John 1:1c usually reads, “The Word was God.” Is this the correct translation?

Summary

John 1:1This article argues against the translation, “the Word was God.

God and THEOS

For some people, “God” is the Trinity, consisting of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as three Persons in one.  For others the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not three persons, but three modes of the same one Person.  Still others believe that the Father alone is God.

The word translated “God” is THEOS. While “God” refers to one specific Being, THEOS is a common noun for all gods.  To identify the only true God, the Bible provides additional identification; often by adding the definite article HO before THEOS.

In John 1:1b the Father alone is God.  This is the consistent pattern in the New Testament.  In sentences that refer to both the Father and the Son, translations refer to the Father alone as God.  This implies that Jesus is not God.

The term THEOS appears more than 1300 times in the Bible. In only seven instances does THEOS possibly refer to Jesus.  Furthermore, the original text or the translations of these seven instances are all disputed.  And even if Jesus is called THEOS, that does not mean that He is God, for THEOS also has other meanings.  The New Testament therefore does not present Jesus as God.

The Missing Article

The wording “the Word was God” assumes a definite THEOS, but THEOS in 1:1c lacks the definite article, and therefore seems to be indefinite:

One might argue that THEOS lacks the article to identify this as the predicate in the phrase, and that THEOS in 1:1c should be understood as definite.

Some people use Colwell’s rule to argue that THEOS in 1:1c is definite, but Colwell’s rule cannot be applied to John 1:1c, for his sample was limited to predicates that were identified beforehand as definite.

Research has shown that predicates in the special grammatical construct of John 1:1c, are primarily qualitative in force.  Qualitative predicates attribute the nature or qualities of the noun to the subject, e.g. “that man is a real tiger.”  This does not mean that that man is literally a tiger, but that he has tiger-like qualities. In John 1:1c it would mean that Jesus has God-like qualities, but that does not justify the translation “the Word was God,” for that identifies Jesus as God.

Some propose that Jesus is fully divine and has the same substance and nature as the Father, but that means that Jesus is God, and is not consistent with the finding that Jesus is called God is a qualitative sense.

Conclusion

The following objections to the translation “the Word was God” are therefore raised:

1. It interprets THEOS as a definite noun, while THEOS in 1:1c lacks the definite article.
2. Research has shown that THEOS in John 1:1c carries a qualitative force, and therefore describes Christ’s nature or qualities; not his person.
3. Since the Word “was with God,” a distinction is required between the THEOS in 1:1b and the THEOS in 1:1c.
4. The New Testament uses “God” for the Father alone.

It is highly significant that Jesus is described as THEOS in the first verse of John, which may be seen as a summary of the entire book, but the translation “the Word was God” goes beyond the grammar or the context, and is based on the Trinity theory.

Introduction

This is an article in the series on the translation of John 1:1c.  The previous articles are:

1. Introduction;
2. Who is “the Word?”
3. Meanings of the word THEOS
4. The translation: “the Word was a god;” and
5. The argument that THEOS is a count noun;

The purpose of the current article is to argue against the translation “the Word was God.

God

Firstly, what is does the phrase “the Word was God” mean?  It has different meanings for different people:

Merriam-Webster defines Trinity as “the unity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as three persons in one Godhead.”  In this view Jesus is God just as the Father is God.

Modalism is the doctrine that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are three modes or aspects of one single “God;” not three distinct and coexisting Persons of the divine Being.

Unitarianism “is a Christian theological movement named for its belief that the God in Christianity is one person, as opposed to the Trinity.”  “Unitarian Christians, therefore, believe that Jesus was inspired by God in his moral teachings, and he is a savior, but he was not a deity or God incarnate.” In this view, “God” refers to the Father alone, and does not include the Son.

The translation “the Word was God” is consistent with the Trinity theory and with Modalism.  In a previous article “the Word” was identified as Jesus, but Unitarianism identifies “the Word” as God’s plan and wisdom, which also brought forth His Son.

THEOS and God

John 1:1Consider, now, the Greek text.  The original Greek text did not contain spaces between words.  Neither did it have periods, commas, semi-colons, etc.  Converted literally to English, the second and third parts of John 1:1 could be presented as:

THEWORDWASWITHTHEGODANDGODWASTHEWORD

The translator has to parse the text; after which it might read:

THE WORD WAS WITH THE THEOS
AND THEOS WAS THE WORD.

From this we note the following:

THEOS is not the same as “God.”

We use the English word “God,” with a capital G, for only one specific Being.  The word “God” functions as the name of the only true God, just like Peter and Paul are names for humans.  The word “God,” in other words, is a proper noun, and is a synonym for the Old Testament name of the Creator: YHVH (pronounced Jehovah or Yahweh).

The word translated “God” or “god.” in the New Testament, is THEOS.  The Greek word THEOS does not have the same meaning as “God,” for THEOS is a common noun that is used for all gods, including false gods and idols, for instance:

1 Corinthians 8:5 … indeed there are many gods (THEOI) and many lords, 6 yet for us there is but one God (THEOS), the Father …

THEOS is therefore similar to our word “god.”  To refer to one specific deity, or even to the only true God, requires additional identification.

HO THEOS is “God.”

John 1:1In the New Testament, for example in John 1:1b, that additional identification is often provided in the form of the definite article preceding THEOS.  HO THEOS identifies this as one specific god.  Which god that is must be determined from the context, but given the context of the Bible, unless contrary identification is provided, HO THEOS refers to the only true God.

To translate “HO THEOS” from Greek, we drop the article and capitalize the G.   This applies to John 1:1b as well.  (For a more detailed discussion, see the article THEOS.)

Only the Father is “God.”

But HO THEOS (God) refers to the Father only.  This is seen in John 1:1b, where we read that “the Word was with THE GOD.”  THE GOD therefore refers to the Father and 1:1b means that Jesus was (in the beginning) with the Father.  By translating this phrase as “the Word was with God,” the translators imply that Jesus is not God.

This translation is consistent with the pattern in the New Testament.  The New Testament consistently makes a distinction between THEOS and Jesus.  This is discussed in the article Jesus is not God.  For example:

Jesus prayed, “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3).

Paul wrote, “There is no God but one. … there is but one God, the Father … and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him” (1. Cor. 8:4-6).

John saw, “no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple” (Rev. 21:22).

The following verse explicitly describes Jesus as a “man,” in contrast to the “God:”

I Tim. 2:5 “There is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”

The word THEOS appears more than 1300 times in the New Testament.  In many instances similar to those quoted above, HO THEOS is contrasted with Jesus, indicating that the Father alone is called God, and that Jesus therefore is not called God.

Jesus is called God.

Dr. Murray Harris, in his authoritative book “Jesus as God – The New Testament use of Theos in Reference to Jesus,” was only able to identify seven New Testament passages where Jesus might be called THEOS.  (He allocated different levels of certainty to different texts.)

The best known is John 1:1, which is discussed in the current series of articles, and where the current article argues that Jesus should not be called “God.”

Another example is Romans 9:5, where 50% of the 28 translations of this verse, as listed by BibleHub, translates this verse in such a way that it makes a distinction between God and Jesus.

Still another example is Thomas.  He refused to believe that Jesus rose from death (John 20:25), but when He saw Jesus, exclaimed, “My Lord and my God!” (v28).  It is a bit ridiculous to propose that Thomas, in two seconds, changed from not believing that Jesus rose from death to believing that Jesus is God.

