A BIBLE TRANSLATION PRODUCED BY JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES
How Monotheism and the "a god" rendering of the anarthrous QEOS at John 1:1 is theologically(biblically) sound.
On the other pages discussing John 1:1 on this
site we have found that the Greek of John 1:1c, namely, KAI QEOS
HN hO LOGOS, can be rendered as " and the Word was a god"
and that this is grammatically possible, even grammatically
preferable. However, those trinitarians who admit as much argue
against it on the grounds that such a rendering conflicts with
the belief of monotheism. This is a theological argument.
The belief that there is only one who is QEOS, "God,"
and this one is the true God, so that, if Jesus is QEOS and yet
is not a 'false god' he must of necessity be that one true God
and not "a god."
We will 'set the scene' by firstly quoting William Loader who made these remarks on the three ways John 1:1c can be translated:
Notice that the stumbling block Loader has with the translation of John1:1c as "the Word was god," is that of the "context within the Christian community and it's roots in Judaism, that he would mean that there is more than one God." What he means in essence is that it does not seem to 'marry' with the idea or belief in Monotheism.
However, note what another writer on this passage of scripture has said and see if there is any real conflict with a rendering that says the "Word was a god," and 'monotheism:
Regarding Haenchen's comment above "...In fact, for the author of the hymn, as for the Evangelist, only the Father was "God" (ho theos; cf 17:3);.." Hans Kung comments on John 17.3 "...in this late, fourth Gospel, we still have the statements like: 'And this is eternal life, that they may know the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent'.... Here is a clear distinction between God and Jesus Christ."- Judaism, p.382, SCM Press, 1995 English edition.
It is to be noted from the above that someone other than "the God," could bear the title or rather the term "god," [Greek theos or QEOS] and not contradict or conflict with the notion of monotheism at that time. We have to realise that such terms as 'monotheism,' 'polytheism' and 'henotheism' are relatively modern descriptive terms. Polytheism is the belief and religious worship of more than one god. Each god has a 'sphere' of their own. Jehovah's Witnesses are not polytheists. Henotheism is the belief in and worship of one god without denying the existence of others who also can receive religious worship. Jehovah's Witnesses are not henotheists. Monotheism has been defined as the belief in and religious worship of one God only. Jehovah's Witnesses are then monotheists as they hold to this. According to the Bible's monotheism the rendering "and the Word was a god" would not teach polytheism nor henotheism as the Bible does not say that the "Word," Jesus Christ should receive religious worship, that is, worship as the one true god. Can this be proved from the scriptures? As well as the remarks by Haenchen re Philippians 2:6ff- Yes.
At this point though we would like to interject an interesting comment from the book A Christian Theology of the Old Testament by George A.F.Knight (SCM Press, London, 1959) where the author writes:
Following this he writes:
We think that in this author is incorrect to think that some of the OT figures between Moses and Amos were "henotheists" for he, like some trinitarians today, with their incorrect charge that the theology of the Witnesses is henotheistic rather than monotheistic, is based on a mis-understanding of what is biblical monotheism, which is being explained on this page, in that biblical monotheism is where only one god is the true god and should be worshipped but that there are other beings under and dependent on this one who are rightly called and even "are gods"(Ps.82.6)but do not receive worship. But also of interest is the parallel that this author shows with Moses being God's mouth-piece and also called a "god"(Ex.4.12; 7.1)and the pre-existent Jesus as God's "Word" (God's 'mouth-piece') and also called "theos" ("god") in John 1.1. This agree with what one will read below when we quote Jack T. Sanders Schismatics, Sectarians, Dissisdents, Deviants: The First One Hundred Years of Jewish-Christian Relations. Please remember this point here when you come to our quoting this work. This shows the background of John's prologue and has a bearing on how we might understand the Word being theos like Moses.
