John 1:1 and The Trinity
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“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1, ESV).
This beautiful verse is a rich concentration of theological truth. How one interprets it defines who Jesus is in relation to His Father. A correct interpretation sets the tone for the entire book of John and will be in harmony with the entire Bible. It has been wisely said, “the Bible correctly understood never contradicts itself.” A study of this passage with objectivity seeks to know and understand what John the Apostle communicated to his audience.
John 1:1 is the primary verse for the Trinitarian teaching that Jesus Christ is God. Few Trinitarians Christians know that the ending of this verse does not reflect the underlying Greek and is a serious mistranslation.
The first verse of John is a sentence containing three clauses:
Clause a: “In the beginning was the Word“
Clause b: “and the Word was with God“
Clause c: “and the Word was God“
Clause A: In the beginning was the Word
The word “beginning” here describes a period of time. Some believe it encompasses the Genesis creation while other Christians believe it describes a time period before creation.
If the “beginning” of John 1:1 describes the Genesis creation (“In the beginning God created…“), it would limit this time period to six days. In support of this view are the parallels between John 1:1 and the Genesis creation. Both accounts begin with, “In the beginning.” Jesus Christ is present as the agent of creation (John 1:3). The light shines and overpowers darkness (John 1:5 which is in harmony with Genesis 1:2-4).
A more widespread understanding, however, is that the “beginning” here involves a time period before the Genesis creation when Jesus was with the Father (“and the Word was with God”). This understanding is chronological with John 1:3 because creation follows this “beginning.” Here are several verses that state that Jesus pre-existed His birth (John 1:15, 18, 30, 6:38, 46, 62, 8:42, 10:36, 13:3, 16:28, 17:5, Romans 8:32, 2 Corinthians 8:9, Philippians 2:5-8, Colossians 1:15, Jude 5).
While I consider myself a Biblical Unitarian, (not to be confused with Universal Unitarians), most Biblical Unitarians don’t believe that Jesus pre-existed His birth. I don’t hold this view. Most Biblical Unitarians believe, “the word logos in John 1:1 refers to God’s creative self-expression—His reason, purposes and plans, especially as they are brought into action” For this quote in its entirety, and additional information on this view, you can visit this website, http://www.biblicalunitarian.com/videos/but-what-about-john-1-1
I believe that the context demonstrates clearly that the “Word” in John 1:1 is both the pre-incarnate and incarnate Jesus Christ.
In verse one, the “Word” is mentioned three times. But the verses to follow continue to contextually describe the “Word.” The pronoun “he” in verse two, and the word “him” in verses three and four are no less than the “Word.” Verse five continues describing the “Word,” “the light shines in the darkness.”
Verses six to eight are an intermission where John the Baptist testifies that this light is Jesus Christ. Following John’s testimony of Jesus, the subject of the verses continues to be Jesus Christ.
And if anyone should have any doubts, verse 14 identifies the “Word” as Jesus Christ. The “Word,” who in the previous verses was identified as Jesus, “became flesh.” Because the “Word” is contextually depicted as previously existing in the flesh (1:1, 3, 10), Jesus pre-existed.
The following chart illustrates that the “Word” (John 1:1) is both the pre-incarnate and incarnate Jesus Christ. This chart has three columns. Starting with the left, are descriptions of the Word. The center column is the passages in John. The last column provides passages that demonstrate that the Word is Jesus Christ.
THE PRE-INCARNATE WORD IDENTIFIED
|The Word:||John:||Jesus Christ:|
|“He was in the beginning with God”||1:1-2||Colossians 1:15-17, Revelation 3:14|
|“All things were made through him”||1:3, 10|| |
1 Corinthians 8:6, Colossians 1:16, Hebrews 1:2,
THE INCARNATE WORD IDENTIFIED
|The Word:||John:||Jesus Christ:|
|“In Him was life”||1:4|| |
John 5:26, 11:25, 14:6
1 John 1:2, 5:11
|“In him was life, and the life was the light of men”||1:4-5, 7||John 3:19, 8:12, 12:46|
|“He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light”||1:6-8, 15||Matthew 3, Mark 1|
|“He was in the world”||1:10-11||Gospels of Matthew-John|
|“the world did not know him”||1:10-11||Matthew 23:37, John 3:11, 38 32, 5:43, 12:37|
|“He gave the right to become children of God”||1:12-13||John 3:16, 1 John 5:1, 4:14, etc.|
|“the Word became flesh”||1:14||Philippians 2:7-8|
|“the only Son from the Father”||1:14||Matthew 14:33, 27:54, Acts 9: 20, Hebrew 4:14, Galatians 2:20, etc.|
Trinitarians unanimously believe that Jesus eternally pre-existed.
