“The Word”—Who Is He? According to John
1, 2. In his life account of Jesus Christ, whom does John first introduce to us, and so what do readers naturally want to know?
“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.” That is how the first two verses of the apostle John’s account of the life of Jesus Christ read, according to the Roman Catholic Douay Version and the King James Version of the Holy Bible.
2 Thus at the very beginning of John’s account the very first one to be introduced to us is someone who is called “the Word.” After having such a sudden introduction to the Word, any reader would naturally want to know who or what this Word was. In fact, since the second century of our Common Era there has been a big debate as to the identity of this Word. And particularly since the fourth century there has been much religious persecution poured out upon the minority group in this debate.
3. In what language did John write his account, and why do we have difficulty in understanding John’s opening statements?
3 The apostle John wrote his account in the common Greek of the first century. Such Greek was then an international language. Those for whom John wrote could speak and read Greek. So they knew what he meant by those opening statements, or, at least, they could get to know by reading all the rest of John’s account in its original Greek. But, when it comes to translating those opening statements into other languages, say modern English, there arises a difficulty in translating them right in order to bring out the exact meaning.
4. Do all modern translations read like the old accepted versions of the Bible, and what examples do we have to illustrate whether?
4 Of course, the Bible reader who uses the generally accepted versions or translations will at once say: “Why, there should be no difficulty about knowing who the Word is. It plainly says that the Word is God; and God is God.” But, in answer, we must say that not all our newer modern translations by Greek scholars read that way, to say just that. For instance, take the following examples: The New English Bible, issued in March of 1961, says: “And what God was, the Word was.” The Greek word translated “Word” is logós; and so Dr. James Moffatt’s New Translation of the Bible (1922) reads: “The Logos was divine.” The Complete Bible—An American Translation (Smith-Goodspeed) reads: “The Word was divine.” So does Hugh J. Schonfield’s The Authentic New Testament. Other readings (by Germans) are: By Boehmer: “It was tightly bound up with God, yes, itself of divine being.”a By Stage: “The Word was itself of divine being.”b By Menge: “And God (=of divine being) the Word was.”c By Pfaefflin: “And was of divine weightiness.”d And by Thimme: “And God of a sort the Word was.”e
5. What is the most controversial translation of all, as shown by two examples, and why may the translation by Professor Torrey be placed alongside the above?
5 But most controversial of all is the following reading of John 1:1, 2: “The Word was in the beginning, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god. This Word was in the beginning with God.” This reading is found in The New Testament in An Improved Version, published in London, England, in 1808.f Similar is the reading by a former Roman Catholic priest: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god. This was with God in the beginning. Everything came into being through the Word, and without it nothing created sprang into existence.” (John 1:1-3)g Alongside that reading with its much-debated expression “a god” may be placed the reading found in The Four Gospels—A New Translation, by Professor Charles Cutler Torrey, second edition of 1947, namely: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was god. When he was in the beginning with God all things were created through him; without him came no created thing into being.” (John 1:1-3) Note that what the Word is said to be is spelled without a capital initial letter, namely, “god.”
6. With what differing expressions are we confronted in the above-quoted translations, and so now whose identity do we have to find out?
6 So in the above-quoted Bible translations we are confronted with the expressions “God,” “divine,” “God of a sort,” “god,” and “a god.” Men who teach a triune God, a Trinity, strongly object to the translation “a god.” They say, among other things, that it means to believe in polytheism. Or they call it Unitarianism or Arianism. The Trinity is taught throughout those parts of Christendom found in Europe, the Americas and Australia, where the great majority of the 4,000,000 readers of The Watchtower live. Readers in the other parts, in Asia and Africa, come in contact with the teaching of the Trinity through the missionaries of Christendom. It becomes plain, in view of this, that we have to make sure of not only who the Word or Logos is but also who God himself is.
7, 8. What does Christendom say that God is, but by applying this equivalent term to John 1:1, 2 what tangle do we get into?
7 Christendom believes that the fundamental doctrine of her teachings is the Trinity. By Trinity she means a triune or three-in-one God. That means a God in three Persons, namely, “God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost.” Since this is said to be, not three Gods, but merely “one God in three Persons,” then the term God must mean the Trinity; and the Trinity and God must be interchangeable terms. On this basis let us quote John 1:1, 2 and use the equivalent term for God, and let us see how it reads:
8 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with the Trinity, and the Word was the Trinity. The same was in the beginning with the Trinity.” But how could such a thing be? If the Word was himself a Person and he was with the Trinity, then there would be four Persons. But the Word is said by the trinitarians to be the Second Person of the Trinity, namely, “God the Son.”h But even then, how could John say that the Word, as God the Son, was the Trinity made up of three Persons? How could one Person be three?
