A response to

John 1:1 (the Word was God)

Part II

Sam Shamoun

Click here for Part I

As we had noted, here is our follow up article listing some of the eminent Greek scholars and their exegesis of John 1:1. It should be stated that some of the scholars are not Trinitarians and therefore do not have a Trinitarian bias in their exegesis of the Johannine prologue. Furthermore, some of the scholars are listed in al-Kadhi's book, and will become obvious to the readers that their conclusions are totally at odds with the impression given by al-Kadhi.

In regard to John's usage of the Greek verb en and its implications in relation to the eternal nature of the Word, note the following references:

Author Dr. James R. White states:

"The tense of the verb expresses continuous action in the past... as far back as you wish to push `the beginning,' the Word is already there. The Word does not come into existence at the `beginning,' but is already in existence when the `beginning' takes place. If we take the beginning of John 1:1, the Word is already there. If we push it back further (if one can even do so!), say, a year, the Word is already there. A thousand years, the Word is there. A billion years, the Word is there. What is John's point? The Word is eternal. The Word has always existed. The Word is not a creation. The New English Bible puts it quite nicely: `When all things began, the Word already was.'" (White, The Forgotten Trinity - Recovering the Heart of Christian Belief [Minneapolis, MN; Bethany House Publishers, 1998], pp. 50-51)

Frederick Louis Godet indicates:

The imperfect en, was, must designate, according to the ordinary meaning of the tense, the simultaneousness of the act indicated by the verb with some other act. This simultaneousness is here that of the existence of the Word with the fact designated by the word beginning. `When everything which has begun began, the Word was.' Alone then, it did not begin; the Word was already. Now that which did not begin with things, that is to say, with time, the form of the development of things, belongs to the eternal order... The idea of this first proposition is, therefore, that of the eternity of the Logos. (Godet, Commentary on the Gospel of John [Grand Rapids; Zondervan, n.d.], vol. 1, pp. 244-245 emphasis ours)

Murray J. Harris concurs,

In itself John 1:1a speaks only of the pretemporality or supratemporality of the Logos, but in his conjunction of... en (not egeneto) John implies the eternal preexistence of the Word. He who existed `in the beginning' before creation was himself without a beginning and therefore uncreated. There was no time when he did not exist. John is hinting that all speculation about the origin of the Logos is pointless. (Harris, Jesus as God: The New Testament Use of Theos in Reference to Jesus [Grand Rapids; Baker Book House 1992], p. 54 emphasis ours)

Robert M. Bowman Jr. elaborates,

Had John wanted to say that the Word was the first creation of God, or even simply say that the Word existed before the rest of creation, there are a number of ways he could have said so clearly and without any possibility of misunderstanding. He could have written, `from the beginning,' using the word apo instead of en, as he did repeatedly in his writings in the expression ap' arches (John 8:44; 15:27; 1 John 1:1; 2:7, 13,14, 24; 3:8, 11; 2 John 5,6). This would trace his existence back to the beginning without telling us anything about his existence `before' the beginning (if such existence were possible). Or, he could have written, `In the beginning the Word came into existence,' substituting for the word en the word egeneto, which occurs repeatedly in the Prologue (John 1:3,6,10,14,17). This would have settled the debate forever in favor of the JW interpretation of the text, since it would be an explicit affirmation of the creation of the preincarnate Jesus. Yet John wrote neither of these things. Instead, he wrote what most naturally would be (and as a matter of historical record has been) interpreted as a declaration of the eternality of the Word. `In the beginning the Word was'; the verb was is the imperfect past tense verb en, here unquestionably used of durative, continuing existence. To continue existing at the beginning of the time is to be eternal by definition. (Bowman, Jehovah's Witnesses, Jesus Christ & The Gospel of John [Grand Rapids; Baker Book House, 1995], p. 23 emphasis ours)

Modern Greek scholar, Randolph Yeager, concludes:

Thus the Word existed before the beginning, since He has always existed. With Him there is no beginning. He is eternal and everlasting... It is impossible to avoid the force of John's grammar. (Yeager, The Renaissance New Testament [Grand Rapids; Eerdmans, 1973], vol. 4, p. 2)

For John to say that the Word was (en) God, meant that Jesus as the Word has eternally existed as God.

