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The Correct Translation of John 1:1c,

Was the Word “God,” or “a god”?

(By: Lesriv Spencer, 07/27/2010. Updated: May, 2018)

(Unless noted, Bible citations below are from the King James Version. Other quoted versions: ASV = American Standard
Version; ESV = English Standard Version; JB = Jerusalem Bible; NAB = New American Bible; NIV = New International
Version; NKJV = New King James Version; NLT = New Living Translation; NRSV = New Revised Standard Version; NWT =
New World Translation; TM = The Message. Greek citations* are from The Greek New Testament: SBL Edition “SBLGNT,”
courtesy of Society of Biblical Literature and Logos Bible Software, Michael W. Holmes, Editor, 2010. *In some
computers, it may be necessary to download Greek fonts.)

Table of Contents (Control-Click to follow link)

Why not simply adopt the majority view on John 1:1?
What does the Bible really say about Jesus Christ?
Was “God” the one made flesh?
Do Scriptures allow for a secondary meaning of “god” and “savior”?
Could there be another “savior” other than God?
Is it possible to speak of divine beings existing alongside God?
The Greek article and predicate nouns.
Can the indefinite article (a) be legitimately added to John 1:1?
Predicate nouns without the article occurring before the verb as in John 1:1.
Are indefinite and qualitative renderings mutually exclusive ?
What about claims that the article is not required at John 1:1c?
Do proper names invalidate the need of the article?
Does word order change the meaning of predicate nouns?
Colwell's Rule and the indefinite article (“a”). Why the confusion?
In search of a counterbalance in interpretation.
The Apostle John's own conclusion on the Logos.
Concluding Remarks.


Perhaps no other scripture of the Bible provokes as much emotional discussion as John 1:1.
Why is this so? Simply because John 1:1 centers around the person of Jesus Christ, who is said to
be “the Word” in the verse. (This article is based on the premise that the term “Word” (Greek: logos) in
the verse applies to Jesus Christ. It does not address the subject of other assumptions on the “logos”
brought out elsewhere by some individuals.)

This information is provided for the benefit of anyone sincerely interested in expanding their
scope of a much discussed scripture. I have no affiliation to any religious group, nor do I attend
religious services of any kind. I do have a keen interest in the Scriptures and their import. Truth
matters to me, and I feel compelled to express some observations on the controversy
surrounding John 1:1.
Most English Bible versions at John 1:1 tell us: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was
with God, and the Word was God.” In the original Greek, however, all letters appeared in the
form of “upper-case” or “capital” forms (uncials). In English, we use lower-case more often than
capital letters. So it is up to the translator to decide when and not to employ “capital” letters. As
a consequence, “interpretation” of the Bible text comes into play in the translation process.

For most Christians, Christ is the object of worship, for he is said to be “God” himself, God
Almighty. For a smaller number of Christians, Christ is only seen as the “Son” of God,
subordinate to God, as a separate entity of God Almighty. The majority view accepts the Trinity
teaching, whereas the minority group who supports that Christ is always subject to God in
power and position rejects the Trinity as a pagan concept. In this article, I will not focus on the
rightness or wrongness of the Trinity doctrine per se, though the subject cannot be dismissed
entirely when considering this scripture. Instead, I will fix my attention on whether Greek
grammar and/or biblical context may permit other renderings of John 1:1 in place of the
traditional one shown above.

Why not simply adopt the majority view on John 1:1?

First of all, it is dangerous to adopt a majority view, if this one is in error. A majority view held by
scholars of itself, does not automatically make a matter true. Why? Because scholars are not
infallible, nor immune to human tradition. Were they in Jesus' day? Not so! Scholars today may
find themselves in error, just as many educated ones were in Jesus' day, as Matthew chapter 23
clearly demonstrates. (Matthew 15:9) We are warned that “the whole world lies under the power
of the evil one.” (1 John 5:19, New Revised Standard Bible) We should not dismiss religion as being
beyond the scope of Satan. We all need to be in guard of evil influence at all times, being careful
of not becoming stone-blind by “the god of this world.” (2 Corinthians 4:4, The Message) Thus, a
majority view does not always represent the truth. The doctrinal foundation for Christians
should be based, not by what the majority believe, but rather, on what the Bible itself teaches.

What does the Bible really say about Jesus Christ?

Simply put, Jesus is said to be “Son of God,” not “God the Son.” (Luke 1:35, NRSV) There is a vast
difference in meaning between these two expressions. There are more than two hundred
references (200x) in the New Testament that explicitly declare that Jesus Christ is the “Son of God”
(not “God the Son”), or that ‘God is the Father of Jesus Christ’. (For a list of instances, see: The
Preacher’s Outline and Sermon Bible, “John”, p. 27. ©1998) This in itself is very significant. Yet,
Christendom chooses instead to dwell on a few debatable texts which are said to describe Jesus
as God. The Catholic book, The New World Dictionary-Concordance to the New American Bible,
acknowledges: “The term God is only applied to Jesus in only a few texts, and even their
interpretation is under dispute (Jn 20:28; Rom. 9:5; Tit. 2:13; 2 Pet. 1:1).” Other sources add John
1:1 to this list. None of these disputed texts are explicit in declaring Jesus' equality with God. In
Scripture, Jesus' place in the broad picture is one of sonship, namely, as Son of God, not God.
Furthermore, the word “son” is never used to describe God, or Holy Spirit. That says a lot!

Bible writers always note Jesus’ orientation as one of subordination to the Father rather than
Christ being at the center of it all. He affirmed: “The Father is superior to myself.” (John 14:28, The
Authentic New Testament) Jesus himself made it clear to others: “I seek, not mine own will, but the
will of the Father which hath sent me.” (John 5:30; Luke 22:42; Cp. with John 8:16,29) Christ even
asked others to worship his Father. (John 4:23) And Jesus stated that he ‘lived because of the
Father, and those who fed on Christ will live because of him.’ (John 6:57) The Grand Creator has
no need to feed of anyone – ever. After all, he is Almighty God. But he gave life, power and
authority to his Son, Jesus Christ, offering Him as the “bread of God” so others can feed and live
of him. (John 5:26; Matthew 28:18; John 6:33) Furthermore, Jesus spoke of his Father as ‘his God’ and
as ‘the God of everyone else.’ (John 20:17) The Bible indicates that “the only God,” as Jesus himself
called him, revealed things to Christ. (John 5:44, NKJV; NIV; 12:49; Mark 13:32; Revelation 1:1) If Jesus
was all-knowing like we imagine God to be, there would be no need for someone else to give him
any secret information, and much less, what to do with it.

Christ is in the Bible described as “the image of the invisible God [not God], the firstborn of all
creation.” (Colossians 1:15); the “mediator between God and men.” (1 Timothy 2:5) Of course, it is
possible to spin these clear statements to make them say something else, but is that what we
seek? Someone who plays the role of “mediator” cannot be one of the two parties, whether is
God or mankind. Scripture calls Christ, ‘the Word of God,’ not “God.” (Revelation 19:13) This
implies that as God’s Spokesman (Logos), Jesus can readily ‘mediate’ between God and mankind.

Even after Jesus’ ascension to heaven, he is depicted as second-in-command only to God. As One
‘reflecting God's bright glory, and stamped with God's own character...[having] sat down at the
right hand of the Majesty on high.’ (Hebrews 1:3, Moffatt) “For it was God's good pleasure to let all
completeness [“fullness of the Godness,” Colossians 2:9, McReynolds] dwell in him [Christ].”
(Colossians 1:19, Knox) Thus we read at Ephesians 1:3, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord
Jesus Christ.”

Ultimately, “The Son also himself shall be placed in subjection to him [God] who put all things in
subjection to him, that God may be all in all.” (1 Corinthians 15:28, Darby) There is no doubt that
when Christ ‘was sent to do his Father's will,’ ‘he was invested with much power and authority.’
After accomplishing his God-given mission, God “supereminently exalted Him to the highest
rank and power.” (John 6:38; Ephesians 1:20,21; Philippians 2:9, Kenneth S. Wuest) “Blessed be the God
and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:3) Mainstream church-goers act as if holding the
rank of second-in-command in the Universe after God is somehow shameful or monstrous.

Was “God” the one made flesh?

Jesus spoke of himself over 80 times in the Gospels as “the Son of man,” indicative of his
“human” nature while on earth, in direct conflict with the “God-man” description often
proclaimed by traditionalists. (Matthew 8:20, etc.) According to Hebrews 2:9, Jesus “was made a
little lower than the angels” so he could taste death for everyone. God cannot ever become
“lower than the angels” he created. Furthermore, if Jesus was really made lower than the angels,
then he could not have been all of God at the same time, as often claimed. Instead, John 1:14
clearly tells us that it was ‘the Word who became flesh,’ not God. The doctrine of “The
Incarnation” as commonly taught actually twists the meaning of John 1:14, because the verse
never said that ‘God became flesh.’ Instead, it says “the Word” did. Plain and simple! 2 John 7
only confirms this. In other words, the Logos, Jesus Christ, became “human,” or “a human
being.” Another scripture often misused to prove that God was made flesh is that of 1 Timothy
3:16, but this text did not originally say, “God was manifest in the flesh,” as it reads in a few Bible
versions, since such reading is defective. Other translations of the Bible have corrected this
blatant error found in altered manuscripts, saying instead, in harmony with earlier manuscripts:
“He [or, “Who”] was manifested in the flesh,” pointing to ‘Christ as the One being manifested in
the flesh.’

When the birth of God's Son was announced, in addition to his personal name, Jesus was given a
prophetic name: Em-man'u-el = “God with us.” (Matthew 1:23) Some see a description of Jesus'
deity in these words, but it should be noted that the expression was also applied to humans.
The point is that God can be with mankind by means of his representatives. On several
occasions during biblical history, it was said that ‘God was with his people,’ or that ‘God was with
some servant of his.’ (2 Samuel 5:10; 2 Chronicles 1:1; 13:12; Isaiah 8:10; Zechariah 8:23) Of Joseph, son
of Jacob, for instance, it was said, that “God was with him.” (Acts 7:9) Surely Joseph was not God.
God can be with his people by simply leading his attention toward them, by guiding them, and
fulfilling his will through them. The same idea is portrayed prophetically in the last book of the
Bible of ‘God being with mankind.’ (Revelation 21:3) Mankind will never become equal to God.

Some erroneously believe that Jesus Christ was both “God” and “man” at the same time because
he manifested superhuman power. But the Bible shows that God was the source of his power.
(John 8:29; Acts 10:38) Scripture can rightly say that ‘God was with mankind’ through Jesus Christ,
because it is through Jesus Christ that God accomplishes his will of the salvation of mankind.
Religious fanatics have a regrettable habit of twisting simple biblical statements. The Bible
clearly states that “God was with him [Jesus],” not that ‘God was him.’ (Acts 10:34,38)

Since ‘God was with Christ,’ everyone could finally see what God is like through Christ. (John 5:19;
12:45) In fact, the Father and the Son are very “one” in will and purpose. (John 10:30) ‘Anyone
looking at Jesus is like looking at God himself.’ (John 14:9) Being in God's image, he can make ‘the
Father known’ unlike anyone else. (Colossians 1:15; John 1:18) “Everything of God gets expressed in
him, so you can see and hear him clearly.” (Col. 2:9, TM) There is no doubt then, that this Logos
was powerfully “divine.”

Even so, Jesus never claimed he was God, or the Father in flesh. He declared: “He who does not
honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.” (John 5:23, NIV) And: “You believe in
God; believe also in me.” (John 14:1, NIV) Consequently, we must all ‘honor the Son as we honor
the Father.’ After God presented “the only begotten Son” as “Savior” to the world, and after
‘placing everything under the power of Christ, the Son himself must submit to the power of God.’
(Matthew 20:23; 1 Cor. 15:27,28) When the Inspired Writers spoke of God's Son in Scripture, they
saw fitting to employ the loftiest language available to describe this prominent Divine Being, but
he was never equated with God.

A few centuries after Christ's death, a state of confusion arose due to pagan influence, where
many strongly argued about Jesus' identity. The controversy was finally won by those supporting
the doctrine that Christ was equal to the Father. However, those victors went beyond Scripture.
On the one hand, the Jews never gave Jesus the place befitting of Christ, of “Lord” and “Savior,”
while nominal Christian followers, who centuries later adopted the Trinity doctrine, went the
other way, by attributing to the Son a position only belonging to God, one which Jesus never
claimed. The truth about the person of Christ is somewhere between these two extreme points
of view. This ‘Father-ignoring,’ ‘Christ-centered’ approach is the one commonly taught in
churches and colleges today. True, the New Testament centers around the life of Jesus Christ,
but it does so consistently in this manner: Only Christ provides “the way” to the Father, in order
for mankind to be saved. (John 14:6; Acts 4:12) If Christ is the way, it follows that the Father is the
ultimate destination for true worshippers. This is in harmony with the biblical statements that
“the true worshipers shall worship the Father,” and that Christ is the mediator between God and
mankind. (John 4:23; 1 Tim. 2:5) Christ never taught the Divinity consisted of three coequal
partners. Even after Christian efforts were spent trying to convince the Jewish people to accept
Christ as “Son of God,” “the Messiah,” and their “Savior,” for the most part, they rejected him. To
this day, Jews overall have not accepted Christ as their Messiah, to their detriment.

Do Scriptures allow for a secondary meaning of “god” and “savior”?

In the Scriptures the term ‘god’ has various connotations, not one single meaning as some
would have us believe. Some scholars sustain that the notion of Jesus Christ as “a god” as if there
were other gods beside God is incompatible with Jewish “monotheism,” the belief in one God,
and they say it implies polytheism. It all comes down to how you define the term “god.” Why?
The Expository Dictionary of Bible Words points out: “...[The word] theos [“god”] does convey a
number of significant nuances in a variety of contexts.” (Stephen D. Renn, p. 441. ©2005 by
Hendrickson Publishers, Inc.)

The concept itself that God as an entity is composed of three coequal persons runs counter with
Jewish monotheism. “...The Jews have always regarded the doctrine of the Trinity as one
irreconcilable with the spirit of the Jewish religion and with monotheism,” so states the Jewish
Encyclopedia. The teaching of the “Shema,” consisted as noted, in that “Jehovah our God is one
Jehovah.” (Deuteronomy 6:4, ASV) Why would the “Shema” be used repeatedly to call attention to
the fact that God is “one,” and then later, confound the matter by insisting that the statement
must mean the Divine One is ‘three persons” in one’? It is frequently explained that the teaching
of the Trinity is a “mystery.” The problem with such reasoning is that nowhere in Scripture we are
lead to believe in such a concept. The fact that many are exposed to the Trinity dogma for a long
time may explain why some may see ‘insinuations’ of it in the Bible. In any case, it is proper to
question whether the disputed doctrine is based on biblical “facts,” or is instead based on
human “tradition” or emotional fancy.

Certain Scriptures are frequently cited as proof by supporters of the Trinity doctrine that Christ is
God. Isaiah 44:6 and Hosea 13:4 are two such examples, which have God Jehovah saying: “I am
the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God.” “And thou shalt know no god but me:
for there is no savior beside me.” These words are strictly taken to mean that there can be no
“god” or “savior” other than God almighty in another setting. By implication, traditionalists
portray God as an impotent God unable to appoint others to represent him as such, if he so
wishes. In the context in which these words were pronounced, the people of Israel were inclined
to worship vain hand-made idols. (Isaiah 42:17) Hence, God's warning found in Isaiah and Hosea.
People brought up in trinitarian dogma, tend to restrict the meaning of the term “God” to those
statements found in Isaiah and Hosea, leading them to the conclusion that anyone other than
the True God, must be a “false” god. They define the word God within the context of modern
trinitarianism, instead of ancient Scriptural doctrine. Trinitarians reason that if the appellative
“God” is applied to Jesus Christ, then he could be no other than the Sovereign God himself.

However, such reasonings are missing an important element. It has to do with the fact that the
biblical word for “god” can have additional connotations. The term can be applied to others,
since it appears to be related to someone with power and authority. The International Standard
Bible Encyclopedia explains: “This word [’elōhîm] can in fact, be used for other gods (Gen. 31:30) and
even for men (cf. Ex. 4:16; 7:1; cf BDB, p. 43)....The derivation [of ’elōhîm] is obscure, but the
implied sense seems to be that of strength or authority.” (Vol. II, pg. 497, italics added. ©1979 by
Eerdmans Publishing Co.) The Expository Dictionary of Bible Words adds: “The word itself [‫’( אֵל‬ēl), Hebrew
word for God] derives from a root term meaning ‘power,’ ‘strength,’ or, ‘might.’ (Renn 2005, p. 439)
And the Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible says: “Common to these four suggested root meanings [of
El, ‘God’] is the idea of strength, power, and of supreme excellence and greatness.” (Vol. 1, p. 881.
©1988 by Baker Book House Co.) This may explain why instead of finding the traditional reading of
“God” at John 1:1, various Bible versions describe the Logos as ‘a powerful divine being,’ or
something to that effect. When the whole context of Scripture is considered, it is evident that the
words spoken by God found in Isaiah and Hosea are very true in a specific sense, namely, that
there is but one Supreme God, and one Main Savior. This truth, however, does not rule out the
appointment of saviors by God himself in his representation, or the existence of ‘godlike ones’
under God as the biblical record shows. (Job 38:7; Psalms 29:1; 89:6)

Could there be another “savior” other than God?

