Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Conclusion.

3. JESUS AS KURIOS AND THEOS (cont’d)

B. JESUS AS THEOS. Many of the passages which may speak of Jesus as θεός are heavily debated, and some with good reason. The ones which most certainly do refer to Jesus as θεός are John 1.1; 20.28; Rom 9.5; Tit 2.13; Heb 1.8; and 2 Pet 1.1.[1] For our purposes we will need to limit ourselves to a discussion of Rom 9.5 and John 20.28.

Rom 9.5 is famously difficult to translate on account of the great role to be played by punctuation absent from the original. As Witherington sums up, “the argument turns on whether the verse should be read ‘the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed forever’ (as the NRSV has it), or ‘the Messiah, who is God over all, blessed forever’ (as JB, NIV, and the marginal reading of NRSV have it).”[2] Schreiner observes that most objections to Christ being here referred to as θεός “though diverse, boil down to one fundamental objection: it is improbable that Christ would be called θεός since this is uncharacteristic of Paul elsewhere.”[3]

This argument, however, from external tendencies and based on limited evidence must not be allowed to overrule plain grammatical evidence. “The natural antecedent to ὁ ὢν is Χριστὸς, for doxologies are virtually always attached to the preceding word and asyndetic doxologies do not exist.”[4] Again, grammatically, “it is easier and more natural to maintain an identity of subject from ὁ Χριστὸς to ὁ ὢν, since there is grammatical concord between the noun and the participle, than it is to assume a change of subject.”[5] Therefore, in this passage there are three distinct affirmations made about Christ: “he is Lord of all, he is God by nature, and he will be eternally praised.”[6]

In John 20.28 the grammar is much simpler and less debated. While there are several alternatives given by various commentators, they are quickly refuted by Harris as unlikely for lack of evidence which, when present, is based largely on Classical tendencies. Rather, the simplest—and best attested—way to understand Thomas’ cry is as a vocatival address to Jesus himself.[7] Köstenberger points out that “in the OT, ‘Lord’ and ‘God’ are frequently juxtaposed with reference to Yahweh (e.g. Ps. 35:23-24),” just as they are here to Jesus.[8]

Where it is objected that Thomas’ confession, as recorded in this passage, is too developed for coming only one week after Easter, it must be remembered that (1) there is little evidence to suggest that such Christological titles took time to evolve, and, (2) there are accounts in the Jewish OT—with which Thomas would have been familiar—where men found themselves talking with a man, only to discover to their shock, that it was Yahweh himself. Moreover, the repeated pronoun μου makes Thomas’ confession of faith intensely personal, thus fitting together with the purpose of the book expressed in the immediate context (v 31).[9] This confession of Jesus as ὁ θεός μου also functions to form a literary bookend with John 1.1 and 1.18, where Jesus is also referred to as θεός. “In the Johannine narrative, the evangelist desires that the reader respond in the same way Thomas did.”[10]


[1] The most extensive work on this is Murray J. Harris’ book, Jesus as God: The New Testament Use of Theos in Reference to Jesus (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1992), where he deals in-depth with these and several other texts.

[2] Ben Witherington III, “Jesus as the Alpha and Omega of New Testament Thought,” in Contours of Christology, ed. Longenecker, 35.

[3] Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998), 487.

[4] Ibid., 488.

[5] Harris, Jesus as God, 171.

[6] Ibid., 167.

[7] Ibid., 110-111.

[8] Andreas J. Köstenberger, John (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004), 579.

[9] D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 658-659.

[10] Köstenberger, John, 579.