Trinitarians unanimously believe that Jesus eternally pre-existed. Yet, no exegetics supports this teaching. Since Jesus did not eternally exist, when did Jesus come into existence? The Bible teaches that Jesus was created by God and went on to create the world (Colossians 1:15-16, Revelation 3:14; 1 Peter 1:20, etc.). For additional information on these verses and more, please see, Why I’m No Longer A Trinitarian.
Because there is no biblical evidence for the Trinitarian teaching that Jesus eternal existed, some theologians have taken the liberty to inject the word “was” (“In the beginning was the Word”) with a past eternal state that exceeds the meaning of the word itself within the context.
The phrase, “In the beginning was,” (John 1:1a) is incompatible with eternal pre-existence because the word “beginning” identifies a period of time and God has no beginning. The Apostle John is simply describing a state. The Word “was” with Jesus before creation without commenting on the duration of this past state.
Genesis 1:1 also contains the word “beginning” and doesn’t point to eternity past. It describes creation, 6-8 thousand years ago that lasted six days.
In the book, The Deity of Jesus Christ, popular Trinitarian theologian John MacArthur writes for John 1:1a, “The imperfect tense of the verb ‘was’ (eimi), describing continuing action in the past, further reinforces the eternal preexistence of the Word” (16, 2017).
Because most Christians who read MacArthur’s book have already bought into the doctrine of the Trinity, they don’t question or verify what MacArthur writes. But his claim is unsupported, is unscholarly, and is pure eisegesis.
In the underlying Koine Greek, all verbs have tenses built into them. MacArthur is correct that the word “was“ (“In the beginning was the word”) is in the Koine Greek imperfect tense. But this fact doesn’t establish his exaggeration.
In the book, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, theologian Daniel Wallace defines the imperfect verb tense: ”[It] portrays the action as an internal or progressive event (‘motion picture’), without regard for beginning or end; occurs only in indicative, past time (generally)” (emphasis my own, 1996, 752). Because the action is “without regard for beginning or end,” the imperfect tense doesn’t comment on the duration that Jesus was with God. In other words, the verse describes a state (Jesus was with God) without again commenting on the duration.
In the book, Basics of Biblical Greek Grammar (2009), author William Mounce writes, “Basically, the imperfect expresses linear action in past time. That action may be repetitive, prolonged or just beginning” (182, 3rd edition, 2009). Dr. Mounce goes on to provide examples for the imperfect tense, but none describe eternal pre-existence. There is no credible Greek grammar book that defines the imperfect Koine Greek tense as an eternal past state.
MacArthur is not the only Trinitarian theologian who embellishes the word “was” based on Trinitarian partiality. Sadly, many Trinitarian theologians allow their theology to drive their interpretation. Because they have bought into the doctrine of the Trinity, they force the Bible to conform to their theology. This practice is called eisegesis. It should have no place in church doctrine. Again, because there is no biblical support for the Trinitarian teaching that Jesus eternally existed, Trinitarian’s need to inject this teaching in somewhere.
In the book, The Forgotten Trinity, (1998), theologian James White also defines the word “was” (John 1:1a) based on a Trinitarian presupposition: “The tense  of the word expresses continuous action in the past” (page 52). The footnote reads, “The imperfect tense of the verb εỉμί (eimi ) refers to continuous action in the past. One might compare it to saying, “I was eating,” in contrast to “I ate” or “I had eaten.” Specifically, and most importantly in this context, the verb does not point to a specific point of origin or beginning in the past” (198).
Dr. White’s assertion that, “the imperfect tense of the verb εỉμί (eimi ) refers to continuous action in the past” is theologically motivated and not based on rules of Greek grammar as we saw earlier.
Secondly, Dr. White’s claim that the verb “was” does, “not point to a specific point of origin or beginning in the past” (198) is not all true. The verb points to a beginning. The verse says, “In the beginning was the Word.” I agree that the verb does not appear to point to Christ’s origination, but it is contextually linked to a period of time when Jesus was with the Father.
