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Deceptive quote: Trinitarian

Anti-Trinitarians quote Dodd's words, "The Word was a god". As a word-for-word translation it cannot be faulted", and use it to justify the NWT's rendering. In fact, Dodd outright rejects this as a possible translation, but Jehovah's Witnesses won't tell you that is what Dodd says. They want you to believe Dodd would stand behind the NWT rendering. The United Bible Society (who publishes the magazine wrote in: The Bible translator) has officially accused the Jehovah's Witnesses and other anti-Trinitarians of misusing the quote out of context in a way to draw the reader to conclusion other than the original author intended.

C. H. Dodd: New Testament Translation Problems Part II, John 1:1; The Bible Translator, Published by the United Bible Society.

How anti-Trinitarians quote the source

"If translation were a matter of substituting words, a possible translation of [...] would be, "The Word was a god". As a word-for-word translation it cannot be faulted"

What they left out to deliberately misrepresent the source and deceive you:

  • Dodd outright rejects the New World Translation's rendering of the verse.
  • Dodd would also see "a God" an acceptable "word-for-word translation" in John 1:6, where it refers to the father.
  • Dodd rejects "a God" in John 1:1 because that would make it teach polytheism.

Letter from United Bible Society, May 2001

The UBS publishes "The Bible Translator" magazine that Dodd wrote in.

The issue in question here, that is, the translation of this key Biblical text, is obviously a very important one. It is, as a matter of fact, a text where we and Jehovah's Witnesses disagree fundamentally. They argue that because "theos" does not have an article, it should be translated in English with an indefinite article.

We argue that there is no indisputable grammatical proof of how it should be translated. A Greek noun standing in initial position as "theos" does in this clause may or may not be preceded by a definite article. We would argue here that "theos" should be taken as a proper noun and accordingly would not normally take an article in this position. But as I say, the argument cannot be made on the basis of Greek grammar.

The [pro-Jehovah's Witness] website which you have cited has taken the author C.H. Dodd's statement out of context to make their point. His [Dodd's] argument is that the translator and reader must look beyond individual single words for the meaning. Translation is more than substitution of words one for one, and his article begins with this short sentence as proof of that point.

(Letter from United Bible Society, May 2001, who publishes the magazine wrote in: The Bible translator.)

Comment by Robert Bowman

I don't think Dodd says "a god" is an "acceptable" translation. He says it can't be faulted as a "literal" translation, but there's a big difference. Notice how Dodd qualifies the quote you provided: "*If* translation..." His point is that translation is NOT merely a wooden substitution of one English word for one Greek word. If it were, "a god" could not be "faulted." Murray J. Harris in his excellent book, _Jesus as God, also says that "a god" is grammatically possible - as is "God was the Word" and "The Word was God." He also notes that a "literal" translation of Jn 8:44 could be "you belong to the father of the devil," if "only grammatical considerations were taken into account" (p. 60). Clearly, "only grammatical considerations" do not a proper translation make!

Dodd goes on to explain that THEOS in Jn 1:1c is used to express the idea that the Logos has all the attributes, qualities, and essence of God (the Father, hO THEOS in Jn 1:1b). The article hO serves to make a PERSONAL distinction. Thus, had John wanted to express that the Logos was the same PERSON as the Father, he would have used the article with THEOS in clause "c." The fact that he doesn't signifies that a personal distinction is NOT in view.

Dodd cites several examples where THEOS has the meaning of the "essence" of God (p. 104). He then concludes that the NEB translation "What God was the Word also was" is "an attempt" to get at the idea that John was expressing - namely, that in every sense that the Father is God, the Logos is also God (p. 104).

In this view, Dodd is in agreement with the overwhelming number of commentators and grammarians who've written on this subject.

So, while Dodd (and Harris, Vine, and a number of others) say that "a god" in not UNGRAMMATICAL, they nevertheless argue that the proper translation is "The Logos was [in essence] God." This is both a grammatical conclusion (based on the placement of THEOS prior to a form of the verb to be, as opposed to after it), the immediate context (Jn 1:3 in particular), the remainder of John's Gospel, and the NT as a whole.

If the WT and Witness apologists use Dodd to defend the NWT translation in the face of accusations that it is UNGRAMMATICAL, we cannot find fault with such a citation. However, I have interacted with Witnesses who use Dodd (and Vine and Harris, et al) to argue that the NWT is a translation supported by many scholars. Generally, this argument takes the form of providing a selective quotation from each scholar which gives the impression that he believes such a translation might be proper or acceptable, when this is not the case at all.

Full documentation of Text:


Published twice yearly (January and July) by the United Bible Societies

Vol. 28, No. 1, January 1977

EDITOR: Jan de Waard


Published under the editorial supervision of the United Bible Societies Sub-Committee on Helps for Translators.



