John 1:1 for nonbelievers.....

by logansrun 33 Replies latest watchtower bible

  • Loris

    Recently I posted my thoughts on this subject. I agree with Herk on this one. I feel that John was not refering to a person at all. The error begins with capitalizing the "W" and translating the particle as "him" instead of "it"

    Jehovah promised, gave his word, that Abraham’s seed would come and the nations would be blessed. The promise was at long last flesh and his name was called Jesus. "The word [of God] became flesh, he lived among us, we saw his glory, the glory that he has from the Father as [the] only son of the Father, full of grace and truth." John 1:14 NJB

    In the style of the Genesis account, And God proceeded to say, "Let the Messiah come to be." And there came to be the Messiah.

    In the beginning the word was spoken and throughout the ages the word continued to be in the heart and mind of God, not forgotten. In fact it could be said that since the thing spoken in the beginning was such a sure thing and it was of such importance to him, that God was the word. Just as it can be said that, "God is love." and that "..God is light" 1 John 4:8, 1 John 1:5

    Benjamin Wilson wrote The Emphatic Diaglott, an interlinear Greek to English translation. I personally feel that it is one of the best. He trusted the International Bible Students Association Watchtower Bible and Tract Society to publish it in 1942. Probably he hoped that it would become widely distributed. Foolish man. (Sorry I digress.)

    Using Mr Wilson’s translation I present for your thoughtful consideration John 1:1. (he left ‘logos’ untranslated, I used ‘word’ in its place)

    "In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and God was the word. This was in the beginning with God. Through it everything was done; and without it not even one thing was done, which has been done. In it was life; and life was the light of men. And the light shone in the darkness and the darkness apprehended it not."

    John 1:14 reads "And the word became flesh, and dwelt among us, - and we beheld his glory, a glory as of an only-begotten from a father, - full of favor and truth."

    Two simple things are different in this translation. The capital ‘W’ is not there and the Greek particle ‘autos’ is translated ‘it’ instead of ‘him.’ There is no justification for the ‘W’ or the ‘him’ except preconceived opinion and belief. An enormous amount of misunderstandings and arguments have been caused by those two small differences!

    My two cents


  • logansrun


    Fascinating! The Greek philosophical notion of Logos was also one of an impersonal, divine order, was it not? I wonder if that is what the Johanine author was referring to.


  • AlanF

    The question of the proper translation of John 1:1 will probably never be answered definitively. But you wanted some comments, Brad, so here you go:

    I believe that the early Christian concept of Jesus went through a rapid evolution in the 1st and early 2nd centuries. I see no trace of a trinitarian bent in Matthew, Mark or Luke. These gospels present Jesus as the greatest of the prophets -- as a man, not as as god-man. However, a few of the other New Testament writings contain statements that can be interpreted consistently with a trinitarian belief, culminating I believe in the gospel of John where Jesus is well on his way to full deification. Of course, these statements can also be reconciled with a non-trinitarian belief, which is where the controversy comes in.

    About the best book I've read on the subject of John 1:1 is Jesus As God by Murray Harris. Harris a trinitarian and comes down solidly on the side of a trinitarian view of John 1:1c. He gives a great deal of background on the meanings of various OT and NT terms for "god" and "God". This material shows that the Greek theos had a much richer variety of meanings than do the English words "god" and "God". A theos could be a special man, a ruler, a king, a real (or what people believed was real) god, a mythical god, and so forth. Context, both textual and cultural, determined what was meant in any given piece of writing. Since we no longer have a living example of 1st-century Greek-speaking culture, many contexts are speculative.

