Friday, September 11, 2009

Watchtower Greek

Over the years, the Watchtower Society and Jehovah’s Witness apologists have made a number of attempts to use the Greek language to “prove” that Jesus is not God. In doing so, they have resorted to making up Greek tenses, fabricating grammatical rules, distorting the actual rules of Greek grammar, and at times, they have outright lied about what the Greek actually says. knowing that the vast majority of those told will blindly believe what they are saying is true without any further research.

I don’t really like discussing Greek grammar with Jehovah’s Witnesses because it has been my experience that most don’t know the first thing about the language and will simply parrot what they have been told by the Watchtower or an apologist and then make up the rest as they go along. They will reject outright what I say no matter how much evidence I provide and will rarely honestly engage the evidence provided them. But a new argument has been concocted and brought to me, so I will address it quickly here, and I will also provide some of the responses I received to the counter-argument I made. They are quite revealing.

“Brian, when Thomas says Lord and God he is not addressing Jesus, he is addressing it to Jehovah. This is proven by the fact that the two nouns (theos and kurios) are in the nominative case and not the vocative case. This proves that Jesus was addressing Jehovah his Father and not Jesus. So much for Jesus being God, the Greek has proved you wrong again“

My response:

While it is true a vocative noun is used when one is being addressed, a nominative noun is employed when the speaker is expressing a quality or an attribute. Let me give you an example:

Not everyone who says to Me, "Lord, Lord," shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. (Mathew 7:21)

In this case the two occurrences of the noun “Lord “are used as a formal address, and the nouns are both vocative as they should be. Another example would be “Mr. President, it is time to go.” “President” is vocative because it is used as an identifying address.

However, the nouns in the verse in question express qualities of the one spoken to, and the statement itself is a declaration, not a formal address. In other words, Thomas is exclaiming “what” and “who” Jesus is to him, ie “my Lord and my God.” Notice the possessive pronouns as they are significant. If I said, “Mr. President, you are doing a good job,” the noun “president” is vocative. However, if I say, “You are my (possessive pronoun) president,” the noun “president” is now nominative because it is expressing a quality about the one being spoken to.

As an example, in Mathew Chapter 16 Jesus asked Peter, “Who do you say that I am?” Jesus here is asking for a quality, as in “what” am I to you? ( Peter knew this or he would have answered “Jesus.“) Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the son of the living God,” expressing two main attributes of Jesus. Just as in John 20:28 the statement functions as a declaration, confession of faith, and the nouns are not functioning in the role of formal address. (However, please avoid the category error; this does not mean that he was not talking to Jesus.) Therefore, both nouns “Christ” and “Son” in Matthew 16 and “Lord” and “God” in John 20 are in the nominative case, as they should be.

The fact that the nominative case is used in this verse has the exact opposite effect you are desiring as it proves conclusively that Thomas was not applying an empty title to Jesus or using the nouns as a formal address. Instead, the nominative proves that they were used to express exact qualities or attributes of Jesus, who was clearly the one that Thomas was conversing with.. Just as in Mathew 16, this is a confession of faith. What was Jesus to Thomas? Jesus was his “Lord” and his “God.”

As I said in the beginning, I don’t really like to discuss Greek grammar with Jehovah’s Witnesses, and this partial response I received is an excellent example of why:

“You are wrong, it was not an address. and as I proved to you and you just won’t let go of what your church has taught you.”

(notice he ignored that I clearly stated it was not an address, and that his first point was that it was an address, just not an address to Jesus but it was an address to Jehovah. The next comment makes clear he caught his error)

He later wrote to try to convince me the nouns "WERE vocative and that scholars are divided on the issue." (new light I suppose) When I asked for some evidence of this supposed scholarly division, he replied, “Do your own research.”

None are as blind as those who refuse to see.


  1. Hey Brian, you are absolutely right about these JW's who try to implement complex grammatical arguments, but rarely do they know what they are talking about.

