Dismantling the Trinitarian perception of John 1:1

A fresh new look at John 1:1 from a fresh new translation of the whole New Testament by the eminent scholar, Prof. Sir (Dr.) Anthony F. Buzzard.

by Ibn Anwar, BHsc (Hons), MCollT

The following traditional rendering of the beginning of the Johannine Prologue comes from the New King James Version.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1)

These words are most probably regarded as the most profound words ever spoken by the anonymous New Testament author of the fourth gospel (that we conveniently dub “John”) that Trinitarians are most excited by, because they see in this verse the full revelation of Jesus’ divinity and his second personhood in the Trinity.

The most obvious stumbling block for the Trinitarian interpretation is that the verse, as any ordinary person can see, does not actually say that the “word” is Jesus Christ. This good point is emphatically noted by Trinitarian systematic theologian at Fuller Theological Seminary Dr. Colin Brown. Commenting on John 1:1, he writes:
“It is a common but patent misreading of the opening of John’s Gospel to read it as if it said: “In the beginning was the Son, and the Son was with God, and the Son was God” (John 1:1).” [1]

Over 50 translations of the Bible as noted by Buzzard do not presume that John 1:1 speaks of a second person in a Triune Godhead. [2] So he is clearly not a lone wolf in his view that the ‘logos’ in John 1:1 is the mind or the plan of God rather than a being or an entity existing pre-eternally with the Father as Jesus, the Son.

“For 50 translations which did not assume that logos was a second Person, see Focus on the Kingdom of July, 2004, at restorationfellowship.org. These translations give us the pronoun “it”, not “he” for word.”

The ordained Anglican priest and Cambridge theologian, Prof. Cupitt writes:
“John’s words ought to be retranslated: “The Word was with God the Father and the Word was the Father’s own Word,” to stress that the Word is not an independent divine being, but is the only God’s own self-expression. If all this is correct, then even John’s language about Jesus still falls within the scope of the King-ambassador model.” [3]

Andrew Cooper Fix points out that the archaic Reijnier Rooleeuw (published in 1694) translation of John 1:1 reflects a Socinian Christological view of Jesus that is antithetical to the Trinitarian view of the verse:
“And the word was a god.” [4]

Firstly, we point out that it is a documented fact, that the Sahidic Coptic MSS renders John 1:1c as “the word was a god” with “a god” in the “indefinite form.” If the Sahidic community had wanted to convey the Supreme Deity in the definite form, they most certainly had the grammatical tools to do so, but they chose to specifically write John 1:1c as “the word was a god” despite being Trinitarians themselves. This indicates that they saw the word as distinct from the father and that it did not share the same quality of Supreme Deity. If the Sahidic Coptic Christians had believed that the Word shared in equal divinity with the Father, they would certainly have designated the word with the phrase “the god” (with the definite article) and not as “a god.” The original Sahidic Coptic script is as follows:

ϨΝ ΤЄϨΟΥЄΙΤЄ ΝЄϤϢΟΟΠ ΝϬΙΠϢΑϪЄ, ΑΥѠ ΠϢΑϪЄ ΝЄϤϢΟΟΠ ΝΝΑϨΡΜ ΠΝΟΥΤЄ. ΑΥѠ ΝЄΥΝΟΥΤЄ ΠЄ ΠϢΑϪЄ

The key section that is understood as “and the word was a god” in the Sahidic Coptic variant above is “ΑΥѠ ΝЄΥΝΟΥΤЄ ΠЄ ΠϢΑϪЄ.” [5] *

And the German literature is reeked with translations that give credence to Rooleeuw’s rendering. The following is a quick overview of over fourteen different German, Greek Orthodox and English translations, most of which, render John 1:1 in a similar way to the Sahidic Coptic rendering:

