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The Apologists  Bible Commentary



John 1

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1c ...and the Word was God.























Jehovah's Witnesses


objection:  Apologist Greg Stafford defends the NWT translation of John 1:1c ("and the Word was a god") as follows:


The primary reason the NWT uses "a" in John 1:1c is to emphasize the qualitative aspect of the noun.  In this way it has a similar function to "a" in John 6:70.  However, while the syntax may be enough to argue for an indefinite-qualitative understanding, the context, which specifically distinguishes the Logos as theos from the God (ho theos) he is "with" (pros), demands an indefinite sense for the predicate in John 1:1c.  The logic of pros and the OT understanding of God forces us to distinguish between the theos the Logos is, and the theos he is "with" (the Father), otherwise you have a form of modalism.  There is no way around it, for John does not distinguish the two in Trinitarian terms of "person" but in terms of theos, and if we identify the two as the same theos, then we ipso facto identify them as the same person, as least from a biblical standpoint.  Nowhere does the Bible define "God" as a substance of being that is shared by three persons, nor does the Bible use or define the term "God" as a reference to a tri-personal being (Stafford, p. 347).


response:  This argument is essentially the same one made by the WT, namely: "Someone who is "with" another person cannot be the same as that other person (SYBT, p. 27), though Mr. Stafford has stated it in more precise terms.  As I have written previously (see here), the "logic of pros," as Mr. Stafford calls it, only demands an indefinite rendering if we assume that God is unipersonal from the outset.  That is, saying that 'the Logos cannot be the God He is with' is based on the presupposition that God subsists as only one Person.  If God subsists in more than one Person, the Logos can be the God He is with, in precisely the way meant by Trinitarians.  Mr. Stafford asserts that his Unitarian presupposition is based on how the Bible does and does not define "God."  However, Mr. Stafford has not established that the Bible teaches the unitary nature of God; indeed, Trinitarians have long argued that a systematic approach to the Bible's teaching about the nature and attributes of God teaches that God is plural in nature, and that Jesus is God in every sense the Father is God, while remaining personally distinct from Him.1  


Mr. Stafford creates something of a strawman when he argues that the Bible nowhere teaches "God as a substance of being that is shared by three persons."  Such a definition of "God" is not required to substantiate the Trinitarian understanding of this verse.  It is enough to demonstrate that theos is best understood as a qualitative noun, signifying that the qualities, nature, or character of theos is attributed to the Logos.

Many experts in Greek grammar have noted that anarthrous nouns in general often signify the qualities, essence, or nature of the noun.2  If this principle is true of other nouns, we may wonder why it cannot be true of theos?3  Second, in Galatians 4:8, Paul speaks in negative terms of those who are "not gods by nature" (mę phusis ousin theois).4  Paul's statement presupposes that there is at least One who is "God by nature," and thus the concept of Deity ("that which makes God, God") is a Biblical concept.  This concept is echoed in Acts 17:29 (where theios means "divine nature"), Col 2:9 (where theotes signifies "Deity"), and 2 Peter 1:4 (theios, again, signifying "the divine nature").  We may debate what each specific reference to "divine nature / Deity" may mean in its context, but it cannot be denied that the idea that God has a unique nature which sets Him apart from all creation is a Biblical teaching.  The question is, then, is theos ever used to signify the essence, nature, or qualities of "God?"  The Watchtower itself argues that theos in John 1:1c is used in this manner: "Careful translators recognize that the articular construction of the noun points to an identity, a personality, whereas an anarthrous construction point to a quality about someone" (NWT 1950, p. 774).  Mr. Stafford agrees that this semantic sense is present in theos in this same verse:

The inspired apostle shows that the Word has the same kind of nature and qualities that "the God" (not simply the "person") he existed with has (Stafford, p. 349).  

The Watchtower and Mr. Stafford, of course, do not regard the qualitative aspect as the only semantic force present in theos in John 1:1c, but they acknowledge its existence, and therefore concede that theos is used in the Bible to signify the nature of God.  As for whether the qualitative aspect can be the only semantic force in view, I would suggest that the Witnesses have not demonstrated from the known principles of lexical semantics that words can "mean" one thing (class membership, in this case) and "emphasize" another (qualities or characteristics) in a single context like John 1:1c.  A more detailed examination of this point may be found here (see in particular note # 14).


objection:  In his appendix in Greg Stafford's Jehovah's Witnesses Defended (2nd Edition), Al Kidd defends the view that theos in John 1:1c is a count noun, and therefore must be either definite or indefinite.  This argument, often repeated by Witnesses apologists, is used to deny the view that theos is a qualitative noun in this verse, signifying the Logos has the same characteristics, qualities, or nature as "God."  Kidd writes:


Our position is that it [theos] must always be a count noun, either definite or indefinite, unless it is used metaphorically for the purely qualitative sense afforded either by simile or by a poetic (nonliteral) use of it as a generic appellation (Kidd, in Stafford, p. 569).

This view is echoed by Rolf Furuli:


[Dixon] presumes that qualitativeness on the one hand and definiteness and indefiniteness on the other are mutually exclusive, that is, no predicate nominative can have two of the characteristics at the same time.  This is clearly wrong because count nouns denoting persons such as theos and logos, must be either definite or indefinite, and a stress of qualitativeness is an additional characteristic, not an alternative one (Furuli, p. 217; emphasis in original).

response:  Answering this argument will require an in-depth examination of the definition and identification of "count" nouns as well as the way words convey meaning (lexical semantics).  For readers not wishing to plumb these particular depths, please refer to the summary, below.


A detailed response to the Witness arguments regarding theos as a count noun may be found here.



Linguists have differing views on how to identify "count" terms; Witnesses have not established that their particular means of identification (a generally contextual view) is correct.  However, even if we grant that their definition is correct, because it is based on context, Witnesses are arguing in circles when they proclaim, "theos is a count noun."  They assume that the context demands that theos is a count noun; then conclude that theos must either definite or indefinite, as (they say) all count nouns must.  If they wish to follow a contextual definition of count nouns, they must prove that theos in the context of John 1:1c is a count noun in the first place.  They cannot merely assume it.  


As soon as one defines "count nouns" on the basis of context, the proof that any given noun is a count noun in a certain context must be based on what the noun means in that context.  This is precisely what Kidd does in each of the cases he examines - he argues on the basis of what the noun means in context, then determines if that meaning is "countable."


Thus, to prove that theos is a count noun in John 1:1c, Kidd and other Witnesses must first establish that theos means either "the God" or "a god" in this verse (that is, that it can be "counted").  But these are the very meanings they claim theos must convey because it is a count noun!  Mr. Stafford and other Witness apologists assume what they seek to prove.  Their argument is thus logically unsound and of no value in determining the meaning of theos in John 1:1c.






1.  See, for example, "The Plural Maker Called God"

2.  E.g., Dana-Mantey (p. 149); BDF (§252); Moulton, (vol. III, p. 184); Porter (p. 105); Robertson (p. 794 [j]); Wallace (p. 244); Young (pp. 68 - 69);  Zerwick, (§171, §176)

3.  One answer to this question often offered by Jehovah's Witness apologists, including Mr. Stafford himself (Stafford, p. 339), is that theos is a count noun and count nouns (because "countable") can only be definite or indefinite - not purely qualitative.  This argument is summarized and responded to in the following Objection/Response section.

4  See also Deuteronmy 32: 17 - 21, in which YHWH calls the "demons" (LXX: daimoniois) "not-God" (JPS).  The meaning here is not merely that the demons were not YHWH (the person), but that they were not theos - not God by nature.

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