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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"?
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  • 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, 2015 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, 2015 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, 2015 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, 2015 at 19:52

10 Answers 10

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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·

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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).

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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.

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    This isn't a complete answer, but hopefully it is helpful in pointing you in the right direction.
    – Jas 3.1
    Jan 9, 2015 at 17:04
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    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, 2015 at 17:58
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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

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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.

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  • 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, 2015 at 0:49
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MacArthur believes the gift of tongues can never be an unknown spiritual (prayer) language to God, but can only ever be a known language for the purpose of communicating the gospel in different languages like in Acts 2. But 1 Corinthians 14.2 doesn't fit his theory, so he has to explain it away by adding what doesn't exist (the indefinite article "a god") so he can claim modern charismatic practices of using speaking in tongues in private prayer to God is actually paganism and prayer to "a god." MacArthur is wrong. First, there is no grammatical justification for "a god." Second, there are plenty of verses in the New Testament where God lacks the definite article "the," but that does not mean "a god" is correct. For example, Matthew 19.26 "with God all things are possible." Lack of the definite article "the" doesn't mean it should be translated "with a god all things are possible." Third, it doesn't fit the context of 1 Corinthians 14.2 which says "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." God may not have the definite article "the" but "the Spirit" does. But does the one who speaks in an unknown tongue to "a [pagan] god" "utter mysteries in the [Holy] Spirit"? Of course not. Of course that is not what Paul means. So now MacArthur will have to try to explain away the definite article "the" with "the Spirit." Such as by claiming that this is a reference to "the [human] spirit," which again is not justified; doesn't fit with Paul's use of "the Spirit"; nor jive with Paul's distinction of "the Spirit" from "my spirit" and "your spirit" in the same chapter (1 Corinthians 14.14-16).

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The Westcott-Hort critical version is superior to Textus Receptus. The critical versions (SBL, NA, WH etc) are easily trusted for their textual reliability, on which the New or Revise English versions are based. The article is absent with God, however, that doesn't mean it should be interpreted as "a god" to denote pagan gods.

John MacArthur equates God with Satan, and interprets 1Cor 14 basically as sarcasm. Here is the quote on his study Bible NASB 1Cor14:2,

NASB For one who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God; for no one understands, but in [his] spirit he speaks mysteries.

‡ 14:2 one who speaks in a tongue. This is singular (see previous note; cf. vv. 4, 13, 14, 19, 27), indicating that it refers to the false gibberish of the counterfeit pagan ecstatic speech. The singular is used because gibberish can’t be plural; there are not various kinds of non-language. There are, however, various languages; hence when speaking of the true gift of language, Paul uses the plural to make the distinction (vv. 6, 18, 22, 23, 29). The only exception is in vv. 13, 27, 28 (see note there), where it refers to a single person speaking a single genuine language.

does not speak to men but to God. This is better translated, “to a god.” The Gr. text has no definite article (see similar translation in Ac 17:23, “an unknown god”). Their gibberish was worship of pagan deities. The Bible records no incident of any believer ever speaking to God in any other than normal human language.

no one understands … in his spirit he speaks mysteries. The fleshly, or carnal, Corinthians using the counterfeit ecstatic speech of paganism were not interested in being understood, but in making a dramatic display. The spirit by which they spoke was not the Holy Spirit, but their own human spirit or some demon; and the mysteries they declared were the type associated with the pagan mystery religions, which was espoused to be the depths that only the initiated few were privileged to know and understand. Those mysteries were totally unlike the ones mentioned in Scripture (e.g., Mt 13:11; Eph 3:9), which are divine revelations of truths previously hidden (see notes on 12:7; Eph 3:4–6).

He doesn't understand how Greek article works. The use of the article may definitise a noun, but lack of it doesn't necessarily make it indefinite. Robert Young writes, “When the author wants to focus on the quality, character, nature, or class of the noun, he will omit the article” (68). Likewise, Zerwick notes, “The omission of the article shows that the speaker regards the person or thing not so much as this or that person or thing, but rather as such a person or thing, i.e., regards not the individual but rather its nature or quality” (Biblical Greek, 55)”.

