John 1:1 and the New World Translation of the Jehovah's Witnesses by Jack Kettler 2012
“In [the] beginning the Word was, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god.” John 1:1 The New World Translation (underlining emphasis mine)
Is this above-quoted translation of John 1:1 accurate? For one thing, if this translation were accurate, the New Testament there would be in contradiction to the rest of Scripture and would be teaching polytheism. Why? Because the passage would be talking about two distinct Gods. The verse would be saying that there exists in the beginning, God, and one with god, the Word, thus equaling two Gods.
Many people are long-familiar with the following translation:
“and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John 1:1 King James Version
ΚΑΤΑ ΙΩΑΝΝΗΝ 1:1 Greek NT: Stephanus Textus Receptus
Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος
“En archE en ho logos kai ho logos en pros ton theon kai theos en ho logos” Greek transliteration
“IN beginning was the word and the word was toward the God and God was the word” Literal Greek
Who is responsible for this translation of John 1:1 and the New World Translation of the whole Bible and were they qualified to do so?
The Watchtower Bible & Tract Society, Jehovah's Witnesses have never made public the names of the translators. According to former members of the Governing Body of the Jehovah's Witnesses organization, the members of the translation committee were Nathan H. Knorr (President of the organization), Frederick W. Franz (Vice-President), George D. Gangas, and Albert D. Schroeder. According to Raymond V. Franz, the “principal translator of the Society's New World Translation" was Frederick W. Franz.” Also, according to Raymond V. Franz, Frederick W. Franz, was the only one with even a limited knowledge of the Bible languages to attempt a translation of this kind. He had studied Greek for a mere two years in the University of Cincinnati and was self-taught in Hebrew.1
An initial response to the horrific mis-translation of the Scriptures by this group:
According to Dr. Anthony A. Hoekema:
“Their New World Translation of the Bible is by no means an objective rendering of the sacred text into modern English, but is a biased translation in which many of the peculiar teachings of the Watchtower Society are smuggled into the text of the Bible itself.”2
Dr. Anthony A. Hoekema was Professor of Systematic Theology, at Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan and the author of one of the most highly respected reference works on the cults including a section on the Jehovah's Witnesses.
Let now look at what a number of Greek scholars think about The New World Translation of John 1:1:
Dr. J. R. Mantey (who is quoted on pages 1158-1159) of the Jehovah's Witnesses own Kingdom Interlinear Translation):
“A shocking mistranslation.” “Obsolete and incorrect.” “It is neither scholarly nor reasonable to translate John 1:1 'The Word was a god.'”
“But of all the scholars in the world, so far as we know, none have translated this verse as Jehovah’s Witnesses have done.”
“I have never read any New Testament so badly translated as the Kingdom Interlinear of the Greek Scriptures…. It is a distortion–not a translation.”
“The translators of the New World Translation are ‘diabolical deceivers.’”
Dr. Bruce M. Metzger of Princeton (Professor of New Testament Language and Literature):
“A frightful mistranslation.” “Erroneous” and “pernicious” “reprehensible” “If the Jehovah's Witnesses take this translation seriously, they are polytheists.”
Dr. Samuel J. Mikolaski of Zurich, Switzerland:
"This anarthrous (used without the article) construction does not mean what the indefinite article 'a' means in English. It is monstrous to translate the phrase 'the Word was a god.'”
Dr. Paul L. Kaufman of Portland, Oregon:
“The Jehovah's Witnesses people evidence an abysmal ignorance of the basic tenets of Greek grammar in their mistranslation of John 1:1.”
Dr. Charles L. Feinberg of La Mirada, California:
“I can assure you that the rendering which the Jehovah's Witnesses give John 1:1 is not held by any reputable Greek scholar.”
Dr. James L. Boyer of Winona Lake, Indiana:
“I have never heard of, or read of any Greek Scholar who would have agreed to the interpretation of this verse insisted upon by the Jehovah's Witnesses...I have never encountered one of them who had any knowledge of the Greek language.”
