Thursday, April 30, 2015

Thinking About The Translation Of John 1:1

AP: I was recently asked about the translation of John 1:1. Most English translations read something like the following: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." Notice the last part, "and the Word was God." The person who emailed me asked if that translation is correct. Or, did the Jehovah's Witnesses get it right when it is translated in the New World Translation (NWT) as "and the Word was a god?" That person also asked me if there were any other translations, besides that of the Jehovah's Witnesses, that translate that last part as "a god." Here's how I responded.
"'In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God' is a good translation. The last part cannot be translated 'a god' because the second use of θεός, which is the first occurrence in the verse, is the predicate of a copulative sentence and the predicate does not have the definite article. To translate it 'a god' is doesn't make sense, in my opinion, especially since this verse is basically a midrash ('comment') on Gen. 1:1. Whether or not there are other translations besides the NWT that render it 'a god,' the truth is I don't know. I haven't gone through and compared all the translations of this verse. Honestly, doing something like that doesn't really interest me. What would be more beneficial for someone is to pick up a commentary on the Gospel of John like the one authored by Raymond E. Brown."
I got the following reply: "A simple copy-paste is all it takes to show that there are other translations that read 'a god' in John 1:1." The person who wrote me went on to include a handful of translations like that of Benjamin Wilson, Smith and Goodspeed, Thimme, Tomanek, and Schulz. This individual then jumped into a discussion on the Coptic translations. Here's the introduction to that discussion, which is translated from Spanish to English:
"What is the proper way to translate it? Both Greek grammar and context clearly indicate that the solution of the NWT (i.e., 'the Word was a god') is successful since "the Word" is not the "God" that was just referenced. However, since the Greek of the first century had no indefinite article (a, an, and a few), some argue a different point of view. For this reason we want to look at old writings in a language that was spoken in the first centuries of our era."
If you're interested in reading the rest of the post in Spanish, you can see it here. It was interesting, and it generated a bit of discussion in the comments.


TWH: That was a loaded question by the person asking it, but it is an important question. Why? Because we have a declaration by John of Jesus' deity in the very opening verse of his Gospel. There is no one like Jesus Christ. Jehovah's Witnesses would love to use this verse, especially using the "weight" of the Greek language, to show that Jesus is not God. Unfortunately, it doesn't work.

When John writes what he writes, he does so to affirm the deity of Jesus. All three of the declarations in John 1:1 point to Jesus' deity, not just this last one. "In the beginning, Jesus was. And he was with God (the Father). And (lest anyone be confused by that statement) Jesus was (and is) God."


  1. Well if jesus was God why in john 20:17 he stated that GOD was his GOD?

    1. Thanks for your comment. If that obviously contradicted the deity of Jesus, (1) why would the author say what he said in John 1:1, 18? and (2) why wouldn't he just remove that statement? It seems to me there is a better answer than there is a contradiction between those two verses. With the first question, wouldn't someone in the first century have viewed this as contradictory if it was obviously contradictory?