The Jehovah’s Witnesses wrong translation of John 1:1

Watchtower Bible & Tract Society (world headquarters).jpg

International Headquarters, Watchtower, Brooklyn NY (Courtesy Wikipedia)

By Spencer D Gear

The New World Translation of John 1:1 reads: ‘In [the] beginning the Word was, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god’ (emphasis added).

The Greek of John 1:1 is found HERE.

The contentious translation is ‘the Word was a god’ as the transliterated Greek into English is theos aen ho logos. Word order is not important in Greek. However, the conjugations of the verbals and the declensions of the nouns, pronouns, adjectives, etc are important for determining where the word goes in the sentence.

The JWs have violated a fundamental of Greek grammar with their translation, ‘the Word was a god’. In Greek, the subject of this sentence is made plain because it has the definite article with it, ho logos. The complement (what we call it in Australia) or the predicate nominative after the verb to be, aen, is determined by dropping the article. So the meaning is ‘The Word was the God’. Technically in Greek this is known as Colwell’s Rule for determining which is the subject and which is the predicate nominative when a sentence contains a copulative such as the verb ‘to be’.

Colwell’s Rule originally appeared in 1933 in E. C. Colwell’s article, ‘A definite rule for the use of the article in the Greek New Testament’. Please understand that it is a general rule and there are a few exceptions.

Colwell’s Rule in Greek has been defined this way: ‘In sentences in which the copula [e.g. the verb ‘to be’ in John 1:1] is expressed, a definite predicate nominative has the article when it follows the verb; it does not have the article when it precedes the verb’.

We see this rule applied in John, with the translation of 1:49, ‘You are the King of Israel’. There is no definite article before ‘King’ in the Greek. Even the New World Translation has this translation of John 1:49, ‘You are King of Israel’. If it translated consistently with the way it translates John 1:1, it should at least have this translation, ‘You are a King of Israel’.

This has been a technical translation, but it is my attempt to explain why the NWT is not consistent with Greek grammar.

Here is a sound refutation of the JW translation of John 1:1, ‘John 1:1, “The word was a god”’.


Copyright (c) 2013 Spencer D. Gear.  This document is free content.  You can redistribute it and/or modify it under the terms of the OpenContent License (OPL) version 1.0, or (at your option) any later version.  This document last updated at Date: 9 March 2013.


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