That the Bible clearly states that there is only one God and that others could be called "gods" is borne out from the following scriptures:
(We would like to make
clear at this point something about lexicons that some might
refer to when looking up the meaning of Hebrew (and Greek) words.
Robert Bowman (Why You Should Believe in the Trinity, "Are Angels God?", p.51ff) denies that at Psalms 8:5 the elohim or "gods," "godlike ones" are angels but elohim in this text is in fact God. However, we would defer our readers to the following:
The New Century Bible Commentary, Psalms(1-72):
New International Biblical Commentary, Psalms:
Hence, The Psalms: A New Translation. Translated From the Hebrew and Arranged for Singing to the Psalmody of Joseph Gelineau, Fontana Books, 2nd impression, December 1963 and The Psalms: A New Translation For Worship, Collins Liturgical Publications (by and for the Anglican Church), 1977 reads here:
As does the Revised English Bible of 1989. The New Revised Standard Version has "gods."
The above contradicts Bowman (ibid, pp.52, 53) who asserts that the LXX (Septuagint) translation of elohim as "angels" is a "paraphrase" and "introduc[es] a new understanding of [the Hebrew of Ps.8:5]." The above shows this to be an argument based upon flawed or false grounds! The fact is that "angels" in the Hebrew scriptures, including here at Psalms 8:5, are elohim or "gods."
The New American Bible reads here:
Yes! The Bible shows that "Yahweh is thought of as supreme in a heavenly assembly of divine beings. (cf. note on [Ps]82)"-G.W.Anderson in Peake's Commentary on the Bible, M.Black/H.H.Rowley editors, Thomas Nelson, May 1962, p.442. Italics ours
Bowman(ibid.p.52)also tries to argue that because, as he thinks, that Psalms 8:5 is "parallel" to Genesis' "in the image of God"(Gen.1:26-28) when it says "a little lower than elohim," both in reference to man and, hence, elohim here means "God" and not "gods" or "godlike ones." We do not see how this is necessarily so! Why are they "parallel"? True, there are common thoughts in Psalm 8 and the Genesis account. Yet could not man be made in the "image of God" and yet also be greatly lower than God and yet still "a little lower" than angels? Yes! However, Holt, cutting through all this, correctly observes: "Some have argued that the correct understanding of Psalms 8:5 is 'man was made a little lower than God(i.e., Almighty God)'. We have a difficult time accepting this because it hardly seems that man is 'a little lower than God." This is also out of harmony with Hebrews 2:7, which reads, "What is man that you should keep him in mind, or [the] son of man that you take care of him? You made him a little lower than angels." This verse is referring to the perfect man Jesus Christ yet it says he was lower than angels. So how can imperfect men be just a little lower than God?"-Jesus: God or the Son of God, p.54, ftnote 44)
(On the back cover of Bowman's book we read: "The choice is between believing in the true God as he has revealed himself, mystery and all, or believing in a God who is relatively simple to understand but bears little resemblance to the true God. Trinitarians are willing to live with a God that they can't fully comprehend." We would retort by saying that the choice is between believing in the true God as he has revealed himself, relatively simple to understand and comprehensible or a mysterious incomprehensible God whom bears little resemblance to the True God. 'Unitarians' are willing to live with a God that they can comprehend, know. Cp. John 4:22)
Genesis 6:2,4; Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7-"sons of God." Gesenius' Hebrew Grammar says about the use of "ben" ["son"]. "There is another use of ben-["son of"] or benei ["sons of"] to denote membership of a guild or society (or of a tribe, or any definite class). Thus benei Elohim ["sons of God"] or benei ha-Elohim [son of The God] Genesis 6:2, 4, Job 1:6, 2:1, 38:7 (compare also benei Elim Psalms 29:1, 89:7) properly means not sons of god(s), but beings of the class of elohim [gods] or Elim." p.418. The Lexicon for the Old Testament by Koehler and Baumgartner, on p.134, ed.of 1951 agrees," BENEI ELOHIM(individual) divine beings, gods." And on p.51,"BENEI HA-ELOHIM the (single) gods Genesis 6:2; Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7."
