NEW TESTAMENT USE OF THEOS PT. 4

I now arrive at the finale: NEW TESTAMENT USE OF THEOS PT. 3.

WITNESS OF HEBREWS

Hebrews is another inspired writing that calls Christ ho theos, referring to him as the God who reigns forever, being the Son that is the exact imprint of God’s uncreated nature and the visible manifestation of God’s glory, whom the Father appointed to create and sustain all creation by his own powerful word:

“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of HIS power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high… And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, ‘Let all God’s angels worship him.’… But of the Son he says, ‘Your throne, O God (ho Theos), is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.’ And, ‘YOU, Lord (the Son), laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of YOUR HANDS; they will perish, but YOU remain; they will all wear out like a garment, like a robe YOU will roll them up, like a garment they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will have no end.’” Hebrews 1:1-3, 10-12

Remarkably, the author has God the Father applying two OT verses, where angels are commanded to worship YHWH,

Rejoice, ye heavens, with him, and let all the angels of God worship him; rejoice ye Gentiles, with his people, and let all the sons of God strengthen themselves in him; for he will avenge the blood of his sons, and he will render vengeance, and recompense justice to his enemies, and will reward them that hate him; and the Lord shall purge the land of his people. Deuteronomy 32:43 LXX

And where YHWH is glorified for being the unchangeable Creator and Sustainer of all creation,

A Prayer of one afflicted, when he is faint and pours out his complaint before the LORD. Hear my prayer, O LORD; let my cry come to you!… But you, O LORD, are enthroned forever; you are remembered throughout all generations… Of old you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you will remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away, but you are the same, and your years have no end.” Psalm 102:1, 12, 25-27

To his beloved Son!

Thus, it is the Father himself that is glorifying, praising, magnifying, even worshiping his own Son as YHWH Almighty, lauding his Firstborn for being that very immutable Creator and Life-giver whom all the angelic host worship!

If this does not eradicate any doubt whatsoever that the NT describes Christ as theos in an absolute and eternal sense, then nothing will.

CONCLUDING REMARKS

The evidence presented in this series of posts demonstrated that within the NT writings the term theos is rarely used for any other being besides the one true God. The few places when it is used for things besides the true God it is always in a negative connotation, e.g., to individuals or objects wrongly worshiped as gods.  

The only times when theos is used positively it is in reference to the Father and the Son, and even then it is rarely used for the Son. Yet when it does refer to the risen Christ it always has the same meaning that it does when employed of the Father. I.e., the Son is God in an absolute, undiluted sense, being essentially one with the Father in nature, power, glory and honor.

I conclude with the words of Evangelical NT scholar Murray J. Harris, since he masterfully sums up all of the aforementioned points:

A. The Use of theos in the Pre-Christian Era

Chapter I discussed the three common Hebrew terms that are rendered by theos in the LXX: el, elohim, YHWH. All three words are used of the God of Israel but only the first two can also refer to a particular pagan deity or, as generic appellatives, designate deity as such. YHWH, however, is exclusively a proper noun, denoting Israel’s covenant God, never a common noun, and therefore, unlike el, elohim it never refers to angels or human beings.

In extrabiblical literature, theos has three primary referents. As applied to gods, it may refer to a particular god (or even goddess), to the supreme god, Zeus, or to deity in general, whether viewed in personal or impersonal terms. As applied to human beings, the title theos was used to describe famous heroes, politicians, philosophers, patriarchs, renowned rulers, self-styled servants of God, or even people as intelligent beings. And Jewish writers roughly contemporary with the writing of the NT, such as Philo and Josephus, use theos or ho theos to refer to the God of Israel.

For any Jew or Gentile of the first century A.D. who was acquainted with the OT in Greek, the term theos would have seemed rich in content since it signified the Deity, the Creator of heaven and earth, and also could render the ineffable sacred name, Yahweh, the covenantal God, and yet was capable of extremely diverse application, ranging from the images of pagan deities to the one true God of Israel, from heroic people to angelic beings. Whether one examines the Jewish or the Gentile use of the term theos up to the end of the first century A.D., there is an occasional application of the term to human beings who perform divine functions or display divine characteristics.

B. The Use of theos in the New Testament

Of the 1,315 uses of theos in the NT, 78.4% are articular and 21.6% are anarthrous. No uniform distinction may be drawn between ho theos and theos, since (1) as a nomen rectum theos is articular or anarthrous generally depending on the state of the preceding noun (the canon of Apollonius); (2) within single NT books the same preposition is found with both an articular and an anarthrous theos, with apparently no difference of meaning; and (3) as a virtual proper name, theos shares the imprecision with regard to articular use that characterizes proper names in general. Yet occasionally ho theos and theos are distinguishable, as when the anarthrous theos emphasizes “godhood” (a theological distinction), or when the articular theos is always found with certain words (e.g., enopion) or phrases (e.g., kyrios ho theos) or is generally found with personal pronouns (syntactical distinctions without theological import).

An analysis of the use of (ho) theos as a subject or predicate with the verb einai expressed or unexpressed shows that the NT writers prefer ho theos (45 examples) over theos (5) as the subject, but theos (16) over ho theos (8) as the predicate. Of these 24 predicative uses of (6) theos, the term is usually qualified if it is articular and often qualified if it is anarthrous. Generally, then, the NT avoids a statement such as “X is (ho) theos” unless that theos is further defined.

