“They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen” (Rom 9:4-5 NRSV).
One of the clearest statements in the whole bible to show the deity of Jesus Christ is the opening verse of the Gospel of John. It reads, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God” (Jn 1:1 NRSV). Therefore it has become a prime target for the enemies of the gospel.
One of the changes that the Watch Tower Society (Jehovah’s Witnesses) has made to the English text of this verse is to remove the definite article (i.e. “the”), and replace it with the indefinite article (“a”); (it should be understood that Greek only has the definite article – there is no indefinite article). Thus, their text reads “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god”. There is a footnote to “a god” which says “Or ‘was divine’” (“New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures”, 2017).
The Greek Grammar
It is true that in Greek, the final clause in this verse (Jn 1:1) does not have the article (“the”) before the word “God”; the literal reading in Greek is “God was the Word”. Bible scholars and heretics have been arguing this point almost since the beginning of Christianity. But the arguments can be quite technical and confusing. It is well then that God has provided the Truth for us more simply in the English bible. While knowing the Greek of Scripture is necessary for scholars, ordinary laymen don’t have to depend on its difficult Greek grammar to know whether or not Jesus is God or a god. The bible is all about Jesus, both as Jehovah in the Old Testament and Son of God in the New Testament, and it tells us clearly who he is and what we need to know about him.
What the Bible Teaches about “the Word”
As we consider the issue in John 1:1, it isn’t necessary for the English reader to know Greek in order to understand what John 1:1 is saying. The English bible itself teaches that the reading “and the Word was God” must be the true reading. And that the reading “and the Word was a god” of the Watch Tower’s New World Translation is incorrect because it contradicts the rest of New Testament teaching that God is the only God. If the Word is “a god”, then it stands to reason that the NWT teaches there is more than one god – what other conclusion can be drawn from their translation?
There are some teachings in the bible which seem to contradict other teachings. It is just so with the deity and the humanity of Jesus. Both these doctrines, Jesus’ true deity and his true humanity, are taught because they are both true; they run throughout Scripture as two parallel lines. But the Watch Tower has made the mistake of rejecting one of these doctrines at the expense of the other. Jehovah’s Witnesses can’t accept the deity of Jesus because the many passages of scripture which show him to be human get in their way; so they reject those passages which reveal his deity. In order to explain the many passages which speak of his deity, such as John 1:1, they have invented a new type of being, one which is more Gnostic than Christian, and have de-throned Jesus, robbing him of his majesty, glory, power, and authority, and making him into some kind of super being but less than God – he is, in their theology, “a god”, not Jehovah.
One only has to look at the first two chapters of the Epistle to the Hebrews to see these two doctrines, the deity of Jesus in chapter 1, and the humanity of Jesus in chapter 2, clearly expressed. For example, to take a passage from chapter 1, we’re told that Jesus is infinitely above angels: “Let all God’s angels worship him…..But of the Son he says, ‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever’” (Heb 1:6, 8). This scripture shows that angels are created beings and have therefore not existed from eternity; at the same time it reveals that Jesus has always existed; he has always been God.
And to take one from chapter 2: “Since, therefore the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death. For it is clear that he did not come to help angels, but the descendants of Abraham….Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested” (Heb 2:14, 16, 18).
Even if Jesus is the most exalted being ever to have been created, with power equal or almost equal with God’s power, he would still be a created being and therefore finite, having a beginning; he would not be God. If he is not God and not an angel, what is he? The NWT footnote says he is divine; but this divinity the Watch Tower allows is not full deity. It is a “lesser divinity” not equal with God, and therefore there is an infinite distance between Jesus and God; it is the very difference between finite or infinite, mortal or immortal, a creature of time or an eternal God, created or having neither beginning nor end. And therefore Christ’s death could never be effective as atonement for fallen humanity. No matter how sublime a being he is, he is still a created being; therefore his sinless life and death can only benefit himself. Nothing less than full deity could give his death infinite value and therefore be effective for sinners.
Thus the scripture reveals to us that Jesus is both true God and true Man. These two teachings run throughout scripture; both are true although they seem to run counter to each other. The difficulty involved in trying to understand that both can be true, and the implications arising from it, can be seen in the struggles the Church of the first few centuries endured. Arianism, as does the Watch Tower, robs Jesus of his deity and makes him a glorified created being. Nestorianism taught that Jesus consisted of two separate Persons in the Incarnate Christ, the one Divine and the other human, instead of the truth thatthe Incarnate Christ was a single Person, at once God and man. Monophysitism says that the incarnate Christ has only one nature, not two. There were various expressions of Monophysitism though they all had this teaching at their heart. These struggles racked the Church and caused much harm, Arianism in particular; it is regarded, along with Gnosticism, as the greatest ever threat to the Church.