These and others are discussed in the article, Jesus is called God.  It is not possible to prove that the Church, when the New Testament was written, thought of Jesus as God.  Just think of the absurdity of it: More than 1300 times “God” refers to the Father alone and only in seven disputed instances is Jesus perhaps called God.  The first Christians worshiped Jesus, but not independent of God.  It was only in the later centuries that the Church had to deal with the apparent contradiction between the pervasive monotheism of the Bible and Christ’s extremely elevated position.

Conclusion: Since the Bible consistently uses the title “God” for the Father alone, it is not appropriate to apply the same title to Jesus in John 1:1c.

THEOS in 1:1c lacks the article.

This is the crux of the dispute about the translation of John 1:1.  Since “God” is a proper noun, a possible objection to the wording, “the Word was God” is that this is a definite translation of an indefinite noun (THEOS).  In this section we attempt to explain the lack of the article before THEOS in this phrase.

English articles

English has both definite (“the”) and indefinite articles (“a” and “an”):

A definite noun identifies a particular instance.  For instance, when we say, “the rock” or “the man” or “the god,” we have a particular rock or man or god in mind.

An indefinite noun identifies any instance of a group or class.  For instance, “a man,” means any one instance of mankind.  Similarly, “a god” would identify any one instance of the gods.

Greek Articles

The Koine Greek of the New Testament has definite articles, often translated as “the,” but no indefinite articles.  Thus, a Greek writer could use of the article to make a noun definite.  The absence of the article usually signifies indefiniteness.  Therefore, whenever we come across the indefinite “a” or “an” in an English translation, these words were inserted by the translator.

Articles in John 1:1

This distinction between definite and indefinite nouns is relevant to John 1:1c, for THEOS in 1:1b has the article.  This phrase literally reads, “THE WORD WAS WITH THE GOD.” It therefore refers to one specific god.  THEOS in 1:1c, on the other hand, lacks the article.  In the absence of other information, one would assume that that is an indefinite THEOS, which would mean:

That it must be distinguished from the articulated THEOS in 1:1b.
> That it cannot be translated “God,” for “God” is a definite noun.
> That it could be translated as “the Word was a god.”

But before we propose conclusions, let us consider further why THEOS in 1:1c lacks the article.

Word Order is Reversed.

John 1:1c reads: THEOS ÊN HO LOGOS.
Literally translated, it means: GOD WAS THE WORD.

The first task of the translator is to identify the subject of the clause.  In English, word order identifies the subject and object.  ‘Dog bites boy’ is not the same as ‘boy bites dog’.  Greek does not use word order to differentiate between types of nouns.  It uses other techniques:

In phrases with action verbs, Greek uses different word endings (word cases) to identify the subject and the object of the sentence, both of which are nouns.  John 1:1 gives us an example of word endings.  It reads, “The Word was with God (TON THEON), and the Word was God (THEOS).”  THEOS and THEON have the exact same meaning.  The different word endings do not change the meaning of the base word.

In phrases with linking verbs (such as ‘is’ or ‘was’) the subject and object nouns are in the same case.  In such phrases, if one noun has the article and the other does not, the noun with the article is the subject (Dana and Mantey, p. 148; McGaughy, p. 50; etc.).

Greek can consequently switch the word order around and it would still mean the same thing.

John 1:1c is an example of a phrase with a linking verb (“was”).  THEOS and LOGOS are therefore in the same case.  But since “the Word” (HO LOGOS) has the article, and THEOS does not, LOGOS is the subject and THEOS is the object.  To translate this phrase to English, where we like to put the subject first, the phrase is reversed and it becomes, THE WORD WAS THEOS.

The question then is, does THEOS in 1:1c lack the article to indicate that THEOS is the predicate in this sentence?  Should THEOS in 1:1c therefore be understood as definite?

Collwell

Supporters of the translation “the Word was God” attempt to use Colwell’s rule to show that THEOS in 1:1c is definite, but this is not a valid conclusion.

Special Grammatical Construct

John 1:1c has a special grammatical construct to which special rules apply.  This construct is called a preverbal anarthrous predicate nominative:

Preverbal: The predicate precedes the verb.
Anarthrous: The predicate lacks the article.
Predicate: A predicate is a noun that says something about the subject.  In John 1:1c (“The Word was THEOS”), “the Word” is the subject, “was” is a linking verb and THEOS says something about the subject.  THEOS is therefore the predicate.
Nominative: this is the case in which the predicate appears in such Greek structures.  This is not important for our discussion.

Colwell’s method

Colwell selected a number of predicates which he beforehand identified as definite on the basis of the context.  Analyzing them, he found, in this special grammatical construct, as in John 1:1c, that such definite predicates usually lack the article.  He therefore concluded that such predicates may be definite, depending on the context.

Some supporters of the translation “the Word was God” read Colwell as conforming that all predicates in such grammatical constructs are definite or usually definite.  But this is an invalid assumption, for Colwell’s sample was limited to predicates that were identified to be definite.  His sample was not representative of all predicates in such constructs.  He was therefore only able to make a statement about definite predicates (see Dixon, pp. 11-12).  His rule does not say anything about other predicates.  It is not valid to reverse his rule to read that predicates without the article (in such constructs) are definite.

Conclusion: Colwell’s rule does not apply to John 1:1c because his sample was limited to predicates that were beforehand identified as definite.

THEOS in John 1:1c is used qualitatively.

Qualitative nouns

Grammarians distinguish between definite, indefinite and qualitative nouns.  Definite and indefinite nouns have been defined above.  They identify or classify the subject of the sentence.  Qualitative nouns signify neither definiteness (a specific instance of a group), nor indefiniteness (any instance of a group). Rather, they attribute the nature or qualities of the noun to the subject of the sentence, e.g. “that man is a real tiger.”  In this way it is possible to describe a person, who is not actually a god, but a human being who is admired by many people for his or her superhuman abilities, as “a god.”  In this case “god” is used in a qualitative sense; it does not identify the person as one of the gods.

Research

Harner and Dixon found that 80% of the predicates in the special grammatical construct, of which John 1:1c is an example, are qualitative.  Harner wrote:

“We have seen that anarthrous predicate nouns preceding the verb may be primarily qualitative in force … In John 1:1 I think that the qualitative force of the predicate is so prominent that the noun cannot be regarded as definite.”

This finding means that 1:1c does not classify Jesus as “a god” (indefinite).  Neither does it identify Jesus as “the god” (definite).  However, the translation “the Word was God” interprets THEOS as definite, for “God” is a name.

Fully Divine

In the first centuries, after the New Testament was written, the Church had to deal with the fact that the Bible dictates monotheism, but that Jesus is sometimes described with divine attributes.  Different views developed in the Church.  After the Roman Empire adopted Christianity as its official religion, it took control over the Church.  However, the Arian controversy (about the deity of Christ) caused disagreement in the Church, and that the Empire would not tolerate.  Caesar Constantine therefore called a Church Council in the year 325 in which the dominant view was adopted and the minority was slandered, excommunicated and banned.  The Nicene Creed, formulated for the year 325 Church Council, stated that Jesus was of the same substance and nature as God.  The Nicene Creed thus declared Jesus to be be God.

