A Jehovah’s Witness (JW) once challenged me to show that Jesus Christ is God. When I referred him to John 1:1, he retorted that John 1:1 is wrongly translated from the Greek by most English versions. He said it should be translated as “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was a god” [emphasis mine]. Is this true?
No, it is absolutely false! It is a translation that can only be made by someone with a very biased mind and either knows hardly any Greek or chooses to ignore the regular rules of translation for this verse. It is the consensus of practically every Greek Grammarian that the last part of John 1:1 is rightly translated “and the word was God.”
Let me explain why. The Greek of the last part of John 1:1 reads,kai theos ên ho logos. If we do a word-by-word replacement, it would read “and God was the word” or “and [a] god was the word.” You see, the Greek masculine definite article (i.e., ‘the’) is the little “ho.” The Greek language does not have an indefinite article. Anyone who learns Greek will quickly know that a noun that is not preceded by an article may be translated indefinitely. Sotheos can be translated “a god,” whereas ho theos must be translated “the god” or “God.”
But this rule does not always hold. Sometimes, there is no definite article in the Greek text, but the context suggests that the noun is definite or articular. Also, in the case when two nouns are connected by a copulative verb (i.e., ‘is,’ ‘was,’ ‘are,’ etc.), then (1) the first noun indicates the emphasis. It does not indicate whether it is the nominative (i.e., subject or LHS of verb), or the accusative (i.e., object, or RHS of verb). (2) If only one of the nouns has the definite article, it is the nominative. In which case, the accusative may or may not be definite. Whether it is, must be determined from the context.
Now, this means that kai theos ên ho logos may be translated “and the word was [the] God” or “and the word was [a] god.” Whether theos should be translated “[the] God” or “[a] god” must be determined from the context. When we look at the context, we see that in the context (vv. 1–2), theos is always articular and so unambiguously referring to “[the] God.” Therefore we must translate the statement as “the word was God.”
We hear the JWs complaining: But the Apostle John could have kept the definite article for theos if he had intended to refer to“[the] God” and not to “[a] god.” We reply that there are only four cases in the New Testament (see Acts 7:43, 12:22, 28:6; 2 Cor 4:4) where singular theos can be translated “god” with the small letter ‘g,’ and in each case they cannot be translated as “God” (even though in Acts 7:43 and 2 Corinthians 4:4, the theos has a definite article). This compares with 299 occurrences in the UBSGNT (which the JW would use) of anarthrous theos (i.e., without definite article) that has to be translated as “God.” Apart from John 1:1, nineteen other anarthrous theos occur in the Gospel of John, each of which cannot be translated as “a god.” No one, not even JWs, would translate John 1:6 as “There was a man sent from a god, whose name was John”; or John 1:12–13 as “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of a god, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of a god.” If they try to grasp straw and invent a rule that says anarthrous theos in conjunction with a copulative verb must be translated as “a god,” then let them translate 2 Corinthians 5:19 as “To wit, that a god was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself….”
Apart from that, if the JWs insist on translating John 1:1 with “the word was a god,” in order to assert the non-deity of Christ, how would he then explain Thomas’ declaration of the Lord Jesus as, “My Lord and my God” (Jn 20:28). The Greek is ho kurios mou kai ho theos mou. Notice the definite article before theos?
In short, the JW’s translation of John 1:1 is simply unscholarly, irresponsible, dishonest and blasphemous, and therefore damnable. A responsible and objective translation will only yield:“and the Word was God.”