Hebrews 1:8 refers to Jesus as “God.” Does this prove that He is God?

This is the second article in response to an article on the Trinity by the Gotquestions website.  The first article discussed the logical contradiction in the Trinity concept.  The current article responds to Gotquestions’ argument that “GOD THE SON IS DISTINGUISHED FROM GOD THE FATHER” and refers to Psalm 45:6-7 and Hebrews 1:8-9 for support.

The point is that Hebrews 1:8 refers to Jesus as “God.”  But does this prove that He is God?  Hebrews 1:8-9 is a quote from Psalm 45.  I will, therefore, discuss Psalm 45 first.  After that, I discuss the first part of Hebrews 1, and conclude with verses 8 and 9.

But before I discuss Psalm 45, note that GotQuestions refers to “God the Son” and also to “God the Father.” We DO find the title “God the Father” in the Bible; about 20 times, but the title “God the Son” IS NEVER FOUND IN THE BIBLE.  The phrase “God the Son” is the product of the Trinity doctrine and does not come from the Bible.

All bold, underlining, UPPERCASE, font sizes and italics in this article were added by myself.  Bible quotes are mostly from the NASB.

Psalm 45

Let us now discuss Psalm 45.  Verses 1 and 2 read:

1 … I address my verses TO THE KING
2 … GOD HAS BLESSED YOU forever

This, therefore, makes a distinction between God and the king of Israel.  But verses 6 to 9 continue and refer to the king of Israel as God.  Addressing the king, it says:

6 YOUR THRONE, O GOD, IS FOREVER AND EVER;
A scepter of uprightness is the scepter of Your kingdom.

7 You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness;
Therefore GOD, YOUR GOD, HAS ANOINTED You

9 Kings’ daughters are among Your noble ladies;
At Your right hand stands the queen.

This identifies the king of Israel as God.  This is confirmed by verse 9, which mentions the king’s wives.  But it also says, “GOD, YOUR GOD, has anointed You.”  In other words, the king of Israel is called God, but God is also his God.

Elohim

All four instances of the word “God” in the quote from the psalm are translated from the Hebrew word elohim, which Strongs defines as “God,” with a capital “G,” or “god,” with a small “g.”  The NASB translates elohim mostly as “God,” with a capital “G,” but also about 250 times with a small “g” “god” or “gods.

The word elohim is discussed in a separate article.  Another place where we see a human being described as “god” or elohim—literally “gods”—is in Exodus 7:1, where “The LORD said unto Moses, See, I have made you a god [that is elohim] to Pharaoh.

The king is a normal human being.  Why is he called elohim?  We will respond to that question below, after we have discussed Hebrews 1.

Why is elohim translated as “God?”

But before we turn to Hebrews, there is a second matter in Psalm 45 that requires our attention.  That is the question, why did the translators of the NASB translate the word “King” in verse 1 with a capital “K?”  And why did they translate elohim, when it refers to the king, as “God” with a capital “G?” Why did they not translate elohim with a small “god,” as they did in the case of Moses, and as they do for all beings that are not God, but who are referred to as elohim?

It is not because of anything in the psalm itself, for there is nothing in the psalm that goes beyond a normal human king.  The translators capitalized these words for two reasons:

Firstly, they know that Hebrews 1 refers to Psalm 45 and interprets the king in this psalm as a type of (a symbol of) Christ.

Secondly, the translators are Trinitarians, and therefore believe that Jesus is God.

What we must realize is that, to translate elohim when it refers to the king of Israel, as “God” with a big “G,” rather than with a small “g,” is an application of the Trinity doctrine.

With this background, we can now discuss Hebrews 1:

Hebrews 1

A primary purpose of Hebrews is to exalt Jesus.  The letter, for example, commences by saying:

    • That God appointed His Son as “heir of all things” (1:2).
    • That, through the Son, God, “made the world” (1:2).
    • That the Son “is … the exact representation of God’s nature” (1:3).
    • That the Son “upholds all things by the word of His power” (1:3), and
    • That the Son “sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (1:3).

Distinct From God

Note that “God” in verse 1 is identified as “the Majesty on high” in verse 3.

We discussed above how Gotquestions refers to “God the Son,” but these first verses of Hebrews make an explicit distinction between “God” and “His Son. If the Son is distinct from God, then the Son is not God, if we use the word “God” in the way that the New Testament uses it.