There is Only One God
The bible also assures us that there are not multiple gods but one only. “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD” (Deut 6:4 RSV). The apostle Paul wrote, “…’there is no God but one’. Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth – as in fact there are many gods and many lords – yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist” (1 Cor 8:4-6). And to Timothy, he wrote, “For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human” (1 Tim 2:5).
So it is clear that the bible throughout teaches that there is only one God. This being so, we must therefore translate the last clause in John 1:1 as “and the Word was God”, and not “and the Word was a god”.
Joining the Dots: Jesus is Jehovah
JEHOVAH is named the Rock
The inspired saints of the Old Testament rejoice in God, their Rock. Moses sang: “…ascribe greatness to our God! The Rock, his work is perfect” (Deut 32:3-4). Godly Hannah prayed: “…there is no Rock like our God” (1 Sam 2:2). David also sang to God: “The LORD is my rock….my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge….And who is a rock, except our God?” (2 Sam 22:2-3, 32).
And again, in the song which God gave to Moses for Israel to sing, that it would be a witness for God against Israel (Deut 32:19, 22), we see God and the Rock being equated and identified with each other. “You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you; you forgot the God who gave you birth….How could one have routed a thousand, and two put a myriad to flight, unless their Rock had sold them, the LORD had given them up? Indeed their rock is not like our Rock; our enemies are fools” (Deut 32:18, 30-31).
JESUS is named the Rock
Jesus Christ is not a god, nor an angel, a demigod, demiurge, or super being of whatever nature; he is not some kind of lesser divinity or divine being, more than man or angel but less than God. Jesus Christ is Jehovah, creator of the universe and judge of all mankind. This is stated clearly by the apostle Paul in his letter to the Corinthians. He writes, “For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ” (1 Cor 10:1-4).
“The spiritual rock” in this passage refers to passages in the OT that show the presence and working of Jehovah. For example, when Moses heard the voice from the burning bush (Ex 3:1-4:17), he discovered it was God (Jehovah) who spoke to him. He is first described as “the angel of the LORD”. This being makes his appearance on several occasions in the OT, and on at least two of them he is identified as Jehovah; i.e. here, in this passage which we’ll consider in a moment; and in Judges, where the angel of the LORD appeared to the wife of Manoah and announced to her that she would give birth to a son, whom we later discover was Samson. She told her husband about the angel and he prayed that “the man of God” would return and give instructions how they were to care for this son. The angel did return and spoke to Manoah and his wife, and then ascended toward heaven in the flame of the sacrifice. Manoah’s awed and terrified response to this was that he and his wife “…fell on their faces to the ground. The angel of the LORD did not appear again to Manoah and his wife. Then Manoah realized that it was the angel of the LORD. And Manoah said to his wife, ‘We shall surely die, for we have seen God” (Jud 13:20-22).
And likewise in this passage of the burning bush, the first description of the speaker of the voice emanating from the flames was “the angel of the LORD” (Ex 3:2). Then, in verse 4, he is identified as the LORD (Jehovah), and God. Again, in verse 6, we read, “He said further, ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’. And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God” (Ex 3:6). And when Moses asked God his name, he said, “’I AM WHO I AM’. He said further, ‘Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, I AM has sent me to you…..this is my name for ever” (Ex 3:14). This was none other than Jehovah.
It was Jehovah, the speaker from the burning bush, who went before the children of Israel as a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night when they were leaving Egypt (Ex 13:21-22); it was Jehovah who dried up the Red Sea so that Israel could cross, and destroyed Pharaoh and his army as they tried to follow them (Ex 14:1-31); it was Jehovah who led Israel through the wilderness in the books of Exodus, Numbers and Deuteronomy; and it was Jehovah who, during this time, gave them manna to eat (Ex 16:14-26 cf Ps 78:25 where it is called “angels’ food”), and “spiritual” water to drink (Num 20:2-13).
And who does the apostle himself identify with Jehovah? None other than Jesus, as we see in 1 Corinthians 10:4: “the spiritual rock who followed them….was Christ”. This is a stupendous statement. Paul was saying that the one God of Deuteronomy 6:4, the same who was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob whom the Jews worshipped, the God of the Old Testament, was Jesus Christ whom the Jews had put to death.
And Jesus identified with Jehovah in many places. For example, when he was disputing with the Jews and they challenged him as to his identity, he told them, “Before Abraham was, I am” (Jn 8:58). Here, Jesus takes the most sacred name of God – Jehovah – the name by which God identified himself to Moses and the people of Israel, and claims it for himself. If he wasn’t God, this was the height of blasphemy; God had struck men dead for less (Acts 12:22-23). But what Jesus did when he claimed the name “I am” was far more significant; and no Jew, even the most degenerate Jew, would ever dare utter that name and claim it as his own. It was no wonder that the Jews tried to stone Jesus for it (Jn 8:59).
