The Real Truth of John 1:1

A Muslim Becomes a Bible Expositor

Sam Shamoun

Muslim apologist Ebrahim Saifuddin has written an article (*) accusing Christian translators of mistranslating and distorting the meaning of John 1:1. We encourage the readers to first consult his article before reading our response.

In order to help the readers to better grasp and fully appreciate the issues that are involved in properly understanding the text of John 1:1 we will post the verse here by breaking it down into three separate lines:

1a – En arche een ho logos
"In [the] beginning was the Word."

1b – kai ho logos een pros ton theon
"and the Word was with the God."

1c – kai theos een ho logos
"and God was the Word."

Note that the word for God in the third line doesn’t have the definite article and that it is placed before the verb "was." We will discuss the significance of this placement later in our rebuttal.

Mr. Saifuddin believes that translators have deceived the readers by distorting the second and third lines of the verse in order make it appear as if Jesus is being equated with God. Mr. Saifuddin’s comments suggest that John wasn’t teaching that Jesus, in his prehuman existence as the Word, was fully God in essence and that Christian translators are dishonestly implying that he was by rendering the third clause of the verse as, "and the Word was God."

Now this is a very serious charge which presupposes that the Muslim writer is quite familiar with the original languages of the Holy Bible or at least has a mastery of Koine Greek, the language of the NT documents. Such an accusation further implies that Mr. Saifuddin has studied and understands the intricacies of the grammar and syntax of John 1:1, and that he is adept enough to realize the significance of John placing the noun theos before the verb een.

In light of this we proceed to see just how familiar Mr. Saifuddin truly is with these issues.

In the above example, ‘ho’ is basically an article. In the English language there are 2 articles, ‘the’ which is a definite article and ‘a’ which is an indefinite article. In Greek however there is only 1 article which is definite.

When ‘logos’ is put after ‘ho’ it becomes ‘the word’ and with the absence of ‘ho’, it remains as ‘word’. However this is not where the great deception really is. The part with the great deception will come below…

Transliterated: theos

Pronounced: theh’-os

This word ‘theos’ does not only mean ‘God’ with a capital ‘G’. According to the "Thayer’s Greek Definitions", the first meaning of this word ‘theos’ is written to be:

"A god or goddess, a general name of deities or divinities."

One of the meanings of this word as explained by Strong’s Greek Dictionary is:

"A deity."

Here is the full entry for theos (Strong's # G2316) in the BlueLetterBible Lexicon:

1) a god or goddess, a general name of deities or divinities
2) the Godhead, trinity a) God the Father, the first person in the trinity
b) Christ, the second person of the trinity
c) Holy Spirit, the third person in the trinity
3) spoken of the only and true God a) refers to the things of God
b) his counsels, interests, things due to him
4) whatever can in any respect be likened unto God, or resemble him in any way a) God's representative or viceregent 1) of magistrates and judges   (Source)

Strong’s lists as a definition of theos, "the Godhead, trinity," "Christ, the second person of the Trinity." It is not surprising that he would present these as possible definitions of theos since Strong was a Trinitarian who was convinced that the NT teaches the doctrine of the Trinity, that there is only one God subsisting in three eternally distinct, yet inseparable Persons.

Interestingly, this same site provides the comments of Thayer’s Greek lexicon regarding the issue of Jesus being called God in the NT:

2. Whether Christ is called God must be determined from Jn. i. 1; xx. 28; 1 Jn. v. 20; Ro. ix. 5; Tit. ii. 13; the matter is still in dispute with theologians.

Hence, we have two lexicons disagreeing on whether the NT addresses Jesus as God in an absolute sense, i.e. Jesus is fully God in essence.

This means that, to be on the safe side, it is better to claim that there are several NT passages that apply the noun theos to Christ and that the context will determine whether he is being called God in an absolute sense. The chief aim of the article is to examine John 1:1 in order to determine whether Jesus is called theos absolutely, or in a more restricted and qualified sense as Mr. Saifuddin contends.

As seen above, ‘theos’ also means ‘god’ i.e. any god. Greek has no such law like English where we can differentiate between ‘god’ and ‘God’ by the use of the capital letter or small letter. Hence to indicate whether ‘theos’ is referring to any ‘god’ or ‘God’, the language uses ‘articles’.