In Old Testament Quotations in the New Testament, one can read an interesting comment on p 59, where the authors show that in Psalms 97:7 and 138:1 angels are called elohim (the LXX has "angels" both places). This seems to suggests then that their opinion was that the word elohim could refer to, be applied to angels, as we also maintain.(1983, by G.L.Archer and G.Chirichigno) This is certainly the opinion of the already quoted New International Biblical Commentary: Psalms by Broyes. He writes in reference to 138:1-3: "It is possible the expression, before the "gods," can refer to human judges....,but it is more likely we should understand this term in the same sense as it is used in Psalm 82..., namely as heavenly beings(i.e., angels.).p.481
We might also quote from a web page critical of the beliefs of Jehovah's Witnesses and which has a bearing on this page's subject matter, namely, biblical monotheism.
In reply we would remark:
We would ask if anyone has noticed already a mistake in the above explanation of Nehemiah 9:6? It does not say "Jehovah is alone" but that "You are Jehovah alone." This means that there is no other that is called Jehovah, no other that is the true God and no other can rival him as the rightful Sovereign of the Universe. Jehovah is not "alone." Surrounding Him and his throne the Bible describes heavenly creatures that have intimate contact with him. These are the "sons of God." Jehovah has a family of spirit creatures with him in the spiritual heavens. He is certainly not alone! The Bible teaches that there is only one God. This is monotheism. But today there is the common but erroneous conception that Biblical monotheism means that only One can be called "God" - Hebrew "elohim," Greek "theos." However, even this following quote shows this to be wrong.
Men = gods; Psalms 82:1,6; "God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgement:"-v.1; "I say, "You are gods, children of the Most High, all of you."-v.6 NRSV. At John 10:34-36 Jesus quotes Ps.82; "Jesus answered, "Is it not written in your law, 'I said, you are gods'? If those to whom the word of God came were called 'gods'-and the scripture cannot be annulled-can you say that the one whom the Father has sanctified and sent into the world is blaspheming because I said, 'I am God's Son'?" Clearly, Jesus showed that those who were called elohim there were in fact 'gods,' with a positive understanding. Any other understanding would destroy the force of Jesus' use of that scripture!
Jesus himself quotes from Psalm 82:6: "Is it not written in your Law, 'I said: "You are gods"'? If he called 'gods' those against whom the word of God came..."-John 10:34, 35.
Some however believe that the "gods" of Pslam 82.1, 6 are the "angels."
And we would agree with G. R. Beasley-Murray who comments on these words of Jesus:
Yes! Jesus was not only claiming that he was "God's Son"(10:25, 29) but was also claiming, by quoting the above Psalm, that he was entitled to the designation "god." This is how the Jewish hearers of Jesus words understood him for did they not say that they picked up stones to stone him "because [Jesus], although being a man, make yourself a god."? -NWT. See also the New English Bible. Jesus' words following this charge shows that this translation in the correct one. By claiming that he was "God's Son" he was claiming not that he was "God" but "a god" and so the Jews rightly understood him but incorrectly thought this was "blasphemy". Hence we would also agree with the following: "Once more the Jews attempt to stone Jesus as a blasphemer who makes a claim of divinity which no man is permitted to do(33). Jesus points out to them that even within their Scriptures, whose validity is permanent and beyond dispute, men in the persons of the judges receive from God Himself the title gods (Ps. lxxxii.6). They were entitled to be so designated, for they represented, however imperfectly, the divine will in so far as they were called upon to administer God's word. In the light of this verse from the Psalms, Jesus cannot therefore be legitimately denounced as a blasphemer for calling Himself by what is nominally the lesser title Son of God(36). It is, to be sure, only nominally a lesser title, for the judges as well as the law-givers and prophets of the old dispensation, as is pointed out in verse 35, were those unto whom the word of God came, while Jesus is Himself sent by God, the very Word of God made flesh."-The Gospel According to John, An Introduction and Commentary by Prof. R. V. G. Tasker, Tyndale Press, 1964 printing, 134, 135. What must be accepted from the above however is that others other than God Himself could be designated as god (Gk: QEOS or Heb: elohim) and so the translation of "and the Word was a god" cannot be disputed on theological grounds.
