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

[This is part 6 of a multi-part article. See part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, and part 5.]

Comparison with John 1:1c and 1:14a

Comparing 5:27b with other theologically similar anarthrous PN-CV constructions in John’s Gospel, specifically 1:1c and 1:14a, may reinforce the stance adopted here.

In the verse which begins John’s Gospel the author describes the same subject – ὁ λόγος (ho logos), the Word – using the same verb in the same tense-form (ἦν, ēn; was, existed) in three separate clauses with three different nuances: existence, association, and essence, respectively.123  This threefold repetition of subject-verb exemplifies merely one portrayal of John’s predilection for poetic expression.  While it’s the third clause with the same syntactical construction as 5:27b, it will prove helpful to briefly investigate the first two as well.

The first clause (1:1a), Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος, translates In the beginning was the Word or, better, In the beginning the Word existed.  In its immediate context, taking into consideration verses 2-3, this declares the Word’s pre-existence with respect to creation, i.e., the Word’s eternality.  The second clause (1:1b), καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν, is best rendered and the Word was with God.  This second clause, when taken in conjunction with the first, describes the eternal relationship between the Word and (the) God, logically indicating that (the) God is other than, and in distinction from, the Word.  While the direct object τὸν θεόν, (the) God, could be understood as the Trinitarian Godhead, for our purposes here we assume the referent is God the Father.124

This brings us to the third clause, καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος, which is an anarthrous PN-CV-SN construction.  Most English translations render it and the Word was God.  While the PN could be deemed either definite or qualitative, an indefinite rendering (a god) is rejected from the outset for rather obvious exegetical and theological reasons.125

Colwell deems the usage in 1:1c definite by asserting the converse of his own rule; i.e., he presupposes definiteness unless “the context demands” indefiniteness or qualitativeness:

The absence of the article does not make the predicate indefinite or qualitative when it precedes the verb, it is indefinite in this position only when the context demands it.  The context makes no such demand in the Gospel of John, for this statement cannot be regarded as strange in the prologue of the gospel which reaches its climax in the confession of Thomas (20:28).126

Moreover, Colwell wishes to impose definiteness on 1:1c because of the definite, articular use of theos in another context (20:28)127 – precisely the same reasoning he used in 5:27b.  But, as we noted earlier, definite usage in one context does not necessitate definiteness in another.  In fact, if definiteness is pressed too hard, taking 1:1b in conjunction with 1:1c, modalism may obtain; i.e., the Word was God the Father.128

A better solution is to view the PN in 1:1c as (primarily) qualitative.129  Westcott understands 1:1c as qualitative, describing the divine nature of the Word, with 5:27b its converse, depicting the Word’s human nature:

The predicate (θεός) stands emphatically first . . . It is necessarily without the article (θεός, not ὁ θεός), inasmuch as it describes the nature of the Word and does not identify His Person . . . No idea of inferiority of nature is suggested by the form of expression, which simply affirms the true deity of the Word.  Compare for the converse statement of the true humanity of Christ 5:27.130

Harner, Dixon and Wallace view 1:1c as qualitative, as well.131  In addition, Barrett understands theos in 1c as describing the nature of the Word, hence, qualitativeness.132  Beasley-Murray seems to imply qualitative-definiteness in this context.133  Bruce also seems to imply qualitative-definiteness in 1c.134

The predominant English rendering and the Word was God seems fine, as long as the reader understands that it describes the essence of the Word.  Harner thinks it could be translated and the Word has the same nature as God.135  We prefer And the Word was by nature God.

Next we’ll discuss John 1:14a: Καὶ ὁ λόγος σὰρξ ἐγένετο.  Here we have the subject nominative (ὁ λόγος) preceding the anarthrous PN-CV construction (σὰρξ ἐγένετο, sarx egeneto; “flesh became”).  This is probably best rendered [And] the Word became flesh.

