The Trinitarian Claim(s)
1. [Usually laypeople]: John is identifying Jesus as "God," or WHO Jesus was.
2. [Usually more informed Trinitarians]: John is indicating Jesus was divine by nature (in the same sense the Father is divine) or WHAT Jesus was and since only God is divine by nature Jesus is God by identity.
While the Trinitarian translation is correct, Claim #1 is usually made by laypeople who are confused by the English translation and do not realize what their own scholars say this verse means (Claim #2).
Examination of the Claim(s)
1. Discussion Conventions
John 1:1 is commonly broken into three parts for discussion purposes:
1. John 1:1a - In the beginning was the Word
2. John 1:1b - and the Word was with God
3. John 1:1c - and the Word was God.
The main point of discussion has concerned John 1:1c.
2. Capitalization Conventions
With respect to this particular verse, it is very important to recognize that John knew nothing about capitalization conventions. Our modern capitalization conventions first started to evolve centuries after John wrote his Gospel. To give you a sense of what John's original verse actually looked like, I have written out the verse in English the way John would have done it in Greek:
For John there was no such thing as "the word" versus "the Word." There was also no such thing as "the god" versus "the God." If John and his contemporaries wanted to say "God" like we do in English, they would have simply said, "the god" or "THE GOD." Our English word capital 'G' God, is equivalent to the Greek term "the god." In English, Capital 'G' God immediately signifies we are talking about a specific identity because that is what capitalization signifies in English unless we are refering to names of things like cities and countries. The problem with our English capitalization conventions is that capitalizing words like "Word" and "God" is that it can mislead a reader into thinking John specifically wrote in the same manner and indicated we are necessarily talking about a person. We capitalize names like "Anthony" or titles like "President" when we are referring to an identity. Capitalization makes it appear to English reads that John was intentionally referring to a person when he said the "the Word" or that he was telling us WHO the Word was when he said "the Word was God." Indeed, Trinitarian scholars themselves deny that John was telling us WHO the Word was.
3. The Greek Text
John wrote in Koine Greek. Modern Greek is significantly different. And today, we do not write John's Greek words in Greek the same way John wrote those same words. Today, we use punctuation, spacing, and sometimes capitalization conventions. John did not use such conventions. The following shows how we write John's Greek words today. The first row uses a Greek alphabet. The second row uses the English alphabet to give you an idea how the word sounds. The third row is a word for word translation into English.
The key word in question is the Greek word theos at John 1:1c, the phrase "and the word was god." This word is the Greek word for "deity" or "god." Word order has a different significance in Greek as opposed to English and what is meant is determined by word inflections that indicate which noun is the subject and which noun is the predicate. While the Greek order of the words at John 1:1c is, "and theos was the word," the Greek syntax tells us the word theos belongs to the predicate of the sentence and not the subject. So a literal English translation of John 1:1c is "and the word was theos." John cannot be saying, "God was the Word" even though this is the order of the words in Greek. This is not under any kind of dispute.
4.The Result of the Missing Article: Volumes of Books, Many Debates, Much Confusion
The definite article in English is the word "the." Greek also has a definite article. John said, "and the Word was with THE God." However, he did not say, "and the Word was THE God." John left out the definite article. In Greek this is significant and this feature of John 1:1 has been the focal point of much dispute and discussion.
Also, there is no such thing as an indefinite article in Greek which in English is the word "a." They did not have such a word and the way they would usually express the equivalent idea in Greek is to simply with the absence of the definite article "the". In other words, the way you would say "the word was (a) god" is to not say "and the word was (the) god." We can speak of a car in a definite manner by calling it "THE" car, or we can speak of a car in an indefinite manner by calling it "a car." The first expression signifies we are talking about a specific car while the second suggests there is more than one car but it does not necessarily mean that this is the case. For example, we can say our one God is "a" God of love this does not necessarily mean that another God exists out there somewhere. When we say our God is "a" God of love we are still referring to THE God and it does not necessarily indicate there is another God out there. If only one tree existed in the world we would likely call it "the" tree but it would still be "a" tree. This is important to understand these distinctions because some groups, especially the Jehovah's Witnesses, do translate John 1:1 as "and the word was a god."
Another related issue is how Greek speakers thought in their minds when they read such words. A common mistake among Engish readers is to see such a construction in Greek and to ask themselves, "Did John mean 'the word was a God/god",'which would imply a reference to an entity or identity (who the Word was), or did John mean 'the Word was qualitatively God/divine,'" which would imply John was indicating the Word was the quality of divinity (what the Word was). This question is asked because Greek scholars often interpret such words and phrases in these two different ways. Indeed, Trinitarian scholars adopt the latter interpretation just mentioned and not the former. However, no ancient Greek speaker would have ever asked himself such a question as English speakers do when they read these Greek texts. He had never heard of the word "a" as we have in English and would have never asked himself, "Did John mean 'the Word was A god?" This writer believes that there never was any kind of distinction like this in the Greek reader's mind. To be a light meant you were also qualitatively light. To be a dog meant you were qualitatively a dog. To be a god meant you were also qualitatively godness. And so on. And so in the ancient Greek reader's mind, there really was no such distinction as English speaking readers of Greek are trying to make of it. We should not read our English preconceptions back into a Greek writer's or reader's mind.
