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On the Use of Theos (θεός) and
Theon (θεόν) in John 1:1 and
elsewhere in the Greek NT

Copyright©2020 by Daniel B. Sedory

 

καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν (kai ho logos ēn pros ton theon)
“...and the Word was with God,” (John 1:1b; ESV, NAU, ASV, KJV)

καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος (kai theos ēn ho logos)
      “...and the Word was God.” (John 1:1c; ESV, NAU, ASV, KJV)

 

    Although this page was created mostly for those with no understanding of Greek (thus, the reason all Greek words have been transliterated by English characters), it should also be useful for those familiar with the language or even Greek scholars (which is why we’ve included the detailed statistics and footnotes).

    For some, upon seeing John 1:1 in the original Greek for the very first time, it was quite natural for them to wonder: "What is the difference between theon (θεόν) and theos (θεὸς)? Are these two different words with completely different meanings?" And they may have had someone pointing out the difference solely to try keeping them from learning the full truth, saying something like: ‘Obviously they have different meanings, you can see they are spelled differently’ (which certainly has some validity). But then they will likely try forcing us into the conclusion: "So the Word (in John 1:1) can not be of the same nature as the God he was with!" Since few know Greek, that seems to make sense to some. But think about this simple sentence: "The catcher and I were doing some practice pitches, and I hit him with the ball." Although it’s obviously true that "him" is not the same word as "catcher," does that mean "him" can not refer to "the catcher" in any way? Of course not! And English grammar together with only the context of this sentence points directly to the opposite conclusion: That "him" and "the catcher" are highly likely the same person. The word him here is a pronoun and the direct object of the verb hit. In Greek grammar, we’d say him was in the accusative case. Well, even though Greek does have pronouns, there are also different ways to spell its nouns when they are the direct object or must be in the accusative case for other reasons. There are in fact many different ways to spell a Greek noun depending upon its grammatical case.

    Apart from usually distinguishing between singular and plural (e.g., player and players), English mostly relies upon the location of a noun in a sentence (such as before or after a verb) to determine if it’s a subject or object, rather than how it is spelled; whereas, some major languages, such as German and Russian, are similar to Greek in this regard. When it comes to pronouns though, English does decline (have different forms of a word depending upon its grammatical usage) them! For example, these words all refer to a male in the singular, but are spelled differently depending upon grammatical usage: He, his and him as well as these which may also refer to a female: I, mine, me, and your and yours.

 

In John 1:1b, the Greek word theon (θεόν) is simply the accusative form (meaning here a different spelling for the same word) of the noun God, because it’s required to be so for the Greek preposition pros (πρὸς) to include the meaning of "with" there. Various prepositions in Greek have different meanings depending upon which case the words following them are in. For example, if God in John 1:1b had been in the genitive case, then pros (πρὸς) could have meant the Word was for or necessary for God, but not necessarily with Him. The following paragraphs and table will provide you with all the different word forms of the noun God in the New Testament, along with some notes on selected passages:

    The exact spelling of the nominative, singular  form of the Greek word for God is:  θεός (theos), and this exact form is used 309 times in 287 verses of the NT;[1] 261 of those occurrences (in 243 verses) have the article[2] immediately preceding it:  ὁ θεός (ho theos).[*]     θεόν (theon); the accusative, singular  form for God, is used 148 times (in 142 verses), and with the article:  τὸν θεόν (ton theon), 112 times (in 111 verses).  But to complete the picture, we must also include the genitive and dative cases of θεός :

    The genitive form (θεοῦ; theou) is used 691 times (in 641 verses), so more often than the previous two forms combined! Why so many uses of the genitive case? Well, apart from special uses of this case (and the others as well), think about how often phrases such as "the kingdom of God" (used 63 times with various forms of the word kingdom), "the Son of God" (27 times with various forms of "son"), "the Spirit (or the Holy Spirit) of God" (used 24 times) and all the other phrases which use "of God" in the NT. In 501 of those occurrences (in 473 verses), the article is also used (τοῦ θεοῦ; tou theou).

    The dative form (θεῷ; theō) is used 159 times in 155 verses. In 118 of these occurrences (in 116 verses), the article is also used (τῷ θεῷ; tō theō). It should be noted that the article is rarely included in English translations, since we know from its context that most of Scripture is about the only God who created the Universe, so there’s usually no need for translators to use a phrase like "the God" (unless grammar requires it).