For the first series of posthumously published articles by Professor Dodd and for the introduction to both series by Professor C F. D. Moule readers are referred to the July 1976 issue of Technical Papers for the Bible Translator, pp. 301-311.

NOTE: This on line edition deletes some Greek that did not scan in and replaces it with [...]

John 1:1

The translation of LOGOS I do not here discuss. A Greek word whose dictionary meanings occupy over five columns of dose print in Liddell and Scott was likely to raise problems. There is perhaps no term used in the New Testament which more forcibly makes the translator aware that he cannot hope in any single word to carry over the whole content of meaning that was in the mind of a Greek speaker, or more obviously compels him to ask what rendering will sacrifice or obscure least of that content, and bring out most clearly that element in it which is most determinative of the meaning in the given context. As it has seemed to me, the only acceptable answer to that question here is word", for reasons I have given elsewhere. (footnote 1: The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel, Cambridge, University Press, 1953, pp. 2037. The only alternative would be to transliterate LOGOS, and transliteration is not translation.)

Granted, then, that LOGOS must be "word", is "The Word was God" an intelligible and appropriate way of rendering into English the Greek expression [...]?

The English monosyllable "god" may be used as a common noun, signifying one of the class of beings regarded as divine in various polytheistic religions. As such, it admits of a plural. The same is true of the Greek THEOS. It is likely that John has used the word in this sense in 10.33, [...] where the NEB translates, "You, a mere man, claim to be a god". That it is here a common noun is the more probable because the plural THEOS occurs in the immediate context, in the scriptural piece justificative. If translation were a matter of substituting words, a possible translation of [...] would be, "The Word was a god". As a word-for-word translation it cannot be faulted, and to pagan Greeks who heard early Christian language, [...] might have seemed a perfectly sensible statement, in that sense. ([...], said the Naassenes, according to Hippolytus, Ref. Omn. Haer. V.7.29.) The reason why it is inacceptable [sic.] is that it runs counter to the current of Johannine thought, and indeed of Christian thought as a whole.

But the English word has another sense. It will suffice to transcribe the definition in the Shorter Oxford Dictionary. The dictionary first defines what it calls "Pre-Christian senses", and then continues, "11. In the Christian and monotheistic sense, the one object of supreme adoration, the Creator and Ruler of the universe (now always with capital G)". This is what the ordinary English speaker has in mind when he speaks of "God". If be confesses belief in God, this is what he is understood to be affirming; if he declares himself atheist, this is what he is understood to be denying. Philosophers and theologians, no doubt, use the term in a bewildering variety of senses, often with little evident relation to common usage; with such sophistications we need not here concern ourselves. As a term of normal English discourse "God" is a proper noun, the name of a Person. It is therefore difficult to take the expression, "The Word was God" as other than an affirmation of personal identity (like "Dr. Jekyll was Mr. Hyde"): "The Word" and "God" are alternative names for the same Person. Is this what John meant?

There is another Greek use of THEOS to be taken into account, in such phrases as [...] (alongside [...] (alongside[...]). (For examples, see L. and S.) Here THOS no longer stands for "a god", among other gods, but rather for a generalized idea of the divine, which could be expressed in terms of a plurality of gods without essential change of meaning. When Sophocles, speaking of the eternal moral laws, says [...] (OT 871), it would be possible to translate, "In them is great divinity", or "God is great to them"; it would not be possible to translate, "There is a great god in them". This use of the term THEOS made it possible for it to be taken up into philosophical language (especially in the Platonic tradition). Its adoption helped the movement away from a crude polytheism and towards a quasi-monotheism which was a feature of the Hellenistic Aufklarung. Hermetic writers expressly distinguish HO THOS from of[...]. The language of pagan philosophy is thus brought into line with that of Hellenistic Judaism, as represented, and largely controlled, by the Septuagint, where THEOS regularly represents [...] It is true that though the words are identical the nuance of meaning differs. For the Jew HO THEOS is the personal God of Abraham, whose name (though it dare not be pronounced) is Yahweh; for the pagan (quasi-) monotheist HO THEOS tends to be abstract, personal only in metaphor. It can be replaced, without change of meaning, by such expressions as [...] or the like. But the two acted on one another. Both are in the linguistic background of the New Testament writings, though the Christian use derives directly from the Jewish. The upshot of this is that while the Greek THEOS and the English "God" occupy a certain area of common ground, THEOS covers a range of meaning not natural to the English word.