Scholars who agree that the noun Theos is qualitative, implying that Jesus is God in an absolute and eternal sense include:

F. F. Bruce,

The structure of the third clause in verse 1, theos en ho logos, demands the translation "The Word was God." Since logos has the article preceding it, it is marked out as the subject. The fact that theos is the first word after the conjunction kai (and) shows that the main emphasis of the clause lies on it. Had theos as well as logos been preceded by the article the meaning would have been that the Word was completely identical with God, which is impossible if the Word was also "with God." What is meant is that the Word shared the nature and being of God, or (to use a piece of modern jargon) was an extension of the personality of God. The NEB paraphrase "What God was, the Word Was," brings out the meaning of the clause as successfully as a paraphrase can. (Bruce, The Gospel of John [Grand Rapids; Eerdmans, 1983], p.31 emphasis ours)


Those people who emphasize that the true rendering of the last clause of John 1.1 "the word was a god" prove nothing thereby save their ignorance of Greek grammar. (Bruce, The Books and the Parchments [Old Tappan, NJ; Fleming H. Revell Company, 1963], pp. 60-61 note)

A. T. Robertson,

And the Word was God (kai theos en ho logos). By exact and careful language John denied Sabellianism by not saying ho theos en 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 agape estin can only mean "God is love," not "love is God" as a so-called Christian scientist would confusedly say... 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 the 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. (Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament [Grand Rapids; Baker Book House, 1932], vol. 5, p.p. 4-5, emphasis ours)

Kenneth Wuest,

And the Word was as to His essence absolute deity. (The New Testament: An Expanded Translation [Grand Rapids; Eerdmans, 1956] emphasis ours)

John L. McKenzie,

The Word theos is used to designate the gods of paganism. Normally the word with or without the article designates the God of the Old Testament and Judaism, the God of Israel: Yahweh. But the character of God is revealed in an original way in the NT; the originality is perhaps best summed up by saying that God reveals Himself in and through Jesus Christ. The revelation of God in Jesus Christ does not consist merely in the prophetic word as in the OT, but in an identity between God and Jesus Christ. Jn 1:1-18 expresses this by contrasting the word spoken by the prophets with the word incarnate in Jesus. In Jesus the personal reality of God is manifested in a visible and tangible form. In the words of Jesus and in much of the rest of the NT the God of Israel (ho theos) is the Father of Jesus Christ. It is for this reason that the title ho theos, which now designates the Father as a personal reality, is not applied in the NT to Jesus Himself; Jesus is the Son of God (of ho theos). This is a matter of usage and not of rule, and the noun is applied to Jesus a few times. Jn 1:1 should rigorously be translated `the Word was with God [= the Father], and the Word was a divine being.' Thomas invokes Jesus with the titles which belong to the Father, `My Lord and my God' (Jn. 20:28). `The glory of our great God and Savior' which is to appear can be the glory of no other than Jesus (Tt.[Titus] 2:13). (McKenzie, Dictionary of the Bible [New York: Macmillan, 1965], p. 317 emphasis ours)

That McKenzie understood John 1:1 as declaring Jesus as God in an absolute sense, is evident from his statement that John. 20:28 and Titus 2:13 both refer to Jesus as God. This is solidified by the fact that McKenzie addressed Yahweh as a divine being as well:

This name needs no defining genitive; Yahweh is the God of Israel without further definition. The name implies that a divine personal being has revealed Himself as the God of Israel through the covenant and exodus; it designates the divine personal reality as proclaimed and experienced. (Dictionary of the Bible, p. 317)

Further evidence that McKenzie viewed Jesus as fully God comes from p. 435:

The great christological text of St. Paul is found in Phl 2:5-11. Here the preexistent Christ is in the form of God and EQUAL WITH GOD...

Al-Kadhi quoted McKenzie with the implication that the latter was denying the absolute deity of Jesus Christ. Yet, when McKenzie's comments are read within the intended context of his statements we find that McKenzie taught the exact opposite of what Kadhi asserts. For McKenzie, to call Jesus divine was to affirm that Jesus is Yahweh God.

In McKenzie's work we also find where al-Kadhi got the idea that John was martyred in 44 A.D. On p. 449 we read:

In addition there is a tradition of UNCERTAIN VALUE that John suffered martyrdom under Agrippa with his brother James in 44 and thus could not have lived to the traditional date of composition of the Gospel. This is attested by Philip of Side (430), by the Byzantine monk George Hamartolos (9th century), and in a Syriac martyrology of 411. These sources are not of impressive reliability, and the silence of tradition elsewhere on the martyrdom of John at this date is also a factor. But all these elements must be taken into account in evaluating the tradition of authorship.

These unimpressive traditions that stem from later centuries are used by Kadhi as being inarguably true.

