More about the New World's Translation's

"...the Word was a god"-John 1:1

The following quotations are often come across on sites geared against Jehovah's Witnesses and the New World Translation's rendering of John 1:1c. We will quote them here and offer our own comments.

Dr. J. R. Mantey (who is quoted on pages 1158-1159) of the Witnesses own Kingdom interlinear Translation): "A shocking mistranslation." "Obsolete and incorrect." "It is neither scholarly nor reasonable to translate John 1:1 'The Word was a god.'"

However, trinitarian Murray J. Harris has written: "Accordingly, from the point of view of grammar alone,[QEOS HN hO LOGOS]could be rendered "the Word was a god,...." -Jesus As God, 1992, p.60. So who has been shown to be "neither scholarly nor reasonable"? Unfortunately it is Julius Mantey. Harris, of course, goes on to reject this translation but on the grounds of what he percieves is the theology of John, that is, John's monotheistic beliefs. However, does monotheism obviate this translation? For this see here. Still, Mantey, being that his severe criticisms were based on grammatical grounds, as it appears, has been shown to be "neither scholarly nor reasonable" !

Harris says in the same sentence as we have quoted him "...if only grammatical considerations were taken into account, [hUMEIS EK TOU PATROS TOU DIABOLOU ESTE](John 8:44) could mean "you belong to the father of the devil." These following comments does not preclude our use of Harris as above quoted because Harris is looking at what is acceptable grammatically, and, so, we have this scholar confirming "if only grammatical considerations were taken into account" then "QEOS EN hO LOGOS could be rendered" as the New World Translation has done so! This is why we have quoted Harris: to show that Mantey was wrong to brush away, and so severely, the grammatical grounds of the NWT's rendering. Hence, the quoting of Mantey is of no use whatsoever. He was wrong and severely so. Of course, the NWT did not just consider the "grammatical considerations" of John 1:1c but also the context too as anyone who has familiarised themselves with the NWT Translation Committee's remarks would know.

Dr. Bruce M. Metzger of Princeton (Professor of New Testament Language and Literature): "A frightful mistranslation." "Erroneous" and "pernicious" "reprehensible" "If the Jehovah's Witnesses take this translation seriously, they are polytheists."

Metzger wrote:

"As a matter of solid fact, however, such a rendering[re"and the Word was a god" in the NWT]is a frightful mistranslation. It overlooks entirely an established rule of Greek grammar which necessitates the rendering "...and the Word was God."

The rule of grammar Metzger is referring to is known as "Colwell's rule". But to quote the above scholar[Harris] on whether Colwell's rule was used properly and scholarly by Metzger in his criticism of the NWT's John 1:1: "Accordingly, from the point of view of grammar alone,[theos en ho logos]could be rendered "the Word was a god." This leads me to affirm that one may not infer(as is often done)from [Colwell's]rule 2b[in Colwell, JBL, 1933, Vol.53, pp.17-21]that anarthrous predicate nouns which precede the verb are usually definite. Indeed, such nouns will usually be qualitative in emphasis." And "So that while the canon[Colwell's rule]may reflect a general tendency it is not absolute by any means; after all, it takes no account of relative clauses of proper nouns like that in[ho theos agape estin,"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".-A Grammar of New Testament Greek, James Hope Moulton, Nigel Turner, Vol.III, Syntax, 1963, p.1.

Unfortunately then, Metzger's use, or rather abuse, of Colwell's rule was a terrible mistake. So, therefore, was the criticism! In fact the NWTTC rejected Colwell's rule for John 1:1c. Metzger applied it. The NWTTC was right. Bruce Metzger wrong! This alone shows that the mere quoting of a eminent scholar means little but the arguements that can be brought to bear, mustered, assembled are the deciding factors. With Metzger he did little but use his own theological stance! (For more on this see the concluding comments from Dr.BeDuhn.)

 Dr. Samuel J. Mikolaski of Zurich, Switzerland: "This anarthrous (used without the article) construction does not mean what the indefinite article 'a' means in English. It is monstrous to translate the phrase 'the Word was a god.'"

