John 1:1: An Exposition On The Anarthrous Noun And Other Contextual Features Examined
Updated: Nov 21, 2022
Written by Steven Blake
- - - - - - - “AND THE WORD WAS GOD” - - -
- - OR - -
- - - - - - - “AND THE WORD WAS A GOD” ? - - -
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
- NOTE: This article is by far the longest of any that I will publish. It's purpose is to equip non-trinitarians with evidence and information by which to refute the Trinitarian mistranslation and misinterpretation of John 1:1. Its goal is to deal comprehensively with those arguments - themselves complex, varied, and the beneficiaries of many centuries of development.
It may be that this article is not appropriate to the format of this forum. If so, I will delete it.
Topic headings will be presented in bold type in the hope that this will make the article easier to navigate.
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- - - Introduction
This discussion of John 1:1 addresses one of the more significant misrepresentations of Scripture to be found in the entire lexicon of Trinitarianism.
The KJV translation of John 1:1 (“and the Word was God”) forms the basis for what is probably the strongest single trinitarian argument for the deity of Jesus in existence - despite the fact that the words “Jesus is God” are not found therein; nor anywhere else in the Bible for that matter.
And even though the idea of God-as-trinity is likewise not found in this verse, it comes closer than any other in declaring “the Word” (widely recognized as a title for Jesus) to be God.
Non-trinitarianism holds that the accurate translation of Jn.1:1 (as found in the numerous alternate versions presented below) is “and the word was A god” or “a divine being” - depicting Jesus not as God Himself, but rather as a divine being having in common with Him certain aspects of His nature.
- - - - Definitions
Words have meanings.
Nor are we justified in arbitrarily altering those meanings.
If I ask you to go to the store for a loaf of bread, and you decide to redefine "loaf of bread" to mean "bag of rocks", I wind up going hungry.
This is why we have dictionaries.
If you and I both subscribe to the dictionary definition of "loaf of bread", then I don't miss lunch.
Likewise, if you and I subscribe to the dictionary definitions of everyday words like "in", "beginning", "was" and "with” - as well as theological words and phrases such as "monotheism", "the Word" and "God” - then we can have an intelligent conversation about what the Bible says and means.
And if not... not.
- - - General Observations
At the outset, we need to recognize certain general facts about the Book of John:
- John's Gospel Is Misrepresented By Trinitarianism
Trinitarianism teaches that John’s purpose in writing his gospel was to show that Jesus is God:
- - "The Divine purpose in the Gospel of John is to present the lord Jesus as God" - The Companion Bible
- - "This may be considered the theme of the whole Gospel, every word... having been skillfully chosen... for the purpose of proving the Godhead of Jesus Christ" - Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible
Many trinity-biased commentaries echo this sentiment, but John himself contradicted it - saying that his Gospel was "Written that ye might believe that Jesus Christ is THE SON OF The Living God." - John 20:31
Here was the perfect opportunity for John to state that his purpose was to present Jesus as God, but instead he said that his purpose was to present Jesus as the Son of God - not God Himself (a distinction repeated throughout the New Testament - Lk.1:32, Acts 3:12, Ro.8:3, Gal.4:6, 1Jn.4:10, 5:11, etc.)
- The Authenticity Of John's Prologue Is In Question
The prologue to the Book of John occupies eighteen verses. The difference between its writing style and that of the rest of the book has led some to conclude that it is the work of a second author.
- - "Critical analysis makes it difficult to accept the idea that the gospel as it now stands was written by one person" - U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops
Others believe that John adapted the first verse from a Greek religious concept of "logos", popularized in a children's hymn of that day:
- - “There are good grounds for thinking that in the Prologue the evangelist made use of an existing 'hymn' of the Logos, which may not have originally been Christian at all". - A Theological Word Book of the Bible, John Campbell, 1951,P284-5
- - “An independent hymn, subsequently adapted to serve as a preface to the gospel." - The New American Bible, Macmillan Pubs. P178,N.T.
- John 1:1 Does Not Declare God To Be A Trinity
We are asked to accept that the triunity of God is the most important truth of the New Testament, yet even according to the Trinitarian misconstruction of Jn.1:1, John is said to present only TWO entities as God - while neglecting any mention of a third.
- - - "The Big Lie" - - -
Trinitarianism argues that translating Jn.1:1 as “and the Word was A god” violates the rules of Greek grammar, and is intentionally dishonest.