    Harris explains that in John 1:1c, theos is qualitative and refers to the nature of God. John cannot be equating "the Word" and "God" because that is the heresy of Sabellianism. I.e., when the the Greek says "kai theos en ho logos" (literally, "and god was the word") the words in English word order mean "and the word was god", not "and god was the word" (here I'm deliberately avoiding capital letters since the original Greek was entirely written in capitals (lowercase Greek letters were invented hundreds of years after the 1st century) and so a distinction between "god", "God" and "GOD" did not exist). Word order in Greek is less important than in English, and subjects and objects of verbs are determined not by order but by their form and often the presense or absence of the definite article ho ("the"). In John 1:1c, "the word" is the subject and "god" is the object. The word order is odd to an English speaker, somewhat like saying, "Human is Brad", but it means exactly the same either way one puts the word order ("Brad is human" would be proper English). For John actually to equate "the word" and "god" he would have had to write something like kai ho theos en ho logos ("and the god was the word") since use of the definite article ho would mean that the subject and object are interchangeable (you might want to read a Greek primer to get a better explanation; I'm pretty rusty on this stuff anymore).

    In view of the above considerations, Harris tends to favor a translation something like, "and what God was, the Word was", which leaves open the question of just what "was" that John was talking about. He definitely rejects the NWT rendering because, he says, John would not have referred to the God he worshiped (including the Father and the Son) as a mere "god", but I think this is begging the question and I reject it.

    Hardly any scholars these days seem to reject the notion that theos in John 1:1c is qualitative. In other words, they don't say that theos here means literally God himself, but refers to a quality of God. And here's the rub for those on either side of the argument: just what quality was John referring to and how does one prove it? Did John mean, as trinitarians claim, that theos means literally "the divine essence of God", i.e., the "nature of God" as God (the Creator and Ruler of the universe)? Or did John mean, as non-trinitarians claim, that theos meant merely the essence of a general theos, in the same manner that anyone of renown or power was also a theos (like a great man, a king, Satan, etc.)? I don't know that this question is answerable. The claims I've seen from trinitarians are merely blanket claims that amount to circular arguments. I've not yet seen a non-trinitarian try to argue the point, but I wouldn't be surprised if Greg Stafford has written something along these lines.

    Hopefully this has given you some more to think about. I've learned that people on both sides of the John 1:1 controversy can be ridiculously dogmatic, and that hardly anyone who isn't a Greek scholar understands the above issues (and a lot more issues besides). And even scholars are often guilty of lousy, biased argumentation. Trinitarian scholars have much to lose if they give even the slightest hint that a non-trinitarian is making a valid point. The same goes for non-trinitarian scholars (and of course, JWs, who could be disfellowshipped for allowing that a trinitarian might be making a valid point). So these days I just chalk it all up to the fact that various Christian notions of Jesus have evolved over the years. But it's somewhat like arguing about how many angels could fit on the head of a pin, since after all, Jesus was not a "god" but a mere man who happened to strike a major chord with his philosophy.


  • peacefulpete

    Very much enjoyed your summery of the debate Alan. The question that does beg answer is why the use of Pagan terminology? Logos was not a simple generic noun, but a loaded philosophic pronoun at the time the book was written. It appears inescapable to conclude the that author was making use and application of Greek wisdom literature. As the article snip I posted showed, this was already being done in Jewish circles. There are numerous other examples of phrasology and terminology in the book of John that were commandeered from the philosophical works of the time.

  • logansrun

    Thanks Alan. Your synopsis of the issue was quite clear. Regardless of the actual meaning of John 1:1 I must conclude that the Johanine author did wish to express that Jesus was something much greater than how he is portrayed in the synoptic gospels. I say this, not just because of the opening verse, but due to other references throughout the book -- the "I AM" statements, Thomas saying "My Lord and my God" and the pharisees wishing to kill Jesus because he "makes himself God." I'm not sure if he (or she) had a full-blown trinitarian concept in mind, but Jesus definitely was on his way towards full deification.



  • ballistic

    Thinking "out of the box" for a second, I would say that we are all part of God. Time and space are part of the same tangible substance and our minds are just a part of that greater existence. Us deciding whether "the Word" is or is not part of "us" is not a relevant question in that world view. Everyone is part of that existence. This realisation is the only "religion" I have right now.

