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John 8c – Dueling Pronouns

In English, when we want to emphasize something in writing, we put it in italics.   We can also put an exclamation point at the end of a sentence to give it some added punch! And if you’re over 60 and don’t know any email etiquette, YOU MIGHT WRITE SOMETHING IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS. Or, if you’re really feeling spunky, YOU CAN DO ALL THREE AT ONCE!!!

In Koine Greek (“Common” Greek – the language of the New Testament), they typically didn’t use capital letters for emphasis, or use exclamation points, and they certainly didn’t have italics. So what did they do to emphasize something?

Well, there were a few different ways. You could rearrange the order of the sentence to put the emphasized word up front. Or you could put it at the end of the sentence. If you wanted to emphasize a pronoun (you, we, I, they, etc.), sometimes all you had to do was put it in the sentence.

Greek verbs have a pronoun built right in. I mentioned this briefly in last week’s blog when discussing the “I AM” formula. In Greek, “I Am” translates from two words: egō eimi. The verb is eimi and it means “I am.” You could just say eimi and that would be enough to mean “I am.” Egō means “I.” So when you add egō to eimi, it literally means, “I – I am” or “I myself am.” The egō part of the phrase isn’t really needed, but if you have it, it puts an extra emphasis on the “I.” “I myself”, or “I alone”, or “I-and-not-you”.

It’s nearly impossible for translators to bring forth this nuance in translation without making the translation become overly burdened and awkward. Nearly every sentence has some emphasis (see what I did there?), and bringing that emphasis out at between every period would make for a really choppy translation. But sometimes the emphatic pronouns add an extra punch to the dialogue and can reveal the attitude and meaning of the speaker.

In John 8, the conversation between Jesus and the Jews gets really heated, particularly towards the end of the chapter. And it seems that the more heated things get, the more pronouns are used. 8:48-49 is a good example of this. I call this the “dueling pronouns” because it sounds like Jesus and the Pharisees are having an epic battle of wits, using pronouns as their primary weapons.

Here’s what the passage sounds like in ESV:


8:48 The Jews answered him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?”

8:49 Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me.”


In these two verses, four pronouns are used to create a contrast between Jesus and the Jews (there are other pronouns in these two verses, but these four in particular are quite emphatic). If we italicize and underline them, here’s what it would look like:


8:48 The Jews answered him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?”

8:49 Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me.”


The effect here is to put a distance between Jesus and the Jews, to contrast them. Jesus almost seems to be mocking their language and using their choice of words against them. The implication behind His words could be highlighted like this:


8:49 Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon (though you might!), but I honor my Father, and you (contrary to what you think) dishonor me.”


As you can see, it would get a little tedious to italicize every few words in a translation in order to show the reader where the emphasis lies in each sentence. The emphasis isn’t usually necessary to understand the overall meaning of a passage. So you don’t need to know Greek in order to study your Bible, but a little knowledge of the language might help shed some light on certain nuances in text, like a couple of pronouns fighting against each other!


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