The Trinity Delusion An examination of the doctrine of the Trinity

Colwell's Rule

In sentences in which the copula is expressed, a definite predicate nominative has the article when it follows the verb; it does not have the article when it precedes the verb.

The definite article is missing in John 1:1c. While John did say, "and the word was with THE God," he did not also say, "and the word was THE God." In the past, Trinitarian apologists such as Walter Martin, have appealed to Colwell's Rule concerning John 1:1c, "and the word was God" and have insisted that "God" (Greek: theos) at John 1:1c is therefore to be understood as definite. This is a mistaken application of the Rule.

"Colwell's rule clearly states that a definite predicate nominative never takes the article when it precedes the verb as in John 1:1." (Walter Martin, Kingdom of the Cults, 1975, page 75).

Bruce Metzger, referring to the rule against the Watchtower's New World Translation, made the same mistake:

"As a matter of solid fact, however, such a renderingis a frightful mistranslation. It overlooks entirely an established rule of Greek grammar which necessitates the rendering "...and the Word was God.

The Greek word order of John 1:1 is "the word was with the God and God was the word."

Colwell's Rule states that definite predicate nominatives preceding the verb are usually anarthrous. The word "God" (theos) at John 1:1c is a "predicate nominative" noun, it is anarthrous (lacks the definite article), and it precedes the verb. This is the construction which Colwell's Rule addresses. And so men like Walter Martin argued that this means we are to understand the word "God" is "definite." Essentially, Martin used Colwell's Rule to argue that even though a definite article is not there to qualify the word "God", we are to understand it as definite anyway due to Colwell's Rule. However, apologists like Martin made a huge blunder.

Colwell's Rule does not say that anarthrous predicative nominatives preceding the verb are therefore definite as these apologists were arguing. This is backwards. Colwell's rule says that definite predicate nominatives preceding the verb are (usually) anarthrous. In other words, the predicate nominative is already known to be definite by the context. It is not Colwell's Rule which tells you if the predicate nominative is definite or not. In other words, Colwell's rule does not tell you whether theos is definite; it tells you that if theos is known to be definite, then it will also be anarthrous (lack the article).

Wrong: Anarthrous predicate nominatives preceding the verb are definite.

Right: Definite predicate nominatives preceding the verb are anarthrous.

Additionally, most people did not realize that the most prominent Trinitarian scholars had rejected the idea that theos was definite all along. These men also suggested that it would amount to Modalism. While men like Walter Martin were telling everyone theos was definite, the most prominent Trinitarian scholars were saying John intentionally ensured it was not definite by leaving out the article and John was not telling us WHO the word was but WHAT the word was, viz. the word was divine by nature Walter Martin's intepretation was contrary to these scholars because a definite understanding of theos would be arguing John was indeed telling us WHO the word was.

It is this writer's opinion that John was referring to God the Father at 1:1c. The word theos must be understood as "definite" here because John has already identified "God" as the Father (cf. 1 Jn 1:1-2) and has joined both instances of theos with the conjunction kai ("and"). However, the lack of the article here indicates that John is referring to God the Father in a qualitative sense.

Created: July 14, 2011
Last Updated: July 14, 2011.