What was the stance of Arius on John 1:1?

Did Arius believe that Jesus was a creature, a created god? What did he write about John 1:1? Or if there is no such extant manuscript, how would he have interpreted “the Word was God” in John 1:1 based on his Christology?

In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. John 1:1 (ESV)

Created Being

It is not true to say that “Arius believed that Jesus was a creature, a created god,” as if He is one among many.

“Many summary accounts present the Arian controversy as a dispute over whether or not Christ was divine.” (LA, 13) However, “it is misleading to assume that these controversies were about ‘the divinity of Christ’” (LA, 14) 

LA = Lewis Ayres
Nicaea and its legacy, 2004

Ayres is a Professor of Catholic and Historical Theology at Durham University in the United Kingdom.

“A second approach that we need to reject treats the fourth-century debates as focusing on the question of whether to place the Son on either side of a clear God/creation boundary.” (LA, 4)

If Arius described the Son as a created being, so did many of his ‘orthodox’ predecessors. For example:

H. R. Boer (A Short History of the Early Church, p108-110) states that “Justin and the other Apologists therefore taught that the Son is a creature. He is a high creature, a creature powerful enough to create the world but, nevertheless, a creature.”

“Both Dionysius of Alexandria and Theognostus use a terminology of ‘creating’ as one among a range of terms, and we simply cannot be certain how this was heard in third-century Alexandria.” (LA, 49)

For a further discussion, see – Christ’s Divinity

 Arian View

With respect to the Son, ‘Arians’ believed as follows:

      • He is the only being ever to be begotten directly by the Father.
      • As the Mediator between God and man, He is the only being able to come directly into God’s presence, as all other beings would disintegrate.
      • He created all things.
      • Therefore, He is God of all things and worshiped by all things. He is our God; just like the Father is His God.

It was Arius’ enemies who, distorting Arius’ writings, claimed that Arius taught that the Son is a created being. See – Did Arius describe Jesus Christ as a Created Being?

Arius Not Important

We only have about five pages of Arius’ own writings (about 3 letters). Consequently, we do not have anything about what he himself wrote on John 1:1 specifically.

One possible reference is where Arius wrote: The Father “gave him existence alongside himself” (RH, 7). Perhaps this refers to John 1:1, which says, “The Word was with God.”

RH Bishop R.P.C. Hanson
The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God –

The Arian Controversy 318-381, 1987

However, Arius was not important. Contrary to what is popularly believed, Arius was not the leader of the anti-Nicenes of the fourth century. For example, these anti-Nicenes never quoted him. Again, it was the pro-Nicenes who distorted the truth by tarnishing their opponents as “Arians,” claiming that anti-Nicenes were followers of Arius.

Eusebian View

Eusebius of Caesarea “was universally acknowledged as the most scholarly bishop of his day” (RH, 46). He “was certainly an early supporter of Arius” (RH, 46) but he was not a follower of Arius. In the fourth century, he was the real theological leader of the anti-Nicenes. We may, therefore, appropriately refer to the anti-Nicenes as ‘Eusebians’.

This might surprise the reader, but “John 1:1 … is used by Eusebius of Caesarea to express his doctrine of the Logos before the outbreak of the dispute.” (RH, 835)

In Eusebian thinking, John 1:1 describes two distinct Persons; God and the Logos (“and the Word was with God”). And since there cannot be two Ultimate Realities; only one of them is the Ultimate Reality:

“The Logos could not represent ultimate metaphysical reality (‘He who is’) because ‘He who is’ cannot be ‘with’ Him who is; they cannot both represent ultimate reality” (RH, 835). Or, “the two (God and the Logos) are placed side by side” (RH, 390).

The Beginning

For the Arians, the “beginning” refers to the creation of all things. Firstly, God had no beginning. Therefore, it cannot refer to God’s beginning. Secondly, John 1:2-3 explicitly refers to the creation of all things, which links these verses to the creation account in Genesis 1.

God and theos

Similar to John 1:1, Arius and the other Eusebians did refer to the Son as theos. For example:

The ‘Dedication’ Creed

In 341 a group of bishops present in Antioch “to dedicate a church built by the Emperor Constantius” (RH, 290) formulated what is known as the Dedication Creed. This creed refers explicitly to John 1:1 and refers to the Son as “God” (theos in Greek). It described Him as:

“God from God …
who was in the beginning with God,
God the Word according to the text in the Gospel,
‘and the Word was God’,
by whom all things were made,
and in whom all things exist

Richard Hanson wrote:

“[The Dedication Creed] represents the nearest approach we can make to discovering the views of the ordinary educated Eastern bishop who was no admirer of the extreme views of Arius but who had been shocked and disturbed by the apparent Sabellianism of Nicaea.” (RH, 290)

But this creed also describes the Son as subordinate to the Father. Athanasius coined the term ‘Arian’ to tar his opponents, who were not followers of Arius, as followers of a theology that the church already rejected. See Athanasius invented Arianism or The Creation of ‘Arianism’.

