The Exalted Christology of John’s Gospel: The Witnesses

First there were the Arians, then there was (and is) the Jehovah’s Witnesses; both in their own unique ways assert that Jesus is simply a god, a created or ingenerate being who does God’s bidding in creation (as a creation). The Arians had a more nuanced philosophical argument for this, while the JWs simply (blindly) follow the teachings of their Watchtowers, and the translation work of their New World Translation of the Bible. For anyone out there who has ever had to try and discuss such things with JWs, and their translation of John 1.1 (they say that it says that the Word is “a god” and not God himself); you know the struggle that is often present. In lieu of that, I thought I would offer a good word from Daniel Wallace on the Greek construction and grammar found in John 1.1; it becomes quickly evident that the JWs (and the Arians for that matter) are out to lunch when it comes to what the Koine Greek actually says in regards to John 1.1 (let alone what the internal theology of John’s Gospel explicitly presupposes and communicates — that Jesus is God incarnate). Let’s read what Wallace has to offer on this:

a. Is Θεóς in John 1:1c Indefinite?

If Θεóς were indefinite, we would translate it “a god” (as is done in the New World Translation [NWT]). If so, the theological implication would be some form of polytheism, perhaps suggesting that the Word was merely a secondary god in a pantheon of deities.

The grammatical argument for the PN [Predicate Nominative] here is indefinite is weak. Often, those who argue for such a view (in particular, the translation of the NWT) do so on the sole basis that the term is anartharous [no article]. Yet they are inconsistent, as R. H. Countess pointed out:

In the New Testament there are 282 occurences of the anarthous Θεóς. At sixteen places NWT has either a god, god, gods, or godly. Sixteen out of 282 means that the translators were faithful to their translation principle only six percent of the time. . . .

The first section of John–1:1-18–furnishes a lucid example of NWT arbitrary dogmatism. Θεóς occurs eight times–verses 1, 2, 6, 12, 13, 18–and has the article only twice–verses 1, 2. Yet NWT six times translated “God,” once “a god,” and once “the god.”

If we expand the discussion to other anarthrous terms in the Johannine Prologue, we notice other inconsistencies in the NWT: It is interesting that the New World Translation renders Θεóς as “a god” on the simplistic grounds that it lacks the article. This is surely an insufficient basis. Following the “anarthrous = indefinite” principle would mean that àρχη should be “a beginning” (1:1, 2), ζωη should be “a life” (1:4), πáρà Θεóû should be from “a god” (1:6), Ìωáννης should be “a John” (1:6), Θεóν should be “a god” (1:18), etc. Yet none of these other anarthrous nouns is rendered with an indefinite article. Once can only suspect strong theological bias in such a translation.

According to Dixon’s study, if Θεóς were indefinite in John 1:1, it would be the only anarthrous pre-verbal PN in John’s Gospel to be so. Although we have argued that this is somewhat overstated, the general point is valid: The indefinite notion is the most poorly attested for anarthrous pre-verbal predicate nominatives. Thus, grammatically such a meaning is improbable. Also, the context suggests that such is not likely, for the Word already existed in the beginning. Thus, contextually and grammatically, it is highly improbable that the Logos could be “a god” according to John. Finally, the evangelist’s own theology militates against this view, for there is an exalted Christology in the Fourth Gospel, to the point that Jesus Christ is identified as God (cf. 5:23; 8:58; 10:30; 20:28; etc.). [brackets mine] [Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond The Basics, 266-67]

So next time you hear a knock on the door, and it is the JWs; just tell them that the NT Greek does not support their NWT translation of John 1.1. And even more importantly for those who don’t know Greek; become familiar with the theology and passages internal to John’s Gospel which openly declare and presume that Jesus is God (like those passages that Wallace lists above, and also 5:18; 19:7; etc.). There are other strategies to talking with JWs (it is possible to prove from their own NWT that Jesus is God, they didn’t get all of the passages “fixed” their way), but I think sticking with this primary point is the most important one. It is what divides them from us as historic and orthodox Christians.

PS. For those familiar with the Greek, you will notice that some of the breathing marks, or lack thereof, in the Greek above is off. That is because I had to use the symbols provided by WP.