John 1:1 “The Word was God” or “God was the Word”?

A friend of mine, who lives in Israel, recently got an email from some one claiming that there are “myriads of errors” in the New Testament Hebrew translation which “relate to Jesus and His deity and His relationship with the Father.” Though the specific issue has to do with the Hebrew text, the larger issue has to do with the nature of Greek syntax and especially the nominative predicate. This of course is an issue that one must deal with when speaking with Jehovah’s Witnesses. The other email is quoted below (in red).
“And the God was the Word.” By adding the Greek article to “God” this teaches the identity of the Father with the Son as the same Person, confusing the persons of the Godhead. It expresses an ancient heresy known as Sabellianism.

“And the word was a god.” This ordering of the Greek words expresses the ancient heresy known as Aryanism—Jesus is merely an inferior deity not equal with God the Father. This heresy has been revived by many cults such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The word “God” without the article put at the end of the sentence causes it to lose its emphatic nature and makes it simply indefinite=”a god.”

The exact order of the words found here in John 1:1 is the only way John could have expressed the truth that Jesus is full deity, yet not the same identical person as God the Father. By putting “God” first John stresses the nature of the divine attributes characteristic of God—“All that God is, the Word is.” The Word possess all the fullness of the divine attributes. Adding the article to “God” would change the meaning to identity of God with the Word. (an email received by my friend in Israel)

Here is my response:

The issue has to do with the order of the words as they appear in Greek.

בראשית היה הדבר והדבר היה את האלהים ואלהים היה הדבר׃ (John 1:1)

​εν   αρχη   ην    ο   λογος   και   ο   λογος   ην    προς   τον   θεον   και   θεος   ην    ο   λογος    (John 1:1)

The Greek is very clear that the Logos is the subject – it is the subject all the way throughout the verse. The word God  has the article in front of it (in both Greek and Hebrew. Notice that in the last phrase the Greek has “God” first without an article and “word” has the article just  like it has throughout the verse. The subject of the verse is clearly “Logos”. “God” is being used in the predicate position (that is it is saying something about the subject). The last phrase is called a predicate nominative – where one noun is describing the other and both of the nouns are in the nominative case. Thus, in order to make clear which of the two nouns is the subject (case endings determine the role of a noun, not word order like in English), the article will go with the subject, and the one that has the (nominative article) is the subject and the other is relegated to the predicate position. Therefore, the Greek is extremely clear that “Logos” is the subject not because of word order but because it has the article and “God” is what we call anarthrous (no article). The translators of the Hebrew of John 1:1 followed the syntax of the Greek very closely. Notice that  היה את האלהים the word Elohim has an article. In the next phrase (the one your friend claims is wrong), Elohim does not have an article whereas hadavar does.  Thus, the translators were trying capture the style of the Greek as closely as possible. I believe that they are justified in doing so because normal usage of Elohim (generally) does not have an article – that is when it is being used  as a proper noun. However, they note the predicate use (when it is used accusatively) by using the article and when it is in the predicate nominative the word “Elohim” does not have the article.  So, the translation is actually quite accurate and I don’t believe that your friend is justified in wanting to redo it. Nor is he justified in saying that no article signifies “a god”.