From verse 4 onwards, Hebrews explains that the Son is “much better than the angels.”  If the Son was God, as the Trinity doctrine requires, then there WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN ANY NEED to argue that the Son is better than the angels.  Then the writer of Hebrews could simply have said that the Son is God.  See Jesus is not God for a further discussion of these principles.

Subordinate to God

We must also appreciate that these verses identify the Son as subordinate to God, for example:

    • God is the original Owner, because He “appointed” His Son as the heir of all things (1:2).
    • God is the Creator, for He made the world “through” the Son (1:2).
    • God is the true glory, for the Son is the radiance of His glory (1:3).
    • God is the ultimate Ruler, for the Son sits on His “right hand.”

The fundamental concept in the Trinity doctrine is that the Son is co-equal with the Father.  The entire remainder of the Trinity concept has been developed to reconcile this conclusion with the Bible.  If it is then found that the Son is subordinate to God, then the entire Trinity doctrine collapses.  For a further discussion, see, God is the Head of Christ.

Today I have begotten You

In verse 5, Hebrews 1 quotes from Psalm 2, saying “you are my son, today I have begotten you.”  In Psalm 2, these words refer to the king of Israel.  Hebrews, therefore, interprets the king of Psalm 2 to be a type of the Son. Hebrews quotes the Old Testament very frequently, for it was specifically addressed to the Hebrew Christians.

Worship the Son.

Hebrews continues and says that GOD COMMANDED ALL ANGELS TO WORSHIP THE SON (1:6).  If Jesus is worshiped, DOES THAT NOT MEAN THAT HE IS GOD?  Hebrews 1:6 is similar to Philippians 2:9-10, where we read,

God highly exalted Him (that is, Jesus),
and bestowed on Him the name which is above EVERY NAME,
so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW …
and that every tongue will confess
THAT JESUS CHRIST IS LORD,
TO THE GLORY OF GOD THE FATHER.

God commanded His worship.

The question then is, if Jesus is not God, WHY IS HE WORSHIPED?  To respond to this question, notice the following:

FIRSTLY, both Hebrews 1:6 and Philippians 2 make an explicit distinction between God and Jesus.  Philippians 2, for example, says that “God exalted Him.”  Furthermore, “every tongue will confess THAT JESUS CHRIST IS LORD.”  In other words; they will not confess Jesus as God.

SECONDLY, in both, IT IS GOD WHO CAUSES ALL BEINGS TO WORSHIP JESUS.  If Jesus was God, then THERE WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN ANY NEED for God to COMMAND His creatures to worship Him.

Proskuneó

THIRDLY, the Greek word that is translated “worship” (that is the word proskuneó) has a much wider meaning than the English word “worship.”  “Worship” implies that the one worshiped is God, but humans also proskuneó one anotherProskuneó simply means to show honor.  It literally means “to kiss the ground when prostrating before a superior.”  For example, the three wise men came looking for the “King of the Jews” (Mt. 2:2).  When they found Him, “they fell to the ground and proskuneó Him” (v11); not because He is God, for they did not think of Him as God, but because He is “born King of the Jews.”

FOURTHLY, in Philippians 2, Jesus is worshiped “TO THE GLORY OF GOD THE FATHER.”  He is not worshiped independently from God, but “to the glory of God.”  To glorify the Son is to glorify the Father.  We worship the Father through the Son.

But why do we worship Jesus?

Why do we worship the Son with the Father?  The reason is that WE CANNOT REALLY SEPARATE THE SON FROM GOD.  I like Tertullian’s metaphor.  For him, the Father is like the sun in the sky, and His Son is like the rays streaming from the sun.  God created all things through His Only Begotten Son and He still “upholds all things by the word of His (that is, His Son’s) power” (Heb. 1:1-3; cf. John 1:1-3; Col 1:15-17).  “In Him (that is, in Jesus) all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form” (Col. 2:9).  We therefore worship the Son, not only because God commanded us to, but because of who He is.  For a further discussion, see Jesus is worshiped.

Only Begotten Son of God

When people hear that Jesus is the Son of God, they think of human sons, who are in all respects equal to their fathers.  But the Bible does not teach that the Son is equal to God.  He is called the SON of God to reveal to us that He has a very unique relationship with God AS FAR AS HIS ORIGIN IS CONCERNED.  He is His “only begotten Son,” who, before His birth as a human being, existed “in the form of God” (Phil. 2:5).  To describe Jesus as the “only begotten Son” attempts to explain something in human language which human minds cannot comprehend.  He was not begotten as humans are.  We should not give our own interpretation of this symbolic language. We should allow the Bible to interpret it for us.  For a further discussion, see Only Begotten Son of God.

