This is from the Bible

20:37 Daß aber die Toten auferstehen, hat auch Mose gedeutet bei dem Busch, 
     da er den HERRN heißt Gott Abrahams und Gott Isaaks und Gott Jakobs.
20:38 Gott aber ist nicht der Toten, sondern der Lebendigen Gott; 
      denn sie leben ihm alle.

I interprete the second verse as : But God is not of the dead, rather of the alive is he; because for him they(Abraham,Isak,Jakob) all live.

I have a question about the second verse, later part (sondern ~).
Is it
A : sondern der Lebendigen (ist) Gott. (ist is omitted, Ellipse) or
B : der Lebendigen (of those alive) is used as an adjective phrase for Gott.
To me it sounds more like A because A is more natural and gramatically correct showing the contrast. But can this ist be omitted in German grammar?

  • 1
    Bible texts are usually old and archaic. You should not compare them to everyday language, and you should not try to learn German from the bible. That said, your interpretation A is correct: "Gott ist nicht der Toten, sondern der Lebendigen Gott", or in a simpler example "er ist nicht grün sondern rot".
    – Robert
    Jul 17, 2018 at 4:24
  • @Robert Ok, I see. So if it were the correct, contemporary German wording, it should be sondern der Lebendigen ist Gott.. And also, we never say 'die Farbe meines Autos' as 'die meines Autos Farbe'. Is my understaing correct?
    – Chan Kim
    Jul 17, 2018 at 4:54
  • 1
    Your understanding is correct, but it's not contemporary German. And you could say "meines Autos Farbe ist rot" (without "die") but this would be very prosaic, no one would say something like this in every days speech.
    – IQV
    Jul 17, 2018 at 5:28
  • @fdb the bible is from bibledbdata.org/onlinebibles/german_l/42_020.htm (Luke 20:37-38). The translation was mine(I refered to Korean bible, and added my guess in the literal interpretation). By the way, I like Takkat's answer below which is very precise.
    – Chan Kim
    Jul 17, 2018 at 13:51
  • 1
    After your comments I am not sure whether you are familiar with constructions like der Lebendigen Gott, see german.stackexchange.com/questions/8359/….
    – Carsten S
    Jul 17, 2018 at 16:18

3 Answers 3


As it is true that in dialect and colloquial speech genitive case may be replaced by sein + dative (see here) this is not the case here.

It is merely the word order that is a bit unusual nowadays but it still is valid. Take the following example for illustration:

(A) Die Tür (nom.) des Hauses (gen.) steht offen. (The house's door stands open)

can be reorded to become

(B) Des Hauses (gen.) Tür (nom.) steht offen. word order similar to English

(C) Die Tür (nom.) von dem Haus (dat.) steht offen. (The door of the house stands open)

or in colloquial/dialect form only (grammatically wrong!)

(D) Dem Haus (dat.) seine Tür (nom.) steht offen.

Now if we replace above examples with the Bible quote you gave it becomes:

(A) Der Gott (nom.) der Lebenden (gen. plur.). (The living's god.)
(B) Der Lebenden (gen.) Gott (nom.).
(C) (Der) Gott (nom.) von den Lebenden (dat.). (God of the living)

(D) Den Lebenden (dat.) ihr Gott (nom.). dialect!

  • Wow, that's exactly the kind of answer I was looking for. A clear explanation! Vielen Dank!
    – Chan Kim
    Jul 17, 2018 at 7:06
  • @ChanKim: thank you but don't forget that Uwe's answer gives you the absolutely finest contemporary German version of that quote ;)
    – Takkat
    Jul 17, 2018 at 7:44

In contemporary German, one would say

Gott ist aber nicht Gott der Toten, sondern Gott der Lebendigen;

i.e., "God, however, is not God of the dead, but God of the living". So your interpretation B is correct.

  • Yes, I understand this is the most normal statement. Thanks for making me confirm my understanding.
    – Chan Kim
    Jul 17, 2018 at 7:48
  • So it is option B of the question.
    – Carsten S
    Jul 17, 2018 at 7:54
  • @CarstenS yeah, I now thinks B is more close. Genitive is used as adjective (to stress maybe?).
    – Chan Kim
    Jul 17, 2018 at 13:53

You have had two good answers already (Takkat and Uwe). But you still seem to be confused by this construction. The genitive is not used “as an adjective”. It is a possessive complement.

Since you ask your question in English it might be helpful to look at the English (King James) version of Luke 20:38:

“For he is not a God of the dead, but of the living: for all live unto him.”

The Greek original has “theos” without the article, so in principle both “a God of the living” (indefinite) and “der Lebendigen Gott” (definite) are possible, but you should be aware that they are two slightly different interpretations.

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