Since THEOS is most probably used with a qualitative force in John 1:1c, it ascribes god-like qualities to Jesus.  Trinitarians often takes this one step further and claim that the Son possesses all the attributes of God, with the emphasis on “all.”  They sometimes use the words of the Nicene Creed (same substance and nature) to describe the relationship between God and Jesus.  In other words, they argue that the Word fully shares the essence of the Father, though they differ in person.

But to say that Jesus possess the same substance and nature as God goes beyond a qualitative force.  It is to say that He is God.  Then it is not longer a qualitative statement, but a definite one.  For example, when we say “that man is a tiger,” we cannot argue that he has the same substance and nature as a tiger, for then he is a real tiger.  Rather, what we are saying is that he is as tough as a tiger.

Conclusion

The following objections to the translation “the Word was God” are therefore raised:

The English word “God” is a name for one specific being.  In other words, “the Word was God” interprets THEOS as a definite noun.  But in the Greek of 1:1c THEOS lacks the definite article.

John 1:1c has a special grammatical construct.  Grammarians have concluded that predicates in such constructs are primarily qualitative in force.  This implies that THEOS in 1:1c denotes Christ’s nature or qualities; not his person.  The translation “the Word was God,” in contrast, interprets THEOS as definite, for “God” is a name and not a quality.

Considering the immediate context, the Word “was with God” (1:1b).  This requires a distinction between the THEOS in 1:1b and the THEOS in 1:1c.

An analysis of the word THEOS (God) in the New Testament shows that this is consistently used for the Father only.  To apply this as a title to Jesus as well, is contrary to how the Bible uses the title “God.”

Trinitarian Interpretation

If “God” refers to the Father alone, the statement that “the Word was God” (1:1c) is Modalism, for then it means that Jesus just is the Father.  But since the Trinity theory has been the dominant theory since the fourth century, it is fair to assume that this is what the translation is based on.  However, to translate THEOS in both 1:1b and 1:1c as “God” contradicts the grammar and the context.

It is, nevertheless, highly significant that Jesus is called THEOS right in the first verse of John; in the context of “the Beginning,” when all things were created (v3).  John 1:1 serves as the introduction to and summary of the entire fourth gospel.

People may find it hard to accept, but John and Paul and Hebrews declared that Jesus existed before He became a human being, and that God created all things through His Son.  He is before all things (Col. 1:17).  Nevertheless, the New Testament maintains a clear distinction between Him and God.  In the centuries after Christ the Church struggled to reconcile these concepts and formulate the Nicene Creed that describes the Son as “true God from true God.”

Is Jesus called “God” in Paul’s letter to the Romans?

Summary

One of the seven NT verses, that possibly refers to Jesus as God, is Romans 9:5. All references to “God” in the letter to the Romans were analysed and it was found that Romans consistently makes a distinction between God and Jesus.  The only possible exception is Romans 9:5. The 28 translations of this verse, as provided by BibleHub, were compared.  14 of those translations state that Jesus is God.  The other 14 make a distinction between God and Jesus.  It is all a matter of punctuation, and all punctuation in the Bible is interpretation; a reflection of the understanding of the meaning of the passage when the punctuation was added; hundreds of years after Paul wrote.

Furthermore, Romans 9:5 contains the phrase “who is over all” and gives thanks. To read Romans 9:5 as describing Jesus as God, He must be the One who is over all” and receives thanks.  But in all other places in Paul’s writings “who is over all” refers not to Christ, but to God.  Similarly, everywhere else in Paul’s writings our thanks go to God; not to Jesus.

Given these facts, and since Paul nowhere else applied the title “God” to our Lord, Romans 9:5 should not be used to argue that Jesus is God.

Introduction

One of the seven New Testament verses that possibly refers to Jesus as God, according the authoritative book by Murray Harris, is Romans 9:5.  The purpose of this article is to evaluate this finding.

For this purpose, all references to “God” in the letter to the Romans were identified.  Then those references that provide further identification, as to whether “God” refer to Jesus or not, were identified.  Fourteen instances were found.

13 instances make a distinction between God and Jesus.

13 of those 14 instances make a distinction between God and Jesus.  This implies, given the way that Paul used the title “God” in Romans, that Jesus is not God.  These 13 instances are listed below.  The following verses distinguish between the Lord Jesus Christ and God our Father:

God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 1:7);
The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 15:6);

Verses that distinguish between Christ and God with respect to their roles in salvation:

We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ“ (Rom. 5:1).
We shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him (Christ)“ (Rom. 5:9).
We were reconciled to God through the death of His Son“ (Rom. 5:10).

All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith” (Rom. 3:23-25).

For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh” (Rom. 8:3).

Verses that distinguish between Christ and God with respect to who we praise:

I thank my God through Jesus Christ“ (Rom 1:8).
Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!“ (Rom. 7:25).
To the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever“ (Rom. 16:27).

The following verse distinguishes between Christ and God with respect to judgment:

God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus“ (Rom 2:16).

Verses that distinguish between Christ and God with respect to what Jesus today does:

The life that He (Christ now) lives, He lives to God“ (Rom. 6:10).
Christ Jesus … who is at the right hand of God“ (Rom. 8:34);

Conclusions

These 13 verses make a clear distinction between God and Jesus, which means that Paul, in Romans, did not use the title “God” for Jesus.  These verses also contain a number of other important principles.

1. The word “through” is found in 8 of the verses.  This is a surprisingly high number and explains the relationship between God and Jesus, namely that everything that God did or does, He did or does through His Son, including creation of all things.  We even worship God through Jesus.

2. One often hears it said that we are saved by Jesus, but these verses show that it is God that saves – through Jesus.

3.  Our thanks goes to God; not to Jesus. This principle is relevant to Romans 9:5, as discussed below.

4. In Romans Paul only twice uses the title “Father;” right in the beginning and at the end of the letter (1:7; 15:6).  His habit therefore was to use “God” to refer to the Father.

Romans 9:5

Only one verse was found which might refer to Jesus as God, and that is Romans 9:5.  At the end of this article the 28 translations of Roman 9:5, as provided by BibleHub, are summarized.  The NIV, for example, reads “the Messiah, who is God over all, forever praised!”  The three components of this phrase, apart from Christ Himself (Messiah in some translations), are:

God
Who is over all, and
Forever praised

The 28 different translations combine the elements differently, resulting in different responses to the question whether this verse states that Jesus is God.

A. In the New Living Translation and three other translations all three components describe Christ, and consequently declare that Jesus is God: “Christ … he is God, … who rules over everything and is worthy of eternal praise!

B. The NIV and nine other translations qualifies “God” with “who is over all:” “the Messiah, who is God over all, forever praised!”  It is possible to read this as saying somewhat less than that Jesus is God, but that He is Ruler over all.

C. The NASB and eleven other translations combine “God” with “forever praised,” and say: “Christ … who is over all, God blessed forever.” This implies that Jesus is not God, but that He is blessed by God; confirming a distinction between God and Jesus.

D. The Contemporary English Version and the Good News Translation link the “who is over all” to “God”, and consequently completely separate Christ and God: “They …  were also the ancestors of the Christ. I pray that God, who rules over all …

In Summary

Four translations say that Jesus is God.
Ten describe Him as “God over all.”
Twelve call Jesus “God blessed,” implying that He is not God, and
Two make a clear distinction between God and Jesus.