Hebrews 1:8

Then, after describing the angels as “winds, and … a flame of fire,” we come to the verses that are the particular focus of the current article, namely verses 8 and 9.  I read:

8 But of the Son He says,
“YOUR THRONE, O GOD, IS FOREVER AND EVER,
AND THE RIGHTEOUS SCEPTER IS THE SCEPTER OF HIS KINGDOM. 9 “YOU HAVE LOVED RIGHTEOUSNESS AND HATED LAWLESSNESS; THEREFORE GOD, YOUR GOD, HAS ANOINTED YOU …”

This is a fairly exact quote from Psalm 45:6-7.  The author of Hebrews interprets the king of Israel in Psalm 45 as a type of Jesus.  The writer described Jesus as “God” in verse 8 because Psalm 45 refers to the king of Israel as “God.”  We now need to explain why the king of Israel, and consequently, the Son of God, are described as God.

“God” and the Greek word theos

The word “God” in Hebrews 1:8 is translated from the Greek word theos.  Theos, similar to the Hebrew word elohim, can be translated as “god” either with a capital “G” or with a lower “g.” It depends on who it refers to.  This requires further clarification.

THERE IS NO WORD IN THE ORIGINAL GREEK TEXT THAT IS EXACTLY EQUAL TO OUR WORD “GOD.”  In modern English, we use the word “God,” with a capital “G,” to identify one specific Being; namely, the Uncaused Cause of all things.  The word “God,” with a capital “G,” functions in English as A PROPER NAME FOR THE SUPREME BEING.

The ancient languages did not have the modern differentiation between lower and upper case letters.  They only had words (such as theos and elohim) that are equivalent to our word “god” with a lower “g.” The word “god,” with a lower “g,” does not identify any specific being, but A CATEGORY OF BEINGS.  That group of beings includes the God of the Bible, but also includes other beings.  For example, Satan is also called theos, namely “the god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4).

Therefore, to translate theos as “God” with a capital “G” or as “god” with a lower “g” depends on the translator’s interpretation, and since translators generally are Trinitarians, they translate the instances where the title theos is applied to Jesus, as “God” with a capital “G.”  But if one does not assume the Trinity theory, the reference to Jesus as theos in Hebrews 1:8 may also be translated as “god,” with a lower “g.”

It is a form of collective circular reasoning: First, the Trinitarian translator adds a capital “G.” Then the readers exclaim, SEE, it says “God!  Therefore Jesus is God!”  For a further discussion, see – The Meanings of the Word THEOS.

God Jesus has a God.

In conclusion, the fact that Hebrews 1:8 identifies Jesus as God does not prove that He is God.  The next verse actually proves that He is not God, for it says to Jesus, “GOD, YOUR GOD, HAS ANOINTED YOU” (Heb. 1:9).  In other words, Jesus has a God over Him.  This makes one think of John 20.  That chapter similarly refers to Jesus as “God,” but in the same chapter Jesus refers to God as His God (compare verses 17 and 28). See – Did Thomas call Jesus “my God” in John 20:28?

Summary

Hebrews 1:8 refers to Jesus as “God.”  Does this prove that Jesus is God?

The first verses of Hebrews 1, in a number of ways, make an explicit DISTINCTION BETWEEN JESUS AND GOD, and, contrary to the Trinity doctrine, represent Jesus as SUBORDINATE TO GOD.  According to verse 6, God commanded all angels to worship the Son.  This again shows that the Son is subordinate to the Father.  But we do not worship the Son only because God commanded us to.  We worship Him because of who He is, for God created all things through Him and still upholds all this through the word of His Son’s power.

Jesus is called theos (that is, god) in Hebrews 1:8 because:

(a) Hebrews 1:8 is a quote from Psalm 45.
(b) In that psalm, the king is called elohim (god).
(c) The writer of Hebrews interpreted the king of Psalm 45 as a type of Christ.

