You are here

Chapter 11. John 1:1 – “And the Word was with God”

– Chapter 11 –

John 1:1: “And the Word was with God”

Does pros mean “with” in John 1:1?

This chapter is a prelude to the next chapter where we will dis­cuss the trinitarian depersonalization of God. We begin by looking at the clause, “And the Word was with God,” in John 1:1. For conven­ience, we denote the three clauses in John 1:1 by the suffixes a, b, c:

John 1:1a  - In the beginning was the Word,

John 1:1b  - and the Word was with God,

John 1:1c  - and the Word was God.

The key word is “with” (see the underlined) which is translated from the Greek preposition pros whose basic mean­ing is “to” or “towards” rather than “with”. Trinitarians render John 1:1b as “and the Word was with God,” but it ought to be noted that “with” is not the usual meaning of pros. There are other prepositions which are used far more often for con­veying the idea of “with”: (a) syn means together “with” some­one (cf. synchron­ize, sympathize); (b) meta means “with” someone or “after” someone (cf. metaphor); (c) para means “beside” some­one or some­thing (cf. parallel).

But pros is not one of these prepositions. If John had intended to ex­press the idea “with God” in John 1:1b, he would likely have used one of the other three prepositions instead.

This is suggested by the data compiled in Modern Concord­ance to the New Testament, a study tool that is immensely useful for its categoriz­a­tion by domains of mean­ing in Greek. Though not widely known, this refer­ence is esteemed by Protestant and Catho­lic scholars alike [1] and is part­icular­ly useful for finding out what a Greek word actually means in actual writing.

On pages 679–681 under the heading “With,” Mod­ern Concord­ance gives 164 instances of meta, 66 instances of syn, 34 instances of para, but only 16 instances of pros. Hence pros rarely carries the meaning “with” even though the word itself occurs 700 times in the New Testament, far more frequently than the other three prepo­sitions: syn (128 times), para (194 times), meta (469 times). In fact, a few of these 16 instances of pros do not ob­viously carry the meaning “with” as we normally understand “with” in English.

The following table shows the overwhelming preponder­ance of the three prepos­itions (meta, syn, para) over pros for the mean­ing “with,” based on the com­prehensive data in Mod­ern Concord­ance. The bottom cell of the table has the fewest entries, indica­ting that pros rarely means “with” despite occur­ring 700 times in the NT. You don’t need to go through the verses in the table. The table is only meant to give you a quick visual sense of how rarely pros carries the meaning “with”.

Verses listed in Modern Concordance in which

prepositions meta, syn, para, and pros mean “with”

Meta: 164 of 469 occurrences (35%)

Matt 1:23; 2:11; 9:11; 9:15; 16:27; 17:17; 26:18; 26:20; 26:29; 26:36; 28:20; Mark 1:13; 1:29; 2:16; 2:19; 3:7; 5:24; 8:10; 8:38; 11:11; 14:14; 14:17; Luke 1:28; 1:58; 1:66; 1:72; 2:51; 5:30; 5:34; 6:17; 7:36; 22:11; 22:15; 22:53; 24:29; 24:30; John 3:2; 3:22; 3:26; 4:27; 6:3; 7:33; 8:29; 9:37; 11:54; 13:33; 14:9; 14:16; 14:30; 16:4; 16:32; 17:12; 18:2; Acts 7:9; 10:38; 11:21; 14:27; 15:4; 18:10; Rom 15:33; 16:20; 16:24; 1Cor 16:23; 2Cor 13:11; 13:13; Gal 6:18; Eph 6:24; Phil 4:9; 4:23; Col 4:18; 1Thess 3:13; 5:28; 2Thess 1:7; 3:16; 3:18; 1Tim 6:21; 2Tim 4:22; Titus 3:15; Phlm 1:25; Heb 13:25; 1John 4:17; 2John 1:2; 1:3; Rev 1:12; 2:16; 3:20; 4:1; 10:8; 21:3; 22:21; Matt 12:30; 17:3; 25:31; 26:23; 26:38; 26:40; 26:51; 26:69; 26:71; Mark 3:14; 4:36; 5:18; 5:37; 14:18; 14:20; 14:33; 14:67; 16:10; Luke 5:29; 11:23; 22:21; 22:28; 22:33; 22:59; John 6:66; 9:40; 11:16; 12:17; 13:8; 13:18; 15:27; 17:24; 18:26; 19:18; Acts 2:28; 7:38; 1John 1:3; 1:6; Rev 3:4; 3:20; 3:21; 14:1; 17:14; 20:4; 20:6; 22:12; Matt 5:25; 12:3; 12:4; 27:54; Mark 1:36; 2:25; 5:40; Luke 6:3; 6:4; John 11:31; 20:24; 20:26; Acts 9:19; 9:39; 20:34; Titus 3:15

Syn: 66 of 128 occurrences (52%)

