The Greek New Testament uses the following words to describe God.

  • θεός (theos) = God
  • κύριος (kyrios) = Lord

THEOS – GOD

The first of these words is the general word for a deity. In English, it is found back in technical terms such as theology and theistic. Based on the number of gods you worship, you are atheist, monotheist, or polytheist. The New Testament use of theos typically corresponds to the Hebrew word Elohim in the Old.

In the Greek language, the word θεός is often accompanied by the definite article: ὁ θεός (ho theos) “the God”. There is no significant difference in meaning. In almost all cases, θεός refers to the one, only true God.

kyrios – Lord

The second word is found in the liturgical phrase Kyrie, eleison! “Lord, have mercy!” (In the direct address, or vocative case, the ending –ος becomes –ε.) The word kyrios was used to denote a “master” over a household; it was a polite address of students to their teacher; and it was used in a way similar to the English title “sir” to address a gentleman.

At the same time, kyrios translates the Hebrew word adonai “Lord” of the Old Testament. Already centuries before the New Testament era, Jewish believers were accustomed also to read adonai “Lord” when the Hebrew text had the tetragrammaton, YHWH, the proper name of God. Thus, the Greek kyrios also correspond to this divine name.

When Jesus’ followers addressed him as kyrios, it was not always obvious whether it is merely a polite address (“sir”, “master”), or a reference to his divine identity (“Lord”). But as the church continued using this title, it is clearly in acknowledgment of his divinity. In Christian literature, “the Lord” nearly always denotes Jesus Christ, the glorified Son of God, who himself deserves divine honor.

“And the Word was God” – John 1:1

An important much-debated passage is John 1:1:

ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος, καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν, καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος
en archê ên ho logos, kai ho logos ên pros ton theon, kai theos ên ho logos
In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God, …

The last section literally reads: “and God was the Logos”. Traditionally it has been understood as saying that Jesus Christ, the “Logos”, is no other than God himself. It is an important element in the doctrine of the Trinity.

This view has been challenged. Some (notably the Jehovah’s Witnesses) argue that theos, without the article, must be rendered “a god”—that is, a divine being, but not the one High God. For one thing, predicate nouns often lack the article, even where we would use them in English. Also, if the point was merely that the Logos was a God, this could easily be clarified by writing: θεὸς εἷς (theos heis) “one God”, or εἷς τῶν θεῶν (heis tôn theôn) “one of the gods”. Others have suggested that theos here is qualitative, and so functions as an adjective (“divine”) rather than a noun. However, this would normally accomplished by the adjective θειός (theios).

All in all, the traditional reading, “and the Logos was God”, is clearly the correct reading.

“My Lord and My God” – John 20:28

In John 20:28, the disciple Thomas exclaims:

ὁ κύριός μου καὶ ὁ θεός μου
ho kyrios mou kai ho theos mou
“My Lord and my God!”

Here both divine titles, theos and kyrios, are directly applied to the Lord Jesus Christ. While it is true that Jesus never directly said: “I am God,” he received this appellation by Thomas without criticizing it. On the contrary, he acknowledged this as an expression of Thomas’s faith and responded by a blessing. This simple verse, in straightforward Greek, powerfully underscores the Christian faith that Jesus Christ is himself the eternal Lord and God.

5 thoughts on “Bible Greek (1): Lord and God

  1. You say, “Here both divine titles, theos and kyrios, are directly applied to the Lord Jesus Christ.”

    In doing so you assume “he received this appellation” (God) but don’t address grammatical alternatives in the Greek syntax.

    You assume that the “My Lord and my God” is part of an unexpressed predicate preceded by something like “You are.”

    A thorough examination of the syntax of this expression makes it extremely unlikely that this is the case.

    The grammatical arguments made against this view can be found in the following paper.

    https://georgkaplin.files.wordpress.com/2019/06/smarts-v8.pdf

    For grammatical and contextual reasons an “objective” syntax like “I believe in my Lord, and my God,” is much more likely.

    Best Regards,
    Barry Klooney

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    1. This paper brings us into the realm of various detailed rules about small words—articles, copulatives, and so on. First of all, let me say that I think that such rules are highly overrated. In my studies of classical Greek I never encountered, say, the Granville Sharp rule; but in every New Testament Greek class it is taught in much detail. The problem with these rules is that their application is limited, their foundation not always solid, and that there are too many exceptions. Another problem with such rules is that they are often misapplied. Finally, differences in style and small scribal errors generate too much noise to rely on such rules.

      All in all, I am not too concerned about the grammar when it comes to interpreting John 20:28.

      Second, I don’t see how the context would suggest an “objective” syntax. Of course Thomas believes in his Lord and in his God. But Jesus considers Thomas’s words a confession of faith, which he was not able to make before he had seen the proof of Jesus’ resurrection up close. That faith is a belief about Jesus; namely, that he is Lord and God.

      Third, there is a simply parallel that proves that the phrase ὁ κύριός μου καἰ ὁ θεός μου can be a direct address identifying one and the same person. That is Psalm 35:23 (LXX numbering: 34:23). The very same expression is addressed to the Lord, as parallel and synonym to the vocative κύριε. I don’t think that Thomas is deliberately invoking this specific psalm (the context is different), but it goes to show that Koine Greek can function this way. Many other examples can be given in the Psalms where the combination ὁ … μου καἰ ὁ … μου is used to address the same divine person.