That Jesus is called theos does not prove that He is God, for theos can also be translated either as “god” with a small “g.”  But translators are Trinitarians, and therefore believe that Jesus is God.  To translate theos as “God,” with a capital “G,” rather than with a small “g,” when it refers to Jesus, IS PURELY INTERPRETATION.  It is an application of the Trinity doctrine.

BUT THE VERY NEXT VERSE PROVES THAT JESUS IS NOT GOD, for it says that Jesus has a God over Him.

 

Thomas said, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). Did he address Jesus as “God”?

After Jesus rose from death, He appeared to the disciples, but Thomas was not with them.  When they told Thomas that Jesus is alive, he refused to believe them.  But a few days later Jesus again appeared to them.  This time Thomas was with them.  When He saw Jesus, and when Jesus showed him His wounds, the doubting Thomas exclaimed with great joy: “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28).  Jesus did not rebuke Thomas.

This event occurred between Jesus’ death and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus therefore already completed His work on earth, as reflected in the gospels, and His disciples would soon start to preach in the power of the Holy Spirit, as recorded in Acts.  We may therefore evaluate Thomas’ words by asking:

1.  Did Jesus teach that He is God?
2.  Did the disciples at that time believe that Jesus is God?
3.  Did the disciples afterwards preach that Jesus is God?
4.  What did Thomas mean with the words ho theos?

Proof of the Deity of our Lord Jesus ChristJohn 20:28

Many people understand the phrase “my Lord and my God” as clear proof of the Deity of Christ.  The Pulpit Commentary describes these words as the climax of the Gospel.  For Spurgeon this is a most plain confession of Jesus’ Deity.  This view is supported by the following:

The words “my Lord” can only refer to Christ (compare with John 20:13).  The natural meaning of the word words “My Lord and my God” is therefore that his Lord was also his God.

David used similar words to describe Jehovah: “My God and my Lord” (Psalm 35:23).  Thomas, as an Israelite, knew this and would never have applied these words to any person whom he did not believe to be God.

If Jesus were not God, the Lord Jesus would have corrected Thomas.  But the Lord said, “Thomas, because thou hast seen Me, thou hast believed” (John 20:29 KJV).

There is really no significant question as to how the original text reads.

But Thomas did not refer to Jesus as God.

John 20 28If the remainder of the New Testament confirmed that Jesus is God, we would grant Spurgeon his point, but strong circumstantial evidence exists that Thomas could not have referred to Jesus as God:

1. The disciples were never taught that Jesus is God.

2. The events in the immediate context of John 20:28 show that the disciples did not believe that Jesus is God.

3. The events in the book of Acts began a few weeks after Jesus appeared to Thomas.  If the apostles really believed that Jesus is God, that would have been their message in Acts, but such a statement is never found in Acts.

4. Paul was given the task of interpreting the dramatic Christ-events and to teach the church through his letters.  He did not teach that Jesus is God.

5. Only about seven verses in the entire New Testament are interpreted by some as saying that Jesus is God, but each and every one of them are disputed; either the original text or the interpretation.  Brian J. Wright—a Trinitarian—after a detailed study, concluded that John 20:28 is the only verse in the New Testa­ment that, with full certainty, refers to Jesus as God.

6. Prominent Trinitarians admit that the New Testament does not teach that Jesus is God.

These points are discussed below in more detail.

1. The disciples were never taught that Jesus is God.

After Thomas exclaimed, “My Lord and my God,” Jesus responded, “because thou hast seen Me, thou hast believed.”  What did Thomas not believe before he saw Jesus alive?  Did he not believe that Jesus is God?

Thomas, like all Jews, was a strict monotheist: “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one” (Deut. 6:4) was the foundation of Judaism.  It would require some effort to convince him that Jesus is God.

Jesus never taught His disciples that He is God. 

Who do you say I AmJesus never used the term θεός (theos = god) for Himself (Wright p.230), but rather described Himself as the Messiah and as the Son of God.  Jesus consistently made a distinction between Himself and God.   For example:

A little time before He appeared to Thomas, Jesus, in prayer, referred to the Father as “the only true God” (John 17:3).  In using the word “only,” Jesus excluded Himself as “true God.”

A few days before He appeared to Thomas, He said to Mary Magdalene “go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God’” (20:1, 17).

Why would John report that the Father is “the only true God” and then a little later write that Thomas said that Jesus is God?

Just three verses after Thomas’ exclamation, John summarized his gospel as follows:

These have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (John 20:31).

In other words, Jesus identified Himself as Christ; not as God.