Luke 7:6; 24:29; 24:44; John 18:1; 1Cor 15:10; Matt 26:35; 27:38; 27:44; Mark 15:27; 15:32; Luke 8:1; 8:38; 8:51; 9:18; 22:14; 22:56; 23:32; John 12:2; Acts 4:13; Rom 6:8; 8:32; 2Cor 4:14; 13:4; Phil 1:23; Col 2:13; 2:20; 3:3; 3:4; 1Thess 4:14; 4:17; 5:10; 2Pet 1:18; Mark 2:26; Luke 2:13; 5:9; 7:12; 8:45; 9:32; 24:10; 24:24; 24:33; Acts 5:17; 5:21; 13:7; 14:4; 22:9; 22:11; 27:2; Rom 16:14; 16:15; Gal 2:3; Col 2:5

Para: 34 of 194 occurrences (18%)

Matt 6:1; 19:26; Mark 10:27; Luke 1:30; 2:52; 9:47; 11:37; 18:27; 19:7; John 1:39; 4:40; 8:38; 14:17; 14:23; 14:25; 17:5; Rom 2:11; 2:13; 9:14; 1Cor 3:19; 7:24; Gal 3:11; Eph 6:9; 2Thess 1:6; James 1:17; 1:27; 1Pet 2:4; 2:20; 2Pet 3:8

Pros: 16 of 700 occurrences (2%)

John 1:1; 1:2; 12:32; 14:3; Rom 4:2; 5:1; 2Cor 5:8; 1Jn 1:2; 2:1; Mt 13:56; Mark 6:3; 9:19; 14:49; 1Th 3:4; 2Th 3:10

The black bars of the table show the percentages of occurrence for the meaning “with”: meta 35%, syn 52%, para 18%, pros 2%. The low percent­age for pros (2%) means that pros seldom means “with” — only 16 times in 700 occur­rences. Hence, in actual usage, “with” is not the usual mean­ing of pros but a rare or secondary mean­ing. Yet it is the rare meaning that has been con­scripted for trinita­rian use in John 1:1.

The meaning of “pros” in the standard lexicons

The meaning “to be with someone” that trinita­rians seek in John 1:1b (“the Word was with God”) is possible, but does not reflect the usual meaning of pros. This is seen not only in the way pros is actually used in the NT (cf. Modern Concord­ance) but also in how it is defined in Greek-English lexicons. BDAG gives many def­initions of pros, and these are listed below. If you wish, you can skip over these defin­itions without impair­ing the flow of reading. But it may be helpful to glance at the words shown in boldface (all italics and boldface are BDAG’s):

3. with accusative, marker of movement or orientation toward someone/something

(a) of place, person, or thing toward, towards, to, after verbs

α. of going

β. of sending

γ. of motion generally

δ. of leading, guiding

ε. of saying, speaking

ζ. of asking, praying

(b) of time near, at, or during (a certain time)

α. denoting approach toward

β. of temporal duration for

(c) of goal (aiming) at or (striving) toward

α. with conscious purpose for, for the purpose of, on behalf of

β. generally of design, destiny

γ. of the result that follows a set of circumstances (so that)

(d) of relationship (hostile or friendly), against, for

α. hostile against, with after verbs of disputing, etc.

β. friendly to, toward, with, before

(e) to indicate a connection by marking a point of reference, with reference/regard to

α. with reference to

β. as far as … is concerned, with regard to

γ. elliptically ti pros hēmas

δ. in accordance with

ε. expressing purpose

(f) in adverbial expressions

(g) by, at, near pros tina einai be (in company) with someone [2]

Of the many definitions listed here, the only one that matches the trinitarian reading of John 1:1b (“the Word was with God”) is the very last one (g). In fact this is the one that BDAG assigns to John 1:1. But being in the last position, (g) is not consi­dered by BDAG to be the principal mean­ing of pros but a secondary meaning.

The trinita­rian choice of the very last definition for John 1:1b, to the exclusion of other equally plausible meanings, is a double-edged sword for trinitarians, because it creates a serious trinitarian dilemma that we will discuss in the next chapter.

And when we examine BDAG’s definitions (a) to (g), an import­ant fact emerges: the domi­nant sense of pros (with the accusative) is not character­ized by “with” but by “to” or “towards”.

We see something similar in another lexical authority: the Liddell-Scott-Jones Greek-English lexicon (under pros, C-III, 1-5). In this lexi­con, a princi­pal meaning of pros with the accusative is “in refer­ence to” (a meaning also supported by BDAG, pros 3e). Hence “the Word was with God” would plausibly mean “the Word had reference to God,” that is, the Word referred to God or pointed to God. This would flow well with John’s next clause, “and the Word was God,” with these two clauses forming a natural progress­ion. In fact nothing in the mass­ive LSJ lexi­con on pros sup­ports the trinitar­ian reading “the Word was with God”. This standard lexicon of classical Greek, unlike lexi­cons of biblical Greek, is not parti­cularly inter­ested in finding support for trinitarian­ism.