In total, 14 translations may be read as supporting the view that Jesus is God and 14 oppose it.  It is all a matter of punctuation, and punctuation is interpretation, for the original text did not contain punctuation.  Metzger (Textual Commentary, 167.) wrote “the presence of punctuation in Greek manuscripts … cannot be regarded as more than the reflection of current exegetical understanding of the meaning of the passage.”

BibleHub quotes from Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers, which says that  “both ways are possible.”  The commentary continues to say that the word order and the context are somewhat in favour of describing Jesus as God, but other factors are somewhat decidedly against this application:

Firstly, the phrase “who is over all,” and ascription of blessing in all other places in Paul’s writings refer to God;  not to Christ, (Rom. 1:25; 2Cor. 1:3; 2Cor. 11:31; Eph. 1:3; 4:6.).  The analysis above also discovered the following statements that direct our thanks and glory to God; not to Jesus:

I thank my God through Jesus Christ“ (Rom 1:8).
Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!“ (Rom. 7:25).
To the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever“ (Rom. 16:27).

Secondly, the commentary states that Paul nowhere else applied the title “God” to our Lord.  This must be an important consideration.

Brian James Wright, in his document, Jesus as Θεός: A Textual Examination, in his analysis dismissed Romans 9:5 up front because Romans 9.5 involves a punctuation issue “which our earliest manuscripts do not answer.” (Douglas J. Moo, “The Christology of the Early Pauline Letters,” in Contours of Christology in the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 190.)

Translations of Romans 9:5

The translations below have been color coded into the four categories:
Jesus is God.
Jesus is God over all.
Jesus is God blessed
Jesus and God completely separated

New International Version  “the Messiah, who is God over all, forever praised!”

New Living Translation “Christ … he is God, … who rules over everything and is worthy of eternal praise!”

English Standard Version “Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever.”

Berean Study Bible “Christ, who is God over all, forever worthy of praise!”

Berean Literal Bible “Christ …  being God over all, blessed to the ages.”

New American Standard Bible  “Christ … who is over all, God blessed forever.”

King James Bible “Christ … who is over all, God blessed for ever.”

Christian Standard Bible “Christ, who is God over all, praised forever.”

Contemporary English Version “They …  were also the ancestors of the Christ. I pray that God, who rules over all, will be praised forever! Amen.

Good News Translation “Christ, as a human being, belongs to their race. May God, who rules over all, be praised forever!

Holman Christian Standard Bible “the Messiah, who is God over all, praised forever.”

International Standard Version “the Messiah …  who is God over all, the one who is forever blessed.”

NET Bible “Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever!”

New Heart English Bible “Christ … who is over all, God, blessed forever.”

Aramaic Bible in Plain English “The Messiah … who is The God Who is over all, to Whom are praises and blessings to the eternity of eternities”.

GOD’S WORD® Translation “The Messiah is God over everything, forever blessed.”

New American Standard 1977  “Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever.”

Jubilee Bible 2000 “Christ, who is God over all things, blessed for all the ages.”

King James 2000 Bible “Christ … who is over all, God blessed forever.”

American King James Version “Christ … who is over all, God blessed for ever.”

American Standard Version “Christ … who is over all, God blessed for ever.”

Douay-Rheims Bible “Christ … who is over all things, God blessed for ever.”

Darby Bible Translation “Christ, who is over all, God blessed for ever.”

English Revised Version “Christ as concerning the flesh, who is over all, God blessed for ever.

Webster’s Bible Translation “Christ … who is over all, God blessed for ever.”

Weymouth New Testament “Christ, who is exalted above all, God blessed throughout the Ages.”

World English Bible “Christ … who is over all, God, blessed forever.”

Young’s Literal Translation “Christ … who is over all, God blessed to the ages.”

 

When referring to Jesus, should THEOS be translated God or god or divine?

God was the Word
John 1:1c – God was the Word

Summary

The Greek word translated “God” or “god” is THEOS.  The Bible refers to Jesus as THEOS a number of times.  This article discusses the different meanings of THEOS to determine why Jesus is called THEOS.  Thayer’s Greek Lexicon explains that THEOS is used for:

● All deities or divinities
● Christ
● The only and true God;
● God’s representatives
● The devil
● The person or thing to which one is wholly devoted, e.g. appetite.

Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance’s defines THEOS as:

● The supreme Divinity,  God;
● Godly;
● A deity; or
● A magistrate

Conclusion

Combining these two definitions, THEOS is used:

To identify a being or thing as:
● The only true God;
● A god; a superhuman being worshipped as having power over nature, human fortunes, etc.
● An idol, or image, symbolizing a god;
● A thing that opposes God, such as Satan or appetite or wealth; or
● A person mandated by God to represent Him.

To qualitatively describe the characteristics or nature of a being that is not a god as ‘godly’ or ‘godlike’ or ‘divine’.

The definition implies an important difference between our word “God” and THEOS.  The Greek language did not have the distinction between lower and upper case letters. We use “God,” with a capital G, as a name for the only true God; equivalent to His Old Testament name YHVH.   THEOS has a different meaning, for THEOS may also be translated “god” or “godlike.”

Which of these meanings of THEOS apply to Jesus?  Is He called THEOS because He is co-equal part of the Trinity, or because He is mandated by God to represent Him, or in a qualitative sense; that He is divine or godly, but distinct from God?  It is the purpose of this series of articles to answer these questions.

Purpose of this article

The Greek word translated “God” is Θεός (Strong number 2315); transliterated THEOS.  This Greek word has survived in English in words such as “theology” and “theism.”  The purpose of this article is to explain the various meanings of THEOS.

Thayer’s Greek Lexicon

ThayersBiblehub provides the various possible meanings of THEOS according to Thayer’s Greek Lexicon.  The following is a summary of this complex but useful definition:

(1) THEOS is a general appellation (title) of deities or divinities (Acts 12:22; 19:37; 28:6; 1 Cor. 8:4; 2 Thess. 2:4).  In other words, it is used for any god; not only for the Creator.  In plural form, it is only used of the gods of the Gentiles (Acts 14:11; 19:26, 1 Corinthians 8:5, Galatians 4:8, Acts 7:43).

(2) Whether Christ is called God is still in dispute among theologians, and must be determined from John 1:1; John 20:28; 1 John 5:20; Romans 9:5; Titus 2:13; Hebrews 1:8f, etc.

(3) THEOS also refers to the only and true God;

(3.1) Sometimes with the article (Mt. 3:9; Mark 13:19; Luke 2:13; Acts 2:11) – (The ancient Greek language had a definite article (the), but not an indefinite article, equivalent to the English a or an.)

(3.2) Sometimes with both the article and prepositions (e.g. “of God” John 8:47; cf. 8:42; Luke 1:26; Acts 26:6; John 8:40; John 9:16; Romans 2:13; Col. 3:3; Acts 24:15; John 1:2; Acts 24;

(3.3) Sometimes without the article (e.g. “You cannot serve God and wealth” Mt. 6:24; cf. Luke 3:2; Luke 20:38; Rom. 8:8, 33; 2 Cor. 1:21; 5:19; 6:7; 1 Thess. 2:5);

(3.4) Sometimes without the article but with prepositions (e.g. “from God” John 3:2; cf. 16:30; Romans 13:1, John 1:6, Acts 5:39; 2 Cor. 5:1; Phil. 3:9;, 2 Thess. 1:6; 1 Peter 2:4; Mt. 22:32)

In summary: With Article With Preposition
(3.1) Yes No
(3.2) Yes Yes
(3.3) No No
(3.4) No Yes

THEOS is therefore used for the only true God with and without the article, and with and without prepositions.  In other words, the absence or presence of the article or a preposition does not fully determine whether a particular THEOS refers to the only true God.  Further identifications in the context must also be considered.

