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The Jehovah’s Witnesses’ New World Translation and John 1:1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


    In 1950, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (WT), the corporate name of the Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs), published their own translation of the Bible entitled: New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures (NWT).
[1] The WT’s prior theological commitments are quite obvious when the NWT is examined and compared to the Hebrew and Greek biblical manuscripts particularly at places where Jesus Christ is clearly presented as God (esp. John 1:1; 8:58; Phil. 2:9; Col. 1:16-17; 2:9; Titus 2:13; and Heb. 1:8). In other words, the WT had to make major alterations to their NWT from the original text in order to make their theology work.

 

Accordingly, it is rejected by biblical scholarship as a legitimate translation. The above chart is a comparison of (1) the NWT’s rendering of the last two clauses of John 1:1 (1:1b and 1:1c), (2) the literal rendering of the Greek[2] (in Eng.), and (3) the KJV.[3]

 

 

 

“a god”?

 

    One of the main reasons as to why the NWT renders John 1:1c as “and the Word was a god” is that in the Greek (see above), the first occurrence of “God” (theon, 1:1b) has the article “the” (ton), but the second occurrence of “God” (theos, 1:1c) does not (note: nouns without the article are called anarthrous). So, the JWs are taught that “THE God” refers to the “definite” almighty God, Jehovah (the Father) and the anarthrous theos (i.e., “God” without the article) refers to the “mighty god,” Michael the “created” archangel who they believe is Jesus.

 

 

In brief refutation to the NWT’s rendering of John 1:1c (“a god”), which is based on their chief theological starting point: Jesus is not God, consider the following:[4]
 

 

1. Two Gods? If the Word was a “true god” (for surely the JWs do not see the Word as a false “god”), then, two “true” Gods is clearly being asserted: the almighty God (Jehovah) and a mighty god (Jesus). That the Word was an indefinite god implies that He was merely one of a class of other gods, thus, the meaning of an indefinite noun. Here the JWs introduce polytheism (the belief in many true gods/Gods) into John’s Gospel. This idea would not only challenge John’s own *monotheistic* (one true God) theology, but clearly contradict his presentation of the full deity of Jesus Christ (e.g., John 5:23; 8:24, 58; 18:5, 6, 8; 20:28; 1 John 5:20; Rev. 5:12-14; 22:12-13).

 
 

2. “The God”? In biblical Greek, “God” with the article (“the”) and “God” without the article (i.e., the anarthrous theos) as in John 1:1c (lit., “and God was the Word”) can both refer to the one true God—context dictates the meaning. Further, many JWs incorrectly think that the two terms translated “God” (theon and theos) in 1:1 mean two different things: ton theon (“the God”) being the almighty God (Jehovah) and the anarthrous theos (“God”) being a mighty god (Jesus). However, the difference in spelling is due to their function in the sentence—not their meaning![5]

 
 

3. By asserting that the anarthrous theos should be rendered indefinite (“a god”), the JWs impose their own translational rule: anarthrous nouns = an indefinite meaning. But in fact, the anarthrous theos appears 282 times in the NT! Only at sixteen places does the NWT translate these 282 anarthrous occurrences of theos as indefinite.[6] Hence, the NWT was faithful to its translational rule only six-percent of the time![7] For example, the anarthrous theos appears in John 1:6, 12, 13, and 18, but yet the NWT did not follow its so-called translational rule at those passages. Only at John 1:1c did it do so—for obvious reasons.

 

But why then (as JWs and many Christians will ask) does theos in John 1:1c not have the article? (kai theos ēn ho logos, lit., “and God was the Word” not “the God was the Word”). Answer: Simply put, if John had written: ho theos ēn ho logos (lit., “the God was the Word” making theos definite), he would have been teaching Oneness doctrine (or Modalism)! In other words, the passage would have indicated that “God” in 1:1b (the Father) and “God” in 1:1c (the Word) were the same Person! But semantically, theos is *qualitative,* not definite (and surely not indefinite—one of many).

 

 

Definite nouns point to the specific identification of someone or something (thus, in 1:1b “the God” identifies the Father) while qualitative nouns point to the essence or nature of someone or something.[8] The anarthrous theos indicates exactly as to what John was communicating: As to the Word’s nature (quality), He was fully God, but as to His Person (or specific identity), He was not identified as the Father, but personally distinct from Him: “The Word was with [pros] God.”[9]

 
 

To summarize:

 

Ø     To say that Jesus is a true God (“a god”) and Jehovah is also a true God forces polytheism (more than one true God) into John’s Gospel.

 
 

Ø     In Scripture, “God” with the article (“the God”) and “God” without the article does not necessitate a different meaning (see note 7).

 
 

Ø     The NWT is not consistent to its self-imposed translational rule (viz. “God” without the article should be rendered indefinite—“a god”). See John 1:6, 12, 13, 18.

 
 

Ø     That the Word was with God is consistent with Trinitarian theology, which states that there are three *distinct* Persons that share the nature of the one God. Only when one starts with the conclusion that God is unitarian (one Person), will he or she misunderstand John 1:1.

 

 

NOTES


[1] The NWT was revised in 1961, 1970, 1971, and a fourth revision in 1984.

