John 1:1- Is Jesus God or a god?
Updated: Feb 25
There are verses in the bible that so clearly proclaim the deity of Christ that it is impossible to just ignore them. The first that would probably spring to mind is John 1:1 -
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the word was God”
In spite of this obvious statement many groups will deny the deity of Jesus, sometimes saying that He was merely human but was given a special position and power at the time of His baptism, or perhaps (as the Jehovah's Witnesses do) that He is "a god" but is not actually God/ Yahweh.
If you are discussing the deity of Christ with a Jehovah’s Witness this would be one of the most obvious verses to turn to in order to make your case. Unfortunately it is one of the first ones they will learn to dispute- the chances are they have heard this line of argumentation so many times they will answer you on auto pilot, not even taking in your objections. Because when they turn to John 1:1 in their own bible, the New World Translation, they will tell you it reads
“....the Word was with God and the Word was a god”
In denying the deity of Jesus, the Watchtower Society has made dozens of small but very significant adjustments to the their bible translation, making Jesus “a god” instead of God. Understandably, they will insist that their translation is the only accurate one and ignore any attempt to convince them otherwise.
In order to justify this translation, it has been necessary for them to introduce some confusion over the grammar in the original Greek text - and because it sounds plausible, and has come from the Watchtower, it will be wholeheartedly accepted by any Jehovah’s Witness without question.
Their argument goes something like this- in Greek, when you use someone’s name it is always preceded by the definite article ('the'), and there is no indefinite article ('a') in Greek. So where there is no definite article, the indefinite article (a) it needs to be inserted in our English translations to communicate what the author was saying. There is some element of truth to these statements. For example, quite often (but not always) the Greek article will be inserted before someone's name. Also, it is true that there is no indefinite article in Greek.
If you look at the Watchtower website, there is an interlinear bible which is basically the bible in Hebrew and Greek, with a word for word English translation provided above the original language. If you check John 1:1 in this interlinear bible this is what you will find-
"In beginning was the Word,
εν αρχή ήν ὁ λογος,
and the Word was toward the God,
και ὁ λογος ήν προς τον θεον,
and god was the Word
και θεος ήν ὁ λογος
Their argument is as follows- there is one place in this verse where it says “the God” (in Greek- τον θεον, pronounced ‘ton theon’). Because there is a definite article this is clearly 'God'. However, when it later describes the Word (i.e. Jesus) as God, there is no definite article- so we must insert the indefinite article (that is, a) to communicate the author’s meaning. This, then, becomes “a god” rather than just “God”. According to the Watchtower, this means that Jesus is just ‘a god’ and not God at all.
If you don't know anything about Greek it can be seem impossible to deal with an argument like this, and if you do know Greek but the person you are talking to doesn’t know any, they will simply assume you are either lying or mistaken and accept the official Watchtower teaching. So- how can you deal with this?
There's actually no need to learn Greek to refute this, or to try to memorise and regurgitate grammatical rules to them- in fact this wouldn't help them (or you) at all. Instead you can show them, using their own resources, how the Watchtower is being inconsistent in their translation.
If, during the discussion, you can get online to look at their interlinear translation of John 1 (which is here - https://wol.jw.org/en/wol/b/r1/lp-e/int/E/1985/43/1#study=discover) you can use their own interlinear bible to show them how this is inaccurate, with no knowledge of Greek required by either of you.
First you need to note that there are a multiple ways that the word ‘the’ is given in Greek- in this chapter you will see it as follows- ὁ (pronounced ‘ho’), τον (pronounced ‘ton’) and του (pronounced ‘too’). This can all be seen here in their own interlinear bible
With that in mind look at V.12 -
"He gave to them authority children of God to become"
εδωκεν αυτοις εξουσιαν τεκνα θεου γενεσθαι
There is no definite article here before the word God (θεου) but they have still translated it as God (not 'a god' as they did in V1 about Jesus)
Then in V13 you will see
"...but out of God were generated"
αλλ' εκ θεου εγεννήθησαν
Again, look before the word God in Greek (θεου) and there is no definite article. Yet the New World Translation renders this as God, not ‘a god’.
If you look at the first chapter of John’s gospel alone, you will see FIVE occasions where the word God does not have a definite article in front of it, and in each of these the NWT translates it as God, apart from the one occasion where it is a direct reference to Jesus being God. There are in fact hundreds of occasions where θεος (‘theos’) is found in the Greek NT manuscript without the definite article and the Watchtower are happy to translate it as God. It is clear, just from these couple of examples, that there is an inconsistency in their translation of the term where it is applied here to Jesus. This, unfortunately, is one of several mistranslations found in the New World Translation that distorts the clear teaching of the deity of Christ.
There are grammatical reasons why John chose to omit the definite article here, but in a discussion with a Jehovah's Witness it's pointless delving into matters like this unless you both have some knowledge of Greek. However you can point to numerous other reasons within the text to clarify that it is far more fitting to say that Jesus is in fact God (and not 'a god' or some kind of lesser deity). One of the strongest is found just a few verses later- one comes just a few verses later in v3, where we read
"All things were made through him, and without his was not anything made that was made"- this clearly says that Jesus was the creator of ALL things... which is work that God repeatedly says He completed ALONE (eg in Jeremiah 27:5, Isaiah 44:24).
It is abundantly clear from all of scripture that Jesus is God incarnate, that He stepped down into the world He created, to do a work that we could not do and give us a hope we could never earn. This is a truth that cannot be buried by mistranslations, but is instead found throughout God's word.