The missing article at John 1:1c has been the source of all kinds of speculations and fodder for debate and opportunity for academics to write many articles books on the subject. One of the more significant problems associated with this issue is how Trinitarian apologists portray themselves as correct if indeed the Watchtower's translation, the NWT, is shown to be incorrect. This kind of portrayel suggests that only two possibilities exist when such is not the case. Indeed, Trinitarians themselves have two different interpretations.
- Trinitarian Translation & Interpretation #1: "the Word was God" = Jesus was divine by nature (Jesus was "what").
- Trinitarian Translation & Interpretation #2: "the Word was God" = Jesus was the one God (Jesus was "who").
- Modalist Translation & Interpretation #1: "the Word was God" = Jesus was God the Father.
- Watchtower Translation & Interpretation: "the Word was a god" = Jesus was a god (but not the God).
- Another Translation & Interpretation #1: "the Word was a god" = the non-personal word was divine (what).
- Yet Another Translation & Interpretation #2: "the Word was a god" = the non-personal word was God (who).
Christadelphians and/or Unitarians, and others, usually choose between the latter two options or some modification thereof. In this understanding, the Word which became flesh, is not yet an independent and/or distinct person "in the beginning."
The New Word Translation (NWT) by the Watchtower
In [the] beginning the Word was, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god. (NWT)
In the beginning [Jesus] was, and [Jesus] was with God, and [Jesus] was a god. (Watchtower Understanding).
The Watchtower (Jehovah's Witnesses) are well known for their translation of this verse, "and the word was A god." In Greek, there is no indefinite article ("a") and the absence of the definite article can be understood to mean a noun is to be understood in the indefinte sense as the Jehovah's Witnesses translate this verse. However, the lack of the definite article does not always constitute such an understanding in the original Greek text.
In the beginning the Word was, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
In the beginning [Jesus] was, and the [Jesus] was with God [the Father], and the [Jesus] was God [the Father].
Several Trinitarian scholars have insisted that John did not use the definite article at John 1:1c so that no one might suppose Jesus is the Father and if John had indeed used the definite article, one would have to conclude that Jesus is indeed the Father. For both instances of the word "God", the Modalists consistently interpret these two words as "God the Father." It must be admitted that to have two different meanings of the same word in the same breath would be rather odd especially in a sentence that has the rhythm of John 1:1. However, the Modalists also read the person Jesus into the words "the Word."
Another issue which has historically affected the interpretation/translation of this verse is Colwell's Rule. Greek scholar E. C. Colwell discovered a rule which applied to certain uses of the Greek article. His rule stated that “definite predicate nouns which precede the verb usually lack the article.” At John 1:1c. the predicate noun precedes the verb. Colwell's Rule is simply a grammar rule which indicates that the particular construction of the words in this verse, this sentence, allows for theos John 1:1c to be understood in the "definite" sense. In other words, although John did not say "the word was the god" it can be understood this way due to the sentence construction identified by Colwell's Rule.
Most Trinitarian scholars and apologists have not insisted upon a "definite" understanding of John 1:1c with an appeal to Colwell's Rule. And some of these have went further and stated their reason is because such an understanding would entail Modalism. On the contrary, Trinitarian scholars and apologists have usually insisted that John intended a qualitative sense (the Watchtower translation is an indefinite and quantitative sense). The meaning would be "and the word was god by nature" or "the word was deity" or "the word was divine" where divinity is understood to be the same divine nature of God the Father. In other words, the word "God" is referring to WHAT the Word was not WHO the Word was. The overwhelming majority of Trinitarian scholars insist John was telling us WHAT the Word was and not WHO the Word was. The New English Bible (NEB) conveys this sense by translating the verse as, "and what God was the Word was."
However, in the past there have been some Trinitarian scholars and apologists who did claim that theos at John 1:1c must be understood as "definite" and they would base this claim upon Colwell's Rule. This interpretation would not have John indicating what the Word was, as most Trinitarian scholars have insisted, but who the Word was ("the God"). But as leading Trinitarian scholar Daniel Wallace has pointed out, Colwell’s rule alone does not prove that theos must understood as definite. His rule only says that if theos is definite then it would probably lack the article. But the reverse is not necessarily true. Absence of the article in this construction does not itself indicate the noun is definite. In other words, his rule does not insist that it is definite but that if it is implicitly definite then it would lack the article. See "Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics," (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 269.