If it is "monstrous" to translate John 1:1 as "and the Word was a god," how does Mikolaski account for C. H. Dodd as saying:
"If a translation were a matter of substituting words, a possible translation of [QEOS EN hO LOGOS]; would be, "The Word was a god". As a word-for-word translation it cannot be faulted, and to pagan Greeks who heard early Christian language,[QEOS EN hO LOGOS]might have seemed a perfectly sensible statement, in that sense["signifying one of a class of beings regarded as divine"-Dodd, ibed).....The reason why it is unacceptable is that it runs counter to the current of Johannine thought, and indeed of Christian thought as a whole."-Technical Papers for The Bible Translator, Vol 28, No.1, January 1977.(emphasis ours).

Of course Dodd rejected a translation that said the Word was "a god." But it is not because the construction of the Greek would make such a translation "monstrous" -it was Dodd's own opinion of what he thought was John's 'theology', and "Christian thought as a whole" he rejected it. Jehovah's Witnesses do not share this trinitarian opinion of what the Gospel of John and the rest of the Bible teaches as to the person and nature of God and his Son. It is really a case of Mikolaski making a "monstrous" assertion!

Dr. Paul L. Kaufman of Portland, Oregon: "The Jehovah's Witnesses people evidence an abysmal ignorance of the basic tenets of Greek grammar in their mistranslation of John 1:1."

Yet Dr. Jason BeDuhn (of the Northern Arizona University)in regard to the Kingdom Interlinear's appendix that gives the reason why the NWT favoured a translation of John 1:1 as saying the Word was not "God" but "a god" said:

"In fact the KIT[Appendix 2A, p.1139]explanation is perfectly correct according to the best scholarship done on this subject.."

Kaufman has just maligned the scholarship of a competent scholar who knows 'his Greek'(and of course others)who is not one of Jehovah's Witnesses! Did Dr BeDuhn give "evidence of an abysmal ignorance of the basic tenets of Greek grammar"? We cannot take Kaufman seriously here!

Dr. Charles L. Feinberg of La Mirada, California: "I can assure you that the rendering which the Jehovah's Witnesses give John 1:1 is not held by any reputable Greek scholar."

But the above quotes by Murray J. Harris, C.H. Dodd and J.Beduhn puts a serious question as to the varacity of such a statement.
Is Feinburg's comment based on his understanding of the Greek syntax of John 1:1? We cannot tell from this brief quotation. If so then he is sorely wanting. Standing on it's own without any explantory comment we again cannot take seriously Feinburg's statement and it amounts to very little despite this comment being oft quoted.

Dr. James L. Boyer of Winona Lake, Indiana: "I have never heard of, or read of any Greek Scholar who would have agreed to the interpretation of this verse insisted upon by the Jehovah's Witnesses...I have never encountered one of them who had any knowledge of the Greek language."

We are not really convinced either way by what Boyer has or has not heard/read! Perhaps he should listen/read more.

Dr. Walter R. Martin (who does not teach Greek but has studied the language): "The translation...'a god' instead of 'God' is erroneous and unsupported by any good Greek scholarship, ancient or contemporary and is a translation rejected by all recognized scholars of the Greek language many of whom are not even Christians, and cannot fairly be said to be biased in favor of the orthodox contention."

Quoting Walter Martin does no ones case any good. His studies of the Greek could not have been too deep. Remember the quote above of Dr. BeDuhn who has/does teache Greek? It cannot be said BeDuhn favours the Jehovah's Witness "contentions" for he is not one. Yet still he said that the KIT appendix that gives the basis for the NWT at John 1:1c is an "explanation [that] is perfectly correct according to the best scholarship done on this subject.."

 Dr. William Barclay of the University of Glasgow, Scotland: "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."

Surprisingly Barclay says that "the Word was a god" is "grammatically impossible." Yet we have seen that scholars such as Murray J.Harris, C.H.Dodd and J.BeDuhn (others could be cited) says it is 'possible'!
One such "other" would be the Rev. J. W. Wenham who, in his well known The Elements of New Testament Greek, wrote, in a footnote: "In ancient manuscripts which did not differentiate between capital and small letters, there would be no way of distinguishing between
Qeos('God') and qeos('god'). Therefore as far as grammar alone is concerned, such a sentence could be printed: qeos estin o' Logos, which would mean either , 'The Word is a god', or, 'The Word is the god'."(footnote 2, page 35, Cambridge University Press, 1987 reprint.)

