"...and the Word was a god."
A Christian Apologetic Answers
the Jehovah's Witnesses
by David Smart
QUESTION: "Doesn't the lack of the Greek article before theos of John 1:1 mean that it must be translated as "a god"?
John 1:1 -- [en arche en ho logos] [kai ho logos en pros ho theos] [kai theos en ho logos]
John 1:1 -- [In the beginning was the Word] [and the Word was with God] [and the Word was God]
The first thing that must be realized and understood is that the Greek and English languages construct their sentences very differently, and I am not talking about the fact that Greek sentences lack punctuation. In a typical English sentence, the subject is followed by the predicate. However, in a Greek sentence this structure is not necessarily followed. Sometimes the subject, or its main verb, is found further down the sentence. Quite opposed to English sentence construction, the fact that one Greek word precedes a following word does not necessarily have any significance.
The third clause of John 1:1 (theos en ho logos) is known as a preverbal anarthrous predicate nominative construction:
As I had said previously, in Greek construction sometimes the subject, or its main verb, is found further down the sentence. In the English language we put the subject first and the predicate nominative later. Not always so in the Greek language. Greek and English grammatical construction is not the same. The first noun in this clause is not the subject, as it would be in typical English usage. All right, well then how is it that we know logos is the subject? Because the subject is identified by the existence of an article in front of it (Greek: ho). Whichever noun has the article, it is the subject. In this case (theos en ho logos) logos is the subject because the article comes before it. This is why we translate it as "the Word was God" rather than "God was the Word."
"The subject is made plain by the article (ho logos) and the predicate without it (theos) just as in John pneuma ho theos can only mean 'God is spirit,' not 'spirit is God'" (Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament).
Stay with me now, because there is another extremely important point to be made concerning this text: if both of the nouns in a predicate nominative construction have the article, or if both lack the article, the two nouns become interchangeable.
A big fuss is made especially by the Jehovah's Witnesses that the word theos in the last clause of John 1:1 is "anarthrous" (i.e. without the article). For this reason, they assure us, it should be translated as "a god." This completely misses the point as to why theos does not have the article. If there had have been an article in front of theos, then John would have been telling us that "God was the Word" as well as "the Word was God." You see? This is why there is no article in front of theos. John was quite intentionally avoiding "modalism" (or sometimes "Sabellianism").
There is no article in front of theos because John did not think or teach that Jesus Christ and the Father were both the same person. For very sound and rational reasons this teaching was considered heretical centuries ago, and not even Jehovah's Witnesses teach modalism.
structure of the third clause in verse 1, theos en 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 shows that the main emphasis of the
clause lies on it. Had theos as well as logos been preceded by the article the meaning would have
been that the Word was completely identical with God, which is impossible if
the Word was also 'with God.' . . . The
"And the Word was God (kai theos en ho logos). By exact and careful language John denied Sabellianism by not saying ho theos en ho logos. That would mean that all of God was expressed in ho logos and the terms would be interchangeable, each having the article" (Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament).
But how does John wish us to take the word theos in the last clause? Does he want us to understand it as indefinite, so that no particular "god" is in mind? Or, in correct Greek translation, does the preverbal position of theos (adding emphasis), and coupled with the lack of the article, indicate that John is describing the nature of the Word, saying that the Word is God?
It can be easily demonstrated that the anarthrous theos is quite in fact qualitive, not indefinite. If the anarthrous theos is to be taken as indefinite, and hence translated into English with an indefinite article ("a god"), then we must do the same to the other 282 times that theos appears without the article. In fact, there are four more instances in chapter 1 of John alone where theos appears anarthrously, and yet the Jehovah's Witnesses inconsistently translate only verse 1 as indefinite, while in the remaining four instances in the first chapter where theos appears anarthrously they don't translate them as "a god."
In 2 Corinthians the word theos appears anarthrously, but the Jehovah's Witnesses' New World Translation (NWT) does not translate it as "For a god was in Christ..." Nor do they translate John 1:6 as indefinite either ("There was a man sent from a god, whose name was John"). John would not mean the same if they translated it as indefinite ("...to them gave he power to become the sons of a god..."). Same with verse 13 ("Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of a god") and verse 18 ("No man hath seen a god at any time...").
Even though in every one of these we see theos appearing without the article, Jehovah's Witnesses do not translate them in the indefinite as "a god." They only do it to the third clause of verse 1. Rather inconsistent, this author notes, not to mention a clear demonstration that the authors of the NWT had no grasp of the Greek language.
"The Word is distinguishable from God and yet theos en ho logos, the Word was God, of Divine nature; not "a god," which to a Jewish ear would have been abominable; nor yet identical with all that can be called God (modalism), for then the article would have been inserted..." (Nicoll, The Expositor's Greek Testament).
"The uses of the Greek article, the functions of Greek prepositions, and the fine distinctions between Greek tenses are confidently expounded in public at times by men who find considerable difficulty in using these parts of speech in their native tongue" (Bruce, The Books and the Parchments).