John 1:1

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John 1:1 from the Ostromir Gospel, with John's Evangelist portrait, 1056 or 1057.

John 1:1 is the first verse in the Gospel of John. The King James Version of the verse reads, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God". The phrase "the Word" (a translation of the Greek word "Logos") is widely interpreted as referring to Jesus, as indicated in other verses later in the same chapter.[1] This verse and others throughout Johannine literature connect the Christian understanding of Jesus to the philosophical idea of the Logos and the Hebrew Wisdom literature. They also set the stage for later understanding development of Trinitarian theology early in the post-biblical era.

According to Matthew Henry (1662–1714) in his commentary, Jesus is called the "Word" in this opening verse because he was the Son of God sent to earth to reveal his Father's mind to the world. He asserts that a plain reading of the verse written by John the Evangelist should be understood as proof that Jesus is God; that Jesus has the same essence as God and existed with God the Father from the very beginning, the Word was with God, and the Word was God.[2]

The proper rendering into English from the original Koine Greek text continues to be a source of vigorous debate among Bible translators.[citation needed])

Source text and translations

Koine Greek Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος, καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν, καὶ θεός ἦν ὁ λόγος.[3][4]
Greek transliteration En archē ēn ho Lógos, kai ho Lógos ēn pros ton Theón, kai Theós ēn ho Lógos.
Greek to English In beginning was the Word, and the Word was with the God, and God was the Word.
-------alternate Greek (beginning: original, foundation, source, principle) (Word: reason, saying) (with: toward, facing)
Syriac Peshitta ܒ݁ܪܺܫܺܝܬ݂ ܐܺܝܬ݂ܰܘܗ݈ܝ ܗ݈ܘܳܐ ܡܶܠܬ݂ܳܐ ܘܗܽܘ ܡܶܠܬ݂ܳܐ ܐܺܝܬ݂ܰܘܗ݈ܝ ܗ݈ܘܳܐ ܠܘܳܬ݂ ܐܰܠܳܗܳܐ ܘܰܐܠܳܗܳܐ ܐܺܝܬ݂ܰܘܗ݈ܝ ܗ݈ܘܳܐ ܗܽܘ ܡܶܠܬ݂ܳܐ ܀
Syriac transliteration brīšīṯ ʾiṯawhi milṯā, whu milṯā ʾiṯauhi hwā luaṯ ʾalāhā; wʾalāhā iṯauhi hwā hu milṯā
Coptic transliteration Hn teHoueite neFSoop nCi pSaJe auw pSaJe neFSoop nnaHrm pnoute auw neunoute pe pSaJe.[3]
Sahidic Coptic to English In the beginning existed the word and the word existed with the god and a god was the word [5]
Latin Vulgate In principio erat Verbum et Verbum erat apud Deum et Deus erat Verbum
Latin to English In beginning was Word and Word was beside (alongside) God and God was Word.
-------alternate Latin (beside: by, alongside, near, next to)

John 1:1 in English versions

The most common rendering in English is:

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."

“[It] is clear that in the translation “the Word was God,” the term God is being used to denote his nature or essence, and not his person. But in normal English usage “God” is a proper noun, referring to the person of the Father or corporately to the three persons of the Godhead. Moreover, “the Word was God” suggests that “the Word” and “God” are convertible terms, that the proposition is reciprocating. But the Word is neither the Father nor the Trinity… The rendering cannot stand without explanation.”[6] Translations by James Moffatt, Hugh J. Schonfield and Edgar Goodspeed render part of the verse as "...and the Word was divine."

An Orthodox Bible Commentary notes: "This second theos could also be translated ‘divine’ as the construction indicates "a qualitative sense for theos". The Word is not God in the sense that he is the same person as the theos mentioned in 1:1a; he is not God the Father (God absolutely as in common NT usage) or the Trinity. The point being made is that the Logos is of the same uncreated nature or essence as God the Father, with whom he eternally exists. This verse is echoed in the Nicene Creed: 'God (qualitative or derivative) from God (personal, the Father), Light from Light, True God from True God… homoousion with the Father.'"[7]

Other variations of rendering John 1:1 also exist:

