just some thoughts from Bruce Metzger
Although this article is designed to point out several of the more flagrant errors in the teaching of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, it must not be concluded that they have nothing to teach the established churches. Obviously the self-sacrificing zeal in propagating their beliefs is a challenge to many nominal church members. Jehovah’s Witnesses are, so to speak, “in good and regular standing” as long as they seek opportunity to witness. Likewise their diligence in searching the Scriptures (albeit to seek support for a prearranged system) puts to shame the indifferent ignorance of the Bible which characterizes a large number of professed Christians. These and certain other features which the Witnesses share with the early Christians of apostolic times might well be imitated by all of God’s people.
Besides refusing to take into account the evidence set forth above, the Jehovah’s Witnesses have incorporated in their translation of the New Testament several quite erroneous renderings of the Greek.
1. In the New World Translation the opening verse of the Gospel according to John is mistranslated as follows: “Originally the Word was, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god.” A footnote which is added to the first word, “Originally,” reads, “Literally, In (At) a beginning.” By using here the indefinite article “a” the translators have overlooked the well-known fact that in Greek grammar nouns may be definite for various reasons, whether or not the Greek definite article is present. A prepositional phrase, for example, where the definite article is not expressed, can be quite definite in Greek, 18 as in fact it is in John 1:1. The customary translation, “In the beginning was the Word,” is therefore to be preferred to either alternative suggested by the New World translators.
Far more pernicious in this same verse is the rendering, “… and the Word was a god,” with the following footnote: “‘A god.’ In contrast with ‘the God.’” It must be stated quite frankly that, if the Jehovah’s Witnesses take this translation seriously, they are polytheists. In view of the additional light which is available during this age of Grace, such a representation is even more reprehensible than were the heathenish, polytheistic errors into which ancient Israel was so prone to fall.
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.” Some years ago Dr. Ernest Cadman Colwell of the University of Chicago pointed out in a study of the Greek definite article that, “A definite predicate nominative has the article when it follows the verb; it does not have the article when it precedes the verb. … 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. The absence of the article [before θεος] 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, ‘My Lord and my God’].” 19
In a lengthy Appendix in the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ translation, which was added to support the mistranslation of John 1:1, there are quoted thirty-five other passages in John where the predicate noun has the definite article in Greek. 20 These are intended to prove that the absence of the article in John 1:1 requires that θεος must be translated “a god.” None of the thirty-five instances is parallel, however, for in every case the predicate noun stands after the verb, and so, according to Colwell’s rule, properly has the article. So far, therefore, from being evidence against the usual translation of John 1:1, these instances add confirmation to the full enunciation of the rule of the Greek definite article.
Furthermore, the additional references quoted in the New World Translation from the Greek of the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament, 21 in order to give further support to the erroneous rendering in the opening verse of John, are exactly in conformity with Colwell’s rule, and therefore are added proof of the accuracy of the rule. The other passages adduced in the Appendix are, for one reason or another, not applicable to the question at issue. One must conclude, therefore, that no sound reason has been advanced for altering the traditional rendering of the opening verse of John’s Gospel, “… and the Word was God.”