The gods or mighty ones

How often we are confronted by people wanting to convince us that John, the evangelist, is speaking about Jesus being God.

English: Ancient Greek: Definite Article

Ancient Greek: Definite Article (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A few trinitarians will even deny the significance of the article (“the”) in Scripture phrases like John 1:1,and say that theos (θεὸς) is usually translated as “God” whether it has the article or not, and, therefore, even though there is no article with theos (θεὸς) at John 1:1, the probability (they say) is very high that “theos” in John 1:1 means “God” and not “god” (or “a god”).

Most trinitarian scholars, however, will admit the importance of the article when distinguishing between “the only true God” and “a god” (“a mighty one”). However, some of them will attempt to prove that the article is properly understood to be there by producing some “grammatical rule” for the “peculiar” Greek grammar (or syntax) used at John 1:1c. Therefore, they will tell you, since the article is “understood” to be with theos at John 1:1c, then the Word is the God (the “understood” article showing that the only true God was meant)!

Is it true that the use of the article with theos (in the nominative case, θεὸς, as used at John 1:1c) makes little or no difference in distinguishing between “god” and “God”? – (See THEON study on John 10:33-36 for significance of the article usage in the accusative case – theon [θεόν] – and lack of significance of the article usage in the genitive case – theou [θεοῦ].)

The truth is that theos (“God” or “god”) when used as it is in John 1:1c (in nominative case – θεὸς – and without modifying phrases such as “God of him,” “God to them,” etc.) always has the definite article with it in the Gospels (including John, of course) when it is applied to the only true God!

Here’s what Professor J.G. Machen says in his New Testament Greek for Beginners, p.35:

“The use of the article in Greek corresponds roughly to the use of the definite article in English. Thus [logos] means ‘a word’; [ho logos] means ‘the word’.”

So, basically, the word “the” (the definite article, “ho” in NT Greek when used with the masculine nominative case) shows that the noun it is used with is one certain special thing. “The boss” is one certain individual whereas “a boss” is indefinite and could be any one of millions of individuals.

To illustrate the importance of the article for the meaning of “theos” in the great majority of instances, let’s look at all the uses of “theos” (in its nominative form) in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke as found in the Westcott and Hort (W&H) text.—If the definite article (“the”) is used with “theos” in the original manuscripts, “art.” has been written after the verse number. If the definite article is not there, “an.” (for “anarthrous”) has been written before the verse number:

Matthew 1:23 — art.

Mt 3:9 — art.

Mt 6:8 — art. (W&H)

Mt 6:30 — art.

Mt 15:4 — art.

Mt 19:6 — art.

Mt 22:32 — art. (4 occurrences) “the God of….” (W&H)

Mark 2:7 — art.

Mk 10:9 — art.

Mk 10:18 — art.

Mk 12:26 — art. (2 occurrences)

an. Mk 12:26 —- (2 occurrences) “God of….”

an. Mk 12:27 —- “a God of…”

Mk 12:29 — art. “the God of…”

Mk 13:19 — art.

Mk 15:34 — art. “the God of me” (2 occurrences)

Luke 1:32 — art.

Lk 1:68 — art. “The God of…”

Lk 3:8 — art.

Lk 5:21 — art.

Lk 7:16 — art.

Lk 8:39 — art.

Lk 12:20 — art.

Lk 12:24 — art.

Lk 12:28 — art.

Lk 16:15 — art.

Lk 18:7 — art.

Lk 18:11 — art.

Lk 18:13 — art.

Lk 18:19 — art. (W&H, UBS – anarth. in Nestle) – Appositive

an. Lk 20:38 —- “a God of…”

We can see that of 37 usages of “theos” (in nominative form as found at John 1:1c) for the only true God by these 3 Bible writers 33 of them have the definite article! That’s 90% of the time! But let’s examine the 4 “exceptions”.

Nouns used as subjects or predicate nouns (i.e. the nominative case), if they are part of a prepositional (usually possessive) phrase (e.g. “the God of me,” “the God to him,” etc.—meaning “my God,” “his God,” etc.), may or may not take the article. The use of the article under those conditions appears to be purely arbitrary and is used at random with little or no significance. A good example of this is found at 2 Cor. 4:4 – “the god of this age [or system]…”.

