Take the 2-minute tour ×
Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for professors, theologians, and those interested in exegetical analysis of biblical texts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

John 20:28:

Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

Why both words? Doesn't God imply "Lord" as well? I'm assuming this has something to do with the exact original text?

share|improve this question
Most significantly, it highlights the deity of Christ. Jesus didn't deny being God. –  Wikis Jul 4 '13 at 5:03
"My lord" could be an allusion to Psalm 110:1, where "l(a)-'adon.I" (not "'Adon.AY") is translated by the LXX as "to(.i)- kuri.o(i)-mou". –  Alexander Thomson Aug 20 '14 at 15:12

5 Answers 5

up vote 5 down vote accepted

For reference, see: http://hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/a/5096/862

The Greek word κύριος literally means "master." Confusion occurs because it appears to be used in the Greek Septuagint to translate the Tetragrammaton, the Hebrew word יהוה. But, in fact, it is not being used to translate יהוה, but instead, אֲדֹנָי. It was used to translate אֲדֹנָי because אֲדֹנָי is what the Jews actually read when they saw the word יהוה in their scriptures.

Gesenius writes,

The Jews, from an over scrupulous and superstitious reverence for the name of God, whenever in the sacred text יהוה occurs, read it אֲדֹנָי...

The exact meaning of אֲדֹנָי is debated. It may literally mean "my master," but the possessive pronoun beng ignored over time, the word later was understood as simply "master." For an example, consider the French word monsieur, understood as "master" (or "sir," "lord"), which is formed from mon ("my") and sieur ("master").

In John 20:28, when Thomas calls Yeshu'a, ὁ κύριός μου, he is simply saying what would be equivalent to the English phrase "my master." The reason is simple: if indeed κύριος was being used as the equivalent of the Tetragrammaton יהוה, it would not be joined with a possessive pronoun, e.g. "my YHVH." It's unacceptable grammar in Hebrew and Greek (and many other languages, if not all) to adjoin a proper name with possessive pronouns.

share|improve this answer

There exist a few possibilities for the translation here. Should John 20:28b be understood as predicate nominatives ("You are my Lord and my God") or as vocatives ("My Lord and my God!")?

I understand it to be the first because the context is confessional. Thomas has proclaimed he will not believe until he sees and feels. Now he sees and confesses (The sentence may have been an exclamation, but it was still confessional).

This is confirmed by Jesus treating the statement as confessional in 20:29.

20:29 Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are the people who have not seen and yet have believed." (NET Bible)

As mentioned in the other answers, this verse harkens back to 1:1 and 1:14. We also note in the text how John uses many titles for Jesus in just the opening: the Lamb of God (1:29, 36); the Son of God (1:34, 49); Rabbi (1:38); Messiah (1:41); the King of Israel (1:49); the Son of Man (1:51).

Both "lord" and "master" are used in 20:28 to bring us full circle. In 1:1, John showed us what Jesus is. In 20:28, the last of the Twelve knows by experience who Jesus is. Thomas' new understanding also fulfills a prophecy from Jesus himself (John 8:28, which also reminds the reader of 3:14 and 12:32):

3:14 Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up,

12:32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”

8:28 Then Jesus said, "When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am..." (Though most English translations add "he" to the clause ("I am he"), the Greek simply uses ego eimi, "I am.")

John shows us through Thomas' words that Jesus being lifted up for crucifixion fulfilled these prophecies, and through his death, resurrection, and exaltation he has revealed his true identity as both Lord and God.

share|improve this answer

The Greek phrase ο κυριος μου loosely rendered reads "the master of me," and I can agree with H3br3wHamm3r81 that:

"In John 20:28,..., ὁ κύριός μου [is] simply saying what would be equivalent to the English phrase 'my master.'"

Nevertheless, and ever since the days of Monarchianism and Patripassianism (heresies of the 2nd and 3rd centuries CE, respectively), the words ο θεος μου have apparently created problems for both early and modern interpreters. Prof. Ehrman (The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, 266, 1993, citing Raymond Brown's The Gospel According to John 29, 1966) wrote that one Theodore of Mopsuestia (d. 428 CE) later "argued that Thomas [seemingly ecstatically] uttered those words in praise of God the Father" (i.e., יהוה, the God of first century CE converts from Judaism). And that makes sense to me if, as Strong's G611 and H6030 indicate, Thomas began to give praise to YHVH and was interrupted by Jesus (20:29) commending his (Thomas') belief, misconstrued though it might have been.

