Rules of Greek Grammar


       altAs is true of all languages, Greek has rules of grammar that identify and define the manner in which sentences are constructed and words are used.  Various Greek scholars and grammarians have identified certain dynamics in the writing of Greek that some believe provide evidence for Jesus being co-eternal, co-equal and con-substantial with the Father. Here in Part Nine of this series, I will deal with two of these dynamics beginning with what is known as Colwell’s Rule.

Colwell’s Rule: 

       In the early 1930’s the Greek scholar E.C. Colwell, proposed a rule of Greek grammar which states that a predicate nominative (a noun in the nominative case which is more or less the same as the subject) which precedes the verb cannot be translated as an indefinite or a qualitative noun solely because of the absence of the article.  If the context suggests that the predicate is definite, it should be translated as a definite noun in spite of the absence of the article.  This “rule” is often applied to John 1:1 to “prove” Jesus is God in every respect that the Father and Spirit is God.   

       John 1:1: In the beginning was the Word (Greek logos), and the Word was with God (ton Theon {the God}), and the Word was God (Theos)

       The first mention of God in this passage is ton Theon where Theon is of an articular construction meaning that Theon is preceded by the definite article ton (the) and literally means “the God.”  The second mention of God is Theos without the definite article and so it is called an anarthrous noun.  Anarthrous simply means non-articulated or without the article.  Without the article, Theos is a singular predicate noun and occurs before the verb in the sentence and is literally translated “God was the word.”  In Greek an articular noun points to an identity whereas a singular predicate noun points to a quality. Some Greek scholars see the placement of the word God (Theos) at the beginning of the phrase "God was the word" as an emphatic in the Greek language. An emphatic is used to give emphasis to a word.  Making the word "God" emphatic in the phrase "God was the word" places the emphasis on God and makes logos "the word" describe a quality of God, not God's identity. 

       Trinitarians see the application of Colwell’s rule as confirmation of their position that both occurrences of the word God in John 1:1 refer to the one God and since it is believed the logos is Christ, it is believed Christ is the one God.  It is believed that since the first mention of God in this passage has the definite article, thus pointing to an identity, the second occurrence of God, even though it lacks the definite article (the), should be defined in the same manner as the first mention of the word God in this passage where God is preceded by the definite article. 

       It should be noted, however, that Colwell’s rule doesn’t always apply as there are numerous exceptions to this rule that have been found in the NT Scriptures.  It has been pointed out that Colwell’s rule applies well when the anarthrous theos is in the genitive and dative case but is not generally true when in the nominative case which is the form used in John 1:1. 

       More importantly, this “rule” does not require a predicate nominative which precedes the verb to be definite when a predicate in the same passage is definite.  Nothing in this rule says anything about what must be definite.  All the rule is saying is that if the context indicates it, a predicate nominative should be defined as definite (as though it had the definite article).  Some research has shown that anarthrous predicate nominatives preceding the verb are qualitative around 94% of the time.  Some feel this could indicate a high probability of the anarthrous being qualitative in John 1:1 rather than pointing to identity.  By being qualitative, the phrase “and the Word was God” could be seen as the Word expressing a quality of God rather than identifying “the God.” 

       Jehovah’s Witnesses have capitalized on this possibility by rendering “and the Word was God” as “the Word was a God.”  Jehovah’s Witnesses believe the archangel Michael became Jesus and therefore Christ was a created Being who had Divine qualities which made him a God but not the God.  Therefore, in an effort to support their doctrine of Christ, they have added the indefinite article “a” to the text, an addition not found in any extant Greek manuscript. It must be pointed out, however, that ancient Greek did not have an indefinite article and so one wouldn't expect to find the phrase "a God" in Greek manuscripts of the NT.  

       Some have used two late eight century Greek renderings of John 1:1 as evidence Jesus is the one God.  These renderings show the second occurrence of Theos in this passage to be preceded by the definite article and thus read “the God” in the same way the first occurrence of Theos is read.  This rendering, however, is not found in any other extant Greek manuscript of the NT.  

       A Sahidic Coptic (Egyptian) manuscript of early date shows that early Greek manuscripts which are no longer extant, did not have a definite article associated with the second Theos.  Unlike Koine Greek (the Greek of the Scriptures), which does not have an indefinite article, Sahidic has both the definite and indefinite article.  In translating John 1:1 from Greek to Coptic, the translator inserted an indefinite article before the second occurrence of Theos.  This tells us that the Greek manuscript being used did not have a definite article preceding the word Theos.  Jehovah Witnesses have pointed to this Coptic rendering of John 1:1 as evidence that early Christians saw the Word as a God and not the God referred to in the first part of John 1:1.  As already discussed, however, the Greek of the Scriptures does not have an indefinite article and therefore the Coptic translator, as do translators of Jehovah Witness’s New World Bible, are interpreting rather than translating this passage of Scripture.  

