John 1:1 says:

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." -KJV

The Greek says:

Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος

How do Unitarians (those that deny a preexisting Messiah) interpret this verse? If there is more than one, please provide an overview of the various interpretations.

  • evening! I have tried an answer (well sort of). have a look if you haven't already at this video debate between Unitarians and Trinitarians. the Unitarian is Sir Anthony Buzzard who defends the theology well: youtube.com/watch?v=dDnWdDxfZcQ its over 2 hours long mind so put the kettle on! – David Jan 29 '17 at 23:14

The text says:

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."- KJV

Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος, καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν Θεόν, καὶ Θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος.

ὁ λόγος

The traditional interpretation of this verse states that the logos is God the Son- the second person of the triune god, who was both with God, and is God.

Unitarians do not believe that the λόγος (logos) was a preexisting person called "the Word". Logos is a Greek philosophical term which John's audience would have been well aware of. With regards to that aspect, logos means:

  1. reason, the mental faculty of thinking, meditating, reasoning, calculating, etc.: once so in the phrase ὁ λόγος τοῦ Θεοῦ, of the divine mind, pervading and noting all things by its proper force, Hebrews 4:12

Unitarians believe that this reason was with God in the beginning. It is His very reason for preparing all things.

The idea that a preexisting entity called "the logos" was the son of God first came from Philo of Alexandria. Philo mixed Platonism and Stoic philosophy with the Hebrews Scriptures, and Justin Martyr expanded on his idea of a preexisting logos- believing Jesus to be this entity.

For this reason, in the verses after John 1:1, Unitarians would translate the masculine pronoun οὗτος as "it":

οὗτος ἦν ἐν ἀρχῇ πρὸς τὸν Θεόν

it was in beginning with the God

Θεὸς

According to the KJV, "the Word was God". What is interesting here is that prior to this, John says the logos was "with ton theon", or "the God". However, when John says "the logos was theos", there is no definite article. Various Arian groups interpret this to mean "a god", or "a mighty one" because of its association with the word אֱלֹהִים (elohim). This would mean that a god or preexisting angel (usually believed to be Michael) was "incarnated" into flesh to become a man.

Laymen trinitarians believe that the missing article is irrelevant, and that John is explicitly saying "the logos was God".

Neither of these interpretations make sense to Unitarians. First, nothing in the Scriptures indicate that a preexisting "god" helped YHVH prepare the universe. God says:

Thus saith YHVH, thy redeemer, and he that formed thee from the womb, I am YHVH that maketh all things; that stretcheth forth the heavens alone; that spreadeth abroad the earth by myself" Isaiah 44:24

Unitarians have the same problem with the trinitarian interpretation, but also because the text says "the logos was theos". Why would it be said that the logos "was" God, if he supposedly is God?

Trinitarian scholars admit that the missing article is significant. They say that had the article been there, this would be Sabellianism. According to trinitarian scholar James Moffatt:

"'The Word was God...And the Word became flesh,' simply means "the word was divine...And the Word became human.' The Nicene faith, in the Chalcedon definition, was intended to conserve both of these truths against theories that failed to present Jesus as truly God and truly man..." (Jesus Christ the Same, Abingdon-Cokesbury, 1945, p.61).

Trinitarian scholar B.F. Westcott agrees, saying:

"The predicate [theos) stands emphatically first, as in v.24. It is necessarily without the article (theos not ho theos) inasmuch as it describes the nature of the Word and does not identify His Person... No idea of inferiority of nature is suggested by the form of expression, which simply affirms the true deity of the Word." (The Gospel According to St. John, Eerdmans, 1958 reprint, p. 3.)

