JOHN 1:1 AND THE WATCHTOWER DISHONESTY
“Accuracy of statement. Jehovah’s Witnesses are an organization of truth. We should want to speak the truth and be absolutely accurate in every detail at all times. This should be so not only as regards doctrine, but also in our quotations, what we say about others or how we represent them, also in matters involving scientific data or news events” (“Theocratic Ministry School Guidebook” p.110).
The Watchtower Society does not agree with the historic Christian faith on any doctrine of fundamental importance. In their efforts to strengthen their position they have published their own translation of the Bible called the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures (NWT). They made the claim that it was free of the sectarian bias found in translations made by “Christendom’s” scholars.
However, in their renderings, and especially at John 1:1, they have taken a position that is at great odds with the accepted understanding of the text. Consequently, they have resorted to quoting non-Witness scholars in such a way as to justify themselves. When asked or shown the quote many of these scholars have been outraged that their statements have been so abused.
The question that must be answered is why would the Watchtower Society stand firmly in favor of honesty and exactness regarding quotations as they did in the School Guidebook but then regularly misquote scholars to support their positions?
The first point that should be made is that none of the “translators” of the NWT had degrees in the Biblical languages of Greek and Hebrew. Only Fred Franz had any “knowledge” of these languages, but under oath in a trial in Scotland in 1954 he refused to attempt a translation of Genesis 2:4. The translation committee would not publish their names saying they did not want the “honor.” However, the writers of the New Testament books signed their names and we know they were not seeking honor. But it is not always honor that one receives for his work!
When Jehovah’s Witnesses are told that none of the translators had any scholarly credentials the reply might be that Jesus didn’t have any scholarly credentials either. However, if the translation committee were to do the kind of works Jesus did they would not need credentials. But, because of the kind of work they have done we need to see some credentials to back it up!
The following are some of the clearest examples of dishonest quotation. There are more but for the sake of space these four are cited. The format will be to present the Watchtower’s quote, then the actual quote in context, and any remarks made by the scholar in question regarding his statement.
1) Watchtower letter to David Henke, October 24, 1975, quoting Dr. Phillip Harner, of Heidelberg College, Tiffin, Ohio.
The Watchtower said:
“Note what Mr. Harner writes as to John 1:1: ‘In John 1:1 I think that the noun cannot be regarded as definite.’ Therefore, the Greek at John 1:1 is not overwhelmingly ‘definite’ as Colwell and others maintained so that the text should be rendered in the definite ‘the God.’ Rather, as Harner shows there is the qualitative force possible, hence, warranting ‘a god,’ meaning quality of Godlikeness or a mighty one.”
Dr. Harner actually wrote:
“As an aid in understanding the verse it will be helpful to ask what John might have written as well as what he did write. In terms of the types of word-order and vocabulary available to him, it would appear that John could have written any of the following:
A. ho Logos en ho theos (the Word was the God);
B. Theos en ho Logos (God was the Word);
C. ho Logos Theos en (the Word God was);
D. ho Logos en Theos (the Word was a god);
E. ho Logos en Theios (the Word was divine);
. . . Clause D, with the verb preceding an anarthrous (without the article, ‘the’) predicate, would probably mean that the logos was ‘a god’ or a divine being of some kind, belonging to the general category of theos but as a distinct being from ho theos
. . . John evidently wished to say something about the logos that was other than A and more than D and E . . . But in all these cases the English reader might not understand exactly what John was trying to express. Perhaps the clause could be translated, ‘the Word had the same nature as God.’ This would be one way of representing John’s thought, which is, as I understand it, that ho logos (the Word), no less than ho theos (the God), had the nature of theos (God).” (JOURNAL OF BIBLICAL LITERATURE, Vol. 92, 1973, pp. 84, 85, 87; parentheses added for clarify, emphasis mine).
In this example the Watchtower has Dr. Harner saying that Jesus
is “a god” when Dr. Harner actually said Jesus is “more than” a
god. They have him also saying that theos in John 1:1c should be
viewed as “qualitative” so that, again, Jesus is only “a god”
whereas Dr. Harner said that Jesus had the nature of God no less
than God Himself. Yes, John 1:1c is qualitative as Dr. Harner
says, but they have perverted the force, or degree, of that
quality. John is saying that Jesus is as much deity, divinity,
God, as God the Father is deity, divinity, or God.
2) The Watchtower, May 15, 1977, page 320, quoting Dr. William
Barclay, University of Glasgow, Scotland.
(Note: The Watchtower quote is provided in its entirety, but
where they have by using an ellipsis (…) omitted a crucial
statement by Dr. Barclay it is noted in parentheses.)
The Watchtower said:
“. . . the noted Bible translator William Barclay writes” ‘Now
normally, except for special reasons, Greek nouns always have the
definite article in front of them . . . When a Greek noun has not
got the article in front of it, it becomes rather a description
rather than an identification, and has the character of an
adjective rather than of a noun. We can see exactly the same in
English. If I say: ‘James is man,’ then I am simply describing
James as human, and the word man has become a description and not
an identification. If John had said ho theos en ho logos, using
a definite article in front of both nouns, then he would
definitely have identified the logos (the Word) with God, but
because he has no definite article in front of theos it becomes a
description, and more of an adjective than a noun. The
translation then becomes, to put it rather clumsily, ‘The Word
was in the same class as God, belonged to the same order of being
as God,” (omitted text) . . . John is not here identifying the
Word with God. To put it very simply, he does not say that Jesus
was God’.” (The Watchtower was quoting from Barclay’s book, MANY
WITNESSES, ONE LORD, 1963, pp. 23, 24).