The Sovereign Lord God is the universal Savior. (Isaiah 45:21) Notwithstanding, God allowed
others in the past to act as ‘saviors’ or “deliverers” on his behalf in certain situations. (Judges 2:16)
We find that the term is applied to Christ as the prime agent of salvation. (2 Peter 2:20; 1 John 4:14;
Titus 1:4) We are told, that humans too, like Oth'niel and E'hud, were used as ‘deliverers’ (or,
saviors) of their people. (Judges 3:9,15, savior; Nehemiah 9:27, saviors; Isaiah 45:15, savior) The
underlined texts share the same Hebrew root yᾱsha’sha’ meaning to “be delivered”, “to be saved,”
and by extension, “savior(s).” Both God and men are thus depicted literally either as, the “one-
saving,” or the ones-saving” (verb-participle, masculine) = “saviors.”) Would this demand that those
men called “saviors” in Scripture be a part of the Supreme Divinity? No, there is a better
explanation found in the NIV Bible.

The NIV Study Bible has this to say of Israel's leaders, or judges: “Their principal purpose is best
expressed in [Judges] 2:16: ‘Then the LORD raised up judges, who saved them out of the hands of
… raiders.’ Since it was God who permitted the oppressions and raised up deliverers [saviors], he
himself was Israel's ultimate Judge and Deliverer [Savior] (11:27; see 8:23, where Gideon, a judge,
insists that the Lord is Israel's true ruler).” (“Judges” – Introduction) These human deliverers were
used as instruments of salvation by the Supreme Savior of all, the Lord God. Well then, can we not
apply the same analogy between God and Christ as “saviors”? The Bible uses the same original
words (“god” and “savior”) for God, Christ, and humans. Does this mean they are all the same, or
co-equal? No. The context, then, is what determines the correct application for each occurrence
of those terms. Now, here is a vital question: Who made Jesus “Savior”?

In contrast to others, who were designated “saviors” of the people of Israel, Jesus is called,
“Savior of the world.” Jesus can potentially save, not only Israel, but all of mankind from bondage
to sin, and from death itself. (1 John 4:14; John 3:16) Although Christ is undoubtedly a greater
Savior than any man, he is still subject to the Grandest Savior of all. (Isaiah 43:11; Acts 4:12; 1 Cor.
15:28). Christ himself came to be in a dire situation where he had to cry out with a loud voice for
salvation. Right before his death, he implored: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
The almighty God would never have to do that! But Jesus did, and had to be saved by God.
(Matthew 27:46; Hebrews 5:7; Psalm 28:8)

No less significant, Acts 5:31 tells us who was the One who made Jesus savior: “God exalted him
at his right hand as Leader and Savior that he might give repentance to Israel.” (NRSV) According
to this scripture, whatever role Jesus played as ‘savior,’ was due to God. To claim that Jesus is
“God” on the sole principle that he is described as savior, then we would have to conclude as well
that lesser living beings such as Othniel and Ehud, called saviors, were “God” too. But that is not
the case, is it? Again, “context” should be the guiding principle for the right comprehension of
these biblical terms.

Is it possible to speak of divine beings (“gods”) existing alongside God?

Academic John Macquarrie in Jesus Christ in Modern Thought claims that the Jewish monotheistic
culture would never tolerate the idea of the Logos belonging to a class of divine beings. (Page 110.
SCM Press, 2003) Correspondingly, Dr. William Loader, sensed a conflict between the translation “a
god” at John 1:1 of some versions, and Jewish monotheism. He nonetheless concludes: “It is true,
on the most natural reading of the text, that there are two beings here: God and a second who
was theos but this second is related to God in a manner which shows that God is the absolute
over against which the second is defined. They are not presented as two equal gods.” (The
Christology of the Fourth Gospel: Structures and Issues, Doctor of Theology – Gutenberg University, Mainz,
Germany, 1972, and more recently, Professor of NT at Murdoch University in Perth, Western Australia. – 2
ed. New York: Peter Lang, 1992, p. 155)

Interestingly, Origen, the celebrated Christian theologian scholar of Alexandria (185-254 C.E.), had
already referred to Jesus Christ as a “second god.” (Against Celsus 5:39) Not surprisingly, scholar
Ernst Haenchen asserts: “...In the period in which the hymn [at John 1:1] took its rise, it was quite
possible in Jewish and Christian monotheism to speak of divine beings that existed alongside and
under God but were not identical with him. Phil 2:6-10 proves that.” (A Commentary on the Gospel of
John, Part 1, Ernst Haenchen / Robert Funk, p. 109. ©1984, Fortress Press, Philadelphia) Another source
adds: “On the other hand, it was a matter of general knowledge, and one which the Bible itself
shares and does not attempt to conceal, that recognition and worship have often been extended
to others than the Jewish-Christian God, and the term ‘god’ or ‘gods’ is used for them also, as are
the respective Greek and Hebrew words. It is the custom to use a capital letter G for the God of
the Jewish-Christian tradition and a small letter for the others.” (Dictionary of the Bible, Page 333.
James Hastings Editor. Revised Edition by Frederick C. Grant & H. H. Rowley. ©1963 T&T Clark and Charles
Scribner's Sons, New York)

In view of the above, let's briefly look at how the Bible itself employs the words for “God” in
Scripture. At Exodus 7:1, we read that God made, a man, Moses, “a god” (Hebrew, ’ĕ·lō·hîm) before
Pharaoh. God said to Moses: “See, I have made thee a god [Others: “a God”; “God”] to Pharaoh:
and Aaron thy brother shall be thy prophet.” Using standard trinitarian reasoning applied to
Jesus Christ elsewhere would lead one to believe that Moses too, a human, was an intrinsic part
of the Great Divinity, by virtue of being called “God” or “a god” by the Lord himself? But that’s not
the case, is it? Consequently, other translations see fit to clarify the meaning of “God” used here
by the LORD. The English Standard Version expresses it this way: “See, I have made you like God to
Pharaoh.” And the International Standard Version has the LORD saying: “Listen! I've put you in the
role of God to Pharaoh.” The meaning of “God” in Scripture is being defined thus.

And in Exodus 4:16, God tells Moses of Aaron: “You shall be as God to him.” (ESV; NAB. Hebrew:
lê·lō·hîm, “as God”; Darby: “God”; Leeser: “a God”; LXX: ton theón,“ the God”; Vulgate: “Deum”) This
declaration simply implies that Moses was given a powerful role as God's emissary representing
his will. Moses was not heavenly God, for sure. So too, in Psalm 45:6, when another human
became ‘King of Israel’ (likely Solomon), he was addressed literally, in divine terms: “Your throne
God [Heb.: ’ĕ·lō·hîm; Greek: ho theós] forever and ever.” Obviously, this human king was not the One
True God. Neither was he a false God, as trinitarian reasonings would posit. Simply put,
Solomon's throne was “divine,” in the sense that he represented God in a position of authority
over others.

In the Scriptures we find that Jesus is described in Isaiah 9:6 as “Mighty God,” and as “Son of
God” in other places. (John 1:34) What about angels? They too are called “sons of God.” (Job 1:6)
Angels are in nature, heavenly beings closer to God than they are to humankind. They are
powerful divine spirits who reflect God's glory and Godship. They are “gods” themselves. What
do we call a “son” of a “human”? This “son” is himself a “human,” is he not? Just as there is a
family of human beings sharing “humanity,” there is also a family of celestial beings, or “gods,”
sharing “divinity.” A “son of God” then is “a god,” or a ‘reflection’ of God, or else: “One who shares
a close relationship with God….” (The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary, edited by Allen C. Myers, p. 961. ©1987,
Grand Rapids) Whatever, the expression “son of God” is never synonymous with God.

Psalm 82:1 tells us that, “God standeth in the congregation of the mighty [Brenton: “gods”]; he
judgeth among the gods.” The Syriac Peshitta here has “angels” instead of “gods,” while Tanakh has
“divine beings,” and the Targums, “judges.” Whether we apply the term “gods” in Psalm 82:1 to
angels, or to human judges (in verse 6) serving as God's representatives (as Jesus argued in his
defense), it still proves that in the Bible, living beings other than God Almighty are spoken of as
“gods,” or “sons of God” with no hint of polytheism by such use. In harmony with this, the
Andrews Study Bible explains under Psalm 82:1: “gods. Term designates earthly rulers, leaders,
mighty ones, judges, and/or princes (v. 7) who were God's representatives, and whose work was
divinely appointed (Ex. 22:28; Deut. 1:17; 16:18; 2 Chr. 19:6; compare with Heb. 13:7).”

So too, W. E. Vine wrote: “The word [theos] is used of divinely appointed judges in Israel, as
representing God in His authority, John 10:34, quoted from Ps. 82:6….” (An Expository Dictionary of
New Testament Words – Under “God,” at the end.) And The NIV Study Bible has this footnote on Psalm
82:1: “gods. See v. 6. In the language of the OT—and in accordance with the conceptual world of
the ancient Near East—rulers and judges, as deputies of the heavenly King, could be given the
honorific title ‘god’…or be called ‘son of God’....” See also the Psalm 82:1 footnotes of: The Believer's
Study Bible; The Wesley Bible; ESV Study Bible, and the HCSB Study Bible.

Thus, mighty angels, and powerful human rulers or judges, called “gods” in Scripture, were
considered “divine” or “godlike” when they acted on behalf of God. As the Lord himself told
Moses: “I will make you seem like God to Pharaoh.” (Exodus 7:1, NLT) Even the people of biblical
times used the term “God” freely in reference to powerful human leaders, and of those who
displayed “supernatural” feats. Acts 12:22 informs us that when King Herod put on his royal
robes and gave a public speech, the crowd cheered him on, shouting: “It is the voice of a god
and not of a man.” On another occasion, the people of a small island called the apostle Paul
“theós,” that is, “a god,” when they witnessed his superhuman powers. (Acts 28:6; Compare with
Acts 14:11) With this information at hand, Robert Young, a master of various ancient languages
concluded: “God—is used of any one (professedly) mighty, whether truly so or not, and is
applied not only to the true God, but to false gods, Magistrates, judges, angels, prophets, etc.,
e.g. Ex. 7:1;… John 1:1; 10:33, 34, 35; 20:28;...” (Young's Analytical Concordance to the Bible, Eerdmans
Publ., 1978)
If this is the case, why do religious leaders argue that no one can be called “divine,” or “a god,”
but God? For them, anyone other than the true God is a “false” god. They are confining
themselves within the Scriptural context of Isaiah chapter 43, 44 and 45 discussed above, where
they refuse to see that the term “god” is used throughout Scripture in a more broadly manner
than their biased restricted sense allows them to admit. In fact, even Satan is called “the god
[Greek, ho theós] of this world,” because he actually ‘rules’ this wicked world, by the power he
exerts over mankind. (2 Cor. 4:4; John 12:31; 1 John 5:19) Was calling Satan “the god of this world,”
or any other biblical reference of “god” regarding others, meant to promote polytheism? Of
course not! Hence, the original words for “god” in themselves do not signal whether a god is
true or false. The Inspired Scriptures often affixes the definite article (“the”) before the word
“God” to distinguish the Supreme God from other godlike ones, as it does in John 1:1b. This
holds true for both the Hebrew and Greek Bible portions.

The biblical record makes it evident that in ancient Jewish culture (per E. Hanchaen), people had
no issue speaking of “divine beings” under the Supreme God. For them it was not a matter of
whether they were true or false gods. In their cultural mindset, the term “gods” when applied in a
positive manner to others beside the Most High meant that they were powerful representatives
of God, whether it was Christ spoken of, angels, or human judges. When speaking of powerful
heavenly beings in glory, the term “sons of God” was fully acceptable. There is no record of Jesus
ever displaying discomfort whenever he claimed to be “God's Son.” (John 10:36, NIV) Why should
we then?

Hence, anyone else other than God labeled “god” in Scripture in a positive light are simply divine
beings created in the image of the True God, belonging to the heavenly family of “godlike” ones.
The Scriptural term “god” may also be used to describe human beings holding a position of
power and authority when appointed by God. When the term is used this way, “polytheism” is
not an issue. What about the Christ?

Frequently, Jesus used the word “God” in the absolute sense, as he did in John 17:3, calling his
Father, “the only true God.” (See also Mark 12:30) However, on one occasion, recorded at John
10:33-36, Christ himself appealed to Psalm 82:6, where the term “gods” was being applied to
others beside God, in this case, human judges. Jesus was refuting the charge of blasphemy from
Jews that he was making himself God as invalid, because he was only claiming to be not God, but
“God's Son,” which is totally different. Jesus had another opportunity here, to claim once and for
all, that he was “God,” but once again, he did not do so. Jesus Christ holds a much higher
position than the angels or man, but he is still subordinate to his Father, God. (1 Corinthians 11:3;
Colossians 1:3; Hebrews 3:2) Angels were made subject to Christ after he himself was placed at
God's right hand. (1 Peter 3:22)

Although angels and Christ are both described as ‘sons of God,’ only Jesus Christ is distinctively
called “the only begotten Son,” or “the only-begotten God” / “the one-begotten God,” according
to some manuscripts. (John 1:18, Murdock; Noyes; Concordant Literal Version; Etheridge) The Word Study
Greek-English New Testament, an interlinear translation, describes the Logos as the “only born God.”
(John 1:18, Paul R. McReynolds) Furthermore, only Christ is called “the firstborn of all creation.”
(Colossians 1:15) Is this not the way we would describe the first living creation by God? By the way,
God the Father is never described in this way, nor the "Holy Spirit," suggesting that the notion of
“preeminence” is not the main or customary meaning of the term “firstborn.” Jesus Christ is then
divine, for he is “the Son of God,” not the almighty God.

The Greek “article” and “predicate” nouns:

An important factor to consider in John 1:1 is the presence or absence of the Greek article
(commonly referred to as the “definite” article, somewhat corresponding to the English “the”) . Both Greek
and English make use of the “definite” article. However, the Greek language has no “indefinite”
article (a or an), so the translator must interpret when to supply one in the target language where

Some scholars, due to theological issues, seem to downplay the significance of the article in John
1:1. Admittedly, there is no strict rule that can be applied in every instance where the article
appears. In fact, the Greek word for “God” (theós) in the Bible is generally used in reference to the
true God, sometimes without the article, since “God” is often used as a proper name. (More on
this later.) Notwithstanding, we should not conclude that the use or non-use of the article by
Bible writers was done carelessly. Many scholars, if not most, acknowledge that in John 1:1 in
contrast with other Scriptures, the presence of the article or its absence, does play an important
role in the interpretation of this scripture. As to the significance or function of the Greek article
throughout the Greek text, we read:

“The basic function of the Greek article is to point out, to draw attention to, to identify, to make definite,
to define, to limit.” (Syntax of New Testament Greek, by James A. Brooks & Carlton L. Winbery, p. 67. ©1979
by University Press of America, Inc. Washington D.C.)
“The Purpose of the Article…. It defines, limits, points out from [horízo] {cf. our horizon}. The Greek article
is a pointer…. Broadus [John A., Professor of N.T. Interpretation at SBTS] used to insist that the Greek
article points out in one of three ways. {a} Individual from Other Individuals. This is its most common use….
{b} Classes from other Classes.… {c} Qualities from Other Qualities….” (A New Short Grammar of the Greek
Testament, 10th Ed., by A. T. Robertson and W. Hersey Davis, pp. 275-276. ©1958)
“In general, the presence of the article [“the”] emphasizes particular identity, while the absence of the
article emphasizes quality or characteristics.” (Learn To Read New Testament Greek, p. 30. © Copyright 2009
by David Alan Black, professor of NT and Greek at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake
Forest, NC. Italics his.)

This generalization of the Greek article applies in most cases. An exception to this norm
is when the article appears in clauses that have genitive or prepositional phrases. As
grammarians Dana and Mantey stated, “The use of prepositions, possessive and demonstrative
pronouns, and the genitive case also tends to make a word definite. At such times, even if the
article is not used, the object is already distinctly indicated.” (A Manual Grammar of the Greek New
Testament, ©1955, p. 137) More recently, The Intermediate Greek Grammar by authors David L.
Mathewson and Elodie Ballantine Emig declared: “Articles are often absent before definite nouns
in prepositional phrases…and in some genitive constructions….” (Page 74, ©2016, Baker Academic,
Grand Rapids)

However, someone, in the interest of promoting the traditional reading of “God” at John 1:1
published a list of 20 instances of theós without the article which most translators interpret as a
reference to the true God. (Jn. 1:6, 12, 13, 18; 3:2, 21; 6:45; 8:54; 9:16, 33; 13:3; 16:30; 19:7; 20:17(2); 1 Jn.
3:2; 4:12; 2 Jn. 3, 9; Rev. 21:7) The author of this list claims that they all share “the same
grammatical structure” as John 1:1. Not true! These other texts contain prepositional phrases,
genitives or some other modifier, unlike John 1:1 which is a proper nominative statement. John
1:1c does not contain a prepositional phrase in its clause. Therefore, those Scriptures on the
above list are not grammatical parallels. Those who claim they are without disclosing the fact
that they exhibit a different grammatical structure are not being transparent.