Because the Trinity is an established fact in the mind of most Trinitarians (as was mine for years), most are unaware that many study Bibles contain Trinitarian exaggerations. To follow are some quotes that Jesus eternally pre-existed based on John 1:1:
“John will soon identify this Word as Jesus (v. 14), but here [John 1:1] he locates Jesus’ existence in eternity past with God.” (ESV Study Bible, 2008, see note for John 1:1).
“The Word existed already ‘in the beginning,’ which is a way of denoting the eternity that is unique to God” (Reformation Study Bible, 2015, see note for John 1:1).
“The verb [“was”] highlights the eternal pre-existence of the Word, i.e., Jesus Christ. Before the universe began, the Second Person of the Trinity always existed …” (MacArthur Study Bible, 2006, see note for John 1:1).
“John located Jesus’s existence in eternity past with God” (CSB Study Bible: Notes. Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, see note for John 1:1, 2017).
Clause B: And the Word was with God
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
The “Word” is the pre-incarnate Jesus Christ “with God.” Who is “God” in this verse? The doctrine of the Trinity gives adherents two choices: the Father or the Holy Spirit. The word “God” in this context doesn’t describe the Holy Spirit. Jesus is undisputed with His Father (“the Word was with God [that is the Father]“).
The word “with” (“and the Word was with God”) in Greek can also mean towards God. Nevertheless, the clause presents a portrait of Jesus together (or towards) His Father that depicts communion before creation.
Because God always existed, the “beginning” of John 1:1 cannot describe His inception, but rather a period of time before Genesis 1:1 where God was with His Son.
The underlying Greek (John 1:1b) include the article “the” before the word “God.” Here is a literal English translation (with different word order) that illustrates the definite article “the” before the word God:
“And the Word was with (or towards) the God.” The article “the” is significant in Koine Greek. It makes the noun “God” (Greek: theos) definite. The article “the” is not present in English Bibles before the word “God” because it is implied in the English language. John is saying that the pre-incarnate Jesus (“Word“) was with “the God” (which is the Father). The significance of this grammatical construction will become apparent in the last clause.
Clause C: And the Word was God
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
Note: Because some information to follow can be difficult to understand, it is repeated multiple times for emphasis and clarity. This repetition is not to insult anyone.
The translation of John 1:1c has been challenged for years by non-Trinitarian Christians. The contention is over the correct ending of the last clause (“and the Word was ___?”).
Rules of Greek grammar permit three possible endings for John 1:1c. While three endings are permitted, John only used one. The ending chosen should represent the underlying Greek, should not contradict the Bible and should be in harmony with near and far contexts.
There is an important feature in the Greek which points to the correct ending. As you may recall, John 1:1 is one sentence containing three clauses. In the second clause, the Father is called “the God.” In biblical Greek, when an article is before a noun, it is always definite. This is because, “thus it [a noun] may be definite without the article, and it must be definite with the article” (emphasis my own, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, Daniel Wallace, 243, 1996).
John 1:1 is the only verse in the New Testament where the same noun is stated twice in a sentence —once with the article and once without it. The Father is called, “the God” (definite) and Jesus is called “[no article]” God.” The inspired presence of the article for the Father and intentional omission of the article for Jesus makes a distinction between two Gods and should be reflected in Bible translations.
All mainline translations pretend the article is also used for Jesus by providing a definite interpretation (“and the Word was God”) and don’t include footnotes with explanations or alternate translations. Most Christians read John 1:1 unaware that this verse should have been translated differently.
All major contemporary Bible versions were composed by Trinitarian scholars (NKJV, NIV, ESV, ASB, NASB, etc.). Most likely all, or most translation committees members (for major translations) were required to sign a Trinitarian doctrinal statement. Non-Trinitarian Christian scholars were excluded from all major Orthodox Bible translation committees.
Trinitarian translators have a conflict of interest. As Trinitarians, they believe that Jesus is equal and the same God as the Father —core components of Evangelical theology. Therefore, they ignore the inspired distinction made by the Apostle John between God and His Son.
The Three Possible Ending of John 1:1
Based on the rules of Greek grammar, there are three possible endings for John 1:1c.
|Definite:||“And the Word was God”|
|Qualitative:||“And the Word was divine or deity”|
|Indefinite:||“And the Word was a god”|
These three possible endings have been recognized by multiple Trinitarian Greek scholars.
Probably the most respected book on Koine Greek grammar of our day is Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics. On page 267, Dr. Wallace writes for John 1:1c, “Whether it is indefinite [“Word was a God“], qualitative [“Word was divine“], or definite [“Word was God“] is the issue at hand” (words in brackets, of course, are my own, page 267).