(37) Rittenlmeyer, 1938, “selbst ein Gott war das Wort” [itself a God/god was the Word/word]; (38) Lyder Brun (Norw. professor of NT theology), 1945, “Ordert var av guddomsart” [The Word was of divine kind]; (39) Pfaefflin, 1949, “war von gottlicher Wucht” (godlike Being/being had the Word/word]; (41) Smit, 1960, “verdensordet var et guddommelig vessen” [ the word of the world was a divine being]; (42) Menge, 1961, “Gott (=gottlichen Wesens) war das Wort” [God (=godlike Being/being) was the Word/word]; (43)Haenehen, 1980, “Gott (von Art) war der Logos” [God (of Kind/kind) was the Logos/logos]; (44) Die Bibel in heutigem Deutsch, 1982, “Er war bei Gott und in allem Gott gleich” [He was with God and in all like God]; (45) Schultz, 1987, “ein Gott (oder: Gott von art) war das Wort” [a God/god (or: God/god of King/kind) was the Word/word]. (47) William Temple, Archbishop of York, 1933, “And the Word was divine”; (48) John Crellius, Latin form of German, 1631, “the Word of Speech was a God”; (49) Greek Orthodox/ Arabic translation, 1983, “the word was with Allah[God] and the word was a god”; (50) Ervin Edward Stringfellow (Prof. of NT Language and Literature/Drake University), 1943, “And the Word was Divine”; (51) Robert Harvey, D. D., 1931 “and the Logos was divine (a divine being).” [6]

Except for Die Bibel in heutigem Deutsch and Schultz in 1987, the rest seem to support the Sahidic Coptic reading and we may also pick up on a rather interesting translation above that is given by the Greek Orthodox Church in their Arabic Bible which renders John 1:1 as “the word was with Allah[God] and the word was a god.” Apart from refuting the falsehood that Allah is a foreign deity that is disdained by Christians (they proclaim God as Allah in this translation), the verse gives credence to the Sahidic Coptic translation. Should it have thought the word to be co-equal with the Father, it would surely have identified the word” as being “God” with a capital “G” which it does not.

The rendering “and the word was a god” finds safe harbour in Archbishop Newcome’s translation and commentary of the New Testament indicating the great probative value that this rendering continue to hold throughout the ages.

“THE WORD was in the beginning, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god.” [7]

Commenting on the third section of John 1, i.e., John 1:1c, he writes:

” and the Word was a god.] “was God,” Newcome. Jesus received a commission as a prophet of the Most High, and was invested with extraordinary miraculous powers. But in the Jewish phraseology they were called gods to whom the word of God came. John x. 35. So Moses is declared to be a god to Pharaoh. Exod. vii. 1. Some translate the passage, God was the Word. q. d. it was not so properly be that spake to men as God that spake to them by him. Cappe, ibid. See John x. 30, compared with xvii. 8, 11, 16; iii. 34; v. 23; xii. 44. Crellius conjectured that the true rendering was, the Word was God’s, q.d. the first teacher of the gospel derived his commission from God. But this conjecture, however plausible, rests upon no authority.” [8]

Newcome cites Crellius (even though what he opines here according to Newcome relies on no authority) who interpreted and understood John 1:1c as saying “the Word” belongs to God, i.e., “the Word was God’s”. This would most certainly rest squarely within the Islamic framework, i.e., ultimately everything belongs to God, but since it is only Crellius’ conjecture, we may simply leave it aside for a moment as an interesting trinket and hang it as a decorative mantelpiece that comes from a non-Christian, extra-Qur’anic source that coincidentally gives credence to what Islam believes.

In Newcome’s understanding of John 1:1, Jesus plays the role of God’s representative, his spokesperson. As a close or intimate ambassador and mouthpiece of God, He revealed Himself by Jesus (“Jesus is so called because God revealed himself or his word by him.”; take note of the preposition which may seem minor, but it does in fact impart a meaning that is significantly different than if it were “God revealed himself or his word IN him” [9]). Newcome does not see John 1:1c as the word being labelled with the exact same epithet as the Father, therefore, making him co-equal and co-eternal as the Father. Instead, he sees this as John’s belief that Jesus is God’s messenger, but because of his supreme position as God’s instrument, he is bestowed the divine title “god” just as Moses is given the exact title in Exodus 7:1.

