Jehovah's Witnesses, why does the NWT translate John 1:1 to say "the Word was a god"?

This question is asked elsewhere by someone who blocks Jehovah's Witnesses from answering, even though addressing the question to Witnesses.

All answers accepted here.

13 Answers

  • Favorite Answer

    The NWT is not alone in NOT saying "the Word was God."

    Look at the diversity of religious and geographic representation that provide a reading other than "the Word was God."

    Catholic (US and Rome)

    John McKenzie, a Jesuit scholar (Notre Dame), in his dictionary:

    Jn 1:1 should rigorously be translated "the word was with God [=the Father], and the word was a divine being." (The brackets are his.)

    Max Zerwick at the Pontifical Institute in Rome in A Grammatical Analysis of the Greek New Testament, English by Grosvenor, says:

    theos, "the Word was divine," predicate without article, insisting on the nature of the Word.

    See also the New American Bible's glossary under "God."


    Ray Summers of Baylor University (Waco, TX) writes in his Essentials of New Testament Greek:

    "The Word was with God (tov Theon) and the Word was divine (Theos)" gives the sense.

    Dana and Mantey in their (superb) grammar offer the following parallel. (Please note this discussion is on identifying the subject and predicate, i.e. word order, not doctrine. See also D&M page 140)

    In Xenophon's Anabasis, 1:4:6, emporion d' en to chopion, "and the place was a market," we have a parallel case to what we have in John 1:1, kai theos en ho logos, "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 theos.


    Commentary by Ernst Haenchen, renders theos as "divine (of the catagory divinity)" and goes on to say:

    Theos and ho theos (god, divine and God) were not the same thing in this period. Origen [c185-254 AD] too interprets: "the evangelist does say that the logos is "God," but only that the logos is "divine." ... It is quite possible in Jewish and Christian monotheism to speak of divine beings that existed alongside and under God but were not identical with him [cf. Psalms 8:5, etc.where angels are called gods].

    Rienecker's Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament (English by Rodgers, available from Zondervan) says:

    Theos God. The word is without the article and is the predicate expressing quality, "the word had the same nature as God."

    Great Britain

    J.W. Wenham's Elements of New Testament Greek (Cambridge University) has a note on the reading (but in the present tense) that says:

    As far as grammar alone is concerned, such a sentence could be printed: theos estin ho Logos, which would mean either, "The Word is a god" or "the Word is the god."

    This last reading, "the Word was a god," probably sparks the most arguments, but interestingly it is in one of the oldest translations available. While New Testament Greek (or, koine Greek) was still being spoken John was translated into the Egyptian (Coptic) dialects of Sahidic and Bohairic. Coptic has the indefinite article ("a"), and its use is quite like English. There are about 900 Coptic manuscripts known (but most are of a late date). All the manuscripts that contain the verse read: "the Word was a god." (The Sahidic dialect has long been a hobby of mine, see the separate text file called Sahidic.doc for info on this ancient version.)

    In light of the foregoing we can see why C.F.D. Moule, in his Idiom Book of New Testament Greek, refers to "the much debated John 1:1."

    Also of interest is the debate about Colwell's rule. E.C. Colwell wrote a article in the Journal of Biblical Literature (1933) in which he sought to establish a rule of Greek grammar. He based the rule on two texts in John of similar construction to John 1:1 (1:49 & 9:5). He concludes that John 1:1 "looks much more like `And the Word was God' than `And the Word was divine' when viewed with reference to this rule."

    In a later article (JBL 1973) Philip Harner documents 54 examples of the same syntax in John's Gospel. He shows the majority to be quite different from the two texts Colwell based his rule on.(Comparing Harner's article and Marshall's interlinear I found that 80% of the verses do not clearly support Colwell's rule.) Harner's conclusion is that the two verses Colwell used as a basis are themselves exceptions to John's normal usage.

    I've included this last note on Colwell vs Harner simply to show the truth of what A.T. Robertson wrote about fair linguistic study. "A grammar so made includes all the facts and finds out the rules from the facts. It does not select a few arbitrary rules and consider all the rest as exceptions."

    Simply stated: Living language is never built on rules defined centuries later. The best light to examine the Bible by is the Bible itself.