Son of God

Some people, when they read the words, “Son of God,” understand this to mean “God the Son,” but the latter title is never found in the Bible.  An analysis of all the “Son of God” passages in the Bible indicate that this is a synonym for the title “Christ,” a Greek word that means “the anointed one,” or “the chosen one.”  The following verses contain the title “Son of God,” but also a second title, which indicates what “Son of God” means:

Nathanael answered Him, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel.” (1:49)

She said to Him, “Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world” (11:27).

These have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (20:31).

The high priest said to Him, “Tell us whether You are the Christ, the Son of God” (Mt. 26:63).

The disciples did not yet understand who Jesus is.

None of the Synoptic Gospels explicitly ascribes the title θεός to Jesus.  John 1:1 does use the word θεός to describe Jesus, but this gospel was written much later than the others.  The sublime things which John wrote was revealed to John and Paul through the Holy Spirit decades after the events of John 20:28.  When Thomas exclaimed, “My Lord and my God,” the Holy Spirit was not yet poured out.  The disciples did not yet understand who Jesus really is.  Thomas had no idea of the profound concepts that God would later reveal to John.  It is unthinkable that Thomas, when He saw the risen Jesus, thought of Him as the same as or equal to the Only True God (John 17:3).

Conclusion

Since Jesus did not teach that He is God, where would Thomas have learned that Jesus is God?  Rather, when Jesus was killed, the disciples doubted “that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.”  When He was raised to life again, they believed; not that He is God, for they were never taught that He is God, but that He is the Christ.

2. The disciples did not believe that Jesus is God. 

The events of that time show that the disciples did not believe that Jesus is God.  If they believed that Jesus was God, they would not have “all fled” just a few days earlier. when Jesus was arrested.

The confession of the two disciples walking along the road to Emmaus demonstrated the thoughts of Jesus’ followers at that time.  Speaking to the resurrected Christ, whom they mistook as just a traveler, they described Jesus as “a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God…and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:19-21).

And, as we have seen, just three verses later John summarizes his message as “that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (John 20:31).

3. Jesus is not proclaimed as God in the book of Acts.

John 20:28 and the book of Acts are chronologically separated by only the few weeks between Jesus’ resurrection and his ascension.

If the apostles believed that Jesus is God, that would have been their constant and main message in Acts, but in the book of Acts the apostles never proclaimed Jesus as God.  No sermon in the book of Acts attributes the title θεός to Jesus.  Rather, they consistently proclaimed that God raised Jesus from the dead.  At Pentecost, Peter told the multitudes that:

God raised him up” (Acts 2:24),
God raised up this Jesus” (v.32),
You killed the author of life, whom God raised from the dead” (3:15), and
God raised up his servant” (v.26).

Thus Acts continues to make a distinction between God and Jesus, for if God raised Jesus up, then the Father only is called God.  If it is true that John 20:28 teaches the deity of Jesus, why didn’t the apostles preach it even once in the book of Acts?

4. Paul did not teach that Jesus is God.

Paul was given the task of interpreting the dramatic events of the first century and to teach the church through his letters.  And Paul did not teach that Jesus is God.

If Jesus was God, Paul’s letters would have taught this explicitly.  An explicit statement would be something like, “Yes, Thomas, I am your Lord and your God”.  While the New Testament never explicitly says that Jesus is God, the Old Testament explicitly and repeatedly announced Yahweh as God, for instance: “I am Yahweh your God” (Ex. 6:7; 16:12; 20:2).  Yahweh is identified as God about 400 times in the Old Testament (phrases such as “Yahweh God – Yahweh, God of heaven – Yahweh your God – Yahweh, God of Israel – Yahweh our God – Yahweh, God of compassion”), but not once do we find an equivalent explicit statement in the New Testament, saying that Jesus is God.

To the contrary, like the gospels, Paul continued to make a distinction between God and Jesus.  For example, similar to what Peter said in Acts, Paul wrote that God raised Jesus from death:

If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9).

Other examples of where Paul makes a sharp distinction between God and Christ are 1 Tim. 5:21 (“in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus”) and most strikingly 1 Cor. 11:3 (“the head of Christ is God”).  For many other examples, see The New Testament makes a distinction between God and Jesus.

According to some translation of Romans 9:5 Paul referred to Jesus as God, but the article on Romans 9:5 shows that it is all a matter of punctuation, and all punctuation in the Bible is interpretation.

