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When first introduced Nicodemus is described as professesing some belief in Jesus:

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, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.”
οὗτος ἦλθεν πρὸς τὸν Ἰησοῦν νυκτὸς καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ Ῥαββί οἴδαμεν ὅτι ἀπὸ θεοῦ ἐλήλυθας διδάσκαλος· οὐδεὶς γὰρ ταῦτα τὰ σημεῖα δύναται ποιεῖν ἃ σὺ ποιεῖς ἐὰν μὴ ᾖ ὁ θεὸς μετ᾽ αὐτοῦ

Nicodemus beliefs Jesus is from God ἀπὸ θεοῦ because he knows the things Jesus has done would be impossible if God was not with him. [Note: ἀπὸ θεοῦ is without the article. The second use of God is anaphoric, with the article. Also Nicodemus is a Pharisee speaking to another Jew and in that respect the meaning of ἀπὸ θεοῦ is clear.]

John, the Apostle begins the description of foot washing at the Last Supper using the same words:

John 13:3

Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God
εἰδὼς ὅτι πάντα ἔδωκεν αὐτῷ ὁ πατὴρ εἰς τὰς χεῖρας καὶ ὅτι ἀπὸ θεοῦ ἐξῆλθεν καὶ πρὸς τὸν θεὸν ὑπάγει

Like Nicodemus John says ἀπὸ θεοῦ and follows with God written anaphorically.

The Last Supper comes to a close when the disciples state they have the same belief.

John 16:30

29 His disciples said, “Ah, now you are speaking plainly and not using figurative speech! 30 Now we know that you know all things and do not need anyone to question you; this is why we believe that you came from God.
29 λέγουσιν οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ ἴδε νῦν ἐν παρρησίᾳ λαλεῖς καὶ παροιμίαν οὐδεμίαν λέγεις 30 νῦν οἴδαμεν ὅτι οἶδας πάντα καὶ οὐ χρείαν ἔχεις ἵνα τίς σε ἐρωτᾷ ἐν τούτῳ πιστεύομεν ὅτι ἀπὸ θεοῦ ἐξῆλθες

The disciples, presumably all of them, believe Jesus came from God ἀπὸ θεοῦ.

In the Prologue, John writes John is from God.

John 1:6

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.
ἐγένετο ἄνθρωπος ἀπεσταλμένος παρὰ θεοῦ ὄνομα αὐτῷ Ἰωάννης

Here from God is παρὰ θεοῦ.

What is the difference between from God ἀπὸ θεοῦ and παρὰ θεοῦ?

3 Answers 3

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The OP asks, “What is the difference between from God ἀπό θεοῦ and παρά θεοῦ?” In the Gospel of John, both prepositions are used to express the idea that Jesus is from God. However, while Jesus is not the only one who is said to be from [παρά] God (cf Jn 1:6, 6:46), as far as I can tell, he is the only one who is described as being from [ἀπό] God.

Fundamental to the meaning of the preposition παρά (Strong’s G3844) is the concept of “beside.” In general, παρά is used in situations that stress closeness or proximity, whether literally or metaphorically.

Liddell & Scott

παρά

Perseus.from the side of, c. gen., beside, alongside of, c. dat., to the side of, motion alongside of, c. acc. I. prep. with gen., dat., and acc.: Radical sense beside:

Strong’s Definition

παρά (it neglects elision before proper names beginning with a vowel, and (at least in Tdf.s text) before some other words; see Tdf Proleg., p. 95, cf. Winers Grammar, § 5, 1 a.; Buttmann, 10), a preposition indicating close proximity.

On the other hand, the primary meaning of the preposition ἀπό (Strong’s G575) is “off.” In general, ἀπό is used to emphasize separation from a point of origin or from a state of union.

Strong’s Definition

ἀπό apó, apo'; a primary particle; "off," i.e. away (from something near), in various senses (of place, time, or relation; literal or figurative):—(X here-)after, ago, at, because of, before, by (the space of), for(-th), from, in, (out) of, off, (up-)on(-ce), since, with.

To better understand the use of ἀπό, it is helpful to examine the conceptual link between ἀπό and the preposition ἐκ.

