Some notes on the ancient Greek word theos, including its eventual origin and meaning

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This article contains some notes on the ancient Greek word theos, including its eventual origin and meaning (etymology). It looks at the use of that word in the Greek texts of the New Testament and the Septuagint (LXX), and even elsewhere.

A note: In the Greek NT text, the word theos is mostly a reference to God, but it is used there even in other ways.

Another note: In this article, the Greek letters omikron (ο) and omega (ω) are transcribed into the English alphabet as o and ô.

The use of the word theos in Greek Septuagint version.

(The Septuagint or LXX is an ancient Jewish translation of the Old Testament into the Greek language.)

The Septuagint version has the word theos in more than 2500 places, from Genesis 1:1 to Malachi 3:18. There, it is used in different ways, as a translation of such Hebrew words as abbiyr, adonay, atsab, el, eliyl, elohiym, elowahh, illay, qodesh, shadday, tsuwr and yahweh.

A note: The above-mentioned Hebrew and Aramaic words are not always translated as theos in the Septuagint, but sometimes they are. Example: In some passages the Septuagint renders yahweh as Theos, but in some others as Kurios which means “Lord”.

No real conclusions can be drawn from the use of the word theos in the Septuagint, other than that it obviously was hard to find fitting Greek equivalents to a number of Hebrew and Aramaic words, so that theos was used instead.

The word theos was not God’s personal name.

In biblical usage – in the Greek texts of the New Testament and the Septuagint – the word theos often refers to the true God who is in Heaven. But, one must keep in mind that theos is a mere Greek word. Among the ancient Greek, it normally referred to what we would call idols. There were many theoi in the Greek idol worship system, and even kings and others were called theoi. (Theoi is a plural form of theos.)

Examples of old Greek use of theos in word-combinations:

A theogonia was a genealogical account of the Greek “gods”. A theologos was someone who wrote about those “gods” (the Greek idols); thus, such poets as Hesiod and Orpheus were theologoi. In the Greek theatre (theatron), the theologeion was a special place on the scene for actors who represented some Greek gods. The theophania was a winter festival in Delphi, on the day when the sun-god Apollo was thought to have been born. And so on.

But again, in biblical usage the word theos refers for the most part to the true God who is in Heaven.

Some more linguistic notes.

The feminine form of theos was thea which the old Greek used in the meaning “a goddess”. The adjective-type form theôteros meant something like “divine” or “like the gods”.

There were local forms of the noun theos. In Boeotian, Cyprian and Cretan it was thios, in Laconian sios, and in Doric theus.

It could eventually be that there was some linguistic connection between the old Greek words theos and zeus. But, as we all know, the Greek idol Zeus is not connected to the true God who is in Heaven. Putting that in other words, with Greek letters: Ζευς and Θεος are not connected.

A side-note: Some have wondered whether the name Jesus is related to the name Zeus. This might be because of the in later times invented toning pronunciation of the letter J in the name Jesus. But, there is no connection between the names “Jesus” (Ιησους) and “Zeus” (Ζευς). – In the Greek text of the New Testament, the Lord’s name is spelled Iêsous (Ιησους) which is pronounced something like Ee-ay-sooce’. – The Bible does not tell us whether Jesus ever had an Aramaic or Hebrew name, [a] but if he had, it might have been something like Yoshua, Yehoshua. [b]

a In New Testament times, many Jews in the land of Israel were Greek-speakers; some even had Greek names. It appears that the dominating language was Aramaic, but many spoke Greek. That land, along with much of the Middle-East, had for a long time been under Greek control and influence. Even in Roman times, Greek was still a common language in that land, along with Aramaic. Luke 23:38 tells us that the sign on Jesus’ cross was written in three languages, hellênikos (Greek), rômaikos (Latin), and hebraikos which referred to either Aramaic or Hebrew.

b The name of Joshua the son of Nun, Yehoshua in the Hebrew text of for instance Exodus 17:9, is in the Greek Septuagint version spelled Iêsous. Likewise, in the Greek text of Acts 7:45 and Hebrews 4:8, Joshua’s name is spelled Iêsous.

A note regarding names: Some writers and preachers have claimed that the Greek text of the New Testament supposedly has been tampered with, so that some “original Hebrew names” were “replaced” by Greek ones. Often, the “names” preachers who claim that, also claim that some Hebrew or Aramaic names should be used instead. But, there is no evidence of such changes of the Greek NT text. There are some notes on that matter, under the heading “Sacred names” on the page key54.htm.

The eventual meaning of the word theos.

Old Greek had the verb theoô, but it was only a derivative of theos and meant “to make someone a theos”. The thing to find out is what the noun theos really referred to.

The slightly similar verb theioô referred to “smoking with brimstone” (with sulphur, theion), for the purpose of purification. But, it is quite obvious that theioô and theion are not related to the word theos.

Some might eventually come to think of the old Greek verb theô which meant such things as “to run” and “to shine”. But, perhaps we should look for the root of theos in other directions.

We do not know the origin of the word theos, but it could eventually be that it meant something like “he who sees”, or “watcher” (cf. theatron, “theatre”). Read on:

The verbs theaô and theaomai referred, among other things, to “being an onlooker”, “watching as a spectator”. Theama meant “that which is seen”, “a sight”. Theaomai meant “to gaze”, “to contemplate”, “to wonder” and so on. The related noun thea meant “a seeing”, “a looking at”, “a view”. A theatês was “one who sees”. The verb theôreô meant “to look at”, “to view”, “to behold”. The word theôros meant, among other things, “onlooker”, “observer”, “watcher”. The noun theôria meant such things as “a looking at”, “a viewing”.

Again: We do not know the origin of the word theos, but it could eventually be that it meant something like “he who sees”, “watcher”.

Regarding some other old Greek words.

The article nga070.htm clarifies the origin and meaning of the NT Greek word Christos.

The article nda070.htm has some notes on the words angelos and archangelos (“messenger” and “chief messenger”).

The article nda080.htm considers the meaning of the old Greek nouns daimôn and daimonion (whence “demon”).

See also the “recommended reading” section, below.

Please send or mention the address to this site to others. You can also link to these pages. The address to the table of contents page is biblepages.net/articles.htm

Recommended reading here at the Bible Pages, on related as well as other matters

The meaning of the words Christ and Messiah and the name Jesus. Also, some notes on the word “Christian” in the New Testament. → nga070.htm

What does the Bible say about the antichrist or antichrists? On the meaning of the words antichristos and pseudochristos in the Greek text of the New Testament. → noa020.htm

What does the Bible say about angels? → nda070.htm

The cherubs or keruwbim, what did they look like? → nda010.htm

On what the Scriptures say about demons. → nda080.htm

On 1 John 3:4 and its translation and meaning. → nca120.htm

What does the word “doctrine” really mean? Likewise, what is the meaning of the terms “dogma”, “creed” and “tenet”? → nsa080.htm


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