Bill Mounce

For an Informed Love of God

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Sunday, September 20, 2009

Is κυριος Nominative or Vocative? (John 20:28)

Someone pointed out the other day that the only time Jesus is directly addressed in the nominative κυριος as opposed to the vocative κυριε is in Thomas’ declaration, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28, ο κυριος μου και ο θεος μου). Is there any significance?

On the one hand, the nominative can be used to function as the vocative, so there is no necessary significance. And yet it is interesting that this is the only example of κυριος being used this way of Jesus. In every other case (as far as I can tell) it is κυριε.

I wouldn’t have thought much about this distinction except that it is such an important passage. It is one of clearest statements of the divinity of Christ, and although our Christology does not depend on explicit statements, it is nonetheless important (see the discussion in Carson’s commentary).

Morris has a helpful footnote. If it is not the vocative, then the question is, what has been dropped out of the sentence. “It is my Lord and my God.” “My Lord and my God has indeed risen. One of the trickier areas of Greek is this entire issue of leaving words out. It would be nice if everyone followed Daniel Wallace’s carefully defined Greek grammar. It would be nice if we all spoke our language precisely. But the fact of the matter is that we do often leave words out, and those omitted words can often explain the grammar of the words that do appear.

But I doubt that there is any special significance here. The text specifically says, “And he [Thomas] said to him [Jesus].” Most likely the nominative is functioning as a vocative, nothing more.

Wouldn’t it be great if Greek unlocked the mysteries of the universe — every time? But it doesn’t. Sometimes the hard work of exegesis just gets us back to the mundane and ordinary. That’s okay. Last week’s blog caused enough discussion, as will next week’s.