As trinitarian New Testament Greek scholars Dana and Mantey tell us,

“The use of prepositions, possessive … pronouns, and the genitive case also tend to make a word definite. At such times, even if the article is not used, the object is already distinctly indicated.” – p. 137, D&M Grammar.

And highly respected trinitarian NT Greek scholar A. T. Robertson tells us about such “prepositional” examples:

“in examples like this … only the context can decide [whether ‘the’ should be understood or not]. Sometimes the matter is wholly doubtful.” – p.781, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament, 1934.

Of all the 37 uses of “theos” (nominative case) by Matthew, Mark, and Luke can you guess which ones are used with possessive (or prepositional) constructions? That’s right! The 4 “exceptions” are all used with possessive (or prepositional) constructions!

Mark 12:26 says literally:

the God said, ‘I [am] the God OF Abraham and God OF Isaac and God OF Jacob.’”

But the parallel account at Matthew 22:32 says literally:

“I am the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.”

Even though Mark didn’t use the definite article with “theos” in the last half of this verse, it made no difference to the meaning because of the uncertainty of meaning inherent in such prepositional/possessive usages. Matthew did use the article in the parallel account, but its use under those circumstances was unnecessary. (It was Matthew’s writing style to always use the article with “theos” when referring to the true God regardless of grammatical options, but, obviously, Mark and Luke sometimes took advantage of the “prepositional/possessive” article uncertainty to ignore the normally-required article for “God”.)

This is further shown at the continuation of these parallel accounts. Matt. 22:32 says literally:

“not he is the God of dead.”

But the parallel account at Mark 12:27 says literally:

“not he is God of dead.”

And the parallel account at Luke 20:38 says literally:

“God not he is of dead.”

Notice that Both Mark and Luke do NOT use the definite article, but most trinitarian Bible translators consider them just as definite as the parallel verse in Matthew which does use the definite article – NIV, TEV, ASV, NAB, NASB, CBW, Beck, The Amplified Bible. (But due to the article inconsistency with prepositional/possessive constructions, we can also find INDEFINITE translations of these verses: “a God” – KJV, Mo, NWT; and “He is not God of the dead” – NEB, JB, RSV, Phillips.)

You can also see that “God” in Mark 12:27 is a predicate noun which comes after its verb, whereas “God” in Luke 20:38 is a predicate noun which comes before its verb. But since BOTH are frequently translated “the God,” we can easily see that it is not because of word position, but because of the “possessive” (prepositional) constructions, which these verses have in common, that they are so translated.

So we see that if we exclude all the nouns used with prepositional (usually “possessive”) constructions (in which there is little or no significance for the definite article – see the appendix of the “Definite John 1:1c” study paper for a detailed examination of this characteristic of “prepositional”-influenced nouns), we then find that Matthew, Mark, and Luke always (in all 25 instances) use the definite article with the nominative form for “theos” when they mean the only true God!

And if we include all the writings of Gospel writer Luke (Acts was also written by Luke), we find the definite article is still always used with the nominative case theos (in all 74 instances) when the only true God (the Father) is the subject! Yes, Acts always uses the article with its 59 uses of the nominative theos for God – even in the 9 “prepositional” instances!

But it doesn’t matter what language rules may be used by OTHERS. What really matters is: What rules are being used by THIS writer (JOHN)? For example, one of the many rules of standard English tells that one must use the SUBJECT form pronoun (similar to the Greek NOMINATIVE case) as a predicate noun. I.e., one should say, “It is I”; “It is he”; etc. And yet many Americans say (and write), “It’s me”; “It’s him”; etc. Therefore, we must always be careful to examine the rules that the writer in question uses in order to understand what meaning he really intended! So, to find the importance of the article for the precise meaning of “theos” in the writings of John, let’s look at all the places in his writings where John used the nominative case “theos” (the same form, or case, used at John 1:1c – θεὸς).

