“The Word was a god” – Is the Jehovah’s Witnesses New World Translation of John 1:1 justified?
JWs claim that their translation is accurate because θεος (“theos”) in John 1:1b does not have the definite article ὁ (“the”) and only θεος with the article means God (capital “g”). But in Greek, the definite article is not the only way to make a noun definite. It is also definite when it is the object of a preposition or when it is used with the article elsewhere in the context.
There is another way to make a Greek noun definite, which has to do with the Greek word order in a sentence using an intransitive verb (a verb that has no direct object and needs none to complete its meaning). In such a case, if the subject complement (also called the predicate nominative) comes before the verb, it is definite.
This is known as “Colwell’s Corollary,” named after the scholar, Ernest C. Colwell, who first described it and applied it to John 1:1b in the Journal of Biblical Literature in 1933. He cited parallel constructions in which a noun that the context demonstrates is definite comes before an intransitive verb as in John 1:1b. Because the word order is the reverse of what it normally is (και θεος ην ο λογος “kai theos ēn ho logos,” not και ο λογος ην θεος), θεος can be definite (and translated “God” not “god”) even though it lacks the definite article. Such a noun can be definite–the lack of an article merely shows the reader which noun is the subject complement (θεος “God”), since the subject (ὁ λογος “the word”) has the article, even though it comes after the verb, instead of before, as usual.
What’s the point of the unusual word order? Apparently, the Apostle John changes the word order to emphasize that “God is what the Word was.” When you realize, as you probably do, that “Logos” has the additional meaning of mind, reason (the word behind our word “logic,” and word-fragment “-logy” meaning study), and rationality, then it all begins to fit together.
Christ is the “Wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:30). God exercised His wisdom as He created the universe, which makes Christ the co-creator. Question: Did God make anything without using His reason, His wisdom? The answer is no! “All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that has been made.”
What I’m getting at is that the context demands the translation, “The Word was God.” God’s reason, His λόγος, cannot be separated from Him. He shares in His essential nature. We cannot conceive of God apart from His reasoning capacity; neither can we conceive of the λόγος apart from His deity.
This concept is not just in John and 1 Corinthians. We also find it in Colossians 2:3: “Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” and v. 9: “For in Christ all the fullness of Deity lives in bodily form….” Understanding this makes John’s statement later on all the more amazing, “And the λογος became flesh and made His dwelling among us” (John 1:14). That One so exalted should humble Himself all the way down to humanness is astounding.
People are now exploring what they call “Wisdom Christology” in their effort to understand the path from the Old Testament’s “Word of God” to the personification of Wisdom in Proverbs, to the New Testament declaration that Christ is God’s Wisdom and the λόγος.
The JWs are inconsistent about their translation of θες. They have been aware of Colwell’s Corollary for more than 80 years, and elsewhere in their translation of the New Testament they translate θεος as “God” and other nouns as definite when as a subject complement they come before the verb.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses are definitely guilty of intellectual dishonesty and prejudicial translating. Rather than conforming their theology to the text of Scripture, they have tried to twist Scripture to conform to their theology.