The NET Bible
A Bible translation specifically designed for the internet? That is what the NET Bible started out as being but you can get various printed copies of it now. It was designed to be freely quotable without copyright restrictions but now has copyright restrictions.
All a bit confusing but it does retain one of its original virtues: Because space on the net is a lot cheaper than paper, the version comes complete with VERY extensive notes, probably as extensive as the old Companion Bible, which was a HUGE tome.
So I was interested in how the NET translators handled John 1:1, in which John stresses the role of Jesus as God's messenger. John puts that very strongly from the beginning by referring to Jesus as God's WORD.
The straightforward meaning of the text is however generally distorted by the Trinitarian thinking of the translators. John stresses that Jesus is an ancient spirit being who became incarnated but specifically rules out the idea that Jesus is also the Creator (everything was done THROUGH (di) him, not BY him). Most translators glide over that bit however. They say: "The word was God", creating the impression that Jesus was the creator.
The trouble is that in the ancient Greek the usage of the word for "the" was different, and John wrote in the Greek way whereas the translators usually do not. Furthermore, whoever you regarded as the chief God was always referred to in ancient Greek as THE God (ho theos). To the pagans that was mostly Zeus and in the New Testament, exactly the same expression was used for the one God of the Hebrews. So any reference to "God" in the English NT is a translation of "The God" in the original Greek. The "The" is normally dropped in English but is regularly used in Greek.
But if the "the" (ho) is dropped in Greek that is a very different story. And John DOES drop it in John 1:1. John refers to the creator as "ho theos" but Jesus is merely "theos".
So what does it mean when John refers to the creator as "ho theos" and Jesus as "theos"? In normal Greek usage the noun without the "the" becomes indefinite and can be translated in John 1:1 as either "a god" or "divine". So what John is saying quite clearly is that the Word was NOT the creator, even though Jesus in his pre-human form was also an ancient spirit being.
The idea that there is more than one spirit being in Heaven is of course no particular problem. We read of angels there and Paul promised the early Christians that they would become spirit beings too.
So the plain meaning of John is disliked by trinitarians who are convinced that Jesus is in some puzzling way also the creator. So they translate "kai theos een ho Logos" as "the Word was God" when a literal translation would be "the word was a god".
I could go on about exceptions in Greek grammar for the use of the definite article but verse 4 shows John was using the article in the regular way I have outlined. What I have said above is just scene-setting, however. I want to look at how the NET Bible treats the passage.
They have extensive notes on it and discuss fairly fully the issues I have outlined. They say, for instance:
"Colwell’s Rule is often invoked to support the translation of θεός (theos) as definite (“God”) rather than indefinite (“a god”) here.... The translation “what God was the Word was” is perhaps the most nuanced rendering, conveying that everything God was in essence, the Word was too. This points to unity of essence between the Father and the Son without equating the persons.... The construction in John 1:1c does not equate the Word with the person of God (this is ruled out by 1:1b, “the Word was with God”); rather it affirms that the Word and God are one in essence.
So, knowing all that, what translation do they give in their main text? They give: "The Word was fully God" -- which is just about the opposite of what they knew the passage to mean! Disgraceful!
So I am not impressed by the NET Bible either.
Another Bible translation that is famous for its footnotes is the old Geneva Bible, a translation even older than the KJV. And in their footnotes they interpret the passage to mean that the Word was of "the selfsame essence or nature" as the creator, which is pretty fair. Once again, I find that a translation from the early days of Protestantism is more respectful of the original Bible text than are most modern versions.