       One has to question the significance of the present or absence of the definite article in establishing how Theos is being used.  If Theos is used as the equivalent of the Hebrew elohim, it can be applied to the Supreme God or it can be applied to a lesser being than the Supreme God as is seen in different applications of elohim in the OT.  The presence or absence of the definite article does not appear to be the determining factor.  For example, it can be seen by context in John chapter one, verses 6, 12, 13 and 18, that Theos is referring to God the Father.  Yet these occurrences are not preceded or followed by the definite article. On the other hand, Theos is preceded by the definite article in 2 Corinthians 4:4 where Paul appears to identity Satan as the god (Theos) of this world.

       In John 17:3, where Jesus is quoted as referring to the Father as the one and only true God, the word God is preceded by the definite article. However, whether the definite article is present or absent here, the context clearly shows Jesus is referring to the Father as the one and only true God. Context is the critical factor in determining how Theos is being used.

       It is instructive that NT scholar Murray J Harris, in his exhaustive study of how the Greek word Theos is used in the NT, appears to have concluded that when Theos is used with the definite article in both the NT and the Greek translation of the OT (Septuagint), Theos refers exclusively to the Father as God. (See Harris's book "Jesus As God, The New Testament Use of Theos in Reference to Jesus")  However, 2 Corinthians 4:4 as cited above, is an obvious exception to such conclusion. The Septuagint is also seen to use the definite article in reference to god's other than the God of Israel. For example, in 2 Kings 18:33 the Septuagint refers to "the god" of various individuals where the definite article is used.

       Of the 1,315 occurrences of Theos in the NT, 78.4% are articular (connected to a definite article such as "the") and 21.6% of the occurrences of Theos are anarthrous (nor connected to a definite article).

       The fact that in John 1:1, the author uses the definite article in the first use of Theos and doesn’t use the article in the second use of Theos doesn’t, of itself, tell us what is intended.  If John’s second use of Theos in verse 1 was in John’s mind equivalent to his first use of Theos and if John is using the Greek logos to signify a pre-existent Son of God, his writing presents somewhat of a dilemma. 

       John writes that the word was with God and was God.  How can the Son be with the one God and be the one God at the same time.  The word is seen as being with “the God.”  If Colwell’s rule applies to John 1:1, both appearances of Theos would have to refer to the one God.  Trinitarians believe the one God is Father, Son and Spirit.  If the Son is the word, John is virtually saying the Son was with the Father, Son and Spirit and the Son was the Father Son and Spirit.  This is tantamount to saying the Son was with Himself and the Son is Himself.    

       Trinitarians try to get around this problem by saying the first mention of God refers to the Father as God and the second mention of God refers to God as God’s essence.  Because of the problems seen in applying Colwell’s rule to John 1:1, some scholars, such as Daniel B Wallace in his Greek Grammar, Beyond the Basics, has concluded the first use of Theos in John 1:1 refers to the Father and the second use of Theos in John 1:1 is qualitative in that it is describing the Son as having the qualities of the Father.  To say, however, that the first mention of God in John 1:1 means Father and the second mention of God means God essence or God qualities is not based on any evidence that this is in fact the case.  Rather, such conclusions are quite arbitrary and appear to be an attempt to make this passage support an assumed Jesus is God position.

       Even if it could be demonstrated that the "word" is Jesus and that the "word" as Jesus has qualities of God, this would not make Jesus God.  Having qualities of someone or something doesn't make you that someone or something.

       As previously discussed, some Christian groups take the position that God is a family presently consisting of two eternal God Beings, the Father and the Son.  It is believed we can be born into this God family through resurrection from the dead at a yet future return of Christ.  Proponents of this position understand John 1:1 to identify the Father as one God Being and the Word (the Son) as a separate God Being.  The Word of John 1:1 is seen as the Son who became Jesus.  The God who the Word is seen as being with in John 1:1 is the Father who is seen as separate and superior to the Son.  This position defines Father and Son as separate God Beings and the Spirit as power proceeding from the Father through the Son. 

       While this position is non-Trinitarian, it still sees the logos of John 1:1 as an eternally existing Being called the Son and as the YHWH of the OT. YHWH is seen as a family name for God. This family is currently seen as made up of only the Father and the Son but will be greatly expanded through a future resurrection from the dead to eternal life for those who accept Jesus as savior. Resurrected Christians are seen as becoming God in so much that they will become part of the God family. Jesus is seen as the God family member through whom the creation was accomplished.  Jesus is also seen as the God who interacted with Israel in the OT and as the incarnated Christ Jesus of the NT. Jesus is seen as revealing the Father as the head of the God family.    