The omitted text said, “The only modern translator who fairly and
squarely faced this problem is Kenneth Wuest, who has: ‘The Word
was as to his essence essential deity.’ But it is here that the
NEB has brilliantly solved the problem with the absolutely
accurate rendering: ‘What God was the Word was’.”
Further in his book Dr. Barclay said on page 27, “. . . God
himself took this human flesh upon him.”
Dr. Donald Shoemaker of Biola College showed the use of his
statements to Dr. Barclay and received this in reply. “The
Watchtower article has, by judicious cutting, made me say the
opposite of what I meant to say. What I was meaning to say, as
you well know, is that Jesus is . . . of the same stuff as God,
that is of the same being as God, but the way the Watchtower has
printed my stuff has simply left the conclusion that Jesus is not
God in a way that suits themselves.” (Letter dated 26th August,
3) The Watchtower, January 15, 1975, page 63, quoting “The
Gospel According to St. John,” page 3, by Dr. B. F. Westcott.
The Watchtower said:
“Then, too, in the phrase rendered ‘the Word was a god,’ the term
‘god’ is a predicate noun that describes ‘the Word.’ Says the
noted scholar Westcott, coproducer of the famous Westcott and
Hort Greek text of the Christian Scriptures: ‘It describes the
nature of the Word and does not identify His Person’.”
The Watchtower has started their quote in the middle of Dr.
Westcott’s statement. The full statement, before and after the
quoted text says: “the Word was God. The predicate (God) stands
emphatically first, as in iv. 24. It is necessarily without the
article (Theos not ho Theos) inasmuch as it describes the nature
of the Word and does not identify His Person. It would be pure
Sabellianism to say ‘the Word was ho theos.’ No idea of
inferiority of nature is suggested by the form of expression,
which simply affirms the true deity of the Word.”
Again, the watchtower has quoted a scholar as saying the opposite
of what he believes and has actually said.
4) The Appendix, page 1159, of the KINGDOM INTERLINEAR
TRANSLATION OF THE GREEK SCRIPTURES quoting Dr. A.T. Robertson’s,
The Watchtower said:
“On page 761 Robertson’s GRAMMAR says: ‘Among the ancient
writers Ho Theos was used of the god of absolute religion in
distinction from the mythological gods.’ So, too, John 1:1,2
uses Ho Theos to distinguish Jehovah God from the Word (Logos) as
a god . . .”
However, Robertson went on to say, “In the N.T. however, while we
have Pros Ton Theon (John 1:1,2), it is far more common to find
simply Theos, especially in the Epistles. But the word is
treated like a proper name and may have it (Romans 3:5) or not
This completely reverses the Watchtower’s statement which makes
it seem as if Robertson is laying down an absolute rule.
The Watchtower said again:
“In further proof that the omitting of the definite article in
the predicate of John 1:1 by the apostle was deliberately meant
to show a difference, we quote what Dr. Robertson’s GRAMMAR says
on page 767: (i) NOUNS IN THE PREDICATE. These may have the
DR. A. T. Robertson’s GRAMMAR went on to say in the very next
sentence, “As already explained, the article is not essential to
speech. It is, however, invaluable as a means of gaining
precision, e.g. Theos En Ho Logos. As a rule the predicate is
without the article, even when the subject uses it.”
It should be pointed out to Jehovah’s Witnesses that we are not
limited to two choices in rendering John 1:1c, “a god,” or “the
God.” A third option seems to be ignored by them though the vast
majority of translations render it in this way. That rendering
is simply “God.” Theos used as it is without the definite
article has a qualitative force as Drs. Harner, Barclay and
Westcott have said. Coming at the first of the clause as it does
in Greek gives it emphasis. In a comment to the author penned by
Dr. Randolph Yeager, he said, “Thank God for the emphasis on
Theos in John 1:1, ‘The Word was GOD!”‘
With the immediate context (vs. 3) saying the Logos is the
Creator of everything, and not even one thing came into existence
apart from Him, then Theos must be understood as meaning divinity
in the fullest sense as Yahweh is divine (Moffatt, Goodspeed), or
The larger context of John includes the confession of Thomas that
Jesus is his Lord and God. Literally in the Greek Thomas says
Jesus is “Ho Theos Mou,” “the God of me.” Here the definite
article is used with Theos in an inspired statement regarding
Jesus. Thus Jesus is just as much God, deity, or divinity as God
the Father is God, deity or divinity.
The above four examples of misquotes are certainly not
exhaustive. There are many others. Among them are the use of
Johannes Greber, a former Catholic priest turned spiritualist,
who “translated” the New Testament with the aid of his wife, a
medium, and demonic spirits. The Watchtower first cited his “a
god” rendering of John 1:1 as scholastic support for their NWT
rendering in a 1962 booklet, “The Word Who Is He? According To
John,” (Page 5). However, the Watchtower had just six years
previously exposed this man and his “New Testament” to all
Jehovah’s Witnesses as being demonically guided (Watchtower, Feb.
15, 1956, pages 110, 111). Then when he became useful as a
“scholar” this fact was ignored. This has been thoroughly
documented in many publications.
CONCLUSION: The Watchtower Society said it best, “Inaccuracies
that are recognized by an audience raise questions as to the
authority of the speaker on other points, perhaps even calling in
question the truth of the message itself” (THEOCRATIC MINISTRY
SCHOOL GUIDEBOOK, page 110).
For further information on related topics we recommend the New
Light notebook. Information on it and other materials can be
obtained from the address given below.
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