  • gumby
    The question of the proper translation of John 1:1 will probably never be answered definitively

    The Trinity will never be answered definitively. Man has argued it since the gitgo shortly after Jesus death ( at least WHO Jesus really was). You would think that if the God of the bible is the real deal........he would at least let you know whether He and his son are one in the same or not a bit more clearly.

    I didn't know for sure after many years of going each way.......until I realised the bible with it's main message is a bunch of shit in the first place.......hence their was no need to try and prove anything out of it. If you believe it's a lie.....why use it to prove a doctrines that are also a lies... since you don't believe in the bible God in the first place?


  • Myxomatosis


    thought I'd clear this up.

    Panda says: So while Ireneaus accepted John into the Bible canon he did not accept the above interpretation of John 1. If we consider as Ptolemy did that "Wisdom ...participated with God," that is the primal Father or Silence needed the divine energies of Wisdom to create. But then again even Ireneaus admits that "before the world ...the unknown Source " was un-nameable, and un-named "since there are no words to describe this source."

    Myx: Wrong! Irenaeus quoted John 1:1 exactly as it is "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God"

    Remember, Irenaeus is a disciple of Polycarp, who himself was a disciple of John the Baptist... pretty cool

    ch. 11, book 3 Against Heresis: Irenaeus quotes John, The Word, being Monogenes with the Father, was God. The creator off all things visible, invisible, including Archangels. :)

    "...and that Monogenes was the beginning, but Logos was the true son of Monogenes; and that this creation to which we belong was not made by the primary God, but by some power lying far below Him, and shut off from communion with the things invisible and ineffable. The disciple of the Lord therefore desiring to put an end to all such doctrines, and to establish the rule of truth in the Church, that there is one Almighty God, who made all things by His Word, both visible and invisible; showing at the same time, that by the Word, through whom God made the creation, He also bestowed salvation on the men included in the creation; thus commenced His teaching in the Gospel: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him, and without Him was nothing made.122 What was made was life in Him, and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not."123 "All things," he says, "were made by Him; "therefore in "all things" this creation of ours is [included], for we cannot concede to these men that [the words] "all things" are spoken in..."

    Against Heresis Book 3 ch. 8

    "If, then, he had not pointed out Him who binds and spoils his goods, but had merely spoken of him as being strong, the strong man should have been unconquered. But he also subjoined Him who obtains and retains possession; for he holds who binds, but he is held who is bound. And this he did without any comparison, so that, apostate slave as he was, he might not be compared to the Lord: for not he alone, but not one of created and subject things, shall ever be compared to the Word of God, by whom all things were made, who is our Lord Jesus Christ."

    ch. 8 prt. 3
    Jesus is the creator, and the Word, that is God, (John 1:3, Colossians)

    "But the things established are distinct from Him who has established them, and what have been made from Him who has made them. For He is Himself uncreated, both without beginning and end, and lacking nothing. He is Himself sufficient for Himself; and still further, He grants to all others this very thing, existence; but the things which have been made by Him have received a beginning. But whatever things had a beginning, and are liable to dissolution, and are subject to and stand in need of Him who made them, must necessarily in all respects have a different term [applied to them], even by those who have but a moderate capacity for discerning such things; so that He indeed who made all things can alone, together with His Word, properly be termed God and Lord: but the things which have been made cannot have this term applied to them, neither should they justly assume that appellation which belongs to the Creator."

    Irenaeus, as one example of many, identifies the Son as God (and all other "gods" such as in Psalm 82 elsewhere in his books, he calls false.)

    ch. 9, prt 3

    "For inasmuch as the Word of God was man from the root of Jesse, and son of Abraham, in this respect did the Spirit of God rest upon Him, and anoint Him to preach the Gospel to the lowly. But inasmuch as He was God, He did not judge according to glory, nor reprove after the manner of speech. For "He needed not that any should testify to Him of man,84 for He Himself knew what was in man."85

    The way Irenaeus expands on the Word (who he identifies, as John did, as Jesus) is rather fascinating. :::

    From Irenaeus against heresis (mostly the Gnostic teacher Valentinus).From looking at the heresies themselves it is clear that the heretics derived their doctrines from different titles of God and Christ,like LOGOS,MONOGENES,CHRIST,...etc. -every name they use is a Greek term taken out of context to name a character in their heretical writings.But Irenaeus defeats every heresy with the truth. Such as the following.

