John 1:1 and Apologetic Arguments: Part 1

There seems to a running pattern that I am noticing with the Jehovah’s Witnesses that I engage. As of late, I have been presenting them with Psalm 102:25-27 and getting them to agree that this text is indeed speaking about Jehovah God. After they agree, I then ask them to turn to Hebrews 1:10-12, which uses the exact same reference in regards to the Lord Jesus, being the creator of Heaven and Earth.

Here is how it appears in their New World Translation;

25Long ago you laid the foundations of the earth itself,

And the heavens are the work of your hands.

26They themselves will perish, but you yourself will keep standing;

And just like a garment they will all of them wear out.

Just like clothing you will replace them, and they will finish their turn.

27But you are the same, and your own years will not be completed.

(Psalm 102:25-27, NWT)

And: “You at [the] beginning, O Lord, laid the foundations of the earth itself, and

the heavens are [the] works of your hands. 11They themselves will perish, but

you yourself are to remain continually; and just like an outer garment they will all

grow old, 12and you will wrap them up just as a cloak, as an outer garment; and

they will be changed, but you are the same, and your years will never run out.”

(Hebrews 1:10-12, NWT)

It seems that when presented with this argument, the Witnesses will attempt to use one of two escape arguments. First, there is the argument of John 1:1, where Jesus is described as “a god” in the NWT. The Witnesses tend to only focus in on clause “c” of the verse, but, clause “a” and “b” disprove the entire argument that they attempt to generate. Here’s why;

[Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος] καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν, καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος

In beginning was the Word” (John 1:1a)

The word “was” in John 1:1a, the Greek word “ἦν” is the timeless word for existence. In essence, what John 1:1a is telling the reader is; “In the beginning was the eternal word Jesus.” As far back as one can think, Jesus “was” there. Note the words of scholar James White on this issue (found HERE);

The key element in understanding this, the first phrase of this magnificent verse, is the form of the word “was,” which in the Greek language in which John was writing, is the word en (the “e” pronounced as a long “a” as in “I ate the food”). It is a timeless word – that is, it simply points to existence before the present time without reference to a point of origin. One can push back the “beginning” as far as you can imagine, and, according to John, the Word still is. Hence, the Word is eternal, timeless. The Word is not a creation that came into existence at “the beginning,” for He antedates that beginning.

Dr. White’s words are quite helpful here. Per the text of John 1:1a, one can rightfully proclaim that the “Word,” Jesus Christ, is eternal. He is eternal and timeless, which corresponds perfectly with Psalm 102:25-27 and its description of YHWH as eternal. But, there’s much more. John 1:1b goes on to explain that Jesus was “pros” or “with” God. Here, two persons are identified. Two persons who are both eternal in nature. The word “pros” or “with” describes “being face to face” with another person. What John 1:1b is telling us is that Jesus and the Father (ton theon – the God) have been in an intimate personal relationship and with clause “a” added, it tells us that this relationship is eternal in nature. Just as we would expect in the doctrine of the Trinity.

By the time we get to John 1:1c, the case has already been made to a large degree. We are already presented with two persons, the “Word” and “God.” We have also already seen that both of these persons are eternal in nature. Now, clause “c”. It is best to view John 1:1c as qualitative. The rendering of “a god” is nonsensical given the eternality of the Word in clause “a.” Also, it is obvious from clause “b” that there are TWO PERSONS being described; the Word and the God. Hence, John did not add the definite article in clause “c,” because it would have mixed up the persons and promoted “Sabellianism,” which is in these times called Modalism. Rather, John in 1:1c is telling us something about the Logos. He’s describing further, the nature of the Logos and he’s doing it within the context of the entirety of John 1:1 and in the entire context of John 1:1-18.

Note James White’s words once again;

This last phrase has come under heavy fire throughout the ages. The correct translation of this passage is here given, and anyone interested in the technical aspects of the argument are referred to Appendix A. Basically, the passage teaches that the Word, as to His essential nature, is God. John does not here call the Word “a divine one,” as some polytheistic Greek might say. He did not use the adjective, theios, which would describe a divine nature, or a god-like one. Instead, he used theos, the very word John will use consistently for the Father, the “only true God” (17:3). He uses the term three times of Jesus in the Gospel, here, in 1:18, and in 20:28. It can not be doubted that John would never call a creature theos. His upbringing and Jewish heritage forbad that. How then are we to understand these two phrases? Benjamin B. Warfield 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. (3)

The Beloved Apostle walks a tight line here. By the simple ommission of the article (“the”, or in Greek, ho) before the word for God in the last phrase, John avoids teaching Sabellianism, while by placing the word where it is in the clause, he defeats another heresy, Arianism, which denies the true Deity of the Lord Jesus. A person who accepts the inspiration of the Scriptures can not help but be thrilled at this passage.

Next, notice the helpful textual notes from the NET Bible (New English Translation) regarding John 1:1c;

3tn Or “and what God was the Word was.” Colwell’s Rule is often invoked to support the translation of θεός (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 θεός 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 mostnuanced 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.

With that said, I hope that you are more able to appreciate the wealth of richness that John 1:1 provides us. And, from this one verse, we are able to determine six things about the Logos Jesus Christ and/or about John 1:1 in general.

1) He is eternal

2) He was in the beginning

3) He is the subject of the Prologue

4) There are two persons referred to in 1:1b

5) He (Jesus) was in an intimate personal relationship with the Father (for eternity)

6) He is fully God

Finally, notice the Greek text below, which is presented by textual scholar Dr. Daniel Wallace. Here, Dr. Wallace explains how John would have penned John 1:1c, were he attempting to relay each of the positions already mentioned;

και ο λογος ην ο θεος ‘kai ho logos en ho theos’ =“and the Word was the God” (i.e., the Father; Sabellianism)

και ο λογος ην θεος ‘kai ho logos en theos’ =“and the Word was a god”(Arianism)

και θεος ην ο λογος ‘kai theos en ho logos’ =“and the Word was God” (Orthodoxy).

(Daniel B. Wallace, Dallas Theological Seminary. Wallace is quoted in “Basics of Biblical Greek Grammar,” William D. Mounce, Copyright © 1993.)