Almost every person reading this article should be able to recall a time when Jehovah’s Witnesses came knocking at his or her door to proselytize. Anyone who took the time to interact with the Witnesses at their door should have noticed that the Jehovah’s Witness sect has a very peculiar doctrinal stance that separates them from orthodox Christians -Jehovah’s Witnesses do not believe that Jesus is God. This doctrinal stance is perpetrated in the New World Translation of the Bible, which is published by the official Jehovah’s Witness publishing source, The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. The New World Translation renders John 1:1 as follows:
“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god.”
This particular rendering of John 1:1 is almost completely unique to the Watchtower translation of the John. It is markedly different from almost every other English translation of the same biblical verse. Some examples from the most popular English translation of the Bible are as follows:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” NASB
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” KJV
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” HCSB
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” ESV
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” NRSV
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” NIV
Each of the translations listed above are “committee translations”. A committee translation of the Bible is a translation completed by a group effort of Hebrew and Biblical scholars. By using a group of scholars, committee translations are insulated from the theological prejudices of individual translators. Renderings of Greek and Hebrew verses with ambiguous English meanings are the result of scholarly collaboration and not the hypothesis of a single individual, no matter how credentialed he might be. According to the Watchtower Bible and Society, the New World Translation is a committee translation. However, the names of the men who participated in the translation of the New World version of the Bible have been kept secret since its publication. No one outside of the highest echelons of the Watchtower can verify that any of these bible translators are actual biblical scholars. This includes nearly every Jehovah’s Witnesses who goes out knocking on doors. To the contrary, the names of the men who translated the other English Bible versions listed above are well-known and their credentials as scholars of Hebrew and Greek are well-attested. These biblical scholars did not classify the Word as “a god” in John 1:1, whereas the Watchtower translators did. Why?
Jehovah’s Witness doctrine holds that the man Jesus was actually an incarnation of the angel Michael, a spirit being who had no body before he was born to the virgin Mary in the first century. According to Jehovah’s witnesses, Michael was the first being ever created by God. John’s gospel refers to Jesus as “the Word”. If Jesus is the angel Michael, then “The Word” cannot be God since Jesus isn’t God but the angel Michael. Thus the New World Translation must render the Greek phrase “Θεὸς ἦν ὁ Λόγος” in John 1:1 as the “the Word was a god”. This is troublesome given that there is no Greek word for the English indefinite article “a”. Jehovah’s Witnesses are well trained on this talking point. Their argument is that the context on John 1:1 demands the indefinite article in English. However, their argument stands at odds with virtually every credible Greek scholar in the western world. If John meant to communicate that “the Word was God” the best Greek phraseology he could have used was the phraseology he actually did use.
Conversely, there are numerous ways John could have clearly communicated in Greek that the Word was a lesser god, an Angel, or Michel. Here they are:
“eis qewn ἦν ὁ Λόγος” – The Word was one of the gods
“Aggelos ἦν ὁ Λόγος” – The world was an angel
“Micahvl ἦν ὁ Λόγος” – The word was Michael
When evangelizing Jehovah’s witnesses, Christians can use this knowledge to help clear Witness minds of cultic preconditioning. Here are suggested steps a Christian can take:
- Ask the Witnesss if he believes Jesus (the Word) was “a god” as their Bible translation indicates.
- Ask the Witness if he believes that Jesus was an angel in the beginning.
- Ask the Witness if he believes that Jesus was Michael in the beginning.
The Witness should answer affirmatively to all of these questions. Then ask the witnesses to help you understand John 1:1.
- Ask the Witness the names of the men who translated the Watchtower Bible. (Either the witness will not know that the names are secret and you will have to tell him or he will know and indicate that they are kept secret out of humility)
- Inform the witness that the names and Greek credentials of the men who translated the NASB, KJV, HCSB, ESV, NRSV, and NIV are well-known and unassailable. (Maybe ask them a question if they’d like to know that their doctor went to medical school or their lawyer went to law school)
- Inform the witness that the translation committees of the translations listed above rendered John 1:1 as “the Word was God”.
- Show the witness the alternate Greek phrases listed above. (The phrases should be hand written as Witnesses often refuse to read religious literature from sources outside The Watchtower.)
- Ask the Witness why he thinks John didn’t use clearer wording if he meant to teach that Jesus was the Angel Michael and not God.
Be prepared for the witnesses to interject with references to Jesus from other places in scripture. They may ask how the Father was “greater than” Jesus or how the Word was “with God” if he was God. These are distractions. Do you best to stick to one subject; the proper translation of John 1:1. Most Witnesses are unfamiliar with Greek and many are generally uneducated (the result of a generation of Witnesses eschewing college because of a failed end-times prediction). Their arguments will not be based on a educated understanding of how Greek works. Making a Jehovah’s Witness doubt the authority or capability of the Watchtower organization could be the first step of leading a Jehovah’s Witness out of their cult an into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ.
For more information on Jehovah’s Witness doctrine and how to witness to them, please see the resources made available by the Watchman Fellowship. It is also advisable to memorize John 1:1 in the Greek.
*Please note that the preceding is my personal opinion. It is not necessarily the opinion of any entity by which I am employed, any church at which I am a member, any church which I attend, or the educational institution at which I am enrolled. Any copyrighted material displayed or referenced is done under the doctrine of fair use.