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Bible Q

In John 1:1-3, which is the correct reading: “and the Word was God” or “and the Word was a god” — and why?

The words at the end of verse 1 (και θεος ην ο λογος) are correctly translated “and the Word was God”. Because of the absence of the definite article (i.e. “the”) in the Greek, some translators (particularly JWs) believe that it should be translated “and the Word was a god”. However, in Greek the absence of the definite article does not necessarily indicate that a word is indefinite. In this case, the article precedes “Word” (ο λογος) probably to indicate that it is the subject of the clause, i.e. “and the Word was God”, not “and God was the Word”.

The idea that God could be identifed with his attributes was well understood in New Testament times. In saying that God’s creative word “was God”, John was not saying anything that a 1st Century Jew would disagree with.

19 Replies to “In John 1:1-3, which is the correct reading: “and the Word was God” or “and the Word was a god” — and why?”

  1. There is no difference. God is not seperate from his word and his word is power because God is power. Whatsoever God speaks, occurs.
    the word was God
    the words was a God

    both speak the same.

  2. Actually, the construct does not suggest “identity” (that the utterance of God was the *person* of God) but rather “quality” (that the utterance of God was “God-utterance.” It is the same idea as when Paul said that “all writings are god-breathed.”

    • Thank you for your response. I did not mean to suggest that the Word is to be identified with the person of God, per se. As you say the Word is a quality or attribute of God.

      The revolutionary part was when John says in verse 14 that this creative word of God became flesh.

  3. ‘Theos’ meaning (God) can be summerized as ‘divine’. But the ‘word’ is known to literally mean ‘idea or concept’. So that from the very beginning we can see that the divine (God) and his idea (logos) was before the earth was made. No matter which angle you look from, the concept is the same. God had an idea, a wonderful concept, that this very day we can see unfolding before our eyes.

    • I would be cautious of translating θεος as “divine”, though it can mean this in certain contexts. The word λογος has a very wide semantic field and can be translated in many ways, depending on context.

      The allusions to Genesis (“In the beginning …”) indicate that John is probably referring to God’s creative word.

  4. Actually Strong’s would have it as ‘a god or goddess, a general name of deities or divinities’. It would also seem the context does imply the definite article, ‘The God’.
    Nevertheless the concept of this verse however remains undiminished. God is inextricably linked to his word, plan and purpose. Thus we see his ability to manifest in the ‘abstract’ as well as Christ and his faithful followers. In this way also we can see how God’s ‘word’ continues to become ‘flesh’(tangible) before his eyes. God does not expect us to rid ourselves of flesh just yet, but rather be truly immersed in ‘spirit’.

    10 “But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.
    11 For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.
    12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.”
    (1Co 2:10-12 KJV)

    Then of course we have paradoxical to John1:14…
    9 “But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.” (Rom 8:9 KJV)

    Morsels for thought…

  5. It’s been a while since someone posted on this. I wanted to also point out that in Hinduism, the creative Word of God is spoken of as God:

    “Prajāpatir vā idam eka āsīt. Tasya vāg eva svam āsīt. Vāg dvitīyā.” In the Beginning was Prajapati [Creator, God] alone. The Word was his true Self. The Word was the second. (Tandya Brahmana 20.14.2)

    “Prajāpatir vā idam āsīt. Tasya vāg dvitīyā āsīt.” All this was Prajapati, and the Word was his second. (Kathaka Samhita 12.5)

    “Vāg vai brahmā.” The Word was God. (Shatapatha Brahmana,,, Aitareya Brahmana 6.3 [among others])

    It seems a common theme in the written Word of God.

    • Given that we believe true Christianity to be the one true religion and the Bible the one true source of God’s word, I’m not sure how much it helps finding similarities with other religions (though sometimes the similarities are interesting).

      • That seems like a rather ridiculous assertion. I have no doubt that Yahweh is the only God. But “Yahweh” is not his only name. You can call him El Elyon, El Shaddai, Adonai, etc. Why not Brahma, Vishnu, or Shiva?

        You can’t believe Christianity to be the only true religion. Christianity doesn’t exist. What does exist is Judaism, the covenant of God delivered to the nations of Israel and Judah – which reached fulfillment in what you call “Christianity”. Regardless of the reasoning, Christianity cannot exist without Judaism, and Judaism was not a false religion. God judged Israel, not because they were not a “true religion”, but because 1) they abused the prophets, 2) committed spiritual adultery [violated the terms of the covenant] through numerous means, and 3) failed to observe 70 sabbath years.

        Judaism was just as valid on the day the Romans burned the Temple as it was on the day God gave the Law to Moshe. The difference was the practice of the people in failing to obey this religion. This is the reason for the Messiah – a man – to come and fulfill the Old Covenant Law. In other words, Jesus died the death required of every sin committable under the Law and through his death, taught the truest Law of self-sacrifice and love. Through Christ, those incapable of living by the old system, which included pretty much everyone at that time, can live through the new system of loving charity and faith. To deny that Judaism is a true religion is to contradict too much of the Bible to even claim oneself as “true.”