When John 1:1c is rendered as “a god”, it loses the intensity that is exuded by “God” with a capital “G”, which seems to excite Trinitarians so much, with which they would proclaim the divinity of Jesus. Once John 1:1c is translated in the indefinite form, theos loses its traction as a proof text for deifying Jesus and he now seems more like an agent (a Shaliach), acting on behalf of God just like Moses in Exodus 7:1.

In close, we refer to the ancient Vatican manuscripts, in its literal rendering by the scholar Herman Heinfetter, which reveals how profoundly the “orthodox” rendering of John 1:1 has departed from true monotheism.

“In commencing this Dispensation, the command was existing, i.e., had been spoken, yet the command was with the God, he having to fulfil it, as a God the command was, i.e., had relation to, this God was existing in commencing this Dispensation with the God,” (John 1:1-2)

Commenting on the “logos” which he translates as “the command”
Heinfetter writes, “In vindication of my Translation of this verse, I would inquire. 1st. What Rule, Usage, or Customary Form of Exprssion, does it Ttransgress? 2nd. What better Form of Greek could be employed to express the Sense that I have given, than that which is in the original. 3rd. In relation to the Sense this verse is commonly regarded to afford, I would inquire, Where is there any authority for a Word preceded by the Article in the commencement of a record, without any explicit Definition, being regarded as an Appellation of an Individual, when such Word is not only, not previously well known as an acknowledged Appellation of the Individual, but is, on no other occasion, ever applied as an Appellation of the Individual. To admit such to be the casem is to admit the Article is a nullity. Rev. xix. 13, Is not the same Appellation. It is not, And his name is called the word, but, And his name is called the word of God. To say nothing of its having been written, 28 years afterwards.” [10]

Commenting on his choice translation “A God”, he writes:

“A God. Was this used as an Appellation of Almighty God, the Article would certainly have been expressed before it; its omission therefore determines, that it must be used as an Appellation of some other, and this other, I judge from the context to be what I have expressed in the paraphrase. I judge my view to be somewhat strengthened by the 2nd verse, which would otherwise be mere repetition of the 3rd Clause of the first verse.” [11]

Fear not, I shall try to break down the technicalities that may have blurred your reading of Heinfetter’s translation and interpretation above. In a nutshell, Heinfetter posits that since there is no indication that the word should be described as “the God” or one that shares equal power and majesty with the Father, it is only suitable and fitting that he interprets this “word” as being “a god” with a small “G” whose role was that of God’s “command.” Since the appellation (a god) is without the definite article that is given to the Father, in John 1:1b (ton theon), therefore, it is only fitting that this being, if it is a being, be stripped of the reverence that one would afford the Being in John 1:1b. In short, Heinfetter, rebukes the Trinitarian view that the “word” should be seen as the person “Jesus Christ” or as the “Son of God” who is supposedly “God” in this instance. He is in concert with Colin Brown and Anthony Buzzard after him in the view that Jesus was God’s “grand design” or His “plan” and as such he may correctly be designated the small “g”, “god” just as his brother prophet Moses was designated with in Exodus 7:1.And finally, let us closely consider the latest translation of John 1:1 by the able scholar of the Greek language and New Testament theologian, Sir Anthony F. Buzzard:

“In the beginning there was God’s grand design, and that declaration was with God, related to Him as His project, and it was fully expressive of God Himself.” [12]

In sum, we should not put Jesus on the same pedestal of divinity with the Father as he does not belong there. To place Jesus on equal footing with the Father is to create a usurper to the Divine Throne and Jesus is no usurper. Nor is he an upstart of any kind. He has ever been and shall ever be God’s supreme messenger that walked humbly in God’s shadow and adhered to every letter of His command as an obedient servant, even unto death (after his second coming).

 

Notes:

[1] Brown, C. (1991). Trinity and Incarnation: In Search of Contemporary Orthodoxy, Ex Auditu 7. pp. 87-89

[2] Buzzard, A. F. (2014). The One God, the Father, One Man Messiah Translation: New Testament with Commentary. Restoration Fellowship. p. 305; Proceed to this linkhttp://www.focusonthekingdom.org/translations.htm for an exhaustive list of all FIFTY translations from all the way in the New Testament of William Tyndale of 1534 to B.E. Junkins’ A Fresh Parenthetical Version of the New Testament published in 2002

[3] Cupitt, Don. “The Debate About Christ.” SCM Press, n.d. Web. 23 Feb. 2016.

