Did Paul apply the title “Lord” from the Shema to Jesus in 1 Corinthians 8:6?

Summary

ShemaThe Shema, as stated in Deuteronomy 6:4, is the great monotheistic declaration that, in contrast to the many gods of the surrounding nations, Yahweh “is one!”

1 Corinthians 8:4 states that “there is no God but one.” Verse 6 identifies the “one God” as “the Father” and Jesus as “one Lord.”  This implies that only the Father is God, and that Jesus is not God.

Jesus is the Creator.

On the one hand, 1 Corinthians 8:6 describes both the Father and the Son as Creators of “all things.”  All things are “from” the Father, while all things are “by” the Lord Jesus Christ.  It is then concluded that Jesus therefore must be God.

On the other hand, except for a handful of disputed passages, the New Testament always refers to the Father alone as theos (god).  1 Corinthians 8:6 is a good example: “for us there is but one God, the Father.”  If we use the definition of “God” that is supplied by the New Testament, then Jesus is not God.

An alternative is to argue that Jesus is God—not because He is given the title “God”—but because He is described as divine.  Revelation, for example, refers to Jesus as the First and the Last and the One who judges the minds and hearts (2:23).  And in Revelation 5 He is worshiped with the Father.

Nevertheless, if the New Testament uses the title theos (god) only for the Father, we should do the same. We must attempt to present an explanation of Jesus that maintains the apparent contradicting information in the New Testament.

Jesus is the Lord of the Shema.

The second proof which people find in 1 Corinthians 8:6 for the claim that Jesus is God, is to argue that this verse distributes all the words of the description of YHWH in the Shema between the Father and the Son so as to include Jesus into the unique divine identity of the Yahweh of the Shema:
●   The “God” of the Shema becomes “One God, the Father.”
●   The “Lord” of the Shema becomes “One Lord, Jesus Christ.”

The question is therefore whether Paul, in 1 Corinthians 8:6, intentionally distributed the words of the Shema between the Father and Jesus, and therefore included Jesus into the Yahweh of the Old Testament.  Since 1 Corinthians 8:6 explicitly identifies God as the Father only, it is proposed that Paul did not.

1 Corinthians 8:6 emphasizes this distinction by describing God (the Father) as the ultimate Source of all things, while Jesus is the Means by which God works: “All things” are “from” the Father and “by” Jesus Christ.  Jesus is therefore not only distinct from God; He is also subordinate to the Father.

Jesus in Paul’s writings.

To argue against this conclusion, apologists argue that “one God” and “one Lord” are synonyms.  Both Jesus as God are therefore both “God” and “Lord.”  In response, this article shows, from Paul’s other writings, that:

(1) God is the Father only.
(2) Jesus is distinct from God.
(3) Jesus is subordinate to God, the Father.
(4) The Father appointed Jesus as Lord, and
(5) Even as Lord Jesus, the Father is His God.

The Shema-theory argues that Paul used the titles “God” and “Lord” to show that the Father and Jesus are the same, but this analysis shows that he used these titles to distinguishes Jesus from God.

Other arguments against the Shema-theory

Jesus repeated the Shema, but gave no indication that it must be reformulated.

Paul’s other “one God” passages do not redistribute the words of the Shema between the Father and Son.

The main point of the Shema is monotheism.  To understand 1 Corinthians 8:6 as saying that YHVH is actually two Persons would  be to contradict the Shema.

If 1 Corinthians 8:6 explains God, and if the Trinity includes the Holy Spirit, why does it not mention the Holy Spirit?

The word “Lord” is not found in the Shema.  The word in the Shema that is translated as “the LORD” is God’s personal name YHVH..

These points will not be discussed in more detail

Shema

ShemaThe Shema, as stated in Deuteronomy 6:4, is the best known verse in Judaism.  It is the great monotheistic declaration:

Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!” (NASB)

It is called the Shema because the first word (hear) is shema in Hebrew.

LORD” is in all capitals.  This means that it translates God’s personal name YHVH, pronounced as Yahweh or Jehovah.  (Modern translators seem to follow the ancient Jewish practice of not mentioning God’s name.)

In contrast to the surrounding nations with their many gods, the main point of the Shema is that YHVH is “one.”

