The Son of God Given Authority to Judge Because He is ‘Human’: A Study in John 5:27, pt 1

[This is the first part of a multi-part article. See part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, and part 6, conclusion.]

This article will argue that, properly understood, John the Gospel writer1 conveys in John 5:27 that Jesus Christ was given authority by the Father to judge due to His incarnational status of being fully human yet the Son of God. In other words, the Son of God was granted this authority as a result of becoming flesh (1:14), for when the preexistent divine Word (1:1) added human flesh to Himself (1:14) He became just like every other human being – in His humanity. Yet the Son of God is not merely human, for, just as He shares humanity with mankind (5:27), the Person of Christ shares divinity with His Father (1:1).

But one might ask, “How is this understanding much, if any, different from what most translations read?” The contention here is that the Gospel writer did not intend the Son of Man, as in the particularized, definite form of the expression ( υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου, ho huios tou anthrōpou) found in 1:51, 3:13-14, etc., much less the indefinite a son of man. Rather, the evangelist had in mind son of man, understood as akin to human, though with an allusion to the Son of Man, as well. The interpretive key is provided by the syntactical structure of John 5:27 (micro context) in combination with the larger context of 5:16 through 5:30, plus the macro context of the entire Gospel, the larger Johannine corpus, and Scripture as a whole. The issue centers on the words υἱὸς ἀνθρώπου (huios anthrōpou), son of man, and the ordering of these words within the final clause of 5:27.

Relevant Terminology

First it may be helpful to define terms and concepts used throughout this inquiry.


In Koine (NT) Greek there is one article2 – many times translated into English as “the” when used with a noun,3 as in ὁ υἱός (ho huios), the son. There is no indefinite article (“a” or “an” in English).4 The technical term for a noun being used with the article is arthrous; conversely, when a noun lacks the article it is anarthrous. A synonym for arthrous is articular.

Unlike the definite article in English (“the”), which remains in the same form no matter the context, the Greek article, like most other words in Greek, is declined (inflected). That is, it changes form to match the person, number, gender, and case of the word or words with which it is connected. For example, in ὁ λόγος (ho logos, the word) both the article (, ho) and the noun (λόγος, logos) are masculine, first person, singular and in the nominative case (see below for nominative); comparatively, the feminine, first person, singular form of the article in the nominative case is ἡ (hē).

Definite noun:

An arthrous noun is definite, as it stresses individual identity. However, an anarthrous noun may also be definite, in which case context is one of the deciding factors. If the context surrounding an anarthrous noun emphasizes unique referential identity, the noun is definite. Stated another way, if the noun is referencing a specific member of a class, it is definite. Yet some anarthrous nouns are definite no matter the context, such as proper names, which are used with and without the article. Also, monadic nouns, one-of-a-kind nouns, such as (the) moon, (ἡ) σελήνης ((hē) selēnēs),5 are definite though sometimes lacking the article, an example of which is in Luke 21:25.6

Indefinite noun:

An indefinite noun is an anarthrous noun in which the context indicates a singular member of a class, without indicating which member. For example, in John 9:1 there was “a man blind from birth.” The anarthrous ἄνθρωπος (anthrōpos, man) reveals nothing about the man himself7 (though the descriptor “blind from birth” provides further identification).

Qualitative noun:

A noun is qualitative if it emphasizes quality, nature, or essence over definiteness or indefiniteness. “A qualitative noun . . . does not merely indicate membership in a class of which there are other members (such as an indefinite noun), nor does it stress individual identity (such as a definite noun).”8 Its focus is on the kind, accentuating class traits.9 To paraphrase Wallace, the emphasis of a qualitative noun is on the attributes shared by group members, while the stress of an indefinite noun is on a member of a group,10 and a definite noun highlights unique identity. When used qualitatively, a noun carries an additional function as an adjective, emphasizing a quality or qualities of the class.11

Obviously, an indefinite noun can never be definite, and vice versa; however, a qualitative noun can and most usually does include either definiteness or indefiniteness.12

Predicate nominative (predicate noun)

A predicate is that part of a sentence “which is said or asserted of the subject.”13 Taking a very basic sentence as an example, She ate, the subject is the noun “she,” which is the (subject) nominative, while the verb “ate” is the predicate. If we complete our sentence, She ate half the lemon meringue pie, the entire portion after the subject is considered the predicate (“ate half the lemon meringue pie”). Our interest here, however, is with a specific type of predicate, the predicate nominative (predicate noun).

A noun or noun phrase that explains the subject nominative (SN) and is used to complete the predicate is a predicate nominative (PN). The verb linking the SN to the PN is the (linking) copulative verb (CV). The most common CV is the verb be (is, am, are, was, were, has been, etc.); others are become, seems, feels, etc.   For example, in Johnny is the quarterback, the SN is Johnny, the CV is, and the PN quarterback.