In the reading of John 1:1 above, you will find the first instance of “theós” (God) with the article
(“the,” called, arthrous or articular), making the reference to the Supreme God particular, while the
second instance of “god” preceding a verb has no article (anarthrous or inarticular), highlighting
either the indefinite, or qualitative force of the noun. “The absence of the article here is on
purpose and essential to the true idea,” so states A. T. Robertson. (A Grammar of the Greek New
Testament in the Light of Historical Research, p. 768. ©1934, Broadman Press, Nashville) Further ahead, I
will provide a list of other Scriptures that do have a similar grammatical structure to that of John

For the benefit of those not keeping up with grammar, the term “predicate” in the words
predicate nouns mentioned throughout this article, is defined as: “The word or words that say
something about the subject of a sentence or clause.” (Webster's New Word Dictionary for Young
Readers) In John 1:1c, the subject is the Logos or “the Word” (presumably, Jesus Christ), clearly
indicated by the article “the” before “Word.” The Word is said to be “God,” the predicate, indicated
by the omission of the Greek article. But translators are not unanimous in their handling of this
verse. Some render it “the Word was divine.” Others: “The Word was a god.” Obviously, these
readings can alter the meaning of the statement. Hence, the controversy.

Technically speaking, the indefinite article can be included in the rendering of John 1:1c.
Although scholars traditionally favor the translation, “the Word was God,” as does Trinitarian
William D. Mounce, he acknowledges: “When the article is not present, the emphasis is on the
quality of the substantive.” (Biblical Greek: A Compact Guide, p. 15. ©2011 Zondervan, Grand Rapids.
Italics his.) In explaining his view of John 1:1, Mounce in Basics of Biblical Greek Grammar (©2009
Zondervan, 36.5; 36.8), quotes Daniel B. Wallace (professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas
Theological Seminary), where Wallace states: “The most likely candidate for θεός [theós at John 1:1c]
is qualitative.” (Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, ©1996 by Daniel B. Wallace, Zondervan, Grand Rapids,
Michigan, p. 269) And with keen discernment The Translator’s New Testament, a book published to
help translators, noted: “...It is difficult to believe that the omission [of the article at John 1:1c] is
not significant.” (The British and Foreign Bible Society, p. 451. ©1973)

Modern English translations use the indefinite article (a) hundreds of times, even though neither
Hebrew or Greek used any. Latin had no articles, but early translations into English from Latin
used them, like Wycliffe did (c. 1384). Others followed suit. When done properly in translation,
employing the indefinite article in the rendered text is not only useful, it actually becomes
necessary in some contexts to convey the appropriate meaning in English. Basically, ‘the use of
the indefinite article (a) in translation is a matter of individual judgment,’ says scholar Alfred
Marshall, D. Litt. He adds: “We have inserted ‘a’ or ‘an’ [in our translation] as a matter of course
where it seems called for.” (The Zondervan Parallel New Testament in Greek and English, ©1975, p. xxx of
Introduction) Likewise, James Allen Hewett wrote: “Since Greek has no indefinite article, the
English translation of a Greek word that does not have an article may be preceded by the
indefinite article ‘a’ or ‘an’.” (New Testament Greek, p. 43. Revised 2009. © 1986 by Hendrickson
Publishers, Peabody, MA) That being the case, why is there so much objection when a Bible
translation (NWT) does so at John 1:1?

Obviously, the use of the indefinite article in translation can cause great controversy in places
where doctrinal interpretation comes into play. The same is true by not employing it in some
cases. John 1:1 is a clear example where using the indefinite article (a) may bring passionate
voices to the fore. It turns out to be more of a theological than a grammatical issue, though
some scholars would have you believe otherwise. My aim is not to prove that John 1:1 cannot be
rendered “God,” but to hopefully bring a level of fairness on the subject. Grammatically
speaking, it is possible to translate word-for-word, and come up with the basic rendering “God.”
If so, why not continue using the traditional reading which appears in most Bibles? Simply
because it is misleading. Says a respectable source (Murray J. Harris): “...Few will doubt that this
time-honored translation [the Word was God] needs careful exegesis,...The rendering cannot stand
without explanation.” Harris, a Trinitarian, admits that the traditional translation is troublesome
since ‘in normal English usage God is a proper noun, referring to the person of the Father, and
not to Christ.’ As he says: “The Word is neither the Father nor the Trinity.” ( Jesus as God: The New
Testament Use of Theos in Reference to Jesus, p. 69. Baker Books, 1992)

Thus, when someone applies “God” to Christ in a defining sense as if he were the Sovereign God,
it results in communicating a different meaning to the modern reader (from a different culture and
mindset) from that of the original author. God's people were accustomed to the “Shema”
doctrine, the first two words in Hebrew, and the words which follow it at Deuteronomy 6:4:
“[Shema Yisrael] Hear, o Israel: Jehovah our God is one Jehovah.” (ASV) These words epitomize the
core monotheistic essence of Judaism. Applying the word “God” to Christ at John 1:1 in a
trinitarian sense (a doctrine admittedly not established in Bible times), would arguably break the
monotheistic imprint. Others, however, believe that translating otherwise (e.g., “a god”) in
reference to the Logos promotes “polytheism.” More on this later.
What then, is the most fitting translation of the anarthrous noun theós? Besides the fact that
scholars often differ on the final rendering of the verse, some make it sound like John 1:1 is
extremely complex to translate. Not so! Theological evasions may be the culprit behind those
claiming so. That said, the correct translation of John 1:1 is not that difficult to determine. First of
all, we need to approach this scripture with an open mind, which admittedly is easier said than
done. There is, however, enough information available on the subject from which we can
establish a firm conclusion. As noted above, having a singular anarthrous noun theós preceding
a verb is indicative of a quality about the subject in discussion. In such construction, according to
the NABRE Bible, theós is not used to identify the Word with the God he was with, but employed
as a description of the Logos. This work says: “Was God: lack of a definite article with ‘God’ in
Greek signifies predication rather than identification.” (New American Bible Revised Edition, 2011)

Dr. Ray Summers (a Baptist) explains: “At this point an important differentiation should be
observed. When the article is used with a construction, the thing emphasized is ‘identity’; when
the article is not used, the thing emphasized is quality of character. ὁ νόμος [‘ho nomos’] means
‘the law.’ It points out a particular law and gives specific identity. νόμος [nómos] means ‘law’ in
general…. This difference is clearly seen in the use of ó Θεός [‘ho Theós’] and Θεός [‘Theós’]…. Thus
‘in the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God (τὸν Θεóν) and the Word was divine
(Θεός)’ gives the sense.” (Essentials of New Testament Greek, pp. 129-130, by Ray Summers, B.A., Th.M.,
Th.D. ©1950 by Broadman Press) The Translator’s New Testament agrees: “There is a distinction in the
Greek here between ‘with God’ and ‘God’... In effect [the absence of the definite article in the second
instance of Theós] gives an adjectival quality to the second use of Theos (God) so that the phrase
means ‘The Word was divine.’ ” (1973, p. 451)

Some, like Bultmann, object to the use of “divine” for “theós,” stating that if John wanted to say
‘divine’ he would have used the available Greek word “theios” instead of “theós.” However, one
scholar pointed out that Bultmann “overlooks the fact that θεῖος [theios] says less than what is
here affirmed of the Logos and would either make use of a literary Greek entirely foreign to the
Gospel of John, or express a different meaning.” (Haenchen/Funk 1984, pág. 111)

These conflicting views indicate the need for caution at the time of taking scholars'
interpretations as facts, without analyzing the matter further. Another danger we do well to
avoid is becoming potentially reliant on the inconclusive testimony of the “early church fathers,”
though they have a deserved place in the historical analysis. The Bible is ultimately our best
guide in this matter.

Can the indefinite article (“a”) be legitimately added to John 1:1?

Mainstream biblical scholars are of the consensus that the traditional reading, “the Word was
God,“ is the correct rendering at John 1:1. They emphatically reject the notion of having the text
say, ”the Word was a god,” as it reads prominently in the New World Translation (NWT), a publication
by the religious organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Randolph 0. Yeager, for instance, made the
following deriding comment of this version: “Only sophomores in Greek grammar are going to
translate...‘and the Word was a God.’” (The Renaissance New Testament, Vol. 4, Renaissance Press, 1980,
p. 4.) He is not alone rejecting the NWT rendering. Various scholars have made similar
disparaging remarks about the controversial NWT rendition: Paul L. Kaufman wrote: “The
Jehovah's Witness people evidence an abysmal ignorance of the basic tenets of Greek grammar
in their mistranslation of John 1:1.” F. F. Bruce called it ”totally indefensible.” Harry A. Sturz
described it as, ”an ungrammatical and tendential translation.” Donald Guthrie: “grammatically
indefensible.” Bruce M. Metzger: “pernicious”...“a frightful mistranslation.” Julius R. Mantey: ‘a
grossly misleading translation.’ Robert H. Countess: “a radically biased piece of work.” And Dr.
Samuel J. Mikolaski of Zurich, Switzerland wrote: “It is monstrous to translate the phrase ‘the
Word was a god.’ ”

These harsh criticisms indicate there is little more disquieting to Catholics and Protestants than
having a prominent Bible translation in John 1:1 describing Jesus Christ as “a god,” instead of
“God.” That said, how much stock can we put on such criticisms? We can start by pointing out that
the language used by critics in their accusations of the non-traditional reading of John 1:1 is
unyielding and harsh, even tendentious. More significantly, the critics are riveting on ONE Bible
translation with the “a god“ rendering. Why mention this? Well, did you know that the NWT is only
one of various Bible versions with such reading? (A link to a list of sources is provided at the end) But
none of the critics above considered it a service to their readers to alert them of available
divergent opinions by other scholars. How honest is that? So right away, we start noticing a
pattern by the critics: the lack of objectivity and fairness on the issue. More relevant to the
subject at hand, is whether such statements actually hold up under scrutiny or not. Surprisingly,
they do not, as the evidence presented below demonstrates.

Curiously, the editors of the Bible version the quoted scholars love to hate have stated that
some Scriptures ‘can be rendered in more than one way,’ listing John 1:1 as one of them. A
publication of theirs said: “If a passage can grammatically be translated in more than one way,
what is the correct rendering? One that is in agreement with the rest of the Bible....John 1:1,2....“
(Reasoning from the Scriptures, p. 416. ©1985 by Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, Brooklyn. Underlines
mine.) Arguably, some may consider this conclusion more honest than that of the critics above
who present a one-sided unyielding theological position.

This is not the first time a Bible translation has come under fire. The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia
of Religious Knowledge put on record that when a prominent Protestant Bible translation by Marc J.
H. Oltramare first rendered John 1:1 back in 1872, as “dieu” with a small “d,” he received quite a
bit of opposition for it. The publication noted: “His rendering of John i:1, “La Parole était dieu [The
Word was god],” was very sharply criticized by the orthodox on account of the small d.” (Vol. 8, p.

Mainstream scholars are particularly opposed to the presence of the indefinite article (a) at John
1:1c. This was again made clear when a prominent scholar from the University of Glasgow,
Scotland, Dr. William Barclay, publicly accused the publishers of the New World Translation of
‘intellectual dishonesty’ for translating John 1:1 as they have: “The deliberate distortion of truth
by this sect is seen in their New Testament translations. John 1:1 is translated: ‘...the Word was a
god,’ a translation which is grammatically impossible … It is abundantly clear that a sect which
can translate the New Testament like that is intellectually dishonest.” (The Expository Times, vol. 65,
October, 1953, Edinburg: T. & T. Clark) Strong accusation, indeed!

However, two decades later, Barclay himself, in a private letter (later made public: Dated, “20 May
1974”), to a Mr. David Burnett from Australia conceded: “You could translate [John 1:1c], so far as
the Greek goes: ‘the Word was a God’; but it seems obvious that this is so much against the
whole of the rest of the New Testament that it is wrong.” (Ever yours: A Selection from the Letters of
William Barclay, edited by C. L. Rawlins, Labarum Publ., 1985, p. 205) Thus, the NW translators went
from being “intellectually dishonest,” to ‘theologically unfavored.’ As far as I know, Dr. Barclay
never issued a public apology to the NW translators for openly denouncing their translation
effort as ‘intellectual dishonesty,’ having conceded later that the rendering was grammatically
plausible, interpretation aside. Who was “intellectually dishonest” here? An excerpt of the letter is
available at the end.

Another trinitarian scholar, Dr. Thomas L. Constable, chimed in on the controversy of the
translation of “a god” at John 1:1 like so: “Grammatically this is a possible translation since it is
legitimate to supply the indefinite article (‘a’) when no article is present in the Greek text, as here.
However, that translation here is definitely incorrect because it reduces Jesus to less than God.”
(Dr. Constable's Expository Bible Study Notes, Notes on John, 2012 E d i t i o n. Th.M; Th.D., Senior Professor
Emeritus of Bible Exposition Dallas Theological Seminary [DTS], Dallas, Texas) Again, this scholar objects
to the “legitimate” a god translation on theological grounds, not grammar.

Thus, there are an increasing number of scholars who acknowledge that the translation “a god”
at John 1:1 is grammatically viable, but most folks, for various reasons, don’t get to know this.
Those who recognize the viability of such rendering and still oppose it, do so with the
comprehension that context is on their side. The plethora of online discussions have led to
greater scrutiny in the interpretation and translation of John 1:1. Sadly, many internet discussions
end up distorting truth, and twisting facts. A review of pertinent facts is in order. The question
now is: Is it proper to translate John 1:1 as “the Word was a god“? Let’s find out!

Predicate nouns without the article occurring before the verb as in John 1:1c:

There are numerous cases in the Greek text, similar to John 1:1, where singular anarthrous
predicate nouns precede the verb, and translators regularly insert the indefinite article (“a”)
within the translated text, either to bring out the indefiniteness of such nouns, or to emphasize a
quality or characteristic of the subject in discussion. In some cases, translators employ an initial
lower-case letter to bring out the qualitative factor, where the subject is clearly not being
identified or made definite. These syntactical patterns in Scripture, when analyzed, can help us
determine who is right and who is wrong.

To illustrate, I will provide the reader with ten (10) examples which show singular anarthrous
predicate nouns preceding the verb, six from the New Testament, and four from other sources:
Xenophon’s Anabasis, The Martyrdom of Policarp, and the Septuagint (an important Greek translation
from the Hebrew OT text used by NT Christian authors), to determine how Bible scholars deal with
this syntactical structure. We’ll now examine various Scriptures whose syntax is similar to John
1:1. These have clauses with anarthrous (or, inarticular) predicate nouns in place before the verb:

1st Example (Acts 28:4):

Greek: Πάντως φονεύς ἐστιν ὁ ἄνθρωπος οὗτος

By all means murderer is the man this

This case deals with the apostle Paul and his companions being shipwrecked near Malta during
a rainy and cold day, a small island 58 miles south of Sicily. When they made it to shore, the
islanders were very kind to them and built a bonfire to warm them up. Paul had gathered some
dry sticks to keep the flames going, and as he placed them on the fire, a poisonous snake
fastened itself on his hand. When the islanders saw what struck him, they uttered the words
above. And how do Bible versions translate this clause which is similar to John 1:1 in

“This man must be a murderer” (New International Version)

“Sin duda este hombre es un* asesino” (Nueva Versión Internacional, NIV-Spanish)
“Certamente este homem é assassino” (Nova Versão Internacional, NIV-PT, Portuguese)
(*”un” is the equivalent for “a” in English)
“This man must be a murderer [Dieser Mensch muß ein Mörder sein]” (M. Luther Bible, 1545)
“This man surely is a murtherer” (Geneva Bible, 1560)
“No doubt this man is a murtherer” (Bishops Bible, 1568)
“This man is certainly a murderer” (John Worsley New Testament)
“Certainly a murderer is the man this” (The Emphatic Diaglott, Interlinear)
“That man must be a murderer” (New Jerusalem Bible)
“There is no doubt that this man is a murderer” (The Eastern/Greek Orthodox Bible, NT)
“This must be some murderer” (Ronald A. Knox)
“This man must be a murderer!” (James Moffatt New Testament)
“Certainly this man is a murderer” (Greek and English Interlinear NT, Mounce)
“No doubt this man is a murderer” (Kenneth S. Wuest)
“Beyond a doubt this man is a murderer” (Charles B. Williams New Testament)
“This man is probably a murderer” (Holman Christian Standard Bible)
“This man must be a murderer!” (Common English Bible)
“The man must be a murderer” (New English Bible)
“This man is certainly a murderer” (Living Oracles New Testament)
“This man must certainly be a murderer” (New American Bible)
Literal reading at Acts 28:4, murderer is the man
Predicate noun Verb Subject
Literal reading at John 1:1, god was the logos

In this clause, the subject is “the man” (Paul), indicated by the article “the”, while in John 1:1 the
subject is “the Word,” preceded by the article likewise. In this verse, you have a singular
inarticular predicate noun “murderer” preceding the verb “is,” just as in John 1:1 there is an
anarthrous predicate noun “god” preceding the verb “was.” As seen above, none of these
translations render the predicate noun without the article in Acts 28:4 in a definite sense, as if
Paul were being identified as “the Murderer” they all been warned about. Rather, the
superstitious islanders presumed the man was “a” murderer, or “some” murderer (Knox) who got
the snake bite he deserved. Thus, the emphasis is on the indefiniteness or qualitative aspect of
the anarthrous noun, not on identification.

This text alone shows the frivolousness of the claim that ‘only sophomores in Greek grammar
are going to translate John 1:1c (and similar constructed clauses), with an indefinite article.’
“Theology,” not “grammar,” must then be the driving force behind such ludicrous comments.
Does John 1:1 demand a definite translation for the article-less noun theós to make it read “God”
as some scholars suggest? Neither grammar nor the context of John chapter one make such
demand. An assertion that John 1:1 must be translated, “the Word was God” in our language is
just as impetuous as postulating that Acts 28:4 must be rendered: “This man must certainly be
[the] Murderer.” And who does that in Acts 28:4?