William Barclay also wrote about this, stating that John was not describing "who" the logos was, but "what" the logos was:

Finally John says that "The Word was God". There is no doubt that this is a difficult saying for us to understand, and it is difficult because Greek, in which John wrote, had a different way of saying things from the way in which English speaks. When the Greek uses a noun it almost always uses the definite article with it. The Greek for God is 'theos', and the definite article is 'ho'. When Greek speaks about God it does not simply say 'theos'; it says 'ho theos'. Now, when Greek does not use the definite article with a noun that noun becomes much more like an adjective; it describes the character, the quality of the person. John did not say that the Word was 'ho theos'; that would have been to say that the Word was identical with God; he says that the Word was 'theos'- without the definite article- which means that the Word was, as we might say, of the very same charactor and quality and essence and being as God. When John said 'The Word was God' he was not saying that Jesus is identical with God, he was saying that Jesus is so perfectly the same as God in mind, in heart, in being that in Jesus we perfectly see what God is like." (The Gospel of John, vol.1, The Dailey Study Bible Series, Saint Andrew Press, p. 39)

This means that as far as John 1:1 is concerned, the logos is not the one true God. The logos is the reason of God, and the reason was of a divine nature, because it was God's reason. Just as John says God is Love, God is Light, God is True...God is Reason.

Conclusion

καὶ ὁ λόγος σὰρξ ἐγένετο καὶ ἐσκήνωσεν ἐν ἡμῖν, καὶ ἐθεασάμεθα τὴν δόξαν αὐτοῦ, δόξαν ὡς μονογενοῦς παρὰ πατρός, πλήρης χάριτος καὶ ἀληθείας.

"And the reason flesh became, and dwelt among us. And we beheld the glory of it- a glory like of an only-begotten of a father- full of grace and of truth" John 1:14

God's reason became a man, because mankind is God's reason for preparing all things. After God prepared all things, He gave it to Adam, who was made in His image. God's reason was to make Adam/mankind perfect, and this was accomplished through Yeshua...the perfect man.

  • But what about when Jesus says He is the First and the Last or who judges the minds and hearts of believers, even judging them eternally? Or when St.John himself says, not the Jews, not heretics, that Jesus claimed to be equal with God? Also, Revelation 19:13 identifies Jesus with the Word of God who "was God." as with John. John orders the sentence the way He does precisely to emphasize that the Word was "God." The lack of the article makes the noun qualitative. God, was the nature of the Word. – Sola Gratia Jul 14 '17 at 14:56
  • @SolaGratia Thanks for the great questions. Unfortunately I cannot answer all of these in the comments section. If you'd like to ask how unitarians interpret those passages on the main page, then I'll try to provide detailed answers for each of them. I haven't been here in a while, so forgive me if it takes a while to respond. – anonymouswho Jul 16 '17 at 8:09
  • God's reason became a man? God's reason became flesh? Sorry I'm not following that at all. John 1:14 is the reason (among others) we know the logos is human. God's "reason" is quite anthropomorphized; God's "reason" is called a "he" repeatedly. Could you elaborate more on what you mean by God's reasoning being a man? – Alex Strasser Dec 7 at 1:13

The Apostle John already interprets for us what it meant in John 1 in the opening of his first Epistle: "What (ὅ) was from the beginning (cf. John 1:1), what we have heard, what we have experienced, what we have perceived and our hands have reached out for, concerning the word (λόγος) of life (cf. John 1:4). And the life was revealed, and we have seen and bear witness and proclaim to you that life of the age, which was with the Father (cf. John 1:2) and was revealed unto us." So we can clearly see here that the word of John 1 is not a person as John calls it a "what" but God's divine plan of the Gospel of the Kingdom of God which was in God's divine council and plan before the world was created (1 Pet 1:20, Rev 13:8, Matt 25:34) and was later revealed in the person of His anointed King (the word [God's divine plan] was made flesh). And notice what John 1:4 says regarding the word: "ἐν αὐτῷ ζωὴ ἦν, καὶ ἡ ζωὴ ἦν τὸ φῶς τῶν ἀνθρώπων· (In it was life and the life was the light of man)." However, if you keep reading on through the next few verses you'll notice that the light is personified as being Jesus. In other words, Jesus is the light within the λόγος (God's divine plan/decree).