The PN can infrequently connote an exact equivalence to the SN (such that SN = PN and PN = SN), though usually it is only somewhat, or nearly equivalent (PN ≈ SN). The relationship between the PN and its SN is most often that in which “the predicate nominative describes the class to which the subject belongs.”14 Sentences or clauses with PNs are constructed predominately in one pattern in English: SN-CV-PN. In Koine Greek, however, word order is more flexible, such that the following are found: SN-CV-PN; SN-PN-CV; PN-CV-SN; PN-SN-CV.15

Our concern here is in the possible semantic significance provided by the anarthrous PN-CV construction in John 5:27b (the positioning of the SN – which is absent here, though implied by the person and number encoded in the verb (He, the Son of God) – bearing no significance in these constructions):

PN: υἱὸς ἀνθρώπου CV: ἐστίν
PN: huios anthrōpou CV: estin
PN: son of man CV: (He [the Son of God]) is

This specific syntactical structure allows for either a definite (the Son of Man), an indefinite (a son of man), or a qualitative (son of man, i.e., human) meaning, with a possible nuance combining a predominant qualitative force with either definiteness (human + the Son of Man), or indefiniteness (human + a son of man). Before looking more specifically at the syntax in John 5:27b various LXX16 (aka Septuagint, the Greek version of the Hebrew Old Testament) and New Testament usages of son of man17 will be analyzed. However, it is beyond the scope of this study to perform an exhaustive scrutiny of the LXX and NT occurrences of this idiom, though there will be much more focus on the latter.

Go to part 2.


1 Here we assume, without putting forth any sort of argument, that the Apostle John is the writer of the Gospel According to John (ΚΑΤΑ ΙΩΑΝΝΗΝ, KATA IO̅ANNE̅N).

2 Technically, there is no ‘definite’ article in Koine Greek. Per Rodney J. Decker [Reading Koine Greek: An Introduction and Integrated Workbook (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2014)], “There is no such thing as a definite article in Greek – only an article that may or may not express definiteness. Likewise, the lack of an article is not necessarily an expression of indefiniteness but may express a qualitative meaning or some other nuance” (p 39). Wallace [Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996)] notes, “No one questions that the article is used frequently to definitize, but whether this captures the essential idea [of the article] is another matter” (p 209).

3 In Koine Greek the article is also used with almost any part of speech in order to nominalize it (see Wallace, Grammar, p 209). For a lengthy discussion on the multitude uses of the article, see Wallace, pp 206-290, 306-309.

4 “There is no need to speak of the article in Greek as the definite article because there is no corresponding indefinite article” (Wallace, Grammar, p 209; italics in original, bold added).

5 See Wallace, Grammar, pp 248-249.

6 In the Luke verse we find ἐν ἡλίῳ καὶ σελήνῃ (en hēliō kai selēnē) – translated word for word: in sun and moon – with both terms clearly definite though anarthrous, which we translate into English as “in the sun and the moon.” For a complete discussion on definite nouns see Wallace, Grammar, pp 245-290, 306-309.

7 See Wallace, Grammar, p 244.

8 Wallace, Grammar, p 244.

9 See Wallace, Grammar, pp 244, 264-265.

10 Wallace, Grammar, p 266.

11 This is a point brought forth by Paul Stephen Dixon, whose Master’s thesis “The Significance of the Anarthrous Predicate Nominative in John” (Th.M. thesis, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1975) we will be referencing more herein: “All nouns are lexically definite, in that they refer to particular objects. In usage, however, nouns may be adjectival. The stress then is on a quality or essence, and not definiteness” (p 9).   (See here:

12 See Dixon, “Anarthrous Predicate Nominative in John,” pp 9-10; Wallace, Grammar, pp 243, 244.

13 Frank X. Braun, English Grammar for Language Students, (Ann Arbor, MI: Ulrich’s Books, 1947), p 15.

14 Wallace, Grammar, p 41, emphasis in original. Cf. 40-42.

15 Of course, the subject is not always explicitly expressed in the immediate context in Greek; however, for convenience’ sake we’ve placed “SN” before “CV” in such instances, since the subject is implicitly expressed by the verb and the immediate context. There are even verb-less structures, as in PN-SN (see Wallace, Grammar, pp 269-270.

16 The apocryphal books (known as Deuterocanonical books by the Roman Catholic Church), such as Tobit, Wisdom (of Solomon), etc., will not be included as part of this enquiry. Additionally, plural forms of the idiom are not considered.

17 Henceforth son of man and/or the Son of Man will be interchanged with ‘the expression,’ ‘the idiom,’ or ‘the term.’ Context should make the referent/s obvious to the reader.


6 Responses to The Son of God Given Authority to Judge Because He is ‘Human’: A Study in John 5:27, pt 1

  1. Pingback: The Son of God Given Authority to Judge Because He is ‘Human’: A Study in John 5:27 | A disciple's study

  2. Pingback: The Son of God Given Authority to Judge Because He is ‘Human’: A Study in John 5:27, pt 2 | CrossWise

  3. Pingback: The Son of God Given Authority to Judge Because He is ‘Human’: A Study in John 5:27, pt 3 | CrossWise

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  6. Pingback: The Son of God Given Authority to Judge Because He is ‘Human’: A Study in John 5:27, pt 6, Conclusion | CrossWise

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