A Grossly Misleading Translation (John 1:1)

by Julius Mantey

This study is written by George Zeller (introductory comments) and by Julius Mantey (main article). It provides some help with respect to the erroneous teachings of Jehovah's Witnesses.  Jehovah's Witnesses deny that the Lord Jesus Christ is God and they deny that He is Jehovah.  They teach instead that He is a mere creature, an exalted angel that God created.  They wrongly teach that He was the first creature that God created, and then God, through Him, created everything else.  This article deals with their mistranslation of John 1:1, a verse which clearly declares that Jesus Christ is God.

Jehovah’s Witnesses wrongly translate John 1:1 as follows: "Originally the Word was, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god" (New World Translation, 1960 edition, emphasis mine). In their Appendix they have an article explaining why they translate it this way and they quote from A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament by Dana and Mantey to justify their translation.

Julius Mantey, upon learning that he had been quoted, wrote a two page article showing that it is not proper to translate this verse as the Jehovah Witnesses had done. He entitled his article A Grossly Misleading Translation. Mantey skillfully explains the grammar of this verse and the significance of the absence of the Greek article in the last phrase of verse 1. Dr. Mantey’s article is reproduced below in full:


John 1:1 which reads "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God," is shockingly mistranslated, "Originally the Word was, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god," in a New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures, published under the auspices of Jehovah*s Witnesses.

Since my name is used and our Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament is quoted on page 744 to seek to justify their translation, I am making this statement.

The translation suggested in our Grammar for the disputed passage is, "the Word was deity." Moffatt*s rendering is "the Word was divine." Williams* translation is, "the Word was God himself." Each translation reflects the dominant idea in the Greek, For, whenever an article does not precede a noun in Greek, that noun can either be considered as emphasizing the character, nature, essence or quality of a person or thing, as theos (God) does in John 1:1, or it can be translated in certain contexts as indefinite, as they have done.

If the Greek article occurred with both Word and God in John 1:1 the implication would be that they are one and the same person, absolutely identical. But John affirmed that "the Word was with (the) God" (the definite article preceding each noun), and in so writing he indicated his belief that they were distinct and separate personalities. Then John next stated that the Word was God, i.e., of the same family or essence that characterizes the Creator. Or, in other words, that both are of the same nature, and that nature is the highest in existence, namely, divine.

Examples where the noun in the predicate does not have an article, as in the above verse, are: John 4:24, "God is spirit" (not a spirit); 1 John 4:16, "God is love" (not a love); and Matthew 13:39, "the reapers are angels," i.e., they are the type of beings known as angels. In each instance the noun in the predicate was used to describe some quality or characteristic of the subject, whether as to nature or type.

The apostle John in the context of the introduction to his gospel is pulling all the stops out of language to portray not only the deity of Christ but also His equality with the Father. He states that the Word was in the beginning, that He was with God, that He was God and that all creation came into existence through Him and that not even one thing exists which was not created by Christ. What else could be said that John did not say? In John 1:18 he explained that Christ has been so intimate with the Father that He was in His bosom and that He came to earth to exhibit or portray God. But if we had no other statement from John except that which is found in John 14:9, "He that has seen me has seen the Father," that would be enough to satisfy the seeking soul that Christ and God are the same in essence and that both are divine and equal in nature.

Besides, the whole tenor of New Testament revelation points in this direction. Compare Paul*s declaration in Colossians 1:19 for instance: "That all the divine fullness should dwell in Him," or the statement in Hebrews 1:3, "He is the reflection of God*s glory and the perfect representation of His being, and continues to uphold the universe by His mighty word" (Williams* translation). And note the sweeping, cosmic claim recorded in Matthew 28:19, "All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth."

And, if we contrast with that the belittling implication that Christ was only a god, do we not at once detect the discord? Does not such a conception conflict with the New Testament message both in whole and in part? Why, if John, in the midst of the idolatry of his day, had made such a statement would not the first century hearers and readers have gotten a totally inadequate picture of Christ who we believe is the Creator of the universe and the only Redeemer of humanity?

Julius Robert Mantey, A.B., Th.D., Ph.D., D.D.
Professor of Greek and New Testament
Northern Baptist Theological Seminary
Chicago, Illinois

  • For Further Study as to the Significance of the Absence of the Greek Article Click Here

    It should also be noted that in John 1:18 the article is absent before the word "God" in the phrase, "No man hath seen God at any time."  This is a clear reference to God the Father.  If Jehovah's Witnesses are going to be consistent, then they should translate the phrase just as they did in John 1:1, "No man hath seen a god at any time."  But they do not do this.  Here is their translation, "No man has seen God at any time" (John 1:18, New World Translation).  They treat the absence of the article a certain way (as in John 1:1) only when it suits their purpose.   GZ

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