Mantey and the New World Translation
of this page is to comment on an article written by the late
Dr Julius Mantey, in which he gives his opinion of the
New World Translation. Dr Mantey's article is in
black, and our comments are indented in blue.
1:1, which reads "In the beginning was the Word and the Word
was with God and the Word was God," is shockingly
mistranslated, "Originally the Word was, and the Word was
with God, and the Word was a god," in a New World
Translation of the Holy Scriptures, published under the
auspices of Jehovah's Witnesses.
If a person very deeply and sincerely believes that Jesus
is God, then it is easy to see why he would find the
New World Translation rendering of John 1:1
'shocking'. Of course, a lot of things Jesus
taught were also considered shocking by the people who
heard him. So, too, the New World Translation
may at times be shocking to traditionalists. The
role of a Bible translation is not to avoid controversy,
but to be accurate. But is John 1:1 mistranslated in
New World Translation? Let us see.
name is used and our Manual Grammar of the Greek New
Testament is quoted on page 744 to seek to justify their
translation I am making this statement.
translation suggested in our Grammar for the disputed
passage is, "the Word was deity." Moffatt's rendering is
"the Word was divine." William's translation is, "the Word
was God Himself." Each translation reflects the dominant
idea in the Greek. For, whenever an article does not precede
a noun in Greek, that noun can either be considered as
emphasizing the character, nature, essence or quality of a
person or thing, as theos
(God) does in John 1:1, or it can be translated in certain
contexts as indefinite, as they have done. But of all the
scholars in the world, as far as we know, none have
translated this verse as Jehovah's Witnesses have.
This is an important admission on Mantey’s part.
Either the anarthrous (i.e. without the article) noun
emphasizes the ‘character, nature, essence, or quality’ of
or it can be translated in certain contexts as
indefinite. Either qualitative or
indefinite. But the rendering ‘The Word was God’ is
neither qualitative nor indefinite. It is
definite and shows identity. C. B. Williams’
translation - “the Word was God Himself” - is even
more clearly making a statement of definite
identification; it is certainly not qualitative.
So the statement that ‘each translation reflects the
dominant idea in the Greek’ is odd to say the least, when
the various renderings cited actually contradict each
other. ‘The Word was divine’ is quite a different
proposition to ‘the Word was God himself’!
No scholars in the whole world have translated the verse
as Witnesses have, as far as Mantey knew.
Apparently, that wasn't very far. The expression “a
god” appears as early as 1808 in
The New Testament, in An
Improved Version, Upon the Basis
of Archbishop Newcome’s New
Translation: With a Corrected
Text, London, as well as the Emphatic Diaglott,
the German translations of Becker and Schulz. Many more
translations have ‘the Word was divine,’ which corresponds
much more closely in meaning to the New World
Translation than to the traditional rendering.
Of course it may be that some of these translations were
made after Mantey wrote this piece.
Are the reasons for rejecting 'a god' at John 1:1c
grammatical or theological?
J. W. Wenham, in The Elements of New Testament Greek,
writes: “As far as grammar alone is concerned, such a
sentence could be printed θεος εστιν ο λογος
estin ho logos], which would mean either, ‘The Word is a
god’, or, ‘The Word is the god’. The
interpretation of John 1.1 will depend upon whether the
writer is held to believe in only one God or in more than
one god.” (page 35). Thus, theology rather
than grammar is the stated reason for preferring ‘The Word
Note also this admission by C.H. Dodd: “If a translation
were a matter of substituting words,
a possible translation of θεος ην ο λογος [theos en
ho logos]; 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, θεος ην ο
λογος [theos en ho logos] might have seemed a perfectly
sensible statement, in that sense … The reason why it is
unacceptable is that it runs counter to the current of
Johannine thought, and indeed of Christian thought as a
whole."-Technical Papers for The Bible Translator,
Vol 28, No.1, January 1977.