  • 1966, 2001 The Good News Bible reads: "...and he was the same as God."
  • 1970, 1989 The Revised English Bible reads: "...and what God was, the Word was."
  • 14th century - Wycliffe's Bible (from the 4th-century Latin Vulgate) reads: "In the beginning was the word, and the word was at God, and God was the word.
  • 1956 The Wuest Expanded Translation reads: “In the beginning the Word was existing. And the Word was in fellowship with God the Father. And the Word was as to His essence absolute deity”[8]
  • 1808 “and the Word was a god” - Thomas Belsham The New Testament, in An Improved Version, Upon the Basis of Archbishop Newcome’s New Translation: With a Corrected Text , London.
  • 1864 “the LOGOS was God, This was in the Beginning with God” A New Emphatic Version (right hand column)
  • 1864 “and a god was the Word” (left hand column interlinear reading) The Emphatic Diaglott by Benjamin Wilson, New York and London.
  • 1867 “In the beginning was the gospel preached through the Son. And the gospel was the word, and the word was with the Son, and the Son was with God, and the Son was of God” - The Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible.
  • 1935 “and the Word was divine” - The Bible—An American Translation, by John M. P. Smith and Edgar J. Goodspeed, Chicago.
  • 1955 “so the Word was divine” - The Authentic New Testament, by Hugh J. Schonfield, Aberdeen.
  • 1978 “and godlike sort was the Logos” - Das Evangelium nach Johannes, by Johannes Schneider, Berlin.
  • 1822 "and the Word was a god." - The New Testament in Greek and English (A. Kneeland, 1822.);
  • 1863 "and the Word was a god." - A Literal Translation Of The New Testament (Herman Heinfetter [Pseudonym of Frederick Parker], 1863);
  • 1885 "and the Word was a god." - Concise Commentary On The Holy Bible (R. Young, 1885);
  • 1879 "and the Word was a god." - Das Evangelium nach Johannes (J. Becker, 1979);
  • 1911 "and the Word was a god." - The Coptic Version of the N.T. (G. W. Horner, 1911);
  • 1958 "and the Word was a god." - The New Testament of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Anointed" (J. L. Tomanec, 1958);
  • 1829 "and the Word was a god." - The Monotessaron; or, The Gospel History According to the Four Evangelists (J. S. Thompson, 1829);
  • 1975 "and the Word was a god." - Das Evangelium nach Johannes (S. Schulz, 1975);
  • 1962, 1979 "'the word was God.' Or, more literally, 'God was the word.'" The Four Gospels and the Revelation (R. Lattimore, 1979)
  • 1975 "and a god (or, of a divine kind) was the Word" Das Evangelium nach Johnnes, by Siegfried Schulz, Göttingen, Germany

For a complete list of 70 non traditional translations of John 1:1 see this reference[9]


The text of John 1:1 has a sordid past and a myriad of interpretations. With the Greek alone, we can create empathic, orthodox, creed-like statements, or we can commit pure and unadulterated heresy. From the point of view of early church history, heresy develops when a misunderstanding arises concerning Greek articles, the predicate nominative, and grammatical word order. The early church heresy of Sabellianism understood John 1:1c to read, "and the Word was the God." The early church heresy of Arianism understood it to read, "and the word was a God."

— David A. Reed[10]

There are two issues affecting the translating of the verse, theology and proper application of grammatical rules. The commonly held theology that Jesus is God naturally leads one to believe that the proper way to render the verse is the one which is most popular.[11] The opposing theology that Jesus is subordinate to God as his Chief agent leads to the conclusion that "... a god" or "... divine" is the proper rendering.[12] Some scholars staunchly oppose the translation ...a god,[13][14][15][16] while other scholars believe it is possible or even preferable.[17][18][19]


Competing beliefs have caused controversy on whether Jesus was the one and only God, or was a god, lesser than and completely distinct from God.

Origen of Alexandria, a teacher in Greek grammar of the third century, wrote about the use of the definite article:

We next notice John's use of the article in these sentences. He does not write without care in this respect, nor is he unfamiliar with the niceties of the Greek tongue. In some cases he uses the article, and in some he omits it. He adds the article to the Logos, but to the name of God he adds it sometimes only. He uses the article, when the name of God refers to the uncreated cause of all things, and omits it when the Logos is named God.... The true God, then, is The God (ho theos)."[20]


A major point of contention, since the theos in question occurs without the definite article (the), within the grammatical debate is the proper application of Colwell's rule,[21] set out by Greek scholar E. C. Colwell, which states:

"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 Kai theos en ho logos 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 (John 20,28)."