Jack T. Sanders comments on Moses being called "like God" and comparing this with John's christology and calling Jesus THEOS:
Yes! Just as Moses could be called "god" likewise Jesus could be called "god" and not be "equated with the supreme God." When we see John's writings giving Jesus the appellation theos(1:1, 18; 10:33; 20:28)he was using it just the way that Moses had been understood as being 'god." Neither did the Jews think of Moses as "God" and nor did the Jewish-Christians think that Jesus was "God."
In the book The God of the Gospel of John one reads:
In John 1.1 do we see the Word's being described as theos with "limitations and qualifications"? Yes. John qualifies the Word being theos by his showing that the Word was "with" ho theos, that is with the god, "God." That is, the Word, while being predicated with the word theos, was not "God."
Hence, just as the Jewish writer Philo, a monotheist, could write of Moses when expanding on the passage in Exodus 7.1:
....likewise the apostle John, a Jewish writer
and monotheist, could do so too and he does in John 1.1,2 when he
distinguishes and contrasts the "Word,"
that is, God's spokesperson or prophet, from "God," (with
his use of pros "with, " showing a
relationship between one that is ho theos "God"
and another, and by his articular and anarticular uses of theos).
We ought not to forget that the words of of Deuteronomy 18.18
originally made in reference to Moses was applied to Jesus. "A
prophet I shall raise up for them from the midst of their
brothers, like you; and I shall indeed put my words in his mouth,
and he will certainly speak to them all that I shall command him."
Hence, in this tight unit of language John himself
has been careful to qualify and limit the term theos
when he next applies it to the "Word." Also, John a
little further on in this same prologue to his gospel tells us
the Word is monogenes theos(v.18), that is, the Word is
an "only begotten god." Once again, John himself qualifies
and limits the Word's being theos. Here then in
John 1.1c John's anarthrous theos applied to the Word
has the semantic "god" not "God."
The use of HN "was" (the imperfect of
EIMI the "be" verb) in John 1.1c is not one where John
has used it standing alone without any qualification. Any appeal
to this verb here then is entirely missing the context where John
takes great care in so qualifying and limiting in what
way the Word was theos. John then could state "theos
hn ho logos" (literally "god was the word) without
violating monotheism and without confusing the Word's
being theos with the theos he was "with"
but which English translation such as "and the Word was God"
does. We have in Psalms 82.6 "God"(v.1) stating "I
myself have said, 'You are(a "be" verb
supplied by the English translator to make it grammatically
correct) gods (elohim, plural),..." Jesus
refers to this scripture at John 10.34 and the Greek here is
"ego eipi theoi este," literally translated
"I said gods you-are" which in English is "I said
you are (the 'be' verb') gods (theoi, plural)."
This is exactly what we have in John 1.1c where John under
inspiration writes that the Word "was (the "be"
verb") a god (theos, singular). If someone argues
that these ones Jesus refers to (John 10.34 from Ps.82.6)are only functioning
as gods then they would in effect destroy the force of Jesus'
argument for he used this scripture where certain beings are
called "gods" to show that he was not wrong to claim
nor was he "blaspheming" (the charge of the Jews-v.33)he
was "God's Son."(v.35) If the ones he refers
to are only "functionally gods" then this would mean
all that Jesus could and did claim was that he was only
functionally, not literally or really, God's Son! This would be
absurd even for trinitarians/evangelicals!