    Before continuing, I believe it would be very helpful to have a table to refer to for the forms of the masculine Greek noun θεός (theos); we've also added the Greek article as it would appear in front of each form. (The numbers below the words indicate how many times [ form with the article[3] / form without the article ] occur in the Greek NT):


The Masculine Noun, θεός (God, or god)
CASE Singular Plural
Nominative ὁ θεός  (ho theos)
[ 261 / 48 ]
οἱ θεοὶ [5]
(hoi theoi)
  [ 1 / 4 ]
Accusative τὸν θεόν (ton theon)
[ 112 / 35 ] [4]
τοὺς θεούς [6]
(tous theous)
[ 0 / 2 ]
Genitive τοῦ θεοῦ (tou theou)
[ 501 / 190 ]
τῶν θεῶν [7]
(tōn theōn)
  [ 0 / 0 ]
Dative τῷ θεῷ (tō theō)
[ 118 / 41 ]
τοῖς θεοῖς [8]
(tois theois)
  [ 0 / 1 ]
Vocative θεέ (thee)
[ 2 ] (both in Mt. 27:46)
N/A
These give us a total of (309 + 147 + 691 + 159 + 8 + 2) = 1,316
occurrences for the masculine Greek forms of theos in the NT.[4]

 

Let’s take a quick look at all the plural forms for θεός (theos) in the NT before digging into John 1:1 and elsewhere: First, note that the plural forms, θεοὶ (theoi), θεούς (theous) and θεοῖς (theois) are never used of the one true God in the NT. In John 10:34, we find theoi ("gods") and in verse 35 theous ("gods"). But both of these occurrences are references to humans in the context, and it appears Jesus was quoting from Psalm 82:6 (81:6 in the LXX), which begins with the phrase, "ἐγὼ εἶπα θεοί ἐστε" (literally: "I said gods you are") where the word was figuratively applied to those acting as judges in Israel. Acts 7:40 contains the only other occurrence of theous in the NT, referring to idols ("gods") the people asked Aaron to make for them in Moses’ absence (see Exodus 32). We already dealt with hoi theoi (in Acts 14:11) in footnote 5. The last phrase of Acts 19:26, "that gods made with hands are no gods [theoi] at all. (NAU)" is another reference to idols by Paul. And 1 Corinthians 8:5 uses theoi twice: "so-called gods" and "many ‘gods’." Lastly, the only occurrence of the dative, masculine, plural form of theos in the NT is found in Galatians 4:8b, where Paul tells the Galatian Christians they were once enslaved to beings that "by nature are not gods" ("φύσει μὴ οὖσιν θεοῖς; phusei mē ousin theois) and that they were acting as if they wanted to be enslaved again!

One particular usage of theos in the nominative, singular form shows how important the CONTEXT of a passage can be: In Philippians 3:19, Paul actually uses ὁ θεός (ho theos) to speak of one’s hunger controlling them like a god: "whose god is their appetite" (ὧν ὁ θεὸς ἡ κοιλία; hōn ho theos hē koilia). So here’s an example where theos even with the article is used only figuratively of the human appetite; calling it a god, and reminding us how important the CONTEXT is rather than only a word form!

 

   

MORE TO FOLLOW AT A LATER DATE !

 

 


Transliteration Guide

[Return to Text] For those unfamiliar with Greek, here’s a quick guide to transliterating Greek words into English characters. First, if you see what looks like a little backwards (not normal) apostrophe over a Greek letter, that’s called a rough breathing mark, and it is transliterated as (and pronounced like) the English "h" at the beginning of a word. Thus, the reasonbecomes: ho. We’ve placed the vowels which are transliterated with a macron (a bar) over the english letters e and o at the top here, followed by the more difficult to discern (for English readers) Greek letters; such as those transliterated by two English characters. The ones at the bottom, should be the easiest for you to remember, since they’re so similar in appearance to their English characters:

  η  ->  ē       ω  ->  ō           θ  ->  th           φ  ->  ph       χ  ->  ch       ψ  ->  ps

  λ  ->  l         μ  ->  m         ν  ->  n           ζ  ->  z         ξ  ->  x         π  ->  p      
ρ  ->  r

 
β  ->  b         γ  ->  g         δ  ->  d             σ  ->  s       ς  ->  s

  ε  ->  e         α  ->  a           ο  ->  o           ι  ->  i       κ  ->  k         τ  ->  t       υ  ->  u

If you’d like to know more about the Greek alphabet for using the many tools online, see our page here: Learning New Testament Greek. (Note: This is not a course on learning the Greek language, but only some pages to help you learn the Greek alphabet which will enable you to use some great tools and understand what Greek words in the NT some scholar may refer to.)

 


Footnotes

1[Return to Text] All statistics here are based upon the Greek text of the Nestle-Aland 28th Edition of The Novum Testamentum Graece (Copyright © 2014 by Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft; the German Bible Society, Stuttgart, Germany).