    Sure, they can argue John 1:1 in the Greek till the cows come home. But i'm not impressed. The reason being, take them to any other text of Scripture and ask for any level of argument from the Greek. And more than likely, they won't even be able to read the Greek, much less identify the vocabulary.

    Even worse is when they try to bluff you with these arguments. I can usually tell this is the case when they aren't even in the ballpark when they try to read the Greek and pronounce it.

    These are some of the many reasons why its almost pointless to get into it with them.

    On another note, i'm actually quite surprised with these JW's who don't argue that Jesus is the one being addressed. The funny thing is, "JW" apologists like Greg Stafford and David Barron (ScripturalTruths) have no problem in asserting that Jesus is "their Lord and their God." Obviously, this isn't the Watchtower's view, but at least they are more honest with the text.

    As futile as it may seem at times, its good to have answers to these objections for the benefit of the body of Christ and those who are honestly searching these things out.

    A wise man once said, "A little bit of Greek can be a dangerous thing."

    This case is certainly no exception. Great post, Brian.

  2. Trust me when I say that no one who knows Jesus is God's son and that sons come after fathers is impressed with trinitarians' inexplicable inability to recognize a broader application of the term "God"..Sarah even called Abraham "my Lord"..I don't think anyone would try to say he's a member of the being of Jesus,who God made Lord.Essentially,either there is a broader appliaction of the term "GOd" or there isn't ..and well,there is.So to use John 20:28 to prove a trinity,to people with my view,isn't even sensible.

  3. Kellie it is interesting to me that I, and all trinitarians readily admit that there is a "broader" meaning to the word "God" (check some commentaries or lexicons if you don't believe me) yet you and the Jehovah's Witnesses refuse to acknowledge that there is also a "broader" meaning to the word "son" as if somehow trinitarians deny that Jesus is the son of God.

    For Thomas to say to Jesus that he is HIS Lord and HIS God, even within the semantic range of the word G/god is blasphemous.

  4. """For Thomas to say to Jesus that he is HIS Lord and HIS God, even within the semantic range of the word G/god is blasphemous."""

    That is to say if Jesus was not God

  5. Was it blasphemous for Sarah to call Abraham "MY Lord"?Jesus is the second most powerful person in the universe.And where is your proof sons can exist without coming after their fathers?Are you sure that isn't made up?If it isn't explicitly stated in scripture there is no reason to assume it.

  6. Interesting indeed that you acknowledge a greater semantic range then ignore it!

  7. """Interesting indeed that you acknowledge a greater semantic range then ignore it!"""

    I acknowledge it, I just don't inappropriately force it into the text.

    "Was it blasphemous for Sarah to call Abraham "MY Lord"?"

    Do you call your significant other "Lord?" Also notice she did not call him God.

  8. I think Hal Flemmings explains it well:

    "In Herbert Weir Smyth's BEGINNERS' GREEK BOOK, page 27, we find: "The Greek has five cases: nominative, genitive, dative, accusative and vocative." [I realize that some Greek scholars argue that there are more cases.] As you probably know, the cases are usually identified by their suffixes. For example: φιλος ("friend"-nominative); του φιλος ("of the friend"-genitive); τω φιλω ("to" or "for the friend"-dative); τον φιλον ("the friend"); φιλε ("friend"-vocative).

    The vocative is the form of address. Throughout the NT when people addressed Jesus as "Lord", they used the vocative form "κυριε"-not the nominative form "κυριος." Consider the following sample using the REVISED STANDARD VERSION as the English base:

    Matthew 7:21: "Not everyone who says to me, Lord (κυριε), Lord (κυριε)"

    Luke 5:12: "Lord (κυριε), if you will you can make me clean."

    John 6:68: "Lord (κυριε), to whom shall we go?"

    Acts 1:6: "So when they had come together, they asked him, Lord (κυριε), will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?"

    Rev. 22:20: "Amen. Come Lord (κυριε) Jesus!."