The Council of Serdica

As another example, at the Council of Serdica (AD 343), the ‘easterners’ (those whom Athanasius identified as ‘Arians’) issued a statement that anathematizes “those who say. . .that Christ is not God.”

The term theos

Since the ‘easterners’ regarded the Son both as “God” and as subordinate to the Father, Lewis Ayres says:

This “reminds us of the variety of ways in which the term ‘God’ could be deployed at this point.” (LA, 124) (LA = Lewis Ayres, Nicaea and its Legacy, An Approach to Fourth-Century Trinitarian Theology, 2004)

Hanson agrees:

“The word theos or deus, for the first four centuries of the existence of Christianity had a wide variety of meanings. There were many different types and grades of deity in popular thought and religion and even in philosophical thought.” (Hanson Lecture)

God and theos

In the Bible and in the early Greek writers, theos is NOT equivalent to the modern word “God:”

The word theos was used for beings with different levels of divinity. The term theos was originally used for the Greek gods and goddesses and describes an immortal being with supernatural power. The Son of God, therefore, may most certainly be described as “theos.” In English, therefore, when not referring to the Father or the Son, theos is translated as “god.”

In contrast, in English, the word “God” is used only for the Ultimate Reality. Ancient Greek did not have an equivalent word.

John 1:1

The translation of John 1:1 “and the Word was God,” with a capital “G,” therefore ASSUMES that the Son is the Ultimate Reality. Given the meaning of theos as described, this is an application of the Trinity doctrine; not proof of the Trinity doctrine.

I would not translate John 1:1 as “and the Word was God” but would definitely also not translate it as “the Word was a god” because that would imply He is one among many. Unfortunately, the Trinity doctrine has determined the vocabulary of the English language in this regard. It only has the words “God” and “god.” English does not have a word for a Being like the Son, who was begotten from the being of Father to have many of God’s attributes, such as to have life in Himself and to maintain all things by the word of God’s power.

See – Did the church fathers describe Jesus as “god” or as “God?”

His God

So, there are two called theos in John 1:1. We see the same in John 20 and Hebrews 1:8-9. In both those passages, the Son is called theos but the Father is called His theos (His God). Despite this, the standard translation, because it assumes the Trinity doctrine, translates theos in these two instances, when referring to the Son, as “God.”


Other Articles

FOOTNOTES

  • 1
    For the first more than 300 years, the church fathers believed that the Son is subordinate to the Father. The Trinity Doctrine was developed by the Cappadocian fathers late in the fourth century but the decision to adopt it was not taken by the church. This is a list of all articles on the Arian Controversy.
  • 2
    Who was he? What did he believe?
  • 3
    Who created it? What does it say?
  • 4
    What does it mean?
  • 5
    The conclusion that Jesus is ‘God’ forms the basis of the Trinity Doctrine.
  • 6
    Including Modalism, Eastern Orthodoxy view of the Trinity, Elohim, and Eternal Generation

Did Thomas, in John 20:28, address Jesus as “God”?

SUMMARY

After God resurrected Jesus, He appeared to His disciples, but Thomas was not with them. When they told Thomas that Jesus is alive, he did not believe. But, a few days later, Jesus again appeared to them and this time Thomas was with them. When He saw Jesus, and when Jesus showed him His wounds, he exclaimed with great joy:

My Lord and my God” (John 20:28).

Jesus did not correct Thomas.

CLEAREST PROOF

Elsewhere, the New Testament has a very high view of Christ. For example, Jesus always existed (Rev 1:17) in the form of God and with equality with God (Phil 2:6), and God made and maintains all things through His Son (Heb 1:2-3). However, in the view of some, John 20:28 is the clearest proof of Christ’s deity.

THOMAS DID NOT SAY,
JESUS IS GOD.

In contrast, the first purpose of this article is to show that ‘Jesus is God’ cannot be the right interpretation of John 20:28.