(4) THEOS is used of whatever can in any respect be likened to God, or resembles him in any way.  Under this option, Thayer’s mentions three categories:

(4.1) Hebraistically, for God’s representative, of magistrates and judges.  For example, in John 10:34 Jesus quotes Psalm 81:6: “Has it not been written in your Law, ‘I SAID, YOU ARE GODS’?

(4.2) The devil, (2 Cor. 4:4);

(4.3) The person or thing to which one is wholly devoted, for which alone he lives, e.g. “whose god is their appetite” (Phil. 3:19).

Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance

Strong's concordanceBiblehub also quotes Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance’s definition of THEOS:

The supreme Divinity, God, godly.
Of uncertain affinity; a deity, especially (with ho) the supreme Divinity; figuratively, a magistrate; by Hebraism, very — X exceeding, God, god(-ly, -ward).

Meanings of THEOS

Combining the definitions above, the following possible meanings of THEOS may be identified:

(A) The only true God

According to Strong’s, THEOS is used for “the supreme Divinity” and “God,” especially when the article (the) is added.  In other words, when THEOS is used without the article, it may refer to both God and to gods, but when the article is added it most often refers God.  Thayer provides examples where THEOS without the article refers to the only true God.  Oxford’s similarly refers to “God (in Christian and other monotheistic religions) creator and ruler of the universe.”

(B) False gods

OxfordTHEOS is a general title of deities or divinities, including false gods.  THEOS was used to describe even Roman Emperors.  Oxford’s Dictionary refers to a “superhuman being or spirit worshipped as having power over nature, human fortunes, etc. b image, idol, etc., symbolizing a god.”

(C) Things that oppose God

This is Thayer’s categories 4.2 and 4.3.  This meaning is not mentioned by Strong’s.  Examples from the New Testament are the devil, appetite and wealth (Mt. 6:24).  Satan is “the god of this age” (2 Cor. 4:4).

(D) God’s agents

THEOS is also used for beings who have been granted authority or power by God to represent Him.  This is Thayer’s category 4.1.  Strong’s refer to this category as “figuratively, a magistrate.”  Examples include:

In John 10:35 Jesus, quoting Psalm 82:6, refers to people, “to whom the word of God came,” as “gods.”  (In Psalms 82 “God” says to the “rulers” of “His own congregation,” “you are gods, And all of you are sons of the Most High.“)

Moses was appointed by God as “god” to Pharaoh (Ex. 7:1).

Psalm 8:5 reads “You have made him (man) a little lower than ELOHIM.”  (ELOHIM is the plural Hebrew equivalent of THEOS.)  The LXX translates ELOHIM here as angels.  Hebrews, relying on the LXX, quotes this as “Him who was made for a little while lower than the angels” (Heb. 2:9).  Angels are therefore indirectly called gods, probably for their role as God’s messengers.

(E) Qualitative use

In the previous four uses, THEOS identifies or categorizes a being (as a false god or as a thing that opposes God or as the only true God or as God’s agent).  But THEOS may also be used to describe the characteristics or nature of a being.  This is the qualitative use of the word.  Strong’s gives the examples “god(-ly, -ward).”  Thayer’s does not mention this meaning.  Oxford’s gives one of the meanings of god as an “adored or greatly admired person.”  This person is not really a god, but is godlike.

Adopting this meaning, some translations of John 1:1c read, “the Word was divine.”  To describe a being as divine does not necessarily mean that the being is God, for instance:

“… you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust” (2 Pe 1:4).

To say that “the Word was divine” therefore implies that the Word is like God, having godlike qualities, without being God Himself.  As discussed in the article The Word was a god, grammarians who studied the special grammatical construct of John 1:1c concluded that that phrase uses THEOS in a qualitative sense.   Commentators who prefer the translation “Jesus was God,” in defense against this conclusion, often describe Jesus as “fully divine,” as opposed to merely “divine.”  In this way they attempt to defend the view that Jesus is co-equal with the Father.

THEOS is not God.

The definition above implies an important difference between our word “God” and THEOS.

Today we have something which the ancient Greek language did not have, namely the distinction between lower and upper case letters.  In a Christian community, when we write “God,” with a capital G, everybody know that we are referring to one specific Being; the Creator.  No further identification is required.  But when we write “god” it is clear that we are not referring to the Creator.  In other words, in the Christian culture, we actually use “God” as a name for the Creator; equivalent to His Old Testament name YHVH.

THEOS, on the other hand, is equivalent to our word “god,” which is a general designation for all deities or divinities.  The ancient Greeks had many gods.  Their deities were essentially just immortal, glorified humans with supernatural powers.  The other ancient nations, when the New Testament was written, also had many gods.  THEOS was used for all those gods.

Further Identification Required

THEOS is therefore only translated “God” when further identification makes it clear that the Creator is intended, for example:

When the context makes this clear.

Sometimes the only true God is identified by adding phrases such as such as “the living” (Mt. 16:16) or the “Most High” (Mark 5:7).

The Old Testament often adds God’s personal name YHVH (Yahweh or Jehovah) to the Hebrew word ELOHIM (GOD).

Very often the Greek New Testament puts the Greek article (the) before THEOS to identify the only true God.  John 1:1b is an example of this.  THE THEOS in Greek is translated into English by omitting the article and by capitalizing the G (“God”).  With G capitalized, we do not need the article.

Tautology

Consequently, our translations are sometimes guilty of tautology.  For example:

A jealous and avenging God is the LORD” (Nahum 1:2) is tautology, for “God,” in English, is a synonym for “the LORD,” which translates God’s name YHVH.  Perhaps this would be more accurately translated “A jealous and avenging god is the LORD,”with a lower case “g,” but that seems a bit awkward.

Jesus is called THEOS.

Of the more than 1300 times that the title THEOS is found in the New Testament, it is used for Jesus about 7 times.  Thayer’s says, “Whether Christ is called God must be determined … the matter is still in dispute among theologians.”

Considering the five uses of THEOS identified above, Jesus is not called THEOS in the sense of a false god or in the sense of a being that oppose God.  The following remaining meanings may be evaluated:

Firstly, He may be called THEOS because He is co-equal part of the Godhead, as Trinitarians propose; three Persons but one Being.

Secondly, He may be called THEOS in the sense of being God’s representative, like the Old Testament magistrates and judges, who were mandated by God to speak for Him, and who were called gods for that reason.  Consistent with this concept, God always seems to work through Jesus: He created all things through Jesus.  He saves through Jesus.  We even worship God through Jesus.  See Jesus is worshiped and God created all things through His Son.

Thirdly, Jesus may be called THEOS in a qualitative sense; that He is divine, but not the Original Source of all things.  This is consistent with Philippians 2, where it is stated that He is distinct from God but equal to God.  (See Jesus emptied Himself.)  Or, as stated in Colossians 2:9: “in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form.”

