John 1:1 is the key to understanding who Jesus Christ is. John wrote, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The “Word” is a title given by John to Jesus Christ.
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The Word was God
The Jehovah Witness translation of this verse, “and the Word was a god,” is inaccurate for two simple reasons.
1. John was a Jew. In Psalm 82 Asaph acknowledged the high position of judges by calling them “gods.” But they were still only men (see verse 7). No one who truly adheres to the Jewish faith has ever believed or taught that gods actually exist. In John’s day Greeks and Romans commonly believed in the existence of gods. To this day it remains a pagan belief. For Jews and Christians there is only one God (see I Corinthians 8:4-6 and Deuteronomy 6:4). It would be very strange for John, a devout Jew, to describe Jesus Christ as “a god.”
2. Jehovah Witnesses claim, on the basis of the absence of an article before the word “God” in the Greek text, that it must be translated “a god.” You may find it interesting to know that six times in John chapter 1 an article is missing before the word “God” in the Greek text. In verses 1, 6, 12, 13, and twice in 18. How many of these are translated in the Jehovah Witness Bible as a “god”? Only two, whenever the word “God” refers to Christ. The issue is obviously theological rather than grammatical. The translation is uniquely- suited to conform to a Jehovah Witness teaching. In fact, in verse 18b, the second use of the word “God” in connection with Christ, no article precedes the words “only-begotten God” in the Greek text. (These words are not found in all Greek manuscripts.) Yet one is generously supplied in the English translation by the New World translator, contrary to the “rule” he applies in verse 1 and ignores in all other cases in John chapter 1. And, what is perhaps even more amazing: even though an article is supplied in verse 18, the word “god” remains!
The first eighteen verses of the Gospel of John are like a beautiful painting, displaying the beauty of the “Word.” This eighteen-verse prelude draws one obvious conclusion: the Word is Divine.
See for yourself.
As he opens, John identifies the Word with God by beginning his dissertation the same way Moses began his. “In the beginning was the Word” (John 1:1). Compare “In the beginning God” (Genesis 1:1).
Verse 1 says, “In the beginning was the Word.” The word “was” expresses being that is ongoing in time past. You will not find a beginning in it. But you will find “I am,” the eternally-existent One. Jesus identified Himself with “I am,” the God of Israel, in John 8:58 (compare Exodus 2:13,14). The Jews understood this. That’s why they wanted to stone Him. John is saying, when the beginning came, the Word already was. He did not begin at the dawn of creation. He was there when whatever has a beginning began.
“And the Word was with God.” Like the word “was,” the words “was with” have no beginning. They are like a ship that sails endlessly into eternity past. Jehovah Witnesses would like for us to believe it was “a god” who was with God. But Yahweh knows no god who has existed with Him from time immemorial.
John 1 verse 3 says, “All things came to have their existence through Him,” that is, the Word. “And without Him not even one thing,” not even one grain of sand in the entire universe, “came to be.” In the book of Hebrews the Father says to the Son, “You have laid the foundation of the earth and the heavens are the work of your hands” (Hebrews 1:10). Who can create but God? Moses wrote, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). The identification of the Word is clear.
And so, as Creator, the Word was life (John 1:4). He is the source of life, light, and understanding in every human being who ever lives (John 1:9). The Word is given credit for something that Paul says belongs only to God. “In Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). It is not possible that “a god” would be given credit for something that can only be ascribed to God. God says, “I am the Lord…and my glory I will not give to another” (Isaiah 42:8).
So what does John 1:1 actually say?
The absence of an article with the word “God,” or any other word, is common in the Greek New Testament. If every time an article was missing before the word “God” the New World translator had rendered it “a god,” the translation could not be taken seriously!
One can safely say that in the Greek New Testament there is always a reason for the presence or absence of an article. We may not always be able to determine what the reason is. However, a general rule of thumb can be given. An article tends to focus one’s attention on someone or something in particular. The absence of an article carries the idea of quality or the intrinsic nature of something or someone. Take for example our English word “pie.” The absence of an article would be like saying, “I love pie.” No pie in particular, but pie in general. With an article you would say, “I love the pie my wife just baked,” narrowing it down to one particular pie—the banana cream that just came out of the oven!
In John 1:1 the first word “God” has an article, the second does not. The presence of the first article draws the focus of our attention on one particular being—God the Father. For the article to be missing with the second word “God,” makes good sense. John is saying the Word is not the Father, yet He does possess the Divine nature, the same nature that God the Father has. Like the saying goes: “like father, like son.” As in any normal father/son relationship, a son shares the nature of his father. I share the human nature of my father. Likewise, Jesus Christ shares the Divine nature of His Father. That’s why He can say, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30) and “he that has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).
When Jesus said God was His Father, the Jews understood that by saying this He was making Himself equal with God (see John 5:18). “Son of God” is not a generic title Jesus shares equally with men and angels. Unlike us, He is the unique “only-begotten” Son of God. As for angels, the Bible asks, “To which of the angels did [the Father] say at any time, You are my Son…And again, I will be to him a Father and he will be to me a Son?” (Hebrews 1:5). No angel will ever share the relationship the Father has with His Son. As the Son of God, Jesus is greater than us. He is greater than angels. He is God.
Therefore, when “the Word was made flesh” (John 1:14) He could rightfully be called “God with us” (Matthew 1:23). This is also reflected in what Paul wrote. “Christ, who is [the offspring] of [Israel’s] fathers in the flesh, is over all God, blessed forever, amen” (Romans 9:5). The articles in this Greek text point unquestionably to Christ as God. Likewise every word in the following quote from Titus 2:13: “The great God and our Savior Jesus Christ” is tied by one article to Jesus Christ! He, “the great God,” is the “Mighty God” foretold in Isaiah 9:6, as well as the “Everlasting Father”—“the radiance of His [Father’s] glory and the exact likeness and expression of His [Father’s] nature” (Hebrews 1:3). “The glory of God” the Father is seen “in the [beautiful] face of Jesus Christ” (II Corinthians 4:6) His Son! He “is the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15).
Paul wrote that Jesus, “being in the form of God, did not regard [His] equality with God as a thing to prize [or grasp]” (see Philippians 2:5-8). If He had, He would have remained in heaven with His Father. Instead, He was willing to become a man and live on earth as a servant to others, and die on a cross for our sins (II Corinthians 8:9). The Word that became flesh was God!
May you, dear friend, honor the Son just as you honor the Father. This is our Father’s desire, as expressed in John 5:22 and 23. For, in the Divine Word, the Son of God alone, there is salvation through faith in His blood shed for you on the cross. By believing in Jesus you will become a part of “the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28). God’s blood poured from Jesus Christ’s veins, as is beautifully expressed in the words of an old hymn:
Drawn from Immanuel’s veins,
And sinners plunged beneath that flood
Lose all their guilty stains.
John 1:1 can become the key to your understanding of who Jesus is. Also read John chapter 3 and be sure you are “born from above.” For to know Jesus Christ is life eternal. “This is the true God and eternal life” (I John 5:20). Jesus, our wonderful Savior, who has risen bodily from the grave, has proven Himself to be “Lord and God” (John 20:26-28)!
© James Unruh 2014 and beyond