Essentially, apologists such as Walter Martin, were making a great error by misapplying Colwell's rule. The mistake is henceforth explained:
Colwell's rule is that, "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."
At John 1:1c, the word theos is a "predicate nominative" (a certain kind of Greek noun), and it precedes the verb (i.e. "copula").
A noun without a definite article is "anarthrous." In simple terms, Colwell said that definite predicate nouns do not have the definite article (anarthrous) when preceding the verb." He did not say anarthrous predicate nouns when preceding the verb are definite." In other words, whether the noun was definite or not is already a given for Colwell and shown by the context. His rule indicates that when such a predicate nominative noun is already known to be definite (by the context) and it precedes the verb it will be anathrous (it will appear without a definite article). His rule does not indicate that when an anarthrous predicate nominative noun precedes the verb we can conclude that it is to be understood as definite. This is essentially confusing cause and effect and is to state the rule backwards.
5. English speaking Conventions
Trinitarian scholars now almost unanimously agree that John was not indicating WHO the Word was but WHAT the Word was. The problem with this claim is the English translation. The English way to say such a thing is, "the Word was god" and not "the Word was a god" and not "the Word was God." The latter capitalized G God indicates to an English speaker that John is telling us WHO the Word was which is precisely what Trinitarian scholars are saying that John is NOT telling us. The way to say "the Word was divine by nature" by using the word "God/god" is to say, "the Word was god." Hence, there is a serious conflict between Trinitarian scholar's interpretation and their translation. It is ultimately misleading to English readers and has likely been a significant cause of current day Modalism.
6. The Testimony of Prominent Trinitarian Scholars
The following Trinitarian scholars are well known and respected leading scholars in the world of Trinitarianism. These men do believe in the doctrine of the Trinity. We are not here concerned with their Trinitarian theology but with their opinions regarding John's intended meaning at John 1:1. These scholars also use the habitual Trinitarian terminology of using the English word "God" to describe the divine nature of Jesus and this is also what they say John is telling us about the word. And so we can see here why they always opt to translate John 1:1 as they do. But let us carefully notice they say 4 significant things: (1) the absence of the definite article is very significant and missing for a reason, (2) the presence of a definite article would have indicated that only the Word was theos thereby excluding the Father, or, (3) the presence of a definite article would have indicated that the person of the Word was also the person of the Father (Modalism), and most importantly (4) the phrase is intended to convey “what” the word was rather than “who” the word was. Emphasis is mine.
Robertson insists emphatically that John left out the article by necessity (John intentionally did not say "the Word was with THE GOD") or he would have been promoting Sabellian modalism by excluding all but the Word from identity as "God." As such, he is insisting John is not identifying the Word as "the God."
"And the Word was God (kai theos en ho logos). By exact and careful language John denied Sabellianism by not saying ho theos en ho logos. That would mean that all of God was expressed in ho logos and the terms would be interchangeable, each having the article. The subject is made plain by the article (ho logos) and the predicate without it (theos) just as in John 4:24 pneuma ho theos can only mean "God is spirit," not "spirit is God." So in 1 John 4:16 ho theos agape estin can only mean "God is love," not "love is God" as a so-called Christian scientist would confusedly say. For the article with the predicate see Robertson, Grammar, pp. 767f." (A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, vol. 5, pp. 4-5, underlined emphasis mine).
C.K. Barrett insists the absence of the definite article is very significant and John could not possibly have said "and the word was the theos" or he would have been implying only the Word was God thereby excluding the Father. This is obviously true because a definite article is used for exclusivity in identification of a person or thing.
"The word with the article is then the subject, whatever the order may be. So in Jo. 1:1, theos an ho logos, the subject is perfectly clear. Cf. ho logos sarx egeneto (Jo. 1:14). It is true that ho theos an ho logos (convertible terms) would have been Sabellianism. See also ho theos agape estin (1 Jo.4:16). "God" and "love" are not convertible terms any more than "God" and "Logos" or "Logos" and "flesh." Cf. also hoi theristai angeloi eisin (Mt. 13:39), ho logos ho sos alatheia estin (Jo. 17:17), ho nomos hamartia; (Ro. 7:7). The absence of the article here is on purpose and essential to the true idea" (A. T. Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research, Nashville: Broadman Press, 1934, p. 767-768, underlined emphasis mine).
"A word should be said concerning the use and non-use of the article in John 1:1, where a narrow path is safely followed by the author. "The Word was God." If both God and Word were articular [if they both had the definite article "the"], they would be coextensive and equally distributed and so interchangeable [Sabellianism]. But the separate personality of the Logos is affirmed by the construction used and Sabellianism is denied. If God were articular and Logos non-articular, the affirmation would be that God was Logos, but not that the Logos was God.(A. T. Robertson, The Minister and His Greek New Testament, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1977) pp. 67-68, underlined emphasis mine).