9. If it is claimed that “God” means God the Father, then into what difficulty do we get?
9 However, let the trinitarians say that in John 1:1 God means just the First Person of the Trinity, namely, “God the Father,” and so the Word was with God the Father in the beginning. On the basis of this definition of God, how could it be said that the Word, who they say is “God the Son,” is “God the Father”? And where does their “God the Holy Ghost” enter into the picture? If God is a Trinity, was not the Word with “God the Holy Ghost” as well as with “God the Father” in the beginning?
10. What if it is said that “God” means the other two Persons of the Trinity, and what attempted explanation does not explain it?
10 Suppose, now, they say that, in John 1:1, 2, God means the other two Persons of the Trinity, so that in the beginning the Word was with God the Father and God the Holy Ghost. In this case we come to this difficulty, namely, that, by being God, the Word was God the Father and God the Holy Ghost, the other two Persons of the Trinity. Thus the Word, or “God the Son,” the Second Person of the Trinity, is said to be also the First Person and the Third Person of the Trinity. It does not solve the difficulty to say that the Word was the same as God the Father and was equal to God the Father but still was not God the Father. If this were so, it must follow that the Word was the same as God the Holy Ghost and was equal to God the Holy Ghost but still was not God the Holy Ghost.
11, 12. According to the Trinity, how much of God would the Word be, and what question do we have to ask about the personality of God?
11 And yet the trinitarians teach that the God of John 1:1, 2 is only one God, not three Gods! So is the Word only one-third of God?
12 Since we cannot scientifically calculate that 1 God (the Father) + 1 God (the Son) + 1 God (the Holy Ghost) = 1 God, then we must calculate that 1/3 God (the Father) + 1/3 God (the Son) + 1/3 God (the Holy Ghost) = 3/3 God, or 1 God. Furthermore, we would have to conclude that the term “God” in John 1:1, 2 changes its personality, or that “God” changes his personality in one sentence. Does he?
13, 14. (a) What does the Trinity teaching do for the meaning of John 1:1, 2? (b) What was John’s state of mind on the Word and on God?
13 Are readers of The Watchtower now confused? Doubtlessly so! Any trying to reason out the Trinity teaching leads to confusion of mind. So the Trinity teaching confuses the meaning of John 1:1, 2; it does not simplify it or make it clear or easily understandable.
14 Certainly the matter was not confused in the mind of the apostle John when he wrote those words in the common Greek of nineteen centuries ago for international Christian readers. As John opened up his life account of Jesus Christ he was in no confusion of mind as to who the Word or Logos was and as to who God was.
15. Whom must we let help us out on this puzzle of identities, and what writings can we draw upon for an explanatory enlargement of things?
15 We must therefore let the apostle John himself identify to us who the Word was and explain who God was. This is what John does in the rest of his life account of Jesus Christ and also in his other inspired writings. Besides the so-called Gospel of John, he wrote three letters or epistles and also Revelation or Apocalypse. By many John is understood to have written first the book Revelation, then his three letters and finally his Gospel. Says Biblical Archaeology, by G. Ernest Wright (1957), page 238: “John is usually connected with Ephesus in Asia Minor and is dated about A.D. 90 by most scholars.” For the Gospel of John The Watchtower accepts the date A.D. 98. So for an explanatory enlargement of things written in the Gospel of John we can draw upon his earlier writings, Revelation or Apocalypse and his three letters or epistles.
16. In doing this, with what aim do we start out, and why?
16 This we shall now do. We do so with a desire to reach the same conclusion about who the Word or Logos was that the apostle John does. For us to do so means our gaining a happy everlasting life in God’s righteous new world now so near at hand. John, with all the firsthand knowledge and associations that he had, had a reason or basis for reaching an absolutely right conclusion. He wanted us as his readers to reach a right conclusion. So he honestly and faithfully presented the facts in his five different writings, that he might help us to come to the same conclusion as he did. Thus, as we accept John’s witness as true, we start out with a right aim, one that will lead to an endless blessing for us.
WHAT ABOUT 1 JOHN 5:7, DY; AV?
17. What will Trinity believers, when not up-to-date, ask, and what must be said about the verse to which they point in their Bible?