In the book, The Forgotten Trinity, (1998), Trinitarian Apologist James White also acknowledges that this clause has three possible endings. He writes, “Without going into all the issues,  the possible renderings fall into three categories: Indefinite: hence, ‘a god.’ Definite: hence, ‘God.’ Qualitative: hence, ‘in nature God’” (page 55).
The theological journal Filologia Neotestamentaria (2008, Volume 41) freely admits, “The absence of the article in the pre-verbal predicate nominative is the grammatical issue at stake in John 1:1c” (page 111).
“In Greek, a noun without an article can signify one of three things. It can indicate the noun is (1) indefinite; (2) it is definite; or (3) it has a qualitative sense” (Emmaus Journal, Volume 12, page 31, 2003).
Because of this rule in Koine Greek, each possible ending of John 1:1c will be examined.
The Definitive Interpretation of John 1:1c (and the Word was God).
Before we get deeper into this clause —taking the extra time to learn the information that follows is crucial. Even if you have to listen and re-listen, the end result should provide you with tremendous insight into what John the Apostle wrote. Please make a commitment to learning this information if applicable, even if it requires you to step out of your comfort zone.
All mainline English translations and most translations in other languages use the definite interpretation —“and the Word was God.” Even though the direct article “the” is not present before the word God in the last clause in the Greek, it is implied in English translations.
When nouns are not proceeded by the direct article, they are called anarthrous nouns. In the last clause, we have an anarthrous noun. To follow is an important quote from the book, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics. If you don’t understand it, please keep reading and some helpful summaries will follow.
“It is not necessary for a noun to have the article in order for it to be definite. But conversely, a noun cannot be indefinite when it has the article. Thus it may be definite without the article [John 1:1c], and it must be definite with the article [John 1:1b]” (243, Daniel Wallace, 1996).
The ending for John 1:1 is disputed in the last clause (1:1c: “and the Word was ____?”). The previous clause contains essential background information.
The ending of John 1:1b (“and the Word was with God”) is not disputed because there is a direct article in front of the word “God” in the Greek (“and the Word was with [the] God”), and English translations correctly reflect this with a definite interpretation. Again, keep in mind that in English translations the definite noun “the” is not present because it is implied. The idea is, “and the Word was with the God.”
Because of rules of Greek grammar, three possible endings are allowed for John 1:1c. The second clause (again) is not disputed because the word “God” has a Greek direct article before the word God.
But in the last clause, John also used the word “God” to describe Jesus. In the last clause, John made a distinction between the God the Father by omitting the article for Jesus (“[no article] God”). So Jesus is not the same God as His Father. The issue at hand is how to translate the last clause to transmit the inspired distinction between the Father who is called “the God” and Jesus who is called “[no article] God.”
Back to the book, Greek Grammar Beyond The Basics. In the pages to follow, ten categories are provided where the article is absent yet the noun is definite (“the [noun]”). To save time, we won’t cover these individually, but I assure you, none of these categories apply to John 1:1c.
So to summarize, the categories provide a basis to allow certain anarthrous nouns (which have no direct article before it) to be translated as definite.
Strikingly, the definite interpretation of John 1:1c is not applicable to these categories, thereby these categories offer no support for the definite interpretation of John 1:1c.
TEN EXAMPLES OF DEFINITE ANARTHROUS NOUNS
|Category:||Example:||References:||Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics:|
|Proper names||Paul||1 Corinthians 1:13||245|
|“Object of a preposition”||“In the beginning was the Word”||John 1:1a||247|
|“With ordinal numbers”||“it was about the sixth hour”||John 4:6||248|
|“Predicate nominative”||“Colwell’s rule”||N/A for John 1:1c||248|
|“Complement in object-complement construction”||if you confess with your mouth Jesus [as] Lord||Romana 10:9||248|
|“Monadic nouns”||Special nouns of a unique category, such as “the Son of God.”||Luke 1:35||248|
|“Abstract nouns”||Words such as “love,” “joy,” “peace,” etc.||John 1:16, 17:17, Galatians 5:22-23||249-250|
|“A genitive construction”||“the Spirit of God”||Matthew 3:16||250|
|“Pronominal adjective”||“to fulfill all righteousness”||Matthew 3:15||253|
|Generic Nouns||“the glory of the husband”||1 Corinthians 11:7||253|
So what justification is used for the definite interpretation of John 1:1c?
