John 1:1Wikipedia Encyclopedia Scroll down to Translations 4 lines above Difficulties


Two issues need to be remembered as regards the original text. First, old Greek manuscripts of the Bible are in capital letters only. Second, the word theos in the original text cannot grammatically have the definite article.[5] John 10:35 has similar usage of Greek word theos (god), with and without ho (the) when describing human rulers as "gods".


There are two issues affecting the translating of the verse, theology and proper application of grammatical rules. The commonly held theology that Jesus is God naturally leads one to believe that the proper way to render the verse is the one which is most popular. [6] The opposing theology that Jesus is subordinate to God as his Chief agent leads to the conclusion that "...a god" is the proper rendering.[7] Some scholars staunchly oppose the translation ...a god,[8][9][10] while other scholars believe it is possible or even preferable.[11][12][13]


The two competing beliefs which cause great controversy over this scripture center on whether Jesus was the one and only God, or was a god, lesser than and completely distinct from God. The latter believing that Jesus is the first created (spirit) being, the son of The God, through whom God created all things, in fact, the image of the God. (Colossians 1:15-20)


A major point of contention, since the theos in question occurs without the definite article (the), within the grammatical debate is the proper application of Colwell's rule, set out by Greek scholar E.C. Colwell, which states:

"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 issue is whether Cowell's rule applies to John 1:1 and if it is a reliable standard by which grammatical constructions of this type should be measured. [14]

On the other hand Philip Harner commented [15]

The RSV and The Jerusalem Bible translate, "the Word was God." The New English Bible has, "what God was, the Word was." Good News for Modern Man has, "he was the same as God." The problem with all of these translations is that they could represent clause A, in our analysis above, as well as B. This does not mean, of course, that the translators were not aware of the issues involved, nor does it necessarily mean that they regarded the anarthrous theos as definite because it precedes the verb. But in all of these cases the English reader might not understand exactly what John was trying to express. 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.

By clause A Harner meant "that logos and theos are equivalent and interchangeable". So he concluded that

"In John 1:1 i think that the qualitative force of the predicate is so prominent that the noun cannot be regarded as definite."

Interestingly, Origen of Alexandria, who was a teacher in Greek grammar in the third century wrote about the use of the definite article here:[16]

"We next notice John's use of the article in these sentences. He does not write without care in this respect, nor is he unfamiliar with the niceties of the Greek tongue. In some cases he uses the article, and in some he omits it. He adds the article to the Logos, but to the name of God he adds it sometimes only. He uses the article, when the name of God refers to the uncreated cause of all things, and omits it when the Logos is named God......The true God, then, is The God (ho theos)."

It might suggest that an ancient Greek reader could take the anarthrous noun theos applied to the Word as indefinite. The Coptic translators comtemporaries to Origen seemed to understand it in the same sense. For instance, The SAHIDIC COPTIC JOHN 1:1 says :

Hn tehoueite nefshoop ngi pshaje Auw pshaje nefshoop nnahrm pnoute Auw neunoute pe pshaje

A literal translation of the Sahidic Coptic:

In the beginning existed the word And the word existed in the presence of the god And a god was the word

The Coptic noun "noute" means "god". Also, unlike the ancient Greek and latin the Sahidic Coptic language had an indefinite article. Here those translators used the definite article "p" for the first theos (as the Koine Greek does), but they used the indefinite article "u" before the second theos. Unlike the English language, this indefinite article may be also applied to mass nouns, which could not be translated into English. Accordingly, some have argued that "noute" in John 1:1c should be regarded as a mass noun, thus it would suggest that this noun should be taken as purely qualitative, rather than indefinite. So according to this view the translation should be "The Word was Divine". Nonetheless, others have argued that here "noute" is a count noun, thus the Coptic indefnite article is the same as the english indefinite article.

Actual usage of the Sahidic Coptic noun "noute" in the Coptic New Testament strongly suggests that it is a count noun that, when bound with the Coptic indefinite article, should be translated into English as "a god." For example, Coptic scholar George Horner's English translation of the Coptic at Acts 28:6 (Bohairic) has "a god." Coptic scholar Bentley Layton gives "a god" for the literal interlinear translation of "u.noute" in his grammar book, "Coptic in 20 Lessons," page 7. (Peeters, Leuven, 2007)

Coptic grammar does not apply the term "qualitative" to nouns. But it does recognize adjectival usage of nouns, in which case, if the context called for it, "u.noute" could be rendered into English as "divine." However, at John 1:1 in Coptic, we have a distinction between "p.noute," or "the god," i.e., "God" in English, and another entity, the Logos or Word (Shaje in Coptic) identified as "u.noute," or "a god." Whereas "divine" could fit here as a paraphrase, there is no contextual or grammatical reason to overlook the entirely proper literal translation, "a god."

The Logos

See also: Jesus Christ the Logos

The Greek word λόγος or logos is a word with various meanings. It is often translated into English as "Word" but can also mean thought, speech, account, meaning, reason, proportion, principle, standard, or logic, among other things. It has varied use in the fields of philosophy, analytical psychology, rhetoric and religion.


Main article: Christology

See also: Jesus Christ the Logos

Of the Gospels, John has the highest Christology. Here Jesus is the only begotten Son of God, the Way, the Truth, the Life, the True Vine, etc. In 1:1, John identifies Jesus as the Logos, that which made the existence of the created world possible.