Depending on whether a word is the ‘subject’ or the ‘direct object (accusative)’ in a sentence, (ho) or (ton) is used respectively.

Verifying the English Translation

Do note that when ‘theos’ is the subject, then it is written as (theos) and when it is the direct object (accusative) then it is written as (theon). In the Greek text of the verse John 1:1, it can be seen that there is an article before and the text is thus written aswhich is transliterated to be ton theonand should be translated as ‘the God’ or one can even translate it as only ‘God’. The point is that using the definite article, the word refers to God and not to the other meanings of the word ‘theos’ i.e. ‘a god’ or any god or goddess.

A brief note at this point. First, it is not always the case that the English language uses the article to indicate whether the passage is speaking of the one true God since one can translate theos simply as God with a capital G to communicate this point, just as Mr. Saifuddin himself noted. Second, Mr. Saifuddin is being inconsistent here since he says that the use of the article before theos refers to God and not to any god or goddess. Yet he later contradicts this position by claiming that ho theos in 2 Corinthians 4:4 refers to Satan, not to the one God:

Random Translations by Christendom

Not only does Christendom not translated John 1:1 properly, it is seen that they have been randomly translating the terms ‘ho theos’ and ‘ton theon’. For example lets take a look at 2 Corinthians 4:4.

In that verse ‘ho theos’ is translated as ‘the god’ with a small ‘g’ to refer to Satan. In the same verse ‘ton theon’ is translated as ‘God’. This is a clear ‘pick and choose’ tactic being practiced by Christendom.

We have already addressed the meaning of 2 Corinthians 4:4 in this article. So we will not be dealing with this text here.

In the second instance where we see ‘theos’, it is written as … and there is no article before it. If this word would have been referring to ‘God’, then we would have seen the article ‘o’ (ho) before it. The article ‘ho’ is used before the word if it is the subject. However we see that there is an absence of a definite article. Thus it means that in this place, ‘theos’ should be translated as ‘god’ or ‘a god’ and not as ‘God’.

Mr. Saifuddin’s comments show a rather na´ve understanding of the use (or non-use) of the Greek definite article. It is not at all correct to assume that theos without the article refers to someone or something other than the one God, and should therefore be translated as ‘god’ or ‘a god.’ The NT data doesn’t support this assertion since theos is used both with or without the article to denote the one true God. As noted NT Evangelical scholar Murray J. Harris states:

"To those Jews or Gentile ‘God-fearers’ of the first century A.D., who became the first converts to Christianity and who knew the Scriptures in their Greek dress, the term theos would probably have seemed extremely rich in its connotations and yet at the same time very varied in its applicability. Rich in meaning, because it summed up everything that distinguished God from humans, signifying godhood as opposed to manhood and representing in Greek the two basic generic terms for God (el and elohim) that were used in the Hebrew OT; it denote the one supreme God whom Jews worshiped as Creator and Redeemer; it was not infrequently found in the LXX where the sacred name YHWH stood in the Hebrew Text. Varied in application, because it could be used to refer to deity in general, a particular heathen god or goddess, pagan deities at large (along with their images), angels, human rulers or judges, persons of valor or rank, godlike persons, as well as the one true God of Israel. What was more, on occasion it was simply equivalent (in the form tou theou) to the adjective "mighty."

"Neither in LXX Greek nor in secular Greek is a firm or a fine distinction drawn between the articular and the anarthrous theos, with ho theos denoting, for a example, a specific god and theos designating deity in general or emphasizing the qualities of godhood. This is not to say that the use of the article is totally capricious or that the above distinctions are never drawn. But it does mean that in certain contexts it is as possible for ho theos to refer generically to divinity as it is for theos to denote God or a particular god." (Jesus as God: The New Testament Use of Theos in Reference to Jesus [Baker Book House, Grand Rapids MI, 1992], p. 29; underline emphasis ours)

And:

"b. Frequently Interchangeable

How valid are such distinctions? From three converging lines of evidence it becomes abundantly clear that in NT usage ho theos and theos ARE OFTEN INTERCHANGEABLE.