Trinitarians theologians like to point out that based on rules of Greek grammar, the definite rendering is permitted when no direct article precedes a noun. But this is not enough.
However, they don’t consider the weight of two identical nouns (“God”) in the sentence, one with the article (“the God”) for the Father, and one without it (“[no article] God”) for the Son.
In the book, Word Biblical Commentary, second edition, respected author George R. Beasley-Murray (1916-2000) wrote for this clause, “καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος: θεός [God] without the article signifies less than ὁ θεός [God].” While Beasley-Murray admitted on one hand that the absence of the article makes Jesus less than the Father, he continued writing in the book and took this back, “but it cannot be understood as ‘a god,’ as though the Logos were a lesser god alongside the supreme God” (1999). Because the late Beasley-Murray was a Trinitarian, he took Jesus back to being equally God.
The late Beasley-Murray recognized that distinctions between persons in Koine Greek can be made by the article. When one person has the article before their identity and another person shares the same identity without the article, the first person has greater significance. For example, “the captain” is greater than “a captain” in a sentence when a contrast is made. This point is also made in the book, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, Wallace writes, “The article is frequently used to distinguish one individual from another” (216 or 217).
Because God’s Word is inspired, and John dropped the direct article (“the”), English interpretations should account for this exclusion, but don’t. If John wanted to also communicate a definite rendering for John 1:1c consistent with mainstream translations, he would have kept the article (“the God”) for Jesus.
The Trinitarian Harper’s Bible Commentary states, “(Yet theos, ‘God,’ does not have the definite article; this implies that the Word is not to be equated with the totality of God” (1046, 1988). While this commentary admits that Jesus is not the totality of God, its Trinitarian partisanship continues and rescinds the admission.
There is a second substantial problem with the definite interpretation. Many Greek Bible scholars admit that the traditional interpretation is problematic because it makes Jesus the same person He was with (“the word [Jesus] was God [the Father]”). A breakdown of this verse helps to illustrate this truth. Because the “Word” is Jesus, John 1:1 can be summarized:
In the beginning was [Jesus], and [Jesus] was with God, and [Jesus] was God.
Because the pre-incarnate Jesus is with God in this verse (and [Jesus] was with God), it has to be the Father. So the verse can be re-stated.
In the beginning was [Jesus], and [Jesus] was with the [Father], and Jesus was the [Father].
The doctrine of the Trinity correctly teaches that Jesus is not the Father. In fact, in the second clause, John made a distinction between Jesus and His Father (“and the Word was with God”). A distinction must be made between them to avoid the false doctrine of modalism where one God wears different masks and sometimes appears as Jesus and other times as the Father, etc. Because Jesus is not the Father (a contradiction), and John made a clear distinction between them, this is another reason that the definite interpretation (“and the Word was God”) is incorrect for John 1:1c.
In the past when Biblical Unitarian Christians offered credible objections to the definite rendering, it was not uncommon for Trinitarian scholars to accuse them of theological bias such as, it’s because you are a Jehovah Witness. But in the age of technology, with open access to information over the internet and with the increased knowledge of Koine Greek grammar, this charge is less frequent. By the way, Trinitarians are also capable of theological bias.
If we want to correctly understand the Biblical distinction made in John 1:1 between Jesus and the Father, we need to follow the evidence using good principles of biblical interpretation. In the age of technology, with open access to information over the internet, and accessibility to Koine Greek grammar rules, the fallacious ending of John 1:1c can no longer be hidden.
The Journal Filologia Neotestamentaria describes the contradiction of the traditional interpretation: “The second option is to translate this phrase as “and the Word was God”. Contextually, as was pointed out, this creates tension with the preceding phrase (1b) where a clear distinction should be made between the persons of λόγος [Word] and θεός [God, the Father]. It, therefore, seems evident that the θεός in 1b and 1c has different references, since the Word cannot simultaneously be with God and also be God” (Volume 41, 111, 2008,).
In the Book, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, Trinitarian Greek grammar theologian Daniel Wallace also admits the contradiction that modern versions bring to God’s Word: “Further, calling θεός in 1:1c definite [“the Word was God”] is the same as saying that if it had followed the verb it would have had the article. Thus it would be a convertible proposition with λόγος (i.e., “the Word” = “God” and “God” = “the Word”). The problem of this argument is that the θεός in 1:1b is the Father. Thus to say that the θεός in 1:1c is the same person is to say that “the Word was the Father.” This, as the older grammarians and exegetes pointed out, is embryonic Sabellianism or modalism. The Fourth Gospel is about the least likely place to find modalism in the NT” (268, 1996).