Refer back to the Greek of John 1:1 and note that θεος is anarthrous. But in John 20:28, Jesus is specifically called ο θεος (the supreme Divinity, or God; cp. Strong's G2316, et al). So what is the average Bible-reading Christian to think except that Jesus IS "God" himself? And when you combine John 20:28 with 1 John 5:7-8, it's little wonder that Trinitarians believe that Jesus is the God of the OT.

I don't have access to a copy of Codex Ephraemi (C/04, ca. 400-499 CE) but, if I recall correctly, it and other Gospel mss. omit the article, indicating to some interpreters that Jesus of Nazareth, while he might have been θεος (divine-like or godly), is not ο θεος; i.e., THE God Orthodox Christians claim him to be. I also do not have anything by Metzger which addresses John 20:28. Does anyone else know what Metzger said about it?

share|improve this answer
θεὸς is anathrous in John 1:1 because John is informing the reader what ὁ λόγος is, not who ὁ λόγος is. For example, I imagine I am standing in a room with another man. John wants to tell an alien (play along) what I am. The alien is not familiar with our species. So, he tells the alien, "Ἐστίν ἄνθρωπος." "He is man" or "he is human." If John had said, "Ἐστίν ὀ ἄνθρωπος," the alien might have thought John was saying, "He is the man." The alien would have said, "How can he be the man (pointing to the man beside me)? There are two men right there!" –  H3br3wHamm3r81 Jun 22 '13 at 1:13
Unless, of course, your hypothetical John is trying to explain the your hypothetical alien that Ἐστίν ὀ ἄνθρωπος is his hypothetical employer, supervisor, or perhaps a person in a position of power over others. You know, "the Man"? –  Pat Ferguson Jun 22 '13 at 12:33

@H3br3wHamm3r81: OK, so the writer of John is trying to show, according to his religious training and dogma of the proto-Orthodox Church at Rome's rewrite men, that Jesus of Nazareth was ò λεγόμενος λόγος (cp. Matt. 1:16; 27:17, 22; John 4:25). Why? Because the Greek phrase και θεος ην ο λογος is said to be a carefully worded refutation of the heresy of Sabellianism by the writer of GoJ and the churchmen who signed-off on his work (cp. Robinson's Word Pictures in the NT, et al). And:

"Luther argues that here [the writer of the Gospel attributed to] John disposes of Arianism also because the Logos [both who and what] was eternally God" (op. cit.).

But my point was that the writer of the John Gospel (ca. 90-120 CE) misidentified Jesus as being Thomas' ο θεος μου, thereby misconstruing Jesus to be the One God of Israel and Judaism (YHVH), and also of Orthodox Judeo-Christians (YaHVeH, or JeHoVaH).

And, for argument's sake, perhaps your hypothetical John is trying to explain to your hypothetical alien that "èστίν ὀ ἄνθρωπος" is his hypothetical employer, supervisor, or some other person in a position of sanctioned power over others. You know, as in the colloquial expression "he's the man!"??? (Apologies for any redundancy to my other comment)

share|improve this answer
There's John (the author/ narrator), and then there's two other "persons," if you will: ὁ λόγος ("the Word") and ὀ θεὸς ("God"; note the definite article). There's no need to introduce more than two people in the hypothetical since the context clearly indicates only two persons are involved in John 1:1. John is trying to emphasize that ὁ λόγος is God (θεὸς) in nature (or species, εἶδος), but he doesn't want the reader to think that ὁ λόγος is the same "person" as ὀ θεὸς. Every living thing can be classified under an εἶδος, or species. –  H3br3wHamm3r81 Jun 22 '13 at 16:32
Thanks to both of you for such enlightened (and enlightening) commentary. Biblical hermeneutics is an avocation for me so I don't follow all the technical details but thanks to both of you for laying out this level of detail. –  Onorio Catenacci Jun 24 '13 at 13:20
See this for grammar reasons as to why the lack of article doesn't mean Jesus is just "a god". –  Frank Luke Jul 3 '13 at 14:01

Since shortly after this

John 20:28 Thomas replied to him, "My Lord and my God!"

the author (John) writes

20:31 But these are recorded so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.

Therefore one need not read more and not less into the statement than what it meant for the disciple in his time and language: It is the experience of the presence of God that he experienced in seeing his resurrected Master.

Even the encounter with angels had lead humans (Abraham, Moses) to call on God in the person of the angel. How much more was he in the right to call on God in the person of the Son of God, who had been dead and was living. (Why should the disciple not know the Psalms and the Torah at least as well as we do?)

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.