We’ve been going through the New Testament trying to get a deeper understanding of the Trinity. We’ve just recently started the gospel of John and the past two nights, we’ve been covering John 1:1. We’re not even done with this verse as there is so much to mine in it and we are just getting the tip of the iceberg. Nevertheless, we shall continue tonight with a look at the third part of John 1:1.
and the Word was God
This is where the controversy lies. John 1:1a tells us about the relationship of the Word to the creation. John 1:1b tells us about the relationship of the Word to God. John 1:1c tells us about the relationship of the Word to itself. That is, what is the nature of the Word. (And in saying itself, I do not mean to deny the personality of the Word but that comes up more later.)
Most noted in this passage is the Jehovah’s Witness translation that the Word was a god. Bruce Metzger has rightly said that if the Jehovah’s Witnesses took this seriously and believe that the Word is ontologically a god, then they are polytheists.
Julius Mantey, another Greek scholar wrote to the Jehovah’s Witnesses in complaint about how they were using his Greek grammar to justify their translation. (For those who don’t know, their Bible is called the New World Translation. ) He was not pleased with their response which simply implied that their position was just as valid as his. Mantey has also stated that 99.9% of scholars in the world who study Greek disagree with the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
What is going on in John 1:1c is that the passage is meant to tell us about the nature of the Word. Greek is an inflected language. You can say “dog bites man” or “man bites dog” and the sentence means the same thing. It’s not determined by word order but by the endings that go on the nouns.
The subject of a Greek sentence is the nominative and there is normally only one, but there are rare times that we have what is called a predicate nominative where there are two words that are nominative in one sentence. In that case, one is meant to tell us what the subject of the sentence is and the other is to tell us something about that subject in regards to its nature. Normally, one tells the difference by which one has the article and which one doesn’t. In this case, the word “Word” has the article. (Keep in mind what we said also about how John 1:1a says “in the beginning” instead of “in a beginning” in the New World Translation even though the word “arche” for beginning doesn’t have an article.)
The other word that’s nominative in this case is “God.” What this means is that the Word has the nature of the God he is with. Had they both had the article, it would have been modalism. John’s language is precise. He wants the reader to understand who the Word is and this would have been shocking. This one who is with God partakes of the divine identity. The Word is as much God as God is.
As we go through, we’ll see more of the difference this makes.