"First, when it is a dependent genitive, theos will be articular or anarthrous, generally depending on the state of the preceding noun; this is the canon of Apollonius. Thus in 1 Corinthians 3:16a (ouk oidate hoti naos theou este;), theos is anarthrous because naos is anarthrous, and naos is anarthrous because it is predicative. In the following verse (1 Cor. 3:17), however, Paul twice uses ho naos tou theou. Examples are too numerous to be cited in full where either tou theou or theou is attached to the same noun occurring twice or more within the same book. While this oscillation may often be grammatically or theologically conditioned, and not capricious, the fact of the possible interchangeability remains.

"Second, table 2 lists examples where the same preposition is used with both articular and anarthrous theos within one NT book (or, in the case of Mark 10:27, within a single verse). Even though a definite grammatical or stylistic principle sometimes accounts for the presence or absence of the article, it remains true that the same basic fact (such as divine origin or agency) may be expressed by articular theos or by anarthrous theos.

"In the third place, in the NT theos (like kurios) is virtually a proper name and consequently shares the imprecision with regard to the use of the article that seems to mark all proper names.

"It is therefore NOT POSSIBLE to maintain that whenever theos is anarthrous it differs from ho theos in meaning or emphasis." (Pp. 37-38; capital and underline emphasis ours)

To support Harris’ statement we will present several examples from the NT, specifically from the writings of John, where theos is used without the article to denote the one true God:

"There came a man who was sent from God (theou); his name was John." John 1:6

"Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God (theou)— 13children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God (theou)." John 1:12-13

"No one has ever seen God (theon), but God the One and Only, who is at the Father's side, has made him known." John 1:18

"But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God (theo)." John 3:21

"Jesus replied, ‘If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God (theos), is the one who glorifies me.’" John 8:54

"Now we can see that you know all things and that you do not even need to have anyone ask you questions. This makes us believe that you came from God (theou)." John 16:30

"The Jews insisted, ‘We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God (huion theou).’" John 19:7

"How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God (theou)! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God (theou), and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is." 1 John 3:1-2

"Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father (theou patros) and from Jesus Christ, the Father's Son, will be with us in truth and love… Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God (theon); whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son." 2 John 1:3, 9

And here are some verses where theos appears both with and without the article in the same context, yet without any change in meaning:

"He came to Jesus at night and said, ‘Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God (theou). For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God (ho theos) were not with him.’ John 3:2

"Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God (theou) and was returning to God (ton theon);" John 13:3

"No one has ever seen God (theon); but if we love one another, God (ho theos) lives in us and his love is made complete in us." 1 John 4:12

"For although they knew God (ton theon), they did not honor him as God (theos) or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened." Romans 1:21

"Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father (theo patri) and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace. We give thanks to God (to theo) always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father (to theou kai patros) your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers loved by God (tou theou), that he has chosen you, … For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God (ton theon) has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God (ton theon) from idols to serve the living and true God (douleuein theo zonti kai alethino), and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come." 1 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 8-10

"As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s (theou) varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God (theou); whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God (ho theos) supplies—in order that in everything God (ho theos) may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen." 1 Peter 4:10-11

Moreover, there are certain passages where ho theos is applied to Christ:

"All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’—which means, ‘the God [is] with us (Meth hemon ho theos).’" Matthew 1:22-23

That Matthew is identifying Jesus as ho theos can be clearly seen from what he says at the conclusion of his Gospel:

"and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always (ego meth humon eimi pasas), to the very end of the age." Matthew 28:20

Thus, Matthew has ended his Gospel the way he began it, by affirming that Jesus is indeed Immanuel, the God who is with all true believers till the very end of the age.

Other places where Jesus is identified as "the God" include:

"while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of the great God of us and Savior, Jesus Christ (tou megalou theou kai soteros hemon ‘Iesou Christou)," Titus 2:13

"Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who through the righteousness of the God of us and Savior Jesus Christ (tou theou hemon kai soteros ‘Iesou Christou) have received a faith as precious as ours:" 2 Peter 1:1

As if this weren’t amazing enough, there are verses in John where theos is applied to the Father and ho theos to the Son!