Each strand of the NT affords clear testimony that customarily theos, whether articular or anarthrous, refers to the trinitarian Father. Four converging lines of evidence support this conclusion: (1) the frequent compound appellative theos pater where the second noun is in epexegetic apposition (e.g., Gal. 1:1); (2) the various trinitarian formulations where ho theos must denote the Father (e.g., 2 Cor. 13:13); (3) the many places where ho theos is distinguished from Kyrios ‘Iesous Christos, as in epistolary salutations (e.g., James 1:1); and (4) uses of (ho) theos in contexts where reference is made to fatherthood, sonship, regeneration, or brotherhood (e.g., John 6:32-33). Whenever (ho) theos is found in the NT, we are to assume that ho pater is the referent unless the context makes this sense impossible. Nowhere is it appropriate to render ho theos by “the divine Essence” or ” the Godhead.” (Harris, Jesus as God, XIII. Conclusions: Theos as a Christological Title, pp. 270-271; emphasis mine)

And:

D. Limitations to the Use of theos in Reference to Jesus Christ

The application to Christ of the title theos is exceedingly rare-only seven certain, very probable, or probable instances out of a total of 1,315 NT uses of theos. From an analysis of representative scholarly views concerning the nine texts discussed in chapters II-VII and IX-XI, it may be seen that the majority of scholars hold that theos is applied to Jesus no fewer than five times and no more than nine times in the NT.2 The same range characterizes the principal modern English translations of the NT (1 John 5:20 apart).3 Reasons for the relative infrequency of theos as a christological title are discussed below in §G.

The very rarity of the designation of Jesus as “God” is evidence that theos never becomes a proper name when used of Jesus but remains a descriptive title. In accord with this, one never finds theos applied to Jesus without an accompanying identification of the person so titled. In John 1:1 it is the logos who is theos; in John 1:18, monogenes (hyios); in John 20:28, autos = ho ‘Iesous; in Romans 9:5, ho Christos; in Titus 2:13 and 2 Peter 1:1, ‘Iesous Christos; and in Hebrews 1:8, hyios. Unless the context refers explicitly to Jesus as the person of whom the title theos is being predicated, this term will refer to theFather and be a virtual proper name. Although ho hyios tou theou occurs (where ho theos = the Father), never does one find ho pater tou theou (where ho theos = Jesus). No NT writer says anything comparable to tou pathos tou theou mou (Ignatius, Rom. 6:3) or ho theos ho agapesas me kai paradous heauton uper ’emou (the reading of minuscule 330 in Gal. 2:20, in the genitive case).

In the seven instances in which theos refers to Jesus, the usage is usually (Rom. 9:5 being the only exception) accompanied by a statement in the immediate context that makes an explicit personal distinction between the Son and God the Father. That is, there is a remarkable juxtaposition of statements that imply the substantial oneness of Son and Father and statements that express a personal distinction between them. Thus one finds ho logos een pros ton theon immediately before theos een ho logos (John 1:1). In John 20 the same Jesus who is addressed as ho theos mou (v. 28) himself refers to his Father as ho theos mou4 (v. 17). The verse that follows 2 Peter 1:1, where ‘Iesous Christos is called ho theos hemon kai soter, distinguishes ho theos from ‘Iesous ho Kyrios hemon (2 Pet. 1:2). Similarly, in successive verses in Hebrews 1, Jesus is addressed by the words ho theos (v. 8) and the one who anointed him is referred to as ho theos ho theos sou (v. 9). Immediately after John has described the logos as monogenes theos (John 1:18) he adds ho on eis ton kolpon tou patros. Finally, the same sentence that portrays ‘Iesous Christos as ho megalos theos kai soteros hemon (Titus 2: 13) speaks of he charis tou theou soterios pasin anthropois (Titus 2:11). And even in Romans 9:5 where there is no explicit distinction between Son and Father (ton syngenon mou … ex hon), ho Christos is qualified by to kata sarka, a phrase that could not be predicated of the Father.

Linked with the preservation of this inviolate distinction between the Son and the Father is the fact that although he is theos Jesus is never called either pater or kyrios ho theos {= YHWH Elohim)5 or ho monogenes alethinos theos.6 Never is he termed theos in a place where a reference to (ho) pater is found; the Father is never called ho pater tou theou. And in binitarian and trinitarian passages or formulations, only the Father, never the Son (or Spirit), is called ho theos (e.g., binitarian: 1 Cor. 1:3; 8:6; trinitarian: 12:4-6; 2 Cor. 1:21-22; 13:14). Moreover, while the expressions ho theos ho pater, ho theos pater, ho theos kai pater, theos pater, and theos kai pater are found, one never finds ho theos ho hyios,7 ho theos hyios, ho theos kai hyios, theos hyios, or theos kai hyios. (Ibid., pp. 274-275; emphasis mine)

We couldn’t have stated it any better!

FURTHER READING

What Kind of Theos is Jesus?

BIBLICAL TEXTS CALLING JESUS “GOD”

GRANVILLE SHARP AND THE DEITY OF CHRIST

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