2nd Example (John 8:48): Greek: ὅτι Σαμαρίτης εἶ σὺ

that Samaritan are you

Jewish leaders wrongly accuse Jesus of having a demon and for being “a Samaritan.”
“Samaritan” here is used, perhaps, to suggest that Jesus was a “heretic” or one with faulty
worship. (Jesus was not even Samaritan, but of Jewish lineage.)

“that thou art a Samaritan” (King James Version)

“that you are a Samaritan” (New Revised Standard Version)
“that you are a Samaritan” (Today's English Version)
“that you are a Samaritan” (Laicester Ambrose Sawyer)
“that you are a Samaritan” (Jerusalem Bible)
“that you are a Samaritan” (New English Bible)
“that You are a Samaritan” (James L. Tomanek)
“you are a Samaritan” (New Century Version)

“that you are a Samaritan“ (Jerusalem Bible)

“que tu es un Samaritain“ (La Bible de Jérusalem, French)
“que eres samaritano“ (Biblia de Jerusalén, Spanish)
“that You are a Samaritan” (NASB - The Lockman Foundation)
“que eres samaritano“ (Biblia de las Américas [NASB] Sp. - The Lockman Foundation)

“that you are a Samaritan“ (New International Version)

“que eres un samaritano“ (Nueva Versión Internacional [NIV], Spanish)
“que você é samaritano “ (Nova Versão Internacional [NIV], Portuguese)
“You are a Samaritan” (New World Translation)
“Tu es un Samaritain” (Traduction du monde nouveau [NWT], French)
“Sei un samaritano” (Traduzione del Nuovo Mondo [NWT], Italian)
“Tú eres samaritano” (Traducción del Nuevo Mundo [NWT], Spanish)
“que você é samaritano” (Tradução do Novo Mundo [NWT], Portuguese)

Literal reading at John8:48, Samaritan are you

Predicate noun Verb Subject
Literal reading at John 1:1, god was the logos

This clause, as in Acts 28:4 above, and John 4:19 in the following example, have the predicate
noun without the article ahead of the verb and the subject, thus, are exact parallels to John 1:1c.
Would it make sense to render this “definite” denoting identification: “You are the Samaritan”?

It is also instructive to consider how various Bible versions (The Jerusalem Bible, NIV, NASB and NWT)
available in other languages that use both the definite and indefinite article handle the Greek
reading above. Whether they employed the indefinite article “a” [or, un] or not in their
translations, the end result was nearly the same. All the readings in this section emphasize, not
the definite factor, but the qualitative force of the predicate nouns without the article.

3rd Example (John 4:19): Greek: θεωρῶ ὅτι προφήτης εἶ σύ

I am beholding that prophet are you

These words were pronounced by a Samaritan woman after hearing Jesus divinely perceive
personal things about her life right after they met.

“I perceive that thou art a prophet” (William Tyndale's New Testament, 1534. Daniell edition)
“I perceive that thou art a prophet” (Douay–Rheims Bible)
“I perceive that thou art a prophet” (King James Version)
“I view that a prophet you are” (Charles Van der Pool, 2006)
“I perceive that a prophet art thou” (Alfred Marshall, D. Litt., The Interlinear Greek-English NT)
“I see that thou art a prophet” (Confraternity Version)
“I see that you are a prophet” (New Revised Standard Version)
“Oh, so you're a prophet!” (The Message)
“I perceive that a prophet are You” (Interlinear - Farstad, Hodges, Moss, Picirilli, Pickering)
“Are You a prophet?” (The Clear Word)
“I can see that you are a prophet” (NIV)
“I see you are a prophet” (Christian Community Bible)
“I perceive that You are a prophet” (NASB)
“I see you are a prophet” (The Authentic New Testament, Hugh J. Schonfield)
“I can see that you are a prophet” (Jewish New Testament, David H. Stern)

Literal reading at John4:19, prophet are you

Predicate noun Verb Subject
Literal reading at John 1:1, god was the logos

Here most English translations add the indefinite article (a) before the inarticular noun,
“prophet.” It is appropriate to do so. The grammatical construction of John 4:19 is a parallel to
John 1:1. Take note of the initial lowercase letter in prophet used by the various versions, instead
of “Prophet.” In English the a is required before the noun “prophet,” used above in an indefinite-
qualitative sense. This is so because, it is describing an attribute about the Master, which is
‘predication, not identification.’ The Samaritan woman, of another religion, who accepted no
more than the Pentateuch, and as the account shows, did not have sufficient knowledge of the
male stranger she had just met (Jesus) to conclude at that point of the conversation that he was
‘the Prophet,’ or the promised “Messiah” of the Samaritans. Nevertheless, she soon discovered
he had special insight and could describe him as “prophetic,” or “a prophet” of some kind. Jesus
was able to have this prophetic ability, because God had empowered him with his spirit. (Acts

By the way, those of you who are familiar with a Latin derived language such as French, Italian,
Portuguese, or Spanish, may find it a tad easier to follow this discussion regarding the use or
absence of the indefinite article. In everyday speech, the person using one of these languages
does not have to employ the indefinite article as frequently as the English speaker would to
mark the attributive force of the noun. Consequently, the connection of the qualitative force of
singular anarthrous nouns between Greek and the Latin-derived languages may be easier to
grasp. A comparison of modern translations of such nouns between English and one of the
Latin-based languages will bear this out:

For instance, in Spanish, whether the indefinite article is employed or not, one is still able to
retain the qualitative force of singular anarthrous nouns. (See El Griego Bíblico Al Alcance De Todos, ©
2007 by José Antonio Septién, p. 122, Editorial CLIE, Barcelona) At John 4:19, you can have the woman
say to Jesus: “Me parece que tú eres profeta [I perceive that you are prophet],” as the Protestant
Reina-Valera does, or have her say: “Veo que tú eres un profeta [I can see that you are a prophet],”
as the Catholic Torres Amat does. Actually, it is common in Spanish Bibles to use “profeta” without
the “un”, but some translators do add the (un, the equivalent of a to make it indefinite, “un
profeta.” Not only are both acceptable Spanish translations from the Greek, it sounds natural
either way, unlike English.

Similarly, in French, you can say: “Je vois que tu es prophète [I see that you are prophet]” – Segond.
Or, you can say: “Je vois que tu es un prophète [I see that you are a prophet” – Darby, French. The
first French reading does not use the indefinite article, while the second one does. In Italian: “Io
veggo che tu sei profeta [I see that you are prophet]” – Diodati. Or, “Tu sei un profeta! [You are a prophet]”
– La Parola è Vita. The first Italian version lacks the indefinite article, and the second one adds it. In
Portuguese: “vejo que é profeta” [I see that you are prophet]” - NVI-PT. Or: “vejo que és um profeta! [I
see that you are a prophet]” - Biblia Sagrada, Edição Pastoral.

Both constructions – with and without the indefinite article are acceptable. One stresses the
qualitative factor, and the other the indefinite status of the predicate noun. Wallace adds:
“Although the translation [of John 4:19] is most naturally ‘Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet,’
the sense may be better characterized as indefinite-qualitative.” (Wallace 1996, p. 266) The same
can be said of John 1:1.

At John 4:19, natural spoken English requires the use of the “a” before prophet to bring out the
Greek sense in our language, and most English Bibles do so without hesitation. To be consistent,
Bible versions could have done the same at John 1:1, a parallel construction.

4th Example (John 18:37, 1st instance):

Greek: (Pilate): Οὐκοῦν βασιλεὺς εἶ σύ;

Not-therefore king are you?

This clause is an exact parallel to John 1:1c = anarthrous predicate noun before verb and subject.

5th Example (John 18:37, 2nd instance):

Greek: (Jesus): Σὺ λέγεις ὅτι βασιλεύς εἰμι [ἐγώ]*

You are saying that king am I

(* The Westcott-Hort, and Nestle-Aland/UBS Greek texts read without the bracketed word. But the
Received/Majority Text, and the Robinson/Pierpont/Byzantine Greek texts add ἐγώ shown in brackets.)

Both instances of βασιλεὺς (“king”) appear before the verb and the subject. Just like in John 1:1,
the predicate noun precedes the verb and subject. In the second instance of “king” here the
pronoun “I” is not directly mentioned in some Greek texts, but implied in εἰμι. However, the
Robinson/Pierpont/Byzantine Greek texts make it clear by adding the pronoun ἐγώ (“I”) to the
statement. Either way, the omission of the article before “king” brings out the indefinite-
qualitative status of the predicate noun, as shown by Bible versions.

“Then Pilate said to him, ‘So you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. For this purpose I
was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is
of the truth listens to my voice.’ ” (English Standard Version, full text)

“Pilate therefore said to him: Art thou a king then? Jesus answered: Thou sayest that I am a king.”
(Douay-Rheims Bible, partial text)
“Pilate said to him, ‘You are a king then?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king.’ ” (The
Comprehensive New Testament, partial text)

“ ‘You are a king, then!’ said Pilate. Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king.’ ” (NIV, partial)

Other Bible translations read similarly.

6th Example (1 Kings 18:27, Septuagint, LXX. Unlike Greek, Hebrew reads right-to-left.):

Greek: ὅτι θεός ἐστιν Hebrew: ‫הוּא‬

֔‫כִּֽי אּו֔ה םיִ֣הֹלֱא ־ אֱל ֹהִיהִ אּו֔ה םי֣אּו֔ה םה אּו‬
for god is (he) he god for <

“For he is a god” (Sir Lancelot C. L. Brenton's translation from the Greek LXX)
“for he is a god” (Septuagint, LXX, Charles Thomson)
“for he is a god” (The Apostles' Bible: A Modern English Translation of the Greek Septuagint,
by Paul W. Esposito, 2004)
“For he is a god” (A New English Translation of the Septuagint, [NETS], 2007)
“for he is a god” (The Orthodox Study Bible, St. Athanasius Academy Septuagint, 2008. LXX)
“for he is a god” (Orthodox England, Michael Asser, 2001-2010, based on the Greek text LXX of
the version published by the Greek Orthodox Church, Apostoliki Diakonia)

“because god (he) is (porque dios es)” (La Sagrada Biblia, G. Jünemann B., 1992. LXX)

“for a god; he” (Interlinear Hebrew Old Testament)

“for god he” (The Hebrew-English Interlinear ESV Old Testament)
“for he is a god” (Jewish Publication Society, 1917. Translated from the Hebrew)
“for he is a god” (The Holy Bible from Ancient Eastern Manuscripts [tr. Syriac], George M. Lamsa)
“for he is god (pues él es dios)” (La Biblia Peshitta en Español, translated from the Aramaic)

“for Baal is youre [your] god” (John Wycliffe's Translation, translated from Latin, c. 1384)
“for he is a god” (Douay-Rheims Bible, translated from the Latin Vulgate: “deus enim est.”)

In this account, Elijah challenges the people to take a stand – to follow whoever they believed
was the true God, while making a mockery of Baal, a false, useless god. Just as in the other
instances of theós without the article (“the”) preceding the verb, translators find it necessary in
English to add the indefinite article (a) to complete the sense in our language. Had the speaker
used the article before theós, it could be taken then, as a reference of Baal being “God,” not “a
god.” Would it not? Observe that John Wycliffe's translation from Latin did not capitalize the “g”
in “god.” Also, two Spanish translations above, one from the Greek LXX by Jünemann and the
other, a Peshitta from the Aramaic, did not capitalize the “g” in “god,” Actually, in Spanish it is not
required to use the indefinite article (a) in this construction to obtain nearly the same effect as
the English statement, “for he is a god.” Surely, the translators of the Spanish versions were not
suggesting that Elijah was calling Baal “God.”
In Hebrew, we find the reading ki-'elohim hu = because god [is] he, appearing in our English versions
thus: “For he is a god.” Something to be noted here too, is that those translators who choose not
to employ the indefinite article, may do so because their translations are what you call, ultra-
literal translations, that is, word for word renderings of the original languages, as the ones shown
above for 1 Kings 18:27. However, when translators proceed to convey this message in idiomatic
English, they usually resort to the indefinite article...“for he is a god,” etc. Thus, Bible translations
from various ancient texts here, all reflect indefinite or qualitative renderings – valid pointers
indicating how John 1:1c, with similar syntax, should be translated. Theology is a factor in their
denial of this fact in regards to John 1:1. Colwell's theory, dealt with later, if applied, would
mistakingly lead one to believe the reference of theós to be definite.

7th Example (John 6:70):

Greek: καὶ ἐξ ὑμῶν εἷς διάβολός ἐστιν

and out of you [plural] one devil is

In this text, Jesus is addressing his twelve closest disciples, where he anticipates that Judas
Iscariot would later betray him. Jesus referred to Judas as “dia'bolos” (devil), or slanderer. Like
other verses under consideration, the word “dia'bolos” lacks the Greek article (“the,” in English)
and precedes the verb, “estin” (is). Surprisingly, a few scholars (Read: Holman Christian Standard Bible
& The NET Bible*) mistakingly add the English the before “devil” under the premise that this is one
of those nomadic (one-of-a-kind) nouns indicating definiteness. This (one-of-a-kind) view for this
scripture has no solid foundation. Jesus here is not identifying Judas as the Satan, the arch-
opposer of God, but is instead expressing a leaning spirit of defection on Judas part. He could
discern an inclination of satanic qualities, such as envy, and malice, and hence, could rightly call
him, a devil, a betrayer, a slanderer. The indefinite force is so prominent here, that adding the
article the before “devil” has no justification whatsoever. (*The explanation by grammarian Daniel
Wallace, senior editor of The NET Bible, is not convincing here. Other translators clearly view this
differently, as shown below.)

“And yet, from among you, one, is, an adversary” (Rotherham)

“and one of you is an accuser” (James L. Tomanek)
“Yet one of you is a devil” (Common English Bible)
“and one of you is a devil?” (Douay-Rheims Bible)
“Yet one of you is an adversary” (The Gospel of John, F.F. Bruce*)
“Yet one of you is a devil” (International Standard Version)
“and one of you is a devil” (American Standard Version)
“Yet one of you is a slanderer” (New World Translation)
“And even of you, one is an informer” (Edgar G. Goodspeed)
“and of you -- one is a devil” (Young's Literal Translation)
“and of you one an accuser is” (The Emphatic Diaglott)
“Yet is not one of you a devil?” (New American Bible)
“Yet one of you is a devil!” (New International Version)
“Yet one of you is a devil” (Greek-English Interlinear NT, William & Robert Mounce)
“Yet one of you is a devil” (New Jerusalem Bible)
“Yet one of you is an adversary” (Jewish New Testament, David H. Stern)
“but out of you one is a slanderer ” (21st Century New Testament, Left column)
“Yet one of you is a betrayer” (21st Century New Testament, Right column)
“and of you one a devil is” (Alfred Marshall's Greek-English Interlinear)
“And of you, one is a devil” (Kenneth S. Wuest's New Testament)
“Yet one of you is a devil” (The Translator's New Testament)

*F. F. Bruce says that, “One of them [of the twelve] was diabolos – the Greek word means a
‘slanderer’ or ‘calumniator’ or ‘false accuser,’ but it is probably used here as the counterpart to
Heb. [satan], ‘adversary’ [“Yet one of you is an adversary,” (Bruce)].” I side with the translators above,
and with grammarians Philip B. Harner and Paul S. Dixon who argue that the qualitative force of
dia'bolos (devil) is more prominent than any conceivable definiteness. Dixon says: “It is best,
therefore, to take διάβολος qualitatively. A good rendering might be: “one of you is a devil.”
(Harner: “Qualitative Anarthrous Predicate Nouns: Mark 15:39 and John 1:1,” Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol.
92, pp. 75-87, Philadelphia, 1973. Dixon, Th.M Thesis: The Significance of the Anarthrous Predicate
Nominative in John, p. 50. Dallas Theological Seminary, May 1975)

Bible translators often view these anarthrous constructions as emphasizing the descriptive
nature (adjectival) of the subject in consideration, rather than its identity. By the way, some
translators understand this principle applies to John 1:1 by using either god, a god, or divine as
“and the Word was a god” (Reijnier Rooleeuw, M.D.)
“The Word was god (était dieu)” (Marc J. H. Oltramare, 1872, University Professor, Geneva)
“and the Logos was god (était dieu)” (Herbert Pernot, 1925, Paris)
“and the Word was god” (Professor Charles C. Torrey, Yale University, 1947)
“and the Word was divine” (E. J. Goodspeed)
“and the Word was god (était dieu)” (Traduction du monde nouveau, 1987)
“So the Word was divine” (Hugh J. Schonfield)
“and god was the Word (y dios era la Palabra)” (J. J. Bartolomé, Madrid, 2002)
“and the Logos was god” (The New Testament, A Translation, David Bentley Hart, 2017)

8th Example (Xenophon's Anabasis, 1:4:6):

Greek: εμπóριον δ’ ην το χωρíονον

market and was the place

“ and the place was a market ” (Translation by Dana & Mantey)

A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament, by Dana and Mantey had this to say, (under the
heading: “With the Subject in a Copulative Sentence”): “The article sometimes distinguishes the
subject from the predicate in a copulative sentence. In Xenophon's Anabasis, 1:4:6, εμπóριον δ’ ην óριον δ’ ην
το χωρíον, and the place was a market, we have a parallel case to what we have in John 1:1, καὶ θεὸς
ἦν ὁ λόγος 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 θεός. As it stands, the other persons of the Trinity may be implied in θεός.” (©1927
by The Macmillan Company. ©1955 by Tommie P. Dana and Julius R. Mantey. Page 148, paragraph «3».
Italics theirs, underlines added.)

