In John MacArthur's Bible Commentary, he says that in 1 Cor 14:2, before God there is no definite article so it could be translated "a god" instead of "God." In some Greek texts there is an article, but not in others:

1 Cor 14:2:

Textus Receptus: ὁ γὰρ λαλῶν γλώσσῃ οὐκ ἀνθρώποις λαλεῖ, ἀλλὰ τῷ Θεῷ· οὐδεὶς γὰρ ἀκούει, πνεύματι δὲ λαλεῖ μυστήρια.

NA28: ὁ γὰρ λαλῶν γλώσσῃ οὐκ ἀνθρώποις λαλεῖ ἀλλὰ θεῷ· οὐδεὶς γὰρ ἀκούει, πνεύματι δὲ λαλεῖ μυστήρια.

ESV: For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit.

  • Is the article likely original to the letter?
  • If not, is it possible that MacArthur is correct and it should be "a god" instead of "God"?
  • Take a look at the NA28. It's a textual issue; manuscripts differ. If you could explain what point the commentary was making based on the absence of the article, there may be a good question in here about what significance the text variant has for interpretation.
    – Susan
    Jan 5 '15 at 2:39
  • (Don't worry about the "to" - it's there without an independent word to represent it in Greek regardless of this issue. You're correct that τῷ is the definite article in the TR you've quoted.)
    – Susan
    Jan 5 '15 at 2:43
  • I didn't know you can read NA28 online. Yes, this doesn't have article. Commentary was making an argument that as Θεῷ doesn't have an article you could translate it ,,to a god" not ,,God". But that is to much of speculation. Still standard translation is God. The same argument Jehovah Witnesses make about John 1:1. He thinks 1 Cor 14:2 is maybe speaking about pagan gods.
    – Edgear
    Jan 5 '15 at 12:38
  • That's interesting. I have edited the question to acknowledge the text variant and ask the question based on your account of MacArthur's argument. Please see what you think, feel free to change to a different English translation, and edit the question if there's something different you were getting at.
    – Susan
    Jan 5 '15 at 19:52

The word θεός occurs 159 times in the dative singular in the Greek New Testament (NA28). In all cases with the anarthrous construct (no occurrence of the definite article), the reference is not to "a god" but is instead in reference to the creator of the heavens and earth. In other words, there appears no references to "a god" in the Greek New Testament, with the possible grammatical exception of Acts 17:23, which is in reference to "an unknown god" (to which Apostle Paul then alludes is in reference to the creator of the heavens and earth).


The article in Greek does not function like it does in English (where it makes a word definite.) As I have outlined here, the presence of the article in Greek typically stresses identity, while the absence typically stresses quality. (However, there are even exceptions to this rule, so we need to be careful with blanket statements.)

So yes, it could refer to "a god", or it could refer to "God". You can't determine that simply by looking at the article; it has to be determined by syntactics, context, and perhaps even theology.

  • 1
    This isn't a complete answer, but hopefully it is helpful in pointing you in the right direction.
    – Jas 3.1
    Jan 9 '15 at 17:04
  • 1
    By your own admission, this doesn't fully answer the question. Please expand this to help the OP determine the purpose of the article using 'syntactics, context, and perhaps even theology' in 1 Corinthians 14:2. Otherwise, it will be converted into a comment.
    – Dan
    Jan 9 '15 at 17:58

To my opinion, the whole discussion about the absence or presence of the article before God, cannot be decided grammatically. The rationale that God is an indirect object in 1 Cor 14:2 and therefore it is not God but god, is far too stretched and uninformed. What does verse 2 talk about - structurally, provided that the two clauses are connected with the adversative conjunction ALLA (but)? "The one who speaks in a tongue, speaks NOT to people, BUT to ..." ? What sense that would make for Paul to contrast people and some god in the chapter on how to operate spiritual gifts in an orderly way? Verse 2 contrasts speaking to people (tangible speech) and speaking to God (intangible speech, because noone understands the mysteries that are being said, and for most part, not even the tongue speaker himself or herself). The basic question to ask about verse 2 is - what are the contrasts when the 2 clauses are connected with the adversative conjunction "but"? P.S. The clause "but to God" is an elliptic clause, meaning, that it takes the verb "speaks" from the previous clause. Another thing is just to ponder the simple, primitive question - why on earth we have chapter 14? Paul could just have written one sentence after 1 Cor 14:1 - "I forbid speaking in tongues". Why the pain of the entire chapter, which ends with Ὥστε, ἀδελφοί μου, ζηλοῦτε τὸ προφητεύειν, καὶ τὸ λαλεῖν μὴ κωλύετε γλώσσαις·


Is the article likely original to the letter?

We cannot know.

The verse appears with the definite article ὁ (appearing in the verse in the dative case, τῷ) in the majority of manuscripts, as well as in one later copy of the Codex Sinaiticus (of which the base copy dates to the 4th century), in a later copy of the Bezae Codex (dating back to the 5th century), and some later manuscripts.1

The verse appears without the definite article ὁ in the Codex Vaticanus (4th century) and, perhaps most importantly, in the Papyrus P46, which dates to the late 2nd/early 3rd century.2

It is impossible, however, to know what was in the "original". The later manuscripts may have derived from an earlier lost manuscript.