"Jesus said, ‘Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, "I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God (kai theon mou kai theon humon)."’" John 20:17

"A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.’ Thomas said to him, ‘The Lord of me and THE God of me! (ho kyrios mou kai ho theos mou)’ Then Jesus told him, ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’" John 20:26-29

If Mr. Saifuddin’s reasoning is sound then this means that Jesus is the God or God whereas the Father is simply a god or god!

The foregoing data should put to rest Mr. Saifuddin’s erroneous assertion that the use (or lack) of the Greek article somehow impacts the meaning of theos in such a way as to change the meaning from God to ‘god’ or ‘a god.’ The following Evangelical scholars state it best:

"In identifying Jesus as God, Thomas, of course, was not identifying him as the Father. Earlier in the same passage, Jesus had referred to the Father as his God. It is interesting to compare Jesus’ wording with the wording of Thomas. Jesus told Mary Magdalene, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and to your God’ (theon mou kai theon humon, John 20:17). As in John 1:1 and John 1:18, the Father is called ‘God’ in close proximity to a statement affirming that Jesus is also ‘God.’ Here again, as in John 1:18, we do not see the apostle John distinguishing between the Father as ‘the God’ (ho theos) and Jesus the Son as only ‘God’ (theos without the article). In fact, whereas Jesus calls the Father ‘my God’ without the article (theon mou, 20:17), Thomas calls Jesus ‘my God’ with the article (ho theos mou, 20:28)! One could not ask for any clearer evidence that the use or nonuse of the article is irrelevant to the meaning of the word theos. What matters is how the word is used in context…" (Robert M. Bowman Jr. & J. Ed Komoszewski, Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ [Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, MI 2007], Chapter 12. Immanuel: God with Us, p. 143; bold emphasis ours)

With this in the background we can now comment on the reason why John, in the third clause, omitted the definite article before theos and placed it before the verb.

According to NT Greek grammarians, John’s placing the noun before the verb is significant in that it stresses the qualities or nature of the subject. The positioning of theos before the verb een is what scholars call a preverbal (before the verb) predicate nominative. A predicate nominative is:

"‘Nominative’ refers to the case in which a noun is used either as the subject or to further identify the subject …" (Bowman, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jesus Christ, & the Gospel of John, p. 25)

"A predicate noun is a noun which functions as the predicate or subject complement in a sentence. The word man is a predicate noun in each of the following sentences: ‘George was a man’; ‘George was the man’; ‘George is a tall man’; ‘My friend George was at one time an important man in the town.’ In John 1:1c, ‘and the Word was God,’ God (theos) is a predicate noun. The term is also used frequently for a predicate noun, because the noun is in the nominative case…" (P. 33)

Since John has already identified the Word as the subject of the verse this means that theos in the third clause is a subject complement or a noun which further identifies the subject. In other words, theos serves to describe the nature and essence of the Word.

Furthermore, if John had put the article before the noun he would have made the Word identical to the Father, e.g. John would be teaching that the Father and the Word were one and the same Person:

"The text before us is the opening line of the Gospel of John and therefore the first use in that book of theos. In this context the use of the definite article in the expression pros ton theon clearly serves to identify as theon (‘God’) the person commonly known to John’s readers (who accepted the God of the Old Testament as the true God) as such–specifically, the person whom Jesus called ‘the Father,’ and whom the apostles later were to call ‘God the Father.’ That is, ton theon in John 1:1b refers specifically to God the Father. This conclusion is shown to be correct by the references later in the ‘Prologue’ to John’s Gospel to the Father as the One with whom the Word existed (John 1:14, 18).