I agree with the above with the exception of one exorbitance: “the other persons of the Trinity
may be implied in θεός.” This is clearly a case of two Baptist grammarians reading far more into
the text than is warranted. John chapter 1 is definitely not speaking of ‘three persons in the
Godhead.’ Actually, the whole Gospel of John makes no mention of it. Such language is totally
foreign to the New Testament.

To run parallel with Xenophon's statement and the place was a market, this Grammar could have
translated John 1:1c, and the word was a god. I am aware that Dr. Julius R. Mantey has been
openly opposed (to put it mildly) to the NWT rendering, “the Word was a god.” Nevertheless, the
example they set forth seems to contradict Mantey's own statements. Compare for yourself the
literal Greek reading of Xenophon's statement with the suggested translation by Dana and
Mantey of which Mantey says is “a parallel case” to John 1:1c:

“and the place was market ” (Literal reading in English order, Anabasis, 1:4:6)
“and the word was god ” (Literal reading in English order, John 1:1c)

“and the place was a market ” (Suggested translation by Dana and Mantey)
“and the Word was a god ” (Controversial translation, criticized by Mantey)

The translation offered by scholars Dana & Mantey, “and the place was a market,” as indicated
above is an unintended admission that the rendering “the Word was a god” is just as proper,
even though, as Trinitarians, they reject it. Note too, that their suggested translation of John 1:1,
and the word was deity is not equal to claiming that the Word was entirely God, for they admitted:
“nor was the word all of God.” Additionally, the use of “may” as a modifier in their statement
suggests a theological speculation, not a fact. The truth is that Jesus himself spoke of his Father
as “the only true God.” (John 17:3) If Jesus is not “the only true God,” who is he then? Christ is time
and again described as “the Son of God.” (Luke 1:35) This focus on Christ by the Christian authors
throughout the New Testament led William Barclay, a Trinitarian, to caution: “To say that the
Word was God is too much; to say that the Word was Divine is too little.” (“Great Themes of the
New Testament: II John 1.1-14,” Expository Times 70, 1958-59: 114.)

Much has been made of the publication of a letter Mantey wrote to the publishers of the NWT
(Watchtower Bible and Tract Society = WTS), where Mantey demanded from the Corporation that
they stop quoting him by name, since he felt they were misquoting their Grammar. Many have
seized this incident to lash out slanderous statements at the WTS for alleged “scholastic
dishonesty.” I feel this attack has little to no merit. It is in the main, a theological motivated
Let’s us not be remiss of the fact that Dana & Mantey's Grammar said: “When identity is
prominent, we find the article; and when quality or character is stressed, the construction is
anarthrous [without the article].” (Dana & Mantey 1955, p. 138) And: “The use of the articular and
anarthrous constructions of θεός is highly instructive. A study of the uses of the term as given in
Moulton and Geden's Concordance convinces one that without the article θεός signifies divine
essence, while with the article divine personality is chiefly in view.” […] “The articular
construction emphasizes identity; the anarthrous construction emphasizes character.” (Ibid, pp.
139,140) And on page 149, Dana & Mantey wrote: “An object of thought may be conceived of
from two points of view: as to identity or quality. To convey the first point of view the Greek uses
the article; for the second the anarthrous construction is used.” (Ibid, italics theirs.) From these
published statements, it is not incongruous to conclude that the presence of the indefinite
article at John 1:1 may also be used to signal the character, nature, or quality of the Logos, as

Surprisingly, Dr. Julius R. Mantey included the following statement in his letter of repudiation to
the WTS mentioned earlier: “Prof. Harner, Vol 92:1 in JBL, has gone beyond Colwell's research
and has discovered that anarthrous predicate nouns preceding the verb function primarily to
express the nature or character of the subject.” (July 11, 1974) Instead of advocating a trinity, this
statement of Mantey quoting Professor Harner, in my view, oddly supports some of the
arguments published in the 1950 and the 1984 NWT Editions. Again: “Neither was the place the
only market [the place was a market], nor was the word all of God.” (Dana & Mantey 1955, pp. 148,
149) If the Logos was ‘not all of God,’ one could argue he was “a god.”

True, the Evangelical authors of the Grammar being discussed, explain the character of Christ in
trinitarian terms, but it is undeniable that some of the statements from their argumentation
seem likewise favorable to those who translate John 1:1 accentuating, not the identity of Christ
with God, but rather the character or a quality of the Logos.

9th Example (The Martyrdom of Polycarp, 10:1): (Irenaeus tells us that Polycarp was a disciple of John
and the Bishop of Smyrna) In reply to the magistrate attempting to persuade him to revile Christ,
Polycarp says:

Greek: μετὰ παρρησίας ἄκουε· Χριστιανός εἰμι

with boldness be hearing Christian I am

“Hear distinctly, I am a Christian.” (Translated by Charles H. Hoole, 1885)

“Hear thou plainly, I am a Christian.” (Translated by J. B. Lightfoot)
“Listen plainly: I am a Christian.” (Translated by Kirsopp Lake, 1912, Loeb Classical Library)
“Listen carefully: I am a Christian.” (Translated by Michael W. Holmes)
“Hear me declare with boldness, I am a Christian.” (Translated by Roberts-Donaldson)

10th Example (The Martyrdom of Polycarp, 12:1): The proconsul proclaimed this herald:
Greek: Πολύκαρπος ὡμολόγησεν ἑαυτὸν Χριστιανὸν εἶναι
Polycarp has confessed himself Christian to be

“Polycarp has confessed himself to be a Christian.” (Translated by Charles H. Hoole)

“Polycarp hath confessed himself to be a Christian.” (Translated by J. B. Lightfoot)
“Polycarp has confessed that he is a Christian.” (Translated by Kirsopp Lake)
“Polycarp has confessed that he is a Christian.” (Translated by Michael W. Holmes)
“Polycarp has confessed that he is a Christian.” (Translated by Roberts-Donaldson)

As seen above, various translators freely insert the indefinite article (a) into their English
renderings. However, at John 1:1, many translators are unwilling to do so. Why is this? Is it
because Greek grammar demands the rendering “God”? The ten (10) submitted samples clearly
indicate that it is not grammar, but doctrinal motives for the reluctance. Even Greek scholars
teach that, “when a Greek noun lacks the definite article, it normally will be translated as
indefinite.” (A Primer of Biblical Greek, by N. Clayton Croy, assistant professor of NT at Trinity Luther
Seminary, Columbus, Ohio, p. 15. ©1999 Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids.)

Are indefinite and qualitative renderings mutually exclusive? Or, do they overlap?

If you have carefully followed the discussion to this point, you may have observed that the
indefinite translation (using “a”) of anarthrous predicate nouns before the verb like in John 1:1 is a
valid option to consider. Why is this significant to mention? Because Trinitarian scholars
endeavor vigorously to disengage the likelihood of the indefinite notion in their discussion of
John 1:1. They often claim that a grammatical construction such as we find in John 1:1 should be
rendered definite, and more recently, qualitatively, usually ignoring or denying the probable, but
very likely indefinite nuance of anarthrous predicate nouns before the verb.

The traditional reluctance to the indefinite article at John 1:1 is exemplified by how two scholars
reacted to its use in the Sahidic Coptic (or, Egyptian – an ancient translation of the New Testament –
done before the religious Nicea Council in AD 325). The Coptic language, unlike the Syriac, Latin and
Greek, did make use of the indefinite article, just as English does. The Sahidic Coptic rendered
the final part of John 1:1, which in modern English would be, “the Word was a god.“ Surprisingly,
in the October 2011 Journal of Theological Studies, scholars Brian J. Wright and Tim Ricchuiti
postulated that the indefinite article in the Coptic translation of John 1:1, has a qualitative
meaning. (The Journal of Theological Studies, NS, Vol. 62, Pt 2, October 2011) This is so unexpected
because Trinitarians for decades have made a case for a distinction between the indefinite
translation of “a god” (“unwarranted” in their view), and their more “acceptable” qualitative “divine”
rendering of some versions.

Wright and Ricchuiti may have a point in suggesting that the indefinite translation of the Coptic
has a qualitative nuance. But they cannot cover up the indefinite meaning in the Coptic
translation, since the Logos belongs to a class or realm of heavenly divine beings. In English
versions, it is not uncommon to denote the qualitative factor in anarthrous predicate nouns by
making use of the indefinite article (a), unless, predicate adjectives, such as “divine,” etc., are
chosen instead. On this, Professor Arthur W. Slaten wrote: “That qualitative character which is in
Greek denoted by the absence of the article is in English frequently expressed by employment of
the indefinite article. In many instances English requires its presence, an anarthrous reading
being inadequate or awkward.” (Qualitative Nouns in the Pauline Epistles and Their Translation in the
Revised Version, p. 5. ©1918 by The University of Chicago) Amazingly, critics of the rendering, “the
Word was a god” at John 1:1 frequently miss this very fact, or worse yet, fail to acknowledge it –
taking the gullible ones with them.

Even Wallace acknowledged: “It is nevertheless difficult to distinguish indefinite from qualitative
nouns at times (just as at other times it is difficult to distinguish qualitative from definite nouns) . The
very fact that any member of a class is mentioned highlights to some degree that particular
class–hence, making some kind of qualitative statement.” (Wallace 1996, p. 266, footnote.)
Regardless, in the samples set forth herein, we see a pattern (praxis over theory) where translators
freely use one of the two meanings (indefinite or qualitative) in their translations, sometimes
alternating between the two. The evidence indicates that the indefinite and qualitative meanings
are not always incompatible with one another, in fact, they often overlap in concept.

It is good to keep in mind that scholars are not immune to espousing particular theological
agendas in their works. A case in point is illustrated by the advice Wallace gave to teachers of
Intermediate Greek: “Some who teach intermediate Greek might want the students to ignore or
skim over the exegetical discussions (immediately below many of the examples). Personally, I think
this is the very feature that will motivate students. But you may disagree so violently with my
exegesis that you don’t want your students to get too much exposure to it.” (Wallace 1996,
Suggestion # 3, p. xix of Preface) Thus, “exegetical discussions” found in reference works are not
always final or conclusive. There is often room for disagreements.

At John 1:1, translators in their drive to make Jesus appear equal to God avoid using the
indefinite article, and capitalize the second instance of god in the verse when Jesus is spoken of,
which most English Bible readers assume is a description of Jesus as God Almighty. Patterns of
Greek grammar emphasizing quality over identity as seen in the above examples, are swayed
aside to sustain their theology. A Grammar book has made this meaningful observation: A “most
common use” of the Greek article is to point out … “Individual from Other Individuals.” (Robertson
& Davis 1958, p. 275) Accordingly, why not reflect this pattern at John 1:1, especially so when two
entities are being spoken of in the verse, and for the fact that the second occurrence of θεός
lacks the article?

Further, John 1:2 states: This one was in the beginning with God, which clears any potential
confusion on the matter. In fact, verse two would be pointless tautology if John meant that the
Logos was identical to God in verse 1, as some translations suggest. Because of this danger,
some scholars warn their readers against the traditional reading in English Bibles which if taken
literally asserts “Sabellianism” or “Modalism.”
It is also misleading to translate John 1:1, “the Word was fully God,” as The NET Bible does. If we
were to use The NET Bible's reasoning which appears in their note of John 1:1, and apply it to
samples discussed above with similar syntax, we would get the following renderings: “This man
[Paul] must be fully Murderer”; “That one [climbing over the fence] is fully Thief and fully Robber”; “for he
(Baal) is fully God”; “and the place was fully Market.” Does that make sense? Even Dana & Mantey
had pointed out that the Greek construction of John 1:1 conveyed that ‘the word was deity
[“divine,” but] not all of God.’

Another Trinitarian, David Alan Black, objects, not surprisingly, to the rendering “a God” at John
1:1, but he takes a page from Dana & Mantey's Grammar when he writes: “If the article were also
used with θεός, the statement would mean that all of God was expressed in the Word. As it is,
the Word is neither ‘a God’ nor equal with the sum total of God.” (It's Still Greek to Me, p. 79. ©1998
by Baker Academic, Grand Rapids) This statement by Black appears to contradict The NET Bible's
translation of John 1:1, the Word was fully God. Black's conclusion is similar to Dana's & Mantey's,
that is, “the Word was Deity [θεός].” (Brackets his.) In similar vein, The Plain English Bible translates
John 1:1c as: “the Word was God.” However, a footnote says: “Or, Deity, Divine (which is actually a
better translation, because the Greek definite article is not present before this Greek word).” (©2003 by
International Bible Translators. Underline added.) Now, this footnote begs the question: If the
rendering “the Word was Deity, Divine” is actually a “better translation,” why not use that in the
main text? In fact, their previous edition of this version called, The Simple English Bible (©1981),
rendered John 1:1 true to the message of their revised edition footnote: “The Message was
deity.” It seems that Trinitarian translators have a deep sentimental attachment to the
traditional reading, and find it difficult to do away with it, even when they acknowledge there are
technically ‘better translations’ for the anarthrous θεός in John 1:1.

In English, using a capital letter “G” in the statement “the Word was fully God” in John 1:1 as The
NET Bible does is misleading for those brought up in trinitarian teaching. Such believer would
likely take that rendering in the sense that Christ is Almighty God himself, a concept in conflict
with what Christ himself stated at John 17:3 and John 20:17. Daniel Wallace, wrote a most
interesting comment which reveals how theology plays a role at the time of translating John 1:1,
“Although I believe that θεός in [John] 1:1c is qualitative, I think the simplest and most
straightforward translation is, ‘and the Word was God.’ It may be better to clearly affirm the NT
teaching of the deity of Christ and then explain that he is not the Father, than to sound
ambiguous on his deity and explain that he is God but is not the Father.” (Wallace 1996, p. 269.
Italics his.) What? Is he serious?

What's the point of claiming emphatically that θεός in John 1:1c is “qualitative” as Wallace does
variously in his Grammar, and then go on to suggest that ‘the Word was God’ which implies
“identity,” a “personality”, the opposite of “character,” or “quality”, and be forced to explain that it
does not mean what it actually says? The end result would then be no less “ambiguous” than the
alternatives he is obviously trying to avoid. Would the reader not rather have a “better
translation,” such as, “the Word was divine,” which requires no additional explanation? The NET
Bible (Wallace, Senior Editor), discourages using “divine” for Christ, for he believes that “divine’ as a
descriptive term is not used in contemporary English exclusively of God.” However, on the word
“divine” Murray J. Harris responds: “But if θεὸς bears a qualitative sense, the rendering ‘divine’
should not be dismissed as altogether inappropriate ... Only if ‘divine’ is taken to mean ‘having
the very nature of God’ does the word accurately convey John's meaning.” (Harris 1992, p. 68) The
argument that divine being ‘generic’ is itself weak, since the same argument can be made of the
term “god.” Jesus applied the term “gods” to humans, and Paul acknowledged that “there are
many gods and many lords.” (John 10:34-36; 1 Cor. 8:5) So Wallace's objection appears to be
more of a wishful effort to bolster Christ’s status to the level of God at John 1:1.

The truth of the matter is that the Greek Text does not say that Christ is the one-and-only God.
What the Greek does say, to paraphrase a little, is, that “the Word was with the true God, and the
Word too, as God’s image, was of divine preponderance (i.e., a divine being),” thus able to perfectly
represent the character of God. (Hebrews 1:3) The only way one could justify the rendering “God”
with a big “G” at John 1:1c in the traditional sense as the English language implies is if the
original text had the article before the second instance of theós as well. Why? Because John is
talking about two individuals within the text, and deliberately differentiates between the two
instances of “theós” by placing the article before the first instance of “theós,” and not with the
second. Max Zerwick (S.J.) wrote in this regard: “...ὁ Θεὸς ἦν ὁ Λόγος [if John had written, “the God
was the Logos”] at least in NT usage, would signify personal identity of the Word with the Father,
since the latter [the Father] is ὁ Θεὸς [the God].” But the Apostle did not do that. Zerwick is here
arguing for a distinction between the articular = identity, and the inarticular theós which draws
attention to “the nature or quality predicated of the subject.” (Zerwick 1963, p. 55)

John obviously wrote the words appearing in verse two to clear any potential misunderstanding
that could arise from his bold statement from verse one. Marinus de Jonge remarks, “The author
of this Prologue clearly wants to identify ‘the Word’ and God as closely as possible without
infringing the belief in the One God.” (Christology in Context: The Earliest Christian Response to Jesus,
Philadelphia: Westminster, 1988, p. 198. Jonge is Professor Emeritus of New Testament and Early Christian
Literature at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands.) So in effect, John was saying that the Logos
was like God in every permissible sense within the Jewish monotheistic background. Hence, the
New English Bible rendering: ‘And what God was, the Word was.’ (©1961, 1970, Oxford University
Press) The Johannine statement was never intended to imply that both were identical or two
parts of a trinitarian Godhead.