Murray J. Harris,

In the first proposition of verse 1 John affirms that the Logos existed before time and creation and therefore implicitly denies that the Logos was a created being. In the second, he declares that the Logos always was in active communion with the Father and thereby implies that the Logos cannot be personally identified with the Father. In the third, he states that the Logos always was a partaker of deity and so implicitly denies that the Logos was ever elevated to divine status. The thought of the verse moves from eternal preexistence to personal communion to intrinsic deity: only because the Logos participated inherently in the divine nature could he be said to be already in existence when time began or creation occurred and to be in unbroken and eternal fellowship with the Father. This would justify regarding theos as emphatic, standing as it does at the head of its clause. (Harris, Jesus as God, p.71, emphasis ours)

Here is Harris' comments in relation to the grammatical possibility of translating John 1:1 as "The Word was a god":

"Since the basic function of the article is deictic, to add precision to thought by emphasizing individuality or identity, the nonoccurrence of the article with a noun may point to the nonparticularity, indefiniteness, of the concept. Accordingly, from the point of view of grammar alone, theos en ho logos could be rendered `the Word was a god,' just as, for example, if only grammatical considerations were taken into account, umeis ek tou patros tou diabolou este (John 8:44), could mean `you belong to the father of the devil. But the theological context, viz, John's monotheism, makes this endering of 1:1c impossible, for if a monotheist were speaking of the Deity he himself reverenced, the singular theos could be applied only to the Supreme Being, not to an inferior divine being or emanation as if theos were simply generic. That is, in reference to his own beliefs, a monotheist could not speak of theoi nor could he use theos in the singular (when giving any type of personal description) of any being other than the true God whom he worshiped." (Harris, Jesus as God, p. 60 bold emphasis ours)

Murray's point on John's theology relates to the fact that a monotheist would never call any being apart from the true God theos or its Greek equivalent. For John to use theos to describe Jesus implies that Christ is Yahweh God.

Harris goes on to say,

"The translation `a god' as found in the New World Translation, Jannaris (`Logos' 24, but `a God' on p. 20), and Becker (65, 68, 70: `ein Gott'). The reasons for rejecting this rendering - represented in none of the major English translations of the twentieth century - have been set out in žD.3.a (1) above." (Harris, Jesus as God, p. 68 emphasis ours)

James Moffatt (Bible translator),

"The Word Was God... And the Word became flesh," simply means "The Word was divine... and the Word became human." The Nicene faith, in the Chalcedon definition, was intended to conserve both these truths against theories that failed to present Jesus as truly God and truly man... (Moffatt, Jesus Christ the Same [Nashville; Abingdon-Cokesbury, 1945], p. 61 emphasis ours)

James Moffatt, a favorite of al-Kadhi, affirms that the Council of Chalcedon's decree that in the Person of Christ the natures of God and man united perfectly is precisely what John intended to convey to his readers.

B. F. Westcott,

The predicate ["God"] stands emphatically first, as iv.24. It is necessarily without the article [theos not ho theos] inasmuch as it describes the nature of the Word and does not identify His Person... No idea of inferiority of nature is suggested by the form of the expression, which simply affirms the true deity of the Word. (Westcott, The Gospel According to St. John [Grand Rapids; Eerdmans, 1958 rp.], p. 3 emphasis ours)

C. H. Dodd,

On this analogy, the meaning of theos and ho logos will be that the ousia ["essence"] of ho logos ["the Word"], that which it truly is, is rightly denominated theos... That this is the ousia of ho theos (the Personal God of Abraham, the Father) goes without saying. In fact, Nicene homoousios to patri ["of one essence of the Father"] is a perfect paraphrase. (Dodd, New Testament Translation Problems II, p. 104 emphasis ours)

This biblical scholar affirms that the Council of Nicea's understanding that Jesus was of the exact same substance of the Father is not something foreign to the New Testament. In fact, it is the very heart of John's message here in John 1:1.

Dr. Philip B. Harner,

As an aid in understanding the verse, it will be helpful to ask what John might have written as well as what he did write. In terms of the types of word-order and vocabulary available to him, it would appear that John could have written any of the following:

  1. ho Logos en ho theos (the Word was the God);
  2. Theos en ho Logos (God was the Word);
  3. ho Logos Theos en (the Word God was);
  4. ho Logos en Theos (the Word was a god);
  5. ho Logos en Theios (the Word was divine);

...Clause D with the verb preceding an anarthrous (without the article, `the') predicate, would probably mean that the logos was `a god' or a divine being of some kind, belonging to the general category of theos but as a distinct being from ho theos... John evidently wished to say something about the logos that was other than A and more than D and E... But in all these cases the English reader might not understand exactly what John was trying to express. Perhaps the clause could be translated, `the Word had the same nature as God.' This would be one way of expressing John's thought, which is, as I understand it, that ho logos (the Word), no less than ho theos (the God), had the nature of theos (God). (Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 92, pp. 84-85,87 emphasis ours)

To summarize John's point in writing his prologue, we are told:

  1. The Word was eternally existing before anything ever came into being
  2. The Word eternally existed in an interpersonal relationship with the One called the God, i.e. the Father
  3. The Word was eternally God.

This is precisely what a Trinitarian expects to find, but a Muslim dreads to find.

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