It is clear that C.H. Dodd, a scholar well known for his
work on the
New English Bible,
is objecting to the rendering ‘a god’ on the basis of
theology rather than
Below I will consider the theological arguments presented
Greek article occurred with both Word and God in John 1:1
the implication would be that they are one and the same
person, absolutely identical. But John affirmed that "the
Word was with (the) God" (the definite article preceding
each noun), and in so writing he indicated his belief that
they are distinct and separate personalities. Then John next
stated that the Word was God, i.e., of the same family or
essence that characterizes the Creator. Or, in other words,
that both are of the same nature, and the nature is the
highest in existence, namely divine.
Actually, Mantey is reading far more
into the expression than it actually states. True,
in this verse is used qualitatively, but that does not
prove that Christ is of the same ‘family or essence that
characterizes the Creator’. (It’s not clear what he
means by ‘family’ here.) Note what Mantey himself
said above: “whenever an article does not precede a noun
in Greek, that noun can either be considered as
character, nature, essence or quality of a person or
thing.” ‘Character, nature, essence or quality’ has
become ‘family or essence’ - which is a considerably
narrower concept. Mantey has moved the goalposts!
What is proved is that Christ is divine, that is,
in the same class as God.
where the noun in the predicate does not have an article, as
in the above verse, are: John 4:24, "God is spirit," (not a
spirit); I John 4:16, "God is love," (not a love); I John
1:5, "God is light," (not a light); and Matthew 13:39, "the
reapers are angels," i.e. they are the type of beings known
as angels. In each instance the noun in the predicate was
used to describe some quality or characteristics of the
subject, whether as to nature or type.
apparently rejects the
King James Version's rendering of John 4:23, which
states that 'God is a spirit'. Even if that is
are we really to believe that Matthew 13:39 means that the
reapers are ‘the type of beings known as angels’?
Generations of Bible readers have certainly and correctly
understood Jesus to be saying that they are
The situation is more complex that Mantey makes out.
applies to uncountable nouns, such as love and light, does
not necessarily apply to nouns denoting persons. In
any case, Romans 2:19
does have the expression ‘a light’ for Greek phos
without the article. (I checked 13 different English
translations. They all had ‘a light’.)
Of course no translation has it at 1 John 1:5; it depends
Note how anarthrous predicate nouns occurring before the
verb are translated throughout John's gospel. The
following table shows some examples of the exact same
grammatical structure found in John 1:1c (the noun is
without the article and is before the verb). Mantey
implies that they should all be translated qualitatively,
rather than indefinitely. Do you agree?
||New World Translation
||King James Version
On the whole, we can agree with Mantey’s comment that the
anarthrous predicate noun is used to describe some
'quality or characteristics of the subject, whether as to
nature or to type.' Let’s keep that in mind as we
apostle John in the context of the introduction to his
gospel is pulling all the stops out of language to portray
not only the deity of Christ but also His equality with the
Actually, leaving aside the expression under discussion
(John 1:1), what other ‘stops’ is John pulling out to
portray Christ’s deity and his equality with the Father?
Certainly, John is emphasizing Christ’s proximity
to the Father (‘with God’ verse 1, ‘bosom position’ verse
18) and his great glory and superior position
(although, even then, his glory is said to be from
a father, therefore received rather than inherent.)
But it’s a big step from that to saying that he is God.
states that the Word was in the beginning, that He was with
God, that He was God and that all creation came into
existence through Him and that not even one thing exists
which was not created by Christ. What else could be said
that John did not say?
When Mantey says ‘He states that … He was God,’ as part of
his argument, then that is petitio principii, i.e.
begging the question. He’s assuming as true what he
is seeking to prove. That’s a circular argument and
can be dismissed immediately.