    Chapter VI-The Holy Ghost, Throughout the Old Testament Scriptures, Made Mention of No Other God or Lord, Save Him Who is the True God.

    1. Therefore neither would the Lord, nor the Holy Spirit, nor the apostles, have ever named as God, definitely and absolutely, him who was not God, unless he were truly God; nor would they have named any one in his own person Lord, except God the Father ruling over all, and His Son who has received dominion from His Father over all creation, as this passage has it: "The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit Thou at my right hand, until I make Thine enemies Thy footstool." Here the [Scripture] represents to us the Father addressing the Son; He who gave Him the inheritance of the heathen, and subjected to Him all His enemies. Since, therefore, the Father is truly Lord, and the Son truly Lord, the Holy Spirit has fitly designated them by the title of Lord. And again, referring to the destruction of the Sodomites, the Scripture says, "Then the Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah fire and brimstone from the Lord out of heaven." For it here points out that the Son, who had also been talking with Abraham, had received power to judge the Sodomites for their wickedness. And this [text following] does declare the same truth: "Thy throne, O God; is for ever and ever; the sceptre of Thy kingdom is a right sceptre. Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity: therefore God, Thy God, hath anointed Thee." For the Spirit designates both [of them] by the name, of God-both Him who is anointed as Son, and Him who does anoint, that is, the Father. And again: "God stood in the congregation of the gods, He judges among the gods." He [here] refers to the Father and the Son, and those who have received the adoption; but these are the Church. For she is the synagogue of God, which God-that is, the Son Himself-has gathered by Himself. Of whom He again speaks: "The God of gods, the Lord hath spoken, and hath called the earth." Who is meant by God? He of whom He has said, "God shall come openly, our God, and shall not keep silence; " that is, the Son, who came manifested to men who said, "I have openly appeared to those who seek Me not." But of what gods [does he speak]? [Of those] to whom He says, "I have said, Ye are gods, and all sons of the Most High." To those, no doubt, who have received the grace of the "adoption, by which we cry, Abba Father."

    One thing of extreme importance to note in this. When it speaks of the Son talking to Abraham here it is referring to Genesis 18.
    And in Genesis 18 it is Jehovah that appears to Abraham and talks to him. Kinda interesting I'd say.
    More specific to John 1:1 I would say is Book II ch.28 - Re: LOGOS

    "Ye seem to affirm gravely and honestly enough that ye believe in God; but then, as ye are utterly unable to reveal any other God, ye declare this very Being in whom ye profess to believe, the fruit of defect and the offspring of ignorance. Now this blindness and foolish talking flow to you from the fact that ye reserve nothing for God, but ye wish to proclaim the nativity and production both of God Himself, of His Ennoea, of His Logos, and Life, and Christ; and ye form the idea of these from no other than a mere human experience; not understanding, as I said before, that it is possible, in the case of man, who is a compound being, to speak in this way of the mind of man and the thought of man; and to say that thought (ennœa) springs from mind (sensus), intention (enthymesis) again from thought, and word (logos) from intention (but which logos? for there is among the Greeks one logos which is the principle that thinks, and another which is the instrument by means of which thought is expressed); and [to say] that a man sometimes is at rest and silent, while at other times he speaks and is active. But since God is all mind, all reason, all active spirit, all light, and always exists one and the same, as it is both beneficial for us to think of God, and as we learn regarding Him from the Scriptures, such feelings and divisions [of operation] cannot fittingly be ascribed to Him. For our tongue, as being carnal, is not sufficient to minister to the rapidity of the human mind, inasmuch as that is of a spiritual nature, for which reason our word is restrained within us, and is not at once expressed as it has been conceived by the mind, but is uttered by successive efforts, just as the tongue is able to serve it.
    But God being all Mind, and all Logos, both speaks exactly what He thinks, and thinks exactly what He speaks. For His thought is Logos, and Logos is Mind, and Mind comprehending all things is the Father Himself. He, therefore, who speaks of the mind of God, and ascribes to it a special origin of its own, declares Him a compound Being, as if God were one thing, and the original Mind another. So, again, with respect to Logos, when one attributes to him the third place of production from the Father; on which supposition he is ignorant of His greatness; and thus Logos has been far separated from God. As for the prophet, he declares respecting Him, "Who shall describe His generation? " But ye pretend to set forth His generation from the Father, and ye transfer the production of the word of men which takes place by means of a tongue to the Word of God, and thus are righteously exposed by your own selves as knowing neither things human nor divine."

