Anarthrous Phrase: “and the Word was God” (kai theos en ho logos)

We have visited the text of John 1:1 before (see John 1:1 "With God" and "pros"). A lot of controversy surrounding John 1:1 exists around the fact that the theos (Grk. God) of the last phrase in John 1:1 kai theos en ho logos is anarthrous, i.e. it has no article. There are three schools of thought here, the first—Jehovah’s Witnesses—says the correct translation, consequently, is ‘the Word was a god,’ basing the argument on the lack of the definite article ho before theos.

The second school of thought is the that of the trinitarians, who often assert that the text of John 1:1 speaks of two distinct persons—the Father and the Son. This is, of course, a presupposition assumed into the text starting with the interpretation. James White says, “By the simple omission of the article (‘the,’ or in Greek, ho) before the word for God in the last phrase, John avoids teaching Sabellianism. . . . ”[1] Of this same passage White also says, “Without a trinitarian understanding of God, this passage ends up self-contradictory and illogical.” [2] Therefore, his argument is somewhat circular and confounding, unless one views it through a trinitarian lens. Most scholars would call this pretext. The trinitarian view versus that of Oneness will be discussed in this paper.

In essence, trinitarians like A.T. Robertson, Marvin Vincent, Phillip B. Harner and Kenneth Wuest, who are used as building blocks for this proposition concerning the anarthrous phrase, assert that the anarthrous phrase implies that Jesus was divine or possessed what God was in nature. The argument is that John was not saying Jesus is identical with God but that He is like God—qualitative rather than definite—meaning, the last clause in John 1:1 was not an attempt to identify Jesus but to express His quality of being. Trinitarians assert that Jesus was identical to God in terms of nature, not in terms of Person.

Beasley-Murray says, “without the article signifies less than ὁ θεός [theos]; but it cannot be understood as ‘a god,’ as though the Logos were a lesser god alongside the supreme God; nor as simply ‘divine,’ . . . rather it denotes God in his nature. ”[3] Bruce says, “What is meant is that the Word shared the nature and being of God, or (to use a piece of modern jargon) was an extension of the personality of God.”[4]

Daniel B. Wallace also asserts that theos is qualitative rather than definite.[5] Wallace emphasizes “the nature of the Word, rather than his identity.”[6] One of the translations he cites as affirming his suggestion is the New English Bible: “What God was, the Word was” (John 1:1). It should be noted that in the rendering of the NEB “the translators were very experimental, producing renderings never before printed in an English version and adopting certain readings from various Hebrew and Greek manuscripts never before adopted. As a result, The New English Bible was both highly praised for its ingenuity and severely criticized for its liberty.”[7]

Trinitarians ignore the emphatic of John’s last phrase ‘the Word was God,’ and assume that a Hebrew thinker as John could see a plurality in the being of God. However, if John is implying a tri-personal deity, then it is with the utmost subtlety and thus counterproductive, if the trinity is to be known and believed upon. Paul places strong soteriological influence upon a proper understanding of the Godhead in Romans 1:20 by saying that it is ‘without excuse.’ John must have known this as well; if so, then why aren’t great efforts made to exalt this tri-personal deity? In fact, the Prologue, as it reaches back to call to remembrance the Creation story, is the ideal place to elucidate such a concept. Nevertheless, trinitarians are left to impose upon the texts post-Nicean and philosophical concepts.

William Arnold has this response to the anarthrous phrase, “ . . . My first response would be: Why does the presence of the article demand that this is God the Father? Why not God the Holy Spirit? For some reason, when a Trinitarian reads ‘God’ they first assume it is a reference to God the Father unless they have reason to believe otherwise. Somehow the Father is more ‘God’ than the other two persons. Second, I would simply point out that almost every time the phrase ‘God the Father’ or ‘God our Father’ appears in Scripture, the article is lacking. This includes every one of Paul’s benedictions as well as several other verses (Rom. 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:3; 2 Cor 1:2; Gal. 1:1,3; Eph. 1:2; Eph. 6:23; Phil. 1:2; 2:11; Col. 1:2; 1 Thess. 1:1; 2 Thess. 1:1,2; 1 Tim. 1:2; 2 Tim. 1:2; Titus 1:4; Phm. 1:3; 1 Peter 1:2; 2 Peter 1:17; 2 John 1:3; Jude 1:1). So there is no justification to claim that the second theos in John 1:1 does not refer to God the Father simply because there is no article. Finally, John was a devout Jew who had no concept of persons in the Godhead. The only God he knew of was God the Father. Therefore, to identify the Word as God was to identify him as the Father.”[8]

