I am trying to understand something about the Greek that I didn't learn in my intro class. As I understand in Hebrew, proper names never have the article (e.g. David, not "The David", daveed not ha-daveed). I thought this may have been the case in Greek too.

But throughout (at least) the fourth gospel, Jesus is preceded by the definite article "ὁ." For example, in John 14:5-9, Thomas (14:5) and Phillip's (14:8) names appear without the article, but in Jesus' responses (14:6, 14:9), he is identified with the definite article.

What is the significance of this difference? "The Jesus?" Is there a rule outside of the NT in Koine Greek as to how definite articles associate with proper nouns?


2 Answers 2


Wikipedia explains that

The article is more widely used in Greek than the word the in English. For example, proper names often take a definite article (e.g. (ὁ) Σωκράτης, ho Sōkrátēs, "Socrates")

This has actually been preserved in modern Greek. Unless you use the names in the Vocative, the correct way to use them is with a declinable defintite article:

Τhe definite article is used much more in Greek than in English, notably:
With proper nouns, e.g. place names:

  • ο Όλυμπος Olympus, η Κρήτη Crete, το Λονδίνο London

….and people’s names, except when you’ re addressing them directly:

  • ο Νίκος (Nikos) but Γεια σου Νίκο! (Hello Nikos!); η Μαρία (Maria) but Γεια σου Μαρία! (Hello Maria!)

It is however interesting to note that there are instances in the Bible when proper names are used without the article, not according to the rule:


εὑρίσκει Φίλιππος τὸν Ναθαναὴλ (John 1:45 Philip findeth Nathanael)


εὑρίσκει Φίλιππον (John 1:43 and findeth Philip)

Here is what ibiblio.org has to say about it:

  1. The article as a grammatical device. Where the article functions more or less exclusively as a grammatical device, i.e. where it is lexically entirely empty, it can rarely be represented in translation... simply because the structure of English does not correspond at this point to the structure of Greek. Even where the article has some "meaning," it is not always possible or desirable to represent it in translation. The anaphoric article (§711.4), for example, is often used with proper names in narrative:
  • (8) ἔλεγεν οὖν Ἰησοῦς Jn 8:31 Jesus then said

The writer reminds the reader that it is that Jesus speaking who is the main figure of his narrative (Jesus was then a common name like John).

The article in Greek is often a purely grammatical device and should be assigned only grammatical "meaning" in such instances.

  1. The article as a signaler of case (gender, number). In §§125-129 it was observed that the article often serves to signal the case (gender, number) of the head and attributives in nominal clusters. In addition to its utilitarian function when used with fully inflected items, it is especially helpful in the case of indeclinables:
  • (9) εὑρίσκει Φίλιππος τὸν Ναθαναήλ Jn 1:45 Philip finds Nathaniel

In (9) the article marks the indeclinable name Ναθαναήλ as accusative and therefore as the object of the verb. Although Φίλιππος is declinable, the article makes the structure of this sentence immediately clear. In signaling case the article contributes to grammatical lucidity. Bl-D §260(2).


In Hebrew, proper names are always definite, so no article is needed. There are multiple categories of "definite" in Hebrew, including:

  1. Proper name
  2. Possessive (pronominal suffix)
  3. Following direct object marker "et" (אֶת־)
  4. Used together in a noun construct chain with another noun which is definite

In any of the above cases in Hebrew, the noun is automatically definite, without the need of specifying the definite article. The name "Adam" presents a special case in which the definite article can be used with it to distinguish its usage between "Adam" (name) and "man" (common noun)--e.g. "the Adam" in Genesis 2:21 versus "adam" (man) in Genesis 1:26. In general, however, the definite article in Hebrew is not required to make a proper noun definite because that noun is already definite by definition.

The word "the" is used with "Christ" in Greek regularly, though perhaps not always. But it is also used with "John" (see Matthew 3:4 - ὁ Ἰωάννης); with both John and Jesus in Matthew 3:13 (τὸν Ἰωάννην [accusative form]; ὁ Ἰησοῦς [nominative case]); with Peter (see Mark 16:7 - τῷ Πέτρῳ [dative case]); etc. It is quickly apparent that the Greek is following Hebrew style in ascribing definiteness to proper names.

Unfortunately, this does not come through to the English, because in most of these cases the definite article was dropped in translation. We do not typically say "the John" or "the Peter" in English.

As you are looking for the definite article in Greek, be sure to remember that it has different forms based on its declension: case, number, and gender. Watch for these various forms:

Masculine (s./pl.) Feminine (s./pl.) Neuter (s./pl.)
Nominative ὁ / οἱ ἡ / αἱ τὸ / τὰ
Dative τῷ / τοῖς τῇ / ταῖς τῷ / τοῖς
Genitive τοῦ / τῶν τῆς / τῶν τοῦ / τῶν
Accusative τὸν / τοὺς τὴν / τὰς τὸ / τὰ
Vocative τὸ / οἱ ἡ / αἱ τὸ / τὰ

All of those are definite articles in Greek. Note, however, that Greek article usage does not entirely align with English usage, and in many cases it is proper to drop the article in translation or to translate it with an indefinite article in English. An example where both the article is dropped and the number is changed in most translations is in the Lord's prayer (Matthew 6:9): the Greek says "the heavens" (definite/plural), whereas most translations render it as (Our Father which art in) "heaven". While "heaven" here follows a definite article in Greek, that article is not idiomatic (natural) in English.

The New Testament never gives a rendering of "the Jesus" in English, though in some places we see "the Christ." However, in Greek, the definite article is far more common, and it is more nuanced in its meaning and application than English would allow.

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