When John wrote John 1:18, did he refer to Jesus as theos (god) or huios (son)?

Synopsis

Many versions of John 1:18 refer to Jesus as “God,” but the original text is in dispute.  Many of the ancient manuscripts, containing this verse, refer to Jesus as huios (son) and not as theos (god).  Most modern scholars believe that theos is more likely to be the original, but according to the external and internal evidence, both are possible.  In any case, the word “God” is an interpretation based on the translator’s understanding of who Jesus is, for there is no word in the ancient Greek with that exact meaning.  The word often translated “God” is theos, which is roughly equivalent to our word “god.”

The Father is called God.

John 1:18 in the NASB reads as follows:

No one has seen God at any timeThe only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.”

Jesus similarly said:

Not that anyone has seen the Father, except the One who is from God; He has seen the Father” (John 6:46).

Another verse that describes God as invisible is Colossians 1:15; “who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, “whom no man has seen or can see” (1 Tim. 6:16).  Since God is invisible, while Jesus was seen, the implication is that the New Testament does not call Jesus God.

The One who is called “God” at the beginning of John 1:18 is called “the Father” at the end of it.  This identifies the unseen God as the Father.  John 20:17 is another example of this principle:

I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.

This confirms that, in the New Testament, it is the Father who is called God; not Jesus.

Jesus is called God.

John 1:18, as quoted above from the NASB, also describes Jesus as “God.”  But not all translations agree.  Some versions do not refer to Jesus as “God,” but as the “Son,” for instance:

The only begotten Son (KJV)
The only Son (RSV)

Textual Variants

The translations differ because the source texts differ.  Of the thousands of early Greek New Testament manuscripts, there are four principal textual variants of this phrase:

1.   ho monogenês
2.  ho monogenês huios
3.  monogenês theos
4.  ho monogenês theos

The meanings of these Greek words are as follows:

Ho is the Greek definite article, equivalent to our “the.”

Huios is the Greek word for “son.

Theos basically has the same meaning as our word “god,” with a lower “g.”  When the New Testament uses this word to the refer to the only true God, then it provides additional identification.  Many times that additional identification is by preceding theos with the Greek definite article ho.  In other instances theos is used for false gods and even for exalted humans.  The context must clarify the meaning.  See the article Meanings of the word theos.

Monogenês is another complex word.  According to Wikipedia it means to be “the only one of its kind,” but can also more specifically mean “the only one of its kind within a specific relationship,” such as the only child.  In the first variant listed above monogenês is a noun.  In John 1:14 monogenês is also a noun, and is translated as “only Son” in translations such as the ESV, ISV and the RSV.  In the other variants above monogenês is used as an adjective.

Why do manuscripts differ?

After a group or person received an original gospel or letter, copies were made in order to make them accessible to a wider audience.  Unfortunately, the scribes did not always copy these documents accurately.  Most of the inconsistencies happened by mistake, but some changes were made on purpose.  Somewhat similar to translators who today inevitable translate the Bible according to their understanding of doctrine, these scribes changed the text according to what they believe to be truth.

Textual criticism

Textual criticism is the study of surviving copies in order to determine the probable wording of the original autograph.  This task is important because we do not have any of the original manuscripts, and the copies we do have differ from one another.

Textual critics use external and internal evidence to establish which text probably represents the original.  External evidence consists of examining all available manuscripts to see which variants may be the earliest, has the greatest manuscript support or could have been more easily changed into another wording.  Only if external evidence is not conclusive will textual critics turn to internal evidence, namely considerations such as context, authorial style and word usage.

External evidence for John 1:18

John 1 18 KJV
KJV

According to the majority of modern scholars the external evidence favors theos as the original text.  But many scholars disagree, for the theos reading exists primarily only in one of the text-types (the Alexandrian).  Textus Receptus – the manuscript tradition behind the KJV and many other Bibles – reads ho monogenês huios.  This reading ranks second in terms of the number of manuscripts containing it, and has a wider distribution.  The external evidence is therefore not conclusive.

Internal evidence

One-time occurrence

John, in three other places, describes Jesus as “ho monogenês huios” (John 3:16, 18; 1 John 4:9).   If monogenês theos was the original text of John 1:18, it would be a one-time occurrence in the NT, and textual critics prefer readings that are not unique.

Immediate context

The question here is whether theos or huios fits the context better.  The point of the entire verse is that Jesus is able to explain the unseen “Father.”  This context seems to fit “Son” better.  The first part of the verse reads, “No one has seen God at any time.”  This make a distinction between God and Jesus, which would be contradicted if the next phrase also refers to Jesus as God.

On the other hand, John 1:1 is very similar to John 1:18.  Both make a distinction between God and Jesus and both say something about Jesus.  Since John 1:1 refers to Jesus as theos and since this is not disputed, for John 1:18 to describe Jesus as theos would fit the slightly wider context.

Easier to change

The more difficult reading is always more likely to be the original, for a scribe would generally be inclined to “smooth out” difficult readings, rather than to create them.  Furthermore, a “difficult reading” in a manuscript is more likely to be detected, whereas a “smoothing” might go undetected and ultimately replace the original.

In John 1:18 theos is the more difficult reading, for the New Testament reserves the title “God” for the Father, except for a handful of disputed exceptions.  This supports the proposal that John originally wrote theos.  Many scholars consider this consideration decisive.

However, John 1:1, also ascribes the title theos to Jesus, and the Nicene Creed described Jesus as “True God from True God.”  So perhaps theos was not such a difficult reading.

Conclusion

The point is that neither the external nor the internal evidence are conclusive.  Some conclude that theos is more likely to be the original reading, but it is not possible to say that with certainly.  Therefore John 1:18 cannot be used as valid evidence that Jesus was called God.

In any case, the word “God,” as we use it today, does not appear in the original Greek text, for the ancient Greek language did not have capital letters.  What we find in the Greek is the word theos, which can also mean “god” or “divine.”  This word theos is only translated as “God” when additional identification indicates that the Most High is intended.  See The Meanings of the Word THEOS. The translation of theos as “God,” when referring to Jesus is therefore an interpretation based on the translator’s understanding of who Jesus is.  Since John 1:18 refers to the Father as God, this might be seen as an invalid interpretation.

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 about seven times.  This article discusses the different meanings of THEOS to lay the foundation for a discussion of why Jesus is called THEOS.

Combining Thayer’s Greek Lexicon and the definition in Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, THEOS is used:

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

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

Difference between God and THEOS

This definition implies an important difference between our word “God” and THEOS:

God: The Greek language did not have the distinction between lower and upper case letters. Today 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.”

Jesus as THEOS

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

Considering the 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:

● He is co-equal part of the Trinity, or
● He is mandated by God to represent Him, or
● In a qualitative sense; that He is divine or Godlike, but distinct from God?

It is the purpose of this series of articles to answer this questions.

Purpose of this article

God’s Hebrew name YHVH, which is found all over the Old Testament, does not appear at all in the New, which has been written in Greek.  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

Of the 1314 times that theos appears in the New Testament, the NASB translates it 1267 times as “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 finding, and to support the view that Jesus is co-equal with the Father, often describe Jesus as “fully divine,” as opposed to merely “divine.”

THEOS is not the same as God.

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

God: 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).  This 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 1314 times that the title THEOS is found in the New Testament, it is used for Jesus about seven 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 in 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 or like God, 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?