Bill Mounce

For an Informed Love of God

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Sunday, December 13, 2009

Emphatic Pronouns and Salvation (Matt 5:3)

Coming 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.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

Jesus is not saying that those who mourn, among others, are comforted. He is saying that they and they alone will be comforted. The merciful, and they alone, will receive mercy. Only those who are pure in heart will see God. 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 am correctly understanding 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.

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.

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


Being a student, not a scholar, and having something of "mutt" background in churches, I've come to the conclusion that the true conversion is evidenced by a true change. Many claim to be save and yet show no evidence. I believe your blog here--which I've now read many times and surely have not yet gained the entire impact--bears out my conclusion.