In part 1 of this theme, we examined the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) to see what they revealed about God’s Son, Logos. In the remaining parts, we will examine the various truths revealed about Jesus in the Christian Scriptures.
As the writing of the Bible drew to its close, Jehovah inspired the aged Apostle John to reveal some important truths concerning Jesus’ prehuman existence. John revealed his name was “The Word” (Logos, for purposes of our study) in the opening verse of his gospel. It is doubtful you could find a passage of Scripture which has been more discussed, analyzed and debated than John 1:1,2. Here is a sampling of the various ways it has been translated:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god. This one was in the beginning with God.” – New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures – NWT
“When the world began, the Word was already there. The Word was with God, and the nature of the Word was the same as the nature of God. The Word was there in the beginning with God.” – The New Testament by William Barclay
“Before the world was created, the Word already existed; he was with God, and he was the same as God. From the very beginning the Word was with God.” – Good News Bible in Today’s English Version – TEV
“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.” (John 1:1 American Standard Version – ASV )
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was fully God. The Word was with God in the beginning.” (John 1:1 NET Bible)
“In the beginning before all time] was the Word (Christ), and the Word was with God, and the Word was God Himself. He was present originally with God.” – The Amplified New Testament Bible – AB
The majority of popular Bible translations mirror the rendering of the American Standard Version giving the English reader to understand that Logos was God. A few, like the NET and AB Bibles, go beyond the original text in an attempt to remove all doubt that God and the Word are one and the same. On the other side of the equation—in a notable minority among current translations—is the NWT with its “…the Word was a God”.
The confusion that most renderings deliver to the first-time Bible reader is evident in the translation provided by the NET Bible, for it begs the question: “How could the Word be both fully God and still exist outside of God so as to be with God?”
The fact that this seems to defy human logic does not disqualify it as truth. All of us have difficulty with the truth that God is without beginning, because we cannot fully comprehend the infinite. Was God revealing a similarly mind-boggling concept through John? Or is this idea from men?
The question boils down to this: Is Logos God or not?
That Pesky Indefinite Article
Many criticize the New World Translation for its JW-centric bias, particularly in inserting the divine name in the NT since it is not found in any of the ancient manuscripts. Be that as it may, if we were to dismiss a Bible translation because of bias in some texts, we’d have to dismiss all of them. We do not want to succumb to bias ourselves. So let’s examine the NWT rendering of John 1:1 on its own merits.
It will likely surprise some readers to find that the rendering “…the Word was a god” is hardly unique to the NWT. In fact, some 70 different translations use it or some closely related equivalent. Here are some examples:
- 1935 “and the Word was divine” – The Bible—An American Translation, by John M. P. Smith and Edgar J. Goodspeed, Chicago.
- 1955 “so the Word was divine” – The Authentic New Testament, by Hugh J. Schonfield, Aberdeen.
- 1978 “and godlike sort was the Logos” – Das Evangelium nach Johannes, by Johannes Schneider, Berlin.
- 1822 “and the Word was a god.” – The New Testament in Greek and English (A. Kneeland, 1822.);
- 1863 “and the Word was a god.” – A Literal Translation Of The New Testament (Herman Heinfetter [Pseudonym of Frederick Parker], 1863);
- 1885 “and the Word was a god.” – Concise Commentary On The Holy Bible ( Young, 1885);
- 1879 “and the Word was a god.” – Das Evangelium nach Johannes (J. Becker, 1979);
- 1911 “and the Word was a god.” – The Coptic Version of the N.T. (G. W. Horner, 1911);
- 1958 “and the Word was a god.” – The New Testament of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Anointed” (J. L. Tomanec, 1958);
- 1829 “and the Word was a god.” – The Monotessaron; or, The Gospel History According to the Four Evangelists (J. S. Thompson, 1829);
- 1975 “and the Word was a god.” – Das Evangelium nach Johannes (S. Schulz, 1975);
- 1962, 1979 “‘the word was God.’ Or, more literally, ‘God was the word.'” The Four Gospels and the Revelation (R. Lattimore, 1979)
- 1975 “and a god (or, of a divine kind) was the Word” Das Evangelium nach Johnnes, by Siegfried Schulz, Göttingen, Germany
(Special thanks to Wikipedia for this list)
Proponents of the “the Word is God” rendering would charge bias against these translators stating that the indefinite article “a” is not there in the original. Here’s the interlinear rendering:
“In [the] beginning was the word and the word was with the god and god was the word. This (one) was in beginning toward the God.”
How could dozens of Bible scholars and translators miss that, you might ask? The answer is simple. They didn’t. There is no indefinite article in Greek. A translator has to insert it to conform to English grammar. This is hard to envision for the average English speaker. Consider this example:
“Week ago, John, friend of mine, got up, had shower, ate bowl of cereal, then got on bus to start work at job as teacher.”
Sounds very odd, doesn’t it? Still, you can get the meaning. However, there are times in English when we really do need to distinguish between definite and indefinite nouns.
A Brief Grammar Course
If this subtitle is causing your eyes to glaze over, I promise you that I’ll honor the meaning of “brief”.
There are three types of nouns we need to be aware of: indefinite, definite, proper.
- Indefinite noun: “a man”
- Definite noun: “the man”
- Proper noun: “John”
In English, unlike Greek, we have made God into a proper noun. Rendering 1 John 4:8 we say, “God is Love”. We have turned “God” into a proper noun, essentially, a name. This is not done in Greek, so this verse in the Greek interlinear shows up as “The God is love”.
So in English a proper noun is a definite noun. It means we definitely know to whom we are referring. Putting “a” in front of a noun means we are not definite. We are speaking generally. Saying, “A god is love” is indefinite. Essentially, we are saying, “any god is love”.
Okay? End of grammar lesson.