2[Return to Text] Most Greek grammar books will call this word the Definite Article, but unlike English, which has both definite ("the") and indefinite ("a" or "an") articles, Greek has only one (which I’ve decided to refer to as "the Greek article" or simply "the article" in this work). Note: The Greek article is sometimes translated into English as "the" when necessary (though it’s often not translated at all), but it has a much wider meaning than the English "the" in many of its uses in the Greek Text.

3[Return to Text] This number does not include any phrases in which the article is separated from the noun form by an adjective, preposition or some other word(s). For example, we did not include the phrase τοῦ ἀφθάρτου θεοῦ ("of the incorruptible God"; Romans 1:23; NAU; ASV; GNV); only the occurrences where the noun immediately follows the article were counted. So, keep in mind that such phrases would increase the number of times that the article is used with the noun form.

4[Return to Text] Why only "35" for the number of times theon is used without the article? Well, one of its occurrences is actually a feminine form! In the Greek of Acts 19:37, you’ll find the phrase tēn theon (τὴν θεὸν), translated simply as "goddess" in reference to the idol of Artemis at Ephesus. So theon just happens to also be the accusative feminine singular form of theos which is being used here instead of thean (θεάν); the accusative singular form of the Greek word θεά (thea; goddess or female deity) — which is found in Acts 19:27 in its genitive, singular form in the phrase "τῆς μεγάλης θεᾶς" ("of the great goddess").

Thus, the reason for only (112 + 35 = ) 147 times (instead of 148) for theon in the total occurrences at the bottom of the table.

5[Return to Text] hoi theoi occurs only once in the NT at Acts 14:11 where the phrase was applied to Paul and Barnabas by the Lycaonian crowd saying, "The gods [hoi theoi] have come down to us in the likeness of men! (ESV)" calling Barnabas Zeus and Paul Hermes. And to show just how fickle a mob is, soon after that, they allowed a group of Jews from Antioch and Iconium to stone Paul to death; though he was able to survive (it was not God’s plan for Paul to die yet, so He may have miraculously misguided a number of the stones from vital areas of Paul’s body and/or healed him after the disciples who gathered around him were praying for him and probably helping in other ways as well; see Acts 14:19). However, hoi theoi is used 15 times in the Greek Septuagint (LXX) at verses: Exod. 32:4,8; Deut. 32:31,37; Jdg. 2:3; 1 Sam. 4:7,8; 2 Ki. 18:33; 19:12; 1 Chr. 16:26; Neh. 9:18; Ps. 95:5; Isa. 36:18; 37:12; Jer. 2:28. "theoi" also occurs an additional 19 times elsewhere in the LXX (for a total of 34 occurrences there).

6[Return to Text] The phrase "tous theous" does not occur in the NT, but is found 35 times in the LXX at: Gen. 31:30,32; 35:2,4; Exod. 18:11; Deut. 12:30; Jos. 24:14,23,33; Jdg. 6:10; 10:14,16; Ruth 1:15; 1 Sam. 7:3; 2 Sam. 5:21; 2 Ki. 19:18; 1 Chr. 14:12; 16:25; 2 Chr. 2:4; 25:14,15,20; 28:23; 33:15; Est. 4:17; Ps. 94:3; 95:4; 96:9; 134:5; Zeph. 2:11; Isa. 19:3; Jer. 11:12; Dan. 5:1; 11:8,37. "theous" also occurs an additional 27 times in the LXX (for a total of 62 occurrences).

7[Return to Text] The phrase "tōn theōn" occurs 26 times in these LXX passages: Exod. 34:13,15,16(twice); Deut. 6:14; 7:5,25; 9:26; 10:17; 12:3; 13:8; Jos. 23:7; Jdg. 2:12; 1 Sam. 4:8; 6:5; Est. 4:17; Ps. 83:8; 135:2; Isa. 36:20; Dan. 2:47; 3:90,93; 4:33,34,37; 11:36. "theōn" is also found an additional 25 times in the LXX (for a total of 51 occurences).

8[Return to Text] There are no occurrences of "tois theois" in the NT, but the phrase is found 28 times (in 22 verses) in the LXX: Exod. 12:12; 23:24,32,33; 34:15; Num. 33:4; Deut. 7:16; 12:2,30,31(twice); 20:18; 29:17; Jos. 24:15(twice); Jdg. 2:2; 3:6; 10:6(five times); 1 Sam. 17:43; 2 Ki. 17:33; 18:35; 2 Chr. 32:14; Ezek. 20:28; Dan. 3:14. "theois" also occurs an additional 44 times in the LXX (for a total count of 72).

 


First published on: June 16, 2020 (2020.06.16).
Revised on: June 20, 2020 (2020.06.20); June 26, 2020 (2020.06.26).

 

 

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