Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Different Forms of "Idios" in John 1:11

At church last Sunday, I learned something about the Greek of John 1:11.  Some of my readers may already know what I am about to share, but it was new to me, since I have not read the Gospel of John in Greek since I took New Testament Greek in college.

John 1:11 states regarding the Word who became Jesus Christ: “He came unto his own (neuter plural), and his own (masculine plural) received him not” (KJV).

As you can see, the first “his own” is in the neuter plural.  The pastor translated this as “his own things.”  The second “his own,” however, is in the masculine plural, which refers to people.  The pastor translated this verse as: “He came unto his own things, and his own people received him not.”

What is the significance of this grammatical point to the meaning of John 1:11?  The pastor made a point that is similar to a Muslim concept that I have heard: that creation is naturally submissive to God, but human beings are not necessarily, since they have free will.  The Word who became Jesus Christ came to his own things, but his own people did not submit to him.

I checked a variety of commentaries: George Beasley-Murray’s Word Biblical Commentary on the Gospel of John, David Rensberger’s comments in the HarperCollins Study Bible, John Calvin’s commentary, John MacArthur’s study Bible, and the E-Sword commentaries (Albert Barnes, Cambridge, Adam Clarke, John Gill, Jamieson-Faussett-Brown, etc.).  Essentially, they said that the verse means that God came to his own property, and his own people received him not.  And what is God’s property?  Some say the world, whereas others say Israel, which was God’s own possession (Exodus 19:5).

The “world” interpretation may have the preceding verse going for it.  John 1:10 states: “He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not” (KJV).  In this interpretation, the world belonged to the Word because the Word created it: the Word came to the world, his own property, and his own people there did not receive him.

On BibleWorks, I looked up the Greek word “idios” (own) in the Gospel of John, specifically when the word is in the neuter and lacks an accompanying noun (as in John 1:11).  A few times, it means one’s own home (John 16:32; 19:27).  Interestingly, a footnote to John 1:11 in the HarperCollins Study Bible translates “ta idia” as “to his own home.”  The Word came to his own home.  I thought of such passages as Sirach 24 and I Enoch 42.  In Sirach 24, wisdom searches for a home and settles in Israel, especially Zion.  In I Enoch 42, wisdom searches in vain for a home on earth and then returns to heaven.

Many commentators have interpreted the Word (Logos) in John 1 in reference to Wisdom in Proverbs 8:22-31 and other wisdom literature.  Could the author of John 1 have had passages such as Sirach 24 and I Enoch 42 in mind?  If so, perhaps we see irony in John 1.  Jesus, as Wisdom, came to what was supposed to be his home, Israel and Zion, and many in his home did not receive him.  Or, in reference to I Enoch 42, Jesus sought a home on earth but was not successful; he went back to heaven (John 8:21; 13:36), yet he has not turned his back on the earth (John 12:32).

John 15:19 is noteworthy from a grammatical perspective: “If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world– therefore the world hates you” (KJV).  “Its own” there is in the neuter, yet it is applied to people, the disciples if they were to belong to the world.  That being the case, “ta idia” in John 1:11 could refer to people, regarding them as God’s property.  The different forms of “idios” in John 1:11 do seem to go together: he came to his own, and his own received him not.  “His own” in both cases appears to have the same reference point: he came to his own, and you would expect his own to receive him, but his own do not.

I do not like to rain on people’s attempts to go more deeply into the Bible, in search of features that are not immediately obvious.  Maybe there is significance in John 1:11’s usage of different forms of “idios.”  That “his own home” interpretation may have potential.

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