The analysis of the anarthrous PN-CV construction in 1:14a is more straightforward than either 1:1c or 5:27b.  It is clearly not indefinite, as we wouldn’t say the Word became a flesh.136  In a similar way, it would be difficult to state that the Word became the flesh, as this would mean that the Word took on a particular flesh, in which case a form of adoptionism would be implied: the divine Word ‘adopted’ a particular person, Jesus.137  No; the Word assumed another nature (human) when He became flesh, not another person, and this assumption of human nature resulted in the divine-human Person of Christ Jesus.  Hence, a qualitative understanding is the only possibility: [And] the Word became flesh – flesh consistent with that of every other human.

Wallace states that many commentaries prior to Colwell’s ‘rule’ noted a parallel between 1:1c and 1:14a because of the common anarthrous PN-CV constructions, with both clauses construed as qualitative.138  Westcott is but one example.139  In addition, as noted above, Westcott sees 5:27b as the converse of 1:1c.  Hence, these three qualitative PN-CV constructions can be viewed as forming a triad.  The Word was by nature God (1:1c).  Then, the divine Word became flesh, assuming flesh common to all humanity (1:14a), thus becoming the divine-human Person of Jesus.  This Jesus, the divine Son of God the Father (5:19-26), declared that the reason He was given authority to judge is because He is (also) human (5:27b).  In other words, though maintaining all the attributes of Deity (1:1c), the enfleshed Word is also human (1:14a), concurrently possessing all the qualities and characteristics consistent with being human, and it is the fact that the Word possesses human nature, in conjunction with His intrinsic divine nature, that enables Him to be Judge of all humankind (5:27b).

His incarnational humanity would remain a part of His Person – even after His “glorification,” which commenced at His death on the cross – as He, the divine yet human God-man, will be the future eschatological Judge of all humankind (5:28-30).  So, to reiterate, since the eternal Word is by nature God (1:1c), He possesses the divine capacity to judge humanity; however, it is only because He became flesh (1:14c) and is, hence, human that He cannot be seen as anything but a fair judge of humanity (5:27b) both during His earthly ministry (5:24-25) and at the eschaton (5:28-30).  For, like humankind, He suffered in His temptations (Heb 2:17-18; cf. Heb 5:2) and was tempted in all ways (Heb 4:15a-b); yet, unlike humanity, He remained unblemished, without sin (Heb 4:15c).

A contrarian may argue that John the Gospel writer could simply have used the adjectival forms (θεῖος, theios = divine; ἀνθρώπινος, anthrōpinos = human) instead of the nominal to make his intention clear in 1:1c and 5:27b.  However, using adjectives would have lessened the explanatory force, making these passages a bit ambiguous.  Was the Word simply another god, i.e. possessing the quality of divinity (1:1c), alongside God the Father?  Was Jesus merely human (5:27b)?  Moreover, these forms are infrequently used in the NT generally and, more importantly, completely absent in the Johannine corpus.140  Furthermore, it seems that the anarthrous PN-CV construction lends itself well to accentuating a particular quality of the subject nominative.  First, this is via the non-use of the article in the predicate nominative, which allows for a qualitative understanding, yet with an underlying definiteness.  Secondly, by placing the PN ahead of the CV – a linguistic device called fronting – the PN is necessarily emphasized.141  And the Gospel writer seems to have specifically intended this dual function in these contexts, just as he does predominately in the rest of his Gospel.


We have argued that John the Gospel writer, in making son of man anarthrous in 5:27b, wished to provide a distinction between this context and all other occurrences of the arthrous the Son of Man, while yet alluding to the latter.

It was shown that in the LXX the son of man idiom is always anarthrous, with the intended meaning mankind/humanity, or, human.  In the NT, the arthrous form is apparently a term specifically coined by Jesus, though it is used predominantly as a third person reference by Him.  Following Hurtado, we find that the articular ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου does not characterize or define “the Son of Man;” instead the individual contexts refer to the Person of Jesus Christ.  Moreover, “the Son of Man” does not refer solely to Jesus’ human nature, and, therefore, the term cannot be said to denote His humanity as opposed to His divinity.