A STRICT MONOTHEIST

Firstly, Thomas, like all Jews, was a strict monotheist (cf. Deut 6:4). It would have required a huge amount of persuasion to convince the disciples otherwise, namely that Jesus is God.

WHAT JESUS TAUGHT

Secondly, Jesus never attempted to change the views of the disciples in this regard. Jesus never taught that He is God. On the contrary, He always made a clear distinction between Himself and God (e.g., John 17:3).

And when the Jews accused Him: “You … make Yourself out to be God,” Jesus immediately corrected them: “I said, I am the Son of God” (John 10:36). “Son of God” is a synonym for the title “Christ,” a Greek word that means “the anointed one,” or “the chosen one” (cf. John 1:49; 11:27; 20:31; Matt 26:63).

So, if Jesus during the preceding three years never attempted to teach His disciples that He is the Most High, how on earth could Thomas have thought that He is?

THE IMMEDIATE CONTEXT

Thirdly, in the immediate context of John 20, we can see that the disciples, at that time, did not understand Jesus to be God. For example:

      • A few days before His death Jesus addressed His Father as “the only true God” (John 17:3).
      • The day after He died, the disciples described Him as “a prophet … the one who was going to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:19-21).
      • A few days before Jesus appeared to Thomas, He referred to the Father as His God (John 20:17).
      • Just three verses after Thomas’ exclamation, John, summarizing his gospel, identified Jesus not as God but as “the Christ, the Son of God” (John 20:31).

WHAT THE DISCIPLES TAUGHT

Fourthly, we also see what the disciples believed in what they taught afterward. A few weeks after John 20:28, the disciples received the Holy Spirit and preached as recorded in the Book of Acts. If the apostles really believed that Jesus is God, that would have been their constant and main message. But they not even once proclaimed Jesus as God. On the contrary, they consistently made a clear distinction between God and Jesus (e.g., Acts 2:24, 32; 3:15, 26). 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?

WHAT PAUL TAUGHT

Fifthly, what the disciples believed in this regard is also reflected in Paul’s letters. He is the most important writer of the New Testament and wrote decades after Thomas met Jesus. Paul never taught (at least explicitly) that Jesus is God. On the contrary, Paul continued to make a distinction between God and Jesus (e.g., Rom 10:9; 1 Tim 5:21; 1 Cor 11:3). Paul did describe Jesus as “the image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15), through whom God made all things (Col 1:16), in whom “all the fullness of Deity dwells” (Col 2:9), who “existed in the form of God” and had “equality with God” (Phil 2:6). Nevertheless, it is important to understand that all these statements make a distinction between Jesus and God, meaning that Jesus is NOT God.

THE HIGH VIEW

Lastly, we must also remember that the high view of Christ, which we find, for example, in John 1:1-2, Colossians 1:15-17, and Hebrews 1:2-3, was revealed by the Holy Spirit, particularly to John and Paul, decades after the events of John 20:28. Consequently, at the time of John 20:28, Thomas and the disciples did not yet understand who Jesus really is. They had no idea of the profound concepts that God would later reveal.

CONCLUSION

For the three years or more before John 20:28, Jesus taught His disciples but He never taught them that He is God. Neither did the disciples, after Thomas said this, teach that Jesus is God. Therefore, Thomas could not have said that Jesus is God.

Remember, Thomas doubted that Jesus was alive. In other words, he thought of Jesus as a mortal being. It is simply unsound logic to argue that, just by seeing Jesus alive, his view of Christ immediately jumped from being a mortal man to being the immortal God.

WHAT DID THOMAS MEAN?

This second part discusses what Thomas could have meant to say. The following possible meanings are discussed below:

1) The basic meaning of the Greek word theos is an immortal being with supernatural powers – such as the Greek gods. Since Thomas described Jesus as “my theosafter he saw that Jesus is alive, Thomas could have described Jesus as such.

2) Jesus referred to people “to whom the word of God came” as theos (“gods” – John 10:35). Since the Father did send Jesus and gave Him His message (e.g., John 8:16, 26), Thomas could have described Jesus as such.

3) The word theos can also be used in a qualitative sense, namely as “Godlike” (cf. Col 1:15; Heb 1:3).

The God of me4) When theos is preceded by ho (the), it almost always refers to the supreme Divinity. (There are exceptions. For example, Satan is also referred to as ho theos.) In the Greek of John 20:28, Thomas did not merely say theos; he said ho theos. Therefore, another possibility is that Thomas used theos to refer to the Father. In other words, Thomas, in the extreme joy of the moment, cried out something like, “Oh my Lord (Jesus) and oh my God (the Father).” In that way, Thomas exclaimed “my God” as praise directed at God, the Father, for raising Jesus. Since ho theos usually refers to the Father, it probably also has that meaning in John 20:28.

