Was “the Word” God?
In many translations John 1:1 says: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” However, conscientious translators have found it necessary to acknowledge that there is a difference between the two uses of the word “God” in this text.
The New English Bible says, “What God was, the Word was.” Today’s English Version says, “He was the same as God.” An American Translation says, “The Word was divine.”
Why do not these translations simply say that the Word “was God”? Because in Greek, in which this originally was written, the second use of the word “God” is not the same as the first. The definite article “ho” (the) appears before the first use of the word God but not before the second. So The Anchor Bible says: “To preserve in English the different nuance of theos [god] with and without the article, some (Moffatt) would translate ‘The Word was divine.’”
We can better understand John’s words here if we analyze precisely what he said. Note again that he wrote: “In the beginning was the Word.” This, of course, was not talking about God’s beginning, for God had no beginning. (Psalm 90:1, 2) It was the beginning of the things John was here discussing, including the creation of all other things by “the Word.” Then John said: “The Word was with God.” A person who is with someone obviously is not the same as the one he is with.
The important point, of course, is what John meant when he wrote this passage. Does that present a problem? It does if you want it to say Jesus is “GOD,” for it is quite obvious from John’s writings that he did not understand Jesus to be “God” in the sense the Father is God. For example, in that same chapter, John wrote: “No one has ever seen God; it is the only Son, who is nearest to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.” (John 1:18, The Jerusalem Bible) Has anyone seen God? No. Has anyone seen Jesus? Of course!
Christendom’s Athanasian Creed, which defines the Trinity, says “none is greater or less than another.” Yet John repeatedly records Jesus’ own words showing his submission to the Father. He was “sent” by the Father, assigned works by the Father, told what to do and say by the Father, and said he came not to do his own will “but the will of him that sent [him].”—John 6:38; 3:17; 5:36; 8:28; 12:49, 50.
John also recorded Jesus’ own statement that the Father is “the only true God,” and that “the Father is greater than I am.” (John 17:3; 14:28) He recorded six instances in which Jesus called the Father “my God.” Five instances of Jesus’ speaking of “my God” are long after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension to heaven. (John 20:17; Revelation 3:2, 12) At least five more times, John carefully recorded the distinction not just between the Father and the Lamb but between God and the Lamb Jesus Christ. (Revelation 1:1; 7:10; 21:22; 22:1-3) John says he wrote, not to show that Jesus is God, or even “God the Son,” but “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God.”—John 20:31.
These statements show what John knew to be the relationship between Jesus and the one John tells us Jesus called “God.” John 1:1 does not contradict them. Its correct rendering is: “In the beginning the Word was, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god.” This is the same construction that you will find at Acts 28:6, where the people of Malta thought Paul was “a god.”
Then, what about Thomas’ amazed expression when he saw the resurrected Jesus: “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:24-29) Thomas was greatly moved by the outstanding realization that Jesus Christ really had been resurrected, and that he was face-to-face with him. However, nothing in the account indicates that Thomas thought Jesus was equal to the Father. John, who recorded Thomas’ words, had quoted Jesus as saying that even men were called “gods.” Certainly, the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ is greater than any man. (John 10:34, 35) And in the very same chapter in which we read Thomas’ words, John recorded Jesus’ statement that the Father is Jesus’ God.—John 20:17.
Paul showed how first-century Christians correctly understood the relationship between Jesus and his heavenly Father when he wrote that “there is actually to us one God the Father . . . and there is one Lord, Jesus Christ.”—1 Corinthians 8:6.