Bible Translation and Study 

Julius Mantey and the New World Translation

The purpose 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. 

John 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 the New World Translation?  Let us see.

Since my 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.

The 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.

Is the English rendering 'The Word was God really qualitative?

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 a person, 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?

Is their preferred reading based on grammar, or on theology?

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 [theos 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 was God.”

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,C. H. Dodd is objecting to the rendering ‘a god’ on the basis of theology rather than grammar.  Below I will consider the theological arguments presented by Mantey.

If the 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, θεος (theos) 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 emphasizing the 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.

Examples 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.

Mantey apparently rejects the King James Version's rendering of John 4:23, which states that 'God is a spirit'.  Even if that is debatable, 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 angels! 

The situation is more complex that Mantey makes out.  What 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 on context.

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?


Verse Greek New World Translation King James Version New International Version
John 4:19 προφητης a prophet a prophet a prophet
John 6:70 διαβολος a slanderer a devil a devil
John 8:44 ανθρωποκτονος a manslayer a murderer a murderer
John 8:44 ψευστης a liar a liar a liar
John 8:48 Σαμαρειτης a Samaritan a Samaritan a Samaritan
John 10:1 κλεπτης a thief a thief a thief
John 18:37 βασιλευς a king a king a king


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 discuss further.

The 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 Father.

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.

He 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.

In John 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 equality or deity.  So the point is irrelevant.

But if 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.

The 'Invisible Interpreter' at work
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 essence 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 equality with God.

Albert Barnes' notes say concerning John 14:9: “Hath seen 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, Albert Barnesthat 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.)

Besides, 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." (Williams translation).

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 anyway.

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.

And note 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 saidGiven.  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.

And, if 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 humanity?

Julius Robert Mantey, A.B., Thd.D., PH.D., D.D.


Will I really go to hell for reading the New World Translation?
Thus, 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 his point.


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