Vines Expository Dictionary: ON THE PREPOSITIONS APO AND EK (emphasis added)

The primary meaning of apo is "off"; this is illustrated in such compounds as apokalupto, "to take the veil off, to reveal"; apokopto, "to cut off"; hence there are different shades of meaning, the chief of which is "from" or "away from," e.g., Mat 5:29, 30; 9:22; Luk 24:31, lit., "He became invisible from them"; Rom 9:3. The primary meaning of ek is "out of," e.g., Mat 3:17, "a voice out of the heavens" (RV); 2Cr 9:7, lit., "out of necessity." Omitting such significances of ek as "origin, source, cause, occasion," etc., our consideration will here be confined to a certain similarity between apo and ek. Since apo and ek are both frequently to be translated by "from" they often approximate closely in meaning. The distinction is largely seen in this, that apo suggests a starting point from without, ek from within; this meaning is often involved in apo, but apo does not give prominence to the "within-ness," as ek usually does. For instance, apo is used in Mat 3:16, where the RV rightly reads "Jesus... went up straightway from the water"; in Mar 1:10 ek is used, "coming up out of the water"; ek (which stands in contrast to eis in ver. 9) stresses more emphatically than apo the fact of His having been baptized in the water. In all instances where these prepositions appear to be used alternately this distinction is to be observed.

While ἀπό and ἐκ can both be used in reference to the same point of origin (like in the above example of Mt 3:16 and Mk 1:10), ἀπό stresses the separation/coming away from that point while ἐκ stresses the being in/coming forth from that point. Consider how the three prepositions are used in Jn 16:27-30. In particular, note the change from παρά in v 27 to ἀπό in v 30. Prior to Jesus’ explanation that he came from [ἐκ] the Father in v 28, the disciples believed that Jesus came from [παρά] God. After his explanation, however, they believe that he is from [ἀπό] God.

John 16: 27, 28, & 30 ESV

27 for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from [παρά] God.

28 I came from [ἐκ] the Father and have come into the world, and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father.”

30 Now we know that you know all things and do not need anyone to question you; this is why we believe that you came from [ἀπό] God.”

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  • +1 Very nice. 1) In my own research I came across GB Winer who includes ὑπό and says "beginning with that which indicates the closest connexion, their order will be, ἐκ, ὑπό, παρὰ, ἀπὸ." This agrees with what you have provided about the three terms. 2) Do you conclude John being παρὰ θεοῦ is meant to convey in some way, a closer relationship with/from God than saying ἀπὸ θεοῦ? Commented May 28 at 17:32
  • No, I don't think that παρά conveys a closer relationship. Or rather, the relationship between παρά and ἀπό to the starting point are different. Whereas παρά indicates coming from the proximity of the starting point, ἀπό implies coming from the starting point itself. See spatial diagram of prepositions here..
    – Nhi
    Commented May 28 at 18:25
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Koine Greek is said to be "a preposition-loving language"; that is, Greek uses lots of prepositions (like apo and para, etc) and it tends to use them a little loosely. Thus, the meaning of these prepositions is not always as fixed as some might prefer and the meaning/use of these common words often overlaps.

Here are some notes about the meanings of the two prepositions, παρὰ and ἀπὸ

παρὰ (para)

BDAG lists two pages of meanings (about 30 in total); however, these can be classified into three groups:

  • A: with the genitive: this almost always indicates a person proceeds from another person (Heb 2:3 is an exception). This is the case in John 1:6 because the following words is Θεοῦ which is genitive
  • B: with the dative: this indicates a close association, ie, meaning "beside" or similar
  • C: with accusative: this means various things depending on the context - see BDAG for more detail which lists seven meanings under this heading.

In the case of John 1:6, we have the following word Θεοῦ which is genitive ("of God") and thus, means simply that Jesus came from God.

ἀπὸ (apo)

Again, this common word has 2½ pages devoted to its various shades of meaning in BDAG. However all these shades of meaning cluster around the following headings:

  • "from" including (a) separation from, (b) the point from which something begins and moves from, (c) indicator of the source from which something originates, (d) the distance from one point to another, (d) to indicate the cause, means or outcome, ie, the reason for something.

In the case of:

  • John 3:2, Nicodemus is simply stating that Jesus came "from" God.

