Explanation of Grammar and
lots of translations of John 1:1
Barclay, W. The Daily Study Bible- The
Gospel of John vol.1 “III. [Revised Edition ISBN
0-664-21304-9: Finally John says that “The Word was God”.
There is no doubt that this is a difficult saying for us to
understand, and it is difficult because Greek, in which John
wrote, had a different way of saying things from the way in
which English speaks. When the Greek uses a noun it almost
always uses the definite article with it. The Greek for God
is ‘theos’, and the definite article is ‘ho’. When Greek
speaks about God it does not simply say ‘theos’; it says ‘ho
theos’. Now, when Greek does not use the definite article
with a noun that noun becomes much more like an adjective;
it describes the character, the quality of the person. John
did not say that the Word was ‘ho theos’; that would have
been to say that the Word was identical with God; he says
that the Word was ‘theos’- without the definite article-
which means that the Word was, as we might say, of the very
same character and quality and essence and being as God.
When John said ‘The Word was God’ he was n o t saying that
Jesus is identical with God, he was saying that Jesus is so
perfectly the same as God in mind, in heart, in being that
in Jesus we perfectly see what God is like”
1. Goodspeed's An
American Translation, 1939, "the Word was divine
2. Revised Version-Improved and
Corrected, "the word was a god."
3. Prof. Felix Just, S.J. -
Loyola Marymount University, "and god[-ly/-like] was
4. Concordant Version (Knoch)
"God was the Word"
5. C.C. Torrey, The Four
Gospels, Second Edition, 1947, "the Word was god
6. New English Bible,
1961, "what God was,the Word was"
7. Moffatt's The Bible,
1972, "the Logos was divine"
8. International English
Bible-Extreme New Testament, 2001, "the Word was
God*[ftn. or Deity, Divine, which is a better translation,
because the Greek definite article is not present before
this Greek word]
9. Reijnier Rooleeuw,
M.D. -The New Testament of Our Lord Jesus Christ, translated
from the Greek, 1694, "and the Word was a god"
10. The NET Bible, "and
the Word was fully God."
11. Simple English Bible,
"and the Message was Deity"
12. Hermann Heinfetter, A
Literal Translation of the New Testament,1863, [A]s a god
the Command was"
13. Abner Kneeland-The New
Testament in Greek and English, 1822, "The Word was a God"
14. Robert Young,
LL.D. (Concise Commentary on the Holy Bible [Grand Rapids:
Baker, n.d.], 54). 1885, "[A]nd a God (i.e. a Divine Being)
was the Word"
15. Belsham N.T. 1809 “the
Word was a god”
16. Leicester Ambrose,
The Final Theology, Volume 1, New York, New York; M.B.
Sawyer and Company, 1879, "And the logos was a god"
17. Charles A.L. Totten,
The Gospel of History, 1900, "the Word was Deistic [=The
Word was Godly]
18. J.N. Jannaris,
Zeitschrift fur die Newtestameutlich Wissencraft, (German
periodical) 1901, [A]nd was a god"
19. International Bible
Translators N.T. 1981 “In the beginning there was the
Message. The Message was with God. The Message was deity.”
20. CEV, "the Word was
21. Samuel Clarke, M.A.,
D.D., rector of St. James, Westminster, A Paraphrase on the
Gospel of John, London "[A] Divine Person."
22. Joseph Priestley,
LL.D., F.R.S. (in A Familiar Illustration of Certain
Passages of Scripture Relating to The Power of Man to do the
Will of God, Original Sin, Election and Reprobation, The
Divinity of Christ; And, Atonement for Sin by the Death of
Christ [Philadelphia: Thomas Dobson, 1794], 37). "a God"
23. Lant Carpenter, LL.D
(in Unitarianism in the Gospels [London: C. Stower, 1809],
156). "a God"
24. Andrews Norton, D.D.
(in A Statement of Reasons For Not Believing the Doctrines
of Trinitarians [Cambridge: Brown, Shattuck, and Company,
1833], 74). "a god"
25. Paul Wernle, Professor
Extraordinary of Modern Church History at the University of
Basil (in The Beginnings of Christianity, vol. 1, The Rise
of Religion , 16). "a God"
26. 21st Century NT "At
the beginning of Creation, there dwelt with God a mighty
spirit, the Marshal, who produced all things in their
27. 21st Century Literal
Free "and the [Marshal] [Word] was a god."
