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In Hebrews 1:8-9, ὁ θεός appears in the nominative spelling in both verses. The question is this; should ὁ θεός be treated as a nominative or more as a vocative of address as it is every other place in the NT where God is addressed? For example, Mark 15:34, ὁ θεός μου ὁ θεός μου. Please, this is not intended to be a theological question but strictly a question on Greek grammar.

[Heb 1:8-9 MGNT] (8) πρὸς δὲ τὸν υἱόν ὁ θρόνος σου ὁ θεός εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα τοῦ αἰῶνος καὶ ἡ ῥάβδος τῆς εὐθύτητος ῥάβδος τῆς βασιλείας σου (9) ἠγάπησας δικαιοσύνην καὶ ἐμίσησας ἀνομίαν διὰ τοῦτο ἔχρισέν σε ὁ θεός ὁ θεός σου ἔλαιον ἀγαλλιάσεως παρὰ τοὺς μετόχους σου

[Psa 45:6-7 LXX] (6) ὁ θρόνος σου ὁ θεός εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα τοῦ αἰῶνος ῥάβδος εὐθύτητος ἡ ῥάβδος τῆς βασιλείας σου (7) ἠγάπησας δικαιοσύνην καὶ ἐμίσησας ἀνομίαν διὰ τοῦτο ἔχρισέν σε ὁ θεὸς ὁ θεός σου ἔλαιον ἀγαλλιάσεως παρὰ τοὺς μετόχους σου

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Is ὁ θεός nominative or vocative?

The question is a bit simplistic. The answer is that all occurrences of θεός in Heb. 1:8–9 are in fact nominative. Anyone who can read a declension table can tell you that. But, that isn’t actually the real question, which is, “Are all occurrences of θεός in Heb. 1:8–9 functioning as nominatives?” The answer to that question is, “No.”

Ηʹ πρὸς δὲ τὸν υἱόν ὁ θρόνος σου ὁ θεός εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα τοῦ αἰῶνος καὶ ἡ ῥάβδος τῆς εὐθύτητος ῥάβδος τῆς βασιλείας σου Θʹ ἠγάπησας δικαιοσύνην καὶ ἐμίσησας ἀνομίαν διὰ τοῦτο ἔχρισέν σε ὁ θεός ὁ θεός σου ἔλαιον ἀγαλλιάσεως παρὰ τοὺς μετόχους σου

We should note that the author explicitly states that verse 8 is said “to the Son” (πρὸς τὸν υἱόν). In v. 8, both «ὁ θρόνος σου» and «ὁ θεός» are declined in the nominative case, which, unless they are in apposition, is nonsensical, as both could not be the subject of the sentence. It is highly improbable that «ὁ θρόνος σου» is a nominative functioning as a vocative, but quite possible (and indeed, likely) that «ὁ θεός» is, especially considering the preceding «πρὸς τὸν υἱόν». Hence, the clause would begin:

8 O’ God (vocative address to the Son), your throne is eternal...

We have the same predicament concerning the occurrence of double nominatives in the next verse, v. 9: «ὁ θεός ὁ θεός σου». As before, one of these nominatives is functioning as a vocative, while the other is the subject of the clause (i.e., functioning nominatively).

9 You loved righteousness and hated iniquity. Therefore, O’ God (vocative address to the Son), your God (the Father) anointed you with the oil of gladness more than your companions.

If the nominative-for-vocative ὁ θεός in vv. 8–9 (one in each) refers to the Son, then the ὁ θεός functioning nominatively in v. 9 is the Father, as it is written in Acts 10:38 that the Father anointed the Lord Jesus Christ:

how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him. NKJV, ©1982

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  • @ThomasPearne: The vocative form Θεέ occurs nowhere in the entire book of Psalms, whereas its nominative form functions as a vocative dozens of times in that same book. – Lucian May 17 at 17:12
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But of the Son he says, 'Your throne, O God is forever and ever.” πρὸς δὲ τὸν υἱόν, Ὁ θρόνος σου ὁ θεὸς εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα τοῦ αἰῶνος,

“Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever; a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom. You love righteousness and hate wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy.”