    Let us turn our attention to the NT Greek at John 20:28. Thomas says to Jesus: "ο κυριος μου και ο θεος μου"-"the God of me and the Lord of me." But, did you notice that if Thomas was addressing Jesus as THAT God THAT Lord, he used the incorrect cases? He did not say: "κυριε μου και ο θεε μου". Why does he use the nominative case, almost as though he is expressing an exclamation or confession to Jesus in response to his acknowledgment that the person in front of him is indeed the resurrected Christ? And, if NT word usage is the criterion for exegesis of this passage, you would be at a lost to make the case for the Trinity in this verse. Only theology can try to make the case for the Trinity here not philology. Look, if you page over to Revelation 7:14, you will find a "My Lord" expression in the vocative. There you see: "και ειρηκα αυτω κυριε μου..." Those last two words would have been the words chosen by Thomas had he meant that Jesus was the Lord and God about whom he emoted. I have raised this issue with NT Greek academics more than once and have yet to get a clear response."

    “In John 20:28 ... it is to be noted that a substantive [such as ‘Lord’ or ‘God’ in this verse] in the nominative case in a vocative sense [in apparent address to someone] and followed by a possessive [‘of me’] could not be anarthrous [i.e., without the definite article] ...; the article before theos may, therefore, not be significant” ( An Idiom-Book of New Testament Greek, p. 116. (Cf. p. 248, Jesus as God, Murray J. Harris, Baker Book House, 1992.)

    Everyone Seems to forget who MADE Jesus Lord. (Acts 2:36) And no matter how you want to slice it there is always someone "God" to Jesus, at every stage of his life. Yes, even after his glorious ascension to heaven. (Revelation 3:12)

    The Father is "the God" to Christ. (Ephesians 1:3; 17) God does not have a God people.

    Nick Batchelor

  9. This comment has been removed by the author.

  10. "'Thomas answered and said unto Him, My Lord and my God.' He saw and touched the man, and acknowledged the God whom he neither saw nor touched; but by the means of what he saw and touched, he now put far away from him every doubt, and believed the other." Augustine in "Tractate CXXI"

  11. “The Role of Theology and Bias in Bible Translation,” by Professor Rolf Furuli who knows Hebrew, Aramaic and Koine Greek. He had something of interest to say regarding this passage of John 20:28.

    He wrote, “In this passage it is not possible to claim that the article has semantic importance, and that Jesus is therefore identical with ho theos in John 1:1, because the article is grammatically required. There is of course a possibility that it has semantic importance, but there is no way to know for sure. Because the phrase has a possessive pronoun (“my”), the word theos must be definite, and in Greek it cannot stand without the article. We may illustrate this with the English possessive pronoun. If I say “my book” the reference is definite. If I am referring to this particular book and I phrase my words differently, I could say, “this book of mine” or “the book of mine,” however, I cannot say “book of mine,” and if I say “a book of mine” the reference is indefinite. Thus, a definite reference in English containing the possessive pronoun also requires the definite article or a demonstrative pronoun. In Greek all kinds of references including a possessive pronoun require the article. We cannot know exactly what Thomas meant with his exclamation. Those believing in the trinity can hardly argue that Thomas meant that Jesus was the same as ho theos, with whom the Word is said to be (with) in John 1:1, because this would be tantamount to Sabellianism. Thus, Thomas’ words do not add anything to our understanding of the word theos when used of Jesus in John 1:1c, 18.”

  12. In “Concessions of Trinitarians,” Michaelis, a Trinitarian, writes:

    “I do not affirm that Thomas passed all at once from the extreme of doubt to the highest degree of faith, and acknowledged Christ to be the true God. This appears to me too much for the then existing knowledge of the disciples; and we have no intimation that they recognized the divine nature of Christ before the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. I am therefore inclined to understand this expression, which broke out in the height of his astonishment, in a figurative sense, denoting only “whom I shall ever reverence in the highest degree”…Or a person raised from the dead might be regarded as a divinity; for the word God is not always used in the strict doctrinal sense.”