(Wenham went on to write: "The interpretation of John 1:1 will depend upon whether or not the writer is held to believe in only one God or in more than one god."-ibid. We believe that John would have been able to say that the Word was a "god" for in the OT even angels are called such. Yes, as a Jew John would have believed in "more than one god," in supra-human divine beings, the angels who surround God in his heavenly courts(see Ps.8:5; 82: 1; 138:1). But he would only have worshipped the one true God. But the Word was not this one true God("hO QEOS," literally "the G/god"), but the Word was, as John informs us, "with" this one. Hence, the "a god" rendering is both grammatically correct and agrees with an unbaised reading of the context where the Word is distinguished from (the)God.)

Like Metzger, Barclay's criticism was based on a flawed understanding of Colwell's rule. Barclay may have 'used' Colwell to condemn a rendering he disagreed with. But in so doing he 'abused' it !

However, twenty years after saying that the rendering of "the Word as a god" is "grammatically impossible," Barclay, in a letter (see here )to an enquirer into this rendering, said the _complete opposite_!

In the book 'William Barclay-Ever Yours," edited by C.L.Rawlings(Dunbar 1985), page 205 after stating the usual translation(as found in the KJV) immediately stated:

"You could translate, so far as the Greek goes: 'the Word was a God';.."(italics ours)

Yes, here we see Barclay contradicting/correcting himself from the earlier Expository Times article where he forthrighly stated that the "a god" rendering in the NWT was "grammatcially impossible"! The question that comes to our minds then is: Who really was being "intellectually dishonest" back in the 1950's? The New World Translation Committee or Dr William Barclay?

It is of interest though what else Barclay unintentionally 'allowed' in that above letter to an enquirer.

So, Barclay, in that letter, definitely admits that the Greek would allow for such a translation as we find in the NWT but goes against it because of what he thinks the rest of the NT teaches about the nature and identity of the Word, the Son. We should note with some interest however, that Barclay when using an "English example" says that if he said "John is man" then that would simply describe John as "a man." So, the anarthrous "man" in the English sentence "John is man" is equivalent to "John is a man." Hence Barclay has given support for rendering the anarthrous QEOS in QEOS HN HO LOGOS, literally "god was the word" as "a god," because the Word is being "described" not as "God" but as "god" and hence can be translated as "a god." We wonder if he realised this? We wonder if any have noted this? He then goes on to explain what he thinks this, the Word being QEOS, means. But there is no necessity to think that being QEOS, not HO QEOS, means that the Word although having the 'nature' of QEOS is equal to the QEOS he is said to be with anymore than "John is man" would mean that John as "man" would be equal with THE Man he could be said to be with in the sentence "In the beginning was John and he was with the Man and was man". If John is "man" and is with some other who is descibed as "the Man" we would normally accept that John is not that "Man" he is with. This would argue also for an indefinite sense for the anarthrous QEOS and which sense differentiates between the two in the very terms John uses-QEOS, hence, in English we can so differentiate by translating the first as "God" and, in John 1:1c as "god".

Dr. F. F. Bruce of the University of Manchester, England: "Much is made by Arian amateur grammarians of the omission of the definite article with 'God' in the phrase 'And the Word was God.' Such an omission is common with nouns in a predicative construction...'a god' would be totally indefensible." [Barclay and Bruce are generally regarded as Great Britain's leading Greek scholars. Both have New Testament translations in print!]

"Totally indefensible"? By now, you, the reader, might be beginning to realise that such statements are "totally indefensible" in themselves.

James White in his book "The Forgotten Trinity," in a chapter(4) dealing with the meaning and translation of John 1:1 and the "a god" rendering, quotes F.F.Bruce as saying:

"It is no more sadly true than in the acquisition of Greek that "a little learning is a dangerous thing." We would agree. But we would add that it might even be as dangerous to have much learning for those ones with 'much learning' can make bigger mistakes. And we feel Bruce has done so here. In fact, White goes on to quote Bruce(a footnote that occurs in Bruce's book)as saying: "Those people who emphasize that the true rendering of the last clause of John 1:1 is "the word was a god," prove nothing thereby save their ignorance of Greek grammar." White then thinks that this is grounds for dismissing an indefinite understanding of the anarthrous QEOS in John 1:1. Yet, as readers of this page will have realised, such a comment by an eminent scholar would indicate that scholars such as William Loader and Jason BeDuhn(and others quoted on this site)are "ignorant of Greek grammar" ! But, of course, they are not. So, are we to take Bruce seriously when he uses this kind of language? Its as if he's saying that any one who disagrees with his understanding of what John was doing when he wrote KAI QEOS EN hO LOGOS must be "ignorant." Is this not a clear case of brow beating? Yes, the late Professor is using bullying tactics here. But bullying is worse than those who really are ignorant of the Greek.