5. Only John 20:28 refers to Jesus as God. 

There are about seven verses that are sometimes interpreted as saying that Jesus is God, but in each in every case either the original text or the interpretation is in dispute.  Brian Wright, himself a Trinitarian, after careful and detailed study, concluded that John 20:28 is the only verse in the New Testa­ment that, with full certainty, refers to Jesus as God.  (And then the current article also disputes that this verse proves that Jesus is God.)

Separate articles have been posted discussing John 1:1, John 1:18 and Romans 9:5.  For a general summary article on these seven texts, see Is Jesus called God?

Trinitarians admit.

Some Trinitarians consequently admit that the New Testament does not teach that Jesus is God.

Richard Swinburne, a prominent Christian philosopher at Oxford, wrote a book titled, Was Jesus God? (Oxford University Press).  In it he searches the Bible and church doctrine for evidence that Jesus is God.  Swinburne concludes with cautious uncertainty that “it is very probable that Jesus was God,” but he offers no explicit proof from the Bible.  He finds more evidence for Jesus’ deity in the teachings of the Church Fathers.  He admits that some NT passages “deny this doctrine” of “the divinity of Jesus.”  He says, “It is undisputed that Jesus did not teach this doctrine” of the Trinity.  This is quite a concession from a brilliant Trinitarian.  Swinburne does believe that Jesus is God; not because that is what the Bible teaches, but on the basis of reason only.

The trinit­arian Brian J. Wright, after in depth study, admitted:

No author of a Synoptic Gospel explicitly ascribes the title θεός to Jesus. Jesus never uses the term θεός for himself. No sermon in the book of Acts attributes the title θεός to Jesus.

Alternative interpretations

The immediate and wider context therefore prevents us from interpreting theos in John 20:28 as describing Jesus as God.  It forces us to consider alternative interpretations.  Three options are proposed below.  Two are alternative meanings of the word theos, namely:

1.  Mandated by God to represent Him, and
2.  God-like

The third alternative proposes that theos, in this verse, does not refer to Jesus, but to the Father.

Theos

To understand these alternative meanings requires a short explanation of the Greek word Θεός, which is transliterated theos, often translated “God.”  Strong  defines theos to include the following four meanings:

1.  A deity – (a god)
2.  Especially (with ho) the supreme Divinity – (the God)
3.  A magistrate;
4.  Godly

Today we use “God” as a personal name for the supreme Divinity, similar to the names John and Paul.  The Greek of the New Testament has no word exactly equivalent to “God,” for it did not differentiate between lower case and capital letters.  The Greek word theos is therefore actually equivalent to our word “god,” with a small g.   As stated by Strong, depending on the context, theos can be translated “God” or “god” or “Godly.”  Even a person appointed by God as magistrate may be called theos.  In the New Testament theos was, for instance, applied to:

The gods of the nations (1 Cor. 8:5);
The Roman governor (Acts 12:22);
The Devil (2 Cor. 4:4); and
People who received divine authority from God (John 10:35);

See The Meanings of the Word theos for a more detailed discussion.

Option 1: Mandated by God to represent Him

To translate theos as “God” requires additional information in the context to identify the supreme Deity.  The circumstances surrounding John 20:28, as described above, do not justify theos to be translated as “God.”

One of the alternative meanings of theos is a person who is mandated by God to speak and act for Him (Strong’s magistrate).  For instance, Jesus referred to people, “to whom the word of God came,” as “gods” (John 10:35).  This is a quote from Psalm 82:6 and probably refers to the judges of the Old Testament.  Since the Father did send Jesus and gave Him His message (John 8:16, 26), Thomas could have described Jesus as theos in this sense, namely that He has been mandated by God to represent Him.

Option 2: Godlike

Another possible meaning of theos, mentioned by Strong, is “Godlike.”  This is a qualitative use of the word, as opposed to a definite (the god) or indefinite (a god) use.

God was the Word
God was the Word

John, in the prologue, after years of meditation, in the first verses of his gospel declared that “ the Word (Jesus) was theos” and the Creator of all things.  It is possible that John 1:1 uses theos in the same sense as in John 20:28.  In a series of articles on the translation of John 1:1, it was concluded that John 1:1c should not be translated “The Word was God” for the word theos is used in a qualitative sense in that verse.  In other words, it should be translated as “the Word was Godlike,” or, using words from Philippians 2, “the Word was in the form of God and had equality with God.”