C.H. Dodd insists that John is indicating what the Word was, not who the Word was. Dodd indicates that John is indicating that the Word was the substance of the God of Abraham and is therefore not identifying who Word was ("God") but what the Word was (substance of that God).
"The absence of the article indicates that the Word is God, but is not the only being of whom this is true; if ho theos had been written it would have implied that no divine being existed outside the second person of the Trinity."
(C.K. Barrett, The Gospel According to St. John, S.P.C.K., 1955, p.76).
James Moffat indicates John's intention is to indicate the Word was divine. You will note he says, "Jesus as truly God and man" which is Trinitarian lingo for "Jesus as truly divine by nature and human by nature." Note how the use of the word "God" has two different meaningings in Trinitarianism. Sometimes it is a reference to a divine nature; other times it functions like a name for a person.
"On this analogy, the meaning of theos en ho logos will be that the ousia [substance (the "what")] of ho logos, that which it truly is, is rightly denominated theos...That this is the ousia of ho theos (the personal God of Abraham, the Father) goes without saying. In fact, the Nicene homoousios to patri is a perfect paraphrase.
(C.H. Dodd: New Testament Translation Problems II, The Bible Translator, 28, 1, Jan. 1977), p. 104.)
Philip Harner believed that if John would have said, "the Word was the God, we would necessarily be Sabellian Modalists today. He indicates John's intent was to the Word had the same divine nature as God the Father.
"'The Word was God...And the Word became flesh,' simply means "the word was divine...And the Word became human.' The Nicene faith, in the Chalcedon definition, was intended to conserve both of these truths against theories that failed to present Jesus as truly God and truly man..."
(James Moffact, Jesus Christ the Same, Abingdon-Cokesbury, 1945, p.61).
Henry Alford comes right out and states John is not identifying the Word as the personal being "God" but it indicating what the Word was by essence. You will also note that he too uses the word "God" to mean "divine essence of God."
"Perhaps the clause could be translated, 'the Word had the same nature as God." This would be one way of representing John's thought, which is, as I understand it, that ho logos, no less than ho theos, had the nature of theos."
(Philip B. Harner, Qualitative Anarthrous Predicate Nouns: Mark 15:39 and John 1:1," Journal of Biblical Literature, 92, 1, March 1973, p. 87.)
Westcott indicates that John necessarily did not use the definite article, that John is indicating what the Word was by nature, and is not identifying the Word as "God."
"Theos must then be taken as implying God, in substance and essence,--not ho theos, 'the Father,' in person. It does not = theios, nor is it to be rendered a God--but, as in sarx egeneto, sarx expresses that state into which the Divine Word entered by a definite act, so in theos en, theos expresses that essence which was His en arche:--that He was very God. So that this first verse might be connected thus: the Logos was from eternity,--was with God (the Father),--and was Himself God."
(Henry, Alford, Alford's Greek Testament: An Exegetical and Critical Commentary, Vol. I, Part II, Guardian Press, 1975; originally published 1871), p. 681).
Dana and Mantey indicate the absence of the article is necessary so that the other persons of the Trinity are not excluded. In other words, if John had used the definite article he would have been indicating that Jesus was exclusively "God." They also indicate the phrase means "the word was deity" by nature.
"The predicate [theos) stands emphatically first, as in v.24. It is necessarily without the article (theos not ho theos) inasmuch as it describes the nature of the Word and does not identify His Person... No idea of inferiority of nature is suggested by the form of expression, which simply affirms the true deity of the Word."
(B.F. Westcott, The Gospel According to St. John, Eerdmans, 1958 reprint, p. 3.)
Kenneth Wuest insists the absence of the definite article means John is indicating what the Word was by essence not who the Word was by identity. He insists John was indicating the word was deity in essence not God by identity.
The article sometimes distinguishes the subject from the predicate in a copulative sentence. In Xenophon's Anabasis, 1:4:6, emporion d' en to korion, and the place was a market, we have a parallel case to what we have in John 1:1, kai theos en ho logos, and the word was deity. The article points out the subject in these examples. Neither was the place the only market, nor was the word all of God, as it would mean if the article were also used with theos. As it stands, the other persons of the Trinity may be implied in theos.
(H. E. Dana, Julius Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament, New York: The MacMillan Company, 1950, pp. 148-149).
F.F. Bruce also indicates that if John had used a definite article he would have been indicating that the Word was exclusively "God" by identity. Rather, Bruce says, John is referring to the nature of the Word, not the identity of the Word.
"The Word was God. Here the word "God" is without the article in the original. When it is used in this way, it refers to the divine essence. Emphasis is upon the quality or character. Thus, John teaches us here that our Lord is essentially Deity. He possesses the same essence as God the Father, is one with Him in nature and attributes."
(Kenneth Wuest, Word Studies in the Greek New Testament, vol. 3, "Golden Nuggets," p. 52).