True, ‘all creation came into existence through him
[Greek: δι' αυτου, di’ autou]. Interestingly,
verse 17 says that the Law was given
through Moses [δια Μωησεως,
dia Mouseos]. Same Greek preposition, δια,
dia. Just as Moses was not the
source of the Law, but rather its mediator, similarly
Christ is not the ultimate source of creation, but rather
the one through whom creation took place.
1:18 he explained that Christ had been so intimate with the
Father that He was in His bosom and that He came to earth to
exhibit or portray God.
True enough, but intimacy does not prove
deity. So the point is irrelevant.
we had no other statement from John except that which is
found in John 14:9, "He that has seen me has seen the
Father," that would be enough to satisfy the seeking soul
that Christ and God are the same in essence and that both
are divine and equal in nature.
This is a case of the ‘invisible interpreter’ at work.
No-one who heard Jesus say those words would go away and
think: “Oh yes. Jesus meant that he and God are the
same in essence, both divine and equal in nature.”
That is pure fantasy on the part of Mantey. The term
isn’t even used in the Bible; it's a post-biblical
concept. The expression ‘divine nature’, on the
other hand, is used in the Bible, in 2 Peter 1:4,
where it is used of the experience of Christians taken to
heaven. Thus it can hardly be said to mean
The 'Invisible Interpreter' at work
Albert Barnes' notes say concerning John 14:9: “Hath
the Father. This cannot refer to the
essence or substance of God, for he is
invisible, and in that respect no man has seen God at any
time. All that is meant when it is said that God
is seen, is,
some manifestation of Him has been made; or some
such exhibition as that we may learn his
character, his will, and his plans. .
. . The knowledge of the Son was itself, of course,
the knowledge of the Father. There was such an intimate
union in their nature and design, that he who
understood the one did also the other.” (Albert Barnes was
a Presbyterian minister.)
the whole tenor of New Testament revelation points in this
direction. Compare Paul's declaration in Colossians 1:19,
for instance: "that all the divine fullness should dwell in
Him," or the statement in Hebrews 1:3, "He is the reflection
of God's glory and the perfect representation of His being,
and continues to uphold the universe by His mighty word."
Colossians 1:19 actually states that Christ would have
divine fullness dwelling in him because “it pleased the
Father” to give it to him - not because it was something
inherent in him. So that rather argues against
Mantey’s point. If Jesus
were God, he would have had such divine fullness
Likewise, Hebrews 1:3 is not incompatible with the view
that Christ is God’s created Son. He reflects
God’s glory; he is not the source of that glory, as we
already noted in John 1:14.
the sweeping, cosmic claim recorded in Matthew 28:19, "All
authority has been given to me in heaven and earth."
Yes, that is what Jesus said.
Given. By whom? When? And what
was his position before ‘all authority’ was given him?
(God always has had, and always will have, all authority.)
This verse actually disproves Mantey’s point.
we contrast with that the belittling implication that Christ
was only a god, do we not at once detect the discord? Does
not such a conception conflict with the New Testament
message both in whole and in part? Why, if John, in the
midst of the idolatry of his day, had made such a statement
would not the first century hearers and readers have gotten
a totally inadequate picture of Christ, who we believe, is
the Creator of the universe and the only Redeemer of
Robert Mantey, A.B., Thd.D., PH.D., D.D.
an analysis of Mantey’s objection to the translation ‘a god’
shows it to be basically theologically motivated. His
grammatical objections are not shared by all other
scholars and are in any case easily disproved by an
examination of verses with parallel grammatical structures,
as seen above. But the main thrust of his objection is
basically theological - it conflicts with his own
ideas about who Jesus is
and his understanding of other NT texts. Mantey
apparently said in an interview that he believes that those
who allow themselves to be misled by Jehovah's Witnesses
will end up in hell! The article commented on above reflects such
emotionalism. It is not a good reflection of the
scholarly work of which Mantey was undoubtedly eminently
capable. Of course, Mantey, is entitled to have
his opinion. But more relevant and important than his
opinion is what he can
prove. And, in this piece at least, he has not proved