While Daniel Wallace is commended for his initial honesty, sadly, he continues writing and takes it back. The practice of stating something as factual to appear objective and truthful in light of overwhelming evidence and subsequently taking it back is dishonorable. God’s Word correctly interpreted doesn’t require contradictory explanations.
In the book, The Forgotten Trinity, theologian James White, acknowledges that if John had made Jesus definite in the Greek (“the God”) it would contradict Scripture because it would make Jesus = God (the Father) and therefore be the same being. He writes, “We have already seen that if John had employed the article before θεός , he would have made the terms θεός [God] and λόγος [Word] interchangeable, amounting to modalism” (1998, 56). Dr. White speaks from both sides of his mouth. He admits that it would teach modalism if the underlying Greek equated Jesus to the Father (it does not), but has no problem that mainline translations do this and are unfaithful to the underlying Greek.
The evidence presented, taken in its totality overwhelmingly overturns the definite interpretation of John 1:1c.
The Qualitative Interpretation of John 1:1c (The Word was divine or deity)
The word “god” (theos) can also mean divine or deity. This is confirmed by most respected, biblical dictionaries and lexicons. Therefore, it’s possible that John intended to write: “and the Word was deity or divine).” This ending eliminates the inaccurate depiction of Jesus and the Father being the same God, and is in harmony with the New Testament’s presentation of Jesus Christ as a divine person (Colossians 1:19, 2:9, etc.).
While the qualitative interpretation is allowed and does not contradict the Bible, does the context (two distinct beings together in the beginning) suggest that a qualitative ending is intended by the author? According to Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, “a qualitative noun places the stress on quality, nature, or essence. It does not merely indicate membership in a class of which there are other members (such as an indefinite noun), nor does it stress individual identity (such as a definite noun)” (244).
Jesus is not the Father (1:1b); the omission of the article in the context does not appear to stress a distinction in quality, nature or essence.
While a qualitative interpretation is allowed, is non-contradictory, and is more accurate than a definite interpretation, in addition to the context not indicating that God should be understood as qualitative, a serious weakness is that John used the word “God” twice and it’s preferred to translate this word literally (indefinite “a god”) since there are other words available that were not used that mean “deity” or “divinity.” For example, Paul used the word “deity” (Greek: theotes) for Jesus Christ in Colossians 2:9.
In 1926, James Moffat (1870-1944) released a New Testament translation titled by his last name. Moffat was a Trinitarian, yet his understanding of John 1:1c was qualitative. His translation states, “…the Logos was divine.” Possibly because of this verse, his translation didn’t receive much traction. Further, many Trinitarian scholars were critical of his interpretation because they only accept a definite ending.
Robert Young (1822-1888), was a Bible scholar and produced Young’s Literal Translation. His ending of John 1:1c was “and the Word was God.” However, in his commentary for this verse, he wrote, “and the Word was God,’ more lit. and a God (i.e. a Divine Being) was the Word, that is, he was existing and recognized as such” (Concise Critical Commentary on the New Testament, Baker books, 1983, 54).
The Nazarene Commentary states, “God-like: Or, divine, a god. KJV: God; GDSP: divine; MOF: divine. The Greek is kai theos en ho logos. This theos (god) is not the same as ton theon (the Supreme Deity) of the former phrase. The Greek, unlike English and other languages, only has the definite article (ho = the). When the article occurs it indicates a specific thing; when it is lacking (anarthrous) it means one of many or a type. Many view theos here as an adjective describing a quality of the Logos. More than a dozen translators have rendered this ‘a god’ whereas another half dozen have used ‘divine.’” (Mark H. Miller, note for John 1:1; 2010).
The Indefinite Interpretation of John 1:1c (The Word was a God).
The indefinite translation takes into account the presence of the article for “God” the Father (John 1:b) and the omission of the article for Jesus (John 1:c). It recognizes that the Father and the Son are two distinct Gods (John 1:1b-c) and is consistent with how Jesus is presented in the Bible as subordinate to His Father (John 10:29, 14:28; 1 Corinthians 3:23, 11:3, 15:24-28, Ephesians 4:6).