D.A. Carson does not totally agree with James White. Of the aforementioned trinitarian logic he says, “A long string of writers has argued that because theos, ‘God,’ here has no article, John is not referring to God as a specific being, but to mere qualities of ‘God-ness.’ The Word, they say, was not God, but divine. This will not do. There is a perfectly serviceable word in Greek for ‘divine’ (namely theios). More importantly, there are many places in the New Testament where the predicate noun has no article and yet is specific. Even in this chapter, ‘you are the King of Israel’ (1:49) has no article before ‘King’ in the original (cf. also Jn. 8:39; 17:17; Rom. 14:17; Gal. 4:25; Rev. 1:20). It has been shown that it is common for a definite predicate noun in this construction, placed before the verb, to be anarthrous (that is, to have no article; cf. Additional Note). Indeed, the effect of ordering the words this way is to emphasize ‘God,’ as if John were saying, ‘and the word was God!’ ”[9]

It is interesting to expound further on Carson’s mention of ‘theios’ (thay-os). Theios is used roughly three times in the NT: Acts 17:29; 2 Peter 1:3 and 4. In the KJV it is rendered ‘Godhead’ in Acts, and twice as ‘divine’ in 2 Peter. In most translations the rendering of theios as ‘divine’ in 2 Peter is preserved; however, the NKJV and the NASB render theios as ‘Divine Nature.’ It is the adjective typically used to describe qualities of an entity. As Carson posits, ‘theios’ would be more than apropos if John were just describing the quality of Jesus as God-likeness.

E.D. Radmacher aims at Jehovah’s Witnesses and utilizes Colwell’s Rule: “The last portion of 1:1 is the major point of contention. It reads in the Greek theos en ho logos, or literally, ‘the Word was God.’ God, or theos, occurs in this verse without the Greek article ho, so that some have contended that the lack of the article in the Greek text should cause the statement to be translated ‘the Word was a god.’ The best understanding for the translation, however, as recognized by Greek scholars, is that since theos is a predicate and precedes the noun logos and a verb, it is natural for it to occur here without the article. Greek scholars are agreed that the verse should be translated as it regularly is in modern and ancient translations, clearly affirming that Jesus is indeed God.”[10] Notice that Radmacher does not allude to Jesus possessing the nature of God-ness or etc.; he simply says, “Jesus is indeed God.”

“A Definite Rule for the use of the Article in the Greek New Testament” by E. C. Colwell in the 1933 Journal of Biblical Literature, has helped to solidify an alternative interpretation. It later became known simply as “Colwell’s Rule.” On page 21 Colwell begins comments on the Prologue with this statement, “The opening verse of John’s Gospel contains one of the many passages where this rule suggests the translation of a predicate as a definite noun. [και2532 CONJ θεος2316 N-NSM ην2258 V-IXI-3S ο3588 T-NSM λογος3056 N-NSM][11] looks much more like ‘And the Word was God’ than ‘And the Word was divine’ when viewed with reference to this rule. The absence of the article does not make the predicate indefinite or qualitative when it precedes the verb; it is indefinite in this position only when the context demands it. The context makes no such demand in the Gospel of John, for this statement cannot be regarded as strange in the prologue of the gospel which reaches its climax in the confession of Thomas.”

Thomas’ confession is “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28 KJV). Thomas here calls Jesus his Lord and his God. God or theos here is a noun in “the vocative case though the form of the nominative, a very common thing in the Koine,”[12] which means Thomas was most likely making an emphatic and direct address to Jesus.

It would seem that Robertson and others are at odds with Colwell’s Rule. James White says, “It should be noted that Robertson [and others] . . . had passed away before the work of Colwell, and their comments reflect this.”[13] James White tells us that Colwell’s view “is the same view taken by [Leon] Morris, [Bruce] Metzger, Griffith and others.” Prior to this concession White proclaims, “A slightly different tact is taken by another group of scholars.” Subsequently, in an effort to find trinitarian solidarity, White asserts that “both approaches [his and Colwell’s] lead to the same conclusion in that ‘the passage teaches the Deity of Jesus Christ.’ ”[14] This is not a conclusion that Oneness adherents deny, but affirm greater. White offers no real interaction with Colwell’s Rule; he only suggests that everyone is in agreement.

Kai theos en ho logos: the article ho before logos naturally indicates that the logos is the subject of the verb kai. Logos receives the verb’s action and theos, as Colwell mentions, can be the definite predicate noun. In a correspondence Eddie Dalcour, author of a new Oneness critique, states, “Some well meaning apologists in their quest to refute JWs have tagged theos (1:1c) with a definite force.”[15] Here Dalcour recognized earlier leanings towards the last phrase of John 1:1 to be definite but suggest that they done so because of a reaction to JW's.

