Monday, April 13, 2020

Which is the More Accurate Translation of John 1:1 - "the Word was God" or "the Logos was divine" or "the Word was a god"?

I have written several articles about this issue but many are still asking on what I can say about the comments of others.  Included in this article is the answer I use against an anti-Trinitarian who pretends to be an expert in biblical Greek.

The third clause of John 1:1 is very much debated since there are many translations like the following:
“…and the Word was God” – This translation can be seen in almost all English versions of the Bible. 
“…the Logos was divine” – This can be seen in one version known as Moffatt translation. 
“…and the Word was a god” – This translation can be seen in the bible version used by Jehovah’s witnesses called the New World Translation. 

 In the Greek Bible, this is what we can read:
Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος, καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν, καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος.

Is it right to translate the Greek word, Θεός as “Divine”?

The Greek word, theos means “God.” The Greek word for “divine” is theios

If John wanted to say Jesus was only "divine." He could have said Jesus was θεῖος ("divine"; cf. Acts 17:29; 2 Peter 1:3,4).

Even Bible scholars say the Greek word, theos cannot be translated as “Divine.” 

"A long string of writers has argued that because theos, ‘God’, here has no article, John is not referring to God as a specific being, but to mere qualities of ‘God-ness’. The Word, they say, was not God but ‘divine’. This will not do, There is a perfectly serviceable word in Greek for 'divine' (namely theios)" (The Gospel According to John Commentary, page 117).

“On the one hand, Carson’s critique is correct in that “divine” is too weak."(The Greek Article (A functional Grammar of o-items in the Greek New Testament with Special Emphasis on the Greek Article, Page 239)

By the way, here are the definite articles:

Why is it said that these translations are wrong: "the Logos was divine" and " the word was a god"? 

For the information of everyone, if a noun has an article, it is called an “arthrous noun.” If the noun has no article, it is called an “anarthrous noun.”

According to an Intermediate Greek Grammar written by Greek grammarians: 
“Is it legitimate to infer from the lack of article in front of θεός that “God” is indefinite and should be rendered as “a god”? The answer is a firm “no.” According to Greek syntax, it is common for a definite nominative predicate noun preceding a finite verb to be without the article. In this way, the subject (articular) is distinguished from the predicate nominative (anarthrous, i.e., without the article), yet without indicating that the latter is indefinite (as in “a god”).” (Going Deeper with New Testament Greek, Köstenberger, Merkle, and Plummer, page 50)

Many scholars before and until now are firm in saying that it is common for a  definite nominative predicate noun preceding the finite verb to  be without the article. 

The nominative case is frequently used to assign the subject of the verb. There are other functions of the nominative case including: With a predicate nominative, both subject and predicate nominative is in the nominative case. These constructions can be stated or implied usage of an equative verb (such as εἰμί, γίνομαι, or ὑπάρχω). A predicate nominative provides more information about the subject and may correspond to the subject.

In the New Testament Greek syntax, if the predicate nominative is in the front or precedes the verb, it has no article whether indefinite or not. The predicate nominative is normally qualitative. Sometimes, it is definite.

The grammatical construction states the article is lacking but only the context will state if the noun is indefinite. 

It is clear that anarthrous in usage of theos is seen from the immediate context and we can say it is “definite.” 

Perhaps, others will refer to the statement of Harris on page 62 in his book, Jesus as God: The New Testament Use of Theos in Reference to Jesus:
 “First, as I observe in appendix I (§B.3.b ), it seems a priori unlikely that the largely mechanical and external factor of word order should itself account for the presence or absence of the article with definite predicate nouns. If word order alone determined the anarthrous state of what was a definite noun (ὁ θεὸς) the implication is that John could have written ὁ λόγος ἦν ὁ θεὸς (or even ὁ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος) as a stylistic variant of θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος."

I don’t think that Harris disagrees with our conclusion as general rule of Greek syntax. But he evidently doesn't think it is the meaning in this instance.

