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In John 13:13, it is written,

13 You call me “Teacher” and “Master,” and you say rightly, for I am.

ΙΓʹ ὑμεῖς φωνεῖτέ με ὁ διδάσκαλος καὶ ὁ κύριος καὶ καλῶς λέγετε εἰμὶ γάρ TR, 1550

Are the nouns «ὁ διδάσκαλος» and «ὁ κύριος», although declined in the nominative case, functioning as vocatives?

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Wallace specifically cites John 13:13 as an example of the "Nominative of Appellation."1

A title appears in the nominative and functions as though it were a proper name. Another case would normally be more appropriate, but the nominative is used because of the special character of the individual described.


  1. Wallace, Daniel. Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics. Zondervan: Grand Rapids, Michigan. 1996. Page 61.
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    @SimplyaChristian Do you have a contention to make that this is wrong? Given the sheer number of translations that use this rendering as proper names it seems lacking for witnesses isn't the real issue here. In fact a cursory review suggests not many people talk about it just because it's pretty generally assumed to be the case. If there is more to your question (i.e. you want to challenge the common rendering) maybe you could expand on your reasoning a bit in the question. – Caleb Nov 30 '16 at 9:07
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Wallace (if I understand him correctly) is not saying that ὁ διδάσκαλος καὶ ὁ κύριος are morphologically vocative (which they are clearly not), nor that they are nominatives used as vocatives, but merely that in a sentence of the type “you call me X” the second direct object X should be in the accusative. Whether the irregular use of the nominative instead of the accusative is “because of the special character of the individual described”, or is simply an example of bad Greek depends, I suppose, on your theological position.

I would suggest that the formulation in John 13,13 represents a mixture of two constructions: “you call me the teacher” with “the teacher” in the accusative, and “you call to me (saying) ‘Teacher!’”, where the word for “teacher” would be either vocative or nominative.

I could add that the ancient translations treat these words unambiguously as vocatives. The Vulgata has : “vos vocatis me Magister, et Domine (voc.)”, and the Pshitta has : ܐܰܢ݈ܬ݁ܽܘܢ ܩܳܪܶܝܢ ܐܢ݈ܬ݁ܽܘܢ ܠܺܝ ܪܰܒ݁ܰܢ ܘܡܳܪܰܢ (literally: “You call to-me our-lord and our-master”.)

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  • Is there a rule in Classical Greek that vocatives (or nominatives-as-vocatives) can't take the definite article? This (ὁ + nom.-as-voc.) seems to happen a lot in the NT. Col 3:18 - 4:1 is one of the more insistent examples. Or maybe I'm reading the third parenthetical in your answer incorrectly. – Susan Nov 30 '16 at 13:20
  • @Susan. Yes, this construction is common in Koine Greek, but not acceptable in the Classical language. I will edit the answer to make it more specific. – fdb Nov 30 '16 at 13:50

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