The following article was originally published in the July/August and September/October 1986 issue of The Dividing Line Theological Journal. The article is presented in its entirety as it was published.



Anyone who has talked to Jehovah’s Witnesses about the subject of the Person of Jesus Christ has debated the proper translation of John 1:1: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (NASB) It is well known that the Witnesses’ Bible version translates the last part of John 1:1: “the Word was a god.” (NWT) However, we have noticed in a number of encounters with Jehovah’s Witnesses that there is a tendency to appeal to other translations to support their interpretation. Even the Watchtower Society does this at times. This can be seen in You Can Live Forever In Paradise On Earth, page 40: “So we find that some translations of verse 1 give the correct idea of the original language when they read: ‘The Word was with God, and the Word was divine,’ or was ‘a god,’ that is, the Word was a powerful godlike one. (An American Translation).” (Emphasis ours)

The New Testament of An American Translation was translated by Edgar J. Goodspeed. Because of his translation of John 1:1 many have felt Goodspeed did not believe the New Testament teaches that Jesus is God. However, many of the disputed passages dealing with the Person of Christ read quite orthodox in Goodspeed’s translation. (See John 14:14, Acts 20:28, Titus 2:13, 2 Peter 1:1). Still we have the question: Did Goodspeed believe John 1:1 taught the Incarnation as traditional Christianity teaches?

The Witnesses’ Live Forever book quoted above equates Goodspeed’s “the Word was divine” with “the Word was a powerful godlike one.” What did Goodspeed mean by “divine”? “Divine” can mean many things. One’s dancing partner can be divine. Aren’t angels divine? Even the Witnesses’ New World Translation calls Jehovah the “Divine One” at Isaiah 46:9. Goodspeed died several years ago, but we would like to reproduce a section from one of his books that clearly shows he believed John 1:1 taught the Incarnation:

faith in Jesus as the Christ, and thus to enable them to have life through his name.2 This idea of the life to be derived from Jesus is prominent in the whole Gospel. Christ is the source of life of a real and lasting kind, and it can only be obtained through mystic contact with him. This is because Jesus is the full revelation of God in human life. This doctrine, which we call the Incarnation, is fundamental in the Gospel of John: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God ….And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory….I am come that they may have life and that they may
have it abundantly.”

(This reproduction is taken from his The Story of the New Testament, pg 117. Originally published in 1916. The book went through several printings and was revised and published in a later volume entitled The Story of the Bible. No revision was made to this section).

Not only did Goodspeed say John 1:1 taught the Incarnation, he also gave the traditional rendering of John 1:1: “the Word was God”! For the Watchtower Society to say Goodspeed’s translation “the Word was divine” only means “a powerful godlike one” is misrepresentation (hopefully out of ignorance). In talking to a Witness about this you might ask: “What did Goodspeed mean by ‘divine’? Is the Word divine as Jehovah is divine (Isaiah 46:9), or is he only godlike?” Then you might take the Witness to John 20:28 where Goodspeed translates Thomas’
words to Christ: “My Master and my God!” You might also show a copy of Goodspeed’s statement in The Story of the New Testament.


A similar misrepresentation about the word “divine” occurs in the July 1, 1986 Watchtower. A footnote on page 31 cites John L. McKenzie’s Dictionary of the Bible. This time their misrepresentation appears deliberate. This is how the Watchtower presents the quote from McKenzie:

* “The title ho theos [the God, or God], which now designates the Father as a personal reality, is not applied in the N[ew] T[estament] to Jesus Himself; Jesus is the Son of God (of ho theos)- Jn 1:1 should rigorously be translated ‘the word was with the God [-the Father], and the word was a divine being.’”-Dictionary of the Bible (1965), by John L. McKenzie, S.J.

Now compare this with what McKenzie actually says. The portion quoted by the Watchtower we will italicize. (Other especially interesting parts we will print in boldface type). This can be found on pages 317 and 318 of his book:

“The revelation of God in Jesus Christ does not consist merely in the prophetic word as in the OT, but in an identity between God and Jesus Christ. Jn 1:1-18 expresses this by contrasting the word spoken by the prophets with the word incarnate in Jesus. In Jesus the personal reality of God is manifested in visible and tangible form. In the words of Jesus and in much of the rest of the NT the God of Israel (Gk ho theos) is the Father of Jesus Christ. It is for this reason that the title ho theos, which now designates the Father as a personal reality, is not applied in the NT to Jesus Himself; Jesus is the Son of God (of ho theos). This is a matter of usage and not of rule, and the noun is applied to Jesus a few times. Jn 1:1 should rigorously be translated ‘the word was with the God [=the Father], and the word was a divine being.’ Thomas invokes Jesus with the titles which belong to the Father, ‘My Lord and my God’ (Jn 20:28). ‘The glory of our great God and Savior which is to appear can be the glory of no other than Jesus (Tt 2:13). And the identity of Jesus and the Father is expressed clearly without the title in Jn 10:30, “I and the Father are one.’”

A few lines later McKenzie adds this statement: “It should be understood that this usage of ho theos touches the personal distinction of the Father and the Son and not of the divinity i.e., the divine sonship of Jesus Christ.” This is a topic which the Watchtower Society likes to confuse in people’s minds. Traditional Christianity teaches that there is a distinction between the Father and the Son. The Son is not the Father, nor is the Father the Son. There is a distinction in persons. Yet, traditional Christianity also teaches that both the Father and the Son share the nature and unity that belong to Deity.

What McKenzie was emphasizing is the distinction between the Father and the Son. He is not an Arian (teaching that Christ is merely a creature, not Deity). In fact he makes it clear he believes in the Deity of Christ. (Of course the Society did not quote that part). McKenzie is merely pointing out that ho theos (God) in general usage is reserved for the Father. And he is careful to point out that there are plenty of indications of the Deity of Christ nonetheless. True, he says John 1:1 should be translated “divine being.’’ But notice he does not say ’’divine creature.” The rest of the quote shows he means “divine” with a higher meaning. The Word is no less divine than the Father is divine.


Professor Philip B. Harner in an article in the March 1973 Journal of Biblical Literature pointed out the problem of translating “divine’’ at John 1:1. He suggests that the word “divine” is capable of being misunderstood: “But the English language is not as versatile at this point as Greek, and we can avoid misunderstanding the English phrase only if we are aware of the particular force of the Greek expression that it represents.” (Page 86) Harner is apparently saying that “divine” at John 1:1 would be an inadequate translation if one had the idea of “godlike” or “mighty one” in mind. But the word “divine” would not be inappropriate if one understood the Word to be divine in the same sense as God (ho theos) is divine. In a footnote on page 86 Harner adds: “John evidently wished to say that the logos [“word”] was no less than theos, just as ho theos (by implication) had the nature of theos.”

What is Harner’s suggestion for the best translation of John 1:1? He suggests: “The Word had the same nature as God.” (Page 87) Harner clearly puts the Word on a par with God. The Word does not have the nature of a creature. No creature could have “the same nature” as God! But, Jesus Christ as the pre-incarnate Word had the same nature as God. What a statement for the Deity of our Lord!

In conclusion, we would like to quote a short piece of prose from Ignatius, an early Christian writer. Tradition says he was a disciple of John the apostle. Writing shortly before 117 A.D. he speaks of Jesus Christ this way:

“There is one physician, of flesh and of spirit, born and unborn, God become incarnate, true life in death, sprung from Mary and from God, first subject to suffering and then free from suffering, Jesus Christ our Lord.”

From Ignatius’ letter to the Ephesians (7:2) in The Apostolic Fathers, translated by Edgar J. Goodspeed . Published by Harper & Brothers, 1950.


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