We return to John 1:1. In this gospel HO THEOS is (in succession to Jewish usage) both the personal God of Abraham and the Father of Christ and of those who are united to Christ. The clause, [...] is quite straightforward: the Word is apud Deum, a dweller with God, as in Pr 8.30 Wisdom (a kind of double of LOGOS) is [...] and in Wisd 9.4 is his [...]. It is the succeeding clause that raises a question, where we have, not HO THEOS, but the anarthrous THEOS. It has often been argued that there is here an echo of Philo's view (Footnote: 2 See in paxticular De Sbmniis 1227-230, where we have an acute argument based on a characteristically Philonian exegesis of Gen 31.13, [...].) that THEOS can be applied to the LOGOS, but HO THEOS is reserved for the Self-existent [...]. This is by no means impossible, in a writer whose thought, on one side of it, has evident affinities with Philo's, but it would be difficult to establish any such distinction between THEOS and HO THEOS elsewhere in the Fourth Gospel. (Footnote: 3 Out of more than 80 occurrences of OE6q some 16 (the count is slightly uncertain because of textual variation) are anarthrous. It is not easy to discover any very clear difference between these and similar passages where the article is used. We find an6 Oeob correlative with np6q x6v Os6v (13.3), nap& 0coO (1.6, 9.16,33) and Trapd Tot) Oeo5 (6.46, &40 1610, 1K OSOO (I A 3, 7A 7 YA) and 11C TOO OsoO (T 17, 8.42,47), OF-6g ~g6v/pou (8.54, 2117) and 6 Oe6q goo (20281 If any didirence of meaning is intended, it must be a very fine shade. There is certainly a distinction between ul6q Ocob in 19.7 and the more usual U16; TOO OeoO, but it is not Philo's distinction. One may perhaps discern some point in the absence of the article in 1.18, Oe6v ob8si~ UvaKEV. The quite distinct use in 10.33, nold; acatn6v 0&6v, we have already noted. As for the reading povoycv~q Oe6q in 1.18 (not accepted in NEB), it is in any case grammatically exceptional, if not eccentric.) On the other hand it may be argued that the absence of the article is a purely grammatical phenomenon. The general rule is that in a sentence containing the verb "to be" as copula the subject has the article and a predicate noun is anarthrous, even though it be definite. (Footnote: 4 If Colwell's canon (see Moulton and Turner, Grammar of N. T. Greek, vol. iii, p. 183, citing E. C. Colwell, "A Definite Rule for the Use of the Article in the Greek New Testament", JBL 52, 1933, pp. 12ff.) be accepted, a definite predicate noun does take the article if it follows the verb, but not if (as here) the predicate precedes the verb. [See further P. B. Harner, "Qualitative Anarthrous Predicate Nouns: Mark 15:39 and John 1:1", JBL 92, 1973, pp. 75ff.]) Hence, if THEOS was to be used predicatively it would be anarthrous, without any necessary change of meaning from the HO THEOS of the preceding clause. Purely grammatical considerations therefore do not close the question.

Perhaps we may gain some light on our problem by examining an analogous sentence elsewhere in this gospel. Jn 4.24, [...] is closely similar in structure; in fact it is identical, for though the copula is not expressed it is (as frequently) understood and its absence makes no difference. The AV rendering "God is a spirit" (among other spirits) is certainly erroneous. John knows nothing of a plurality of [...]. Nor does he mean "God is the (Holy) Spirit", which would be an affirmation of personal identity. Origen. commenting on this passage, writes, [...] (Comment. in Jo. XIII.2 1, ed. Brooke, vol. 1,267). This brings the proposition into line with Hellenistic speculations about the nature of deity, e.g. Corp. Herm. VIA, [...]. (These writers, being in the Platonic tradition, are hesitant about ascribing [...] to God, because Plato said that the idea of Good (his God) is [...]. Hence also Origen's [...]) The [...] of anything is its essential nature (often interchanged with [...]). It is [...], that which it really is. Thus what John is saying is that what God is, is [...] (with its attributes of immateriality, invisibility, life, power, etc.), in contrast with [...]. Hence the expressions, [...] (3.5) are identical in meaning.

On this analogy, the meaning of [...] will be that the o6cria of [...], that which it truly is, is rightly denominated [...], that term being used in a way more congruous with Hellenistic thought than with the Hebraic strain in the thought of Judaism and early Christianity. That this is the [...] (the personal God of Abraham, the Father goes without saying. In fact, the Nicene [...] is a perfect paraphrase.

How is it to be translated? In English it is natural enough to use the term "spirit" for "incorporeal or immaterial being, opp. to body or matter" (O.E.D.), so that "God is spirit" is a perfectly intelligible proposition. But the term "God" is not naturally used in so abstract a sense and "The Word was God" does not convey the meaning required. The NEB rendering, "What God was the Word was" is an attempt to express the meaning of [...] for which I have argued above.

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Written By Steve Rudd, Used by permission at:

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