There are two major questions that confront us in the structure of verse 8.

First, is the complete absence of the vocative case indicator in the opening address, πρὸς δὲ τὸν υἱόν, Ὁ θρόνος σου ὁ θεὸς.

Second, is the question of the subject.

θεὸς is the nominative spelling rather than the vocative θεέ. Yet, it still functions as a vocative. Such use is common in the New Testament. This is what Wallace refers to as a "nominative for a vocative." In his Greek grammar “Beyond the Basics - an exegetical syntax of the New Testament,” on page 59, Wallace comments on the use of the nominative for the vocative using Hebrews 1:8 as his example.

“A substantive in the nominative is used in the place of the vocative case. It is used (as is the vocative) in direct address to designate the addressee. There are three syntactical possibilities for θεός here: as a subject (“God is your throne”), predicate nominative (“your throne is God”), and nominative for vocative (as in the translation above). The Subject and Predicate Nominative translations can be lumped together and set off against the nominative for vocative approach. It is our view that the nominative. for vocative view is to be preferred for the following reasons:  It is an overstatement to argue that if a writer wanted to address God he could have used the vocative θεέ, because nowhere in the NT is this done except in Matthew 27:46. The articular nominative for vocative is the almost universal choice.  This is especially the case in quoting from the LXX (as in Hebrews 1:8; cf. Hebrews 10:7), for the LXX is equally reticent to use the vocative form, most likely since Hebrew lacked such a form.  The accentuation in the Hebrew of Psalms 45:7 suggests that there should be a pause between “throne” and “God” (indicating that tradition took “God” as direct address).  This view takes seriously the μέν … δέ construction in verses 7–8, while the Subject - Predicate Nominative view does not adequately handle these conjunctions. Specifically, if we read v 8 as “your throne is God” the δέ loses its adversative force, for such a statement could also be made of the angels, viz., that God reigns over them.” End Quote.

The nominative for the vocative is indeed a powerful argument. In all other instances where God is addressed in the New Testament (other than Matthew 27:46), God is addressed in the nominative case yet, the force of the address is vocative. In Mark 15:34, Mark rehearses this same account of the crucifixion but uses the nominative case rather that the vocative in Jesus' address to the Father as Matthew did - Ὁ θεός μου ὁ θεός μου, εἰς τί ἐγκατέλιπές με. This example give force to the use of the nominative functioning as a vocative. Hebrews 1:8 is simply another example of this type of grammatical structure. In verse 9, this same grammatical structure is found yet again in the phrase - διὰ τοῦτο ἔχρισεν σε ὁ θεὸς, ὁ θεός σου ἔλαιον – “Because of this God, your God has anointed you with oil...” Here again is a case of the nominative functioning as the vocative. The only absolute vocative spelling of address appears in verse 10 where the Father addressing the Son as Lord saying, καί, Σὺ κατ’ ἀρχάς, κύριε – “And you in beginning Lord...”?

In short, there is simply no grammatical justification for treating ὁ θεός as a nominative in these two verses.

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Summary
There are at least three reasons why the nominative ὁ θεός is understood to be functioning as vocative:

  • Lexical analysis
  • Grammatical analysis
  • Literary structure

Lexical Analysis
The Lexicons state ὁ θεός is being used as vocative in this passage:1

❷ Some writings in our lit. use the word θ. w. ref. to Christ (without necessarily equating Christ with the Father, and there in harmony w. the Shema of Israel DT 6:4; cp. Mk 10:18 and 4a below), though the interpretation of some of the pass. is in debate. In Mosaic and Gr-Rom. tradition the fundamental semantic component in the understanding of deity is the factor of performance, namely saviorhood or extraordinary contributions to one's society...Hb 1:8,9 (in a quot. fr. Ps 44:7,8) S. TGlasson, NTS 12, '66, 270-72. Jd 5 P72. But above all Ignatius calls Christ in many pass.: θεός
God in Israelite/Christian monotheistic perspective, God the predom. use, somet. with, somet. without the art.