Within Koine Greek, the presence or absence of the article is more significant than the English language. This teaching is accentuated in many Greek Grammars. Daniel Wallace writes, “In the least, we cannot treat it lightly, for its presence or absence [of the article] is the crucial element to unlocking the meaning of scores of passages in the NT. In short, there is no more important aspect of Greek grammar than the article to help shape our understanding of the thought and theology of the NT writers” (words in bracket are my own, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, 208, 1996).
The Apostle John included the article before God (“the God”) in 1:1b to accentuate the identity of the Father as the one true God (John 17:3). He omitted the article for the Word to articulate a distinction between deities. This distinction is in harmony with Old Testament Jewish Monotheism. The Father (Yahweh) was and is the one and only absolute sense God (Genesis 14:18, Deuteronomy 6:4-9, Psalm 57:2, John 10:29, 14:28, 1 Corinthians 3:23, 11:3, 15:24-28, Ephesians 4:6).
Jewish monotheism recognized the existence of other good gods who were not the one true God (Yahweh):
Angels: Psalm 8:5, 97:7
Judges: Exodus 211:6, 22:8
Kings: Psalm 45:6-7
In John 10, when Jesus was falsely accused of blasphemy —in His defense, He claimed to be the Son of God (10:36), and appealed to the existence of a plurality of gods: “34 Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’? 35 If he called them gods to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:34-35). Jesus referred to the Old Testament verse: “I said, “You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you” (Psalms 82:6). In the same chapter of Psalms, it states, “God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment” (Psalms 86:1).
After the death of the disciples, Christianity continued to expand across the globe. Because of the existence of hundreds of languages, copies of manuscripts were translated into many languages.
One language widely spoken in Egypt in the 2nd-3rd century was Coptic. According to the Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (1992), “since the LXX [Septuagint] and the New Testament were being translated into Coptic during the 3d century c.e., the Coptic version is based on Greek manuscripts which are significantly older than the vast majority of extant witnesses” (Volume 4, 181).
This statement from the Anchor Bible Dictionary is significant. The manuscripts used to translate the New Testament from Greek to the Coptic language were older than most in existence today.
A complete Sahidic Coptic Gospel of John from the 2-4th century (estimated) renders John 1:1c, “the word was a god” (you can “Google” this for further research). Not only is this manuscript viable because it dates so early, the Coptic language uses the indirect article “a” similarly to the English language. While Koine Greek does not have the indirect article “a,” this grammatical feature could be implied.
There are other Coptic translations from later dates that also are indefinite.
Very few Trinitarians even acknowledge that Coptic translations exist that render Jesus “a god.” Those who do, rarely discuss the theological implications of this reality. If these Coptic translations were definite, Trinitarians would undoubtedly be all over them.
Distractions are often used by Trinitarian scholars to cloud the validity of the indefinite interpretation. Trinitarian scholars rarely mention that hundreds of indefinite nouns exist in the Bible. In fact, there are some in the same chapter (John 1:6 “a man,” 1:7 “a witness,” 1:30 “a man,” 1:32 “a dove“).
Acts 28:6 has the phrase, “a god.” In this verse, there is no article before the word “god.” This fact combined with the context points to an indefinite noun.
Because most who believe that John 1:1c is indefinite (“and the word was a god”) are Jehovah Witnesses, a common distraction is to “pigeon hole” the indefinite interpretation to this group.
In 1950, the first installment of the New World Translation was released. They translated this ending, “the word was a god” (John 1:1c). But before this translation existed, others translations had already translated John 1:1c as “the word was a god.” Here are a few:
The New Testament in an Improved Version (1808)
The New Testament in Greek and English (A. Kneeland, 1822.)
A Literal Translation Of The New Testament (H. Heinfetter, 1863)
Concise Commentary On The Holy Bible (R. Young, 1885)
The Coptic Version of the N.T. (G. W. Horner, 1911)
The New Testament of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Anointed (J. L. Tomanec, 1958)
Source for translations above: http://onlytruegod.org/defense/john1.1c.htm
So, when Trinitarian scholars imply that the indefinite rendering of the New World Translation is theologically motivated, they fail to admit that older translations exist that were indefinite. While every translation above may not be scholarly, not all Trinitarian translations are scholarly.
Worship of Jesus is Not Polytheism
According to the book, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, “If θεός were indefinite, we would translate it ‘a god’ (as is done in the New World Translation [NWT]). If so, the theological implication would be some form of polytheism, perhaps suggesting that the Word was merely a secondary god in a pantheon of deities” (266).