There are 50 such uses of “theos” by John (17 in the Gospel of John). Here is the list of every “theos” (nominative case) used by John. If it has the definite article, “art.” has been written after the verse number. If it does not have the definite article, “an.” (for “anarthrous”) has been written before the verse number. If it appears to be applied to Jesus, “Jesus” has been written after the verse number.

  1. an. John 1:1c – – – Jesus
  2. an. Jn 1:18 – – – Jesus

Jn 3:2 art.

Jn 3:16 art.

Jn 3:17 art.

Jn 3:33 art.

Jn 3:34 art.

Jn 4:24 art.

Jn 6:27 art.

Jn 8:42 art.

  1. an. Jn 8:54 – – -“God of you”

Jn 9:29 art.

Jn 9:31 art.

Jn 11:22 art.

Jn 13:31 art.

Jn 13:32 art.

Jn 20:28 art. Jesus (?) “God of me” (See MYGOD study paper)

1 John 1:5 art.

1 Jn 3:20 art.

1 Jn 4:8 art.

1 Jn 4:9 art.

1 Jn 4:11 art.

1 Jn 4:12 art.

1 Jn 4:15 art.

1 Jn 4:16 art. (3 occurrences)

1 Jn 5:10 art.

1 Jn 5:11 art.

1 Jn 5:20 art.


Rev. 1:1 art.

Rev. 1:8 art.

Rev. 4:8 art.

Rev. 4:11 art. “the God of us”

Rev. 7:17 art.

Rev. 11:17 art.

Rev. 15:3 art.

Rev. 16:7 art.

Rev. 17:17 art.

Rev. 18:5 art.

Rev. 18:8 art.

Rev. 18:20 art.

Rev. 19:6 art. “the God of us”

Rev. 21:3 art.

  1. an. Rev. 21:7 —- “God to him”

Rev. 21:22 art.

Rev. 22:5 art.

Rev. 22:6 art. “the God of the spirits”

Rev. 22:18 art.

Rev. 22:19 art.

We can see that out of at least 47 uses of “theos” for the only true God (all those apparently not applied to Jesus), 45 of them have the definite article.

We can also see that of the 3 uses of “theos” that appear to be applied to Jesus (obviously Jn 1:1c and Jn 1:18 are applied to him; Jn 20:28 is not so certain – see study of John 20:28 – MY GOD), two of them (Jn 1:1c and 1:18) do not have the article. But if the article before “theos” indicates that the only true God is being spoken of, and if the absence of the article before “theos” indicates “god” or “a god” is being spoken of, how do we explain John 8:54 (absence of article even though applied to God), John 20:28 (article present even though, possibly, applied to Jesus), and Rev. 21:7 (article absent even though applied to God)?

Again we need to examine these “exceptions” as we did those of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Remember that nouns in the nominative case, if they are used in a possessive (or any prepositional) construction (such as “God of me,” “God to him,” etc.—meaning “my God,” “his God,” etc.), may or may not use the article with little or no effect on the actual meaning.

Of all the 50 uses of “theos” (in the nominative case) by John can you guess which ones are with prepositional constructions? That’s right! John 8:54 says literally: “you are saying that God of you is.” John 20:28 says literally: “the Lord of me and the God [or ‘god’] of me.” Revelation 21:7 says literally: “I shall be to him God and he will be to me son.”

That the last scripture (Rev. 21:7) should be considered in the same way as “of him” (i.e., the use of the article is basically without meaning in this case) is shown not only by its “possessive” meaning (“his God” and “my son” – see most Bibles) but by the actual usage in this very scripture. (Remember, too, that in reality it is nouns with prepositional constructions that have the article ambiguity, and we have a prepositional construction here: “God to him.”)

There are only 3 other places in John’s writings where “theos” is part of a prepositional construction: Rev. 4:11, Rev. 19:6, and Rev. 22:6. These, however, do take the definite article. So sometimes John uses the article with a prepositional construction and sometimes he doesn’t. Which is exactly what we would expect when the use of the article is purely arbitrary in such circumstances!