h. ὁ θ. is used as a vocative Mk 15:34 (Ps 21:2, twice at the beginning of the invocation of a prayer. Ael. Dion. θ, 8; Paus. Attic. θ, 7; 'θεός θεός'); Lk 18:11; Hb 1:8 (Ps 44:7; MHarris, TynBull 36, '85, 129-62); Ps 39:9); AcPl Ha 3, 10; 5, 12;31. S. also 2 and 3c and the beg. of this entry.

Grammatical Analysis
As noted, the use of ὁ θεός in Hebrews 1:8-9 is considered vocative. The paper by Murray J. Harris cited in support of this is an extensive gramatical analysis (the full copy which can be read here). He says:

Some scholars are reluctant to express a preference as to whether ὁ θεός is nominative or vocative in v. 8, declaring that both interpretations are admissible and make good sense. But the overwhelming majority of grammarians, commentators, authors of general studies and English translations construe ὁ θεός as a vocative (O God'). Given the affirmation of v. 3 that the Son is the effulgence of God's glory and the visible expression of his being, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that when the author affirms further that God the Father addresses his Son as θεός at his resurrection he intends to signify that, equally with the Father, Jesus possesses the divine natures.2

In the footnotes Harris identifies which grammarians, commentators, authors of general studies and English translations interpret the phrase as vocative.

Literary Structure
In addition to the semantics and grammatical arguments in favor of the vocative, the literary structure into which vv. 8-9 has been placed should be considered. The overall passage (1:5-13) has seven OT quotes prefaced by who it applies to, angels or the Son. Six of the seven apply to the Son and one to angels. Of the six which apply to the Son, two are introduced as contrasting with angels; two with καὶ, and two which identify the Son. The writer used the method of introduction to arrange the seven chiastically:

A 1:5a For to which of the angels did He ever say (angels in contrast)
        “You are my Son. Today I have fathered you”? [Ps 2:7]
  B 1:3b and again 
          “I will be a father to Him, and He will be a son to Me”? [2 Samuel 7:14] 
    C 1:6  And again, when He brings the Firstborn into the world He says
            “And let all the angels of God give-worship to Him” [Deut 32:43]
        X: 1:7 And with regard to the angels He says [Ps 104:4] 
                “The One making His angels winds and His ministers a flame of fire”
    C' 1:8 But with regard to the Son He says
            “Your throne, God, is forever and ever. And the scepter of straightness
             is the scepter of Your kingdom. 1:9 You loved righteousness and hated
             lawlessness. For this reason God, your God, anointed You with the oil
             of gladness beyond Your companions” [Ps 45:6-7]
  B' 1:10 And, “You, Lord, laid-the-foundation-of the earth at the beginnings, and the
          heavens are works of Your hands. 1:11 They will perish, but You continue. Indeed
          they will all become-old like a garment, 1:12 and You will roll them up as-if
          a cloak.  They will indeed be changed like a garment. But You
           are the same, and Your years will not end” [Ps 102:25-27]
A' 1:13 And with regard to which of the angels has He ever said (angels in contrast)
         Be sitting on My right side until I put Your enemies as a footstool of Your feet
         [Ps 110:1]

The structure begins and ends using the same introduction: angels, in contrast to the Son. The center of the chiasm is likewise introduced with angels, this time in the affirmative to demonstrate the Son's superiority.

The chiastic partner to 1:8-9 is verse 6, which says all the angels of God will worship the Son which almost demands the vocative address in verses 8-9. The literary structure allows the reader to understand angelic worship of the Son is at the same time worship of His Father, or to God in all fullness.