28. George William Horner,
The Coptic Version of the New Testament, 1911, [A]nd (a) God
was the word"
29. Ernest Findlay Scott,
The Literature of the New Testament, New York, Columbia
University Press, 1932, "[A]nd the Word was of divine
30. James L. Tomanec, The
New Testament of our Lord and Savior Jesus Anointed, 1958, [T]he
Word was a God"
31. Philip Harner, JBL,
Vol. 92, 1974, "The Word had the same nature as God"
32. Maximilian Zerwich S.J./Mary
Grosvenor, 1974, "The Word was divine"
33. Siegfried Schulz, Das
Evangelium nach Johannes, 1975, "And a god (or, of a divine
kind) was the Word"
34. Translator's NT,
1973, "The Word was with God and shared his nature ...with
footnote, "There is a distinction in the Greek here
between 'with God' and 'God.' In the first instance, the
article is used and this makes the reference specific. In
the second instance there is not article, and it is
difficult to believe that the omission is not significant.
In effect it gives an adjectival quality to the second use
of Theos (God) so that the phrae means 'The Word was
35. William Barclay's The New Testament, 1976, "the
nature of the Word was the same as the nature of God"
36. Johannes Schneider,
Das Evangelium nach Johannes, 1978, "and godlike sort was
37. Schonfield's The
Original New Testament, 1985, "the Word was divine
38. Revised English Bible,
1989, "what God was, the Word was
39. Cotton Patch Version,
1970, and the Idea and God were One
40. Scholar's Version-The Five
Gospels, 1993, "The Divine word and wisdom was there
with God, and it was what God was
41. J. Madsen, New
Testament A Rendering , 1994, "the Word was a divine Being"
42. Jurgen Becker, Das
Evangelium nach Johannes, 1979, "a God/god was the
43. Curt Stage, The New
Testament, 1907, "The Word/word was itself a divine
44. Bohmer, 1910, "It
was strongly linked to God, yes itself divine Being/being"
45. Das Neue Testament, by Ludwig
Thimme, 1919, "God of Kind/kind was the Word/word"
46. Baumgarten et al,
1920, "God (of Kind/kind) was the Logos/logos"
47. Holzmann, 1926, "ein
Gott war der Gedanke" [a God/god was the Thought/thought]
48. Friedriche Rittelmeyer,
1938, "itself a God/god was the Word/word"
49. Lyder Brun (Norw.
professor of NT theology), 1945, "the Word was of divine
50. Fredrich Pfaefflin,
The New Testament, 1949, "was of divine Kind/kind"
51. Albrecht, 1957,
"godlike Being/being had the Word/word"
52. Smit, 1960, "the
word of the world was a divine being"
53. Menge, 1961,
"God(=godlike Being/being) was the Word/word"
54. Haenchen, 1980, "God
(of Kind/kind) was the Logos/logos" [as mentioned inWilliam Loader's The Christology of
the Fourth Gospel, p. 155 cf. p.260]
55. Die Bibel in heutigem
Deutsch, 1982, "He was with God and in all like God"
56. Haenchen (tr. By R.
Funk), 1984, "divine (of the category divinity)was the
57. Johannes Schulz, 1987, "a God/god (or: God/god of
Kind/kind) was the Word/word." [As mentioned inWilliam Loader's The Christology of
the Fourth Gospel, p. 155 cf. p.260]
58. William Temple,
Archbishop of York, Readings in St. John's Gospel, London,
Macmillan & Co.,1933, "And the Word was divine."
59. John Crellius, Latin
form of German, The 2 Books of John Crellius Fancus,
Touching One God the Father, 1631, "The Word of Speech was a
60. Greek Orthodox /Arabic
Calendar, incorporating portions of the 4 Gospels,
Greek Orthodox Patriarchy or Beirut, May, 1983, "the word
was with Allah[God] and the word was a god"
61. Ervin Edward Stringfellow
(Prof. of NT Language and Literature/Drake University, 1943,
"And the Word was Divine"
62. Robert Harvey, D.D.,
Professor of New Testament Language and Literature,
Westminster College, Cambridge, in The Historic Jesus in the
New Testament, London, Student Movement Christian Press1931
"and the Logos was divine (a divine being)"
63. Jesuit John L. McKenzie,
1965, wrote in his Dictionary of the Bible: "Jn 1:1 should
rigorously be translated . . . 'the word was a divine
64. Dymond, E.C. New
Testament, 1962 (original manuscript) "In the beginning was
the creative purpose of God. It was with God and was fully
expressive of God [just as wisdom was with God before
[The foregoing was adapted from a website I
have since lost the reference to. I did clean up the
layout and added additional resources, but I owe most of the
foregoing to someone I cannot give proper attribution to.
