The Greek Definite Article

From the Differentiator magazine:
Vol. 23 New Series June, 1961 No. 3

If I said to you, "I have a book to shew you," you might reply, "Shew me the book." Observe what you have done. You have replaced my Indefinite Article (the word A) by a Definite Article (the word THE). Why have you done this? Because the book, in my hands, has become definite to you. It is now before your eyes, a definite object before your mind. This object, or thought, may remain in your mind until some other thought comes along.

The Latin language had neither Definite nor Indefinite Article, and was therefore obliged to have recourse at times to circumlocutions, to bring out the sense required. The Greek language has no Indefinite Article. In Old English, many of the oldest poems shew no Indefinite Articles, while the original Definite Article was our demonstrative pronoun "that" (or thaet). This last point should be kept carefully in mind. The same feature was found sixteen hundred years ago in the Gothic version at John 10:9, which reads "Ik im thata daur" (I am the door). But in Old English versions it was enought to say, "Ic eom geat" (I am gate), without any Definite Article.

These little Articles are used now-a-days to make language more intelligible, and we could hardly get along without them.

The Greek language used its Definite Articles with very great precision. When an Article is omitted, there is very good reason. The chief rules for the use of the Article are few and simple. It is of very great importance to master these rules, as many weighty theological points depend on the absence or presence of the Article.

In certain circles it has become the custom to deride all the learned works of those whom God has placed in the Body of Christ, on the ground that because they agree in the main concerning Greek Grammar and kindred matters, they must therefore belong to "The Apostasy." Such unchristian conduct will bring nothing but shame and dishonour and loss at the Bema of Christ. God is not going to permit His grace to be slighted with impunity, because it was He who chose these scholars, and they accomplished their labours for Him.

Others seek to heap disgrace upon the Lord by averring that the early Fathers of the Church were little better than heathens. Such foolish persons will read an English "translation" of the writings of these Fathers, very probably made from a Latin translation of their writings in Greek. As all such translations hitherto have been extraordinarily discordant, the result is that the Fathers are "proved" to have held doctrines with which they were never acquainted at all. This also holds good for so-called "translations" of some of the Creeds. But given a truly consistent and concordant rendering of these Creeds, we should find that they are very close to the Scriptures.

The Latin term articulus means a little joint or articulation. The Greek term arthron has the same meaning (cf. arthritis). Where a word takes no article, it is called anarthrous, "no article." One can easily see how the little words A and THE help in the articulation of the language.
In Greek, the chief rule in connection with the Article is that it marks a specific object of thought in one's mind. In simple sentences the subject is definitely before the mind, and takes the Definite Article, while the predicate, which is merely descriptive of the subject, omits the article.
Why is it that certain people are absent-minded? The case rises to mind of the scientist who was so deeply engrossed in his calculations, that when a maid handed in an egg for him to boil in some hot water, as he stood with his watch in his hand, it was found soon after that he had boiled his watch, but the egg still remained tightly held in his hand. One can become so obsessed with a single idea that there is no room in the mind for anything else.

Generally speaking, when we speak, we have one thought in our mind at a time. It may remain for a brief time till it is displaced by another idea.

A few examples from the New Testament will illustrate how skillfully and meticulously the Greek utilized the Definite Article. John commences his Gospel with the dominant thought in his mind of the Word or Logos. He shews how that Word was related to God, to the world, to men, and to flesh. The Word was related to God in that it was toward (the) God, or face to face with God, or vis-a-vis God, in some way corresponding to God. Then John says "and Theos (God) was the Logos."

Our own word or statement ought to correspond with ourself. What we say should express our inmost self. God's Logos expressed His inmost being and self. Would not that imply that the Word was, in some ways, Divine? Your word is part of you, not part of me or any other. God's Word is part of God, and out from God. My word and your word is only human. But God's own Word,—surely is it not Divine?