"In the beginning the Word was existing. And the Word was in fellowship with God the Father. And the Word was as to His essence absolute deity"
(Kenneth Wuest, Word Studies, vol. 4, p. 209).
Nicoll insists that if the article was present then John would have excluded anyone but the Word from identity as God. As such, he says John is indicating the Word was divine by nature.
"The structure of the third clause in verse 1, theos en ho logos, demands the translation "The Word was God." Since logos has the article preceding it, it is marked out as the subject. The fact that theos is the first word after the conjunction kai (and) shows that the main emphasis of the clause lies on it. Had theos as well as logos been preceded by the article the meaning would have been that the Word was completely identical with God, which is impossible if the Word was also "with God". What is meant is that the Word shared the nature and being of God, or (to use a piece of modern jargon) was an extension of the personality of God. The NEB paraphrase "what God was, the Word was", brings out the meaning of the clause as successfully as a paraphrase can...So, when heaven and earth were created, there was the Word of God, already existing in the closest association with God and partaking of the essence of God. No matter how far back we may try to push our imagination, we can never reach a point at which we could say of the Divine Word, as Arius did, "There was once when he was not"
(F. F. Bruce, The Gospel of John, Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1983), p. 31).
"The Word is distinguishable from God and yet Theos en ho logos, the Word was God, of Divine nature; not "a God," which to a Jewish ear would have been abominable; nor yet identical with all that can be called God, for then the article would have been inserted..."
And finally, well known commentator William Barclay writes explains it all in one paragraph. John did not identify the Word here but was indicating what the Word was.
(W. Robertson Nicoll, ed., The Expositor's Greek Testament, 5 vols, (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1983), 1:684).
Finally John says that "The Word was God". There is no doubt that this is a difficult saying for us to understand, and it is difficult because Greek, in which John wrote, had a different way of saying things from the way in which English speaks. When the Greek uses a noun it almost always uses the definite article with it. The Greek for God is 'theos', and the definite article is 'ho'. When Greek speaks about God it does not simply say 'theos'; it says 'ho theos'. Now, when Greek does not use the definite article with a noun that noun becomes much more like an adjective; it describes the character, the quality of the person. John did not say that the Word was 'ho theos'; that would have been to say that the Word was identical with God; he says that the Word was 'theos'- without the definite article- which means that the Word was, as we might say, of the very same charactor and quality and essence and being as God. When John said 'The Word was God' he was not saying that Jesus is identical with God, he was saying that Jesus is so perfectly the same as God in mind, in heart, in being that in Jesus we perfectly see what God is like." (Barclay, W. The Gospel of John, vol.1, The Dailey Study Bible Series, Saint Andrew Press, p. 39)
"the Word was Divine" (Goodspeed, E.J. An American Translation N.T. 1923).
"the Logos was Divine" (Moffatt, J. The Bible 1950).
"And what God was, the Word was" (New English Bible 1961).
"the Word was Divine" (Schonfield, H.L. Authentic N.T. 1956).
"The Word was with God and shared his nature" (Translator's N.T. 1973).
"and the nature of the Word was the same as the nature of God" (Barclay, W. N.T. 1968).
We have an abundant testimony from leading Trinitarian scholars. Notice how these scholars unanimously agree that John is not indicating who the Word was ("God") but what the Word was (divine). They also insist the definite article is missing for a reason and John necessarily could not have used the definite article because it would thereby have indicated exclusivity. Hence, they all insist that John meant the Word was divine rather than the Word was God by identity.
Analysis of the Evidence
The First Instance of theos at John 1:1b
Before one embarks upon interpreting this passage one must clarify what precedes John 1:1c. The first thing we need to clarify is "who" John is talking about at the first occurrence of the word theos at John 1:1b in the phrase, "and the word was with the theos." We find the answer plainly in his first epistle which he opens with an identical theme and similar vocabulary. The words below have been color coded for comparison purposes. Carefully observe the parallels between both passages:
"That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life and the life was manifested, and we saw it and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was made manifest to us" (1 John 1:1-2).
"In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God and the word was God. This was in the beginning with God. All things were made through this, and without this was not anything made that was made. In this was life, and the life was the light of men" (John 1:1-4).
If we compare John's thoughts in his opening statements of these two books, it is very plainly given to us by John in his first Epistle that we are to understand the first instance of the word theos in his Gospel at John 1:1 is a direct reference to the person of God the Father.
"and the Word was with God" = "and the Word was with God the Father."
But let us remember now that John uses the definite article in John 1:1 when he is using theos in reference to the Father, but he does not use the definite article when he is using theos to refer to the Word. The Father is "the theos" but the Word is simply "theos" without the definite article. Now Trinitarians also agree that the second occurrence is not a reference to the Father. Otherwise, they would have to claim the Word is being identifed as the Father.