"The significance of theon being definite in Clause B, then, is to identify the One spoken of there as a specific person– God the Father. If, then, theos in Clause C were to be ‘definite’ in the same way that theon is in Clause B., it would then be saying that the Word was God the Father. Such a statement would contradict Clause B and imply some sort of modalistic view of God [the belief that there are not three Persons, but three manifestations or modes of a single Person], which of course trinitarians oppose (though JWs often misconstrue the doctrine of the Trinity as teaching modalism)

"This conclusion–that theos in Clause C could not be definite without contradicting Clause B and implying heresy–should not be misunderstood to be a denial that Jesus is God… the point that is being made here is that for theos to be definite in this context–after just using the definite ton theon to refer specifically to the person of the Father–would be modalistic. This does not mean that theos cannot ever be when applied to Christ, nor does it mean that Christ cannot be called theos with the definite article ho. Christ is, in fact, called ‘God’ with the definite article in several other texts (John 20:28; Titus 2:13; 2 Peter 1:1; 1 John 5:20). It is true, however, that none of the passages calls Christ simply ho theos without qualification, evidently because this expression was so firmly associated with the person of the Father. Thus he is called ‘my God,’ ‘our God and Savior,’ ‘our great God and Savior,’ and ‘the true God and eternal life’–all using the definite article, all indisputably identifying Christ as the Almighty God of the Old Testament, but all avoiding identifying him as the person of the Father." (Robert M. Bowman, Jr., Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jesus Christ, & the Gospel of John [Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI, June 1995], Chapter 3. Definite or Indefinite?, pp. 40-41; bold emphasis and comments within brackets ours)

Bowman goes on to say:

"We have argued that the shift from ton theon (the accusative for of ho theos) to the anarthrous theos in John 1:1 indicates a shift in nuance, such that the Word is called "God" in the fullest sense yet without identifying him as the person of God the Father. This argument requires that a shift from ho theos to theos in Scripture does not normally indicate a change in its basic meaning. On the other hand, the JWs’ interpretation of John 1:1 crumbles further if it can be shown that normally such a shift within a short space does not indicate major change of meaning …"

And after citing a few examples where theos appears with and without the article in the same context, Bowman rightly concludes:

"The above passages do not conform to the same syntax as the anarthrous predicate nominative uses of theos preceding the verb discussed earlier. However, they do serve as a confirmatory evidence that a shift from ho theos to theos does not indicate a change in the meaning of the word." (Bowman, Chapter 4. The Word: "God" or "a God"?, pp. 60-61; bold emphasis ours)

The late renowned Greek NT scholar A.T. Robertson agrees with Bowman:

With God (pros ton teon).

Though existing eternally with God the Logos was in perfect fellowship with God. Pros with the accusative presents a plane of equality and intimacy, face to face with each other. In 1 John 2:1 we have a like use ho pros: "We have a Paraclete with the Father" (paraklhton exomen pros ton patera). See proswpon pros proswpon (face to face, 1 Corinthians 13:12), a triple use of pros. There is a papyrus example of pros in this sense to gnwston ths pros allhlous sunhteias, "the knowledge of our intimacy with one another" (M.&M., Vocabulary) which answers the claim of Rendel Harris, Origin of Prologue, p. 8) that the use of pros here and in Mark 6:3 is a mere Aramaism. It is not a classic idiom, but this is Koine, not old Attic. In John 17:5 John has para soi the more common idiom.

And the Word was God (kai theos hn ho logos).

By exact and careful language John denied Sabellianism by not saying ho theos hn ho logos. That would mean that all of God was expressed in ho logos and the terms would be interchangeable, each having the article. The subject is made plain by the article (ho logos) and the predicate without it (theos) just as in John 4:24 pneuma ho theos can only mean "God is spirit," not "spirit is God." So in 1 John 4:16 ho theos agaph estin can only mean "God is love," not "love is God" as a so-called Christian scientist would confusedly say. For the article with the predicate see Robertson, Grammar_, pp. 767f. So in John 1:14 ho Logos sarx egeneto, "the Word became flesh," not "the flesh became Word." Luther argues that here John disposes of Arianism also because the Logos was eternally God, fellowship of Father and Son, what Origen called the Eternal Generation of the Son (each necessary to the other). Thus in the Trinity we see personal fellowship on an equality. (Robertson’s Word Pictures of the New Testament; source; underline emphasis ours)

Thus, by omitting the article John avoided identifying the Word as the God with whom he was, which would make Jesus identical to the Person of God the Father.

In light of the foregoing, here are some legitimate ways of rendering John 1:1 in order to bring out all of the above points more clearly:

"and the Word was fellowshipping with God [the Father], and the Word as to his nature was God."