Jesus affirmed the Shema as the first and greatest commandment when He said:

The foremost is, ‘Hear, o Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:29-30).

Paul, as Pharisee, was intimately familiar with the Shema.  He used the phrase “one God” three times in his writing.  It would be fair to assume that, with these statements, he applied the Shema within a Christian context.

1 Corinthians 8:6

This is one of Paul’s “one God” passages.  It reads:

1 Corinthians 8:61 Cor. 8:4 Therefore concerning the eating of things sacrificed to idols, we know that there is no such thing as an idol in the world, and that there is no God but one. 5 For even if there are so-called gods whether in heaven or on earth, as indeed there are many gods and many lords, 6 yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him.

Verse 4 states that “there is no God but one.”  Verse 6 identifies the “one God” as “the Father” and Jesus as “one Lord.”  This was used over the centuries to argue that only the Father is God, and that Jesus is not God (in the way that the New Testament uses the title God).  More recently a theory has been developed that, in 1 Corinthians 8:6, Paul distributes the words of the Shema between the Father and the Son in such a way that Jesus is included in the Yahweh of the Old Testament.  This article evaluates this proposal.

Contrasts

To appreciate the structure of the passage, note that Paul sets up three contrasts:

1. Between the pagan gods and pagan lords (v5).
2. Between the many pagan gods and lords and the one Christian God and Lord.
3. Between the Father (God) and Son (Lord).

Father and SonPaul distinguishes between Father and Son by giving them different titles and different roles in creation and redemption:

Different titles:  
The Father is called “God,” while Jesus is called “Lord.”
The title “Lord” (kurios) has a wide range of meanings.  God can be described as kurios, but kurios may also simply mean “master.”  The purpose of this article is to determine in what sense kurios is used in 1 Corinthians 8:6.

Different roles in creation: 
All things” (the cosmos) are “from” the Father and “by” Jesus Christ.  The Father is portrayed as the Source of all things, while Jesus Christ has an intermediate role.

Different roles in redemption:
We” (the church) exist “for” the Father and “through” Jesus Christ.  He elsewhere similarly said, “no man comes to the Father, but by me” (John 14:6) and that He Himself was the Way, the Truth and the Life.

Jesus is God because He created.

One argument is that Paul amazingly describes both the Father and the Son as Creators.  It is then concluded that Jesus therefore must be God.  This section evaluates this argument.

John 1:3, Colossians 1:16 and Hebrews 1:2 also mention that Jesus was involved in the creation of “all things.”  Similar to 1 Corinthians 8:6, these verses ascribe to Jesus a passive role in creation.  For example, in Hebrews 1:1-3, “God” made the world “through” His Son.  In 1 Corinthians 8:6 all things are “from” the Father, while all things are “by” the Lord Jesus Christ.  The Father is the Source.  Jesus is the Father’s Means of creation.

But does that mean that Jesus is God?  That depends how we define the word “God.”  The word “God,” as such, does not appear in the original Hebrew and Greek text of the Bible, for the ancient languages did not have the differentiation between lower and uppercase.  The modern differentiation between cases allows us to create the word “God,” which we use as a personal name for the Supreme Deity.  In the original text of the Bible we find words that are equivalent to our word “god.”  These words, in themselves, did not differentiate, for instance, between the Most High and Baal.  When translators interpret the context as speaking of the Most High, they translate those words (theos in the Greek) with the modern “God.”  That is why we find the phrase “for us there is but one God, the Father.”  It should actually read “god.”  It means that other people have many other gods, but “for us there is but one god, the Father.”

Since “God” is a modern word—not known in ancient times—to ask whether Jesus is God, is an anachronism.  To make that a sensible question we need to define the word “God” carefully.  We have a number of options:

The Father alone is God.

Except for a handful of disputed passages, the New Testament always refers to the Father alone as theos (god).  1 Corinthians 8:6 is a good example there-of: “for us there is but one God, the Father.”  For a more detailed discussion, see The NT distinguishes between God and Jesus.  There are about seven examples where the New Testament applies the title theos to Jesus.  This website contains a number of posts on these examples:

The article series on the translation of John 1:1c concludes that that phrase must be translated as “the Word was God-like.”  Or, using the wording from Philippians 2, “the Word had equality with God and was in the form of God”.