So if the first instance of theos with the definite article, here and in verse 2, is a reference to the Father, then we come to the critical question at hand: just what is the meaning of the word theos in the second instance in John 1:1 without the definite article? It is here to this question we turn our attention.
The Word: the Logos of John 1:1
Trinitarians begin their interpretation of John 1:1 with an assumption. Since the Word/Logos at verse 14 is a person, they assume the Word/Logos of John 1:1 is also a person. But is this the case?
God Created Everything by his Spoken Word
The heavens and earth came to exist by the word of God (2 Peter 3:5). The ages were framed by the word of God (Heb 11:3). He called things that do not exist into existence (Rom 4:17). For He spoke and it was; He commanded and it came to stand (Psalm 33:9). By the word of the LORD the heavens were made and all their host by the breath of his mouth (Psalm 33:6). He commanded and the heavens were created (Psalm 148:5). God created everything by means of his spoken word, that word which he uttered and that word which went out on the breath of His mouth.
In Trinitarian doctrine, a particular oddity occurs that must be conveniently ignored. God the Father had 2 different words which he used to create all things: (1) His spoken Word, and (2) a person who happens to be called the Word (i.e. His Son) through whom God the Father created where this person is the agency or instrument through whom God created. One Word is not a person, His spoken Word. The other Word is indeed a person, and not His spoken Word. These two things cannot be sensibly harmonized and that should immediately tell us that there is a problem.
The Trinitarian Translation of John 1:2-3
He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.
Many readers of John 1:1 will insist that the Word/Logos must be a person due to the Trinitarian translation of John 1:2-3. However, the Greek grammar of John 1:2-3 does not use language which indicates the Word/Logos of John 1:1 is a person. The Greek words in question are houtos and autos which Trinitarian translators have translated as HE and HIM respectively in verses 2 and 3.
[houtos] was in the beginning with God. All things were made through [autos] and without [autos] nothing was made that was made.
The layperson can quickly see the difficulty with the Trinitarian translation and claim by checking out the King James Version of John 1:2, "The same was in the beginning with God" instead of "He was in the beginning with God. The KJV actually more accurately reflects the intent of the Greek word houtos in verse 2.
The Greek words houtos and autos function very much like the English word "this" and both of these words are used of both persons and inanimate objects. It is sometimes claimed that the Greek word houtos means HE or IT and the Greek word autos means either HIM or IT. This is simply false. The Greek word houtos does not by itself mean either "he" or "it" and the Greek word autos does not by itself mean "him" or "it." We do translate these words this way into English because we must since that is how we speak. We refer to persons as either "He" or "Him" and to objects as "IT." Ancient Greek speakers did not speak this way. These two Greek words function much like the English word "this." For example, see the translation of houtos at 1 John 5:20, "THIS is the true God and eternal life." The word "this" does not by itself indicate either a person or an inanimate object is in view although it may be used of both. The same is true with houtos and autos. These two words do not indicate whether a person is in view. Only by the context can we tell whether a person or an inanimate object is being referenced. Notice how these two Greek words are used at John 2:20
Then the Jews said, "It has taken forty-six years to build THIS temple, and will You raise IT/THIS up in three days?"
Then the Jews said, "It has taken forty-six years to build houtos temple, and will You raise autos up in three days?"
Much like the English word "this," the Greek words houtos and autos are simply words which refer back to the subject under discussion. These words do not indicate whether a person is in view or whether an inanimate object is in view. The true intent of these words is shown as follows:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. [This] was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through [this] and apart from [this] nothing came into being that has come into being.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. [The same] was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through [the same] and apart from [the same] nothing came into being that has come into being.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. [The subject under discussion] was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through [the subject under discussion] and apart from [the subject under discussion] nothing came into being that has come into being.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. [The Word] was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through [the Word] and apart from [the Word] nothing came into being that has come into being.
That is all these two Greek words are intended to accomplish. No more, no less. It is okay to translate these two words as HE and HIM when we know for certain a person is in view since this is the way we normally refer to persons in English. But that begs the question. One cannot honestly translate these two words in this way if they do not refer to a person and it is dishonest to simply make excuses for doing so. It must first be established that a person is indeed in view before translating it with English personal pronouns.
There are three reasons why Trinitarian translators translate these words as HE and HIM. (1) Trinitarians believe, due to their creeds, that the Son existed "in the beginning." (2) they see that the Bible says all things were created through Jesus in places like 1 Corinthians 8:6 and Hebrews 1:3, and (3) one can translate houtos as HE and autos as HIM when these words are referring to a person. However, (1) their own creed is no basis for interpreting Scripture, (2) if the Word was God's spoken Word then once the Word became flesh we could of course say all things were created through Jesus from this point in time and thereafter, and (3) one should not translate anything by excuse but rather translate by what is intended, and if it cannot be absolutely established beyond all doubt what is intended, a neutral translation should be chosen (which they did not do). The Trinitarian apologist is really left with nothing but his own insistences that a person is in view. Absolutely nothing in the immediate context or the Greek grammar suggests a person is in view "in the beginning." And indeed, since we already know that God created all things by His spoken Word when we come to this verse, this should be our first assumption, if any.