        Further, what grounds is there for the idea that other religions don’t teach the same “true” faith? Hinduism teaches that there exists, beneath all religious surfaces, an eternal law or truth, the Sanatana Dharma. If one understands the Bible in a way that realizes this Dharma, one reaches very similar conclusions as the Christadelphian (or other dogmatic Unitarian), only without the irrational conclusion that Christianity is the only truth. After all, no religion can be truth, as only the Lord is truth. If the Lord so wills that truth will be known through others, so it is.

        No verse in the Bible claims to be the only scripture in the world inspired by the eternal Word of God. Many Jews are beginning to understand this. The Chief Rabbinate of Israel has affirmed that both Hinduism and Judaism were revealed by the same God. Thus, both are true, and both scriptures are the Word made manifest.

        How can it help to find similarities with other religions? Because we live in a world tearing itself apart over ridiculous, and largely non-existent, differences. Where we can show the same God, we should. Where we can show the same truth, we should. Where we can unite under a manifold faith in the single Supreme Reality, God, we should. For the sake of ourselves, and our children, we owe it. Unless we do, what sort of world will we leave behind?

        Be blessed.

        • I agree that Judaism was a true religion, given by God and fulfilled in Christ. However, that does not mean that the way it has been practiced and understood through history is completely true (e.g. the prophets condemned various parts of the people’s worship of God, and Jesus condemned the Pharisees for the way they acted and told others to act). Therefore, the fact that the Chief Rabbinate has affirmed that Hinduism was revealed by God does not make it so, and does not make its scripture the Word made manifest (any more than the Pharisees affirming it would have made it true or false).

          A key basis for considering Christianity the only true religion is Acts 4:12, where Peter and John make it quite clear that they see Jesus as the only basis for salvation. The role of Jesus is vital to our understanding of God and of salvation. Do you see Jesus in other such religions? I don’t, and so I consider the differences core rather than “largely non-existent”.

          I have talked with Hindus and I have heard testimonies from former Hindus who are now Christians, and the consistent message is not “I changed my label but I’m still worshipping the same God and following the same thing” but “These religions are radically different and I believe following Christ to be true and my old religion to be false”.

          • 1) Who was Peter talking to? Indic people or Israelites? Considering that the Divine Commission pertained to the Nations of Israel and Judah, and the descendents thereof who had immigrated to Greece and other surrounding nations, the relevance of the New Testament as the fulfillment of Judaic Law was still exclusively Jewish. Nothing in the Biblical scripture implies direct relevance to any other group of people, except for those Gentiles who have heard the gospel and chose to accept it. As the New Covenant was made with the true descendents of Abraham (the faithful), the Father of the Judaic religion, the New Covenant, while applicable to non-Jews is not necessarily essential to their salvation, as Abraham is not traditionally their father and the Judaic myths are not traditionally their own.

            2) Anyone who feels the need to convert from Hinduism to Christianity knows nothing of either. Unfortunately, most Hindus in the modern world are not educated properly, and believe they follow a polytheistic religion. The spiritual truth of Hinduism is so clear to educated Hindu scholars that most see no need to convert to Christianity when they accept Christ as a revealed incarnation of God (a man who realized divinity and taught a revealed truth). In fact, many Hindus specifically see Christianity as subsisting within Hinduism, and rightfully so, as Jesus taught the Hindu religion almost word for word.

            3) And the testimony of discouraged Christians who realize the apostasy of the Church and convert to Hinduism is useless? Is evidence only to be considered when it supports our cause?

            4) As I said, an educated Hindu who knows the Dharma will read the Bible and come to the same conclusions as you, just without the exclusivity and dogmatism that the Lord never intended. Follow the words of Jesus – who taught the fullness of truth; consider the rest only if they agree.

  6. The correct reading of Jon 1:1-3 is “and the word was God.”

    The absence, in the Greek, of the definite article before the word”God” makes it impossible to render the statement, :God was the Word.” Thus to reder it woud equate God with the Word and thus limit Deity exclusively to the Word. The rwo terms, “Word” and “God,” are not altogether interchangeable. It would be no more proper to say that “God was the Wrod: than to say the “love is God” or , :flesh was made the Word.” Although “God” in v. 1 lacks the definte article, is is still definite.
    The statement cannot be translated “the Wor was a God,” as if the Word were one God among many other gods. In the Greek the absence of the article often emphasizes quality expressed by, or inherent in, a word. Accordingly, John means that the Word partook of the essence of Deity, that He was divine in the ultimate and absolute sense. Thus in one terse declaration John denies that the Word was either a God, one among many, or the God, as if He alone were God.
    In the prologue (vs. 1-18) John states the objective that guided him in the writing the Gospel: namely, to present the man Jesus as God incarnate (1 John 1:1). From discourse to discourse he faithfully prsues this objective. In his conclusion he observes that his purpose in writing was to lead others to “believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God,” and that believing they “might have life through his name” (John 20:30.