CONCLUSION

As shown in the first part of this article, it is not possible that Thomas could have thought that Jesus is God. In the second part, a number of alternative possible meanings have been considered. Unfortunately, it is not possible to determine exactly what Thomas meant. But two things should be clear:

      • Thomas did not say that Jesus is God.
      • There are several other valid interpretations of the phrase.

– END OF SUMMARY –


INTRODUCTION

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. But, a few days later, Jesus again appeared to them and this time Thomas was with them. When He saw Jesus, and when Jesus showed him His wounds, he exclaimed with great joy:

My Lord and my God” (John 20:28).

CLEAREST PROOF

Of the 1300 times that the word theos (translated as “god” or “God”) appears in the New Testament, there are about seven verses where theos possibly describes Jesus. However, in each and every case, either the original text or the interpretation is disputed. (Several articles have been posted discussing these verses. For a general summary, see Is Jesus called God?)

Brian J. 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.

John 20:28Therefore, for some people, this verse is the clearest proof of Christ’s deity. The Pulpit Commentary describes these words as the climax of the Gospel. For Spurgeon, this is the plainest confession of Jesus’ deity.

Such writers support their view with arguments such as:

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

2) David, similarly, described Jehovah as: “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.

3) If Jesus were not God, the Lord Jesus would have corrected Thomas. But Jesus responded:

Because you have seen Me, have you believed?
Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed

(John 20:29).

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

THE HIGH VIEW

And, of course, elsewhere, the New Testament has a very high view of Christ. For example:

Through whom (His Son) also He (God) made the world.
And He
(His Son)

 – is the radiance of His (God’s) glory
 – and the exact representation of His (God’s) nature,
 – and upholds all things by the word of His (God’s) power
(Heb 1:2-3).

It is difficult to understand that a being that was able to become a human being is also the One through whom God created and still maintains all things. Elsewhere, we also read that Jesus is “the first and the last” (Rev 1:17), which means that He always existed. And that “in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form” (Col 2:9). According to Philippians 2:6, before He became a human being, He existed in the form of God and had equality with God. In the article on Philippians 2, I attempt to explain who Jesus really is. I prefer to understand Jesus as the church understood Him during the first 300 years, namely before Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire (See, The Apologists).

THOMAS DID NOT SAY
THAT JESUS IS GOD.

However, the first purpose of this article is to show that ‘Jesus is God’ cannot be the right interpretation of John 20:28. This is justified as follows:

A STRICT MONOTHEIST

Firstly, Thomas, like all Jews, was a strict monotheist. In Judaism, “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one” (Deut 6:4) was a foundational statement. It would have required a huge amount of persuasion to convince the disciples otherwise and that Jesus is God.

WHAT JESUS TAUGHT

Who do you say I AmBut secondly, Jesus never attempted to change the views of the disciples in this regard. Jesus never taught that He is God.

For example, Jesus never referred to Himself as θεός (theos). Rather, He described Himself as the Messiah and as the Son of God.

Furthermore, He always made a distinction between Himself and God. For example, at the end of His ministry – probably days before He appeared to Thomas – Jesus, in prayer, described the Father as “the only true God” (John 17:3). In using the word “only,” Jesus excluded Himself as “true God.”

The one verse where people sometimes say that Jesus claimed to be God is John 10:33, where the Jews accused Him:

You … make Yourself out to be God.

But Jesus immediately corrected them:

I said, I am the Son of God” (John 10:36).

(See here for a discussion of John 10:33-36.)

Some people, when they read the words, “the Son of God,” they subconsciously convert that into “God the Son.” However, the latter title is never found in the Bible. The following verses have been selected because they contain both the title “Son of God” and another (parallel) title, giving us an understanding of what the title “Son of God” means:

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

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

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

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

In other words, the “Son of God” is a synonym for the title “Christ,” a Greek word that means “the anointed one,” or “the chosen one.”

THE IMMEDIATE CONTEXT

Thirdly, in the immediate context of John 20, we can see that the disciples, at that time, did not understand Jesus to be God. For example:

1) A few days before His death Jesus prayed and addressed His Father as “the only true God” (John 17:3). Why would John record that and then, a little later, write that Thomas said that Jesus is God?