Is it possible that MacArthur is correct and it should be "a god" instead of "God"?

Probably not.

The phrase in question was quoted by both John Chrysostom and by Ambrose in antiquity. Both understood the passage to refer to God and not "a god" in their writings - Chrysostom in his Homily XXXV on 1 Corinthians and Ambrose in his treatise On the Holy Spirit (II.XII.131). Chrysostom is probably the more interesting witness of the two, as John MacArthur himself has called Chrysostom "perhaps the greatest preacher of the early Church."3

Chrysostom's quote of 1 Corinthians 14:2 omits the definite article4:

ὁ λαλῶν γλώσσαις, οὐκ ἀνθρώποις λαλεῖ, ἀλλὰ Θεῷ·

It is clear from the context of his homily, however, that it was understood that this meant "God" and not "a god". In no where in his explanation does he indicate that speaking in tongues was useless because one was speaking in vain to some "god":

At this point he makes a comparison between the gifts, and lowers that of the tongues, showing it to be neither altogether useless, nor very profitable by itself. For in fact they were greatly puffed up on account of this, because the gift was considered to be a great one. And it was thought great because the Apostles received it first, and with so great display; it was not however therefore to be esteemed above all the others. Wherefore then did the Apostles receive it before the rest? Because they were to go abroad every where. And as in the time of building the tower the one tongue was divided into many; so then the many tongues frequently met in one man, and the same person used to discourse both in the Persian, and the Roman, and the Indian, and many other tongues, the Spirit sounding within him: and the gift was called the gift of tongues because he could all at once speak divers languages. See accordingly how he both depresses and elevates it. Thus, by saying, He that speaketh with tongues, speaketh not unto men, but unto God, for no man understandeth, he depressed it, implying that the profit of it was not great; but by adding, “but in the Spirit he speaketh mysteries” he again elevated it, that it might not seem to be superfluous and useless and given in vain.5

Furthermore, there are countless occasions in the New Testament where the definite article is omitted and it is clear that the text is speaking of God. Examples:

ὁ δὲ ἀποκριθεὶς εἶπεν· γέγραπται· οὐκ ἐπʼ ἄρτῳ μόνῳ ζήσεται ὁ ἄνθρωπος, ἀλλʼ ἐπὶ παντὶ ῥήματι ἐκπορευομένῳ διὰ στόματος θεοῦ.

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (Matthew 4:4)

Οὐδεὶς δύναται δυσὶ κυρίοις δουλεύειν· ἢ γὰρ τὸν ἕνα μισήσει καὶ τὸν ἕτερον ἀγαπήσει, ἢ ἑνὸς ἀνθέξεται καὶ τοῦ ἑτέρου καταφρονήσει. οὐ δύνασθε θεῷ δουλεύειν καὶ μαμωνᾷ.

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money" (Matthew 6:24)

πᾶσιν τοῖς οὖσιν ἐν Ῥώμῃ ἀγαπητοῖς θεοῦ, κλητοῖς ἁγίοις, χάρις ὑμῖν καὶ εἰρήνη ἀπὸ θεοῦ πατρὸς ἡμῶν καὶ κυρίου Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ.

To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be his holy people: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 1:7)

In the above I have cited the NIV translation of the Greek, which is one of the translations used in the MacArthur Study Bibles.

1. Apparatus, Nestle-Aland Greek-English New Testament
2. Ibid.
3. MacArthur New Testament Commentary
4. Patrologia Graeca 61, p.296
5. Homily XXXV on 1 Corinthians, No. 1


John MacArthur is basing his statement on the Greek Text of the NASB, whereas the Greek text of the King James Version contains the definite article with the Greek noun Theos - τῶ θεῷ. Either way, the absence or presence of the article doesn't matter. Paul was referring to God and not a god. I suppose John MacArthur feels his commentary in this passage justifies his stance on the gift of tongues. In other words, he believes when a person speaks in tongues today they are not speaking by the Holy Spirit and therefore are not speaking to God but to a god i.e., a false god = demon. But when Paul wrote this letter to the Corinthians the gift of tongues were understood as being a gift of the Holy Spirit which means Paul was not referring to someone speaking to a false god.

  • I don't understand, first you say it doesn't matter, but then you depend on the article to say whether the person is speaking to God or a god!
    – curiousdannii
    May 13 '15 at 0:49

Would not the dative translation "by" serve 1 cor 14:2 better than the word "unto"? In 1 cor 14:21 and Acts 2:11 it can be seen that contrary to contemporary transations of 1 cor 14 2, the one who speaks in a tongue does speak "to" man.


In Acts 17:23, unknown God is indirect object. Same in 1Corinthians 14:2, God is indirect object. When it comes to talking about God as indirect object in Dative case, article have to present before "God". According to this rule, the absence of an article means Not the God or the true God, but a god.

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