In regards to the word being called "God," we must look at the original Greek text in order to gain proper understanding: "Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος, καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν, καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος" ("In beginning was the word, and the word was with the God, and θεὸς was the word"). The word for God here in the third clause ("θεὸς") is to be understood here in the adjectival sense since the words "θεὸς" and "ὁ λόγος" (the word) are joined together by the verb "ἦν" ("to be") but the first subject (θεὸς) lacks the definite article. So "ὁ λόγος" (the word) is not being identified as "θεὸς" but is described as being within the sphere and likeness of "θεὸς". An example I could give in English is if I say "the preacher is the man" I add the definite article before the word "man" and I thereby identify "the preacher" with some definite man I have in mind. But if I remove the definite article and say "the preacher is man" what I mean is that the preacher is in the sphere and likeness of man. He is "man-like." The same things applies with "the word" of John 1. "ὁ λόγος" here in John 1:1 is being described as "God-like" or divine.

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Perhaps not an answer; but I asked Sir Anthony Buzzard (a Unitarian theologian and founder of www.restorationfellowship.org) this very question via email which I have copied below; His reply is short but gives one a taste of His thoughts on the much disputed verse of John 1:1.

My email:

*Good morning Sir Anthony!

Hope you and your family are well.

As I continue my study; I have now reached the much disputed John 1:1 verse.

John 1 The Word Became Flesh 1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.

I must say I haven’t found anything Trinitarians may use fairly for their doctrine; but this verse does strike me as a difficult one to grasp.

At first I thought the translations these days are wrong?...but the below link proves that nearly all of the published translations agree with the above from the NIV.

I know the witnesses NWT use a varied translation changing the context to “a god”...but that doesn’t really help either.

My thoughts are thus {by breaking the verse into chunks};

“In the beginning was the Word”- the beginning of what? Creation? Or simply the life of Jesus?...with the gospel of John in mind it would make sense that this alludes to the beginning of Jesus’ life?

“and the Word was with God”- absolutely...as a Father present with His Son.

“and the Word was God”- oh dear; now it gets messy. The word we know to mean Jesus as is evident in the context of John 1:14. So taken literally; The word is Jesus; Jesus is God...hmmm. “He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made”- oh dear, its getting more concrete; the word, Jesus was some how present with the Father in the beginning of what seems to be of creation and was “one” with His Father in the process of creating everything. This leans me towards the view of Arius now.

May I please ask; What is your understanding of this much disputed verse?

Thank you very much.

Sir Anthony's reply:

David, thanks, I wrote extensively on all this in two books and more at our site. Why in the world would one accept the W (capital W) on word! The beginning reflects Gen 1:1 of course Jesus was not a Trinitarian and never said he was GOD!
Jn 17:3 and thousands of singular pronouns make the point, And Mk 12:29 of course in hope, Anthony

"No responsible NT scholar would claim that the doctrine of the Trinity was taught by Jesus, or preached by the earliest Christians, or consciously held by any writer in the NT" (A.T. Hanson, The Image of the Invisible God).

Visit our website at www.restorationfellowship.org

END

  • Thanks for the answer David. Sir Anthony doesn't seem to explain his reasoning behind this. I agree that "word" should not be capitalized, and that "a god" is not the proper translation of theos, but I'd like the answer to explain why. – anonymouswho Jan 30 '17 at 14:25
  • @anonymouswho yes sir Anthony is very brief in his replies: but thought it might be of interest 🙂 – David Jan 30 '17 at 23:56
  • I haven't had time to watch the video yet, but I will when I can. I just wish he would have given you a better answer. You have a lot of great questions. I will work on answering this question because I do believe it is mistranslated. The first mistake is that the logos is called "he". But read John 1:1 in William Tyndale's first edition of the NT. I'll provide more details in my answer. – anonymouswho Jan 31 '17 at 3:39
  • I'm watching the video and it's giving me a lot of great questions I'd like to post. I really like Joseph Good. Thanks for sharing it with me. – anonymouswho Jan 31 '17 at 14:22
  • @anonymouswho thought you'd like it...it is really a fantastic debate. :) – David Jan 31 '17 at 23:12

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