    NB: Colwell in later years (1952) wrote the book "What is the best New Testament." The highest score went to Goodspeed (who BTW wrote "the Word was divine").

  • 3 years ago

    The verse in John 1:1 in the Greek writes the first word God as THE GOD.

    The second word God does not have a "the" in front of it. Translations of this verse must reflect the original text as closely as possible, and many do, including the New World Translation.

    • 1864 “and a god was the Word” (left hand column interlinear reading) The Emphatic Diaglott by Benjamin Wilson, New York and London.

    • 1867 “In the beginning was the gospel preached through the Son. And the gospel was the word, and the word was with the Son, and the Son was with God, and the Son was of God” - The Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible.

    • 1935 “and the Word was divine” - The Bible—An American Translation, by John M. P. Smith and Edgar J. Goodspeed, Chicago.

    • 1955 “so the Word was divine” - The Authentic New Testament, by Hugh J. Schonfield, Aberdeen.

    • 1978 “and godlike sort was the Logos” - Das Evangelium nach Johannes, by Johannes Schneider, Berlin.

    • 1822 "and the Word was a god." - The New Testament in Greek and English (A. Kneeland, 1822.);

    • 1863 "and the Word was a god." - A Literal Translation Of The New Testament (Herman Heinfetter [Pseudonym of Frederick Parker], 1863);

    • 1885 "and the Word was a god." - Concise Commentary On The Holy Bible (R. Young, 1885);

    • 1879 "and the Word was a god." - Das Evangelium nach Johannes (J. Becker, 1979);

    • 1911 "and the Word was a god." - The Coptic Version of the N.T. (G. W. Horner, 1911);

    • 1958 "and the Word was a god." - The New Testament of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Anointed" (J. L. Tomanec, 1958);

    • 1829 "and the Word was a god." - The Monotessaron; or, The Gospel History According to the Four Evangelists (J. S. Thompson, 1829);

    • 1975 "and the Word was a god." - Das Evangelium nach Johannes (S. Schulz, 1975);

    • 1975 "and a god (or, of a divine kind) was the Word" Das Evangelium nach Johnnes, by Siegfried Schulz, Göttingen, Germany

    Maintaining a reflection of the Bible Greek words involved will make sense of John chapter 1 verse 18, which says that "No man has seen God at any time." where, in the Greek, "the" is again in front of God. Men have seen Jesus Christ, and he is the image of his Father (Colossians 1:15) so he who sees him sees the Father. But no man has seen, or can see, THE GOD at any time.

    Isaiah 43:10 and Isaiah 44:6-8 shows that who God is, is first of all, unique. His Son Jesus does not rival him, nor does he precede him or follow him as THE GOD, that is Almighty God.

    In fact, Jesus' Father is his God on earth and in heaven.The Bible speaks of Jesus having a God over him at least 17 times even after he returned to heaven. (Micah.5:4; Psalms.45:7; 89:26; Matthew.27:46; Mark. 15:34; John.20:17; Romans.15:6; 1 Corinthians.11:3; 15:24-28; 2 Corinthians.1:3; Ephesians.1:17; Hebrews.1:9; 1 Peter.1:3; Revelation.1:6; 3:2,12).

  • X
    Lv 7
    9 years ago

    First of all, the NWT is NOT the only Bible translation to render John 1:1 in that manner. NUMEROUS Bible translations that have nothing to do with Jehovah's Witnesses render that scripture in a way that shows that Jesus possess a divine quality, but is NOT the same as Almighty God.

    For some reason, unthinking individuals have it burnt into their minds that just because the King James Version renders John 1:1 in a way that suggests Jesus is God, then it must be so. These people who accept that are unthinking because they refuse to acknowledge or see that the KJV is a very unreliable, inaccurate Bible translation. In fact, it is a commonly held FACT within the circles of Bible scholars the the translators of the KJV injected their own personal views (or that of King James) into the translation in order to bolster support for teachings such as the "trinity". A classic example of this is how the KJV renders 1 John 5:7,8. The KJV blatantly added words to the scripture to make it seem like there's support for the trinity.