A 1st century Jewish author, hence, monotheistic author, could write then, if he had occasion to, "In the beginning [of something] Moses was and was with God and was a god" because before stating that Moses was "a god" the writer has made mention of the one true God whom Moses is not but is "with." Hence, this sentence would not be conflicting with biblical monotheism. Nor does what John wrote in 1.1 in regard to the Word being "theos," that is, his being a "god," conflict with biblical monotheism. (For discussions related to this that shows such statements could be made even though OT statements are made such as Deuteronomy 32:39 and Isaiah 43.10 , click on each)
In the book previously quoted, The God of the Gospel of John, the author goes on the quote A. A. Harvey Jesus and the Constraints of History, p.156, 157:
Thompson further writes:
Do we see this in John 1.1, 2? Again the answer is yes. The Word's being theos is not a reference to a sharing in the "divinity" of "God, God Most High," whom the Word has been distinguished from, but here in John the Word's being theos is in a context where the Word as theos is "in reference and relationship to the one figure...the one true God" [the ho theos the Word was "with" at v.1a]. The "reference and relationship" of the Word to the "one true God" is also shown in that John tells us that "all things" came into existence through the Word, hence the author of these "all things" is "God" (the ho theos) not the "Word" the latter being God's agent in creating these "all things"-v.2. Hence, when John says the Word is "a god" in the context of John 1.1,2 this does not "compromise commitment to monotheism."
Yet further on Thompson says:
Applying these facts, which we agree they are a true presentation of the above mentioned OT figures, to not only John 1.1ff but to the whole of this gospel do we see evidence of Jesus being independent or autonomous of God? No. Jesus is wholly and utterly "dependent upon and answerable to God." See for instance John 3.24, 35; 4: 34; 5.19, 30; 6.37, 38; 8: 27. I Cor.15.28; Rev.3.12. We would ask our readers to open the Bible at these places now and read what they say and see that Jesus was "dependent and answerable to [his] God." Hence, once again, if one is to translate John 1.1c as "and the Word was a god" and the context there shows, to re-quote William Loader from the top of this page 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" then this translation does not "threaten monotheism" but is in fact quite in harmony with biblical monotheism.
In the Quram Literature we see that the terms elim, elohim and bene elohim are used for God's angels.(1 QM 12:4-5; 15.14.) Michael, a principal angel, an individual being, is raised up as ruler of the heavenly world and is called el or elohim(1QM 17:7; cf. 11QMelch 24-25)so that there was then an open-ness to using such terms for principal angels, individual mighty beings even though in the OT literature we have such statements made by Jehovah that "besides me there is no God [Heb. elohim]" so that the meaning in the latter did not rule out applying the term in a personal way to another being not "God" without any conflict with monotheism. This also shows that there may be one that is only elohim/QEOS, hence in English rendered by "God," but only in a unique sense so that others can be a "god" or "gods" again with no conflict with monotheism which is not only the recognition of one being who is "God" (elohim/QEOS) but that only this one is to be worshipped. John then, writing in the 1st century could use the Greek word QEOS for another in a personal way who is not Jehovah God. This is exactly what the author Thompson has been used to show to be the case from the quotations we have used from her book. The Oxford Companion to the Bible says under its entry "Angels": "In Israel's early traditions, God was perceived as administrating the cosmos with a retinue of divine assistants. The members of this divine council were identified as "sons of God" and "morning stars" (Job 1.6; 38.7), "gods"(Ps.82) or the "host of heaven"(Neh.9.6; cf. Rev.1.20), and they functioned as God's vicegerents and administrators in a hierarchical bureaucracy over the world (Deut. 32.8 [LXX]; cf. 4.19; 29.26). Where Israel's polytheistic neighbours perceived these beings as simply a part of the pantheon, the Bible depicts them as subordinate and in no way comparable to the God of Israel."-pp.27, 28. This shows also that when we read such statements in Isaiah that "beside [Jehovah] there is no God (or "god")" this is not to indicate that none can be said to be "gods" whom are "subordinate" and not being compared to the "one God" (as the angels are); but in the context of this part of Isaiah these statements are a polemic against those "gods," the "strange gods" of the "polytheistic neighbours" of Israel that were not "subordinate" to the "one God" and were considered by their worshippers to be "comparable" to Israel's God. Hence it would be a gross mistake to take certain statements from Isaiah(43.10; 44.6; 45.5) to deny that the "subordinate" angels who are not "compared" with Jehovah can be "gods" themselves as the scriptures in fact testify they are.