The Greeks were very clever in the manner they shewed emphasis, while writing. We are obliged to underscore words or set them in capitals. The Greeks simply pulled a word out of its usual position and brought it forward.

John writes in ch. 1:14, "And the Word FLESH becomes." Here the prominent fact is that previously the Word had not been flesh, at least in the sense He was not flesh. He was not flesh that could tabernacle with men and on whom men could gaze, without perishing. But John might easily have written, "And FLESH becomes the Word," had he wanted to make flesh even more prominent. The meaning would have been much the same.

In ch. 1:1 the third clause means that while the Word was with or toward God, in the beginning, He was Divine. But in verse 14, we see that the Word is now something else, He is human. In the whole passage the subject is throughout the Logos or Word. What is predicated of Him is that He was (in beginning) Divine, and has now become flesh. Theos was the kind of being that the Logos was. Some have been inclined to think that in the 10th chapter of John the Lord seems to be almost quibbling with the Jews, when they were about to stone Him for blasphemy. Their charge was that "thou, being a human being, art making thyself Theon-Divine." They did not mean that He was making Himself the Deity, for then they would have said ton Theon, "the Deity." The Lord had been talking about His Father, the Deity, to whom He was ever subject, on whom He ever depended. The Lord never claimed to be the Deity, but ever claimed to be the Son of Mankind.

The Lord answered the Jews, "Is it not something written in your law, that 'I said, Divine ones you are.'?" Here the long arm of "the law" takes in the book of Psalms. Psalm 82:1 states that God is judging midst divine ones. In verse 6, "I say, Divine ones you are, and sons of Elyon all of you." The Jews ought to have known that the Most High had sons who were divine ones. They said the Lord was blaspheming because He said, "Son of (the) God I am."

We must therefore understand in John 1:1 that "the Word was DIVINE," or, "and DIVINE was the Word." Had John prefixed the Article to Theos, he would have meant that the Word was identical with the entire essence of the one and only Deity; the two propositions would have been interchangeable, that "the God" was the same as "the Word."

John Nelson Darby writes that the question here is not at all whether Theos is supreme, but rather that something is affirmed of the Logos.

Had John written ho Theos (the God) "it would exclude from Deity the Father and the Spirit, and confine the unity of the Deity to the Word."

A somewhat similar construction is found in John 4:24, one of the most pregnant utterances in all time, where the Greek has it, Pneuma ho Theos, literally, "spirit the God." Here the subject is God, "the Deity," and therefore it takes the Definite Article. The predicate is "spirit." But no one would dream of translating by "Spirit is God." The true meaning is, "God (is) SPIRIT." Those who give the third clause of John 1:1 a twist make sure they do not give a twist to this brief statement.

Heb. 1:2 will enable us better to understand the Article. It would not have been wrong had the writer said, "God. . . talks to us in His Son" (en to huiO autou), although this would have been less effective than "in Son" (en huiO), or "sonly" which is the true idea. Of Old, God had been talking to the fathers "many-portion-ly" (polumerOs) and "many-mode-ly" (polutropOs). But now He is talking in another characteristic—"son-ly." The writer thus gives prominence to the characteristic employed, rather than the Person.

