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Emphatic Pronouns and Salvation—Matt 5:3 (Monday with Mounce 53)

Categories Mondays with Mounce

Monday With Mounce buttonComing to a clear and accurate understanding of the emphatic use of pronouns can be a little tricky. It is a matter of nuance and often difficult (if not impossible) to translate. The oblique cases of the first and second pronouns have distinct forms, but what about the third person personal pronoun, αυτος?

Since the verb contains the reference to its object, αυτος ακουει and ακουει have the same basic meaning, “he hears.” And so the reasoning goes, αυτος is unnecessary and its presence is making a point.

That point is most often seen in contrasts. John the Baptist says, “I (εγω) baptize you with water... He (αυτος) will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Matt 3:11).

But one of the most theological powerful and provocative uses of the emphatic third person pronoun is in the beatitudes. All have the same construction. “Blessed are the … for they (αυτοι) will ….” The nuance of αυτος is that they they alone will receive the blessing.

  1. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
  2. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
  3. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus is not saying that the poor in spirit, among others, are blessed. He is saying that they and they alone will inherit the kingdom. The merciful, and they alone, will receive mercy. Only those who are persecuted with inherit the kingdom. The meaning of the αυτος is nuanced, but it is there, and its force is devastating to much of modern theology and its easy believism.

Notice that it does not say, “Blessed are those who have had a conversion experience, for theirs is the kingdom.” In fact, Jesus later says that many who claim to have done great things for him are in fact strangers (Matt 7:23). What will you do with this?

My suggestion is to first of all confirm that I correctly understand the emphatic use of αυτος. (I am.) Secondly, ask yourself if your theology can handle this. If you have been following my blog for very long, you have probably gleaned that I am moderately reformed. But what I most try to be is biblical, and the Bible says that God shows mercy only to those who have shown it themselves. That the only people who will be filled are those who hunger and third for [His] righteousness. That the only ones who will inherit the kingdom are those who are poor in spirit and have been persecuted for that fact.

Talk of this kind is often met with angry blog comments, but the fact of the matter is that this is what the Greek text says. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs, and theirs alone, is the kingdom of God.”

If a person’s theology can’t handle that, then their theology is simply wrong. How does the emphatic αυτος fit your theology?

MounceWilliam D. [Bill] Mounce posts every Monday about the Greek language, exegesis, and related topics at Koinonia. He is the author of numerous books, including the bestselling Basics of Biblical Greek (third edition coming in 2009!), and general editor for Mounce's Complete Expository Dictionary of the Old and New Testament Words. He served as the New Testament chair of the English Standard Version Bible translation. Learn more and visit Bill's blog (co-authored with scholar and his father Bob Mounce) at www.billmounce.com.  

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