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” (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” [Wenham 1973, p. 2]). 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).
Before we look at the Greek grammar and then at the bible, it makes sense to check an English dictionary to be clear on terminology. “The Concise Oxford Dictionary” (1989) defines “divine” as “of, from, like, God or a god”; and defines “divinity” as “being divine, godhood; a god, godhead”.
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”. Wenham (1973, p. 35) explains this in his section on the definite article. The point he makes is that “When two nouns in the nominative (case) are linked by the verb ‘to be’, it may not be clear which is subject (before the verb) and which is complement (after the verb). Thus ‘the Word is the God’ (in Greek sentence structure) could be either ‘The Word is God’ or ‘God is the Word’.
In such cases the complement usually drops the article, and is usually placed before the verb. (In Greek original)‘God is the Word’ can only be ‘The Word is God’ (in English translation).
So in the case of abstract nouns (e.g. love, peace, joy) we have: (in Greek) ‘the God love is’ – ‘God is love’ (in English). (1 John 4:8, 16)”.
Wenham then adds an important footnote to this section related to “The Word is God”: “In ancient manuscripts which did not differentiate between capital and small letters, there would be no way of distinguishing between Theos (‘God’) and theos (‘god’). Therefore as far as grammar alone is concerned, such a sentence could be printed: Theos estin ho Logos, which would mean either, ‘The Word is a god’, or, ‘The Word is the god’. The interpretation of John 1:1 will depend upon whether or not the writer is held to believe in only one God or in more than one god” (Wenham 1973, p. 35).
However, we don’t depend on the difficult Greek grammar here 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 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 a multiplicity of gods – what other conclusion can be drawn from their translation? This conclusion is also obvious to them apparently, because of their footnote “Or ‘was divine’”, a futile attempt to justify their corrupt reading.
There are some teachings in the bible which seem to contradict other teachings. For example, predestination is taught throughout the bible, as is free will. These two seem to contradict each other because predestination has God choosing each individual sinner who will be saved, while free will says that each sinner determines their own eternal fate. They run through scripture like two parallel lines, seemingly never able to meet. The problem is that most people choose one of these at the expense of the other. They reason that if one is true, the other cannot be true. But when they do this, they are applying finite human logic and understanding to the revealed will of God and the words of scripture. And the result is disharmony and imbalance in scripture, and error prevails.
However, scripture teaches both; therefore, we must receive what it says, whether we understand the issues or not. The answer is, of course, found at the cross where predestination and free will have kissed each other, to borrow a metaphor from Ps 85:10, and both are reconciled (see my article “Predestination: the Mercy of God to Sinners” for a full explanation). Paul puts it thus: “God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth: Whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thess 2:13-14).
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, too, 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, and in so doing, bring condemnation upon themselves. 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 God.
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.
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 creature, 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 others.
Jesus’ pre-existence and eternal being is further referred to when the author of Hebrews describes the priesthood of the mysterious Melchisedec: “Without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually” (Heb 7:3). Commenting on this passage, Henry Morris says, “The only one of whom these statements could actually be true is God himself, appearing to Abraham in a theophany. God appeared to Abraham on other later occasions (Gen 17:1; 18:1), but on this occasion, Abraham needed special comfort and encouragement from God, almost overwhelmed by the hostile, ungodly world around him. Thus the Lord (actually God the Son) came to give Abraham His blessing (Gen 14:19), appearing as the King of Righteousness (Rev 19:11, 16), the King of Peace (Isa 9:6), and the Mediator between God and Man (1 Tim 2:5)….
No mere earthly king was ever ‘made like unto the Son of God’, nor was there ever one who ‘abideth a priest continually’ (the same word as ‘forever’). It is difficult to see how these descriptions could be properly applied to anyone but the Lord Jesus Christ, who came to encourage Abraham in this unique pre-incarnate experience, assuming a human form ‘like unto’ that which He would assume forever when He became the incarnate Son of God. For the first time He founded and implemented forever the priestly order of Melchisedec” (Morris, 2017, p. 1902-1903).
And then, turning to Hebrews chapter 2 to consider the humanity of Jesus, we read, “For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham” (Heb 2:16).
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 made Jesus to consist of “two separate Persons in the Incarnate Christ, the one Divine and the other human (as opposed to the orthodox teaching that in the Incarnate Christ was a single Person, at once God and man)” (Livingstone, 2006, p. 405). Monophysitism says “that in the Incarnate Christ there is only one nature, not two” (Livingstone, 2006, p. 393). 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). The apostle Paul wrote, “As concerning therefore the eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that 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”.
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: “Because I will publish the name of the LORD: ascribe ye greatness unto our God. He is the Rock, his work is perfect: for all his ways are judgment: a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he” (Deut 32:3-4). Godly Hannah prayed: “There is none holy as the LORD: for there is none beside thee: neither is there any rock like our God” (1 Sam 2:2). David also sang to God: “The LORD is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; The God of my rock, in him will I trust: he is my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my high tower, and my refuge, my saviour…..For who is God, save the LORD? and who is a rock, save our God?” (2 Sam 22:2-3, 32).
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, “Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and did all eat the same spiritual meat; and did all drink the same spiritual drink; for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ” (1 Cor 10:1-4).
“That 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: “Then Manoah knew that he was an angel of the LORD. And Manoah said unto his wife, We shall surely die, because we have seen God” (Jud 13:21-22).
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 Jehovah (the LORD), and God. Again, in verse 6, we read, “Moreover he said, I am the God of thy 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 upon God” (Ex 3:6). And when Moses asked God his name, he said, “I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you” (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: “That Rock that 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. For example, when Herod sat on his throne and gave an oration to the people of Tyre who had come to try and get him on side with them, “the people gave a shout, saying, It is the voice of a god, and not of a man. And immediately the angel of the Lord smote him, because he gave not God the glory: and he was eaten of worms, and gave up the ghost” (Acts 12:22-23). But what Jesus did when he claimed the name “I am” was far more serious; 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 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 Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which 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, “Fear not; I am the first and the last: I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death” (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 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 deity of Christ: “…of whom (the Jews) as concerning the flesh Christ came, 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 was made flesh, and dwelt among us” (Jn 1:14). He reiterates this with added information, in his first epistle: “And ye know that he (Jesus) was manifested to take away our sins” (1 Jn 3:5).
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 to God
But all of this presents a problem. How can Jesus be God and yet separate to 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 to 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. The same 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 to 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: “And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God…..And he has on his vesture and on 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 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.
For a discussion of the Son as being subordinate to the Father, please see my essay “Subordination and Equality of the Son of God to the Father”.
“And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” (Matt 28:18-20).
Livingstone, E. A. 2006, Oxford Concise Dictionary of the Christian Church, “Nestorius” p. 405, Oxford University Press, New York
Livingstone, E. A. 2006, Oxford Concise Dictionary of the Christian Church, “Monophysitism” p. 393, Oxford University Press, New York
Wenham, J. W. 1973, The Elements of New Testament Greek, Cambridge University Press, London