“…who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen” (Rom 9:4-5).
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. The same was in the beginning with God” (Jn 1:1). 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”. But this is the same as saying, “the Word was God”. If God was the Word, it stands to reason that the Word was God – how can it be understood any other way? Bible scholars and heretics have been arguing this point almost since the beginning of Christianity. But the arguments have become unnecessarily 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.
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. Thus, John 1:1-2 shows us both the equality of Jesus (the Word) with God (the Father) and his separateness from God. And John 1 also reveals some of the attributes of God which Jesus possesses – the power of Creation (1:3, 10), and as the source of life (1:4, 12). He also shows the separateness of Jesus from God and yet his oneness with God (1:14, 18).
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 the angels of God worship him…..But unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever 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: “Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil….For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham…..For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted” (Heb 2:14, 16, 18).
Even if Jesus is the most exalted being ever to have been created, with power equal to God’s power, he would still be a created being and therefore finite, having had 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 an effective substitute 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.
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). The apostle Paul wrote, “…there is none other God but one. For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many and lords many,) But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him, and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him” (1 Cor 8:4-6). And to Timothy, he wrote, “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (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”.
Jesus as Separate from God
But how can Jesus be God and yet separate from him? Here in his gospel, John reveals two of the Divine Persons, and in his Apocalypse, he again reveals Jesus as the living and true God, the Judge of all the earth: “And he was clothed in a vesture [garment] dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God…..And he hath on his vesture and his thigh a name written, 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). 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.