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Is it “He” or “Which” that Sanctifies? Heb 2:11 (Monday with Mounce 86)

Categories Mondays with Mounce

Monday with Mounce Someone asked me a while back about the word that begins Heb 2:11, ὅ (smooth breathing and accent). It looks like a relative pronoun, which is generally translated as “who(m),” “that,“ or “which,” but his translation used the personal pronoun “he.” He didn’t know if this was a possible way to translate the relative pronoun, or if it was possible for ὅ to be a personal pronoun.

The ESV translates, “For he (ὅ) who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source”; so also the NASB, NLT, KJV, and the NRSV (“the one who,” also NIV, HCSB). The NLT fills in the pronoun’s antecedent as “Jesus.”

The first response should probably be that since every translation says “he” or the “one,” then probably that is an accurate translation.

The second response would be to double check your morphology; and sure enough when the omicron has a breathing and accent, it is the nominative singular neuter relative pronoun. Right?

So take a look at the verse, can you see the answer?

What is the word right after ὅ? It is τε. What is peculiar about this word? It is an enclitic pronoun, which means it loses its accent back to the previous word. If you take the accent off of ὅ, what do you have? ὁ, the definite article. 

This is the common use of the article + participle (αγιαζων) used substantively.  “He who sanctifies,” namely Jesus (and hence the NLT’s translation).

Moral of the story? Trust multiple translations. Check your morphology. And if you got tricked by this, don’t feel bad. I did too. I called my friend George Guthrie, an expert in Hebrews, and he reminded me that this was the article.

Mouncew William D. [Bill] Mounce posts about the Greek language, exegesis, and related topics at  Koinonia. He is the author of numerous books, including the bestselling Basics of Biblical Greek, and is the 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, and is currently on the Committee for Bible Translation for the NIV. Learn more and visit Bill's blog (co-authored with scholar and his father Bob Mounce) at www.billmounce.com.

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