Yesterday in Sunday School we continued our study in Reformed epistemology, moving to issues regarding the Trinity. For the most part, we spoke to the issue of John 1:1c and the fact that the author of the Fourth Gospel was attempting to relay not a definite or indefinite nuance to clause “c,” but rather, this clause is qualitative, where John is attempting to tell his readers something about the essence of the eternal logos. We did this study in light of the Jehovah’s Witnesses New World Translation, which renders clause “c” with the indefinite article, “and the word was a god.” This is wrong on so many levels, as we note in the study, and as noted by the information below. Here’s the study and God bless.
tn 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 most nuanced 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. (Scripture and/or notes quoted by permission. Quotations designated (NET) are from the NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2006 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.)
John’s first assertion is that “In the beginning was the Word.” Which beginning? Considering the whole context of the prologue, many have identified this beginning as the same beginning mentioned in Genesis 1:1. But most see that the assertion of the Apostle goes far beyond that.
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
.(James R. White, John 1:1: Meaning and Translation. http://vintage.aomin.org/JOHN1_1.html)