It is quite clearly the case then, that the Bible's monotheism is teaching that only one can be called "God" in the absolute, un-derived sense, ('The Divine Being') while still acknowledging others as "god/s," as "divine beings," in a secondary, derived sense. Either as representatives or reflections (by their very nature of being elohim/theoi) of the true God. There are, of course Bible references to those who are 'false' gods as well. The translation then, "and the Word was a god" in the New World Translation and others:
So, biblical monotheism, should be defined not by the beliefs that agree with Trinitarianism but by the Bible itself. Nor should it be defined by the very word monotheism , as some are apt to do, as this is only a recently coined word derived from the word mono( from Greek monos, alone, single), meaning "one" and theism( from theos "god" + -ism) "the belief in a god/God." The Bible writers did not use the word. But when they spoke or wrote of God they often spoke or wrote of him as the "one God," the "true God" or the "only God." (See John 5:43,44; 17.3; 1 Cor.8.6; Ephesians 4.6; 1 Thess.1.9,10; Jude 25) And in every instance these phrases occur it refers to the Father only, never the Son, never the holy spirit, never to all three together. This is the Bible's monotheism, only the Father is "God." Not some tri-une being of 'Father, Son and Holy Spirit'. The Bible's monotheism then is the worship of only one that is the true God, the Father, and the acceptance that others, such as the Son, the angels and certain men, can rightly be considered "gods," "divine beings" in a different secondary, derived, qualified and limited sense and hence not to be worshipped.
It ought to be mentioned that most trinitarians/evangelicals who are up-to-date with their Greek studies will admit that the anarthrous predicate nominative QEOS in John 1.1c is describing something about the subject, the Word and not being used to identify it. This is really an admittance, whether they realize it or not, that a person or being can be described as QEOS ( with the semantic of "god") with out any conflict with their adherence to monotheism, the belief and worship of "one God." The reason for this is simple. If the noun QEOS is being used by the writer to describe something about the subject then it cannot be translated with a proper name or noun but a common noun. Now, in an English simple sentence (subject-verb-predicate), "the Word was God", "God" is a proper name or noun. It identifies. (As it refers to a unique god.) So this translation trinitarians/evangelicals ought to admit requires some 'explaining'! But in all honesty it really does identify not describe the Word! But the common noun "god" does not identify but describes. Hence, the translation "and the Word was a god" plainly and clearly, and with no explaining necessary, tells us something about the Word...exactly what those who are up-to-date with their Greek studies on anarthrous pre-verbal predicate nominatives (also being count nouns as QEOS is) in the Greek NT admit are meant to do! So, what is stopping all translations in translating the Greek here simply and correctly? They, trinitarians/evangelicals, don't want yet another scripture that has a history of being proffered as a 'proof text' for the deity (read Deity) of the Son of God, Jesus, to be taken away from them. We hope at least our readers who have gotten to this place on this page will have come to realize this and the real motive against the "was a god" translation.
The rendering of John 1:1c as "and the Word was a god" in the New World Translation, and other translations, is therefore not only grammatically correct, acceptable and better than the traditional "and the Word was God" translation (foistered upon us all by the KJV which was and still is the translation that commands great respect and hence is followed by many modern translations such as the NIV, the NRSV etc) but also contextually the better as well as being theologically (biblically) sound.
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