    Against Heresis book 3 ch. 9, prt 1

    2. Then again Matthew, when speaking of the angel, says, "The angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in sleep."70 Of what Lord he does himself interpret: "That it may be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, Out of Egypt have I called my son."71 "Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel; which is, being interpreted, God with us."72 David likewise speaks of Him who, from the virgin, is Emmanuel: "Turn not away the face of Thine anointed. The Lord hath sworn a truth to David, and will not turn from him. Of the fruit of thy body will I set upon thy seat."73 And again: "In Judea is God known; His place has been made in peace, and His dwelling in Zion."74 Therefore there is one and the same God, who was proclaimed by the prophets and announced by the Gospel; and His Son, who was of the fruit of David's body, that is, of the virgin of [the house of] David, and Emmanuel; whose star also Balaam thus prophesied: "There shall come a star out of Jacob, and a leader shall rise in Israel."75 But Matthew says that the Magi, coming from the east, exclaimed "For we have seen His star in the east, and are come to worship Him; "76 and that, having been led by the star into the house of Jacob to Emmanuel, they showed, by these gifts which they offered, who it was that was worshipped; myrrh, because it was He who should die and be buried for the mortal human met; gold, because He was a King, "of whose kingdom is no end; "77 and frankincense, because He was God, who also "was made known in Judea,"78 and was "declared to those who sought Him not."79

  • JCanon

    Hi Alan....thanks so much for responding to this question for the group!!! But I do think we can resolve some of this....

    Hardly any scholars these days seem to reject the notion that theos in John 1:1c is qualitative. In other words, they don't say that theos here means literally God himself, but refers to a quality of God. And here's the rub for those on either side of the argument: just what quality was John referring to and how does one prove it? Did John mean, as trinitarians claim, that theos means literally "the divine essence of God", i.e., the "nature of God" as God (the Creator and Ruler of the universe)? Or did John mean, as non-trinitarians claim, that theos meant merely the essence of a general theos, in the same manner that anyone of renown or power was also a theos (like a great man, a king, Satan, etc.)? I don't know that this question is answerable. The claims I've seen from trinitarians are merely blanket claims that amount to circular arguments. I've not yet seen a non-trinitarian try to argue the point, but I wouldn't be surprised if Greg Stafford has written something along these lines.

    My take on how John thought agout Jesus' godship is based upon another reference with a clearer context. Certainly we would have to consider that John was being consistent at least in the absence of a clear contradiction or extrapolation.

    That reference is at John 1:18 where John refers to Jesus as the "only-begotten god in the bosom position of the Father." Here John is calling Jesus "a god". Plus he is closely associated still with the Father. So if you read this verse and maintain the context, it is perfectly consistent with saying: "The Word was with God and the Word was a god"(i.e. the only-begotten god in the bosom position of the father).