The first objection raised is that the indefinite interpretation results in “some form of polytheism” (the worship of more than one god). But this objection is unfair. Trinitarians don’t object, or mention that the Father is called “a God” many times in the Bible (Genesis 16:13, Exodus 34:6, Deuteronomy 32:4, 1 Samuel 2:3, 17:46, Nehemiah 9:17, Psalm 7:11, 58:11, Isaiah 30:18, 44:8, etc.). Because the Father is called “a God,” Jesus could also be called “a god.” Jesus is never presented biblically as the same God as His Father. Human beings are made in God’s image as individuals. This represents God’s image as a singular identity.
Much biblical evidence could be presented that Jesus is a separate god from the Father. Jesus called the Father, “my God” while in the flesh (John 20:17), and in heaven (Revelation 1:6, 3:12). Peter called Jesus, “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:3). Paul called Jesus, “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus” (Romans 15:6, 2 Corinthians 1:3, 11:31). If you believe the Bible, then you surely believe that Jesus has a God.
If Jesus had/has a God, then He must worship His God. Verses Indicate that Jesus worships His God (John 4:22; Mark 14:26; Hebrews 2:12; Revelation 15:3).
Biblical Unitarian Christians are called “Unitarians” because they believe and worship one God (the Father) above Jesus Christ. While Jesus is worshipped as Lord and Savior, we believe that the Father is greater than His Son. God exalted Jesus and made Him Lord (Daniel 7:14, Acts 2:33, 36; Hebrews 1:9; 2:9; Philippians 2:9-11). This exaltation indicates that Jesus did not have this position previously. This exaltation doesn’t remove Yahweh’s supreme, sovereignty as the one and only God (Deuteronomy 6:4, 1 Corinthians 15:27-29, etc.).
Because of God’s exclusive greatness, He alone (never Jesus) is called the “one God” or “only God“,: etc. (Deuteronomy 4:35, 39; 6:4; 32:39; 2 Samuel 7:22; 2 Samuel 22:32;1 Kings 8:60; 19:15; 1 Chronicles 17:20; Nehemiah 9:6; Psalm 18:31; Isaiah 37:20; 43:10; 44:8; 45:; 45:14; 45:18; 45:21; 46:9; Zachariah 14:9, etc. This thread (the one God is only the Father) continuous throughout the New Testament, starting with Jesus: John 5:44, 17:3; Mark 10:18; 12:28-34; Romans 3:30; 1 Corinthians 8:4-6; Galatians 3:20, 1 Timothy 2:5, etc.).
Trinitarian theology is closer to polytheism. Some argue it is outright polytheism. While Trinitarians claim and believe they worship one God, in practice (while they don’t acknowledge it), they seem to have three equal Gods because they teach that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct persons, co-equal in essence.
There is no biblical affirmation without eisegesis that God is a multiple person godhead (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). The biblical omission of a Triune godhead is monumental.
Most Trinitarians read John 1:1c unaware that their Bibles don’t articulate the underlying Greek. The popularity of “Jesus is God” theology and because most Christians neglect to study their Bible in depth has allowed Bible publishers to retained the erroneous ending of John 1:1.
The controversy over the ending of John 1:1c is not over the underlying Greek, but over the translation of the Greek. Because the Greek is clear based on the second and third clause that Jesus is not the same God as the Father, the definite interpretation is a mistranslation. Because Trinitarian theology teaches that Jesus is equal in essence to the Father, they cannot accept a clear passage that teaches that Jesus is a distinct god who is not the totality of the Father.
In my case, formerly, the Trinity was an unresolved theological issue. When I re-examined this doctrine, the primary verse I used to remain a Trinitarian was John 1:1. My conclusion from this verse —while I didn’t understand the Trinity, was that “Jesus is God.” Once I understood the truth about this verse, it led to a one-year diligent study of the doctrine of the Trinity, and subsequently, no longer remaining a Trinitarian.
The theologically motivated mistranslation of this verse should be uncovered. Trinitarian theologians who defend John 1:1c using faulty premises should be exposed. Bible publishers should be pressured to revise the inaccurate ending of John 1:1c, or at least include footnotes with alternate translations. If Jesus is the totality of God as the Trinity affirms, it would be unnecessary to support this doctrine with a mistranslation.
May God richly bless you as you follow His Son, to His Father’s house. Keep your faith in Jesus Christ to the glory of God the Father!
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