A point of connection was found in the context of the anarthrous υἱὸς ἀνθρώπου in John 5:27b, specifically in regards to judgment, with both Rev 1:13 and 14:14, each of these verses in the Apocalypse alluding to the figure like a son of man in Daniel 7:13.  It was argued that in John 5:27b the Gospel writer also intended an allusion to Daniel 7:13-14, by both the use of the anarthrous huios anthrōpou and the larger context (which also points to Daniel 12:1-2).  This point of contact is argued as specifically evocative of the eschatological human-like figure in Daniel, making it clear that Jesus is the one spoken of by the Prophet.

Colwell’s ‘rule’ was found to be largely unhelpful in exegeting 5:27b.  However, the specific syntactical construction Colwell investigated, with the anarthrous predicate nominative preceding its copulative verb – which Wallace helpfully terms “Colwell’s Construction” – was shown to be primarily qualitative in the Gospel According to John.  John 5:27b was argued as having a qualitative force and an underlying definiteness.

This same construction is found in 1:1c and 1:14a, and along with 5:27b, these verses form a sort of triad.  In 1:1c the eternal Word was (ἦν, en) {by nature} God. In 1:14a the divine Word became (ἐγένετο, egeneto) flesh, taking on human nature; in 5:27b the Son of God is (ἐστίν) human, the abiding result of the former: the preexistent, eternal divine Son dwells in human form among humankind.  Jesus fully participates in humanity because He is fully human; however, He is not merely human, as He’s the Son of God.  His incarnational humanity remains into the eschaton where He will be eschatological judge (5:28-30).  For it is because the eternal Word is by nature God (1:1c) that He possesses the divine capacity to judge mankind; however, it is only because He became flesh (1:14c) and is, hence, human (5:27b) that he cannot be seen as anything but a fair judge of humanity.

It is the Word’s pre-incarnational, eternal intrinsic divinity (1:1c) coupled with his incarnational humanity (1:14a) that makes Him the perfect Judge (5:27b) for humankind (5:24-25; 5:28-30):

And he (the Father) has given Him (Jesus, the Son of God) authority to judge because He is (also) human.

In this view, the reason that the Son of God is given authority to judge is because He is also human.  This provides the basis for which He can be a fair judge of all, saved and unsaved, at the eschaton.


123 See Westcott, Gospel According to St. John, V1, p 2; cf. Brown, John I-XXI, p 4.

124 Thompson, God of Gospel of John, p 57, observes that there are 108 occurrences of θεός (God) in the fourth Gospel, as compared to “Father” which appears 120 times. God is first explicitly referenced as the Father of the μονογενὴς (monogenēs) Son in 1:14 (μονογενοῦς παρὰ πατρός), when considered in its full context to include 1:18 (μονογενὴς θεός/υἱός).  The large majority of times in John’s Gospel “Father” is in a context of relationship with Jesus as his Son, and what the Father does through the Son (pp 57-58, 69-72).  This leaves open the possibility that θεός in 1b refers to the entire Godhead rather than merely the Father.

David Alan Black, It’s Still Greek to Me, p 79, understands the Trinity as the referent, more clearly differentiating the Trinitarian Godhead from the Logos as God (1c) in its micro-context by paraphrasing the verse: In the beginning the Word existed, and the Word was with the Deity [τὸν θεόν], and the Word was Deity [θεός] (emphasis in original).  (Here Black seems to construe the PN of 1:1c as qualitative-definite (pp 77, 79).)  Carson, Gospel According to John, pp 116-118, also asserts 1b as a referent to the Trinitarian Godhead.

