The First Verse In John Everyone Needs To Understand

Continued from Part 20

John 1:1

It is in John 1:1 that the nature of the Logos (the Word) is explicitly stated.  The first verse of John, as translated in the King James Version, reads:  “In the beginning was the Word [ho logos], and the Word was with God [ton theon, accusative case of ho theos], and the Word was God [theos]” (John 1:1).  

In the Greek this is:  En arche en ho logos, kai ho logos en pros ton theon, kai theos en ho logos.  The Greek sentence ends with the crucial words:  kai theos en ho logos (“and god was the Word”).  We are concerned here with the Greek noun theos (“god”) written without the definite article.  This contrasts with the first mentioning of this noun expressed by ton theon, the accusative case of ho theos (“the God”), i.e., the noun theos preceded by the definite article ho.

In this verse, reference is made to God and the Logos, not to three beings.  When John 1:1 refers to the Word as “god,” there is really no basis for concluding that he is the second person of a triune deity.  This is evident from the Greek text, where, as we have just seen, the definite article ho appears before the first mention of God in the sentence, but is omitted before the second.  The presence of the definite article before the noun suggests an identity, a personality, whereas its absence merely suggests a quality about someone.  In the New Testament, the definite article usually precedes the noun theos when it denotes the one-and-only God.  Since the Greek definite article is omitted before the second mention of theos, no proof for the existence of a triune deity can be accurately adduced from this verse.  The omission of the definite article before the second mention of theos causes the word theos to act merely as an adjective that describes the nature of the Word.  It thus serves as a predicate adjective rather than as a predicate noun.21  For this reason, some translators render John 1:1 as “the word was deity” or “was divine.”  This is quite different from the trinitarian view that the Word was God and was identical with God.  If the Word was toward God, or with God, or for God, it is impossible to say that it was God.  If it was God, it could stand in no relationship to God.

The author of John is expressing his belief that Jesus, the Word, was not “the God” but “a god.”  It should not be considered unusual that a New Testament author refers to Jesus as a “god” since he is considered to be the supernatural agent that is the decisive link between God and His creation.  The term “god” is applied even to the evil angel Satan, “the god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4).  Indeed, Paul says:  “there are many gods and many lords but for us there is but one God, the Father, . . . and one Lord, Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 8:5-6).  Since referring to Jesus as a god would not make him, in any way, part of the one-and-only God, the proper translation of John 1:1 should be:  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with [literally “toward”] God, and the Word was a god.”  There is no reason to assume that the need for a definite article is understood from the context in order to be able to translate the end of the verse as, “and the Word was [the] God.”  John means that the god mentioned here was not the only god, i.e., a supernatural being.

21 Maximillian Zerwick, Biblical Greek, Rome:  Scripta Ponificii Instituti Biblici, 1963, p. 55, par. 171; p. 57, par. 176.

© Gerald Sigal