"and the Word was enjoying intimate communion with God [the Father], and was fully God in essence."

Or to quote some English translations:

"And the Word was with God and the Word was [what] God [was]." The New Testament: An Understandable Version (Source)

"and the Word was with [or, in communion with] God, and the Word was God [or, was as to His essence God]." Analytical-Literal Translation (Source)

"and the Word was with God, and the Word was fully God." NET Bible

The notes to the NET Bible explain it best:

3tn Or "and what God was the Word was." Colwell’s Rule is often invoked to support the translation of ?e?? (qeos) as definite ("God") rather than indefinite ("a god") here. However, Colwell’s Rule merely permits, but does not demand, that a predicate nominative ahead of an equative verb be translated as definite rather than indefinite. Furthermore, Colwell’s Rule did not deal with a third possibility, that the anarthrous predicate noun may have more of a qualitative nuance when placed ahead of the verb. A definite meaning for the term is reflected in the traditional rendering "the word was God." From a technical standpoint, though, it is preferable to see a qualitative aspect to anarthrous ?e?? in John 1:1c (ExSyn 266-69). Translations like the NEB, REB, and Moffatt are helpful in capturing the sense in John 1:1c, that the Word was fully deity in essence (just as much God as God the Father). However, in contemporary English "the Word was divine" (Moffatt) does not quite catch the meaning since "divine" as a descriptive term is not used in contemporary English exclusively of God. The translation "what God was the Word was" is perhaps the most nuanced rendering, conveying that everything God was in essence, the Word was too. This points to unity of essence between the Father and the Son without equating the persons. However, in surveying a number of native speakers of English, some of whom had formal theological training and some of whom did not, the editors concluded that the fine distinctions indicated by "what God was the Word was" would not be understood by many contemporary readers. Thus the translation "the Word was fully God" was chosen because it is more likely to convey the meaning to the average English reader that the Logos (which "became flesh and took up residence among us" in John 1:14 and is thereafter identified in the Fourth Gospel as Jesus) is one in essence with God the Father. The previous phrase, "the Word was with God," shows that the Logos is distinct in person from God the Father.

sn And the Word was fully God. John’s theology consistently drives toward the conclusion that Jesus, the incarnate Word, is just as much God as God the Father. This can be seen, for example, in texts like John 10:30 ("The Father and I are one"), 17:11 ("so that they may be one just as we are one"), and 8:58 ("before Abraham came into existence, I am"). The construction in John 1:1c does not equate the Word with the person of God (this is ruled out by 1:1b, "the Word was with God"); rather it affirms that the Word and God are one in essence. (Source; underline emphasis ours)

Mr. Saifuddin continues:

Correct Translation

The correct translation for John 1:1 would then be as such:

In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was a god.

Mr. Saifuddin has basically adopted the rendering used by the New World Translation Bible produced by the Jehovah’s Witnesses:

"In [the] beginning the Word was, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god."

Yet contrary to this Muslim’s assertion the rendering a god IS NOT the correct translation since this flies in the face of the theology of John:

"How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God?" John 5:44

"Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent." John 17:3

As a Jewish monotheist John would not have believed that the Word was some separate and lesser god who existed alongside the one true God of all. Nor does such a view comport with theology of the Hebrew Scriptures:

"To you it was shown, that you might know that the LORD is God; there is no other besides him … know therefore today, and lay it to your heart, that the LORD is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other." Deuteronomy 4:35, 39

"See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand." Deuteronomy 32:39

Hence, the rendering "a god" may be possible within a pagan or polytheistic context but not within the worldview of the Biblical writers. Murray J. Harris sums it up perfectly:

"The translation ‘a god’ is found in the New World Translation, Jannaris (‘Logos’ 24, but ‘a God’ on p. 20), and Becker (65, 68, 70: ‘ein Gott’). The reasons for rejecting this rendering–represented in none of the major English translations of the twentieth century– have been set out in &D.3.a (1) above." (Harris, Jesus as God, pp. 67-68; italic emphasis ours)

And:

