Bill Mounce

For an Informed Love of God

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Monday, December 5, 2011

Was Jesus son (σοι) or Son (ὑμῖν)?

Nathaniel declares Jesus that he is the “Son of God, the King of Israel” (Jn 1:49). I wonder if “Son” should not be capitalized. We read it in light of later teaching on the deity of Christ, but Nathaniel obviously equates “Son” and “King.” There is no sense of deity in Nathanael’s declaration, at least on his part.

(I would be curious how many people in our churches know that the Greek text doesn’t use capitalization the way we do, and therefore do not understand that “Son” is interpretive. I will put a poll on Please let me know.)

Jesus responds, “Is it because I told you (σοι) that I saw you under the fig tree that you believe? You will see greater things than that.” Then he said to him (αὐτῷ), “I tell you (ὑμῖν) the solemn truth: you will see (ὄψεσθε) heaven standing open and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” (vv 50f).

Jesus answers Nathaniel directly with the singular σοι, and then tells Nathaniel and those around him (ὑμῖν is plural) that “y’all” will see heaven open. Because English does not distinguish number in the second person, shifts in number in the Greek can often be hidden in the translation. I like using “y’all” for “you” plural, but that is because of my years of living in Kentucky.

This is why some translations in some places will actually indicate that the second person is singular or plural, especially when there are few to little clues in the text as to whom the speaker is speaking. The ESV footnotes verse 51: “The Greek for you is plural; twice in this verse.”

I know there is some debate about the whole “Tools” approach to using Greek. Traditional Greek learning (Basics of Biblical Greek) spends the first year memorizing vocabulary, paradigms, and a little grammar. The Tools approach (Greek for the Rest of Us and my new Biblical Greek Primer video series) teaches a little Greek so the busy pastor can use the tools like Accordance better. I believe there are pros and cons with both approaches, which is why I wrote both books. But certainly we can all agree that a basic knowledge of Greek that relies on tools can be helpful in situations like John 1:51.

Jesus so often takes relatively private discussions and moves into general discussions applicable to a larger audience. Here he extrapolates a discussion with one person out to what some in the the group will one day experience. Nathaniel may have made the declaration as to who Jesus is, but some day others will see and believe as well. Jesus does the same thing with Nicodemus; a private discussion moves out into the most famous passage in Scripture (John 3:16), with Nicodemus fading away into the background.

Nathaniel confessed that Jesus was Israel’s king based on what he deemed to be special (divine?) knowledge. But the disciples would come to see Jesus as much more than that. They would see him with direct and unaided access into the throne room of God.

They would one day see that Jesus was not the “son” of God, the king of Israel, but the “Son” of God. Perhaps the capital “S” is meant to be seen as prophetic.