It is one thing to hold to a different translation/interpretation of John 1:1c than another. That is the right of any scholar/translator. But one should still be honest enough to admit some merit in anothers understanding of this verse. If both Barclay and Metzger made such awfully unscholarly remarks we see no reason why Bruce could not do likewise.
In the absence of any of Bruce's reasons why the rendering "and the Word was a god" is "totally indefensible" and yet there is no grammatical reason that rules out such a translation, then what merit does the above statements have? Sadly, they say more about Bruce himself than they do the Greek!

(Bruce stated, as we have already quoted from White, "Those people who emphasize that the true rendering of the last clause of John 1:1 is "the word was a god," prove nothing thereby save their ignorance of Greek grammar." This is a footnote, No. 4, in Bruce's book The Books and the Parchments, p.60 of the third and revised edition of 1963, Pickering and Inglis Ltd, London(being our copy). If readers of this page have either or both of the earlier editions of 1950 the first and/or the 1953 second edition, we would be pleased to know if this footnote occurs in either. Thanks.)

Dr. Ernest C. Colwell of the University of Chicago: "A definite predicate nominative has the article when it follows the verb; it does not have the article when it precedes the verb...this statement cannot be regarded as strange in the prologue of the gospel which reaches its climax in the confession of Thomas. 'My Lord and my God.' - John 20:28"

"Colwell's rule has been abandoned [in connection with John 1:1 at least,] by those who know their Greek."-Professor BeDuhn. The professor is correct: so much for this quote!

Dr. Phillip B. Harner of Heidelberg College: "The verb preceding an anarthrous predicate, would probably mean that the LOGOS was 'a god' or a divine being of some kind, belonging to the general category of THEOS but as a distinct being from HO THEOS. In the form that John actually uses, the word "THEOS" is placed at the beginning for emphasis."

There is nothing here that shows that it would be wholly wrong to translate the Greek of John 1:1c as has been done by the NWT and others. At Acts 28:4 we find exactly the same sentence construction, literally "murderer is the man[Paul]" The anarthrous predicate "murderer"[at the beginning of the sentence and which is also a count noun like "theos"]precedes the verb "is" and the subject "man" is preceded by the definite article. This has been translated as "That man must be a murderer." -Jerusalem Bible. Notice the use of the indefinite article. Likewise, John 1:1c can be so translated. We believe it agrees better with the context than "and the Word was God" for in this text we have one "theos" who is said to be with another who is "ho theos." There are two beings here and as one is said to be with the other they must be two different 'gods' also. QEOS in John 1:1c might very well be in the "emphatic" position but that means that the emphasis is not making out that the Word was HO QEOS but QEOS. Yes, the Word was of the category of or the quality of the class of QEOS.

Dr. J. Johnson of California State University, Long Beach: "No justification whatsoever for translating THEOS EN HO LOGOS as 'the Word was a god.' There is no syntactical parallel to Acts 28:6 where there is a statement in indirect discourse; John 1:1 is direct....I am neither a Christian nor a trinitarian."

But Acts 28:4 is syntactically parallel. J.BeDuhn says of Acts 28:4 as a parallel to John 1:1:

"Acts 28:4, which is a perfect choice, and shows how this qualitative sense for the anarthrous predicate nominative before the verb works."

Dr. Eugene A. Nida, head of Translations Department, American Bible Society: "With regard to John 1:1, there is of course a complication simply because the New World Translation was apparently done by persons who did not take seriously the syntax of the Greek." [Responsible for the Good News Bible - The committee worked under him.]

After all the foregoing would it surprise you to know that we believe that it might be Nida who is himself not taking seriously the justification of such a translation as found in the NWT at John 1:1c based on the "best scholarship done on this subject."-J.Beduhn remarking on the KIT appendix which discusses John 1:1c NWT.