"… Since the basic function of the article is deictic, to add precision to thought by emphasizing individuality or identity, the non-occurrence of the article with a noun may point to the nonparticularity, the indefiniteness, of the concept. Accordingly, from the point of view of grammar alone, theos een ho logos could be rendered ‘the Word was a god,’ just as, for example, if only grammatical considerations were taken into account, humeis ek tou patros tou diabolou este (John 8:44), could mean ‘you belong to the father of the devil. But the theological context, viz, John’s monotheism, makes this rendering of 1:1c impossible, for if a monotheist were speaking of the Deity he himself reverenced, the singular theos could be applied only to the Supreme Being, not to an inferior divine being or emanation as if theos were simply generic. That is, in reference to his own beliefs, a monotheist could not speak of theoi nor could he use theos in the singular (when giving any type of personal description) of any being other than the true God whom he worshiped. On the other hand, when the polytheistic inhabitants of Malta affirmed that Paul was theos, they were suggesting that he had or deserved a place among their own pantheon of gods. ‘They said that he was a god’ is therefore a proper translation of elegon auton einai theon (Acts 28:6)." (Harris, Jesus as God, p. 60; bold and italic emphasis ours)

Moreover, there is additional evidence to support that John believed that the Word was God in the absolute sense. Here, once again, is the verse in question, this time providing some additional context for clarity:

"In the beginning was (een) the Word, and the Word was (een) with God, and the Word was (een) God. He was (een) with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men… He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him … The Word became (egeneto) flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:1-4, 10, 14

The first clue that John was teaching that the Word is fully God comes from the use of the Greek verb een, which is the imperfect tense form of the verb eimi. The word een implies continuous existence or action in the past. Just how continuous will depend primarily upon the context itself. In the case of John 1:1, een is used to denote the Word's continuous past existence before the very beginning of creation (cf. 1:3).

This means that since the Word was already existing before the start of all creation he therefore has no beginning or end. In other words, for the Word to be existing before creation came into being basically means that he is eternal. It further shows that he was existing in eternal fellowship and communion with the God who, in the context, is the Father (cf. 1:14, 18). The use of the verb within this specific context also implies that the Word eternally existed as God, or existed in the nature of God before creation itself.

To put all of this in simpler terms, there was no point in time when the Word didn’t exist with the Father and in the nature of God. Harris writes:

"… In itself John 1:1a speaks only of the pretemporality or supratemporality of the Logos, but in his conjunction of en arche and een (not egeneto) John implies the eternal preexistence of the Word. He who existed ‘in the beginning’ before creation was himself without a beginning and therefore uncreated. There was no time when he did not exist. John is hinting that all speculation about the origin of the Logos is pointless. The imperfect tense een (= Latin erat), which here denotes continuous existence is to be carefully distinguished from esti (‘he is’), which would have stressed his timelessness at the expense of any emphasis on his manifestation historically (cf. 1:14), and from egeneto, which would have implied either that he was a created being (‘he came into existence’) or that by the time of writing he had ceased to exist (= Latin fuit)." (Harris, p. 54; italic and underline emphasis ours)

And:

"… In the first proposition of verse 1 John affirms that the Logos existed before time and creation and therefore implicitly denies that the Logos was a created being. In the second, he declares that the Logos always was in active communion with the Father and thereby implies that the Logos cannot be personally identified with the Father. In the third, he states that the Logos always was a partaker of deity and so implicitly denies that the Logos was ever elevated to divine status. The thought of the verse moves from eternal preexistence to personal communion to intrinsic deity… only because the Logos participated inherently in the divine nature could he be said to be already in existence when time began or creation occurred and to be in unbroken and eternal fellowship with the Father. This would justify regarding theos as emphatic, standing as it does at the head of its clause. (Harris, Jesus as God, p. 71; italic and underline emphasis ours)

Moreover, John in 1:3 and 10 states that the Word is the Agent who made all things (by all things John means all created things). Not only does this prove that the Word is eternal, since he existed before creation came into being, but this also indicates that he is the Maker of every created thing. Yet to be the One who brought all creation into being proves beyond any reasonable doubt that John believed that the Word was God in the fullest and absolute sense of the term.