The Word is a god

Another possible meaning which may be considered is the Jehovah Witness New World Translation of John 1:1c; “the Word was a god,” implying that He is one of many created but extremely powerful beings.  For a further discussion of this option, see the Word was a god.

The purpose of this series of articles is to determine which of these possible meanings apply to Jesus.

NEXT:  John 1:1b has the article before GOD, but 1:1c omits it. Does this justify an indefinite translation; The Word was a god?

The Vile Person of Daniel 11: Is it Antiochus IV or a final world-wide anti-God ruler?

Summary

Introduction

Daniel mentions the kingdoms of Greece and Mede-Persia by name.  Critics do not accept that God knows the future.  They propose that Daniel was written after these kingdoms already came to power.

The main character in Daniel 11 is a “vile person.”  It is generally agreed that this person is the same entity as the evil horn-king of Daniel 7 and 8.

Daniel 11Antiochus IV was a Greek king who ruled in the middle of the second century BC.  He fits the sequence of kings and the activities of the “vile person” of Daniel 11 quite well.  Critics therefore propose that the book of Daniel was written in his time and that Antiochus IV was the “vile person.”  Critics transfer this interpretation to Daniel 7 and 8, and interpret the evil horn-king in these chapters also as Antiochus IV.

Interpretation

Interpreters generally agree on the interpretation of the first 13 verses of Daniel 11.  The chapter opens with a description of individual Persians kings.  It then moves to the Greek Empire.  It is generally understood that verses 14 to 19 describe Antiochus III; one of the Greek kings and predecessor of Antiochus IV.

Verse 22 is a critical verse.  It says that the Vile Person will:

Flood away the “overflowing forces“ and
Shatter the prince of the covenant.

There are strong word links between this verse and Daniel 9:24-27.  The words “flood” and nagid (prince) are unique to these two passages.  Only in these passages is “covenant” linked to a nagid-prince and is the nagid-prince cut off.  On the basis of these links it is proposed:

That the Prince of the covenant is Jesus;
That “broken” refers to His death on the Cross.
That the flood is the Roman Empire.

Since the events in Daniel 11 are given in their chronological sequence, and since the abomination (11:31) and the persecution of God’s people (11:32-34) are described later in Daniel 11, these must occur in time after Christ’s death in the first century AD.  These events therefore cannot be the activities of Antiochus IV.

Objections

One objection to this interpretation is that Daniel 11 provides much more detail about Antiochus III (vv 15-19); the father and predecessor of Antiochus IV, than about any previous king.  It is argued that Antiochus III is emphasized to identify the subsequent king (the vile person) as his son Antiochus IV.  But below it is argued that Antiochus III is emphasized because his reign was a turning point in history; not to identify the next king.

A second objection is that the Roman Empire is not mentioned in Daniel 11.  Daniel 11 continues, without an intervening empire, from Antiochus III to the vile person.  To this objection we respond by showing that the symbol of the evil king includes the Roman Empire, as well as the anti-God power that arose from it.

A principle in these prophecies is, once the prophecy reaches a key turning point in history, that the prophecy jumps over the remaining kings of that empire to the next empire.  The wars of Antiochus III were a key turning point in history.  At that point the prophecy jumps over the remaining Greek rulers to the Roman Empire, represented by the symbol of the vile person.

A third objection is that Antiochus IV fits the sequence of kings in Daniel 11 as well as the actions of the “vile person.”  This is acknowledged, but, on the other hand, the description of the “vile person” exceeds Antiochus IV.  There are much in the prophecy that does not fit Antiochus IV.  Antiochus IV is only a partial fulfillment of anti-God successor.  He is a type of the ultimate fulfilment of the final and much larger worldwide anti-God ruler that will arise after the time of the Roman Empire.

Purpose

Daniel 11 is one of the most difficult chapters in the Bible.  The conservative interpretation, as defended in these articles, is not based on Daniel 11, but on the earlier and easier to understand chapters.  The current article attempts to explain Daniel 11 from a conservative standpoint.

Introduction

Daniel is History written as Prophecy.

Daniel 8 mentions the kingdoms of Greece and Mede-Persia by name.  The first verses of Daniel 11 also clearly describe these kingdoms.  But critics do not accept that God knows the future.  They do not accept that these accurate descriptions in Daniel of historical events could have been written in the sixth century BC.  They therefore propose that Daniel was written after these kingdoms already rose to power.  In other words, in their view, Daniel is history written in the form of prophecy.

The Vile Person is the Small Horn of Daniel 8.

The main character in Daniel 11 is a “vile person” (KJV; 11:21).  It is generally agreed that this “vile person” is the same as the horn of Daniel 8 and Daniel 7, argued as follows:

(1) As stated before, the later prophecies in Daniel elaborate on the earlier prophecies.  Based on this principle chapter 11, even though it does not have beasts and horns representing kingdoms and their division, but rather a series of selected individual kings who ruled those kingdoms, still refers to the same kingdoms.

(2) Both the horn and the vile person:
. . . Persecute God’s people (7:25; 11:32-34);
. . . For a period of 3½ times (7:25; 12:7); (See **)
. . . Profane the temple (11:31; 8:11) (See ***)
. . . Set up “the abomination that makes desolate” (11:31; 8:13); (See ****).
. . . Remove the continual (tamid) (8:11; 11:31);
. . . Work through deceit (8:25; 11:21-24); and
. . .Magnify himself” (8:11; 11:36-37).

Notes

Note ** The persecution by the vile person is described in 11:32-34, but when Daniel asked “How long shall it be?” (12:6), the response is, “it would be for a time, two times, and half a time; and that when the shattering of the power of the holy people comes to an end all these things would be accomplished” (12:7).  This seems to say that the holy people will be persecuted for the prophetic period of “a time, two times, and half a time“, —a total of 3½ times.  Since this question and answer come at the end of the prophecy of Daniel 11·12, it refers to the previously mentioned persecution, which is the persecution in 11:32-34.

The 3½ times of Daniel 12:7 is also mentioned in Daniel 7:25—where it is also a time of persecution for the saints of the Most High, namely by the little horn-king.

Note *** The vile person profanes the strong temple (11:31), which is equivalent to the casting down of the place of the temple by the horn in 8:11.

Note **** An abomination is a sin.  In Deuteronomy 7:25 “graven images of their gods” are called “an abomination to the LORD your God.`” Both of these expressions are related to the tamid (continual) in their respective contexts (compare 11:31 with 8:11-12).

Daniel 11 therefore covers the same ground as Daniel 8, and provides additional detail.

The Vile Person is Antiochus IV.

After the death of Alexander the Great, his Greek kingdom was divided into four empires.  One of these was the Seleucids of the Middle East.  Antiochus IV was one of the kings in this kingdom.  He ruled in the middle of the second century BC.  He fits the sequence of kings and the activities of the “vile person” of Daniel 11 quite well.  But the events described in the last part of Daniel 11 do not fit known history.  Critics therefore propose:

(A) That the book of Daniel was written in the time of Antiochus IV;
(B) That Daniel was written in response to the persecution of the Jews by Antiochus IV;
(C) That the evil king in Daniel is Antiochus IV, and
(D) That the events in Daniel 11, that do not fit history, are the guesswork of the uninspired writer of Daniel.