Dr. F. Wescott (whose Greek text - not the English part - is used in the Kingdom Interlinear Translation): "The predicate (God) stands emphatically first, as in IV.24. It is necessarily without the article...No idea of inferiority of nature is suggested by the form of expression, which simply affirms the true deity of the the third clause 'the Word' is declared to be 'God' and so included in the unity of the Godhead."

Dr. Westcott's remarks are really based on his understanding of how John 1:1c accords with his trinitarian perspective. Westcott is entitled to his opinion but quoting such trinitarian remarks hardly means such a translation as found in the NWT and others cannot be upheld. It can!

Dr. J. J. Griesbach (whose Greek text - not the English part - is used in the Emphatic Diaglott): "So numerous and clear are the arguments and testimonies of Scriptures in favour of the true Deity of Christ, that I can hardly imagine how, upon the admission of the Divine authority of Scripture, and with regard to fair rules of interpretation, this doctrine can by any man be called in doubt. Especially the passage, John 1:1-3, is so clear and so superior to all exception, that by no daring efforts of either commentators or critics can it be snatched out of the hands of the defenders of the truth."

Yet William Loader says of a translation-for that is what we are talking about here, not really theological perspectives such as Griesbach's, as "and the Word was a god", "

"The Word was a god," The other two translations["God" and "divine"]fit the context more smoothly at one level. Yet their evaluation cannot take place without our making assumptions about the author's wider frame of reference. In particular it is unlikely, given his context within the Christian community and it's roots in Judaism, that he would mean that there is more than one God....It is true on the more 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 and against which the second is defined. They are not presented as two equal gods."-italics added

Dr. Harry A. Sturz: (Dr. Sturz is Chairman of the Language Department and Professor of Greek at Biola College) "Therefore, the NWT rendering: "the Word was a god" is not a "literal" but an ungrammatical and tendential translation. A literal translation in English can be nothing other than: "the Word was God." - THE BIBLE COLLECTOR July-December, 1971 .p12

Perhaps Dr. Harry Sturz should look at Vine's Expository Dictionary of Bible Words where this scholar say that to translate John 1:1c as "a god was the Word" is literal?

Also, if by "tendential"(? spelling) he means "tendentious," that is "biased(bad sense)," yet the rendering "a god" is literal, then is the NWT translators biased toward a literal rendering? And as for being "ungrammatical" perhaps he should read what Murray J. Harris has stated as quoted already but which we will do so again: "Accordingly, from the point of view of grammar alone,[theos en ho logos]could be rendered "the Word was a god."-Jesus As God, 1992, pp.60

Of interest are these comments made by Dr.Jason BeDuhn, who we have already quoted. In a discussion that included all of the above scholar's comments upon the rendering of John 1:1c in the NWT BeDuhn makes these(underlining and italics ours):

"Certainly Metzger is a giant in my field, and he has made very important contributions that are unimpeachable. I can hope to accomplish only a fraction of what he has accomplished in his eighty years, and I am still relatively early in my career. The fact remains that in his published remarks on John 1:1c, Metzger argues primarily on the basis of theology, rather than language. His only linguistic argument is "Colwell's Rule," which he misunderstands,........ So on this particular topic, Metzger fares rather poorly, despite his expertise and accomplishments in other areas. Colwell is another person who contributed tremendous advances to our field, and is rightly honored for them. Yet, even though his "rule" cannot, as formulated, settle the translation of John 1:1c, it is in fact a completely imaginary rule of Greek grammar, without any valid foundation. Here again, a mistake has been made by an otherwise great scholar. And it is quite common to find that such mistakes occur where theological interest has temporarily interfered with scholarly objectivity.

"So it is not the person, but the evidence and argument in particular instances that must be judged. Metzger and Colwell, as good as they are, are wrong about John 1:1c, and so citing them on one side of the debate offers no valid support."(for the complete discussion where these remarks occurred please see here)

We are of the hope that all of the above will make those websites/discussion boards that use these very quotes where certain scholars have remarked upon the NWT's rendering of John 1:1c "and the Word was a god", that they will consider that these remarks are worth very little if any in evaluating the validity of such a rendering and that they would be best to confine these comments to the waste bin! But if these websites/discussion board participants do not then that would be good evidence that these ones cannot be trusted to be without undue and unwarranted bias. This would indicate that those who continue to cite and quote the above are not interested in 'truth' and that one of their wishes is to mislead as many as possible- aswell as themselves.