    The unthinking ones also somehow blind themselves to reading the exact wording of the verse in John 1:1, specifically where it says that Word "was with God". Now if I'm "with" another person in a room, how could that possibly mean that I and that other person are the same person? It couldn't possibly, and the idea of that being true is absurd and defies all logic.

    The Bible as a whole must be examined in context with who Jesus Christ is. The scriptures clearly show in passages such as Colossians 1:15 and Revelation 3:14 that Jesus Christ came into existence by means of God. In other words, God is the one who created Jesus. Logically therefore, Jesus CANNOT be God.

  • Ryan
    Lv 4
    9 years ago

    Since others have thoroughly expounded on the reasons why, let me add this:

    Jehovah Witnesses acknowledge Jesus is a god. We even call him a Mighty God. (Isaiah 9:6) Did that blow your mind? Wait! There's more. Satan is also called a god. (2 Corinthians 4:4) The Israelite Judges were known as gods. (Psalms 82:1-6, 8) In the bible god simply means someone having great power and authority. However there has always been only one Almighty God, and that is Jehovah. (Genesis 17:1-2, Exodus 6:2-3, Revelation 1:8) This title, Almighty, has only been given to Jehovah, and no one else.

    Source(s): A witness of Jehovah (Isaiah 43:10)
  • How do you think about the answers? You can sign in to vote the answer.
  • CF
    Lv 7
    9 years ago

    We can work like an investigator with an inquisitive mind. We see that, throughout the Greek Scriptures, whenever Almighty God(theos) is referred to, it always appears preceded by the definite article (ho) which is equivalent to English(the).


    1 Corinthians 3:6:

    I have planted Apollos watered but God gave the increase.

    ἐγὼ ἐφύτευσα, Ἀπολλῶς ἐπότισεν, ἀλλὰ ὁ θεὸς ἠύξανεν

    Did you notice above? Even when we don´t use the definite article in English before Almighty God, Koine Greek does; ὁ θεὸς(the God)

    1 John 4:16:

    And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us God is love and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God and God in him.

    1 John 4:16 Greek Study Bible (Apostolic / Interlinear)

    καὶ ἡμεῖς ἐγνώκαμεν καὶ πεπιστεύκαμεν τὴν ἀγάπην ἣν ἔχει ὁ θεὸς ἐν ἡμῖν. Ὁ θεὸς ἀγάπη ἐστιν, καὶ ὁ μένων ἐν τῇ ἀγάπῃ ἐν τῷ θεῷ μένει καὶ ὁ θεὸς ἐν αὐτῷ μένει.

    Again, even when English doesn´t use the definite article before the word "God," in Greek the article (ho) is always there before the word "God.":

    ὁ θεὸς = the God

    As good observers, we should ask, then, "What if the word "God," that always appears preceded by the definite article (ho), appeared without the definite article? Would it still refer to Almighty God?

    Acts 28:6 uses the word God without the definite article. How is it translated?

    "..and said that he was a god."

    Greek ἔλεγον αὐτὸν εἶναι θεόν.

    Obviously, everybody understands that the apostle Paul is not Almighty God. So those inhabitants thought that he was a god or a divine being.

    By the same token, at John 1:1, the word "God" appears without the definite article and in an inverted position: theos en ho logos

    In Koine Greek, when a predicate noun without the definite article precedes the verb, the noun is not identified with the subject. Rather, it is qualified.

    So "logos" is qualified as "theos." Therefore logos is divine or a divine being or a god. We could only consider logos as Almighty God if it read like this:

    ho logos en ho theos.

    But that´s not how John 1:1 is rendered. So considering the syntax of Koine Greek and the whole context of the Bible, the NW very precisely translates John 1:1:

    "The Word was a god."

  • 9 years ago

    Quite simply, because the Word was not identified as "the god" previously mentioned. The context shows that the "god" without the article is not the same as the God with the article. Translating it "the Word was God" identifies the word with that first God mentioned.

    So the Word is not "the god," but a god or divine - he is "god" in an indefinite or qualitative sense. From what the NWT translators themselves wrote about John 1:1, they mainly stressed the qualitative sense. Without outright stating it, they say it is indefinite-qualitative. They also offered "godlike; divine" as valid alternate renderings to support that qualitative sense.