Daniel 7 and 8

Critics transfer this interpretation to Daniel 7 and 8 as well, and interpret the evil horn-king in these chapters also as Antiochus IV (the Maccabean thesis).  As one critic wrote:

Daniel was written during the period of the Maccabees, in the middle of the 2nd century B.C., or about 400 years after the events it describes.  Its origin is betrayed in chapter 11, when Daniel supposedly prophesies about the future.

Conservatives, on the other hand, base their interpretation of Daniel mostly on Daniel 2, 7 and 8, and often find it difficult to explain Daniel 11.

Interpretation

Critics do not accept that the future can be known. They believe that the evil king in Daniel 11 was the Greek king Antiochus IV.  The current article defends the conservative interpretation of Daniel 11.There are no animals in the vision of Daniel 11.  The Persian kingdom is identified by name (11:2), but none of the later kingdoms or kings are named.  Instead, the names “king of the south” and “king of the north” are used; each describing an entire kingdom consisting of a whole series of kings.  The reader of Daniel 11 has to identify the individual kings by comparing the events described in the prophecy with actual history.

Interpreters generally agree on the interpretation of Daniel 11:1-13:

Persian Kings
The chapter opens with a description of individual Persians kings, concluding with Xerxes, who attacked Greece (11:2).  By virtue of his failed attack on the Greeks, he brought the Greek nation onto the ‘world’ scene.

Greek kings
King of the NorthThe prophecy then jumps over the next 150 years of Persian rule to the first Greek king—the “mighty king” (Alexander the Great) (11:3).  His kingdom was divided into four divisions after his death (11:4).  Verses 5 to 13 describe key events in the history of two of the four divisions, namely those divisions that were threats to Judea.  To the north of Judea was the “king of the north;” the Seleucid kings of the Middle East.  To the south was the “king of the south,” namely the Ptolemaic kings of Egypt.  The actions of the Ptolemies and Seleucids, as described in these verses, are fairly consistent with what we know today as their history.

Antiochus III

Verse 14 refers to the “breakers of your people.”  Here interpretations diverge.  But it is generally agreed that verses 14 to 19 describe Antiochus III.  To quote a critical scholar:

Daniel 11:2-20 is a very accurate & historically corroborated sequence of events from the third year (10:1) of the Persian era up to the predecessor of Antiochus IV: some 366 years!  Only the names and dates are missing.  Most of the details are about the conflicts between the kings of the South (the Ptolemies of Egypt) and the kings of the North (the Seleucids of Mesopotamia/ Syria).  The Seleucids are shown to become stronger and stronger (despite some setbacks) …  Of course, Jerusalem was in the middle and changed hand (197, from Egypt to Syria).

Prince of the covenant

Verse 22 is a critical verse.  The following is a rather literal translation of this verse:

the arms of the flood are overflowed from before him, and are broken; and also the leader (nagid; prince–NASB) of the covenant (YLT)

The text presents a picture of inferior forces (“the arms of the flood“) being defeated by the superior forces of the vile person. The lesser flood is flooded by an even greater flood of arms.  The prince of the covenant is also broken.  In other words, it says that the vile person will:

Flood away the “overflowing forces“ and
Shatter the prince of the covenant.

The current article proposes that the prince of the covenant is Jesus, and that “broken” refers to His death on the Cross.  This conclusion is based on the word links between 11:22 and the prophecy of Christ’s death in Daniel 9:24-27.

Word Links

The word “flood,” as a noun occurs only twice in Daniel—in 9:26 (“Its end shall come with the flood, and to the end there shall be war“) and in 11:22.

The word ‘sar’ (translated “prince”) occurs 11 times in Daniel (8:11, 25; 9:6, 8; 10:13, 20 [twice], 21; 11:5; 12:1).  But the word ‘nagid’, which is also translated “prince,” occurs only in 11:22 and in 9:24-27. In 9:24-27 we find nagid in the phrases “Messiah the Prince” and “the prince who is to come.”  The implication is that “the prince of the covenant” (11:22) is the “Messiah the Prince” (9:25), describing Christ in His earthly incarnate state.

In both 9:24-27 and 11:22 the nagid-prince will be destroyed.  He is “cut off” (9:26) and ”broken” (11:22).

The word covenant occurs in both passages.  Covenant also occurs elsewhere in Daniel, but only in these two passages is a prince connected with the covenant.  Consequently, only the nagid-prince is connected with the covenant.  In 9:26-27 the nagid-prince makes strong the covenant for one week. (See Covenant in Daniel 9:27.)  In 11:22 the nagid-prince of the covenant is broken.  “Covenant” elsewhere in Daniel always refers to the covenant between God and His people (9:4; 11:28, 30, 32).  It is therefore assumed that the covenant in 11:22 also refers to God’s covenant with Israel.

Conclusion

On the basis of these word links it is concluded as follows:

1. The nagid-prince in the two passages refers to the same individual, namely that the Prince of the Covenant is Jesus.
2. The breaking of the prince of the covenant in 11:22 refers to the death of Jesus Christ.
3. The flood in the two passages also refers to the same power: The flood that floods away the “overflowing forces“ in 11:22 (and destroys the city and the sanctuary in 9:26) is the Roman Empire.

Since the events in Daniel 11 are given in their chronological sequence, and since the abomination (11:31) and the persecution of God’s people (11:32-34) are described later in Daniel 11, these events must occur in time after Christ’s death in the first century AD.  These events therefore occur during or after the Roman period, and cannot be the deeds of Antiochus IV.

Jesus confirmed this when He said:

Therefore when you see the ABOMINATION OF DESOLATION which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet (Daniel 11:31 and 12:11), standing in the holy place“ (Mat 24:15)

Jesus therefore also interpreted the vile person as an anti-God ruler that will arise after His time; not as the Greek king Antiochus IV who lived about 200 years earlier.

Prophecies Compared

We are now able to compare Daniel 11 with the earlier prophecies:

Daniel 11 Daniel 9 Daniel 8 Daniel 7
Persian kings (v2) Persian decree (v25) Ram (v2-4) Bear (v5)
Greek king (v3) Goat (v5-7) Leopard (v6a)
Kings of North and South Goat’s four horns (v8) Leopard’s four heads
Roman flood breaks Nagid of covenant (v22) Nagid cut off (v 25-27) Horizontal expansion (8:9) Fourth beast (v8, 23)
Vile person: profanes temple, set up abomination (v31), persecute for 3½ times (v32-34; 12:7) Little horn: casts temple down, removes daily, transgression of desolation (v8-13) Little horn: persecute God’s people for 3½ limes; (v25)

 

Objections to this interpretation

Antiochus III emphasized

One objection against this interpretation is that Daniel 11 provides much more detail about Antiochus III (vv 15-19); the father and predecessor of Antiochus IV, than about any previous king.  Critics argue that Antiochus III is emphasized to identify the subsequent king (the vile person) as his son Antiochus IV.  To this reasoning we respond as follows:

The reign of the fourth Persian king (Xerxes) was also emphasized earlier in verse 2 of Daniel 11, but not to identify the Persian king that would follow after him.  Xerxes was emphasized because his unsuccessful wars against Greece was a key turning point in history that shifted the balance of power in the known world from Mede-Persia to Greece.  After Xerxes was mentioned in verse 2, the prophecy immediately jumps over the next 150 years during which seven Persian kings reigned (Arlaxerxes I, Darius II, Xerxes II, Artaxerxes II, Artaxerxes Ill, Arses, and Darius III), to the first Greek emperor; Alexander the Great (11:3).