3 Genesis Hints
John supplies three things to point us back to Genesis chapter one.
- v.1. "In the beginning" where Genesis 1:1 begins with "In the beginning."
- v.3. All things made through the word
- v.5. The Light shines in the darkness
Notice how all three of these statements call us back to Genesis chapter 1 where we know God created through his spoken Word.
Isaiah 55:11 is very instructive in this regard.
So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth. It shall not return to Me void, But it shall accomplish what I purpose, And it shall prosper that for which I sent it.
Now compare Isaiah 55:11 with the words of Jesus in the Gospel of John.
I proceeded forth and have come from God, for I have not even come on My own but He sent Me. 8:32.
Jesus said to them, "My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish his work. 4:34.
It is accomplished! 19:30.
A Brief Explanation of the Pre-existent Logos
There are many, many reasons to believe that John had God's spoken word in mind at John 1:1 and John 1:14 is a reference to the fact that God's spoken Word, which began in his bosom, and went out on the breath of his mouth, became embodied in that flesh named Jesus because that flesh named Jesus embodied the purpose and will contained within God's word perfectly and totally. The Hebrews writer expresses something similar when he says that Jesus became perfect through suffering (Heb 2:10) and learned obedience from what he suffered (Heb 5:8).
Further to the point, there are also many, many reasons to believe that while the Son was not a person prior to his birth in Bethlehem, he was indeed a predestined and existent reality since when God speaks reality exists. Note in Hebrews 4 that God is said to be resting since he created all things. Now observe that Jesus said his Father is still working (John 5:17). From God's perspective, God who is light, everything is finished including the reality of his son. But we did not yet see all these things until his Son was actually born in Bethlehem. Peter explains that this human son, the sacrifical Lamb, was "foreknown before the foundation of the world" and as John says he is the "Lamb slain from the foundation of the world."
For more insight, please see the article on the predestination of God's chosen one Jesus.
The Greek Structure: The Deciding Factor
Both instances of the word "God" in John 1:1 are joined with the conjunction "and." John says, "with the God and God." It seems extremly unlikely to this writer that John would have intended two distinct definitions of the word "God" in such sentence construction. The Trinitarian interpretation reads, "with God the Father and divine was Jesus." The Watchtower reads, "with God the Father and a god was Jesus." In each case, there is a totally different definition of the word "God" for each instance. But is it really reasonable to conclude John would say, "God and God" and intend two different definitions of the word "God." I think it is extremely unlikely. According to Colwell's Rule it could be understood in this manner. Note again the Greek word order:
and the word was with the God and God was the word
Based on the lack of the definite article I do agree with Trinitarian scholars that a qualitative understanding of the second instance of theos is intended by John. But I also believe with the second Trinitarian interpretation according to Colwell's Rule and I do not believe there is good reason to suppose this is an "either/or" situation.
Colwell's rule begins with the idea that whether the predicate nominative (theos) is definite or not is already known and decided by the context. John joins the first instance of (theos) with the second instance of (theos) by the conjunction kai ("and"). I am persuaded by common reason that it is unreasonable to suggest two completely different definitions of (theos) would be implied by John with such a construction such as we see by Arians and Trinitarians.
and the word was with the (1) theos and (2) theos was the word (John)
Arian Definitions of Theos: (1) God the Father (2) a god (the Son)
Trinitarian Definitions of Theos: (1) God the Father (2) a divine nature
So while John joins together both occurrences of the word God, "the theos and theos," Trinitarians and Arians are actually proposing that each instance of theos has a completely different definition on either side of the word "and."
and the word was with the (1) theos and (2) theos was the word (John)
and the word was with the (1) God and (2) a god was the word (Arian)
and the word was with the (1) God and (2) divine was the word (Trinitarian)
Both of the above interpretations approach absurdity in my opinion. For John to have joined both instances of (theos) with the conjunction kai and intend one instance to be defined completely different than another is extremely unlikely. It is far more likely that "God" in the second instance is referring to the same "God" in the first instance where "God and God" means "God the Father and God the Father" with the only difference being that John is referring to the Father in the second instance in a qualitative manner. Simply put, John is saying the Word was with God the Father but not in such a way that the Word was a second thing in addition to God the Father; the Word was God the Father Himself qualitatively such that they were not two things but one and His Word was inherent within He Himself. God is Love and His Word was that quality; God is Life and His Word was that quality; God is Light and His Word was that quality. Whatever God the Father was qualitatively His Word also was and that is also because God is Truth and His Word expressed then can express nothing else but what He qualitatively is. Therefore, prior to being expressed His Word is He Himself and what He Himself is.