    • Thanks Ed for your perspective. I’m glad to see you agree that “the Word was God” is the correct translation.

      However, when you say “John means that the Word partook of the essence of Deity”, you are going beyond translation into interpretation. This might be one way of reading this line but it is not the only way. You frequently refer to the Word as “he”; again this is more interpretation than translation. The Word might reasonably be understood to be “it” until v14.

      Your interpretation of this verse is underscored by your proposition that “John states the objective that guided him in the writing the Gopsel; namely, to present the man Jesus as God incarnate”. Could you say were John states this objective? As you say, John actually states his objective as leading others to believe that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” – a different proposition.

  7. A Christian who decides to convert to Hinduism is presumably making the same statement as a Hindu converting to Christianity: they believe the two to be different. I come to the same conclusion from the little I know of Hinduism.

    The commission of Peter and the other disciples was to all the world, not just the scattered people of Israel. Paul was definitely given the mission of preaching to the Gentiles. There are definitely legends of the gospel being preached to India by the disciple Thomas, though I am not sure of their truth. However, I see nothing in Jesus’ teaching that restricted it to the people of Israel (though he himself was only sent to the lost sheep of Israel, presumably due to his short life, and the need for that to be the starting point), while there are definite commands for it to go beyond the people of Israel.

    Your statement seems to imply that Jesus taught the whole truth, and that others only sometimes agree (and whenever they disagree it is not the truth). This sounds to me like they are different religions, and therefore if Jesus’ teachings are completely true (the basis of this site), then the other religions are not completely true. I’m afraid I cannot see the benefit of studying other religions if I am continually using the Bible as the measure of which of their teachings I should accept and which I should reject. I might just as well read the Bible.

  8. Feel free to only read the Bible. But you have no right to state that your version of your religion is the only truth. No man can make such a claim. Jesus Christ himself appeared to me, spoke to me, and led me to (the real) Hinduism (not the Hinduism where there are many Gods or silly little myths that are taken as literal truth), where I found God is a magnified sense.

    Considering the Lord you claim to follow is the very being who led me here and showed me truth through this journey, I would think twice before saying that your religion is the only truth. Of course, you may not believe me. But that doesn’t mean I’m wrong or dishonest, only that you have little faith in what I say. Beyond your preconceptions, I may or may not be right, and therefore, any categorical statement you make to contradict me will potentially contradict the Lord.

    Of course, this is not true of me alone. Many people feel led by the Lord to this life, or others. Only arrogance can speak for exclusivity. The loving heart remains open.

    But I do thank you for admitting you know little of Hinduism. The same can be said of anyone that converts. As I’ve said, those who take the time to study the scriptures comparatively come to the conclusion that our Gods are one. Brahman is also Yahweh, the Lord of Hosts. (Oh, and “Lord of Hosts” is Ganesha in Hinduism. Yet another inescapable fact that points to the unity of God between our religions).

    Now, I am not saying this to deny Christ or the religion he inadvertently created. I am a “Christian” in that I follow Christ in much the same way that you do. Christ is the Son of God, a promise Prophet, a messenger of truth and a Messiah of Israel. As a realized soul who taught the truths revealed through its enlightenment, Jesus was a realized “avatar” (the Word “became” flesh) of God. But I respect Jesus for what he is. He is the Way to the Father; the Father is our goal. Remember that in the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna, speaking as unmanifest God says, “I am the Father and…the Goal.”

  9. I don’t think this discussion is going to get us anywhere. All I can say is that based on the Bible I think our stance is reasonable and Bible based. You are obviously welcome to disagree.

  10. Writte your own Bible I guess……”the word was God….Light of the world….become fresh”…..Jesus is the word……He is God….you trying to re-phrase the words all the time-thus all is to your arguments,but you cant bring no single verse to back you up.In the end they are just assumptions……some Catholics wish too we add a sentence or two about Mary…..God I wish there was one sentence to explain what happened to Enoch and Elijah, what if those two died just the very second before meeting God?Ohhhh that would explain everything wouldn’t it….so easy

    Leave the Bible as it is……..if you cant take it…move on

    • Hi Sothie,

      You can certainly assume that “the word of God became flesh” means Jesus is “the word of God”, not “the word of God made flesh”. However, the fact that something *became* something else suggests there is some change in state that we have to think about (whatever conclusion we come to). You might also want to look at, which I think is more directly related to your comment.