Dr. Jason David BeDuhn explains: “In John 1:1, the Word is not the one-and-only God, but it is a
god, or divine being. I know that sounds strange and even seems impossible coming from the
pen of a Christian writer. But the fact remains that that is what John wrote. His purpose in doing
so was, at least in part, to avoid the notion that God the Father himself incarnated as Christ. The
one who incarnated was somehow distinct from ‘God’ while still being ‘a god.’” (Truth in Translation,
© 2003, pp. 122, 123) Obviously, Dr. BeDuhn does not agree with the one critic quoted earlier who
labeled the “a god” translation as “monstrous.” Neither did the Coptic translators of the third
century, at a time when common Greek was still spoken.

Why then, are translators so unwilling to render John 1:1c “and the Word was a god”? A few
reasons can be given. Translators mention grammar as a problem, an issue addressed in this
article. Others view the rendering “a god” as polytheistic. I will mention two others: First, is the
domino effect of the Trinity doctrine developed centuries after Christ as a means to clamp down
raging Christological debates, to the point that the doctrine has been taken for granted as
“truth” by Christendom. Secondly, the role in tradition played by the Latin Vulgate must be
mentioned. The Vulgate translation has greatly influenced many translators since its inception
from c. 405 CE. That includes the authors of the early translations of the 16th and 17th Century,
the foundation of modern versions. In fact, back then, translators were more likely to be familiar
with the Latin Vulgate than with the Greek itself. The Latin Vulgate used no articles (as seen below),
and that in conjunction with the Greek lacking the indefinite article (a), can explain why so many
have misunderstood John 1:1. The Christological debates of past centuries did not improve this
state of confusion, it made it worse. I kindly ask the reader to consider the following Latin and
Greek readings as helpful pointers in our discussion. Notice in particular the bold letters
relevant to our discussion.

– LATIN (John 1:1):

In principio erat Verbum et Verbum erat apud Deum et Deus erat Verbum
In beginning was Verb and Verb was beside God and God was Verb

– GREEK (John 1:1):

Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος, καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν,

In beginning was the logos and the logos was toward the god,

καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος

and god was the logos

First of all, please notice that Latin makes no distinction between the two occurrences of “God”
in the text (i.e. both without the article). However, Greek does, by using the article (the) before the
first occurrence, and omitting it before the second. “...When the writer or speaker wishes to
stress identity, the article is present…. When the article is absent the quality or nature of the noun
is stressed….” (Kaufman 1982, p. 154. Italics his.) As Buttmann pointed out: “The use of the article
[ho, “the”] has everywhere its positive reason….” (A Grammar of the New Testament Greek, pp. 87,88.
Alexander Buttmann, 1891) And another: “For the present, the presence or absence of the Greek
article should always be carefully indicated in the English translation.” (New Testament Greek For
Beginners by J. Gresham Machen, D.D., LITT.D., p. 35, # 67. ©1923 by Prentice Hall Inc, N.J. ©Renewed
Which reading of the two languages above (Latin and Greek), shows the greater similarity with the
English traditional rendering of John 1:1c? It's Latin, is it not? In fact, some Bible translations into
other languages have carried over the latin word “Verbum” from the Latin Vulgate at John 1:1, as
does the ubiquitous Spanish Reina-Valera which uses “Verbo” (Verb) instead of “Word” used in
English versions. (Also using “Verbo”: Scío de San Miguel; Versión Moderna; Gómez, 2010; Nueva Biblia
Latinoamericana de Hoy; and the Nueva Versión Internacional)

It is evident that most English Bibles at John 1:1 are translations done in the spirit of the Latin
Vulgate, rather than from the Greek text, regardless of claims. Some lesser known translations
are actually closer to the Greek above than the best-selling versions. Although John 1:1 has long
been a favorite text to quote by traditionalists within the English world as “proof” of Jesus' deity,
it may surprise some people that a modern Greek Bible reader is not likely to appeal to this
scripture in support of the traditional view for the stated reasons.

Some would have you believe that only a few insane, unschooled translators with diabolical
intentions would deviate from the traditional reading. Not so! There are dozens of other
translators found deviating from the norm, and the majority of them are mainstream Catholic
and Protestant faithful. I believe most translators offering a different version of John 1:1 are
sincere in their effort to adequately transmit the intended message of the biblical author. Keep
in mind too, that, due to its theological import, other Scriptures do not have as many variant
translation renderings as John 1:1 does.

A careful review of the alternate readings list of John 1:1 and other related material (in the link
above) leads to this question: Can anyone legitimately exclude the rendering “a god” as a valid
option found in some Bible versions? We have seen that grammar alone cannot condemn the
use of such translation, though many will keep trying. Ten examples were provided which clearly
show how translators render predicate nouns without the article occurring before the verb. In
addition, note that these samples make reference to one person or one thing, while John 1:1 is
speaking of “two” entities. Verse 2 accentuates the fact, by repetition, that the Logos was in the
beginning with God.’ Yes, twice we are told in the first two verses in John's Prologue, that “the
Word was with God.” Not only that! In these two verses the word for “God” (theós) appears three
(3) times (Two instances of “theós” with the article, and one without the article placed in-between the two
articular ones). Coincidence? Not likely! This concept must then be important. With greater
reason, translators should render this grammatical structure in John 1:1 in such a way that it
brings out a distinction between the Logos and the God he was with. An indefinite rendering
accomplishes that. Any attempt to blur this distinction, like Colwell's theory, will not hold up
under biblical scrutiny.

As Count Leo Tolstoy, the famous Russian novelist and religious philosopher correctly observed:
“If it says [in John 1:1] that in the beginning was the ... Word, and that the Word was..., with God, it
is impossible to go on and say that it was God. If it was God, it could stand in no relation to God.”
(The Four Gospels Harmonized and Translated, p. 30.) Well said! As we have it, most translations make it
appear that the Word and God are equal or identical. They are not!

What about claims that the article is not required at John 1:1c?

Some argue that John did not have to employ the article before the second instance of “theós” to
imply that the Word was equal to “God.” They may claim that since the subject in the final part of
the verse is the Logos, the article is not needed to make Jesus “God,” since the norm is that
predicate nouns do not carry the article. But is this a hard rule? No. A Grammar states: “NOUNS IN
THE PREDICATE. These may have the article also.” (Robertson 1934, p. 767) And Smith’s Grammar
adds: “Even in the predicate the article is used with a noun referring to a definite object (an
individual or a class) that is well known, previously mentioned or hinted at, or identical with the
subject….” (Section 1152, ©1956) The fact that the predicate appears without the article in the last
clause points rather to a qualitative statement about the Word = predication rather than
identification, as the NABRE Bible indicated.

If John 15:1 we have an instance where the Greek article is used with the nominal predicate
before the verb ”is,” which literally says: “I am the vine, the true, and the Father of me, the
farmer is”? Please observe that the article is used 4 times in this statement, and that the
predicate noun at the end of the verse in bold letters, occurs before the verb as in John 1:1, but
with the article. The fourth occurrence of the article would have been dropped if the author had
intended to say that the Father was “a farmer,” either in the qualitative or indefinite sense.
Would it not? The fact that the article does appear in the text for the fourth time is indicative of
the author's intention. It is a definite reference. In the illustration, Jesus' Father is being singled
out as “the farmer.” It is evident that Bible writers usually employed the article with specific
intention, and when they omitted it, it was equally significant as well. So too, at John chapter 18
(vv. 33, 37, 39) we have the word “king“ in the Greek four times contrasted, two with the article and
two without the article. In the following chapter (19:21), we find another contrast between “the
King“ and “King“: “Then said the chief priests of the Jews to Pilate, Write not, The King of the
Jews; but that he said, I am King of the Jews.“ (In Greek, there is no article before the second “King.”)

Do proper names invalidate the need of the article?:

Since the term “God” is often treated as a “proper name,” some articulate that the Apostle did
not have to use the article in the last clause of John 1:1 to convey the fact that the Logos was
God. For instance, Dr. David Levy, with the NWT rendering of John 1:1 in mind, wrote: “...Proper
names or one-of-a-kind names are always translated without an article.” (Griego del Nuevo
Testamento I, p. 37. ADVIternational Press, 2017, California. Bold and italic letters his.) Not so! The
context shows that the Author was speaking of two individuals, not one, as verse two confirms.
The Johannine author used the article with the first mention of “God,” which traditionalists say it
is a proper name. Why do so if a proper name makes it unnecessary, as claimed?
Other scholars acknowledge the following: “Proper names may take the article….” (A Greek
Grammar, by William. W. Goodwin, p. 206, #943. Boston, 1897. © BiblioBazaar, LLC) “With proper names
usage [of the article ] is not uniform. The purpose of the writer is decisive at this point.”
(Chamberlain 1941, p. 57) “The article is not normally needed with proper nouns, since the name
already tends to individualize the person, country, nationality, city, or the like.…However, it is not
consistently practiced. Some of the variation may be due to an author’s preference and style,
especially in John. ” (R. Young 1994, p. 61)

“Sometimes we can see the reason for the use of the article with proper names….But in most
instances the matter seems quite capricious to us.” (Robertson 1934, p. 759) “But, as a matter of
fact, no satisfactory principle can be laid down for the use or non-use of the article with proper
nouns.” […] “In the N.T., however, while we have πóριον δ’ ην ρὸς τὸν θεόν [pros ton theón] (Jo. 1:1,2), it is far
more common to find simply θεὸς [theós], especially in the Epistles. But the word is treated like a
proper name and may have it (Ro. 3:5) or not have it (8:9).” (Robertson 1934, p. 761)

“Scholarship has not yet solved completely the problem of the article with proper names….The
usage of different writers [in the application of the article] varies greatly…. There are very many
cases where irregularities occur for which we have no explanation.” (Grammar of New Testament
Greek, Prolegomena, by James Hope Moulton, p. 83. Latest impression, 1985, T. & T. Clark)

“With proper names in general, however, it seems to be largely a matter of the author’s
whim whether he uses the article or not. Sometimes the article is added, sometimes it is
left out.” (The Elements of New Testament Greek, J.W. Wenham, ©1965, Reprint 1984, p. 36. Cambridge
University Press)

Thus, Dr. David Levy’s claim that “proper names or one-of-a-kind names are always
translated without an article” is false. In sum, there is no rule that can be applied consistently
concerning proper names, much less to use such construct as a basis to assert tendential
theological claims.

Does word order change the meaning of predicate nouns?

Some authors, like Dr. Richard B. Ramsay (citing Colwell & Hanna), bring out the fact that theós in
John 1:1c is emphatic, claiming that placing a predicate noun before the verb in John 1:1 makes
Jesus emphatically “GOD.” (Griego y Exégesis, p. 108, ©2006, Editorial CLIE, Barcelona) Greek truly offers
more freedom in word order than other languages. It has been duly noted: “The first word or
phrase normally carries the greatest emphasis.” Notwithstanding, this same work says:
“Inflection clarifies most grammatical relationships in Greek, so that, in general, word order in
Greek is freer than in less inflected tongues. [...] The word order of a Greek sentence [is not rigid,
p. 50] is very flexible.” (Introduction to Attic Greek, Donald J. Mastronarde, pp. 46, 59. ©1993, University
of California Press)
That said, it is misleading for anyone to claim that Christ is “God” based on this emphasis.
Emphasis alone does not convert pre-verbal predicate nouns into “definite” ones. In Acts 28:6, we
have the following Master Greek Texts showing a predicate noun before the verb and in others,
after the verb. This is indicated below:

ἔλεγον θεὸν αὐτὸν εἶναι – (Received / Majority / Robinson-Pierpont Greek Texts)

they were saying god him to be

ἔλεγον αὐτὸν εἶναι θεόν – (Wescott-Hort; Nestle-Aland; UBS; SBLGNT Greek Texts)
they were saying him to be god

And how do translators deal with this? Like so: “they...said he was a god.” Whether the
anarthrous predicate noun was placed before or after the verb it was dealt with the same way in
translation. The examples provided earlier showing pre-verbal predicate nouns clearly
demonstrate that these nouns are emphatic, but they do not become “definite” in meaning.
Actually, such emphasis enhances the qualitative factor over the definite one.

In John 1:1, the Author was not identifying the Word with God. He simply was stressing that the
Word, like God, was ‘divinely powerful,’ not being equated with the Supreme God. John 1:1 has
never been about who the Word was, but predicated on what was the Word. Thus, the NEB
rendering: “What God was, the Word was.”

“Colwell's Rule” and the indefinite article (“a”). Why the confusion?

One reason there is great confusion on whether “theós” (God) at John 1:1c is definite or not, is
due to the publication decades ago of a prominent article written by Trinitarian Professor E. C.
Colwell from the University of Chicago, titled: “A Rule for the Use of the Article in the Greek New
Testament.” (Journal of Biblical Literature, 52. 1933) Some scholars, and their legion of followers, in
their obsession to discredit the viability of the translation “a god” at John 1:1, have seized the so-
called “Colwell’s rule,” with great fondness, I must say, which seemed to favor the traditional
rendering “God,” and used it for decades as if it were Inspired Scripture. Why? Dr. Rodney J.
Decker pointed out one motive: “[Colwell's rule] has often been misused by well-intentioned
defenders of the deity of Christ.” (A Summary of Colwell's Rule, February, 1995) So, this is done in the
interest of promoting the Trinity doctrine. Good intentions though, are not enough to
convert an extraneous doctrine into a “biblical” one.

Colwell’s argumentation, as he explained it was convoluted, which may explain why Daniel B.
Wallace wrote the following: “Almost immediately many scholars (especially of a more conservative
stripe) misunderstood Colwell’s rule. They saw the benefit of the rule for affirming the deity of
Christ in John 1:1.” (Wallace 1996, p. 257) Wallace goes on to mention that scholars of the like of
Turner, Zerwick, Bruce Metzger, Walter Martin, Moule, C. Kuehne, L. Morris and even Colwell
himself (since the article in JBL was written) ‘have misunderstood the rule.’ And Doctor Donald
Hartley added: “Both orthodox and otherwise utilize Colwell’s rule to promote not only different
but contradictory interpretations of this passage—obviously contradictory interpretations
cannot at the same time and in the same way be true. Adding to this problem, otherwise careful
scholars misstate and misunderstand Colwell’s rule.” (Revisiting the Colwell Construction in Light of
Mass/Count Nouns, Introduction, July 7th 2004. Dallas Theological Seminary. Italics his.)

To this list we can add David Alan Black, (mentioned earlier, who as recent as 2009 in his
Grammar) commits the same error, when he wrote: “The result [of Colwell's Rule] is that θεός is
almost certainly definite in meaning: ‘the Word was God’–not merely ‘a god.’ ” (Black 2009, pp. 200-
201. Italics his.) Another scholar who allowed Colwell's theory to influence his interpretation of
John 1:1 was professor Robert Hanna (Maracay, VE), when he declared: “The fact that Θεός has no
article does not transform the word into an adjective [such as, “divine,” as translated by Dr. Moffatt].
It is a predicate noun, of which the subject is λóγος [lógos], and it is a fairly universal rule
[Colwell's, i.e.] in New Testament Greek that when a predicate noun precedes a verb it lacks the
definite article.” (A Grammatical Aid to the Greek New Testament, p. 147. ©1983 by Baker Book House)
Interestingly, Max Zerwick (S.J.), referred to Colwell’s study as a ‘theory with appeal.’ (Biblical Greek,
p. 56. Rome, 1963) So, in essence, what we have here, is an artificial rule, a “theory,” elaborated by
a Methodist for the trinitarian masses, with the blessing of numerous enthusiastic Trinitarian
scholars cheering them on. Regrettably, ever since Colwell's article was published, many
individuals have given more legitimacy to Colwell’s theory than is warranted. Big mistake! More
on this later.

Interestingly, although Professor Hanna, seeking to affirm Christ's deity, zealously applied
Colwell's theory at John 1:1, we find that he did not do so at John 8:44, where Christ's deity is not
in focus. At John 8:44, we have a couple of instances where a predicate noun precedes a verb
which lacks the definite article just as we have in John 1:1c. According to Hanna both of these
“should be translated” with the indefinite article. (Hanna 1983, p. 166) In English, sometimes, as is
the case in John 8:44, the only way to adequately communicate the qualitative state of a noun is
by using the indefinite article, as Hanna himself did. This suggests that a predicate noun before
the verb serves the function of an adjective, just as Moffatt brought out in his translation,
contrary to Hanna's assertion on John 1:1.