The role of a translator is to communicate what the author wrote as faithfully as is possible into another language no matter what his personal feelings and beliefs may be.
A Non-Interpretative Rendering of John 1:1
To demonstrate the importance of the indefinite article in English, let’s try a sentence without it.
“In the Bible book of Job, God is shown speaking to Satan who is god.”
If we did not possess an indefinite article in our language, how would we render this sentence so as not to give the reader the understanding that Satan is God? Taking our cue from the Greeks, we’d could do this:
“In the Bible book of Job, the God is shown speaking to Satan who is god.”
This is a binary approach to the problem. 1 or 0. On or off. So simple. If the definite article is used (1), the noun is definite. If not (0), then it’s indefinite.
Let’s look at John 1:1,2 again with this insight into the Greek mind.
“In [the] beginning was the word and the word was with the god and god was the word. This (one) was in beginning toward the God.”
The two definite nouns nest the indefinite one. If John had wanted to show that Jesus was God and not simply a god, he would have written it this way.
“In [the] beginning was the word and the word was with the god and the god was the word. This (one) was in beginning toward the God.”
Now all three nouns are definite. There is no mystery here. It’s just basic Greek grammar.
Since we don’t take a binary approach to distinguishing between definite and indefinite nouns, we must prefix the appropriate article. Therefore, the correct non-biased grammatical rendering is “the Word was a God”.
One Reason for the Confusion
Bias causes many translators to go against Greek grammar and render John 1:1 with the proper noun God, as in “the Word was God”. Even if their belief that Jesus is God is true, it does not excuse rendering John 1:1 so as to break with the way it was originally written. The translators of the NWT, while critical of others for doing this, fall into the same trap themselves by substituting “Jehovah” for “Lord” hundreds of times in the NWT They contend that their belief overrides their duty to translate faithfully what is written. They presume to know more than is there. This is called conjectural emendation and as regards the inspired word of God, it is a particularly dangerous practice to engage in. (De 4:2; 12:32; Pr 30:6; Ga 1:8; Re 22:18, 19)
What leads to this belief-based bias? In part, the twice used phrase from John 1:1,2 “in the beginning”. What beginning? John doesn’t specify. Is he referring to the beginning of the universe or the beginning of Logos? Most believe that it is the former since John next speaks about the creation of all things in vs. 3.
This presents an intellectual dilemma for us. Time is a created thing. There is no time as we know it outside of the physical universe. John 1:3 makes it clear that Logos already existed when all things were created. The logic follows that if there was no time before the universe was created and Logos was there with God, then Logos is timeless, eternal, and without beginning. From there it is a short intellectual leap to the conclusion that Logos must be God in some manner or other.
What Is Being Overlooked
We would never wish to succumb to the trap of intellectual arrogance. Less than 100 years ago, we cracked the seal on a profound mystery of the universe: the theory of relativity. Among other things, we realized for the first time time was mutable. Armed with this knowledge we presume to think that the only time there can be is that which we know. The time component of the physical universe is the only one there can be. We believe therefore that the only type of beginning there can be is that which is defined by our space/time continuum. We are like the man born blind who has discovered with the help of sighted people that he can distinguish some colors by touch. (Red, for instance, will feel warmer than blue in sunlight.) Imagine if such a man, now armed with this newfound awareness, presumes to speak extensively on the true nature of color.
In my (humble, I hope) opinion, all we know from John’s words is that Logos existed before all other things that have been created. Did he have a beginning of his own prior to that, or has he always existed? I do not believe we can say for sure either way, but I would lean more toward the idea of a beginning. Here’s why.
The Firstborn of All Creation
If Jehovah had wanted us to understand that Logos had no beginning, he could have simply said so. There is no illustration he would use to help us understand that, because the concept of something without a start is beyond our experience. Some things we simply have to be told and have to accept on faith.
Yet Jehovah didn’t tell us any such thing about his Son. Instead he gave us a metaphor which is very much within our understanding.
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation;” (Col 1:15)
We all know what a firstborn is. There are certain universal characteristics that define it. A father exists. His firstborn doesn’t exist. The father produces the firstborn. The firstborn exists. Accepting that Jehovah as the Father is timeless, we must acknowledge in some frame of reference—even something beyond our imagination—that the Son is not, for he was produced by the Father. If we cannot draw that basic and obvious conclusion, then why would Jehovah have used this human relationship as a metaphor to help us understand a key truth about his Son’s nature?[i]
But it doesn’t stop there. Paul calls Jesus, “the firstborn of all creation”. That would lead his Colossian readers to the obvious conclusion that:
- More were to come because if the firstborn is the only born, then he cannot be the first. First is an ordinal number and as such presumes an order or sequence.
- The more that was to follow was the rest of creation.
This leads to the inevitable conclusion that Jesus is part of creation. Different yes. Unique? Absolutely. But still, a creation.
This is why Jesus uses the family metaphor throughout this ministry referring to God not as a co-existent equal, but as a superior father—his Father, the Father of all. (John 14:28; 20:17)
The Only Begotten God
While an unbiased translation of John 1:1 makes it clear that Jesus is a god, i.e., not the one true God, Jehovah. But, what does that mean?
Additionally, there is an apparent contradiction between Colossians 1:15 which calls him a firstborn and John 1:14 which calls him an only child.
Let’s reserve those questions for the next article.
[i] There are some who argue against this obvious conclusion by reasoning that the reference to firstborn here harkens back to the special status the firstborn had in Israel, for he received a double portion. If so then how odd that the Paul would use such an illustration when writing to the Gentile Colossians. Surely he would have explained this Jewish tradition to them, so that they wouldn’t jump to the more obvious conclusion the illustration calls for. Yet he didn’t, because his point was much simpler and obvious. It needed no explanation.