Q: John 1:1 in the New World Translation (NWT) reads, “In [the] beginning the Word was, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god.” This clearly references Jesus as divine but not God, Himself. Is this an accurate translation?
A: The Greek transliterated is as follows: en arche ēn ho logos, kai ho logos ēn pros ton theon kai theos ēn ho logos.
en arche – in the beginning. En is preposition in, and arche is beginning. It is significant that the definite article (the) is not in the Greek text, but all the English translations translate the article before beginning – even the NWT. This is significant later.
ēn ho logos – was the word. Word order is important in Greek, and notably, the NWT adjusts the word order, whereas the NASB and KJV, for example, are truer to the Greek.
So far, we have: In the beginning was the word.
kai ho logos – and the word.
ēn pros ton theon – was with the God. The definite article is used here, to ensure that the reader understands God proper is being referenced.
In the beginning was the word and the word was with the God.
kai theos ēn ho logos – literally, “and God was the word.” This is the key phrase for the deity of Christ. After the definite article indicates that theon is a proper noun, there is no need to repeat the definite article. Hence, the NASB and KJV both translate “and the Word was God.” Even the NWT translators recognize in the immediate context that no definite article is needed.
Note the following NWT passages in which God is translate from theos – where there is no definite article in the Greek text:
John 1:6 – “…as a representative of God” (no definite article, yet the NWT capitalizes it as referencing God proper).
John 1:12 – “…to them he gave the authority to become God’s children.” Again, no definite article, yet the NWT follows common Greek usage, recognizing that there is no need for a definite article when referencing theos as a proper noun.
John 1:13 – “…but from God.” You guessed it, no definite article here either.
John 1:18 – “No man has seen God at any time.” Hmmm…no definite article again, yet in each instance the NWT translates as God proper.
If the NWT recognizes that there is no need for the definite article if the word is understood as a proper noun or if the context calls for it (remember how the NWT translated the beginning rather than a beginning?), then why does the translation make one exception to insert an indefinite article to imply that Jesus is not God but simply a god? If the translation was evenhanded, it would translate the instances that follow in the same way – then even God wouldn’t be God, he would simply be a god.
On the title page the NWT says “Rendered from the Original Languages.” But a simple examination of the handling of the word theos shows that the translation’s primary goal is not to render the text from the original languages, but rather to render a theological presupposition – that Jesus is not God.
Short answer to the question: does the NWT accurately render from the original languages? In a word: no.