At issue is whether Colwell's rule applies to John 1:1 and if it is a reliable standard by which grammatical constructions of this type should be measured. It has been pointed out that Colwell's rule does not help by determining definiteness.[22] Rodney J. Decker stated, "it has often been misused by well-intentioned defenders of the deity of Christ."[23]

Daniel B. Wallace argues that the use of the anarthrous theos (the lack of the definite article before the second theos) is due to its use as a qualitative noun, describing the nature or essence of the Word, not due to Colwell's rule.[24]

The rendering as "a god" is justified by some non-trinitarians by comparing it with Acts 28:6 which they claim has a similar grammatical construction'[25] "The people expected him to swell up or suddenly fall dead; but after waiting a long time and seeing nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and said he was a god."[Ac. 28:6 NIV]. However, it was noted that the Hebrew words El, HaElohim and Yahweh (all referring to God) were rendered as anarthrous theos in the Septuagint at Nahum 1:2, Isaiah 37:16, 41:4, Jeremiah 23:23 and Ezekiel 45:9 among many other locations. Moreover, in the New Testament anarthrous theos was used to refer to God in locations including John 1:18a, Romans 8:33, 2 Corinthians 5:19, 6:16 and Hebrews 11:16 (although the last two references do have an adjective aspect to them). Therefore anarthrous or arthrous constructions by themselves, without context, cannot determine how to render it into a target language.[citation needed]

In the October 2011 Journal of Theological Studies, Brian J. Wright and Tim Ricchuiti[26] reason that the indefinite article in the Coptic translation, of John 1:1, has a qualitative meaning. Many such occurrences for qualitative nouns are identified in the Coptic New Testament, including 1 John 1:5 and 1 John 4:8. Moreover the indefinite article is used to refer to God in Deuteronomy 4:31 and Malachi 2:10.

Coptic scholar George Horner renders the Sahidic Coptic of John 1:1c as "and [a] God was the word," while his apparatus mentions, "Square brackets imply words used by the Coptic and not required by the English".[27]


"In the beginning (arche) was the Word (logos)" may be compared with:

  • Luke 1:2
"Even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning (arche) were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word (logos)" (KJV)[28]
  • 1 John 1:1
"That which was from the beginning (arche), which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word (logos) of life." (KJV)[29]

"...was God (Theós)" may be compared with:

  • Acts 28:6
"But they were expecting that he was going to swell up or suddenly drop dead. So after they had waited a long time and had seen nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and said he was a god (theón)." (NET)[30]
"Howbeit they looked when he should have swollen, or fallen down dead suddenly: but after they had looked a great while, and saw no harm come to him, they changed their minds, and said that he was a god (theón)." (DNKJB)[31]
"Howbeit they looked when he should have swollen, or fallen down dead suddenly: but after they had looked a great while, and saw no harm come to him, they changed their minds, and said that he was a god (theón)." (KJB)[32]
Biblos Interlinear Bible:[33]
hoi de prosedokōn auton mellein pimprasthai ē katapiptein aphnō nekron
οἱ δὲ προσεδόκων αὐτὸν μέλλειν πίμπρασθαι καταπίπτειν ἄφνω νεκρόν
- but they were expecting him to be going to become inflamed or to fall down suddenly dead
epi poly de autōn prosdokōntōn kai theōrountōn mēden atopon eis auton ginomenon
ἐπὶ πολὺ δὲ αὐτῶν προσδοκώντων καὶ θεωρούντων μηδὲν ἄτοπον εἰς αὐτὸν γινόμενον
after a while great however they expecting and seeing nothing amiss to him happening
metabalomenoi elegon auton einai theon
μεταβαλόμενοι ἔλεγον αὐτὸν εἶναι θεόν
having changed their opinion said he was a god
Scriveners Textus Receptus 1894:[34]
οι δε προςεδοκων αyτον μελλειν πιμπραςθαι η καταπιπτειν αφνω νεκρον
hoi de prosedokOn auton mellein pimprasthai E katapiptein aphnO nekron
επι πολυ δε αyτων προςδοκωντων και θεωρουντων μηδεν ατοπον εις αυτον γινομενον
epi polu de autOn prosdokOntOn kai theOrountOn mEden atopon eis auton ginomenon
μεταβαλλομενοι ελεγον θεον αyτων ειναι
metaballomenoi elegon theon auton einai
after-CASTING THEY-said god him TO-BE


The Greek word λόγος or logos is a word with various meanings. It is often translated into English as "Word" but can also mean thought, speech, account, meaning, reason, proportion, principle, standard, or logic, among other things. It has varied use in the fields of philosophy, analytical psychology, rhetoric and religion.


