John 3:2 ESV

"This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, 'Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God[theou], for no one can do these signs that you do unless God[ho theos] is with him'." My brackets.

Both "theou" and "ho theos" are translated "God".

Both are spoken by Nicodemus near each other as he speaks to Jesus.

One has no article and the other does. Why is there this difference?

  • Such questions are too broad in scope and should be closed for that reason, as they are asking a very broad topic which can be explained in short and has been answered in many questions on the Greek article, especially by myself if you search for my id with the topic hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/search?q=greek+article In short it makes no difference, bec the Greek article doesn't work like English. It pertains to the context of discourse requirement and syntactical structure.
    – Michael16
    Sep 22 at 13:52

3 Answers 3


As Dottard's answer states, the most common use of the article is anaphoric. This use makes something definite by saying in effect, "I am referencing the --- of which I previously spoke. In other words, Nicodemus is not using the article to indicate he is speaking of the God.

The anaphoric article is the article denoting previous reference. (It derives its name from the Greek verb , "to bring back, to bring up.") The first mention of the substantive is usually anarthrous because it is merely being introduced. But subsequence mentions of it use the article, for the article is now pointing back to the substantive previously mentioned. The anaphoric article has, by nature, then, a pointing force to it, reminding the reader of who or what was mentioned previously. It is the most common use of the article and the easiest usage to identify.1

Nicodemus is a Jew and is speaking to another Jew. He sees no need to make an initial reference to the God. Since both are Jews, Nicodemus takes for granted both he and Jesus have the same understanding of "God." He speaks as one Jew to another using proper grammar. First using "God" without the article and using the article when the term is repeated.

If anything, the passage presents Nicodemus as one who is fluent in Greek.

1. Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar: Beyond the Basics An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament, Zondervan, 1996, pp. 217-218


A priest says to a rabbi, "Let’s convert each other." The rabbi says, "You go first."

Why does the second reference to the rabbi have the definite article but the first does not?

Greek is the same; the only difference is that English has this weird convention around not doing this with proper names, whereas Greek is perfectly happy to continue the pattern with "the Jesus" or "the God".


I recommend that the OP consult the very extensive material on this large subject found in Daniel B Wallace's book "Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics". Suffice to say here that the rules surrounding the use of the definite article are similar but still distinct from those in English.

In John 3:2 we have a quintessential pattern of the use of the Greek article, namely that in an identifiable section or passage of text that stands alone (in this case John 3:1-18):

  • the first mention of a proper name/title has no article, ie, V2a in this case
  • all subsequent occurrences are anaphoric (refer back) to that first case and thus have the article, here in V2b, V3, V5, V16, V17, V18.

Thus, the grammar and use of the article in John 3:1-18 follows classic grammatical rules.

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