Updated: May 11, 2020
Concerning John 1:1, the Greek Grammar, and Jehovah’s Witnesses
A Roman Catholic wrote:
“For example, “the Word was God” was interpreted as “the Word was a god,” which is possible in Greek.” This was claimed in the context of saying the Jehovah Witnesses follow Sola Scriptura and the claim that we need an infallible council of an infallible church with an infallible church in order to interpret Scripture properly.
Actually, it is not really possible with a sound knowledge of Greek. It is only “possible” for those with a very shallow knowledge of Greek, who don’t understand the intricacies of the definite articles (in English grammar, the definite article is “the”; in Greek, there are many forms) and predicate nominative issues.
What is a “predicate nominative” in Grammar? It means when one is using the verb “to be” – “is”, “was”, “am”, “are”, “were”, etc. and is declaring something about the subject. So “The word was God” involves the predicate nominative grammatical issue. (Don’t you wish you learned English grammar better in High school, Christians? (smile) I know I do; so that I can understand Greek grammar issues better!
If one only has a beginning knowledge of Greek, it is very dangerous. The grammar and Greek syntax of John 1:1 determines the right theology. The doctrine of the Deity of Christ and the eternality of the Son is based on Scripture, not the Council of Nicaea. The Council of Nicaea is based on Scripture, and derives secondary authority from the only infallible authority – the Scriptures.
Another Roman Catholic, “Nick the Catholic” also has an article with a title that claims that the Jehovah’s Witnesses were right about John 1:1 . “JWs are correct about John 1:1; Jesus is not God” ( !!!)
Then he clarifies later from his controversial, heretical, and inflammatory title. He says they were right if they mean “the Father is not Jesus”; ie the same person; but they are not right in that the JWs deny that Jesus is God or Deity.
The predicate nominative issue, and the word order in Greek, are the key interpretive issues, more important than the definite article issue. The Word was God.
καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος.
Kai Theos ain ho logos
“And God was the Word”.
Daniel Wallace has a good word on this issue:
“We know that “the Word” is the subject because it has the definite article, and we translate it accordingly: “and the Word was God.” Two questions, both of them of theological import, should come to mind: 1) Why was θεὸς (Theos) thrown forward? And 2) why does it lack the article? In brief, its emphatic position stresses its essence or quality: “What God was, the Word was” is how one translation brings out this force. Its lack of a definite article keeps us from identifying the person of the Word (Jesus Christ) with the person of “God” (the Father). That is to say, the word order tells us that Jesus Christ has all the divine attributes that the Father has; lack of the article tells us that Jesus Christ is not the Father. John’s wording here is beautifully compact! It is, in fact, one of the most elegantly terse theological statements one could ever find. As Martin Luther said, the lack of an article is against Sabellianism [Modalism; Sabellius was a heretic in the early church who was condemned because of what he taught, that the Father became the Son, and after His ascension, the Son became the Spirit.]; the word order is against Arianism. To state it another way, look at how the different Greek constructions would be rendered: καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν ὁ θεὸς ( ho logos ain ho Theos) = “and the Word was the God” ( ie, the Father, Sabellianism, [or Modalism – the heresy that God is not three persons, but three “modes” at different times – that the Father became the Son in the incarnation, the Son became the Spirit after His ascension. This is a heresy.) The Father and Son are both God by nature, but they are not the same person. They are one in essence/substance/nature, but distinct in person; they know each other in personal relationship from all eternity. (see also John 17:5) ] καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν θεὸς (kai ho logos ain Theos) = “and the Word was a god” (Arianism) [also Jehovah’s Witness theology] καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος (kai Theos ain ho logos) = “and the Word was God” (orthodoxy) [sound, Biblical doctrine) [So the reason why there is no definite article for “God” is because it is teaching something about the nature/substance of the “the Word”. The Word is God by nature, but the Word is not the Father.] Jesus Christ is God and has all the attributes that the Father has. But He is not the first person of the Trinity. [the Son is not the Father] All this is concisely affirmed in καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος. “
Basics of Biblical Greek, William D. Mounce, Zondervan, 1993, p. 28-29. (Quoting Daniel Wallace in his Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics) [My comments in brackets and bold.]
So, here we have the principle of Sola Scriptura as the basis for all sound doctrine and theology. The first four Ecumenical councils were right, only because they got the Bible right. We don’t need Popes or any idea of an “infallible church council”. The Scriptures themselves teach us sound doctrine, and the good and right decisions in the Ecumenical councils derive their rightness from Scripture itself. Only Scripture is infallible. Here we see the Greek grammar and syntax teaching us the distinction between nature and person. God revealed the doctrine of the Trinity based on the Scriptures alone; Sola Scriptura stands.
This is an update of an earlier article I wrote on July 26, 2010. I originally wrote this at the Beggar’s All blog, where I am a guest blogger of James Swan, who runs “Beggar’s All” and who is a student on Martin Luther. (I would say he is an expert, but he does not claim that. He does not claim to be a scholar, but he has researched thoroughly, used scholarly works, and even hired a German translator sometimes for accuracy.) Check out Beggar’s All Blog for lots of good information on Luther and Reformed Apologetics and Church history issues. If you want to know accurate details about Martin Luther, especially in correcting mis-information about Luther by Roman Catholics, James Swan is the man to go to.