[4] Fix, A. C. (1991). Prophecy and Reason: The Dutch Collegiants in the Early Enlightenment. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. p. 148

[5] See Jenott, Lance. “The Coptic Gospel of John.” N.p., 2003. Web. 23 Feb. 2016.

* The author Patrick Navas gives an excellent review of the Sahidic variant of John 1:1c:

Therefore, it is all the more strange that insights of the Sahidic Coptic text of John 1:1 are largely ignored by popular Bible translators. Might that be because the Sahidic Coptic Gospel of John translates John 1:1c in a way that is unpopular to many? The Sahidic text renders John 1:1c as auw neunoute pe pshaje, clearly meaning literally “and a god was the Word.” Unlike Koine Greek, Sahidic Coptic has both the definite article, p, and the indefinite article, ou, which may contract to u following the joined verbal prefix ne (i.e., ne ou noute becomes neunoute.) The Coptic text of John 1:1b identifies the first mention of noute as pnoute, “the god”, i.e., God. This corresponds to the Koine Greek text, wherein theos, “god,” has the definite article ho at John 1:1b, i.e., “the Word was with [the] God.”

The Koine Greek text indicates indefiniteness of the word theos in its second mention (John 1:1c) of “god,” by omitting the definite article before it, because Koine Greek had no indefinite article. But Coptic does have an indefinite article. and the text employs the indefinite article at John 1:1c. This makes it clear that in reading the original Greek text, the ancient Coptic translators understood it to say specifically that “the Word was a god.” The early Coptic Christians had a good understanding of both Greek and their own language, and their translation of John’s Koine Greek here is very precise and accurate. Because they actually employed the indefinite article before the Sahidic word “god,” noute, the Sahidic Coptic translation of John 1:1c is more precise than the translation in the Latin Vulgate, since Latin has neither a definite nor an indefinite article. The 6th century Coptic Bohairic version also employs the indefinite article before the Coptic word for “god,”: ne ounouti in the full form ou, because the verbal particle ne is not joined to it, reading: ne ounouti pe picaji, “a god was the Word.”” (Navas, P. (2007). Divine Truth or Human Tradition?: A Reconsideration of the Roman Catholic-Protestant Doctrine of the Trinity in Light of the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures. Indiana: AuthorHouse. p. 309)

[6] Miller, M. H. (2010). The Gospel of John. In Timo Koornstra, Nazarene Commentary: 21st Century Version of the Christian Scriptures A New Translation of the Greek New Testament including over 13, 000 footnotes, interlinear version of Romans with commentary; and a complete study of Matthew, Revelation and Daniel. Xilbris Corporation. p.479

[7] Newcome (1808). The New Testament in an Improved Version Upon the Basis of Archbishop Newcome’s New Translation: With a Corrected Text and Notes Critical and Explanatory. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge and the Practice of Virtue. p. 200

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Heinfetter, H. (1860). A Literal Translation of the Vatican Manuscript’s Gospel According to John, on the Definite Rules of Translation and an English Version of the Same, Followed by the Authorized English Version Collated with the Above-Named English Versions. London: alexander Heylin. p. 7

[11] Ibid. pp. 7-8

[12] Buzzard, A. F. (2014) Ibid. ; And this fresh new translation may be added to the impressive list of fifty authoritative translations of John 1:1, thus making it fifty and one authoritative translations.

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3 Responses to “Dismantling the Trinitarian perception of John 1:1”

  1. KZ says:

    This may just save some people from possible damnation. Keep up with this noble work.

  2. AIBINDIYE ABDUL RAZAKA says:

    Jazakallah khair
    I never found disappointment on this page. I have no doubt that Allah will love you for this brilliant work.Keep us going brother.

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