        As discussed throughout these essays, YHWH is the one and only Most High God and is identified as the Father and only as the Father. It is God the Father who is creator and the God seen interacting with Israel in the OT.  Jesus is the supernaturally born Son of YHWH who upon completion of His ministry was granted eternal life and great glory, power and authority by YHWH over YHWH’s creation.

       All of this discussion of Colwell’s rule and how it relates to John 1:1 becomes superfluous when logos is used in the manner found throughout The NT Scriptures and other Greek literature.  Logos is the expression in speech of the thoughts and will of an individual.  God's logos is His speech whereby He expresses His will.  It is through His logos all creation has occurred including the creation of Jesus.  When John writes that the word became flesh (John 1:14), John is informing us God expressed His word (speech, mind and thought) and made it manifest through the power of His Spirit in the birth of Jesus via the supernatural impregnation of Mary.                  

Sharp’s Rule:

       Granville Sharp published “six rules” on the use of Greek grammar in 1798.  We will discuss the one rule that has become known as Sharp’s rule in association with certain Scriptural passages believed to identify Jesus being God as the Father is God.  In the Greek language, when two nouns are connected by the Greek kai (and), and the article precedes only the first noun, there is a close relationship between the two nouns.  When this type of construction involves personal, singular and non-proper names, it is believed the two nouns refer to the same person.  Sharp believed this rule applies to Titus 2:13 and 2 Peter 1:1 and therefore these passages prove Jesus is God as God is God. While I will repeat some of the following discussion of Titus 2:13 and 2 Peter 1:1 in greater depth in Part Nineteen, I need to address this passage here in relation to Sharp’s rule. 

       Titus 2:11-14: For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say "No" to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope--the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good (NIV).

       The expression “great God” found in Titus 2:13 is the only occurrence of this phrase in the NT narrative.  This phrase appears five times in the OT and by context can be seen to always refer to the one and only true God.  The NIV translates this passage in such manner as to show one subject (God) and that subject to be Jesus Christ, the great God and Savior whose appearing is anticipated.  Other translations suggest this passage may have two subjects referenced and could be read with God being one referent and Jesus being another. 

       Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ (KJV).

      Looking for the blessed hope and appearing of the glory of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ (ASV).  

       Scholars are divided as to how best to render this passage.  Some see it referring only to Christ and some see it referring separately to God the Father and to Jesus Christ.  The translators of the NET Bible see this passage as “one of the clearest statements in the NT concerning the deity of Christ.”  Is this the case?

       The presence of the Greek kai (and) between the first noun (God) which is proceeded by the definite article tou (the) and the second noun (Saviour) preceded by no article has led some scholars to conclude that God and Jesus are being identified as the same person in this passage.  It is believed that if Jesus is to be identified as separate from God a definite article would precede His name.  Other scholars cite Scriptural passages with similar Greek grammar construction where a definite article precedes the first noun but not the second noun and where context clearly shows two different individuals being referenced.

       Trinitarians believe the context of this passage calls for Jesus being identified not only as Savior but also the great God.  Verse 14 speaks of how Christ gave Himself to redeem us and purify a people for His very own.  Since the OT speaks of God (YHWH) as Savior and redeemed people are spoken of as being God’s possession, it is felt that similar language in the NT testifies of Jesus being the YHWH of the OT.  It is believed that Jesus is literally identified as the YHWH of the OT in being called the great God and Savior in this passage.

       It should be pointed out, however, that Jesus plainly said those given to Him were given to Him by God His Father which shows subordination of the Son to the Father rather than the Son being equal with the Father.  In praying to the Father Jesus said:

       John 17:6-7: I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word.  Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you.    

       Jesus said when He comes He would appear in his Father's glory (Matthew 16:27).  Some scholars believe Paul is reflecting on this pronouncement by Christ in His letter to Titus.  It is believed God the Father is being referenced as the great God and Savior and Jesus is being referenced as the bringer of salvation.  In Verse 10 of Titus 2, Paul speaks of “God our Savior.”  In verse 11 Paul writes of the “grace of God that brings salvation.”  In verse 13 God is spoken of as “the great God and Savior.”  It is believed when Paul addresses God as Savior, he is referring to God the Father as distinguished from Jesus who is seen as God’s agent for bringing salvation.  This approach by Paul is seen in the following passages:

       1 Timothy 1:1: Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope,

     1 Timothy 2:1-5: I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone-- for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,

    Jude 1:25:  to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.

