Notes in the Correct Interpretation of John 1:1

Notes in the Correct Interpretation of John 1:1

<< He was the same as God appears in most translations as “the Word was God” [Revised Standard Version (RSV), JB, NAB]. NEB renders by “what God was, the Word was” and Mft “the Logos was divine” [Goodspeed(Gdsp) “the Word was divine”]. Zürcher Bibel [Zür] has “the Word was God,” with a footnote indicating that this means the Word possessed a divine nature.

These many differences in translation are due to the Greek sentence structure. In this type of equational sentence in Greek (A = B) the subject can be distinguished from the predicate by the fact that the subject has the article before it and the predicate does not. Since “God” does not have the article preceding it, “God” is clearly the predicate and “the Word” is the subject. This means that “God” is here the equivalent of an adjective, and this fact justifies the rendering he (the Word) was the same as God. John is not saying that “the Word” was God the Father, but he is affirming that the same divine predication can be made of “the Word” as can be made of God the Father, and so “the Word” can be spoken of as God in the same sense.

Many languages have two quite different types of equational sentences. One type indicates complete identity in such a sentence as “My husband is John Smith” or “John Smith is my husband,” that is, the two parts of the sentence are completely equivalent. In the second type, however, one may say “John Smith is a teacher” but cannot say “A teacher is John Smith.” “A teacher” merely qualifies “John Smith” and indicates the class of persons to which he belongs. The latter is precisely the type of equational sentence which occurs in this verse. “God” completely characterizes “the Word,” and all that is true of God is true of the Word. This does not mean, however, that the two elements can be inverted, and that one can translate “God was the Word” any more than one can make “Love is God” an inversion of the biblical statement “God is love.” It is difficult for some people to recognize that this equational sentence in Greek belongs to the second class because in the predicate the term “God” refers to a unique object. Since this type of equational sentence may be misleading with “God” in the predicate, it is better to translate it “The Word was the same as God” or “Just what God was that is what the Word also was.” >>

Barclay M. Newman and Eugene A. Nida, A Translator’s Handbook on the Gospel of John, UBS Translator’s Handbooks; Accordance electronic ed. (New York: United Bible Societies, 1980), paragraph 24923.


<< And the Word was God (kai theos ēn ho logos). By exact and careful language John denied Sabellianism by not saying ho theos ēn 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 agapē 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 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. >>

A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, Accordance electronic ed. (Altamonte Springs: OakTree Software, 2001), paragraph 5876.


<< The third statement, and the Word was God, on first reading might suggest a unitarian understanding of God, the Word being simply equated with God. But the original language (kai theos ēn ho logos) will not allow such an interpretation.** To read the text in that way also overlooks the stress on the relationship existing between the Word and God (being ‘with God’ and being ‘close to the Father’s heart’). Relationship implies different persons, and this moves us away from unitarianism (one God, one person) towards trinitarianism (one God, three persons – Father, Son [=the Word] and Spirit). As the Fourth Gospel unfolds it becomes clear that this is what is intended. Jesus, the Word incarnate, claims to be one with God, but that involves being in relationship with God. So when the Prologue says ‘the Word was God’ it is not saying that the Word and God constitute an undifferentiated unity, but rather it is saying, in words aptly coined by Moloney, ‘what God was the Word also was’.

** Barrett explains it succinctly: ‘Theos, being without the article, is predicative and describes the nature of the Word. The absence of the article indicates that the Word is God, but is not the only being of whom this is true; if ho theos had been written it would have been implied that no divine being existed outside the second person of the Trinity’ (Gospel, p. 156). >>

Colin G. Kruse, John: An Introduction and Commentary, TNTC 4; IVP/Accordance electronic ed. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 63-64. (accord://read/Tyndale_Commentary#45593)