Does Colwell's rule then prove in any way that an anarthrous predicate noun before the verb is
“definite”? Paul S. Dixon answers: “Colwell’s rule cannot be applied to [John 1:1] as an argument
for definiteness…. The rule asserts nothing about definiteness.” (Dixon 1975, p. 55) Scholar
Richard A. Young adds: “The problem in applying the Colwell rule is to determine when the
predicate nominative is definite. The rule itself does not establish the definiteness of a noun, an
observation sometimes ignored when applying it to John 1:1.” (Intermediate New Testament Greek – A
Linguistic and Exegetical approach, ©1994, by Broadman & Holman Publishers, Nashville, p. 65)

And Wallace wrote: “On the one hand, Colwell’s rule, as applied to John 1:1, has been played as a
trump card by Trinitarians in many christological debates, even though the rule really says
nothing about the definiteness of θεός.” (Wallace 1996, p. 290) Wallace, a Trinitarian himself,
concludes: “Indeed, an examination both of pre-verbal anarthrous predicate nominatives and of
the Christology of the Fourth Gospel strongly suggests a qualitative force to θεός (a view which
affirms the deity of Christ just as strongly but for different reasons) .” (Wallace 1996, p. 290, Italics his.) So
too, Philip B. Harner concluded in his noteworthy article: “In John 1:1 I think that the qualitative
force of the predicate is so prominent that the noun cannot be regarded as definite.” (Harner
1973, JBL, p. 87)

Though Colwell’s study provides interesting data for technical discussion, by no means should it
be considered an established fact, but rather as a demonstration of a grammatical tendency
from one theological perspective. After more studies were done on the subject, other scholars
have questioned the validity of Colwell’s rule, and have argued against it in some areas. (See
published works by Harner, Dixon, Wallace, and Hartley on the subject.) D. E. Hartley wrote: “Colwell
appears to be responsible, because of his application to John 1:1, for laying the groundwork of a
logical blunder. [...] Where he regarded his rule most important, in the area of translation and
interpretation, is exactly where it is in fact most irrelevant yet ironically most dangerous,
especially the latter.” (Revisiting the Colwell Construction in Light of Mass/Count Nouns,” under “Evaluating
Colwell's Rule.” Sept.,1998, DTS. Italics his.) Colwell himself found 15 places in the New Testament
where his rule did not apply: Luke 4:41, John 1:21, 6:51, 15: 1, Romans 4:13, 1 Corinthians 9: 1 and 2,
11:3, 11:25, 2 Corinthians 1:12, 3:2; 3:17, 2 Peter 1:17, Revelation 19:8, 20:14. What “rule” has 15
exceptions? Exceptions disprove rules. Certainly, the misuse and abuse of Colwell’s rule has
certainly become an embarrassment for a segment of the scholarly community.

Wallace himself could not resist misusing another scholar's conclusion on the NWT, a
translation not supportive of the Trinity doctrine. Wallace writes: “The grammatical
argument that the P[redicate] N[ominative of John 1:1c] here is indefinite is weak.
Often, those who argue for such a view (in particular, the translators of the NWT) do so
on the sole basis that the term is anarthrous. Yet they are inconsistent, as R. H.
Countess pointed out: ‘In the New Testament there are 282 occurrences of the
anarthrous θεός. At sixteen places NWT has either a god, god, gods, or godly. Sixteen
out of 282 means that the translators were faithful to their translation principle only six
percent of the time....The first section of John 1:1-18 furnishes a lucid example of NWT
arbitrary dogmatism....’ ” (Wallace 1996, quoting from The Jehovah's Witnesses' New
Testament: A Critical Analysis of the New World Translation, ©1982. Italics from Countess, p. 267)

Wow! The stats by Countess above may sound impressive to a traditionalist, but it is a totally
flawed conclusion. How so? It is strange that Wallace quoted Robert Countess, who endeavored
to take advantage of Colwell's rule to condemn the NWT, after exposing various scholars for the
same practice. Both Wallace (Ibid, p. 262) and Rodney Decker (Colwell's Rule, Feb., 1995) agree that
Colwell’s rule does not prove definiteness at John1:1. Furthermore, Wallace is cognizant, as his
Grammar shows, that predicate nominatives preceding the verb are for the most part
“qualitative.” He himself said so: “...When one sees an anarthrous preverbal P[redicate]
N[ominative], he should consider its force to be most likely qualitative, and only to be definite if
the context or other factors strongly suggest otherwise.” (Wallace 1996, p. 261. Italics his.) Wallace
should know that the Scriptures used by Robert Countess to condemn the NWT do not fall under
the same category of John 1:1. Wallace failed to acknowledge Countess’ error.

Considering the evidence, Rolf Furuli, lecturer of Semitic languages at Oslo University, who also
studied Greek, wrote: “Countess ascribes to the NWT translators rules for translation which they
have never expressed, and then he shows inconsistently the translators have followed these
rules.” Furuli adds: “His account of the NWT, therefore, is not a balanced, scholarly presentation;
rather, it surrenders both to emotionally inspired caricature and a partisan spirit.” (The Role of
Theology and Bias in Bible Translation, pp. 294-295. ©1999, Elihu Books) Even Evangelical Robert M.
Bowman Jr., a harsh critic himself of the NWT, had this to say of Countess' book: “Evangelical
critique; some good information, but (in my opinion) not entirely accurate.” (Jehovah's Witnesses
Bibliography, Jan. 14, 2012. And here is Dr. Jason D. BeDuhn's view of Countess' book: “I
have read Dr. Countess' book. While I found a few good points in it, its argument is mostly
tendentious and disputable.”

Countess, for instance, in page 55 of his book went over the first eighteen verses of John chapter
one noting eight occurrences of theós without the article. Apparently, Countess was counting on
the NW translators employing the indefinite article “a” with all 8 instances of theós (actually, no
other translator does that in John chapter one). In fact, none of the samples Countess used to
discredit the NWT translation choice at John 1:1 exhibit the grammatical pattern that
characterizes verse one. Of the 8 occurrences of theós in those verses of chapter one, 5 of those
appear in verses 1, 2, & 18, so that would leave only three other instances of theós, in verses 6, 12
& 13. But guess what! Those 3 occurrences are in the genitive construction (the “of” case). Now,
Wallace, and other grammarians have noted that ‘there are several constructions (the genitive
construction being one of them), in which a noun may be definite though anarthrous.’ (Wallace 1996,
p. 245) This is public knowledge. The other five occurrences are translated similarly by most
translations, with the exception of John 1:1c, which is the controversial clause being discussed

Countess even criticizes the NW translators for using the definite article in the second instance of
theós (anarthrous) in John 1:18 where most other translators do the same thing. It should be
observed that some manuscripts do include the article with the second part of the verse, others
do not. Translators generally add the definite article there even when they follow the anarthrous
construction of theós. One reason for that, perhaps, besides the context implication, is that the
words “only-begotten son/god” of verse 18 (unlike 1:1) are followed by an articular participial
clause (the one being with...), and an emphatic pronominal demonstrative (that one), so “only-
begotten” is a clear description of the Christ. The reference is anaphoric, that is, it refers back to
the anarthrous “god” of John 1:1, who was in the presence of God Supreme. The end result is like
John saying: ‘The only-begotten god who was present with God (in verse one), that one is the one
that has explained the invisible God, the Father’. English idiom requires the article here.
Thus, Countess is trying to undermine the credibility of the NWT (Non-trinitarian) by attacking
their translation choice of John 1:1 by noting inconsistencies in its application of the article in
those 18 verses of John chapter one. What Countess does not say, is that with the exception of
John 1:1, virtually all translators handle the presence or absence of the article in those verses
nearly the same way as the NWT does. In regards to John 1:1, Countess wants his readers to
believe that Colwell's assumptions on the Greek article* clearly rules out the viability of the
rendering “a god.” It does not! (*By Colwell's own admission, Colwell suggested caution by applying the
word “theory” to his article when explaining his formulated “rule.” In addition he used the following
modifying expressions to it: “There are bound to be mistakes in the list”; “suggests”; “probable”;
“probabilities”; “would seem to indicate”; “may be tentatively formulated” and “loosely speaking.”) These
expressions clearly indicate the rule is ‘tentative,’ not absolute by any means. (Colwell 1933, p. 15)

Colwell concludes: “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 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.” (Ibid, p. 21) Colwell's protestant
theology led him to believe the context of the Gospel demanded a definite rendering for John
1:1. We respect his religious views. But how reliable is his formulated rule? A Grammar of New
Testament Greek, by James Hope Moulton & Nigel Turner notes: “So that while the canon may
reflect a general tendency it is not absolute by any means; after all, it takes no account of
relative clauses or proper nouns, and he has also omitted a considerable class of ‘qualitative’
nouns like that in ὁ θεὸς ἀγάπη ἐστίν [‘the God love is.’ -1 John 4:8]. Moreover, he [Colwell] is the
first to admit the lack of objectivity in his method of counting: he professes to include only
definite nouns among his anarthrous predicates and the degree of definiteness is extremely
difficult to assess.” (Vol. III, Syntax, 1963, p. 184. ©T.&T. Clark 1963)

In addition, The Net Bible admits: “Colwell’s Rule is often invoked to support the translation of θεός
(theos) as definite (“God”) rather than indefinite (“a god”) here. However, Colwell’s Rule merely
permits, but does not demand, that a predicate nominative ahead of an equative verb be
translated as definite rather than indefinite. Furthermore, Colwell’s Rule did not deal with a third
possibility, that the anarthrous predicate noun may have more of a qualitative nuance when
placed ahead of the verb.”

More importantly, Countess, and Wallace, for that matter, did not mention that outside of the
first two verses of John, and verse 18 of the same chapter, none of the samples have a context
where theós is used of two individuals who are said to be with each other. In addition, in verse
one, an instance of theós has the article, the other does not. How many times are we going to
find such grammatical structure in the New Testament within that context? (John 1:18 is no
counterpart to John 1:1 in structure, even the manuscript evidence for verse 18 is inconclusive.)

Therefore, all efforts to point out the number of times theós is used elsewhere without the article
(which may, or may not suggest definiteness) are ineffectual, simply because the contextual
structure of John 1:1 is unique. It can only be said of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, to be ‘in the
beginning with God.’ So we are not going to find another single text which matches John 1:1 in
conveying the thought of someone else other than Jesus Christ being with God from the very
start. With good reason the Bible speaks of Christ Jesus as “the only-begotten Son of God.” (John
3:18) What is noted here though, is that, a certain grammatical pattern found in John 1:1 and
elsewhere (where anarthrous predicates occur before the verb) may justify an indefinite or qualitative
translation within the context of John 1:1.

Furthermore, Robert Countess took various statements from the 1950 NWT Appendix (p. 774)
regarding the significance of the article out of context. He posited that the NWT publishers
formulated a principle where nouns that had the article are always “definite,” and nouns that
lacked the article are invariably indefinite. I find no record of the NWT Bible expressing such
invariable rule anywhere. However, I did find in the NWT Appendix where the authors suggested,
in Dana & Mantey fashion, a principle of normal usage regarding the article. But this is vastly
different from setting an invariable rule. And related to this, Countess also misquoted the NWT
Appendix in his book. He quoted the NWT as saying: “Careful translators recognize that the
articular construction points to a quality about someone.” (Countess 1982, p. 42) That’s the
opposite of what they wrote. This is what the NWT publication actually said after quoting
Goodspeed’s and Moffatt’s “divine” renderings at John 1:1 as: “Careful translators recognize that
the articular construction of the noun points to an identity, a personality, whereas an anarthrous
contruction points to a quality about someone. That is what A Manual Grammar of the Greek New
Testament by Dana and Mantey remarks [...].”

Thus, the reference about the construction of the noun with its implication of the article, was, in
first place, a rightful observation of Bible translators who are mindful of the article, or lack of, in
John 1:1, and secondly, it served as introductory material to Dana and Mantey’s Grammar
observations on the Greek article and its implications. Dana & Mantey concluded: “There are no
‘rules’ for the use of the article in Greek, but there is a fundamental principle underlying its
significance – as we have seen in the foregoing section – and this gives rise to a normal usage.”
(Page 141) The NW translators merely quoted Dana & Mantey's Grammar in the 1950s, and later,
Dr. Harner’s study (1984), to posit that these scholars sustained a “fundamental” principle (Or,
“normal usage,” not a fixed rule) that anarthrous predicate nouns (pre-verbal, per Harner) are
indicative of character, or quality, not identity (or definiteness). The evidence indicates that the
NW translators have never inferred, or stated, that such principle was inflexible. Not in 1950, not
in 1984, nor in 2013. They did believe, however, that the “fundamental principle” and “normal
usage” of the article spelled out by Dana & Mantey could be applied to John 1:1. They are not
alone interpreting so, since they have support from other scholars as well.

Thus, the NW translators are not accountable for coming up with a “rule” (that every noun without
the Greek article must in every case be translated with an indefinite article) attributed to them by
Countess and those who quote him. No translator, not even the NWT, will follow such principle
100% of the time. If anyone talked about a “fundamental principle” underlying the significance
of the Greek article, it was Dana & Mantey who did so, but even they did not establish a hard
rule. Note the wording of “a fundamental principle” and “normal use” concerning the Greek
article? NWT critics omit this pertinent information from their audience. Likewise, Philip B.
Harner wrote about “general principles concerning predicate nouns that are usually accepted as
axiomatic in NT study.” One of the two principles he referred to is “that a predicate noun is
anarthrous when it indicates the category or class of which the subject is a particular example…
Mark 7:26.” Harner too avoided using the word “rule.” (Harner 1973, JBL, 75)

And then we have J. Harold Greenlee, who was Professor of New Testament Greek at Asbury
Theological Seminary, stating on the article: “General rule – Nouns with the definite article are
either definite or generic…. Nouns without the definite article are either indefinite or qualitative.”
(A Concise Exegetical Grammar New Testament Greek, p. 37. ©2012 First Fruits Press, Wilmore, Kentucky.
Underline and italics are his.)

Interestingly, when someone posted a question to the NWT publishers on whether their
rendering of John 1:1 violated any rules of Greek grammar, they candidly wrote the following in
relation to the Greek article not appearing with certain nouns (anarthrous): “This does not mean,
however, that every time an anarthrous noun occurs in the Greek text it should appear in English
with the indefinite article. Translators render these nouns variously, at times even with a ‘the,’
understanding then as definite, though the definite article is missing.” (The Watchtower, 1975, p.
702. Italics theirs.)

So if the NWT Appendix comments concerning the Greek article (1950) were not clear enough for
Countess, the one published in 1975 was definitely explicit, leaving no doubt of their intention.
Countess (who wrote his book in 1982 ignoring the WT published statement of 7 years prior), and his
horde of followers who labor to communicate the same senseless claim over-and-over again are
flogging a dead horse. The outcome has been decided. No one has ever claimed to follow a strict
grammatical rule on the article 100% percent of the time. Not even Colwell! And none of the
Bible translators do so either. Religious opponents in their infinite quest to smear those they
disagree with are the only ones bulldozing the farcical claim that the Watchtower people adhere
to a fixed rule. Religious politics at play! We don’t have to become victims of their lie.

If anyone was instrumental in fueling a debate on the significance of the Greek article, it was
perhaps these two scholars, E. C. Colwell and Philip B. Harner, who were most responsible by
publishing their provocative articles on the subject, instead of those quoting from them
afterwards. After all, it was Harner who concluded in his study: “In John 1:1, I think that the
qualitative force of the predicate is so prominent that the noun cannot be regarded as definite.”
(Harner 1973, JBL, p. 87) And the book, Syntax of New Testament Greek, wrote: “Generally, though not
always, sustantives with the article are definite or generic, while those without the article are
indefinite or qualitative.” (Brooks & Winbery 1979, p. 67) Incidentally, isn't the opposite of definite,
Thus, the only thing “lucid” in Wallace quoting Countess' analysis, is that two prominent scholars
made an embarrassing blunder by attributing and applying an imaginary “rule” to the NW
translators which they have never expressed. If anyone wants to insist that the NWT is guilty of
formulating a rule, the same charge would have to be brought up against Dana & Mantey,
Hewett, Black, Summers, Croy, Machen, Greenlee, Brooks & Winbery, and a host of other
scholars who use similar language explaining corresponding grammar principles. It would be
unfair and dishonest to accuse all these scholars of expressing a fixed rule for the use of the
article in Greek, when they only spoke of “generally,” “normal usage,” “general,” or ‘fundamental
principles, underlying its significance.’ Why would this be any different with the NWT?

Therefore, claims on the subject made by Wallace and Countess had no relevance whatsoever
with the reasoning posited by the NWT when they quoted these scholars. One could only wish
that those involved pushing falsehood within the scholarly community would rectify their errors.
Since this drama has been exposed, I ask: Was Robert H. Countess justified in publishing his
book in the first place, when both Colwell and the Watchtower people concluded long ago that
context is ultimately the deciding factor in determining the translation of various Scriptures? And
to the segment of the religious community who enjoys reading books attacking the integrity of
one Bible translation out of so many, is it really honest to view these sources as “dependable”
authorities when the publications themselves are frequently based on superficial or hollow
premises? Are these cases of, “my interpretation is better than yours, so I'm going to prove you
false at the expense of truth”?

Coming back to the subject, Paul S. Dixon, added the results of his own study of predicates
without the article, where in John 1:1c, it precedes the verb: “The use of the anarthrous predicate
nominative in John is significant. It is qualitative in 65 of 74 occurrences, or 88% probability.
When the anarthrous predicate nominative precedes the verb [as is the case in John 1:1] it is
qualitative in 50 of 53 occurrences, or 94% probability. When it follows the verb the anarthrous
predicate nominative is qualitative 13 of 19 occurrences, or 68%.” (Dixon 1975, Th.M. thesis,
Chapter VI – Conclusion, p. 54) Because of the theological implications surrounding John 1:1,
Trinitarians are disinclined to express the fact that the semantic difference between the
indefinite and the qualitative factor is not always clear. Even Wallace acknowledged in a footnote:
“It is nevertheless difficult to distinguish indefinite from qualitative nouns at times….” (Wallace
1996, p. 266)

Although, Dixon, a Trinitarian, does not welcome an indefinite translation for John 1:1, he
acknowledges the following: “Often, the only way to effectively communicate a qualitative noun
in the English idiom is by prefacing the noun with ‘a.’ ”(Ibid, p. 47) In other words, some predicate
nouns without the Greek article can be described in English as “indefinite-qualitative,” as
demonstrated in previous examples (i.e., John 4:19 by Wallace, John 6:70 by Dixon, and John 8:44 by
Hanna). In the samples provided earlier, observe how translators freely alternate between
qualitative and indefinite readings in their various editions. That alone debunks the myth that
pre-verbal predicate nouns cannot be rendered in indefinite form. Although Dixon fails to see
that the indefinite form may at times overlap with that of the qualitative sense, his study seems
to suggest that there is a 94% grammatical probability that John 1:1 is not definite. In spite of
theological objections published by various scholars, other authoritative Greek Grammars
regularly point out that a noun lacking the Greek article can be rendered as indefinite (with an “a”)
in English, context allowing. For instance:

Basics of Biblical Greek Grammar: “If there is no [Greek] article you may insert ‘a’ before the noun if it
makes better sense in English.” (Mounce 2009, p. 37. Note: Mounce is against the “a god” rendering,
stating he prefers a “qualitative” rendition. He could learn a point or two from Wallace who conceded that
‘is no easy task to distinguish between indefinite and qualitative nouns at times.’)

