It seems that Arianism (the belief that Jesus in not fully God) has been on the rise of late. In the last year, I have seen more discussions on e-mail lists questioning the deity of Christ than in any other time. Perhaps it is just coincidence, perhaps it is just the same people on different lists. Perhaps it is the rise in gnosticism, as witnessed by the huge publicity stunt around the Gospel of Judas. But, people are definitely becoming more vocal in their questioning of who Jesus is/was.
The most common line of attack for those who know some Greek is to use John 1:1c: KAI QEOS HN O LOGOS (I am using the standard Greek transliteration for e-mail here, Q equals theta, H equals eta). For those of you who don’t know any Greek, the line of reasoning is that since the word for God doesn’t have a “the” (article) in front of it, it should be translated “a god.” In English the usual translation is “and the word was God.”
There is a sound grammatical reason for no article in front of QEOS; in Greek, when the copula (to be) is used, the subject has the article, and the predicate has no article. How else will you know what the subject is? Greek is not a word order language like English, it depends on the form of the word to determine what is what. This construction is elementary Greek; for those of you who have access to Smyth’s Greek Grammar—the standard reference grammar in English—take a
look at paragraph 1150
A predicate noun has no article, and is thus distinguished from the subject.
Perhaps you would prefer a different grammar, maybe a New Testament one? Try Brooks & Winberry, Syntax of New Testament Greek, page 140-141:
Note: When the article is used with one of two nominatives connected by a copulative verb, the noun with the article is the subject nominative. If one of the two nouns is a proper name, it is the subject. If a pronoun is joined with a noun, the pronoun is the subject (italics theirs)
Or, maybe you prefer Dana & Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament (basically an abridgement of Robertson’s A Grammar of the Greek New Testament), try reading pages 137-140, it’s too long for me to write out here. Robertson himself has a discussion of John 1:1 on pages 767-769. They all explain why the Greek QEOS is anarthrous, but is still definite and translated “God.”
Perhaps another Classical Greek Grammar would convince you? Try Goodwin & Gulick, Greek Grammar, paragraph 954: “A predicate noun seldom has the article.”
Pretty straightforward explanations, aren’t they? How else could John have written it in good Greek?
Still not convinced? OK, let’s look at a couple of other anarthrous (without the article) uses of QEOS in John 1:1-18:
John 1:12 in English reads “He gave them authority to become children of God.” The Greek for children of God reads TEKNA QEOU. Now, I have never heard anyone argue that this should be translated “children of a god.”
John 1:13 in English reads “They were born by the will of God.” The Greek reads EK QEOU EGENNHQHSAN. Using the lack of article as a guide, we should translate it “they were born [by the will of] a god.”
How about John 1:18: “No one has seen God at any time, but the only begotten God...” Greek: QEON OUDEIS hEWRAKEN PWPOTE MONOGENHS QEOS. So, should we translate that as “No one has seen a god at anytime, an only begotten god...” Clearly, that is a nonsense statement, yet both cases of QEOS are anarthrous.
Or how about this, an anarthrous occurrence of PATHR (father) in verse 14: MONOGENOUS PARA PATROS. Who would translate this as “the only begotten from a father?” That is patent nonsense! Or, should we start a new version of Christianity that says there are multiple God the fathers? Oh, too late, that’s Mormonism.
This has gotten long enough for now, but clearly the grammatical construction of John 1:1 is a non-starter for arguing Arianism. Perhaps that is why the Early Church Fathers—both pro-Nicene and pro-Arius—never used the grammatical argument? It was always a philosophical/theological argument. The grammar of John 1 has only been an argument in the last 2-3 centuries, and usually by those with just enough Greek to get into trouble...