Of the Gospels, John has the highest explicit Christology. Here Jesus is the only begotten Son of God, the Way, the Truth, the Life, the True Vine, etc. In 1:1, John identifies Jesus as the Logos, that which made the existence of the created world possible.

In orthodox Christian understanding of John's Christology, the conception that Jesus Christ is the Logos has been important in establishing the doctrine of Jesus' divinity, as well as that of the Trinity, as set forth in the Chalcedonian Creed.

The debate about the nature of Christ from the first century through the Council of Chalcedon in 451 CE must be understood in light of the pervasive world view of Platonic dualism. Platonism is normally divided into four periods: Old Academy (347-267 BCE), New Academy (267-80 BCE), Middle Platonism (80BCE-250 CE), and Neoplatonism (250 CE through the Reformation).[35][36]

Some scholars of the Bible[who?] have suggested that John made creative use of double meaning in the word "Logos" to communicate to both Jews, who were familiar with the Wisdom tradition in Judaism, and Hellenic polytheism, especially followers of Philo, often called Hellenistic Judaism. Each of these two groups had its own history associated with the concept of the Logos, and each could understand John's use of the term from one or both of those contexts. Especially for the Hellenists, however, John turns the concept of the Logos on its head when he claimed "the Logos became flesh and dwelt among us" (v. 14).[citation needed]

Gordon Clark translated Logos as "Logic" in the opening verses of the Gospel: "In the beginning was the Logic, and the Logic was with God and the Logic was God." He meant to imply by this translation that the laws of logic were contained in the Bible itself and were therefore not a secular principle imposed on the Christian worldview.

Following Jesuit translations of the 18th Century, today most Chinese Bible translations use the word "Tao"[37] in John 1:1 to translate "Logos", following the use as "Idea" in Taoism.[38]

Alternative views

In unitarian Christology there are other interpretations of John 1:1. In the commentaries on John ch.1 by Lelio Sozzini (Zurich, c.1559)[39] and his nephew Fausto Sozzini (Lyons, c.1562)[40] the "word" being "made flesh" is taken as a reference to the virgin birth, and not to the personal pre-existence of Christ. The passages in the New Testament referring to the Logos were explained by Fausto Sozzini as relating to the foreknown work of Christ as the author of the new creation, not as relating to the "old" Genesis creation.[41] Fausto Sozzini aimed to "completely de-Platonize" the reading of John 1:1-15.[42]

See also

For a comparison with the opening verse of the Hebrew Bible, see Genesis 1:1.