    And, briefly, again, another point that now makes me favor this rendering is that if John was attempting to ultimately elevate Jesus to a godship position with only the exception of the Father, being superior or similar to Jesus, then it would seem Jesus was created as the "highest form possible" for any other being. But that is contradicted when we find that God rewarded him with a higher position than he had before he came to the earth. So even in John's mind he was a lesser god before than he would be now and thus when he was created.

    So in the end, I'm reading the use of "god" as a term to describe a powerful spiritual being or an angel or something aweinspiring, etc.

    Plus, this was the Greek world after all. So what if John needed to make a comparison of Jesus with the common concept of the Greeks of what a god was. They awarded the Caesar with the title of "god" most directly; it wasn't even implied. So maybe John had to or preferred to use that term with Jesus so that the Greeks would get the idea that this was a "glorious individual" of heavenly nature like the gods of the Greeks were perceived as. But even so, gods in Greece were so common, assigning Jesus a "godship" would still have been a bit more watered down in Greece than say in our modern times when no one is considered a legitimate god really except the Father.

    And interestingly enough, in line with the Greek concept of being a "god" which sometimes was attributed to a glorious man of great skill or wisdom is the clear reference at 1 Thessalonians 2:4 where even the elect are called "gods" as are the angels. So if even angels are called gods or those who will one day become angels are called "gods", was John merely describing is nature, that of a god/angel compared to him being a man at the time of his creation?

    And then when it boils down to a CRITICAL reference as far as rank goes, the Bible says ultimately "there is just ONE GOD". So whether or not one sees clearly these are two gods of distinct individuality, other references would likely clearly diminish the godship of Jesus when compared to the father and thus it would be nearly inconsistent for John to be making that particular comparison.

    As I noted, I had thought that this was what John might have meant until reconsidering other references of John wherein he basically is just calling Jesus a "god" as he would call any angel "a god". Just my thoughts.

    Thanks, again for your comments, always so eloquent...


  • herk

    I hope this is helpful. Maybe yes, maybe no.

    Jesus is called ho theos at John 20:28 and Hebrews 1:8. But at 2 Corinthians 4:4, the same title is used for the Devil! It seems to me that, if translators were consistent, they should have rendered that verse in this way: "The God [with a capital "G"] of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving." When a text applies ho theos to Jesus, they use a capital "G" (God), but when the text applies ho theos to the Devil, they use a lower case "g" (god). I don't see any good basis for this inconsistency.

    In addition to God, Jesus and the Devil, others are called ho theos in the Scriptures. In Psalm 45:6, the sons of Korah addressed the king of Israel in this way: "Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever." In the Greek Septuagint, and in Hebrews 1:8 (where the psalm is quoted and applied to Jesus), the term is ho theos. Again, some translators show an inconsistency by using a lower case "g" in Psalm 45 but a capital "G" in Hebrews 1.

    The Jews of course never took Psalm 45:6 to mean that their king was actually Almighty God himself. They didn't believe God and Israel's king were each part of a universal Godhead. They knew why it was proper to speak of the king as "The God." The king was God's chief spokeman and representative. He spoke to the people for God. What he declared as king was as sacred and as weighty as if God himself had said it. As we know, Jesus pointed out to the Jewish leaders that the ancient judges of Israel were called "gods." (Psalm 82:6; John 10:33-35) Moses also was "God" (with a capital "G" in the New American Standard Bible and other translations) due to his position as God's spokesman. (Exodus 7:1)

    Finally, at Exodus 3:11 we read, "But Moses said to God, . . ." The translators of the Septuagint used ho theos here for "God." But was Moses really speaking to God himself? If we go back to verse 2 we note that it was really "the angel of the Lord" who had appeared to Moses. So Moses addressed the angel as "God" in the same way that the Jews addressed their kings and judges as "God." Couldn't this be the simple reason why the apostle Thomas and the writer of Hebrews spoke of Jesus as God (ho theos)? And couldn't it be the reason Jesus is referred to as a God in John 1:18?

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