The original text of John 1:18 is disputed. Many ancient manuscripts of this verse refer to Jesus as huios (son) and not as theos (god).

Thomas could not have called Jesus “my God” in John 20:28 because Jesus never taught that He is God and because the disciples afterwards did not teach that Jesus is God.

Romans everywhere makes a distinction between God and Jesus.  Whether Romans 9:5 indicates that Jesus is God is all a matter of punctuation, and all punctuation in the Bible is interpretation.

For an overview of these articles, see, Is Jesus called God?

In conclusion, if we use the definition of “God” that is supplied by the New Testament, then Jesus is not God.

All Beings with divine attributes are God.

We may also wish to define “God” without reference to titles such as “God” or “Lord.”  If we define “God” as all Beings that are involved in creation, that always existed, or that are worshiped, then Jesus is God.

in Revelation, for example, Jesus calls the Father “God” (3:12-13; cf. 1:6), which means that He Himself is not God.  But on the other hand, that same book refers to Jesus as the First and the Last (1:17) and the One who judges the minds and hearts (2:23).  (For more information, see Does the book of Revelation present Jesus as God?) These things cannot be said of a mere created being.  Almost everybody seems to go to one of the extremes of the possibilities, saying either that Jesus is fully God or that Jesus is nothing more than a man, as if a third middle option is not available.  The article Jesus in Philippians attempts to present an explanation of Jesus that maintains the apparent contradicting information in the New Testament.

The Trinity is God.

After Jesus ascended to heaven, He sent the Holy Spirit to teach His disciples in all truth.  Those teachings, as they relate to Jesus, we find particularly in John’s and Paul’s writings, have a very high Christology.  (The other gospels merely reflect what Jesus taught while He was on earth.)  This left the church to ponder about who Jesus really is.

There were many different views and well tolerated.  In the second century people like Tertullian and Origin had views very similar to the view offered by this website.  But when the Roman Empire took control of the church authorities in the fourth century, tolerance went out of the window.  The Caesar effectively became the head of the church and forced the church to formulate the Nicene and later creeds.  These creeds defined God as a Trinity, consisting of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit; three co-equal Persons of the same substance.

In the view of this website this definition of God is a grave sin, for it delves into what has not been revealed.  What has been revealed belongs to us, but “the secret things belong to the LORD our God” (Deut. 29:29).  Man is unable to understand God.  To make the sin worse, the Nicene Creed and later creeds cursed all who do not agree with the detailed stipulations of the creeds.  To quote: “they are condemned by the holy catholic and apostolic Church.”  This shows the non-Christian nature of the church hierarchy in those days.  Nevertheless, the definition of God as a Trinity triumphed and most people today read the Bible assuming that definition of God.  Using that definition of God, the Son is obviously God; it does not matter what the Bible says.

Conclusion

If the New Testament uses the title theos (god) only for the Father, we should do the same.  This website proposes that if we really want to understand who Jesus is, then we must simply ask what the Bible says about Jesus, and be contend with that.  We must not go beyond the text.  We should not try to fit Him into modern terminology, such as the word “God.”

Jesus is the Lord of the Shema.

A second proof which people find in 1 Corinthians 8:6, for the claim that Jesus is God, is to argue that this verse redistributes all the words of the description of YHWH in the Shema between the Father and the Son.  In this way:
●   The “God” of the Shema becomes “One God, the Father.”
●   The “Lord” of the Shema becomes “One Lord, Jesus Christ.”

The church originated as a sect of Judaism.  (See Jerusalem Phase of the Early Church.)  It is argued that, in first century Judaism the affirmation of “one God” and “one Lord” would have been understood as synonymous; both referring to the same divine being, namely Yahweh; the God of the patriarchs.  In other words, the Jews would have understood Paul to say that Jesus is God.

Therefore, Paul included the Lord Jesus Christ into the unique divine identity.  He did not present Jesus as a second God, but redefined monotheism as christological monotheism.  In other words, the unique identify of Yahweh of the Shema consists of both the “one God” and the “one Lord.

Jesus is not the Lord of the Shema.