17 If Trinity believers are not up-to-date, they will ask: Does not John himself teach the Trinity, namely, that three are one? In their copy of the Bible they will point to 1 John 5:7 and read: “And there are three who give testimony in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost. And these three are one.” That is what 1 John 5:7 says in the Roman Catholic Douay Version and similarly in the Authorized or King James Version. But the words “in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost. And these three are one” do not appear in the oldest Greek manuscripts. Hence the most modern Bible translations omit those words, the Bible edition by the Roman Catholic Episcopal Committee of the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine putting the words in brackets along with an explanatory footnote, as follows: “The Holy See reserves to itself the right to pass finally on the origin of the present reading.”
18. What confession does Cardinal Maius make about 1 John 5:7 in his edition of the Vatican Manuscript No. 1209?
18 The oldest Greek manuscript of the Christian Scriptures is, in the judgment of many, the Vatican Manuscript No. 1209, written in the first half of the fourth century. In our own copy of this Greek manuscript as edited by Cardinal Angelus Maius in 1859, he inserted the Greek words into the Manuscript copy but added a sign of a footnote at the end of the preceding verse. The footnote is in Latin and, translated, reads:
From here on in the most ancient Vatican codex, which we reproduce in this edition, the reading is as follows: “For there are three that give testimony, the spirit, and the water, and the blood: and the three are for one. If the testimony” etc. There is therefore lacking the celebrated testimony of John concerning the divine three persons, which fact was already long known to critics.i
19. What does Dr. E. J. Goodspeed say about 1 John 5:7, and so on what basis can we not proceed in examining the identities of the Word and of God?
19 Says Dr. Edgar J. Goodspeed, the Bible translator, on 1 John 5:7: “This verse has not been found in Greek in any manuscript in or out of the New Testament earlier than the thirteenth century. It does not appear in any Greek manuscript of 1 John before the fifteenth century, when one cursive has it; one from the sixteenth also contains the reading. These are the only Greek manuscripts of the New Testament in which it has ever been found. But it occurs in no ancient Greek manuscript or Greek Christian writer or in any of the oriental versions. . . . It is universally discredited by Greek scholars and editors of the Greek text of the New Testament.”j So in our examination of John’s writings as to who the Word and God are, we cannot proceed on the basis of what the spurious words in 1 John 5:7 say.
HUMAN BIRTH ON EARTH
20, 21. (a) When did the Word leave God’s personal presence, and what questions arise as to how the Word did it? (b) How does John say the Word did this, and what does this mean?
20 There came a time when the Word or Logos left the personal presence of God with whom he had been in the beginning. This was when he came down to earth and mingled with men. Says John 1:10, 11: “He was in the world, and the world came into existence through him, but the world did not know him. He came to his own home, but his own people did not take him in.” When coming down, did the Word do the same as heavenly angels had done, still stay a spirit person but merely clothe himself with a visible human body and operate through this body in mingling with men? Or did the Word become a mixture, an intermixture of that which is spirit and that which is flesh? Rather than guess at it, let us allow John to tell us:
21 “So the Word became flesh and resided among us, and we had a view of his glory, a glory such as belongs to an only-begotten son from a father; and he was full of undeserved kindness and truth.” (John 1:14) Other Bible translations agree that the Word “became flesh.” (RS; AT; Ro; New English) This is far different from saying that he clothed himself with flesh as in a materialization or as in an incarnation. It means he became what man was—flesh and blood—that he might be one of us humans. Search John’s writings as much as we can, yet we do not once find that John says that the Word became a God-Man, that is, a combination of God and man.
22. As to his humanity, what did the Word call himself, and what did his becoming flesh really mean?
22 The expression God-Man is an invention of trinitarians and is found nowhere in the entire Bible. What the Word called himself when on earth was “the Son of man,” something very different from God-Man. When he first met the Jew named Nathanael, he said to this Jew: “You will see heaven opened up and the angels of God ascending and descending to the Son of man.” (John 1:51) To the Jewish Pharisee Nicodemus he said: “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so the Son of man must be lifted up, that everyone believing in him may have everlasting life.” (John 3:14, 15) In John’s writings the expression “Son of man” is applied to the Word sixteen times. This indicates that it was by a human birth on earth that he “became flesh.” His becoming flesh meant nothing less than that he ceased to be a spirit person.
23, 24. By becoming flesh, what did the Word become to man’s senses, and in what words does John report on his own experience with the Word?
23 By becoming flesh the Word, who was formerly an invisible spirit, became visible, hearable, feelable to men on earth. Men of flesh could thus have direct contact with him. The apostle John reports to us his own experience with the Word when he existed in the flesh, that John might share that blessing with us. John says:
24 “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have viewed attentively and our hands felt, concerning the word of life, (yes, the life was made manifest, and we have seen and are bearing witness and reporting to you the everlasting life which was with the Father and was made manifest to us,) that which we have seen and heard we are reporting also to you, that you too may be having a sharing with us. Furthermore, this sharing of ours is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.”—1 John 1:1-3.
