“The Word Was With God, and the Word Was . . .”?
FEW passages in the Bible have received more attention in the churches of Christendom than John 1:1. The way it reads in many Bible versions is similar to that of the King James Version: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God [ὁ θεός], and the Word was God [θεός].”
Many who accept the Trinity point to this passage in support of their doctrine. The verse, however, has been rendered differently in some translations, with the acknowledgment that the original Greek reveals a difference that is hidden in renderings such as the above.
In 1984 there appeared in English a translation from German of a commentary by scholar Ernst Haenchen (Das Johannesevangelium. Ein Kommentar). It renders John 1:1: “In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God, and divine [of the category divinity] was the Logos.”—John 1. A Commentary on the Gospel of John Chapters 1-6, page 108, translated by Robert W. Funk.
When comparing Genesis 1:1 with the first verse of John’s Gospel, this commentary observes: “John 1:1, however, tells of something that was in existence already in time primeval; astonishingly, it is not ‘God.’ . . . The Logos (we have no word in either German or English that corresponds to the range of meaning of the Greek term) is thereby elevated to such heights that it almost becomes offensive. The expression is made tolerable only by virtue of the continuation in ‘and the Logos was in the presence of God,’ viz., in intimate, personal union with God.”
Does that sound as if scholar Haenchen discerned in the Greek some distinction between God and the Logos, or Word? The author’s following words focus on the fact that in the original language no definite article is used with the word the·osʹ, or god, in the final phrase. The author explains:
“In order to avoid misunderstanding, it may be inserted here that θεός [the·osʹ] and ὁ θεός [ho the·osʹ] (‘god, divine’ and ‘the God’) were not the same thing in this period. Philo has therefore written: the λόγος [Logos] means only θεός (‘divine’) and not ὁ θεός (‘God’) since the logos is not God in the strict sense. . . . In a similar fashion, Origen, too, interprets: the Evangelist does not say that the logos is ‘God,’ but only that the logos is ‘divine.’ In fact, for the author of the hymn [in John 1:1], as for the Evangelist, only the Father was ‘God’ (ὁ θεός; cf. Joh 17:3); ‘the Son’ was subordinate to him (cf. Joh 14:28). But that is only hinted at in this passage because here the emphasis is on the proximity of the one to the other.”
Then Haenchen observes: “It was quite possible in Jewish and Christian monotheism to speak of divine beings that existed alongside and under God but were not identical with him. Phil 2:6-10 proves that. In that passage Paul depicts just such a divine being, who later became man in Jesus Christ. . . . Thus, in both Philippians and John 1:1 it is not a matter of a dialectical relationship between two-in-one, but of a personal union of two entities.”—Pages 109, 110.
Hence, rather than saying that the Logos (Jesus) was with God and was God, John 1:1 explains that the Logos was with the Almighty God and was divine, or was a god.