The Gospels: And the Word Was God

Some people ask how to understand John 1:1, since some people claim that this verse should read that the Word was “a God”—or “a god.” This claim is based on the fact that in the original Greek text the word theos in the last clause of John 1:1 does not have the definite article, as it does in the second clause, which refers to the Father. This argument comes from a lack of understanding of Greek grammar and syntax.

It is not true that John 1:1 could be translated: “and the Word was a God.” This translation may be possible in a pagan Greek work, but impossible in a Christian or Jewish writing. The reason is that the Bible teaches there is only one God. The Jewish and Christian religions have always taught this. The translation “a God” implies polytheism and denies one of the most fundamental teachings of the Bible.

The clause “and the Word was God” is translated from the Greek “theos ēn ho logos.” In this clause, ho logos is the subject, and theos is a predicate nominative. In Greek it is not necessary to use the definite article with a predicate nominative in this kind of sentence. In fact, doing so would change the meaning in a way that would confuse what John was saying. Using the definite article in this case would make the clause mean that the Word was the same person as the Father. However, John wanted to point out that the Word was God, but not the same person as the Father, who is the one commonly referred to when we just use the word God.

The word theos in this clause is a predicate nominative coupled to the subject by a form of the verb “to be.” An eminent scholar, C. H. Dodd, commenting on John 1:1 explains:

The general rule is that in a sentence containing the verb “to be” as a copula the subject has the article and a predicate noun is anarthrous, even though it be definite. Hence, if theos was to be used predicatively it would be anarthrous, without any necessary change of meaning from the ho theos of the preceding clause. (“New Testament Translation Problems II,” The Bible Translator 28, 1[January 1977]:103).

There are a number of biblical texts where Christ is referred to as God where the definite article does appear—though with other qualifiers that distinguish Christ from the Father (John 20:28 and 1 John 5:20, and in most Greek texts, Titus 2:13 and 2 Peter 1:1).

Nonetheless, some argue that Jesus was not God, but a creation of God. This is based on the fact that John 1:1 does not have the definite article with God (Greek theos) in the clause “the Word was God.” At least one group of Bible students believes that this indicates the Word is a lesser god. They then speculate that the Word was created. This notion is dispelled, however, by a proper analysis of the Greek. We quote a brief statement by a scholar on this point:

A definite predicate nominative has the article when it follows the verb; it does not have the article when it precedes the verb…. The opening verse of John’s Gospel contains one of the many passages where this rule suggests the translation of a predicate as a definite noun. The absence of the article [before theos] does not make the predicate indefinite or qualitative when it precedes the verb; it is indefinite in this position only when the context demands it. The context makes no such demand in the Gospel of John, for this statement cannot be regarded as strange in the prologue of the gospel which reaches its climax in the confession of Thomas [John 20:28, “My Lord and my God”]. (E. C. Colwell, “A Definite Rule for the Use of the Article in the Greek New Testament,” Journal of Biblical Literature, 52 (1933), 12-21. See also B. M. Metzger, “On the Translation of John 1:1,” Expository Times, LXIII (1951-52), 125 f., and C. F. D. Moule, The Language of the New Testament, pp. 12-14.)

John 1:1-3 explicitly states that both the Word and God are divine, and the vast majority of major translations have: “and the Word was God.” Greek scholars are in general agreement that the wording “The Word was God” or “the Word was divine” is the correct way to understand the last clause of John 1:1.

Competent scholarship does not support the argument that the lack of a definite article in a predicate nominative indicates an indefinite reference. “To say that the absence of the article bespeaks of the nonabsolute deity of the Word is sheer folly. There are many places in this Gospel where the anarthrous [used without the article] theos appears (e.g., 1:6, 12, 13, 18), and not once is the implication that this is referring to just ‘a god’” [Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Frank E. Gaebelein, editor, volume 9, page 30].

If it were true, as the heretic Arius taught in the fourth century, that Jesus Christ is a god but not the God, that he was created and not God from eternity, then Christianity would be a polytheistic religion. However, polytheism is condemned in the Bible. Scripture says there is one God (Deuteronomy 6:4; Mark 12:29; Ephesians 4:6; 1 Timothy 1:17; 1 John 4:8; 5:20; Matthew 28:1; 2 Corinthians 13:14; 1 Corinthians 8:6).

Here briefly are some of the reasons we believe that Jesus Christ was “God the Son”: he is called “God” (Hebrews 1:8-9) and “Mighty God” (Isaiah 9:6); we are told that “in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form” (Colossians 2:9-10). Also, the disciples worshiped him as God (Matthew 14:33; John 20:28).

In the New International Version (and most other translations are equally clear on this point), there are a number of clear statements about the deity of Christ. See for example John 1:3, 10, 14, 18; 5:18; Revelation 1:13-18; 22:13.

What about Revelation 3:14, however? Is there evidence here that Jesus could have been created? In this verse, the word “beginning” is translated from the Greek archē, which means “chief” (that from which the beginning is generated and flows). Christ is the originating instrument of creation (Colossians 1:15-17). He is the Chief—the Head and Governor of creation. Revelation 3:14, therefore, does not even hint that Christ was created by the Father sometime before the beginning. He has always existed.

Author: Paul Kroll


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