The question is therefore whether Paul, in 1 Corinthians 8:6, really redistributed the words of the Shema between the Father and Jesus as to include Jesus into the Yahweh of the Old Testament.  More specifically, did Paul on purpose apply the title “Lord” from the Shema to Jesus?  For the following reasons it is proposed that Paul did not:

God is the Father only.

Firstly, 1 Corinthians 8:6 explicitly identifies God as the Father only.  Verse 4 restates the Shema in the words, “there is no God but one.”  Verse 6 then clarifies who that “God” is: “for us there is but one God, the Father.”  Since the Father is God, and since Jesus is not the Father, He is not God.

1 Corinthians 8:6 makes this distinction further clear in the description of their roles in creation and salvation:

Creation: “All things” (the cosmos) are “from” the “one God, the Father,” and “by” (or through) Jesus.

Salvation: “We” (the church) exist “for” the Father and “through” Jesus.

These show that Jesus is not only distinct from God; He is also functionally subordinate to the Father: The Father is the ultimate Source of creation and the ultimate Purpose of salvation, while Jesus is the means or channel through whom all things flow and through whom we exist.  This means that Jesus is not “co-equal” with the Father, as is often claimed.

Paul’s general message

To argue against this conclusion, apologists argue as follows:

(a) The Father is called “God,” but Paul also refers to Him as “Lord.”  He is both God and Lord.
(b) The titles “God” and “Lord” are therefore interchangeable, and although Jesus is called only “Lord,” He is also God.
(c) If we say that only the Father is God, then we must also say that only Jesus is Lord, which would be wrong.

We do not support this argument.  Of course the Father is both Lord and God.  He is called by both titles many times.  But this argument relies on Paul’s other writings, and if we analyse Paul’s writings, we find that:

(1) God is the Father only.
(2) Jesus is distinct from God.
(3) Jesus is subordinate to God, the Father.
(4) The Father appointed Jesus as Lord, and
(5) Even as Lord Jesus, the Father is His God.

(1) God is the Father only.

If Paul thought that Jesus was God, that would have been important information and he would have said that frequently and clearly in his writings.  However, except for two disputed passages, he never did.  Like Jesus in John 17:3, and everywhere in the New Testament, Paul consistently describes the Father as the only God.

For example, he opens every one of his letters with words such as, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1:3). This distinguishes between God and Jesus and identifies God as the Father.

Elsewhere we find phrases such as “our God and Father” (Phil. 4:19-20) and “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory” (Eph. 1:17).

In addition to 1 Corinthians 8:6, Paul made other “one God” statements.  Paul knew the importance of the Shema for his many Jewish readers.  All these “one God” statements are therefore probably reformulations of the Shema.  But in all of them God is the Father, for example:  “There is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim 2:5).

(2) Jesus is distinct from God.

This is shown by the phrases quoted in the previous section from 1 Corinthians 1:3, Ephesians 1:17 and 1 Timothy 2:5.

1 Timothy 2:5 refers to Jesus as the “one mediator” between the “one God” and “men.”  This verse does not mention the Father explicitly, but in the New Testament God is always the Father.  (For a further discussion, see Jesus is not the same Person as God.)  Since the mediator mediates between humankind and the one God, He cannot be one of the parties between whom He is mediating.  He is not God and He is not man.  He became man to mediate between God and man.  (See Jesus always existed.)

Another example is 1 Timothy 6, where Paul wrote:

13 I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus … 15 … He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see.”

Verse 13 makes a distinction between God and Jesus.  Similar to 1 Corinthian 8:6, this verse identifies God as the ultimate Source of “life to all things.”  Verse 16 elaborates on this distinction:

● The Father “alone possesses immortality,” while Jesus died.
● The Father cannot be seen, while Jesus was seen and heard and touched.

(3) Jesus is subordinate to God, the Father.

Jesus is not only distinct from God; He is also subordinate to God: Just as “You belong to Christ; and Christ belongs to God” (1 Cor. 3:23).  “Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:3).

1 Corinthians 15:24-28 describes the end time events (v24).  It says that “the God and Father” will put “all things in subjection under his (Jesus’) feet.” However, “the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, so that God may be all in all” (v28).  In other words, God will also be “all” also in the Lord Jesus.