It is clear from the context, the focus of is not on the nouns but on the action of speaking; here, both God and Spirit are stated in parallel, it is very likely that both God and Spirit would be anarthrous (lacks the article). They cannot be interpreted as indefinite. He avoids calling the Spirit evil, by following the NASB translation of treating the Spirit as his own spirit. It is correct to treat Pneuma as his personal Spirit, as v14-16 also explicitly says "my spirit, my mind", indicating that the man who speaks in unknown tongues speaks spiritually, within himself, not to others.

If searched the string on theword, we find there are at least 12 verses where God occurs without any article in the verse in first Corinthians.

NASB 1Cor 12:3 Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, "Jesus is accursed"; and no one can say, "Jesus is Lord," except by the Holy Spirit.

There is no article with any noun here, I doubt MacArthur would claim these are indefinite nouns. In 1Cor 15:10 "But by the grace of God I am what I am" also has God without article (χάριτι δὲ θεοῦ εἰμι ὅ εἰμι), where the focus on grace, not on God.

On verse 14:14–17, he says:

Paul continued to speak sarcastically (cf. v. 16; 4:8–10) about counterfeit tongues, so he used the singular “tongue” (see note on vv. 2–39), which refers to the fake gift. He was speaking hypothetically to illustrate the foolishness and pointlessness of speaking in ecstatic gibberish. The speaker could not understand, and what virtue is there in praying to God or praising God without understanding? No one can “Amen” such nonsense.

14:18 I speak in tongues more than you all. Paul emphasized that by writing all of this, he was not condemning genuine tongues (plural); nor, as some may have thought to accuse him, was he envious of a gift he did not possess. At that point, he stopped speaking hypothetically about counterfeit tongue-speaking. He actually had more occasions to use the true gift than all of them (though we have no record of a specific instance). He knew the true gift and had used it properly. It is interesting, however, that the NT makes no mention of Paul’s actually exercising that gift. Nor does Paul in his own writings make mention of a specific use of it by any Christian.

On the reference of Paul speaking in tongues, MacArthur turns separates it as sarcastic or genuine at his own convenience. It is clear that his interpretation is not accurate. The point about the adversative conjunction "but" in the verse, by Alesja Lavrinovica is also very strong to refute the parody interpretation of MaCarthur.

There is another error in his commentary about the definite article. On Luke 6:20 note:

you who are poor. Christ’s concern for the poor and outcasts is one of Luke’s favorite themes (see Introduction: Historical and Theological Themes). Luke used a personal pronoun (“you”) where Matt. 5:3 employed a definite article (“the”); Luke was underscoring the tender, personal sense of Christ’s words

Luke 6 also has the definite article with the substantives (Μακάριοι οἱ πτωχοί) like in Matthew, the only difference is "yours" instead of "theirs".

I also disagree with his comment on John 3:10 διδάσκαλος τοῦ Ἰσραὴλ "the teacher of Israel" where he writes, "The use of the definite article “the” indicates that Nicodemus was a renowned master-teacher in the nation of Israel, an established religious authority par excellence". There is dispute among scholars whether this should be translated as "the teacher" as some reputed one, or as indefinite. I think the new versions (RV, ESV, NET) are mistaken for using "the teacher", compared to the KJV, RSV, CSB etc (indefinite: a teacher).

The presence of article means nothing, as the frequency of article is a lot higher in Greek; it is used mainly for emphasis and stylistic purpose. We cannot interpret Greek articular phrases the same as in English to be simply definite or indefinite; as we know there is no indefinite article in Greek, and its definite article doesn't even mean and called definite article.

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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.

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Hello Titus so In 1st Corinthians 14:2 is referring to God and when we see Context we see there it is referring to God and not a God , Do you agree?

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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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