Dr. William Barclay of the University of Glasgow, Scotland:
“The deliberate distortion of truth by this sect is seen in their New Testament translations. John 1:1 is translated: '...the Word was a god,' a translation which is grammatically impossible...It is abundantly clear that a sect which can translate the New Testament like that is intellectually dishonest."
Dr. F. F. Bruce of the University of Manchester, England:
"Much is made by Arian amateur grammarians of the omission of the definite article with 'God' in the phrase 'And the Word was God.' Such an omission is common with nouns in a predicative construction...'a god' would be totally indefensible.”
Dr. Ernest C. Colwell of the University of Chicago:
“A definite predicate nominative has the article when it follows the verb; it does not have the article when it precedes the verb...this statement cannot be regarded as strange in the prologue of the gospel which reaches its climax in the confession of Thomas. 'My Lord and my God.' - John 20:28”
Dr. Phillip B. Harner of Heidelberg College:
“The verb preceding an anarthrous predicate would probably mean that the LOGOS was 'a god' or a divine being of some kind, belonging to the general category of THEOS but as a distinct being from HO THEOS. In the form that John actually uses, the word “THEOS” is placed at the beginning for emphasis.”
Dr. J. Johnson of California State University, Long Beach:
“No justification whatsoever for translating THEOS EN HO LOGOS as 'the Word was a god.' There is no syntactical parallel to Acts 28:6 where there is a statement in indirect discourse; John 1:1 is direct....I am neither a Christian nor a trinitarian.”
Dr. Eugene A. Nida, head of Translations Department, American Bible Society:
"With regard to John 1:1, there is of course a complication simply because the New World Translation was apparently done by persons who did not take seriously the syntax of the Greek." [Responsible for the Good News Bible - The committee worked under him.]
Dr. B. F. Wescott (whose Greek text - not the English part - is used in the Kingdom Interlinear Translation):
“The predicate (God) stands emphatically first, as in IV.24. It is necessarily without the article...No idea of inferiority of nature is suggested by the form of expression, which simply affirms the true deity of the Word...in the third clause 'the Word' is declared to be 'God' and so included in the unity of the Godhead.”
Dr. J. J. Griesbach (whose Greek text - not the English part - is used in the Emphatic Diaglott):
“So numerous and clear are the arguments and testimonies of Scriptures in favour of the true Deity of Christ, that I can hardly imagine how, upon the admission of the Divine authority of Scripture, and with regard to fair rules of interpretation, this doctrine can by any man be called in doubt. Especially the passage, John 1:1-3, is so clear and so superior to all exception, that by no daring efforts of either commentators or critics can it be snatched out of the hands of the defenders of the truth.”
But Wait, there is one translation that agrees with the New World Translation:
It is Johannes Greber’s bible. This one “bible” translates John 1:1 as “the Word was a god” Who is Johannes Greber? Greber was a Catholic priest who became a spiritualist. He claimed to get his “translation” as a spirit medium with help from God's Spirit World.
In addition to his translation of the New Testament, Greber wrote another book titled, “Communication with the Spirit World,” published in 1932, containing 432 pages which details his experiences as a medium. For example, the Johannes Greber Foundation describing Greber's method of translation goes as follows: “At times he was given the correct answers in large illuminated letters and words passing before his eyes. Other times he was given the correct answers during prayer meetings. His wife, a spirit medium of God's Spirit world was often instrumental in conveying the correct answer from God's Messenger to Pastor Greber.” * (underlining emphasis mine)
The Jehovah's Witnesses excitedly referenced for a number of years Greber's New Testament translation until they found out about Greber's occultic connections. Then they wisely deleted all references to Greber's material from their publications, thus proving that “even a broken clock is right, twice a day.”
