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The Trinity on Trial An in-depth examination of a doctrine

Quotations of Trinitarian Scholars

Trinitarian Scholars on John 1:1

The following Trinitarian scholars are well known and respected leading scholars in the world of Trinitarianism. These are men who do believe in the doctrine of the Trinity. We are not here concerned with their overall Trinitarian theology, but with their evaluation of John's intended meaning at John 1:1. Since these Trinitarians believe that Jesus has a divine nature, these scholars use the standard Trinitarian terminology of using the word "God" to refer to this divine nature of Jesus and we can also see here why they opt to translate John 1:1 as they do. But here let us carefully notice how they insist upon 3 significant things:

(1) They insist the absence of the definite article is very significant and missing for a reason,

(2) The further insist the presence of a definite article would have indicated that only the Word was theos thereby excluding the Father from being "God",

(3) and most importantly they insist the phrase in their "the Word was God" translation is intended to convey “what” the word was rather than “who” the word was. Emphasis is mine.

  • A.T. Robertson emphatically insists that John left out the article by necessity 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" (John is not saying who the Word was but what the Word was).
  • "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).

    "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.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. This is obviously true because the very purpose of a definite article is to indicate the exclusivity of a person or thing.
  • "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).

  • 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).
  • "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.)

  • 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 and human."
  • "'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).

  • 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.
  • "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.)

  • 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."
  • "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).

  • 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."
  • "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.)

  • 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 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).

  • 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 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).

  • 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 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).

  • 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 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..."
    (W. Robertson Nicoll, ed., The Expositor's Greek Testament, 5 vols, (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1983), 1:684).

  • William Barclay explains it all in one paragraph. John did not identify the Word here but was indicating what the Word was.
  • 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)

  • Various translations by Trinitarian scholars
  • "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 here an abundant testimony from leading Trinitarian scholars. Notice how these scholars unanimously agree that John is not indicating who the Word was but what the Word was. Also notice how they consistently insist John could not have said, "and the Word was the God." And this is the problem. The English word "God" is the equivalent of the Greek term ho theos ("the god") which is precisely what these scholars insist John did not say, did not intend to say, and could not say without promoting heresy. So why do they persist in translating John 1:1 incorrectly?