- - "No recognized translators in the history of Greek exegesis have ever sanctioned such a grammatical travesty... an indication of markedly inferior scholarship... no basis whatsoever in New Testament Greek grammar... the Greek grammatical construction leaves no doubt whatsoever that ('the word was God') is the only possible rendering of the text... 'a god' is both incorrect grammar and poor Greek" - The Kingdom Of The Cults, Walter Martin, Revised And Expanded Edition, 1985, PPS 69,85
- - "It is neither scholarly nor reasonable to translate John 1:1 'The Word was a god.' ... shocking and grossly misleading" - Dr. Julius Robert Mantey, A.B., Th.D., Ph.D., D.D. Professor of Greek and New Testament, Northern Baptist Theological Seminary, Chicago, Illinois
- - “I can assure you that the rendering ... is not held by any reputable Greek scholar." - Dr. Charles L. Feinberg, La Mirada, California
- - “ 'The Word was a god,' (is) a translation (both) grammatically impossible... (and) intellectually dishonest." - Dr. William Barclay
- - - “The Big Lie" Exposed - - -
In fact, many recognized Greek scholars DO sanction such a translation:
- - "You could translate [John 1:1], so far as the Greek goes: `the Word was A GOD’” - Dr. William Barclay, Trinitarian scholar, author, and Bible translator, Ever Yours, p.205, Labarum Publ., 1985
(Interestingly, this quote from Dr. Barclay directly contradicts the widely popularized quote from him posted just above it)
- - "A (formal equivalence) translation of the controversial clause would read: 'And the Word was A GOD'. The preponderance of evidence from Greek grammar, literary context, and cultural environment, supports this translation". - Truth in Translation: Accuracy And Bias In English Translations Of The New Testament, Prof. Jason BeDuhn, p132, 2003
- - "(The literal translation is) 'A GOD was the Word' ". - Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, W.E.Vine, p.490, 1983
- - "(A more literal translation is) and A GOD was the Word" - Young's Concise Critical Bible Commentary, Dr. Robert Young, p. 54,
- - "As far as grammar alone is concerned, such a sentence could be (translated)...'The Word is A GOD' " - The Elements of New Testament Greek, J. W. Wenham, 1984, p. 35
- - "As a word-for-word translation ('A GOD') cannot be faulted." - Technical Papers for the Bible Translator, Vol. 28, #1, Jan. 1977, Prof. C.H.Dodd, director of The New English Bible Project
- - "It has to be acknowledged that (it) could be translated 'The Word was A GOD' " - Introduction to New Testament Greek Using John's Gospel, Stan Bruce (lecturer in New Testament Greek, All Nations Christian College, UK), 1999, Lesson 3, p.23
It is not the Non-Trinitarian translation which is "dishonest", but rather the claim that it is not sanctioned by any recognized New Testament translator.
The following are partial listings of recognized translations which acknowledge the alternate reading (most of whose authors are not Non-Trinitarians):
- - " And the Word was a god " - -
- A Concise Commentary on the Holy Bible, Robert Young, P54, 1885
- Revised Version Of the Bible - Improved and Corrected
- 21st Century Literal Translation, 1998
- Expository Dictionary of the New Testament, W. E.Vine, p.490,
- A Literal Translation of the New Testament, H. Heinfetter, 1863
- The New Testament in Greek and English, Abner Kneeland, 1822
- Archbishop Newcome's New Testament, Improved Version, 1809
- Interlineary Translation - Emphatic Diaglott, B.Wilson, 1863
- Coptic text Translation, Jenott, 2003
- Literally Translated New Testament Bible, 2008
- Sahidic Coptic Text - Interlinear Translation
- Jesus as God, Murray J. Harris, P60, Baker Book House, 1992
- The Coptic Version of the New Testament, George William Horner, 1911
- Das Evangelium nach Johannes, Siegfried Schulz, 1975
- Das Evangelium nach Johannes, Jurgen Becker, 1979
- Latin Form Of German, John Crellius, 1631
- The Final Theology, Volume 1, Leicester Ambrose, 1879
- Unitarianism in the Gospels, Lant Carpenter, LL.D., P156
- Technical Papers for the Bible Translator, C. H. Dodd, Jan., 1977
- George Horner's Sahidic Translation into English, 1910
- An Exposition Of The Historical Writings Of The New Testament, Vol. II, T. Kenrick, London, 1807
- A Familiar Illustration of Certain Passages of Scripture, Joseph Priestley, LL.D., F.R.S. P37, 1794
- A Statement of Reasons For Not Believing the Doctrines of Trinitarians, A. Norton, D.D., 1833, P74
- The Beginnings of Christianity, vol. 1, Paul Wernle, Professor Extraordinary of Modern Church History at the University of Basil (in The Rise of Religion , P16)
- The Montessoran; The Gospel History According to the Four Evangelists, J. S. Thompson, 1829
- The New Testament of Our Lord Jesus Christ, translated from the Greek, R.Rooleeuw, M.D., 1694
- The New Testament of our Lord and Savior Jesus Anointed, James L. Tomanec, 1958
- " And the Word was a divine being " -
("of a divine kind", "of divine nature", "godlike" etc.)
- Dictionary of the Bible, Trinitarian Jesuit John L. McKenzie, 1965
- Grammatical Analysis of the New Testament, Zerwich/Grosvenor, 1974
- An American Translation, 1939, Smith and Goodspeed
- The Peoples New Testament, Johnson, 1891
- The Bible, A New Translation, 1935, James Moffatt
- International English Bible-Extreme New Testament, 2001
- The Authentic New Testament, 1956, Hugh J. Schonfield
- New Testament A Rendering, 1994, J. Madsen
- La Bible du Centenaire, L'Evangile selon Jean, Maurice Goguel,1928
- Scholar's Version-The Five Gospels, 1993
- A Liberal Translation of the New Testament, E. Harwood 1768
- English Translation of Coptic Text, Warren & Horner
- The Message of Jesus Christ, Dibelius & Grant, 1939
- The Four Gospels in One Story, Crofts, 1949
- The Translator's New Testament, McHardy, 1973
- The Wilton Translation of the NT, 2013, Wilton
- The Literature of the New Testament, 1932, Ernest Findlay Scott
- The New Testament, 1949, Fredrich Pfaefflin
- Readings in St. John's Gospel, 1933, W. Temple, Archbishop of York
- The New Testament (in German), Curt Stage, 1907
- The Historic Jesus in the New Testament, Robert Harvey, D.D., Professor of New Testament Language and Literature, Westminster College, Cambridge, London, 1931
- A Paraphrase on the Gospel of St. John, Samuel Clarke, M.A., D.D., rector of St. James, Westminster, London, 1703
- The Gospel, A Translation, Harmony and Annotations, Ervin Edward Stringfellow (Prof. of NT Language and Literature, Drake University, Iowa), 1943