We then note that Antiochus III’s unsuccessful war against the Romans, as described in Daniel 11, was similarly a key turning point in history.  It shifted the balance of power from the Greek Empire to Rome.  As a result, Antiochus and his sons had to pay penalties to the Romans, and were left subject to the growing dominance of Rome.

Both the reigns of Xerxes and Antiochus III were therefore turning points in history that shifted the balance of power in favor of the next empire.  These two reigns are emphasized in the text of Daniel 11 for this reason; not to identify the kings that follow them.

In the case of Xerxes we note, once the key turning point has been reached, that the prophecy jumps over the next 150 years of Persian rule to the next empire.  This principle applies equally to the shift from the Greek to the Roman empires.  After Antiochus III’s unsuccessful war against Rome, the prophecy jumps over the next 170 years, during which several Greek kings reigned, to the next empire (Rome).  11:19 is then a description of the death of Antiochus III, while 11:22 describes the death of Christ 200 years later.

This principle is also noted when Daniel 7 and 8 are compared.  The vision in Daniel 7 mentions Babylon, but the vision in Daniel 8, which was received only two years later (compare 7:1 and 8:1) does not.  The reason is that the key turning point, that shifted the balance of world power from Babylon to Mede-Persia, was reached between these two dates.  This was the war between the Medes and the Persians, which resulted in the prophesied Cyrus becoming supreme ruler of both the Medes and the Persians.

Conclusion: Antiochus III is emphasized because his reign was a turning point in history; not to identify the next king.

Roman Empire is not mentioned

A second objection is that the Roman Empire is not mentioned in Daniel 11.  Daniel 11 continues, without an intervening empire, from Antiochus III to the vile person.

To this objection we respond in the same way as to the same question in Daniel 8, namely that the evil horn-king of Daniel 8 represents both the Roman Empire and the evil horn that arises from it.  The same principle applies to Daniel 11: The symbol of the evil king includes the Roman Empire, symbolized by the flood (11:22), and anti-God power that arose from it.  To explain further:

Daniel 7 describes a fourth empire, followed by a horn-king that seeks to exterminate God’s people and God’s message.  But even in Daniel 7 the emphasis is on this anti-God ruler.  Daniel 7 describes the fourth empire in only two verses, but allows 6 verses for the evil horn.

Daniel 8 does not mention the Roman Empire directly.  Political Rome is mentioned only indirectly in the initial horizontal expansion of the little horn (8:9).  The religious phase is represented by the subsequent vertical growth of the horn.  Daniel 8 uses the horn-king for both the Roman Empire and worldwide anti-God ruler.  Nearly all the attention in Daniel 8 is on the religious phase.

Daniel 11 continues this pattern by representing both the Roman Empire and the anti-God ruler as a single symbol; the despicable person.  Political Rome is seen only as the flood that flows away the “overflowing forces” and also flows away the “prince of the covenant” (11:22).  By far most of the descriptions in Daniel 11 are about the anti-God king.

To this we must add the principle in these prophecies that, once the prophecies reach a key turning point in history, the prophecy jumps over the remaining kings of that empire to the next empire.  Daniel 11:19-22 can be interpreted as a jump from Antiochus III to the Roman Empire.

As mentioned before, the sole purpose of these prophecies, including the first four kingdoms, is to locate to the worldwide anti-God ruler in time.  Moving from Daniel 2 to 7 to 8 to 11, the emphasis on the political powers reduces in each later prophecy, while the emphasis on the anti-God power keeps increasing.

Conclusion
The wars of Antiochus III were a key turning point in history.  At that point the prophecy jumps over the remaining Greek rulers to the Roman Empire, represented by the symbol of the vile person, that first overflows “the arms of the flood” (Greek Empire) and also breaks the Prince of the covenant.

Antiochus IV fits.

A third objection is that Antiochus IV fits the sequence of kings in Daniel 11.  Studies by the current author (comparing Daniel 11 to the history of the Seleucids kings as it is available on internet) have confirmed the majority interpretation up to 11:19, where Antiochus III dies.  The description of the vile person starts in 11:21.  Therefore, if 11:20 describes Seleucus IV (and not Heliodorus), then Antiochus IV fits the sequence of kings.

Critics also correctly argue that the descriptions of the “vile person” in the verses after 11:21 fits the actions of Antiochus IV.  These include his double invasion of Egypt (compare 11:25, 29), and the persecution of God’s people.

For critics these are conclusive evidence that the vile person is Antiochus IV, and not the Roman Empire or some later ruler.

This is acknowledged, but, on the other hand, the description of the “vile person” exceeds Antiochus IV.  For instance, Antiochus never gained authority or ruled through deceit (v21).  He did not distribute the plunder (v24).  He did not magnify himself above every god or not had regard for the god of his fathers, nor for any god (v36-37).  And, as all agree, the events of the “time of the end” (v40-45) do not fit history at all.  As Desmond Ford noted:

Verses 21-35 fit his (Antiochus’s) time perfectly, but let it be noted that this interpretation by no means exhausts the passage (p 144; Daniel and the coming King).

For more detail, see Does Antiochus IV fit the profile?

Antiochus IV is a type.

Daniel 11 may therefore be understood as two stories intertwined:  The first story starts with Persia and continues until and including Antiochus IV.  But while discussing Antiochus IV it jumps to the second story, which is of a future and worldwide evil king.  This story continues until Michael stands up (12:1-3).

We see the same double meaning in Joel, where the prophet describes a local locust plague, but unexpectedly jumps to the day of the Lord.  Isaiah 14 jumps from the king of Babylon to Lucifer, without interruption (14:4, 12).  Ezekiel 28 moves from the king of Tyre (v12) to an “anointed cherub who covers” (v14).  It is also similar to Matthew 24, where Jesus combined the description of the destruction of the temple in 70 AD and the end of the world into a single story.  As another example, John the Baptist was a first representation of the Elijah to come.

We then conclude as follows:

The “vile person” is a symbol, and not a literal prediction.  It is a symbol of both the Roman Empire and its anti-God successor.

Antiochus IV is only a partial fulfillment of anti-God successor.  He is a type of the ultimate fulfilment of the final and much larger worldwide anti-God ruler that will arise after the time of the Roman Empire.

Why did God also reflect the events of Antiochus IV in Daniel 11?  Perhaps His purpose was, as the Jews see these events fulfilled in Antiochus IV, that they would accept the book of Daniel as inspired and expect the coming of the Messiah as predicted in Daniel 9.

For a more specific identification of the evil horn-king, please read the article on The Seven Headed Beast in Revelation.

God is in control.

This article therefore supports the view that the book of Daniel was written before the time of Antiochus IV, and that the prophecies are real predictions of future events.  God is in control of history:

There is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and He has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will take place in the latter days” (2:28).

The Most High God is ruler over the realm of mankind and that He sets over it whomever He wishes” (5:21).

NEXT:  Antiochus Does Not Fit the Description: In support of the current article, this article shows that Antiochus IV does not fit the specific characteristics of Daniel’s evil king.  Summary of this article