On the other hand, Brown, John I-XXI, notes that in contexts in which at least two members of the Trinity are expressed ho theos is “frequently used for God the Father” (p 5).  Moreover, in 57 of 58 appearances of ὁ θεός in John the referent is God the Father (See Dixon, p 36).  While Thompson, God of Gospel of John, observes that “God” is not used as a referent for the incarnate Word in the Gospel according to John, but that “God” is used for the preincarnate Word (1:1c) as well as the glorified Jesus (20:28), the author, though not explicit, strongly implies that τὸν θεόν in 1:1b denotes the Father (pp 233, 234).

Many modern commentaries assert the referent as the Father, e.g., Brown, John I-XXI, p 5, 24; Keener, Gospel of John: One, pp 369-374; Kostenberger, John, pp 27-29.  Ridderbos, Gospel of John, implies 1b as a referent to the Father, as he states that 1:1 “is explained, at the deepest level, by the absoluteness of the historic self-disclosure of Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God” (p 35).  Martin Hengel, “The Prologue of the Gospel of John as the Gateway to Christological Truth” (in Bauckham, Mosser, Gospel of John and Christian Theology) sees John 1:1 as corresponding with 10:30: “I and the Father are one” (pp 272-273); cf. Paul N. Anderson, “On Guessing Points and Naming Stars” (in Bauckham, Mosser, Gospel of John and Christian Theology) who, similarly, equates 1:1 with 10:30 (p 314).  In addition, one may infer that Barrett, Gospel According to St. John, p 156, understands 1b as a reference to God the Father; Bruce, Gospel & Epistles of John, pp 30-31, also appears to imply the Father as the referent for 1b.

Moreover, a sampling of Patristic literature indicates a strong belief that τὸν θεόν in 1b is in reference to the Father: Elowsky, Ancient Christian Commentary: John 1-10, pp 8, 9, 10, 11, 12-15.  This includes Hilary of Poitiers, Origen, Augustine, Tertullian, Athanasius, Cyril of Alexandria, Gregory of Nyssa, Chrysostom, Ambrose, and Methodius.

125 See Wallace, Grammar, pp 266-267.  Also, as noted earlier, an indefinite rendering of an anarthrous PN-CV is “the most poorly attested” of the three choices (Wallace, Grammar, p 267).

126 Colwell, “Definite Rule,” p 21.  Emphasis added.

127 In the lone use of ho theos as a reference to the Son (20:28), this is in conjunction with a possessive pronoun, which may well make the presence of the article insignificant (see Wallace, Grammar, p 239), though this does not negate the fact that the usage here is definite.

128 See Wallace, Grammar, p 268.

129 Wallace, Grammar, notes that commentators before Colwell viewed the usage here as qualitative (p 268 n30).

130 Westcott, Gospel According to St. John, V1, p 6; bold added for emphasis.  See quote at note 119 above for Westcott on 5:27b.

131 Harner, pp 84-87; Dixon, pp 35-40; Wallace, Grammar, p 269.

132 Barrett, Gospel According to St. John, p 156.

133 Beasley-Murray, John, pp 10-11.

134 Bruce, Gospel & Epistles of John, pp 30-31.

135 Harner, p 87.

136 See Wallace, Grammar, p 264.

137 See Oliver D. Crisp, Divinity and Humanity: The Incarnation Reconsidered (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2007), pp 34-71.

138 See Wallace, Grammar, p 264.

139 Westcott, Gospel According to St. John, V1, p 19.

140 Θεῖος is only used in Acts 17:29; 2 Pet 1:3, 1:4 (Titus 1:9 in a variant), ἀνθρώπινος in Acts 17:25; Rom 6:19; 1 Cor 2:13, 4:13, 10:13; James 3:7; 1 Pet 2:13.

141 In Koine Greek, most usually, the verb is placed first in a sentence, and by placing the PN in front of the verb the PN is emphasized.  For fronting see Martin M. Culy, I, II, III John: A Handbook on the Greek Text (Baylor Handbook of the Greek New Testament series, Martin M. Culy, gen. ed. (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2004)), “Placing a constituent earlier in the sentence than its default order, most commonly in a pre-verbal position” (p 170).  Cf. Wallace, Grammar, p 269, nt 32.