It is therefore possible that Thomas used theos to describe Jesus as God-like.

Option 3: “My God” refers to the Father.

Since the Greek word theos is used for all gods, the writers of the New Testament generally identified the supreme Deity by adding the definite article “ho” before theos.  (See Strong’s definition above.)  The phrase ho theos is translated “God.”  (Translators drop the definite article and capitalize the G.)  “God,” in the New Testament, except for a handful of disputed instances, always identifies the Father.  (See The NT distinguishes between God and Jesus.)

The God of meIn the Greek of John 20:28, Thomas did not merely say theos; he said ho theos mou, literally “the god of me.”  This has some problematic implication, and can be understood in at least three different ways:

(A) Only Jesus is God.

In other words, the Father is not God.

To show that this may be the implication, consider the words of CK Barrett, a well-known trinit­arian scholar.  He comments as follows on John 1:1, which lacks the article before theos: “The absence of the article indicates that the Word is God, but is not the only being of whom this is true; if ὁ θεὸς [ho theos] had been written, it would have been implied that no divine being existed outside the second person of the Trinity.” (The Gospel According to St. John)

In other words, if ho theos is applied to Jesus, it means that only Christ is God and the Father is not God.  This is obviously not true.

(B) Jesus is the Father. 

There are people who believe this, namely that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are one Person, appearing in three different modes.  This is called Modalism or Sabellianism.  This view is rejected by most, for there are many indications in the Bible that the Father and Son are different Person.  For instance, Jesus prays to the Father, and at His baptism God speaks from heaven.

(C) John referred to the Father when he wrote ho theos.

The previous two possible explanations link theos to Jesus, but are not acceptable.  The only remaining possibility is that Thomas, in the extreme joy of the moment, exclaimed “my God” as a praise directed at God, the Father, for raising Jesus.  In other words, that he blurted out something like “Oh my Lord (Jesus) and oh my God (the Father).  Since ho theos always refers to the Father, it should also have that meaning in John 20:28.

Paul wrote:

If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9).

Could Thomas’ confession be explained by this verse?  Both words “Lord” and “God” appear in this verse, but “God” is identified as the Father.

Synopsis

After Jesus’ resurrection, He appeared to His disciples.  When Thomas saw Him, he exclaimed, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28).  Jesus did not rebuke Thomas.  Many people understand this as clear proof of the Deity of Christ.

The events of John 20:28 occurred in time between Jesus’ death and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus therefore already completed His work on earth, as captured in the gospels, and soon His disciples will start to preach through the power of the Holy Spirit, as recorded in Acts.  We can evaluate Thomas’ statement by asking four questions:

Did Jesus teach that He is God?  Jesus did not teach that He is God, but always maintained a clear distinction between Himself and God.  None of the Synoptic Gospels explicitly ascribes the title θεός to Him.  John summarized Christ’s message as “that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (John 20:31).

Did the disciples at that time believe that Jesus is God?  If they did, they would not have run away a few days earlier when Jesus was arrested.  The two disciples walking along the road to Emmaus, lamenting Jesus’ death, said that Jesus “was a prophet.”

Did the disciples afterwards teach that Jesus is God?  If the apostles believed that Jesus is God, that would have been their message in the book of Acts, but such a statement is not once even found in Acts.  To the contrary, they consistently taught that God raised Jesus from death, thus making a distinction between God and Jesus.

What did Thomas mean by the words ho theos?  In the New Testament ho theos (the god) always refers to the Father.

Conclusion

The contextual evidence does not allow for the interpretation of John 20:28 as saying that Jesus is God.  Above three alternative interpretations are offered.  Which of them is correct, is not important.  One day soon we will be able to ask Thomas exactly what he meant.  What is more important is that John 20:28 cannot be taken as proof that Jesus is God.

The fact that the New Testament does not refer to Jesus as God is not the full story.  Other articles show that God created all things through His Son, that Jesus is equal to God, that Jesus is “the first and the last” (Rev. 1:17) and that “in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form” (Col. 2:9).  It simply was the practice of the New Testament to refer to the Father alone as God.  We should not put too much emphasis on the title “God,” but rather ask who Jesus really is.  Perhaps the reader should next read Does Philippians 2 say that Jesus emptied Himself of equality with God?

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.

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?