begotten.”

3.1 Jesus is God’s “monogenês son” (e.g., John 3:16, 18, and 1 John 4:9). If monogenês already means “only child,” then John repeated the same concept in two consecutive words, which is unlikely.

3.2 Mono means “only” and genes means “born.” Monogenēs, therefore, originally literally meant “the only one born” which is the same as “the only-begotten.” The question is whether the meaning of the word has changed by the time when the New Testament was written.

3.3 Monogenēs was always translated as “only-begotten.”

This was the case even before the first English Bible. It was translated in this way in Jerome’s Latin Vulgate, which translated monogenēs as unicus (only) when the word does not refer to Christ. However, in the six verses where monogenēs does refer to Christ, Jerome rendered it unigenitus (only-begotten).

Forananswer argues that Jerome probably followed Gregory of Nazianzus (AD 329 – 390), who sought to counter the Arian claim that Christ was a created being by arguing that Jesus was “begotten of the Father” (Nicene Creed). But it is also possible that Jerome simply understood the correct meaning of the word monogenês.

From the Latin, “only begotten” entered into the English Bible.  Wycliffe’s Bible (1395 AD) reads:

John 3:16 For God lovede so the world,
that he yaf his oon bigetun sone,
that each man that bileveth in him perishe not,
but have everlastynge lijf. 

3.4 The Nicene Creed of the year 325 defines monogenēs as “only-begotten.”

The last part of the creed condemns their Arian opponents and gives an overview of what the Arians believed, namely that:

There was a time when Jesus did not exist,
He was created,
He was made out of nothing, and
He is not of the same substance or essence as God.

To counter these claims, the Nicene Creed described Jesus as:

monogenēs; that is, of the essence of the Father,
God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God,
begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father.”

This phrase defines monogenēs, when applied to Jesus, as “begotten, not made.” For that reason, the creed ventured to say that Jesus is “of one substance with the Father.”

3.5 – Jesus is “born of God.”

1 John 5:18 in the NASB reads:

“We know that no one who is born of God sins;
but He who was born of God keeps him,
and the evil one does not touch him.”

The question is, to whom does the second “born of God” refer?

If both instances of the phrase “born of God” refer to ordinary believers, then the believer keeps “himself.” That is how this verse is sometimes translated, for example, in the ASV. But no man is able to keep himself.

The NASB capitalizes the “He,” indicating that the translators believed that the second “born of God” refers to Jesus.

In support of this translation, John 10:27-28 also says that Christ keeps His people (cf. John 17:15 and 2 Thess 3:3).

Other statements by Jesus support this concept:

“As … I live because of the Father,
so he who eats Me,
he also will live because of Me” (John 6:57).

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

3.6 Ancient usage

Seventeen of the 20 examples of the ancient uses of monogenês analyzed below implies generation:

Fourteen of them refer to a literal only child.

Three of the other examples imply generation. One of these even refers to Jesus as both first born and monogenes.

God’s only true family

There, therefore, seems to be sufficient support for the translation “only-begotten.”  “Begotten,” in human language, means that God gave birth to Him.  “Only begotten” implies that He is the only One born of God.  He was not literally born, but “begotten” implies that Jesus came forth from the being of the Father; born out of the Father.

Some think of Christ as God’s first creation.  But, as argued by the Nicene Creed, since He was “begotten,” He was not created. On the contrary, God created “all things” through Him (Col. 1:16-17).  See God created all things through His Son.

Jesus is the only One born of God. He is God’s Son in a unique sense.  As Son of God, He has no equals. Humans are adopted as sons, but Jesus is God’s only true family; infinitely above created beings.

Jesus had a beginning.

“Begotten” also implies that Jesus had a beginning.  The Nicene Creed condemns “those who say: ‘There was a time when he was not’.” The 381 decree elaborates and says that Jesus was “begotten of the Father before all worlds (æons).”

If we accept that there never was a time when Jesus was not, then Jesus still could have had a beginning, for time itself had a beginning.  It is possible that Jesus was born of God when time started, or rather, time started when Jesus was born of God.  God, in contrast, had no beginning: God does not exist in time, rather time exists somewhere in God.

Ancient Examples

Wikipedia, on its page on monogenēs, provides examples of the use of monogenēs from antiquity. What is important in these examples is not so much how the word has been translated, for these translations were made relatively recently. What is important is the context in which we find the word, from which we attempt to reconstruct its meaning:

Of the seven Classical Greek examples, six refer to a literal only child. The seventh is from Plato’s Timaeus, where he referred to the “monogenēs and created Heaven.”

Of the five examples from the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament), three refer to a literal only child (Judges 11:34; Psalm 25:16; Jer. 6:26). The other two use monogenēs in parallelism as a synonym for “my soul” (Psalm 22:20; 35:17), which can be understood as “my only life.” E.g., “deliver my soul from the sword, my only begotten (life?) from the hand of the dog.” Later Jewish Septuagint revisions contained more examples of monogenēs and Wikipedia mentions two, both of which describe Isaac as Abraham’s only son (Gen 22:2, 12).

The New Testament contains 9 examples. Five describe Jesus as the Father’s only Son (John 1:14, 18; 3:16, 3:18; 1 John 4:9).  Three refer to a literal only child (Luke 7:12; 8:42; 9:38). Lastly, Hebrews 11:17 refers to Isaac as Abraham’s monogenēs.

Wikipedia lists four examples of Hellenistic Jewish usages. Two refer to a literal only child. One refers to Jesus as the first born (prototokos) and as the monogenēs. The fourth is translated as “his favourite son.”

Analysis of these ancient examples

In summary, of these 27 examples of monogenēs, 6 refer to Jesus.  Since we are trying to understand what these six mean, we are only really interested in the other 21:

14 of the 21 refer to a literal only child.

Three refer to Isaac. Abraham also fathered Ishmael, from the slave girl Hagar, and six other sons, from Keturah. Isaac, therefore, was not Abraham’s only son. The monogenēs in Hebrews 11 can be ignored because it is probably simply a quote from the Greek translation of the Old Testament. The two in Genesis 22:2 and 12 translate the Hebrew yachid. While the LXX renders yachid as “beloved” (Greek: agapētos), Aquila renders it as monogenēs in Genesis 22:2. “Beloved” is therefore perhaps one of the nuances of monogenês.

Once monogenēs is translated as “favourite son.” The context confirms this meaning. This may be combined with Aquila’s rendering of yachid in Genesis 22:2 as “beloved.”

One refers to “only-begotten and created Heaven.” The subject is the creation or begetting, of heaven as a unique birth, as opposed to the birth of more than one cosmos.

Twice monogenēs is used as a synonym for “my soul” which may be understood as “my only life.”

Conclusions from these ancient examples

Since Hebrews 11 can be ignored, there are 20 usable examples. Fourteen refer to a literal only child. Three carry the meaning of beloved. Two mean “my only life” and the last one refers to the creation of the heavens. It is noteworthy that Jesus, in one of the quotes, is referred to as first born (prototokos) and monogenes.

It is therefore concluded:

That the translation used by the NIV (“one and only”) does not have any support from these examples.

17 of the 20 refer to a parent-child relationship. Monogenês should therefore at least be translated as “only child.”

But “only child” implies begetting or generation. “My soul” may also be understood as the life that was created for me. The example of the created heavens also includes generation. All examples, therefore, have the implication of generation and begetting.

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