The referential use of pros is common in the Bible, and is seen for exam­ple in Mark 12:12, “he spoke the parable against them,” which in the Greek is literally, “he spoke the parable with reference to them”. This is confirmed by the Linguistic Key to the Greek NT, which trans­lates pros autous in this verse as “with reference to them”.

Conclusion: From the lexical data in BDAG and Liddell-Scott-Jones, John 1:1 may be translated as: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word had reference to God (pointed to God), and the Word was God.” The Concordant Bible translates John 1:1b correctly: “and the word was toward God”.

Does pros ton theon mean “with God” in John 1:1?

We have looked at the single word pros. What about the phrase pros ton theon? Does it mean “with God” in John 1:1? This meaning is poss­ible but is improbable because it creates a trinitarian dilemma that we will discuss in the next chapter, and because alternative readings are less problematic.

It is interesting to see how ESV, a consistently trinitarian Bible, gen­er­ally translates pros ton theon, the phrase used in John 1:1. This phrase occurs 20 times in the New Testament: twice in John’s Prologue and 18 times out­side the Pro­logue.[3] In the 18 instances outside the Prologue, ESV nev­er trans­lates pros ton theon as “with God” except in Romans 5:1 (“we have peace with God,” which has a differ­ent mean­ing from “with God” that trinitarians seek in John 1:1b). ESV instead translates pros ton theon as “to God” or “toward God” in 14 of the 18 verses outside John’s Prologue. The same is true of NASB.

The reading “towards God” for John 1:1b is acknow­ledged even by some trinit­arian com­mentaries such as New American Commentary:

Most translators render this statement “and the Word was with God”. Actually it is difficult to translate the Greek phrase pros ton theon (in both vv. 1 and 2) into English. Literally it means “toward God.” (New American Commentary on John 1:1)

NAC is not the only trinitarian commentary to say that pros ton theon in John 1:1b literally means “towards God”. Others include New Bible Comment­ary (“the thought is literally ‘towards God’”); The Bible Speaks Today (“With here is literally ‘towards’”); The Preacher’s Commentary (“The literal trans­lation could be ‘the Word was towards God’”).

The LXX has around 70 instances of pros ton theon, most of which are translated as “to God” rather than “with God” in English Bibles.

Why then do trini­tarians choose the secondary meaning “with” for the word pros in John 1:1 but not in the rest of the New Testament? One reason is doctrine. The rendering “the Word was with God” aligns with trinitarianism by implying a second en­tity that was “with” God at the creation, and trinitar­ians want to imply further that this entity is the pre­existent Jesus. But to prove their case from the Bible, three more conditions will have to be met.

First, it must be shown that the Gen­esis creation involved another entity besides Yahweh. But anyone who is famil­iar with the Genesis account would know that no one was involved “with God” when He brought creation into being. There is no record of any person, being, or entity besides God who was involved in the creation. There was also no “sec­ond deity,” a term used by Philo but which has been appropriated by trinit­a­rians to mean some­thing dif­ferent from what Philo meant. Thus what­ever pros might mean in John 1:1, it does not mean “with” in any sense that implies another per­son alongside God.

Second, even if it could be shown that there is an entity which was “with God” at the Genesis creation, it must be further demonstrated that this entity is a real person and not just a hypostati­zation or per­sonific­ation of some­thing like wisdom in Proverbs 8:30. So whether the Word in John 1:1 is a second divine person alongside Yahweh would still need to be demonstrated. As far as Scripture is con­cerned, that effort would be futile because there is simply no such person. Yahweh expressly declares that He alone is God (Isa.45:5) and that He created the heavens and the earth by Himself (44:24). So even if we accept “with God” as a valid reading of pros ton theon in John 1:1 (which is semantic­ally possible), that alone would not be enough to prove trinitarian­ism.

Third, it must be demonstrated that John’s Prologue identi­fies “the Word” with Jesus, something that trinitarians have not done. In fact, trinit­a­rians have not gone beyond the first point, let alone the second and the third.

This leads us to the next chapter.

[1] Modern Concordance is praised as a “magnificent achievement” by David Noel Freed­man, the general editor of the Anchor Bible series and a well-known expert on the Dead Sea Scrolls; and as “the best modern language concord­ance that I have seen” by Raymond E. Brown, an eminent Catholic biblical scholar.

[2] We quote only the third section of BDAG’s definition of pros (with citat­ions omitted, ab­brev­iat­ions spelled out, Greek transliter­ated). We skip the first two sect­ions because they pertain to the genitive and the dative whereas the third section pertains to the accusative, which is the grammatical case used in John 1:1b.

[3] The 18 instances outside John’s Prologue are Jn.13:3; Acts 4:24; 12:5; 24:16; Rom.5:1; 10:1; 15:17,30; 2Cor.3:4; 13:7; Phil.4:6; 1Th.1:8,9; Heb. 2:17; 5:1; 1Jn.3:21; Rev.12:5; 13:6. The two instances in John’s Prologue are John 1:1 and 1:2.


(c) 2021 Christian Disciples Church