25, 26. (a) How does John refer to the earthly caretaker father of Jesus? (b) How does John, after becoming her caretaker, speak of Jesus’ human mother?
25 John brings to our attention the human mother of this Son of man, but never by her personal name. John never speaks of her firstborn Son as the “Son of Mary.” John mentions his human caretaker father by name right near the beginning of the account, when Philip said to Nathanael: “We have found the one of whom Moses, in the Law, and the Prophets wrote, Jesus, the son of Joseph, from Nazareth.” (John 1:45) Later, after this Jesus fed five thousand men miraculously from five loaves and two fishes, the Jews who tried to belittle Jesus’ background said: “Is this not Jesus the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know?” (John 6:42) So, whereas John speaks of other women by their name Mary, he leaves the mother of Jesus nameless. Whenever she is spoken of it is never as “Mary,” or “Mother,” but always as “Woman.”
26 For example, in his last reported words to her, when Jesus was dying like a criminal on a stake at Golgotha as his earthly mother and his beloved disciple John stood looking on, he “said to his mother: ‘Woman, see! your son!’ Next he said to the disciple: ‘See! Your mother!’ And from that hour on the disciple took her to his own home.” (John 19:25-27) How long John took care of Mary the mother of Jesus he does not tell us; but he never tries to glorify her or beatify her, even name her, for being Jesus’ mother.
27, 28. Whose mother do trinitarians claim that Mary became, and to what question does this lead?
27 However, according to Trinity teachers, when “the Word became flesh,” Mary became the mother of God. But since they say God is a Trinity, then the Jewish virgin Mary became the mother of merely a third of God, not “the mother of God.” She became the mother of only one Person of God, the Person that is put second in the formula “God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost.” So Mary was merely the mother of “God the Son”; she was not the mother of “God the Father,” neither the mother of “God the Holy Ghost.”
28 But if Roman Catholics and others insist that Mary was “the mother of God,” then we are compelled to ask, Who was the father of God? If God had a mother, who was his father? Thus we see again how the Trinity teaching leads to the ridiculous.
29 Furthermore, the apostle John saw in a vision certain heavenly creatures saying to God on his throne: “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, who was, and who is, and who is to come,” and others saying: “Thou art worthy, O Lord our God, to receive glory, and honour, and power: because thou hast created all things; and for thy will they were, and have been created.” (Rev. 4:8, 11, Dy) The Bible is plain in saying that the heaven of heavens could not contain the Lord God Almighty; and King Solomon’s stupendous temple in Jerusalem could not contain the only Lord God Almighty. How, then, could such a microscopic thing as the egg cell in Mary’s womb contain God, for her to become “the mother of God”? So let us be careful of what we teach so that we do not belittle God.
30, 31. (a) What question arose among the Jews about this Jesus who apparently came from Nazareth in Galilee? (b) At Jesus’ triumphal ride into Jerusalem how did the great crowd hint at his birthplace?
30 Among the Jews a debate arose as to the birthplace of Jesus who came from Nazareth in the province of Galilee. The Jews in general did not know that he had been born in Bethlehem. Hence John tells us: “Others were saying: ‘This is the Christ.’ But some were saying: ‘The Christ is not actually coming out of Galilee, is he? Has not the Scripture said that the Christ is coming from the offspring of David, and from Bethlehem the village where David used to be?’ Therefore a division over him developed among the crowd.” (John 7:41-43) However, when Jesus made his triumphal ride into Jerusalem in the spring of A.D. 33, there were many Jews who were ready to hail him as God’s promised King, the Son of King David of Bethlehem. John 12:12-15 tells us:
31 “The next day the great crowd that had come to the festival, on hearing that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, took the branches of palm trees and went out to meet him. And they began to shout: ‘Save, we pray you! Blessed is he that comes in Jehovah’s name, even the king of Israel!’ But when Jesus had found a young ass, he sat on it, just as it is written [in Zechariah 9:9]: ‘Have no fear, daughter of Zion. Look! Your king is coming, seated upon an ass’s colt.’”—See Psalm 118:25, 26.
32. (a) How did Nathanael indicate Jesus’ royal connections? (b) In Revelation how did Jesus indicate his royal connections, and how will his kingdom compare with that of his forefather?