St. John could have written ὁ λόγος ἦν ὁ θεὸς and it would have meant the same. ὁ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος would not have meant the same. It would mean "God was the Logos," which John would not want to say. But I would say that, in the quasi-poetic composition of John's Prologue, θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος is stylistically preferable to ὁ λόγος ἦν ὁ θεὸς. It parallels 1:1a.

Because of my argument, I used the two verses to support my point regarding John 1:1c and the verse I used can be found in Mark 2:28 and John 8:54. I used the two verses because of Mark 2:28 where the noun, kurios precedes the finite verb, estin and in John 8:54, the noun theos is ahead of the finite verb, estin.

Since I used John 8:54, an anti-Trinitarian who favored the translation “the Logos was divine” objected. He claimed the Greek words, theos heimon estin can be written as heimon estin theos  with the same meaning, “He is our God.” 

According to him: "What determines the function of a word in Greek is not the word order, but instead the case ending."

My response was:

With theos hemon (our God) one would normally expect the article: ho theos hemon.

So, in this case, John could have written estin ho theos hemon. Because the subject (he) has already been expressed it would be clear that ho theos hemon is the predicate. But if the predicate does precede the verb, as in fact it does in this instance, it lacks the article.

It is true that case ending is more important than word order in determining the function of a word, but word order can also play a part.

Regarding Mark 2:28, the anti-Trinitarian said it is not a good one. Kurios does not have an article not because kurios is a noun before a verb, as I suggested, but because it is not the subject of the sentence. If kurios here in this particular text is the subject, then it would have the article. 

My response was:

Now, I seriously doubt if you really understand the meaning of “subject” and “predicate.” It's true it's not the subject of the sentence, but nor is theos in John 1:1c. The rule is not that the noun lacks the article just because it precedes the verb, but that the noun lacks the article when it is not the subject (i.e. is the predicate) and precedes the verb.  If theos had the article in John 1:1c, the meaning would be "God was the Word." If kurios had the article in Mark 2:28, the meaning would be "the Lord is the Son of Man..."

How about Robert Strachan on page 99 of his book The Fourth Gospel, Its Significance and Environment?
"The closing words of v.1 should be translated, 'the Logos was divine'. Here the word theos has no article, thus giving it the significance of an adjective."(The Fourth Gospel, Its Significance and Environment, Page 99).
Again, “divine” cannot be translated as theos like what D.A. Carson said in his commentary. Many of those who favor “the Logos was divine” are those who refuse to believe that Christ is God.

First, does the translation, “the Logos was divine” mean that Christ is not God? 

Dr. Daniel Wallace in his Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics on page 269 said:
In this second translation, “divine” is acceptable only if it is a term that can be applied only to true deity. (Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, page 269)

Second, do Robert Strachan who wrote the said statement and those who use his book to prove that Christ is not God have the same understanding? 

In another edition of his book  with 1917 as publication date and the publisher was from London: Student Christian Movement. This is what we can read:
"v. 28 – My Lord and My God. This expression of the Divinity of Jesus is the fruit of experience, and not a mere expression of intellectual assent. What is it here that so deepens Thomas’s experience and produces such faith? It would appear that he does not need now to touch the wounds although invited to do so."( The Fourth Gospel, Its Significance and Environment, p. 232)
"Then shall he know that I am . Jesus here speaks in the accent of Divinity."(The Fourth Gospel, Its Significance and Environment, p. 209)
It is clear that Strachan believes Christ is God!

It is clear that the correct translation of John 1:1 is “and the Word was God.” 

Many scholars attest that this is the accurate translation and one of them is F.F. Bruce. 
"The structure of the third clause in verse 1, theos en ho ho logos, demands the translation ‘The Word was God’. Since logos has the article preceding it, it is marked out as the subject. The fact that theos is the first word after the conjunction kai (‘and’) shows that the main emphasis of the clause lies on it."(F.F. Bruce, The Gospel of John, p. 31)


  1. Replies
    1. Your words are really inspiring and motivating, Prof. Craig. :-) Thank you so much!


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