Jesus is not only subordinate to The Father; the Father is His God: Revelation 1:6 refers to “His God and Father.”  Jesus promised, “He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God” (Rev. 3:12).  For a further discussion, see, Jesus is subordinate to God or Jesus is subordinate to the Father in John’s gospel.

(4) The Father appointed Jesus as Lord.

In 1 Corinthians 8:6 Jesus is identified as Lord.  In the view of some, this means that He is God or equal to God.  But is was already shown that Jesus is subordinate to the Father.  Furthermore, the consistent message of the Bible is that God appointed Jesus as Lord, for example:

● At Pentecost Peter said to the Jews, “God has made Him both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36).
● Just before His ascension, Jesus said, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Mt. 28:18). In other words, He received the authority that made Him Lord.
● “God highly exalted Him … so that … every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Phil. 2:9-11).
● “God … raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion … And He put all things in subjection under His feet“ (Eph. 1:17-22).

God appointed Jesus as Lord over all, but He will always remain subject to the Father.

(5) Even as Lord Jesus, the Father is His God.

Above it was shown that the Father is Jesus’ God (Rev. 3:2, 12).  Other examples are: Hanging on the cross, He cried, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me” (Mt. 27:46).  To Mary He said, “I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God” (John 20:17).

But even in His exalted state as Lord over all, the Father is Hid God.  Ephesians 1:17, quoted above, refers to “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Another example is, “blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:3).

The Shema-theory argues that Paul used the titles “God” and “Lord” to show that the Father and Jesus are the same, but this analysis shows that he used these titles to distinguishes Jesus from God.

Other arguments

Other supporting arguments, against the Shema-theory, are the following:

The Shema is not elsewhere reformulated.

Jesus repeated the Shema (Mark 12), but gave no indication that it must be reformulated.  Paul’s other “one God” passages are probably derived from the Shema, and these do not redistribute the words of the Shema between the Father and Son, but use words not found in the Shema:

There is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim 2:5).
One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph. 4:5-6);

Contradicts the Shema.

The main point of the Shema is monotheism, namely that “YHWH, our God, YHWH is one.”  To understand 1 Corinthians 8:6 as saying that YHVH is actually two Persons would, in reality, be to contradict the Shema.  Of course the Trinitarian response is that the Trinity is three Persons in One Being.  But it remains a significant deviation from the Shema.

Holy Spirit not mentioned

If 1 Corinthians 8:6 explains the Shema, and if the Trinity includes the Holy Spirit, why does it not mention the Holy Spirit?

The word “Lord” is not found in the Shema. 

The Shema-theory proposes that the words from the Shema, describing YHVH, are redistributed between the Father and the Son, identifying the Son as the “one Lord.”  However, the word “Lord” is not found in the Shema.  The word in the Shema that is translated as “the LORD” is God’s name YHVH.

The counter-argument would be that YHVH is translated as Kurios (Lord) in the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament), and that the Septuagint was the translation of the Old Testament generally used when Paul wrote.  However, HO KYRIOS (the lord) was never exactly synonymous with YHVH. It replaced YHVH when the Jews developed the practice of not mentioning the name of God.  Paul was a well educated man, and he would have known these things.

Agent or Means?

The words, “we exist through Him” means more than that He is the Creator:  It means that He is also the One who upholds all things (Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3).  It does not mean that God had Jesus as Helper or an agent in creation and redemption.  The Father did and does it all, but in some mysterious way the Son is the Means through which the Father creates and redeems and do all other things.

This is necessarily beyond human comprehension because it deals with infinity, but to make it concrete in the mind of the reader, one way in which this can be formulated is as follows:

What God brought forth (begotten) is His Son.  His Son is the power, wisdom and intelligence that upholds the cosmos.  Jesus did not create the cosmos; He is the cosmos!  He is all that power that is converted to mass according to Einstein’s formula E=mc2.  He is the power that prevents the atoms from collapsing.  In some mysterious way this intelligence and power became like one of the angels, but existed in the form of God and had equality with God.  But He humiliated Himself even further, to become a human being (Philippians 2; John 1).

 

 

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.”