Alexander Thomson

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Listing of Articles

Who is our God? Chapter 1
Who is our God? Chapter 2
Who is our God? Chapter 3
Who is our God? Chapter 4
Who is our God? Chapter 5
Who is our God? Chapter 6
Who is our God? Chapter 7
Who is our God? Chapter 8
Who is our God? Chapter 9
Who is our God? Chapter 10
Who is our God? Chapter 11
Who is our God? Chapter 12
Who is our God? Chapter 13
Who is our God? Chapter 14
Who is our God? Chapter 15
Who is our God? Chapter 16
Who is our God? Chapter 17
A Female Deity?
Acts 7:15 & 16
All Things
Amos 3:6
An Answer to the Challenge of Hell
Angels & Men One Species?
An Interesting New Version
Are You an Ambassador?
Are You a Pillar?
Are You a Witness for Jehovah?
Are You an Israelite? Chapter 1
Are You an Israelite? Chapter 2
Are You an Israelite? Chapters 3 & 4
A Special Resurrection?
Baptized for the Dead?
"Beloved" or "Loveable"?
Brotherly Love
Book Review
Colossians 1:23
Common or Unclean?
Common Sense
Did Paul Visit Spain?
Did the Lord give up His Flesh?
"Divine" Fire?
Doctoring the Holy Scriptures
Does God know Everything?
Does God will Everything?
Does your Spiritual Life seem Unreal?
Did God hate Esau?
Earth our Future Home?
Emphasis in the Scriptures
English more Archaic than Ancient Hebrew?
Ephesians 1:23
Erroneous Translations
Gleanings from A.T.
Heaven our Homeland
How is Christ God's "Word"?
How many were Crucified?
In the Christ All Shall Be Made Alive
Is Dust the Serpent's Food?
Is the Devil Impersonal?
Isaiah 26:14,19
James 4:5
Jehovah's Theocratic Organization
Jesus the Saviour
John 19:29
The Kingdom of the Hebrews
Leave it with God
Men or Mortals?
Misplaced Ingenuity
New Light on the Second Death
None Other Things
Objective Value of Prayer
Other or Different
Our Advocate
Paul's Chain
Paul the Sensitive
Paul versus James
Prevailing Prayer
Problems of Translation: I Cor. 7:21
Problems of Translation: II Cor. 3:18
Psalm 66:18
Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth
Rogues and Rascals
Rom 9 & 10: Human Freedom & Human Choice
Romans 9:14-24
Romans 9:30 to 10:21
II Corinthians 5:16
II Peter 3:10
Seven Wicked Spirits
Shall We See God?
Sir, We would see Jesus
Should we fear God?
The Bloody Husband
The Cherubim of Glory
The Corinthian Error
The Cunning Manager
The Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah
The Designation of Jesus as "God"
The Disruption Fallacy
The Disruption Fallacy #2
The Eighth of Proverbs
The Eleven "Generations" of Genesis
The Elohim
The Ends of the Eons
The Eternal Saviour-Judge
The Eternity of Hell Torments
The First Christian Convention
The Four Gospels
The Gentiles in Ephesians
The Greek Definite Article
The Hardening of Pharoah's Heart
The Hebrew Conception of Time
The Hebrews Epistle
The Hebrew Terms Rendered 'For Ever'
The Hope of Israel
The Life of Prayer
The Lord Jesus Revealing the Heart of God
The Lord's Relatives
The Lordly Supper
The Meaning of Ta Panta
The Ministry of Women Parts 1 & 2
The Ministry of Women Parts 3 & 4
The "Penalty of Sin"
The Poor in Spirit
The Primeval Laws
The Primeval Laws #2
The Problem of Evil
The Quality of Divine Love
The Rich Man and Lazarus
The Serpent of Genesis 3
The Soul and the Spirit
The Talmud of the Jews Parts 1 & 2
The Talmud of the Jews Parts 3 & 4
The Translation of Acts 28:25
The Trial of the Lord
The Truth of the Bible
The Two Seeds
The Works of Henry Clay Mabie, D.D.
"Three Days and Three Nights"
Translator's Incentive
Truthfulness and Mercy
Try the Spirits
Unto Eternity and Further
We have all been Wrong
What did Peter do?
What does Olethros mean?
What Happened to Jephthah's Daughter?
What is Destruction?
What is the Flesh?
What is the Sin unto Death?
Whence "Eternity"?
Who are the Saints?
Who is Jehovah?
Who Shall Deliver Me?
Why Pray?
Why the "Lake" of Fire?
Will God Punish?
Will the Lord Come for Us?
Will the Man of Lawlessness be Killed?


The Differentiator Revisited 2009