In John's Christology, the conception that Jesus Christ is the Logos has been important in establishing the doctrine of Jesus' divinity, as well as that of the Trinity, as set forth in the Chalcedonian Creed.

The debate about the nature of Christ from the first century through the Council of Chalcedon in 451 CE must be understood in light of the pervasive world view of Platonic dualism. Platonism is normally divided into four periods: Old Academy (347-267 BCE), New Academy (267-80 BCE), Middle Platonism (80BCE-250 CE), and Neoplatonism (250 CE through the Reformation).[17][18]

Some scholars of the Bible have suggested that John made creative use of double meaning in the word "Logos" to communicate to both Jews, who were familiar with the Wisdom tradition in Judaism, and Hellenic polytheism, especially followers of Philo, often called Hellenistic Judaism. Each of these two groups had its own history associated with the concept of the Logos, and each could understand John's use of the term from one or both of those contexts. Especially for the Hellenists, however, John turns the concept of the Logos on its head when he claimed "the Logos became flesh and dwelt among us" (v. 14). Similarly, some translations of the Gospel of John into Chinese have used the word "Tao ()" to translate the "Logos" in a provocative way.

Gordon Clark famously translated Logos as "Logic" in the opening verses of the Gospel: "In the beginning was the Logic, and the Logic was with God and the Logic was God." He meant to imply by this translation that the laws of logic were contained in the Bible itself and were therefore not a secular principle imposed on the Christian worldview.

[See also

For a comparison with the opening verse of the Hebrew Bible, see Genesis 1:1.


  1. ^ See verses 14-17: "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John bore witness about him, and cried out, "This was he of whom I said, 'He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.'")... For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ."
  2. ^ a b The Greek English New Testament. Christianity Today. 1975
  3. ^ The New Testament in an Improved Version (1808)
  4. ^ 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); Das Evangelium nach Johannes (J. Becker, 1979); The New Testament of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Anointed (J. L. Tomanec, 1958); The Monotessaron; or, The Gospel History According to the Four Evangelists (J. S. Thompson, 1829); Das Evangelium nach Johannes (S. Schulz, 1975); The New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures (Jehovah's Witnesses)
  5. ^ Duff, Jeremy, The Elements of New Testament Greek - 3rd ed., Cambridge University Press, 2005. ISBN 0-521-75550-6. "[W]e can't tell if the author meant the word was θεός [a god] or ό θεός [God]," says in p. 63, ft. 3.
  6. ^ William Arnold III, Colwell's Rule and John 1:1 at "You could only derive a Trinitarian interpretation from John 1:1 if you come to this passage with an already developed Trinitarian theology. If you approached it with a strict Monotheism (which is what I believe John held to) then this passage would definitely support such a view."
  7. ^ Beduhn in Truth in Translation: Accuracy and Bias in English Translations of the New Testament chapter 11 states: "Translators of the KJV, NRSV, NIV, NAB, NASB, AB, TEV and LB all approached the text at John 1:1 already believing certain things about the Word...and made sure that the translations came out in accordance with their beliefs.... Ironically, some of these same scholars are quick to charge the NW translation with "doctrinal bias" for translating the verse literally, free of KJV influence, following the sense of the Greek. It may very well be that the NW translators came to the task of translating John 1:1 with as much bias as the other translators did. It just so happens that their bias corresponds in this case to a more accurate translation of the Greek."
  8. ^ Dr. J. R. Mantey: "It is neither scholarly nor reasonable to translate John 1:1 'The Word was a god.'"
  9. ^ Dr. Bruce M. Metzger of Princeton (Professor of New Testament Language and Literature): "As a matter of solid fact, however, such a rendering is a frightful mistranslation. It overlooks entirely an established rule of Greek grammar which necessitates the rendering "...and the Word was God."
  10. ^ Dr. Samuel J. Mikolaski of Zurich, Switzerland: "It is monstrous to translate the phrase 'the Word was a god.'"
  11. ^ Dr. Jason BeDuhn (of Northern Arizona University) in regard to the Kingdom Interlinear's appendix that gives the reason why the NWT favoured a translation of John 1:1 as saying the Word was not "God" but "a god" said: "In fact the KIT [Appendix 2A, p.1139] explanation is perfectly correct according to the best scholarship done on this subject.."
  12. ^ Murray J. Harris has written: "Accordingly, from the point of view of grammar alone, [QEOS HN hO LOGOS] could be rendered "the Word was a god,...." -Jesus As God, 1992, p. 60.
  13. ^ C. H. Dodd says: "If a translation were a matter of substituting words, a possible translation of [QEOS EN hO LOGOS]; would be, "The Word was a god". As a word-for-word translation it cannot be faulted."
  14. ^ In A Summary of Colwell's Rule Prof. Rodney J. Decker says: John 1:1, The relevance of Colwell’s rule to John 1:1 would be worth pursuing in greater detail. Note that the rule does not help by determining definiteness! It has often been misused by well-intentioned defenders of the deity of Christ.
  15. ^ Qualitative Anarthrous Predicate Nouns: Mark 15,39 and John 1,1. JBL 92 (1973), 75–87.
  16. ^ Origen, Commentary on John Book II, chap. 2
  17. ^ Edwin Moore: Neoplatonism in The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, available at [1].
  18. ^ J.M. Dillion: "Plato/Platonism," in The dictionary of New Testament Background, ed. by Craig A. Evans and Stanley E. Porter, (Downers Grove: InterVarsety Press, 2000).