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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: The Attributes of God That Belong to Him Alone

Don Stewart :: What Does the Greek Term Theos Mean?

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What Does the Greek Term Theos (God) Mean?

The Attributes of God That Belong to Him Alone – Question 23

In the New Testament, the common word for God is the Greek word theos. It is used a number of different ways and has several different meanings. It is important that we understand the various ways this word is used.

The Word Theos Means God

Theos is the basis of the word theology which means, “the study of God.” Theos is used a number of different ways in the New Testament. They are as follows.

1. It Can Speak of the True God

When the true God is spoken of in the New Testament, the Greek word theos is used. For example, we read in John’s gospel,

In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God [theos] and the Word was God... (John 1:1 KJV)

In this instance, theos refers to the true God. This is one of the regular uses of this term.

2. It Can Refer to “a God”

The singular form of the word theos may refer to a singular god which is not the God of the Bible. When King Herod appeared before the crowd on a certain occasion, the crowd referred to him as “a god.”

So on a set day Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat on his throne and gave an oration to them. And the people kept shouting, “The voice of a god and not of a man!” (Acts 12:21-22 NKJV)

On this occasion, Herod was equated with deity by the crowd. However it was not with the God of the Bible.

3. It Can Refer to False Gods

The plural form of theos can refer to false Gods rather than the true God of the Bible Paul wrote to the Corinthians about the non-existence of so-called gods. He said,

Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods [theos] in heaven or on earth—as in fact there are many gods and many lords... (1 Corinthians 8:5 NRSV)

The Greek word which translated “gods” in this verse is the plural form of theos. In this instance if makes reference to non-existent gods.

4. The Word Also Can Mean Humans

Interestingly, Jesus used the word “gods” to refer to human rulers. We find this usage in John’s gospel when Jesus was talking to the religious leaders about His identity. John records the following words of Jesus.

Jesus answered, “Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, you are gods’ [theos]? If those to whom the word of God came were called ‘gods’ [theos]—and the scripture cannot be annulled—can you say that the one whom the Father has sanctified and sent into the world is blaspheming because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’?” (John 10:34-36 NRSV)

This is the use of the plural form of theos. Instead of referring to the true God, or to false gods, it has reference to earthly rulers.

Conclusion: The Context Must Determine the Meaning of Theos

Therefore, it is important to understand the context that theos is used to have a proper understanding of its meaning. While God is the primary meaning of this Greek word, it is used with other secondary meanings. As always, the context must be the final determiner.

Summary – Question 23
What Does the Greek Word Theos (God) Mean?

Theos is the common word for God in the Greek New Testament. We find it used in four different ways.

It normally refers to the true God. When we find the word “God” in the New Testament in our English Bibles it is the translation of this Greek word theos.

There are also instances where the singular form of theos is used of a god which is different from the God of the Bible. When King Herod gave a speech before a large crowd while being decked out in royal robes the people were shouting that he was “a god.” This is the same Greek word theos which is used of the true God. However, in this instance it refers to a different God than the One revealed in Scripture.

This Greek word, on occasion, word can refer to false Gods. When Paul wrote to the Galatians he made reference to so-called gods. This is a translation of the word theos. In this case, the gods referred to are non-existent.

We also find this word of human rulers. In Jesus' statement to the religious rulers He quotes the Psalm where it says the leaders are “gods.” This is another example of the plural usage of the Greek word theos.

Thus, the one can mean one of four things. It can mean the true God, a god other than the God of the Bible, false gods, or it can refer to human leaders. The context must determine how it is to be understood.

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