This becomes all the more evident when we read such statements in light of the OT Scriptures which emphatically teach that Yahweh alone created everything:

"He ALONE stretches out the heavens and treads on the waves of the sea. He is the Maker of the Bear and Orion, the Pleiades and the constellations of the south." Job 9:8

"This is what the LORD says— your Redeemer, who formed you in the womb: I am the LORD, who has made all things, who ALONE stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by MYSELF," Isaiah 44:24

"It is I who made the earth and created mankind upon it. My own hands stretched out the heavens; I marshaled their starry hosts… For this is what the LORD says— he who created the heavens, he is God; he who fashioned and made the earth, he founded it; he did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited— he says: ‘I am the LORD, and there is no other.’" Isaiah 45:12, 18

Hence, if Yahweh is the sole Creator and yet John says that the Word (who is the Lord Jesus in his prehuman existence) fashioned and made every created thing then this implies that John believed that the Word who became flesh is none other than Yahweh God. Note the logic behind this argument:

  1. Yahweh alone created all things (cf. Job 9:8; Isa. 44:24).
  2. Christ as the preincarnate Word created all things (John 1:1-3, 10, 14).
  3. Therefore, Christ the Word is Yahweh God.

Here is another way of putting it:

  1. Yahweh is the only one who made all creation.
  2. Christ as the preincarnate Word made all creation.
  3. Therefore, Christ the Word is Yahweh God.

At the same time John says that even before creation the Word was having fellowship with God the Father. And yet John taught that there is only one God! (Cf. John 5:44, 17:3)

All of these factors lead us to the conclusion that John clearly believed that the one eternal God exists as a multi-Personal Being. The fourth Evangelist (as he is sometimes called) was proclaiming the revealed truth that the eternal Being of the Godhead is so infinitely complex that there is actually more than one Person who exists as this one true God, namely, the Father and the Son (along with the Holy Spirit).

Mr. Saifuddin sits in judgment on all Christian translators by impugning their integrity and calling into question their translation skills:

However we find that Christendom tries to put a veil over this problem in the Bible and all of them falsely translate the verses in a way to imply by hook or crook that the Word was also God.

Such bold talk from one who, as we have seen, really doesn’t understand the issues involved regarding the proper translation of John 1:1.

We conclude our discussion by adapting and modifying Mr. Saifuddin’s closing statements.

Conclusion

The Muslim world has been trying hard (but failing every time) to obscure the correct meaning of John 1:1 since this is one of the clearest and more explicit passages supporting the absolute Deity and eternal Personhood of the Lord Jesus Christ. Muslims also want people to erroneously believe that the only verse that comes closest to establishing the doctrine of the blessed Trinity is 1 John 5:7, a passage which many Biblical scholars believe to be a later interpolation by a copyist. However, such is not the case since the teaching of the Trinity is based on the overall teachings of the Holy Bible, and not on some isolated and scattered references that are found here and there. In fact, what we find is that as more investigations are made into the Greek texts of the New Testament the Deity of Christ becomes more firmly established (http://deityofchrist.com/). Muslims must therefore realize that Christians clearly see through their petty attempts of distorting the message of God’s preserved Word, the Holy Bible, and will not put up with the games that their apologists and polemicists try to play with the inspired text of Holy Scripture.

Moreover, it is an undeniable fact that the textual tradition of the Holy Bible demonstrates that God has preserved his Word so that Christians can be certain that what they are reading today is the very message which the original authors of Scripture wrote down by inspiration. We therefore invite our Muslim friends to abandon their false prophet and their false book, which has been corrupted over time (*), and embrace the teachings of God’s Word found only in the Old and New Testaments.


Further Reading

http://www.aomin.org/JOHN1_1.html
http://forananswer.org/John/Jn1_1.htm
http://forananswer.org/Top_JW/Scholars%20and%20NWT.htm
http://forananswer.org/Top_Uni/ECF_Jn1_1.htm
http://forananswer.org/Top_JW/ScholarsAndCopticJohn.htm
http://forananswer.blogspot.com/2006/10/john-11-in-sahidic-coptic-translation.html
http://forananswer.blogspot.com/2006/10/hoskyns-and-coptic-john-11.html
http://forananswer.org/Top_JW/JWs%20and%20Jn1_1.htm


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