[2] Interestingly, the WT has produced their own Greek interlinear (i.e., a Gk. text with the corresponding Eng. words under each Gk. word with the NWT written in the margin). It is called: Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scriptures [KIT], which is a fairly accurate Greek text based on Westcott and Hort’s so-called, “Neutral Text” (pub. in 1881). Thus, I found it very effective to ask JWs to reference the KIT at passages such as John 1:1c; 8:58; Col. 1:16-17; 2:9; Titus 2:13; etc. where the purposeful modifications contained in the NWT can be clearly seen compared to the Greek text of the KIT. Also, at passages such as John 20:28, the KIT correctly records Thomas directly addressing Jesus as ho theos (“the God”), lit., “the Lord of me, and the God of me” (one of many places where Jesus is called ho theos as in Titus 2:13; 2 Pet. 1:1; Heb. 1:8; and 1 John 5:20).

     

[3] Before the production of the NWT, the KJV was the “official” version of the JWs (and the Mormons).

 

[4] Another argument that the JWs mount against the deity of Christ in John 1:1 is the fact that the Word is said to be “with God.” How, they ask, can the Word be God if He is with God? This question, however, demonstrates their theological starting point: God is unitarian (*assuming that God exists as one Person). As with Oneness believers, Jews, and Muslims, the JWs assume monotheism (i.e., one God) means unitarianism (i.e., one Person). In spite of the fact that nowhere in Scripture is “one God” (cf. Deut. 6:4) equated to “one Person.”   

 

[5] Theon is the direct object and theos is functioning as the predicate of the clause. In Greek, unlike English, nearly every word changes according to its grammatical function. Since most JWs are unfamiliar with Greek, they wrongly assume that theon and theos carry two different meanings. In point of fact, though, theos, theon, theou, theō, and thee are all translated as and mean “God.” But note: whether ho theos (“the God”) refers to God or Satan in 2 Cor. 4:4 is matter of debate (see John 12:40). If ho theos refers to Satan, it would be the only place in the NT where ho theos refers to someone other than the true God.

 

[6] Either as “a god,” “god,” “gods,” or “godly.”

 

[7] Further, there are many places in the NT, where “God” appears twice in the same passage once with the article (“the God”) and once without the article (“God”)—as with John 1:1 (e.g., John 3:2; Rom. 1:21; 1 Thess. 1:9; Heb. 9:14; etc.).

 

[8] Nouns generally fall under three semantic categories: Definite (identity), Indefinite (one of a class of others), or Qualitative (essence or nature—not identity). The anarthrous theos in John 1:1c is qualitative. As with the noun “flesh” in John 1:14: “The Word became flesh,” not “the flesh” (definite), or “a flesh” (indefinite), but “flesh” (qualitative)—as to the Word’s new nature. Likewise, it would most unnatural to translate ho theos agapē estin in 1 John 4:8 as “God is a love” (tagging agapē [“love”] as indefinite) or “God is the love” (definite). Here agapē is qualitative. Grammatically, in John 1:1c, theos is an anarthrous pre-verbal predicate nominative. A predicate nominative describes the class or category to which the subject (the “Word”) belongs. Hence, the Word belongs to the category of theos (“God”) as to His essence or nature—not His personal identity.

 

Besides the blatant polytheism that an indefinite rendering of theos in 1:1c produces, there are two additional problems. First, theos is placed in the “emphatic position.” Thus, John placed theos *first in the clause* to draw attention to it as if he wanted the reader to shout out the word of emphasis: “GOD! was the Word,” which makes an indefinite rendering (one of many gods) all the more improbable. And second, John 1:1a (“In the beginning was [ēn] the Word”) indicates that the Word was eternal.

 

The verb translated “was” (ēn) is an imperfect tense (from the verb eimi). An imperfect tense denotes an on-going past action. Thus, in the beginning the Word was already existing—no beginning. And in verses 3, 6, and 10, the aorist verb egeneto (from ginomai), which does denote a beginning, is used to refer to all things created: “all things came into being (egeneto) through Him” (v. 3) while the imperfect verb ēn (“was”) is used of the eternal Word. It is not until verse 14 that egeneto is used of the Word to describe the Word’s new nature—which had a beginning: “The Word became [egeneto] flesh.”

 

We find the same verb contrast (eternal vs. origin) in John 8:58: “Before Abraham was born [genesthai], I Am [eimi]. Both egeneto (“came into being”) in 1:3 and genesthai (“was born”) in 8:58 are from the same base verb ginomai denoting a beginning. And ēn in 1:1 (“was”) is from eimi (“Am” as in 8:58) denoting eternality, that is, the Word’s preexistence in those contexts. Thus, in 1:1 and 8:58 the contrast is clear: the Word’s eternal existence (eimi) vs. all things created (ginomai; cf. also Ps. 90:2).

 

[9] Of all the Greek prepositions that John could have used in 1:1b (such as en, para, sun, which all can mean “with”), he specifically chose the preposition pros (lit., “facing” or “toward”). Pros (when persons are in view) signifies more than being near or beside. Rather, pros denotes intimate personal fellowship between persons. Thus, in 1:1b, pros expresses the inseparable communion and loving intercourse that the Word shared with the Father—before time. In Rom. 5:1, the believer having been justified from faith has peace pros ton theon (lit., “with the God,” same rendering as John 1:1b). Pros in 2 Cor. 5:8 (pros ton kurion, “with the Lord”) expresses the intimate and special relationship that Christians will experience “at home with [pros] the Lord.” And in 1 Cor. 13:12, the double use of pros describes the personal converse believers will have with the Lord “face to face” (prosōpon pros prosōpon).