and the word was with the (1) theos and (2) theos was the word (John)
and the word was with the (1) God (the Father) and (2) God (the Father) was the word (John's Intention)
Tertullian said something similar in Against Praxeas where it is also crystal clear that he does not perceive the logos of John 1:1 to be a person:
For before all things God was alone— being in Himself and for Himself universe, and space, and all things. Moreover, He was alone, because there was nothing external to Him but Himself. Yet even not then was He alone; for He had with Him that which He possessed in Himself, that is to say, His own Reason. For God is rational, and Reason was first in Him; and so all things were from Himself. This Reason is His own Thought (or Consciousness) which the Greeks call LOGOS by which term we also designate Word or Discourse and therefore it is now usual with our people, owing to the mere simple interpretation of the term, to say that the Word was in the beginning with God; although it would be more suitable to regard Reason as the more ancient; because God had not Word from the beginning, but He had Reason even before the beginning; because also Word itself consists of Reason, which it thus proves to have been the prior existence as being its own substance. Not that this distinction is of any practical moment. For although God had not yet sent out His Word, He still had Him within Himself, both in company with and included within His very Reason, as He silently planned and arranged within Himself everything which He was afterwards about to utter through His Word. Now, while He was thus planning and arranging with His own Reason, He was actually causing that to become Word which He was dealing with in the way of Word or Discourse. And that you may the more readily understand this, consider first of all, from your own self, who are made “in the image and likeness of God,” Genesis 1:26 for what purpose it is that you also possess reason in yourself, who are a rational creature, as being not only made by a rational Artificer, but actually animated out of His substance. Observe, then, that when you are silently conversing with yourself, this very process is carried on within you by your reason, which meets you with a word at every movement of your thought, at every impulse of your conception. Whatever you think, there is a word; whatever you conceive, there is reason. You must needs speak it in your mind; and while you are speaking, you admit speech as an interlocutor with you, involved in which there is this very reason, whereby, while in thought you are holding converse with your word, you are (by reciprocal action) producing thought by means of that converse with your word. Thus, in a certain sense, the word is a second person within you, through which in thinking you utter speech, and through which also, (by reciprocity of process,) in uttering speech you generate thought. The word is itself a different thing from yourself. Now how much more fully is all this transacted in God, whose image and likeness even you are regarded as being, inasmuch as He has reason within Himself even while He is silent, and involved in that Reason His Word! I may therefore without rashness first lay this down (as a fixed principle) that even then before the creation of the universe God was not alone, since He had within Himself both Reason, and, inherent in Reason, His Word, which He made second to Himself by agitating it within Himself. (5).
It is my belief that John intended to say, "and the Word was qualitatively God the Father" at John 1:1c where the Word in question is the Word which the Father spoke to create all things and was inherent within him in such a way that his own Word WAS Him. God is one and in the beginning there were not two things: (1) God, and (2) God's Word. There was only one thing: God and his Word was inherent within him. In John 1:1b, John indicates the Word was WITH God because he knows we know that he knows that he will be associating the Word with Jesus and he wants to make sure we understand what Word he has in mind in verse 14, that same Word which was with God in the begining. But lest we get the mistaken notion two things existed in the beginning he further qualifies himself. And indeed, we do find that Jesus qualitatively expresses the charcter of who and what the Father is, he being the Father's Word. God is Light; His Word is Light. God is Truth; His Word is Truth. God is Life; His Word is Life. God is Love; His Word is Love. Hence, John's intention is to remind us that the Word which was inherent within the Father, that went out on the breath of His mouth, and did become flesh, will express these characteristics, that is, the essence of these things, the Father's Word always being in the bosom of the Father, just as Love poured out does not empty the giver of Love. John's ultimate intention is this: God is Love and His Word of Truth to us is the Light and Life of His Love and that Word became embodied in flesh, the man Jesus.
Based on all the evidence I am persuaded the translation of John 1:1 is correct as it stands in Trinitarian Bibles. However, given their interpretation of the verse, their translation is incorrect for them and should read, "the Word was god" which means in English, "the Word was divine."
With respect to interpretation, I agree with both sets of Trinitarian scholars and theologians who have disagreed with each other. In other words, I accept (1) the qualitative sense of the second instance of theos but I am also fully persuaded that we are to understand that John intends to refer to (2) God the Father in that qualitative way. Put another way, John is telling us the Word which was with God the Father in the beginning was not something other than God the Father but was, qualitatively or characteristically, God the Father Himself.
"Father.... that they may know you the only true God and [the Word] whom you sent." (John 17:3).
"Man shall not live by bread alone but on every Word that proceeds out of the mouth of God." (Matthew 4:4).
"My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and finish His Work. (John 4:34).
"It is finished!" (John 19:34).
Last Updated: July 13, 2011