If you know of this website, please email it to me at
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** In previous versions I had inserted a quotation I attributed to "Buzzard/Hunting", which I have since been informed was not their work. I have no idea where I got it from, so for a piece of poor scholarly attribution on my part, and for erroneously attributing it to Buzzard-Hunting, I apologize.
The following discussion of the grammar of
John 1:1 is excellent, even if somewhat brief. It can
be found at:
What about John 1:1 in the NWT?
Well, I will let Greek Scholar Jason BeDuhn from the
University answer this one:
"The Greek phrase is theos en ho logos, which translated
word for word
is "a god was the word."
Greek has only a definite article, like our the, it does not
indefeinite article, like our a or an. If a noun is
definite, it has the
definite article ho. If a noun is indefinite, no article is
used. In the
phrase from John 1:1, ho logos is "the word." If it was
logos, without the definite article ho, we would have to
translate it as
"a word". So we are not really "inserting" an indefinite
article when we
translate Greek nouns without the definite article into
English, we are
simply obeying rules of English grammar that tell us that we
"Snoopy is dog," but must say "Snoopy is a dog."
in English we simply say "God"; we do not say "The God." But
Greek, when you mean to refer to the one supreme God,
instead of one of the many other beings that were called
"gods," you would have to say "The God": ho theos. Even a
monotheistic Christian, who beleives there is only one God
and no others, would be forced to say in Greek "The God," as
John and Paul and the other writers of the New Testament
normally do. If you leave off the article in a phrase like
John 1:1, then you are saying "a god." (There are some
exceptions to this rule: Greek has what are called noun
cases, which means the nouns change form depending on how
they are used in a sentence. So, if you want to say "of
God," which is theou, you don't need the article. But in the
nominative case, which is the one in John 1:1, you have to
have the article.)
what does John mean by saying "the word was a god"? He is
classifying Jesus in a specific category of beings. There
are plants and animals and humans and gods, and so on. By
calling the Word "a god," John wants to tell his readers
that the Word(which becomes Jesus when it takes flesh)
belongs to the divine class of things. Notice the word
order: "a god was the word." We can't say it like this in
English, but you can in Greek.
subject can be after the verb and the object before the
opposite of how we do it in English (subject-verb-object).
Research has shown that when ancient Greek writers put a
object-noun first in a
sentence like John 1:1 (a be-verb sentence: x is y), without
definite article, they are telling us that the subject
belongs to the
class represented by the object-noun: :"The car is a
English we would accomplish the same thing by using what we
predicate adjectives. "John is a smart person" = "John is
smart." So we
would tend to say "The word was divine," rather than "The
word was a
god." That is how I would translate this phrase. "The word
was a god" is more literal, and an improvement over "The
word was God," but it raises more problems, since to a
modern reader it implies polytheism.
No one in John's day would have understood the phrase to
mean "The word was God" - the language does not convey that
sense, and conceptually it is difficult to grasp such an
idea, especially since that author has just said that the
word was with God. Someone is not with himself, he is with
some other. John clearly differentiates between God from the
Word. The latter becomes flesh and is seen; the former
cannot be seen. What is the Word? John says it was the agent
through whom God made the world. He starts his gospel "In
the beginning..." to remind us of Genesis 1. How does God
create in Genesis? He speaks words that make things come
into existence. So the Word is God's creative power and plan
and activity. It is not God himself, but it is not really
totally separate from God either. It occupies a kind of
ambiguous status. That is why a monotheist like John can get
away with calling it "a god" or "divine" without becoming a
polytheist. This divine thing does not act on its own,
however, does take on a kind of distinct identity, and in
becoming flesh brings God's will and plan right down face to
face with humans.
I hope this helps.
Northern Arizona University
Department of Humanities Arts and Religion