Exactly the same teaching is found in many other places such as:

  • John 1:14 using the preposition παρὰ (from)
  • John 3:13 using the preposition ἐκ (out of)
  • John 3:31 using the proposition ἄνωθεν (from above)
  • John 6:38 using the proposition ἀπὸ (from)
  • John 6:46 using the proposition ἀπὸ (from)
  • etc

Thus, it is immediately apparent that the meanings of παρὰ (para) and ἀπὸ (apo) can overlap, and the OP has found a perfect example of this overlap.

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    Is there not a subtle difference here? Like “ἀπὸ θεοῦ” (from God) emphasizes more the origin or source, meaning that something comes directly from God or originates from God. But on the other hand, “παρὰ θεοῦ” (from God) emphasizes the agency or cause, meaning that God is the one who causes or brings about the action?
    – Jason_
    Commented May 18 at 1:55
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    @Jason_ - that is a clever suggestion but look at all the evidence and such a subtle distinction is not evident.
    – Dottard
    Commented May 18 at 2:12
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    @Jason_ I agree with you. Apo is a powerful piece of language with considerable consequence. Para is 'alongside'.
    – Nigel J
    Commented May 18 at 10:53
  • @NigelJ - para meaning "alongside" is only correct when used with the dative case.
    – Dottard
    Commented May 18 at 11:05
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    @Dottard Yes, indeed, which has implications in regard to Deity. Para with humans is limited.
    – Nigel J
    Commented May 18 at 11:22
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I think the different usage has more to do with what the preposition phrase is modifying than the author signaling a different sense by using a different preposition.

In John 1:6, the prepositional phrase which starts with παρα is modifying the participle.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.
ἐγένετο ἄνθρωπος ἀπεσταλμένος παρὰ θεοῦ ὄνομα αὐτῷ Ἰωάννης

I would translate so to bring the authoritative sense of ἀποςτέλλω out a little more clearly than what 'sent' provides:

There happened to be a man directly commissioned by God, his name was John.

παρά can signify a bit of a sense of "beside-ness". So, I think it was chosen to clearly indicate that the commissioning was done by God himself. And so, I think 'directly' brings out that sense. It wasn't a delegated commissioning (as if to say it was handed off to Gabriel who then did it).

The "beside-ness" can be seen in other contexts. For example, if a person pulled a sword from his scabbard, it would be described using παρά because it was "from the side of." ἀπο wouldn't be used. Though the sense of 'from' is clear enough in the English idiom.

Which brings up a point. Such usage probably has more to do with the prepositional choice sounding right. What I'm referring to is this: Have you ever edited a sentence, changing the verb to better say what you want but then the preposition doesn't quite sound right. So, you have to change the preposition, too, even though the meaning the prepositional phrase brings is essentially the same before you changed the verb? I have. Sometimes the choice of a preposition is simply because the verb "likes" a certain preposition. These lexical cohesive properties are normally only picked up by fluent speakers of the language. I would have to do an extensive corpus analysis to be confident. But, I think that might be what's going on here. So, my use of 'directly' may be over-translating. However, it does illustrate my point. "...directly commissioned from" doesn't sound right. "...directly commissioned by" does. And the word directly brings out the "beside-ness" sense of παρά that the English preposition 'by' loses.

The απο examples all modify the verb ἔρχομαι (to come, to go), or a word closely related. It's quite natural to use απο with ἔρχομαι.

[Note: I've edited my answer as per @dottard comment in order to clarify that it's the prepositional phrase that performs the adverbial-like modifying of the participle ἀπεσταλμένος.]

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    This is factually incorrect - "para" and "apo" are prepositions and thus always introduce a propositional phrase. They do not "modify anything".
    – Dottard
    Commented May 18 at 0:08
  • Perhaps I should have used “prepositional phrase” instead of “preposition” in the places that led you to such a conclusion. I apologize for the confusion. But, like mine, even your statement needs to be nuanced. Greek prepositions were originally simply adverbs. Over time, adverbs came to be used with specific cases and thus prepositions came into existence. In other words, the prepositions modify (more precisely define) the relationship the case provides within the sentence. See Robertson’s “Big Brown Book” (pg 554ff). Also, as with all things language, all words modify. Commented May 18 at 13:05
  • For an exception to the “always introduce a prepositional phrase” rule, see ὑπέρ in 2 Cor 11:23. Very highly unusual, but, nevertheless, there it is. I’ll admit Paul says of himself, “παραφρονῶν λαλῶ.” Commented May 18 at 13:05

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