Is αὐτός Even Necessary? (Matt 1:21) — Mondays with Mounce 263
There is a debate as to how much weight to place on the use of the third person pronoun, specifically, does it ever add any emphasis? The argument is that the pronoun is unnecessary, and hence its presence is slightly emphatic.
Take Matt 1:21 as an example. “For he will save his people from their sins (γὰρ σώσει τὸν λαὸν αὐτοῦ ἀπὸ τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν αὐτῶν.)” If it were not present, the verse would still be translated exactly the same way. The fact that the subject is present and also is placed ahead of the verb carries a slight emphasis.
All this is only an issue of a slight nuance. But while I am thinking about αὐτός (nominative), let me give another example with a genitive form.
In the Beatitudes, we see an emphatic use of αὐτῶν. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Μακάριοι οἱ πτωχοὶ τῷ πνεύματι, ὅτι ἐστιν ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν. The meaning of the Beatitude requires the use of αὐτῶν, but its forward placement must be emphatic, but how emphatic? Can you even say it in English?
If I were to push this in a translation, I would say something like, “For to them, and them alone, is the kingdom of heaven.” Probably too emphatic, but the normal “theirs is …” is undertranslating.
But I think the fact remains that the only people in the kingdom of God are those who are poor in spirit, who recognize their spiritual depravity and hence mourn over their sin, and hunger and thirst for a righteousness that is from outside of themselves.
It gets even more complicated with some of the other Beatitudes. The only people who will be shown mercy are those who have shown mercy.
At least that is what αὐτῶν is emphasizing.
William D. [Bill] Mounce posts about the Greek language, exegesis, and related topics on the ZA Blog. He is the author of numerous works including the recent Basics of Biblical Greek Video Lectures and the bestselling Basics of Biblical Greek. He is the general editor of 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.
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