Sunday, June 3, 2018

On John 1:1, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the New World Translation

John 1:1, in most bible translations, reads:

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."

In the New World Translation (NWT), which is published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (Jehovah’s Witnesses), it is:

"In [the] beginning the Word was, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god."

The fundamental difference between the two is that “The Word” (later identified as Jesus in verse 14) is called “God” in most Bibles but merely “a god” in the Jehovah’s Witnesses version.  The NWT translators cite the absence of the article “” ("ho" in Greek or "the" in English) preceding the word "θεός" ("theos" or "God") as the reason for their translation "a god" as opposed to “God".  (See image above.)

To the NWT translators, "ὁ θεός" is "the God" and "θεός" is "a god."

Now I'm no Greek scholar---and I welcome any criticism from actual experts in Greek---but I did find something that intrigued me in my copy of The NIV Interlinear Greek-English New Testament, by Rev. Alfred Marshall.  In that volume, the Rev. Marshall has a footnote for John 1.1 that states, "But note that the subject has the article and the predicate has it not; hence translate – ‘the Word was God.’"

According to the Rev. Marshall, the article indicates, in this instance anyway, the subject of the phrase.   The subject is "the Word" and the predicate is "was God".   He was able to determine that by the location of the Greek article. 

This got me to wondering if there were other verses in the New Testament where "theos" was the predicate and if so, did it have the article and how was it translated in the NWT?

I actually found many instances, and all such instances that I could find use the same article configuration as John 1:1.

A good example is Hebrews 3:4 - "Of course, every house is constructed by someone, but he that constructed all things is God" (NWT).  In the phrase "he that constructed all things is God", the subject is "he that constructed all things", and the predicate is "is God".  The Greek interlinear has it as “the [one] having prepared all things [is] God”.   The article precedes "the [one] having prepared all things" and the word "theos" in the phrase "is God" does not have the article – just like John 1.1.

Another example can be found in Romans 8:33 - "...God is the One who declares [them] righteous" (NWT). The interlinear says “God [is] the [one] justifying”.   Again, the subject ("the one justifying") has the article and the predicate ("God") does not.  

One more: 1 Corinthians 3.7 as translated in the NWT is “so that neither is he that plants anything nor is he that waters, but God who makes [it] grow”.  The relevant phrase is “but God who makes [it] grow”, rendered in the interlinear as “but God the [one] making to grow”.  Again, the article is with “the [one] making to grow” and not with “God”.

This same subject/article - predicate/no article configuration exists in the following verses:

John 1:18, 8:54
Acts 15:8
Romans 9:5
1 Corinthians 8:4, 8:6
2 Corinthians 1:3, 1:21, 5:5, 5:19, 6:16
Galatians 3:20, 6:7
Ephesians 4:6
Philippians 2:13
1 Thessalonians 2:5
Hebrews 11:16
Revelation 21:7

All are translated as "God" in the NWT except John 1:1.  If the NWT translators were consistent, they would have translated all of these verses as either "a god" like they did in John 1.1, or they would have translated John 1.1 as “God”.

Also, as an interesting aside, false gods are referred to as "ho theos" ("God" with the article) in the Greek in 2 Corinthians 4:4 (Satan), Philippians 3:19 (the belly) and Acts 7:43 (Rompha).  So as regarding the word “theos”, the article seems to have little significance in the Greek, except to identify the subject of the sentence.