Learn to Read New Testament Greek: “Where no article appears in Greek, the indefinite article ‘a’ or ‘an’
may be used in English when the context suggests this translation.” (Black 2009, p. 30)

New Testament Greek For Beginners: “There is no indefinite article in Greek, and so ἀδελφός [adelphós]
means either brother or a brother (usually the latter). Greek has, however, a definite article, and where the
Greek article does not appear, the definite article should not be inserted in the English translation. Thus
ἀδελφός does not mean the brother.” (Page 23, # 26) “The use of the article in Greek corresponds roughly
to the use of the definite article in English. Thus λόγος [lógos] means a word; ὁ λόγος (ho lógos) means the
word...” (Machen 1951, p. 35, # 67)

The Elements of New Testament Greek: “There is no indefinite article in Greek. When, therefore, a word like
λογος stands alone, it usually means ‘a word.’ But it can also mean simply ‘word.’ The right translation is
nearly always obvious from the context.” (J. W. Wenham, p. 30. ©1965 Cambridge University Press)

Considering the evidence, NWT critics are not being equitable by targeting the alleged
mishandling of the Greek article in translation, when other scholars have made it clear that it is
a matter of individual judgment. The same charge of “arbitrary dogmatism” could then be
leveled at every translator we don't agree with in their handling of the article. Admittedly,
translators who choose to use the (a) in John 1:1 as “a god” basing their belief on grammar and
Bible context, are making use of their “individual judgment,” a prerogative shared with other
translators no less. The Sahidic Coptic translators understood some 1,700 years ago that the
Greek text of John 1:1 communicated that ‘the Logos was a god,’ not ‘God.’ The introduction of
trinitarianism in the post-biblical era changed the concept of God and Jesus in the minds of
many “Christian” followers.

That being the case, one wonders why so much effort is spent in repeated attempts to use
grammar to “prove” that those who translate John 1:1 differently are wrong when grammar
alone is not totally decisive in this. In view of the discussion, Wallace erroneously citing
Countess' flawed conclusion does not change the fact that an anarthrous ‘predicate nominative
ahead of a verb’ may also be rendered in an indefinite manner*, no matter how many Trinitarian
scholars gang up against the concept. (*As Wallace himself conceded in the The Net Bible, p. 2017,
Note 3.)
In search of a counterbalance in interpretation:

One deplorable tactic used by opponents of translations which support the reading “a god,”
consists of engaging in a mission of destruction of “character.” That is, they do everything within
their might to discredit the scholarship of the divergent translators, and to justify their charges,
they quote some “reliable” Greek authority agreeing with their view without ever disclosing the
fact that other respectable scholars may hold opposite but equally substantial views from theirs.
Have you noticed that? The truth is that if we go digging around for human flaws, we're going to
find plenty of them, in both camps. Humans fall short of perfection. Period! So we don't want to
go around looking for personal issues to carp about. What is most sad, though, is finding so
many “Christian” authors stooping so low, unscrupulously twisting the facts and using half-
truths to smear their dissidents. Gladly, some writers avoid such unchristian behavior.

I want to make something clear: It is not my intention to draw away, in any way or form, from
the exalted glorious position that Christ holds as the Logos of God, “the only begotten Son” who
has explained the invisible Father to us like no other. (John 1:18) Likewise, I would not want to err
by endeavoring to assign Christ to a position he never claimed to hold, namely, that he was
equal to God Almighty. He stated clearly that ‘the Father was greater than he was.’ (John 14:28)
Even in heaven, Christ speaks of his Father as ‘his God’ in harmony with John 1:1. (Revelation 3:12)
The apostle Peter proclaimed before the world who the exalted Christ really was in relation to
God: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:3) Christ appears in
second place after God. Let’s compare this scripture with Psalm 41:13 which uses similar
language: “Blessed be Yahweh, the God of Israel” (New Jerusalem Bible) Should we conclude that
Israel is equal to God Yahweh?

I find religious groups going to extremes here: Some undermine the important role Christ
played in God's purpose. They either do not ‘honor him as they honor the Father’, or they
relegate him to a position equal to, or below a human, (or human organization). (John 3:16; 5:23)
Any human organization that puts their own interests above those of Christ’s, will be
accountable before God in due time. At the other extreme, we find plenty of people making
Jesus the equal of God, a charge Jews of his day made, a charge Christ denied. (John 5:18; 10:33-36)
One would think that “Christians” would have learned a lesson from chapters 5 and 10 of John,
but no, they have become guilty of committing the same error that Jews made in Jesus' day.

It was stated earlier that the renderings “the Word was god [divine]” and “the Word was a god” at
John 1:1 are both grammatically possible. A Catholic publication aptly observed: “Grammar alone
cannot prove how the predicate in this verse should be translated, whether ‘God’ or ‘a god’.” (The
Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Vol. XIII, No. 4, Oct. 1951) Other scholars, like C. H. Dodd and Murray J.
Harris, have independently reached the same conclusion. The Kingdom Interlinear Translation, a
Watchtower publication, in the left column shows the word-by-word rendering, “and god was the
Word,” but it is no less true that the clause can also be rendered literally just as noted Robert
Young did long ago in his commentary: “and a God (i.e. a Divine Being) was the Word.” (Young’s
Concise Critical Bible Commentary, 1865. Baker Book House)

Although translating John 1:1 as “the Word was god” (per Torrey & Hart) is acceptable in a
qualitative sense, identifying Jesus Christ in a defined sense (as being one and the same as God) as
the best-selling English Bibles imply by using a capital letter (God) goes against the Johannine
message that repeatedly taught that he was ‘son’ of God. (John 1:18, 34, 45, 3:16-18; 35-36; 5:19; 21-
23; 25-26; 6:40; 42; 8:35-36; 9:35 (cf. 19:7); 10:36; 11:4; 14:13; 17:1; 19:17; 20:31) This list does not include
the dozens of times John affirmed ‘that God was the Father of Jesus Christ,’ or that Jesus was ‘the
Son of the Father’ in a unique sense.

A case is made in this article that grammatical patterns (not a hard rule), and contextual matters
favor a qualitative or indefinite translation at John 1:1, where various examples are given.
Actually, it is common practice for Bible translators to use the indefinite article in translation with
anarthrous predicate nouns throughout the New Testament. In sum, the rendering of “a god”
(or, “a God”) as applied to Jesus found in various versions at John 1:1 may not be the most
attractive rendition, but in a strict biblical sense, is not demeaning or disgraceful in any way, nor
does it promote “polytheism.” As it stands, the Father of Jesus Christ is still Supreme, and holds
“the only true God” designation, worthy of absolute worship. (John 17:3)

The Apostle John's own conclusion on the Logos:

John noted that Jesus himself directed all attention and worship toward his Father and God.
(John 4:23; 20:17,31) If John wanted to establish the Logos as ‘God’ in the last part of John 1:1, he
could have added the definite article (“the”) before “theós” (like so, “ho theós”) in this clause just as
he did before in the verse, as Max Zerwick keenly noted. In other places, John did not hesitate to
repeat the article when necessary. (John 15:1) The fact that he did not do so at John 1:1 indicates
that the Apostle intended to make a description of the Logos, not communicate identity with
God. Again, verse two of the prologue confirms this.

Being brought up in a monotheistic society, John offered no suggestion of Christ being a second
part of a trinitarian Godhead, a teaching that admittedly was established centuries later to stop
controversies around the person of Christ. And by no means was he suggesting polytheism in
pagan style. Rather, the Apostle wanted to tell the world that the Word was powerfully divine,
very much like God, in the same manner that the author of the Bible book of Hebrews was
telling us: “[Jesus] is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being….”
(1:3, New Revised Standard Version) Other Bible versions express the second part of this statement as

“The Son...expresses the very character of God” (NLT)

“His Son is... the exact likeness of God’s being” (GOD'S WORD)
“The Son is as God is in every way.” (New Life Version)
“He is just like God himself.” (Worldwide English New Testament)
“He's exactly like God.” (The Clear Word)
“God's like him [God] in every way.” (Contemporary English Version)
“The Son...shows exactly what God is like.” (New Century Version)
“[Christ] is...the perfect copy of his nature.” (Jerusalem Bible)
“He is radiant with God’s splendour, being his exact replica” (21st.Century New Testament)
“He is...the precise counterpart of his very being.” (God's New Covenant, Cassirer)

Thus, if Christ is very much like God, why would this be fundamentally different from describing
the Logos as “Godlike,” “divine,” or “a god”? After everything was said and done, John summed
up his gospel by saying: “But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ [i.e.
anointed by God], the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.” (20:31)
Notice the Apostle did not write: “These are written that you may believe that Jesus is God.” Big
difference! Again, the statement that Jesus Christ is the ‘Son of God’ appear dozens of times in the
Gospel of John alone. Trinitarians can only come up with two publicized texts in the Gospel of
John, in which it is said, Jesus is God (John 1:1 & 20:28). But, according to many scholars, the
traditional interpretation of these two texts is open to question. In other words, the claim that
Christ is “God” as many religious adherents understand it is highly unlikely. However, what is
certain, and not open to debate at all, is the fact that the Bible authors often speak of Christ as
‘God's Son,’ repeatedly, and not as “God,” which is very telling. We are better off imitating the
Apostle John than someone else contradicting him. Truth-seeking Bible readers agree with those
who teach that what God offered the world as a Savior, was not God himself incarnated, but the
Son of him, a God, a Powerful Being, Divine, but always subordinate to the-One-True-God.
Philippians 2:7 and 2 John 7 do not contradict this fact. (Luke 1:32, 35; John 1:14; 3:16; 1 Corinthians
15:28) The submitted list in my other article showing alternate readings of John 1:1 indicate there
are a good number of voices seeing not a mystery, but a simpler truth.

Concluding Remarks:

William Barclay, a scholar who later in life conceded that the translation, “the Word was a god’ at
John 1:1, as far as the Greek goes, was feasible grammatically, ironically published one of the
simpler explanations available on the Greek structure of John 1:1. He wrote:

“When the definite article is removed from a noun in Greek, as in English, the noun becomes the
equivalent of an adjective. Take the following example in English. If I say ‘John is the man’, I
identify John with some particular man; if I say ‘John is man’, omitting the definite article, I
simply describe John as a man. What that particular sentence of John says is that the Word was
in the same class as God. God is an adjective rather than a noun, and the perfect translation is
the New English Bible translation: ‘What God was, the Word was.’ ” (Barclay, “Ever Yours”, p. 205.)
(Note: The NEB translation of John 1:1c is preferable over the traditional rendering, but not “perfect,”
because it is ambiguous, not to mention that it is a paraphrase.) Accordingly, we can interpret
Barclay's reasoning as follows:
Barclay: John is the man = John is ‘identified with some particular man.’
Barclay: John is man = John is a man.
Jn 1:1: The Word was god = The Word was a god.

Barclay concludes: “When John said the word was God he was not saying that Jesus was identical
with God; he was saying that Jesus was so perfectly the same as God in mind, in heart, in being
that in him we perfectly see what God is like.” (The Gospel of John, Vol. 1, p. 39. Revised Edition, ©1975,
The Westminster Press, Philadelphia. Barclay himself translates John 1:1: “and the nature of the Word was
the same as the nature of God,” A New Translation. ©1969) Truly, Jesus ”is the reflection of God's glory.”
(Heb. 1:3, NRSV)

Thus, whether we strongly prefer one particular rendering over another in John 1:1c (be it, “God,”
“divine,” or, “a god”), it is proper to note, that due to human limitations, it is wise on our part to be
reasonable and respectful of others who harbor a different understanding from ours. No one
on earth knows it all. Moreover, God's Word aptly said: “Kind mercy wins over harsh judgment
every time.” (James 2:13, TM) In the end, only God and Christ, as Divine Judges, have the faculty
and authority to issue the final verdict. What likely then is the correct translation of John 1:1c?

The traditional translation of this verse (‘And the Word was God’) is a good representation of the
Latin Vulgate, itself a translation, instead of the Greek Text as main source. It leads to great
confusion, as seen by the many calling on this Scripture as a “proof” text in support of a doctrine
that is generally accepted as post-biblical dogma. ‘The popular rendering of John 1:1 cannot
stand without explanation.’ Herein, I will list some Bible translations which correctly convey what
John said as it appears in the Greek Text:

“a god was the Word” (The Sahidic Coptic Translation, c. 200 A.D., per Coptic Church)
“the Word was a divine being” (La Bible du Centenaire, Société Biblique de Paris,
– Translated from French)
“the Word was god” (Professor Charles Cutler Torrey, 1947)
“the Word was a god” (New World Translation, 1950)
“the Word was a god (godlike; divine)” (NWT with References, 1984 edition)
“God of a sort was the Logos” (Ernst Haenchen – Translated from German)
“godlike sort was the Logos” (Johannes Schneider – Translated from German)
“the Logos was divine” (James Moffatt)
“the Word was divine” (J. M. P. Smith and E. J. Goodspeed)
“the Word was divine” (The Original New Testament, by Hugh J. Schonfield)
“the Logos was god” (The New Testament, A Translation, David Bentley Hart)
“what God was, the Word was” (Revised English Bible –1989, acceptable paraphrase)
“the Word was divine” (El evangelio y las cartas de Juan, by Senén Vidal Garcíονa,
Valladolid, Spain – 2013. Translated from Spanish.)

(For other sources, click here:

After a careful analysis of John 1:1, one scholar arrived at this conclusion: “The preponderance of
evidence, from Greek grammar, from literary context, and from cultural environment, supports
this translation [“the Word was a god”], of which ‘the Word was divine’ would be a slightly more
polished variant carrying the same basic meaning.” (Professor Jason David BeDuhn, Truth in
Translation 1979, p. 132.)

Thus, the rendering of “a god,” as applied to Jesus (“the Word” at John 1:1c), the Son of God,”
though controversial, does no violence to Scripture and is fully in accord with it.

- End -

“Who can defeat the world? Only the person who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.” –
(1 John 5:5, Good News Translation)


For further reading, check the links below (For Spanish, see further down):
Exodus 2:25:
For a briefer consideration of John 1:1, but with additional samples:
For a consideration of “grace” in John 1:14:

For John 8:58, click:

alternate-readings-to-I-am-I-have-been-I-was-I-exis t
John 17:3 (‘knowledge’):

Acts 20:28, Whose blood?:

Colossians 1:16 (“all other things”):
1 Timothy 3:16:
Hebrews 1:6,8:
The Trinity subject:
Did the NW translators know Greek?:

Was Jesus Created First:

Temas traducidos al español, vea los siguientes enlaces:

Juan 1:1,
Juan 8:58,
Juan 17:3,
Colosenses 1:16, “todas las otras cosas”, vea:
1 Timoteo 3:16,
Hebreos 1:6,8,
¿Acaso tiene sentido la Trinidad?:
¿Sabía griego el Comité de la Traducción del Nuevo Mundo?:

Following is an excerpt verbatim of William Barclay's private letter to David Burnett where he concedes
what he had publicly denied earlier (See bold letters below. Emphasis mine, italics his). Notwithstanding,
his theology did not permit such interpretation.

Mr. David Burnett 20 May 1974


Dear Mr. Burnett,

“Thank you very much indeed for your letter of 16th April. You have four questions and they must be
answered, I am afraid, briefly in order to get on to one airmail and because I have a heavy

1. ‘In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.’. You
could translate, so far as the Greek goes; ‘the Word was a God’; but it seems obvious that this is so
much against the whole of the rest of the New Testament that it is wrong. I am quite sure myself that the
following is the correct translation.

The Greek is Theos ēn ho logos. Ho is the Greek word for ‘the’ but normally prefaces all words. You note
that in the Greek there is a definite article with logos, that is ‘Word’, but not with Theos, that is ‘God’. Had
there been a definite article with both, Word and God would have been identified. When the definite
article is removed from a noun in Greek, as in English, the noun becomes the equivalent of an adjective.
Take the following example in English. If I say ‘John is the man’, I identify John with some particular man; if
I say ‘John is man’, omitting the definite article, I simply describe John as a man. What that particular
sentence of John says is that the Word was in the same class as God. God is an adjective rather than a
noun, and the perfect translation is the New English Bible translation: ‘What God was, the Word was’. […]
Yours sincerely, *** ” (Letter from Dr. William Barclay, dated “20 May 1974,” – Book: “Ever Yours: A Selection
from the Letters of William Barclay, edited by C. L. Rawlins, Dunbar 1985, p. 205.
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