    As a side note, people see "Father" as the first God mentioned, but the Greek doesn't say that. It just says God. One cannot interpret John 1:1 in a Trinitarian manner without first bringing preconceived Trinitarian conceptions into it.

  • 3 years ago

    To deviate from the idea that Jesus is divine and not just "god like"....just as the serpent explained to eve if she ate of the tree of knowledge. ...its quite suspicious that witnesses have embraced this idea considering the fact that many Gnostic's and kabbalist's dont believe in a real actual God....but becoming like a "god".

  • 9 years ago

    Q: Why does the NWT translate John 1:1 to say "the Word was a god"?

    A: Because that is what the Greek (striped of cult dogma) says.

  • 9 years ago

    For the same reason every English Bible translates Acts 28:6 as "a god".

    Critics love to claim that the NWT has commited some inexcusable crime in translating "a god" at John 1:1 yet at Acts 28:6 they find no fault with this in any of the other Bible translations.

    This shows they are not interested in a Bible that is consistent and honest in translation but rather working toward a theological agenda.

  • 9 years ago

    I could have written this in my own words but this extract from an article summarizes why the NWT says the Word was a god.

    This verse contains two forms of the Greek noun the·os′ (god). The first is preceded by ton (the), a form of the Greek definite article, and in this case the word the·on′ refers to Almighty God. In the second instance, however, the·os′ has no definite article. Was the article mistakenly left out?

    The Gospel of John was written in Koine, or common Greek, which has specific rules regarding the use of the definite article. Bible scholar A. T. Robertson recognizes that if both subject and predicate have articles, “both are definite, treated as identical, one and the same, and interchangeable.” Robertson considers as an example Matthew 13:38, which reads: “The field [Greek, ho a·gros′] is the world [Greek, ho ko′smos].” The grammar enables us to understand that the world is also the field.

    What, though, if the subject has a definite article but the predicate does not, as in John 1:1? Citing that verse as an example, scholar James Allen Hewett emphasizes: “In such a construction the subject and predicate are not the same, equal, identical, or anything of the sort.”

    To illustrate, Hewett uses 1 John 1:5, which says: “God is light.” In Greek, “God” is ho the·os′ and therefore has a definite article. But phos for “light” is not preceded by any article. Hewett points out: “One can always . . . say of God He is characterized by light; one cannot always say of light that it is God.” Similar examples are found at John 4:24, “God is a Spirit,” and at 1 John 4:16, “God is love.” In both of these verses, the subjects have definite articles but the predicates, “Spirit” and “love,” do not. So the subjects and predicates are not interchangeable. These verses cannot mean that “Spirit is God” or “love is God.”

    Many Greek scholars and Bible translators acknowledge that John 1:1 highlights, not the identity, but a quality of “the Word.” Says Bible translator William Barclay: “Because [the apostle John] has no definite article in front of theos it becomes a description . . . John is not here identifying the Word with God. To put it very simply, he does not say that Jesus was God.” Scholar Jason David BeDuhn likewise says: “In Greek, if you leave off the article from theos in a sentence like the one in John 1:1c, then your readers will assume you mean ‘a god.’ . . . Its absence makes theos quite different than the definite ho theos, as different as ‘a god’ is from ‘God’ in English.” BeDuhn adds: “In John 1:1, the Word is not the one-and-only God, but is a god, or divine being.” Or to put it in the words of Joseph Henry Thayer, a scholar who worked on the American Standard Version: “The Logos [or, Word] was divine, not the divine Being himself.”

    Does the identity of God have to be “a very profound mystery”? It did not seem so to Jesus. In his prayer to his Father, Jesus made a clear distinction between him and his Father when he said: “This means everlasting life, their taking in knowledge of you, the only true God, and of the one whom you sent forth, Jesus Christ.” (John 17:3) If we believe Jesus and understand the plain teaching of the Bible, we will respect him as the divine Son of God that he is. We will also worship Jehovah as “the only true God.”

    Source(s): w09 4/1 p. 19 Is Jesus God?
Still have questions? Get your answers by asking now.