White summarizes by saying, “The phrase kai theos en ho logos is most literally translated as ‘and the Word was God’ (Robertson, Bruce). The reason that theos is anarthrous is both that it is the predicate nominative (Robertson, Dana and Mantey) and that it is demanded by the fact that if it had the article, it would be then interchangeable with logos, which is contextually impossible (Robertson, Dana and Mantey, Bruce, Nicoll). Colwell's rule also comes into play at this point. We have seen that the majority of scholarship sees the theos as indicating the nature of the Word, that He is God as to His nature. The noun form is here used, not the adjectival theios, which would be required to simply classify the Word as ‘god-like.’ Hence, John 1:1 teaches that the Word is eternal (the imperfect form of eimi, en), that He has always been in communion with God (pros ton theon), and hence is an individual and recognizable as such, and that, as to His essential nature, He is God. Anything less departs from the teaching of John, and is not Biblical.”[16]

White raises the issue of convertible propositions, or whether or not logos and theos can be used interchangeably. In my opinion (and I do not contend for this) Oneness adherents do not need to have logos and theos as interchangeable to affirm Oneness theology. The logos is the plan and/or unexpressed thought ‘with God’ or, as in the UBS Handbook, ‘the Word was there where God was.’ As it relates to the Prologue, Theos is the proper name of God; it is God himself. In my opinion, the Word was not literally the complete sum of God but with God and part of God. In terms of post-Incarnational theology, the Word became flesh, or the unexpressed thought of God became expressed in man. The thought was that God himself, in time would become man (not just ‘robed’ as a man) and, therefore, would redeem fallen humanity.

Finally, trinitarians like Dalcour assert that Colwell “did not consider or evaluate the qualitative tags of nouns—his investigation was greatly limited.”[17] This is basically a smokescreen to marginalize Colwell’s Rule of definite predicate nouns. However, on page 17 Colwell notes: “There are bound to be mistakes in the list of definite predicate nouns without the article, but an attempt has been made to exclude all nouns as to whose definiteness there could be any doubt. This means, of course, that ‘qualitative’ nouns have been omitted, since all such nouns (and their total in the New Testament is small) are not definite.” What this means is that Colwell was very aware of qualitative nouns and therefore purposely excluded them from his work. When he says he excluded all nouns as to “whose definiteness there could be any doubt,” he means that he has searched for qualitative nouns and thereby removed them. Therefore, seeing John 1:1 included in Colwell’s work on page 21, it is obvious that since he did consider qualitative nouns, theos in John 1:1 did not fit his criteria for being qualitative.

Therefore, the anarthrous phrase in the last clause of the Prologue presents no problems for Oneness theology. Theos here can be demonstrated to be definite and not necessarily qualitative and does affirm that Jesus is God. The Apostle John under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit was compelled to identify the logos as the original plan with God to humanity, and also in time, to be shown as Jesus—God Himself manifest in flesh.


[1] White, James. John 1:1: Meaning and Translation - http://aomin.org/JOHN1_1.html
[2] White, James. The Trinity, the Definition of Chalcedon, and Oneness Theology - http://aomin.org/CHALC.html
[3]Beasley-Murray, G. R. (1998). Vol. 36: Word Biblical Commentary: John (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; Word Biblical Commentary. Dallas: Word, Incorporated.
[4] F. F. Bruce, The Gospel of John, (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1983), pg. 31.
[5] Wallace, Daniel B. Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), pg. 269
[6] Arnold, William III Colwell’s Rule and John 1:1. http://www.apostolic.net/biblicalstudies/colwell.htm
[7]Comfort, Philip W. The Complete Guide to Bible Versions. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1991.
[8] Arnold, William III, In the Beginning was the Word - http://www.apostolic.net/biblicalstudies/logos.htm
[9] Carson, D.A. Pillar New Testament Commentary, The Gospel According to John. Eerdman Publishing, © 1991
[10] Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1999). Nelson's new illustrated Bible commentary (Jn 1:1). Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.
[11] Brackets here indicate my emphasis, i.e. parts of speech/case listing and Strong’s numbering.
[12] Robertson's Word Pictures in the New Testament, Electronic Database. Copyright (c) 1997 by Biblesoft & Robertson's Word Pictures in the New Testament. Copyright (c) 1985 by Broadman Press
[13] White, James. John 1:1: Meaning and Translation - http://aomin.org/JOHN1_1.html
[14] White, James. John 1:1: Meaning and Translation - http://aomin.org/JOHN1_1.html
[15] Dalcour, Edward L. M. Apol. Private Email. Monday, February 14, 2005 12:21 PM
[16] White, James. John 1:1: Meaning and Translation - http://aomin.org/JOHN1_1.html
[17] Dalcour, Edward L. M. Apol. Private Email. Monday, February 14, 2005 12:21 PM

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