* Greber's occultic method of translating reminds one of how Joseph Smith would supposedly translate the Book of Mormon from his golden plates. According to David Whitmer one of the three witnesses to the authenticity of the Book of Mormon wrote:
“Joseph Smith would put the seer stone into a hat, and put his face in the hat, drawing it closely around his face to exclude the light; and in the darkness, the spiritual light would shine. A piece of something resembling parchment would appear, and on that appeared the writing. One character at a time would appear, and under it was the interpretation in English. Brother Joseph would read off the English to Oliver Cowdery, who was his principal scribe, and when it was written down and repeated to Brother Joseph to see if it was correct, then it would disappear, and another character with the interpretation would appear. Thus the Book of Mormon was translated by the gift and power of God, and not by any power of man.”3 (underlining emphasis mine)
What do true scholars say about the proper translation of John 1:1?
A.T. Robertson, a renowned scholar of the Greek New Testament:
And the Word was God (kai theos en ho logos). By exact and careful language John denied Sabellianism by not saying ho theos en 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 agape 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 the 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.4
Benjamin B. Warfield professor of theology at Princeton Seminary from 1887 to 1921 said:
“And the Word was with God.” The language is pregnant. It is not merely coexistence with God that is asserted, as of two beings standing side by side, united in local relation, or even in a common conception. What is suggested is an active relation of intercourse. The distinct personality of the Word is therefore not obscurely intimated. From all eternity the Word has been with God as a fellow: He who in the very beginning already “was,” “was” also in communion with God. Though He was thus in some sense a second along with God, He was nevertheless not a separate being from God: “And the Word was” --still the eternal “was” --”God.” In some sense distinguishable from God, He was in an equally true sense identical with God. There is but one eternal God; this eternal God, the Word is; in whatever sense we may distinguish Him from the God whom He is “with,” He is yet not another than this God, but Himself is this God. The predicate “God” occupies the position of emphasis in this great declaration, and is so placed in the sentence as to be thrown up in sharp contrast with the phrase “with God,” as if to prevent inadequate inferences as to the nature of the Word being drawn even momentarily from that phrase. John would have us realize that what the Word was in eternity was not merely God's coeternal fellow, but the eternal God's self.5
In closing, the Jehovah's Witnesses can be described as a revival of the Arian heresy, although their errors are even more dangerous than the Arians of old. Their chief heresy is Christological in nature, namely, that Jesus is related to God as his son, but he is not fully divine. Arius who started this heresy was a presbyter in the church of Alexandria. Arius concluded that Jesus Christ the Son of God was a small god and a created being. As seen with John 1:1 these modern day Arians take not only this passage but every passage in Scripture that affirms the deity of Christ or the Trinity and purposely mistranslate it.
The Apostle Paul speaks to this heresy when he says:
“But have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by the manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God.” 2 Corinthians 4:2 (underlining emphasis mine)
1. Raymond V. Franz, Crisis of Conscience (Atlanta: Commentary Press, 1983), p. 50.
2. Hoekema, Anthony, The Four Major Cults (Exeter:
Paternoster, 1963), p. 208, 209.
3. David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ, (Richmond, Missouri, 1887), p. 12.
4. A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, (B & H Publishing Group, Vol. 5, 1973), p. 4,5. Also see: A. T. Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research, (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1934), p. 767-768.
5.. Benjamin Breckenridge Warfield, The Person and Work of Christ, (Philadelphia: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1950), p. 53.
Proving Christ's Deity from the New World Translation:
2013 New World Translation – Jehovah’s Witness Bible
Here, in the Jehovah’s Witnesses own Bible Translation from as recently as 2013, we have an acknowledgment the God is Savior, and two lines later, Jesus is Savior, and He is tied into the “Father”. No distinction is made in the word savior, and in both applications, it is capitalized. The implication and explication both comport that there is a quality of deity in Christ and that the Father and Christ are somehow entwined and connected integrally and eternally.
Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Available at: www.TheReligionThatStartedInAHat.com