Why Do Jehovah's Witnesses Understand John 1:1 to Read, "...and the Word Was a god"?
In the New World Translation Bible (produced by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society - a legal organization in use by Jehovah’s Witnesses), John 1:1 reads: “In the beginning the Word was, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god.” Some other translations render the last part of the verse to convey the thought that the Word was “divine,” or something similar. (A New Translation of the Bible, by James Moffatt; The New English Bible) Many translations, however, render the last part of John 1:1: “And the Word was God.”—The Holy Bible—New International Version; The Jerusalem Bible. So which is the correct translation of this verse?
Greek Grammar and Context Provide the Answer
Greek grammar and the context strongly indicate that the New World Translation rendering is correct and that “the Word” should not be identified as the “God” referred to earlier in the verse. (See John 1:1c Primer (Examining the Trinity). Also see the w09 4/1 pp. 18-19 article: A Text That Teaches the Trinity?)
Bible verses in the Greek language that have a construction similar to that of John 1:1 use the expression “a god.” For example, when referring to Herod Agrippa I, the crowds shouted: ‘It is a god speaking.’ And when Paul survived a bite by a poisonous snake, the people said: “He is a god.” (Acts 12:22; 28:3-6) It is in harmony with both Greek grammar and Bible teaching to speak of the Word as, not God, but “a god.”—John 1:1.
For instance, consider that John states that the Word was “with God.” But how can an individual be with someone and at the same time be that person? John 1:1 clearly phrases God as a separate person from the Word (Jesus). And since Jesus is written and identified in John 1:1 as a separate person from God (not just the Father), then that would positively exclude him as being God!
Commenting on this, Count Leo Tolstoy, the famous Russian novelist and religious philosopher, said:
"If it says that in the beginning was the...Word, and that the Word was...WITH God, it is impossible to go on and say that it was God. If it was God, it could stand in no relation to God." - The Four Gospels Harmonized and Translated, p. 30.
Moreover, as recorded at John 17:3, Jesus makes a clear distinction between himself and his heavenly Father. He calls his Father “the only true God.” And toward the end of his Gospel, John sums up matters by saying: “These have been written down that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God.” (John 20:31) Notice that Jesus is called, not God, but the Son of God. This additional information provided in the Gospel of John shows how John 1:1 should be understood. Jesus, the Word, is “a god” in the sense that he has a high position but is not the same as Almighty God.
Other Bibles That Render John 1:1c "a god"
The NWT is not the only Bible to render John 1:1c as "a god". Actually, there are many Bibles that render John 1:1 as "a God" or it's equivalent:
1808: “and the word was a god.” The New Testament in an Improved Version, Upon the Basis of Archbishop Newcome’s New Translation: With a Corrected Text.
1864: “and a god was the word.” The Emphatic Diaglott, interlinear reading, by Benjamin Wilson.
1928: “and the Word was a divine being.” La Bible du Centenaire, L’Evangile selon Jean, by Maurice Goguel.
1935: “and the Word was divine.” The Bible—An American Translation, by J. M. P. Smith and E. J. Goodspeed.
1946: “and of a divine kind was the Word.” Das Neue Testament, by Ludwig Thimme.
1958: “and the Word was a God.” The New Testament, by James L. Tomanek.
1975: “and a god (or, of a divine kind) was the Word.” Das Evangelium nach Johannes, by Siegfried Schulz.
1978: “and godlike kind was the Logos.” Das Evangelium nach Johannes, by Johannes Schneider.
Trinitarian Scholars Have Even Admitted That "the Word was *a* god"
Even a number of respected trinitarian scholars have admitted that "the Word was *a* god" is the literal translation at John 1:1c.
In addition to their comments below, W. E. Vine, Prof. C. H. Dodd (Director of the New English Bible project), and Murray J. Harris admit that this ("the Word was a god") is the literal translation, but, being trinitarians, they insist that it be interpreted and translated as "and the Word was God." Why? Because of a trinitarian bias only!
W. E. Vine - "a god was the Word" - p. 490, An Expository Dictionary of the New Testament.
C. H. Dodd - "The Word was a god" - Technical Papers for the Bible Translator, Jan., 1977.
Murray J. Harris - "the Word was a god" - p. 60, Jesus as God, Baker Book House, 1992.
Robert Young - "and a God (i.e. a Divine Being) was the Word" - Young's Concise Critical Bible Commentary.
Even Origen, the most knowledgeable of the early Christian Greek-speaking scholars, tells us that John 1:1c actually means "the Word [logos] was a god". - "Origen's Commentary on John," Book I, ch. 42 - Bk II, ch.3.
Origen's Commentary on John is "the first great work of Christian interpretation." Origen was certainly the most knowledgeable about NT (koine) Greek of any scholar. He studied it from early childhood and even taught it professionally from his teens onward. And this was during a time when it was a living language and, of course, well understood. - The Ante-Nicene Fathers, pp. 291-294, vol. X, Eerdmans Publ., 1990 printing.
The Sahidic Coptic Translation Reads John 1:1 as, "And the Word was *a* god."
It is also interesting to note that the Coptic language was spoken in Egypt in the centuries immediately following Jesus' earthly ministry, and the Sahidic dialect was an early literary form of the language. A significant fact concerning the Coptic language is that, unlike the Greek, it used an indefinite article ("a" or "an" in English).
The fact is that the New World Translation is not wrong in translating John 1:1 the way it does as some critics propose. In fact, these critics have it completely turned around. The absence of the indefinite article (a) at John 1:1c has been purposely mistranslated in most Trinitarian-produced Bibles to fit THEIR doctrine that Jesus is God.
For much more, see:
Was the Word “God” or “a god”? (w08 11/1 pp. 24-25; Watchtower Online Library)
"The Word Was God" (bh p. 201-p. 204 par. 2; Watchtower Online Library)
“Those Who Are Called ‘Gods’” (g05 4/22 pp. 8-9; Watchtower Online Library)
John 1:1 - Links to Information (Defend Jehovah's Witnesses)