32 Yet, three years before that, when Jesus began his public career in the land of Israel, Nathanael recognized Jesus’ connections with King David, saying to him: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God, you are King of Israel.” (John 1:49) And in the vision to the apostle John the royal connections of Jesus are emphasized a number of times. In Revelation 3:7 Jesus himself says: “These are the things he says who is holy, who is true, who has the key of David.” In Revelation 5:5 an elderly person says of Jesus: “Look! The Lion that is of the tribe of Judah, the root of David, has conquered.” Finally, in Revelation 22:16, we read: “I, Jesus, sent my angel to bear witness to you people of these things for the congregations. I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright morning star.” Although Jesus on earth spoke of himself as “Jesus the Nazarene,” he had really been born in King David’s native town of Bethlehem but had merely been brought up in Nazareth. (John 18:5-7; 19:19) There Joseph his caretaker came to be looked on as his father. His forefather David had an earthly kingdom; but Jesus’ heavenly kingdom is something grander and more beneficial to all mankind.
33, 34. (a) How do the clergymen argue that the wording of John 1:14 implies an incarnation of the Word? (b) How does Peter’s use of the key word, together with uses of it elsewhere, argue it?
33 The one who was the Word or Logos spent only a brief time among men, less than thirty-five years from the time of his conception in the womb of the Jewish virgin who descended from King David. As An American Translation renders John 1:14: “So the Word became flesh and blood and lived for a while among us.” Clergymen who believe in an incarnation and a God-Man call notice to the fact that the Greek verb translated “lived for a while” has its root in the word meaning “tent” or “tabernacle.” In fact, that is the way that Dr. Robert Young renders the expression, translating it: “And the Word became flesh, and did tabernacle among us.” Since campers dwell in a tent, the clergymen argue that Jesus was still a spirit person and was merely tabernacling in a fleshly body and so was an incarnation, a God-Man. However, the apostle Peter used a like expression about himself, saying: “I think it meet as long as I am in this tabernacle, to stir you up by putting you in remembrance: being assured that the laying away of this my tabernacle is at hand.” (2 Pet. 1:13, 14, Dy) Certainly by such words Peter did not mean he himself was an incarnation. Peter meant he was merely going to reside for a while longer on earth as a fleshly creature.
a “Es war fest mit Gott verbunden, ja selbst goettlichen Wesens,” The New Testament, by Rudolf Boehmer, 1910.
b “Das Wort war selbst goettlichen Wesens,” The New Testament, by Curt Stage, 1907.
c “Und Gott (=goettlichen Wesens) war das Wort,” The Holy Scriptures, by D. Dr. Hermann Menge, twelfth edition, 1951.
d “Und war von goettlicher Wucht,” The New Testament, by Friedrich Pfaefflin, 1949.
e “Und Gott von Art war das Wort,” The New Testament, by Ludwig Thimme, 1919.
f The title page reads: “The New Testament in An Improved Version, upon the basis of Archbishop Newcome’s New Translation: with a Corrected Text, and Notes Critical and Explanatory. Published by a Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge and the Practice of Virtue, by the Distribution of Books.”—Unitarian.
g The New Testament—A New Translation and Explanation Based on the Oldest Manuscripts, by Johannes Greber (a translation from German into English), edition of 1937, the front cover of this bound translation being stamped with a golden cross.
h Says La Sainte Bible, a new version according to the original texts by the Monks of Maredsous, Editions de Maredsous, 1949, in a footnote under John 1:1: “1:1. The Word: the Word substantial and eternal of the Father, constituting the second person of the holy Trinity.” (1:1. Le Verbe: la Parole substantielle et eternelle du Pere, constituant la seconde personne de la sainte Trinité.)
BÍBLIA SAGRADA, a translation from the original Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek by means of the French version of the Benedictine Monks of Maredsous (Belgium) by the Catholic Bible Center of São Paulo, 2nd edition, 1960, says the same thing as the above, and reads: “Cap. 1:—1. O Verbo: a palavra substancial e eterna do Pai, que constitui a segunda pessoa da Santissima Trindade.”
i The Latin footnote reads: Exin in antiquissimo codice vaticano quem hac editione repraesentamus legitur tantum: οτι τρεις εισιν οι μαρτυρουντες, το πνευμα, και το υδωρ, και το αιμα· και το τρεις εις το εν εισιν. Ει την μαρτυριαν etc. Deest igitur celebre Iohannis de divinis tribus personis testimonium, quae res iamdiu criticis nota erat.”—Page 318.
j Quoted from page 557 of The Goodspeed Parallel New Testament—The American Translation and The King James Version. Edition of 1943.