2) If they believed that Jesus was God, they would not have “all fled” just a few days earlier when Jesus was arrested.

3) The confession of the two disciples walking along the road to Emmaus demonstrates the views of Jesus’ followers at that time. Speaking to the resurrected Christ, whom they mistook as just another traveler, they described Jesus as:

a prophet,
powerful in word and deed before God …
we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel
” (Luke 24:19-21).

4) As recorded in that same chapter, a few days before Jesus appeared to Thomas, He spoke to Mary Magdalene and referred to the Father as His God:

Go to My brethren and say to them,
‘I ascend to My Father and your Father,
and My God and your God
’” (John 20:1, 17).

5) Just three verses after Thomas’ exclamation, John summarized his gospel and identified Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of God” and not as God:

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

WHAT THE DISCIPLES TAUGHT

We also see what the disciples believed in what they taught afterward:

Thomas made his exclamation after Jesus was resurrected and a few weeks before the Holy Spirit was poured out. Therefore, after Jesus ascended to heaven, the disciples had to preach without Jesus. They no longer had Jesus to do the talking. But they now had the support of the Holy Spirit, guiding them “into all the truth” (John 16:13). If the apostles really believed that Jesus is God, that would have been their constant and main message. But, in Acts, which records their sermons, the apostles not even once proclaimed Jesus as God. No sermon in the book of Acts attributes the title θεός (theos) to Jesus. On the contrary, they consistently proclaimed that God raised Jesus from the dead. At Pentecost, Peter told the multitudes:

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

In other words, Acts, just like the gospels, maintains 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?

WHAT PAUL TAUGHT

What the disciples believed in this regard is also reflected in Paul’s letters:

Paul was given the task to interpret the dramatic events of the first century and to teach the church through his letters. And Paul never taught that Jesus is God.

EXPLICIT STATEMENTS

If Jesus was God, Paul’s letters would have taught this explicitly. An explicit statement would be something like we find in the Old Testament:

I am Yahweh your God” (Exo 6:7; 16:12; 20:2).

Yahweh is identified as God about 400 times in the Old Testament, using phrases such as:

      • Yahweh God,
      • Yahweh, God of heaven,
      • Yahweh your God,
      • Yahweh, God of Israel
      • Yahweh our God, and
      • Yahweh, God of compassion.

But not once do we find an equivalent explicit statement in the New Testament, saying that Jesus is God.

DISTINCTION

On the contrary, similar to 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 clear distinction between God and Christ are:

    • In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus” (1 Tim 5:21)
      and, most strikingly,
    • The head of Christ is God” (1 Cor 11:3).

Hundreds of other examples are available. See, for example, The New Testament makes a distinction between God and Jesus.

ROMANS 9 VERSE 5

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

CONCLUSION

Therefore, Paul, the most important writer of the New Testament, and writing decades after Thomas met Jesus after His resurrection, NEVER taught that Jesus is GodHe did describe Jesus as “the image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15), through whom God made all things (Col 1:16), in whom “all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form” (Col 2:9), who “existed in the form of God” and had “equality with God” (Phil 2:6). Nevertheless, it is important to understand that all these statements make a distinction between Jesus and God, meaning that Jesus is NOT God.

THE HIGH VIEW

We must also understand that the high view of Christ, which we find, for example, in John 1:1-2, Colossians 1:15-17, and Hebrews 1:2-3 was not something that the disciples knew about at the time that Thomas made his exclamation. Those things were not taught by Christ. As Jesus said to His disciples:

I have many more things to say to you,
but you cannot bear them now.
But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes,
He will guide you into all the truth
” (John 16:12-13).

The very high view that John and Paul had of Jesus was revealed to them by 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. Consequently, the disciples did not yet understand who Jesus really is. Thomas had no idea of the profound concepts that God would later reveal. It is unthinkable that Thomas, when He saw the risen Jesus, could think of Him as the same as or equal to the Only True God (John 17:3).

CONCLUSION

For the three years or more before John 20:28, Jesus taught His disciples but He never taught them that He is God. Neither did the disciples, after Thomas said this, teach that Jesus is God. Therefore, Thomas could not have said that Jesus is God.

Remember, Thomas doubted. What did he doubt? One could speculate that he doubted that Jesus is the Christ. Trinitarians might speculate that he doubted that Jesus is God. But what he really doubted is that Jesus was alive. In other words, he thought of Jesus as a mortal being. It is not sound logic to argue that, just by seeing Jesus alive, his view of Christ immediately jumped from being a mortal man to being the immortal God.