So we find that if we exclude all the prepositional constructions (only 6 for “theos” in all of John’s writings) as we should, then all of the remaining 44 instances of “theos” follow the rule (“theos” with article = “God,” and “theos” without article = “god” or “a god”).

Yes, there is a total of 117 places in ALL of the writings of the 4 Gospel writers where the nominative “theos” in non-prepositional form is applied to the only true God. Every one of them has the definite article! The only 2 places in all of these inspired scriptures where “theos” in non-prepositional phrases is clearly not applied to the only true God (John 1:1c and John 1:18) also just “happens” to be the only 2 places that do not have the definite article! So, in all 119 of the non-prepositional uses of “theos” by the Gospel writers the presence of the definite article always determines the only true God!

As for the 21 “exceptions” to the rule (p. MARTIN 2) that “theos” (nominative case only) must have the article (“the”) with it when it is referring to God, Martin has listed 17 genitive case nouns (“theou,” θεοῦ) which are already, by definition, prepositional (“of God”) and 2 Dative case nouns (“theo,θε) which are also already, by definition, prepositional (“to God”). All such examples use the definite article inconsistently because of the influence of the understood prepositional modifiers. These are worthless as examples which are supposed to test the significance of definite article usage, and Martin surely knows that. He has listed only 2 nominatives (“theos,” θεὸς, the proper form in question) and one accusative (“theon,” θεόν).

One of the 2 nominatives Martin lists may actually be a proper exception to the rule. It is found at Philippians 2:13 as written by Paul. So we may say that Paul (but not Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John) may have apparently made an exception to the “theos” with article rule for “God.” (See section at end of this study paper for Paul’s use of the nominative theos.)

But what about the 2 remaining “exceptions” listed by Martin? They are both found at John 1:18. One of them is an accusative (“theon” – θεόν). Accusatives normally use the definite article with “God” in the same way as nominatives. There is one other known exception (in addition to “prepositional” constructions) which applies to accusatives, however, and this is discussed in my John 10:33 study (THEON). John 1:18 is one of these infrequent exceptions for the accusative “theon,” but since it is not the nominative “theos” form as used in John 1:1c, it is still not a proper example.

This leaves only one proper example for Martin’s “exceptions”: “Theoswithout the article at John 1:18 in some NT texts. This is one of the two uses of the non-prepositional “theos” which are applied to Jesus! This “exception” actually proves (like John 1:1c itself) that Jesus is not God, but “a god”!

Yes, John calls Jesus “a god” in a similar sense to what Jehovah (and Jesus himself – in the writing of John only) calls certain men: John 10:34, 35 (quotes Psalm 82:6 which was addressed to Israelite judges). Most trinitarian scholars will admit that the Bible, on occasion, calls angels and certain men who represented God (Israelite leaders, judges, etc.) “gods”! Obviously, these persons were not to be considered equal to God. They were either “mighty ones” in their own right or were to be considered as carrying out God’s will … His rightful representatives. – See pp.4-9 of “The Definite John 1:1c” (DEF).

So we can safely say that in the Gospel writers’ accounts, at least, the definite article truly was used with the nominative “theos” whenever the only true God was intended. If this were not so, it would be senseless for so many trinitarians (including Martin himself) to expend so much time and effort in attempting to prove that the article really should be understood to be at John 1:1c because of some relatively recently produced “grammatical rule.” If the nominative “theos” didn’t really require the article to be applied to “God,” Colwell’s Rule (and others designed for Jn 1:1c) would not even have been invented by modern trinitarian scholars!


For those who accept only the KJV (or NKJV and KJIIV) and the Received Text (Textus Receptus) it’s based upon (or the “Majority Text”), please note that the definite article definitely is present with theos at Phil. 2:13 in the Received Text: ‘the god for is the working in you’ – see The Interlinear Bible, Baker Book House, 1982.

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Read more:

  1. Walter Martin and John 1:1c
  2. People Seeking for God 7 The Lord and lords
  3. Corruption in our translations !
  4. A voice cries out: context
  5. Pure Words and Testimonies full of Breath of the Most High


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4 thoughts on “The gods or mighty ones

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