       While it is true that Apostle Paul refers to Jesus as Savior in his writings, he also refers to God the Father as savior in his writings and Jesus as the facilitator of that salvation. Jesus is savior as the agent of the one God who is the Father.  This being the case, there is every Scriptural reason to believe Paul is referencing the Father as the great God in Titus chapter 2.   It is the Father who facilitates salvation through the blessed hope which is Christ.  Christ is the Father’s agent of salvation and in this manner is designated savior.  This is clearly expressed by Paul in Titus 3:3-6.

       Titus 3:3-6: At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior,      

       Trinitarians believe God is Father, Son and Spirit.  Therefore, it is Father, Son and Spirit who is our savior and salvation is facilitated through the Son distinction of this Triune God.  It must be noted, however, that Paul consistently uses the word God to refer to the Father in his writings.  Nowhere does Paul even hint of seeing God as Father, Son and Spirit.  Paul uses the word God (Greek Theos) over 500 times in the NT documents and by context can be seen to be referring to the Father.  All the Scriptural evidence points to Paul referring to the Father as the great God in Titus 2:13.

       This all being said, what if Paul, when speaking of the "great God and Savior, Jesus Christ" in Titus 2:13 is indeed referring to Jesus?  Does this mean Jesus is the Most High God?  One theologian, in commenting on this passage of Scripture points out that the absence of the definite article "the" between "and" and "Savior" indicates that it is Jesus who is being referred to as "the great God and Savior."  However, this same theologian believes that this doesn't mean that Paul is seeing Jesus as the Most High God. He gives the example of Babe Ruth being referred to as a great baseball player which doesn't mean Ruth was/is the greatest baseball player.  

       As is seen later in this series in our discussion of Thomas calling Jesus his lord and god, this doesn't mean Thomas sees Jesus as the Most High God over all reality. It simply means Thomas sees Jesus as being the powerful agent through whom the Most High God has facilitated salvation. Now let’s look at 2 Peter 1:1-2.

        2 Peter 1:1-2: Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours:  Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.

       Trinitarians point out that the Greek grammatical construction of “our God and Savior Jesus Christ” is the same as in Titus 2:13 except here the writer does not refer to God as the “great God.”   Furthermore, the same grammatical construction is repeated in verse 11 where Peter writes, “and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”  Here the one person Jesus Christ is clearly in view.  Therefore, grammatically, verse one can speak of Jesus as God. 

       However, it is also grammatically correct to view God and Jesus as separate entities in 2 Peter 1:1 as is the case with Titus 2:13.  A number of translations of 2 Peter 1:1 show this.  Here are a few examples:

       “to them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ” (KJV).

     “to them that have obtained a like precious faith with us in the righteousness of our God and the Saviour Jesus Christ:” (ASV).

     “to those who are chancing upon an equally precious faith with us, in righteousness of our God, and the Savior, Jesus Christ” (Concordant Literal New Testament).

       In 2 Peter 1:2 is found the exact same grammatical construction where Peter says, “through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.” Here there is a definite distinction between God and Jesus thus showing that the grammatical construction involving definite articles and their absence does not necessarily dictate that only one person can be referenced.  Peter clearly distinguishes between Jesus and God the Father in all his other writing.  He refers to Jesus twelve times as Lord and forty-five times to God as Father.  There is no other possible reference to Jesus as God found in Peter's writings other than the possible reference in 1 Peter chapter one.  The weight of Peter’s references to God as Father and the one single possible reference to Jesus as God (God as defined by Trinitarians), makes it highly improbable that Peter is calling Jesus God in this passage.

       Both Apostles Paul and Peter refer to God as Father over 99% of the time and only on a few occasions is there a possible reference to Jesus as God.  Such tremendous disparity in the way the word God is used in reference to the Father versus possible reference to the Son is instructive to say the least and creates suspicion as to whether the word God, as seen in the designation "Most High God," can be validly applied to Jesus on those few occasions where the word god is applied to Jesus.

       While Sharp’s rule may apply in exegesis of the two passages discussed above, it may be more prudent to determine the intent of Paul and Peter’s statements in these two passages based on their consistent emphasis on seeing the one and only God as the Father in contrast to Jesus as God’s agent through whom salvation is facilitated.  Various scholars, including the renowned NT grammarian G.B. Winer, believe Sharp’s rule does not apply to Titus 2:13 because Paul laid such heavy emphasis on God the Father as the one and only God.

       While certain grammatical tendencies have been identified in the Greek leading to proposed rules of Greek grammar, context still needs to be the primary determinant of what is being said.  When the identity of God versus Jesus is studied in the context of the entire Scriptural record, it becomes extremely difficult to maintain the orthodox position of Jesus being co-eternal, co-equal and con-substantial with the Father and thus designated the Most High God as is the Father.