  1. See verses 14-17: "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John bore witness about him, and cried out, "This was he of whom I said, 'He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.'")... For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ."
  2. "Commentary on the Whole Bible Volume V (Matthew to John) by Matthew Henry". Retrieved 2015-11-09.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 The Greek English New Testament. Christianity Today. 1975 Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "CT" defined multiple times with different content
  4. Nestle Aland Novum Testamentum Graece Read NA28 online
  6. Harris, Murray J. ;Jesus as God: The New Testament Use of Theos in Reference to Jesus, 1992. <Murray J. Harris. Baker Books, pub. SBN 0801021952, p. 69
  7. Eastern / Greek Orthodox Bible, New Testament, 2009, p231.
  8. S. Wuest, Kenneth (1956). New Testament: An Expanded Translation. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. p. 209. ISBN 0-8028-1229-5.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. 70 non trinitarian translations of John 1:1
  10. David A. Reed. "How Semetic Was John? Rethinking the Hellenistic Background to John 1:1." Anglican Theological Review, Fall 2003, Vol. 85 Issue 4, p709
  11. William Arnold III, Colwell's Rule and John 1:1[dead link] at "You could only derive a Trinitarian interpretation from John 1:1 if you come to this passage with an already developed Trinitarian theology. If you approached it with a strict Monotheism (which is what I believe John held to) then this passage would definitely support such a view."
  12. Beduhn in Truth in Translation: Accuracy and Bias in English Translations of the New Testament chapter 11 states: "Translators of the KJV, NRSV, NIV, NAB, New American Standard Bible, AB, Good News Bible and LB all approached the text at John 1:1 already believing certain things about the Word...and made sure that the translations came out in accordance with their beliefs.... Ironically, some of these same scholars are quick to charge the NW translation with "doctrinal bias" for translating the verse literally, free of KJV influence, following the sense of the Greek. It may very well be that the NW translators came to the task of translating John 1:1 with as much bias as the other translators did. It just so happens that their bias corresponds in this case to a more accurate translation of the Greek."
  13. Dr. J. R. Mantey: "It is neither scholarly nor reasonable to translate John 1:1 'The Word was a god.'"
  14. Dr. Bruce M. Metzger of Princeton (Professor of New Testament Language and Literature): "As a matter of solid fact, however, such a rendering is a frightful mistranslation. It overlooks entirely an established rule of Greek grammar which necessitates the rendering "...and the Word was God."—see chapter IV point 1.
  15. Dr. Samuel J. Mikolaski of Zurich, Switzerland: "It is monstrous to translate the phrase 'the Word was a god.'"
  16. Ben Witherington III, The Living Word of God, 2007, Baylor University Press, pp. 211-213.
  17. Dr. Jason BeDuhn (of Northern Arizona University) in regard to the Kingdom Interlinear's appendix that gives the reason why the NWT favoured a translation of John 1:1 as saying the Word was not "God" but "a god" said: "In fact the KIT [Appendix 2A, p.1139] explanation is perfectly correct according to the best scholarship done on this subject.."
  18. Murray J. Harris has written: "Accordingly, from the point of view of grammar alone, [QEOS HN hO LOGOS] could be rendered "the Word was a god,...." -Jesus As God, 1992, p. 60.
  19. C. H. Dodd says: "If a translation were a matter of substituting words, a possible translation of [QEOS EN hO LOGOS]; would be, "The Word was a god". As a word-for-word translation it cannot be faulted."
  20. Origen, Commentary on John, Book II, chap. 2
  21. Colwell
  22. Wallace Greek Grammar NT syntaxThe Journal of Theological Studies, NS, Vol. 62, Pt 2, October 2011 BRIAN J. WRIGHT Jesus as God: The New Testament Use of Theos in Reference to Jesus p.51-71 author|Murray J. Harris
  23. A Summary of Colwell's Rule 19 Nov. 2009
  24. Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament
  25. David Barron (an anti-Trinitarian Seventh-day Adventist) (2011). John 1:1 Non-Trinitarian - The Nature and Deity of Christ. Retrieved 2011-10-05.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  26. The Journal of Theological Studies, NS, Vol. 62, Pt 2, October 2011
  27. Coptic John 1:1: Another Lie to Justify the NWT?
  28. David L. Jeffrey A Dictionary of biblical tradition in English literature 1992 Page 460 " his reference to "eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word" (Luke 1:2) he is certainly speaking of the person as well as the words and actions of Jesus"
  29. Dwight Moody Smith First, Second, and Third John 1991 Page 48 "Of course, were it not for the Gospel, it would not be so obvious to us that "the word of life" in 1 John 1:1 is Jesus Christ. Strikingly, only in the prologue of each is the logos to be identified with Jesus."
  30. New English Translation!bible/Acts+28
  31. Divine Name King James Bible
  32. King James Version
  35. Edwin Moore: Neoplatonism in The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, available at [1].
  36. J.M. Dillion: "Plato/Platonism," in The dictionary of New Testament Background, ed. by Craig A. Evans and Stanley E. Porter, (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2000).
  37. The dictionary definition of at Wiktionary
  38. Amy Golahny - Points of contact: crossing cultural boundaries 2004 Page 38 "By way of contrast, most eighteenth-century translations in China were theological works, and Jesuits turned instead to translating ... ultimately "to find God" for the Jesuits and "to fathom principles" of the Tao for the Chinese."
  39. Sozzini, Lelio; Brevis explicatio in primum Iohannis caput published posthumously in De falsa et vera unius Dei Patri, filii, et spiritus sancti 1568, Alba Iulia
  40. Sozzini, Fausto; Brevis explicatio in primum Iohannis caput Amsterdam 1565? also published Alba Iulia 1568, by Francis David in his Refutatio propositionum Melii but misattributed as a second version of the commentary by Lelio Sozzini.
  41. Robert Lawrence Ottley The Doctrine of the Incarnation 2009, Page 322 "The passages in the New Testament referring to the Logos were explained by Socinus to relate to the predestined work of the Redeemer as the author of the new moral creation."
  42. Wilhelm Schmidt-Biggemann, Anja Hallacker Apokalypse und Philologie: Wissensgeschichten und Weltentwürfe der 2007 Page 86 "Es ist klar, dass Sozzini unter diesen Bedingungen eine eigenständige Logos-Theologie nicht akzeptieren kann. Er versucht vielmehr, den Prolog des Johannesevangeliums vollständig zu entplatonisieren."