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

And the trinit­arian Brian J. Wright, after an 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.

WHAT DID THOMAS MEAN?

The first part of this article shows that it is not possible that Thomas could have thought that Jesus is the Most High God. In this second part, we discuss what Thomas could have intended to say.

(1) IMMORTAL BEING

The ancient Greeks had a pantheon of gods. They did not have one single Supreme Being which is the ultimate reality, as we find in the Bible. They used the word Θεός, transliterated as theos, to refer to their gods. The word theos, therefore, is equivalent to the modern English word “god.” In Greek thought, it described an immortal being with supernatural powers.

Since Thomas described Jesus as “my theos” after he saw that Jesus is alive, one possible meaning is that Thomas described Jesus as similar to one of the Greek gods; an immortal being with supernatural powers.

(See The Meanings of the Word theos for a further discussion.)

(2) GOD’S REPRESENTATIVE

According to Strong, one of the uses of theos is a person appointed by God as a magistrate. Jesus similarly referred to people “to whom the word of God came” as theos (John 10:35). This is a quote from Psalm 82:6 and probably refers to the judges of the Old Testament.

Therefore, another possible meaning is that Thomas described Jesus as theos to identify Him as the Christ, namely, mandated by God to speak and act for Him. Since the Father did send Jesus and gave Him His message (e.g., John 8:16, 26), that is a possible explanation.

(3) LIKE GOD

The word theos can also be used in a qualitative sense, as opposed to a definite (the god) or indefinite (a god) sense. It is unlikely but possible that Thomas used theos in a qualitative sense, namely as “Godlike,” similar to the following statements:

      • He is the image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15).
      • He (His Son) is … the exact representation of His (God’s) nature” (Heb 1:3).

John, after decades 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 and John 20:28 use theos in the same sense. In a series of articles on the translation of John 1:1, I concluded, because the word theos is used in a qualitative sense in that verse, that John 1:1c should NOT be translated as “The Word was God” but as “the Word was Godlike,” or, to use Paul’s words, “the Word was in the form of God and had equality with God” (Phil 2:6).

(4) GOD

According to Strong, in the Bible, especially when it is preceded by ho (the), theos refers to the supreme Divinity. To put it differently, since the New Testament was written in Greek, it used the same word that the Greeks used for their gods (theos) for the god of the Bible. But since the Greek word theos is used for all gods, when the writers of the New Testament wanted to specify the supreme Deity, they added the definite article “ho” before theos. (This is a general rule but there are exceptions. For example, Satan is also referred to as ho theos.)

Modern English has something which ancient Greek did not have, namely differentiation between lower- and upper-case letters. Modern English, therefore, was able to invent the word “God.” While the word “god” refers to a category of beings, the word “God” functions as a personal name for one single being, namely the supreme Divinity, similar to the names John and Paul for human beings. The ancient Greek in which the New Testament was written has no word exactly equivalent to “God.”

For these reasons, generally, ho theos is translated as “God.” (Translators drop the definite article and capitalize the G.)

The point is that in the Greek of John 20:28, Thomas did not merely say theos; he said ho theos mou, literally “the god of me.” This implies that he used the word theos to refer to the supreme Divinity. This can be understood in at least the following ways:

One option is to understand that Thomas intended to describe Jesus as the Most High God; the supreme Divinity. However, as discussed, the immediate and wider context does not allow that interpretation.

An alternative possibility is that John referred to the Father when he wrote ho theos. In other words, Thomas, in the extreme joy of the moment, cried out something like, “Oh my Lord (Jesus) and oh my God (the Father).” In that way, Thomas exclaimed “my God” as praise directed at God, the Father, for raising Jesus.

Paul similarly 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 this verse explain Thomas’ confession?  It contains both the words “Lord” and “God” but “God” is identified as the Father.

CONCLUSION

As shown in the first part of this article, it is not possible that Thomas could have thought that Jesus is God. In the second part, a number of alternative possible meanings have been considered, namely that Jesus:

      • Is similar to one of the Greek gods; an immortal being with supernatural powers.
      • Has been mandated by God to speak and act for Him.
      • Is like God in a qualitative sense; “the image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15).

The fourth alternative was that theos in John 20:28 does not refer to Jesus at all but to the Father.

Unfortunately, it is not possible to determine exactly what Thomas meant. But two things should be clear:

      • Thomas did not say that Jesus is God.
      • There are several other valid interpretations of the phrase.

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