An aspect of the question of why the vocative θεέ was not used may be seen by comparing the LXX Psalm 102[101] to the Masoretic Text: enter image description here

Here, the LXX does use the vocative κύριε ("Lord"). However, apparently that translator did not think it appropriate to preserve the original יָסַ֑דְתָּ ("you laid the foundation") and replaced "you" with "Lord." So the vocative is a more formal address than the original. In addition, the introductory καὶ which connects the use of the Psalms also indicates the deity of the Son addressed as the "Lord" who creates and recreates.

Conclusion
Normally the vocative is the correct case to identify who is being addressed. However, when addressing God, the LXX consistently uses the nominative ὁ θεὸς. This is similar to "vocalizing" the Divine Name YHVH as "Adonai" and writing "Lord." As cited in Hebrews, the common theme in both Psalm 45[44] and 102[101] is the appropriate form of address when man addresses God. In both cases the LXX translation reflects an address which shows greater respect to God than was present in the Hebrew. That is to say, the translator deviated from the correct grammatical form as it is less respectful when used to address God. The writer of the letter preserved both addresses to support his appeal for the reader to consider who Christ is.


Notes:
1. Fredrick William Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, The University Chicago Press, 2000, p. 450-451 [Also William F. Arndt F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, The University Chicago Press, 1957, p. 357-358]
2. Murray J. Harris, THE TRANSLATION AND SIGNIFICANCE OF ‘O ΘΕΟΣ IN HEBREWS 1:8-9, Tyndale Bulletin 36 (1985), pp. 146-149

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The nominative is the normative way of rendering the Hebrew vocative in Hebraistic Jewish Greek (the majority of the Greek Old Testament):

Psalm 45:6 כסאך אלהים עולם ועד שבט מישר שבט מלכותך

Thy throne, O God, is eternal: and the sceptre of thy kingdom is righteousness, forever.

Thus, Hebrews, quoting the LXX (Greek Old Testament) is using the nominative vocatively, since it quotes the LXX.

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Nominative, or, vocative? The answer may well be in the beholding. Names, or even titles (but not limited to these), that are being addressed directly, are said to be in the vocative case. "The Son" here is being merely referenced and is in the accusative case and is therefore the direct object and not the subject of the sentence. "God", even though the subject of the sentence, is not being addressed directly here, so does not need to be in the vocative case. Also, the definite article "the", precedes "God", in all three instances in the Greek, and in Greek, the definite article does not have a vocative case. So, as God is not being addressed directly and is preceded by the definite article, the Greek utilizes the nominative case, as is permitted.

As is often the case in the NASB, as is the case in many a modern day translation, we suffer from "Trinitarian" bias, in the translating of verse 8. The Greek for..."Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever"...(the translation being an unabashed attempt to conflate Jesus with God), is better represented in English as follows..."God is your throne for ever and ever"...and some translations even, as already pointed out in an earlier answer, lean in this direction. When then considering (in Verse 9) the other two instances, already in question, it becomes blatantly clear that God is a separate spiritual entity, and Father to (the only begotten), Jesus.... his God, who anointed him with the oil of exultation, thus singling him(not himself) out, rather than any of the other angels.

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  • 1
    This is utter nonsense – oldhermit May 18 at 23:16
  • Would you like to explain the fact that none of my answer makes sense? – Olde English May 18 at 23:41
  • Truth lies exclusively in the grammatical structure of the text. You are ignoring the rules of grammar and allowing your theology to influence your reading of the text so, I am going to stop this conversation here and now. – oldhermit May 18 at 23:57
  • I freely admit that my theology can be influential but then so can yours. Maybe someone else can explain my apparent (at least to you) grammatical oversight. I thought I was being very careful but the way the sentences are structured in the Greek, declension aside, can be very confusing. Did not mean to offend. Was just trying to offer my opinion on the text as I saw it. – Olde English May 19 at 0:50
  • Look, if you would like to discuss the nature God, I would be happy to do so one-on-one but not on the thread. – oldhermit May 19 at 0:59

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