And on another occasion, he again claims deity. John relates it for us: “’I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep….My sheep hear my voice, I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one’. The Jews took up stones again to stone him. Jesus replied, ‘I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these are you going to stone me?’ ‘It is not for good works that we are going to stone you, but for blasphemy, because you, though only a human being, are making yourself God’” (Jn 10:11, 27-33).
Jesus’ twice claims deity in this passage. The first claim is that he calls himself “the good shepherd”, thus identifying and equating himself with, and claiming to be, the Messiah who was now come. In these claims, he alludes to Ezekiel 34 where God rebukes the Israelite leaders, whom he calls “the shepherds of Israel”, in reality false shepherds, for abusing the people of Israel, God’s people, and robbing and exploiting them (Ezek 34:1-10). And he describes himself as the shepherd of Israel, caring for his flocks and herds, and pronouncing judgement on the false shepherds (Ezek 34:11-22 cf Jn 10:1, 5, 8, 10, 12-13; see also Isa 40:10-11). And then tells how he will set up one shepherd: “I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd” (Ezek 34:23).
And when we read of the resurrected Jesus in heaven, he speaks as God himself, once again taking to himself the names and titles of Jehovah: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the ending, says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty” (Rev 1:8); and: “I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last” (Rev 1:11 KJV). And when he appeared to John, the description of him is the same as the vision of God seen by Daniel (Dan 10:4-9); and when John fell at his feet as dead, as did Daniel when he saw the same God, Jesus assured him, saying, “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last; and the living one. I was dead, and see, I am alive for ever and ever; and I have the keys of Death and of Hades” (Rev 1:17-18). These titles are those by which Jehovah refers to himself (Ezek 1:26; Isa 41:4; 44:6; 48:12).
In another place, Paul writes, “And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness; God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory” (1 Tim 3:16 KJV).
And to the elders of the church in Ephesus, he said, “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood” (Acts 20:28 KJV).
And again, he writes of the Jews and of the deity of Christ: “…to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen” (Rom 9:5).
And further to the above discussion concerning the Word who was God (Jn 1:1), John tells us, “And the Word became flesh and lived among us” (Jn 1:14). He reiterates this with added information, in his first epistle: “he was manifested to take away our sins” (1 Jn 3:5 KJV).
Many more passages could be added to these, but if these aren’t enough, nothing will be. The fact is that scripture teaches that Jesus is none other than Jehovah and that he took on flesh and became a true man, born of a virgin, and died on a cross as true man while still deity. This is what the New Testament is all about.
Jesus as Separate from God
But all of this presents a problem. How can Jesus be God and yet separate from him? The Watch Tower has tried to address this problem but have come up with the wrong solution. Instead of accepting that the bible teaches that Jesus is both God and yet separate from God, they’ve taken the revelation that Jesus is truly human and rejected the revelation that Jesus is God. They’ve set themselves up as judges of the word of God instead of submitting themselves to it. God hasn’t asked us to understand him; indeed, he knows we cannot. But he does require us to believe what he has revealed about himself. In the bible and the Person of Jesus, he has revealed of himself all we need to know.
The Gospel of John begins this revelation by stating that Jesus is not only God but is a separate Person to God. He writes, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the word was God. He was in the beginning with God” (Jn 1:1-2). He then identifies Jesus as the Creator of all things (Jn 1:3-4), which creative power is an attribute of God. John identifies the Word as the God of Genesis 1:1.
And yet, mystery of mysteries, the Word is separate from God – he was in the beginning with God. John is revealing that God is not a unity but a trinity of Persons. Here in his gospel he reveals two of the Persons, and in his Apocalypse, he again reveals Jesus as the living and true God, the Judge of all the earth: “He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is called The Word of God…..On his robe and on his thigh he has a name inscribed, King of kings, and Lord of lords” (Rev 19:13, 16). And in his first letter he gives the complete picture of the triune nature of God: “For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one” (1 Jn 5:7 KJV). So we see how Jesus, the Word of God, can be at the same time God and yet with God; God and separate to God; God the Son along with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit; one God in a trinity of Persons.
Who can understand such a mystery, that a being can consist of three persons? But we are only finite creatures, subject to limitations of physicality, location, mind, and understanding. How can we understand the Infinite? The doctrine of the Trinity is something that has to be revealed to us. God doesn’t try to explain how it can be – he simply says that it is. And we can accept and believe it, or reject it as impossible and ridiculous.
“The Scripture quotations contained herein are made from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition copyright 1993 and 1989, by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. Used by permission. All rights reserved.” “Published by Catholic Bible Press, a division of Thomas Nelson, Inc., Nashville, Tennessee 37214.