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  2. in response to Barry Klooney:

    You say, “Here both divine titles, theos and kyrios, are directly applied to the Lord Jesus Christ.” In doing so you assume “he received this appellation” (God) but don’t address grammatical alternatives in the Greek syntax. You assume that the “My Lord and my God” is part of an unexpressed predicate preceded by something like … Continue reading Bible Greek (1): Lord and God

    arjenvreugd:
    This paper brings us into the realm of various detailed rules about small words—articles, copulatives, and so on. First of all, let me say that I think that such rules are highly overrated. In my studies of classical Greek I never encountered, say, the Granville Sharp rule; but in every New Testament Greek class it is taught in much detail. The problem with these rules is that their application is limited, their foundation not always solid, and that there are too many exceptions. Another problem with such rules is that they are often misapplied. Finally, differences in style and small scribal errors generate too much noise to rely on such rules.

    Barry
    I agree with you about rules such as this. If you read the history of “Smart’s Rule” in the paper, you will see it was originally presented on B-GREEK as a parody on Sharps’s Rule. That being said, there are no exceptions in the GNT with the syntax found in John 20:28.

    The grammatical reason against the predicate syntax is based on the paper by Sollamo. There have been no examples of this in secular Greek with the copulative και. Couple this with the prevailing scholarly view that the gospel of John is native Greek and does not contain grammatical solecisms, and the alternative of the adjunctive και is more likely.

    arjenvreugd
    All in all, I am not too concerned about the grammar when it comes to interpreting John 20:28.

    Second, I don’t see how the context would suggest an “objective” syntax. Of course Thomas believes in his Lord and in his God. But Jesus considers Thomas’s words a confession of faith, which he was not able to make before he had seen the proof of Jesus’ resurrection up close. That faith is a belief about Jesus; namely, that he is Lord and God.

    Barry
    That is an assumption on your part. Your only “proof” is that this is “straightforward Greek.” You have not demonstrated your view is correct or that it is the only possible syntax.

    arjenvreugd
    Third, there is a simply parallel that proves that the phrase ὁ κύριός μου καἰ ὁ θεός μου can be a direct address identifying one and the same person. That is Psalm 35:23 (LXX numbering: 34:23). The very same expression is addressed to the Lord, as parallel and synonym to the vocative κύριε. I don’t think that Thomas is deliberately invoking this specific psalm (the context is different), but it goes to show that Koine Greek can function this way. Many other examples can be given in the Psalms where the combination ὁ … μου καἰ ὁ … μου is used to address the same divine person.

    Barry
    What you use as “parallel” is from the translation Greek of the LXX. The Psalms in particular slavishly follows the Hebrew grammar and not the proper idiomatic Greek found in the gospel of John. The statistics in the paper illustrate that your example from Psalms actually supports the paper at https://georgkaplin.files.wordpress.com/2019/06/smarts-v8.pdf

    This is because from Sollamo’s research we expect the grammatical Hebraism in Psalms but not in the native idiomatic Greek of the gospel of John. See the paper for supporting references.

    As for the context supporting the “objective” syntax, see the section which compares John 14:1 and 20:28.

    Also consider this scholarly reference:

    “Naturally, the interpretation of Thomas’s words was hotly debated by early church theologians who wanted to use it in support of their own christological definitions. Those who understood ‘My Lord’ to refer to Jesus, and ‘my God’ to refer to God [the Father] were suspected of christological heresy in the fifth century CE. Many modern commentators have also rejected that interpretation and instead they understood the confession as an assertion that Jesus is both Lord and God. In doing so they are forced to interpret ‘God’ as a reference to logos [logos]. But it is perfectly appropriate for Thomas to respond to Jesus’ resurrection with a confession of faith both in Jesus and his Lord and in God who sent and raised Jesus. Interpreting the confession in this way actually makes much better sense in the context of the Fourth Gospel. In 14.1 belief both in God and in Jesus is encouraged, in a context in which Thomas is particularly singled out … If we understand Thomas’s confession as an assertion that Jesus is God, this confession in 20.31 becomes an anti-climax.”
    (Margaret Davies, Rhetoric and Reference in the Fourth Gospel (JSNTSup69; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1992), 125-126)

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  3. You said:
    Some (notably the Jehovah’s Witnesses) argue that theos, without the article, must be rendered “a god”—that is, a divine being, but not the one High God. For one thing, predicate nouns often lack the article, even where we would use them in English.

    That is not correct. If you look at the footnote on John 1:1, it says “or divine.”
    https://wol.jw.org/en/wol/b/r1/lp-e/nwt/E/2013/43/1#study=discover

    Also, I am most interested in your response to my reply to your rebuttal on John 20:28.

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    1. Hi Barry,

      The NWT has “a god”, as I stated here; and the footnote, “or divine”, is the second interpretation that I mention as faulty. Thus the NWT supports my statement.

      I am not very interested in a lengthy, technical discussion on my blog. The goal is to focus on the basics. I mentioned John 20:28 because the terms
      occur there together and, as the vast majority of Christians have confessed, are honorary titles of our Lord and our God, Jesus Christ.

      Let me comment briefly on the paper you linked. The rule you defend in length is based on a small corpus (just the NT, not the LXX), excludes “Hebraisms” (i.e. LXX allusions) for no good reason, limits itself to a very narrow case (noun + possessive genitive + καί + noun + same genitive), and of the 15 or so cases you present, several are not even a single noun phrase. Furthermore, in the remaining cases, the lexical meanings of the nouns make clear that the two nouns refer to different entities. What is left is too insignificant to conclude that the grammatical structure has a certain rigid meaning that deviates from the classical and LXX usages.

      As for your contextual argument, John 20:31 is not the climax of the Thomas story; it is a summary of the entire gospel. The traditional interpretation of 20:28 is indeed a climax, which supports the central thesis that is repeated in 20:31: the Jesus is the Christ and the (divine) Son of God.
      Anyway, as far as this blog goes, I will put an end to the discussion at this point. If you like to continue the discussion privately, send me a private message / email.

      Like

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