Jesus's Emphasis Lost — "Myself," "Yourselves," "Themselves," — Part 1
Translators often ignore how Jesus emphasizes the roles of the people. In English translation, this emphasis comes from the uses of the reflexive pronouns — “myself,” “yourself,” “themselves,” etc. Greek has other ways of emphasizing people’s roles, but to capture that emphasis in English, we can only use these reflexive pronouns. However, these pronouns are seldom added in English translations. Without them, we cannot reflect Jesus’s emphasis accurately. Jesus used reflexive pronouns to signal when:
He is emphasizing who is acting
He is emphasizing when people do things to themselves,
He is emphasizing other roles.
All these are usually lost in translation. In this article, we will only look at the first situation, emphasizing who is acting. In Greek, the speaker doesn’t need a subject pronoun— “I,” “we,” “you,” “he,” “she,” “it,” or “they” — to define the author of the verb action. The form of the verb itself gives us this information. Ninety percent of the time, when we see subject pronouns in English translation, they come from the form of the verb, not a Greek pronoun. However, ten percent of the time, Jesus uses the subjective pronoun to emphasize who is acting.
The Use of “I, Myself”
Jesus most commonly emphasized who is acting when he is the subject. For example, when he is praying to his Father after the Last Supper in John 17:14:
NIV: I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world.
His Listeners Heard: I myself have given them this logic of yours, and this society hated them because they are not from this society even as I myself am not from this society.
The highlighted words are where Jesus used the first-person pronoun, ego (ἐγὼ) as a subject to emphasize it. We know this word is used for emphasis because Jesus speaks in the first person without using the personal pronoun. Jesus only adds the subject pronoun when the fact that he is the one acting is the point of what he saying. He often focuses on his role. How often? In over two hundred verses, out of his about two thousand verses. This subjective pronoun is almost never recognized in Biblical translation.
The Use of “You, Yourselves”
In most cases, Jesus uses this pronoun for a specific purpose: to contrast his listeners with some group of people. He most commonly uses it when speaking to his opponents or his apostles.
He often uses it with the first-person pronoun to contrast himself with his opponents, answering their’ challenges. A good example of this is when answering his opponents’ accusations in John 8:54:
NIV: If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me.
His Listeners Heard: When I myself recognize myself, that recognition of mine is nothing. He is, that Father of mine, the one recognizing me. Him, you yourselves said that he is a god of yours.
Jesus does a number of interesting things in this verse, but one of them is contrasting “I myself” with “your yourselves.” In the first sentence, the “I myself” makes clear the redundancy of recognizing “myself” (see this article on “glorify”).” And the “you yourselves” emphasizes his opponents’ recognition of Jesus’s Father as their God. Phrasing this as “a god” is clearly an intentional slight of their philosophy.
Another good example of emphasizing a contrast is in John 8:23:
NIV: You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world.
What His Listeners Heard: You yourselves are from the down-below. I myself am from the on-high. You yourselves are from here, this society. I myself am not from this society, this one here.
While the NIV translation is simpler, the second one capture more of Jesus’s emphasis.
Jesus also used this pronoun when he wants to emphasize the roles his listeners play. For example, we have Matthew 16:15:
NIV: Who do you say I am?
His Listeners Heard: You yourselves, however, whom do you say I am?
Here, Jesus is emphasizing the differences between what his listeners, the apostles, think and what “the people” in the previous verse think about him.
NIV: For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me.
His Listeners Heard: Because the remarks that you gave me, I have given to them. And they themselves got them and they truly learned to know because they started out from beside you. And they trust because you yourself sent me out.
I highlighted the “they” in this verse because it is an example of using the third-person plural pronoun as a subject, something much rarer that we discuss in the next section.
Besides using the second person singular pronoun to address his father in prayer, Jesus will often use it to address others when talking to someone and wanting to emphasize he or she’s role in doing something. For example, in answering Judas’s question about whether he is the traitor in Matthew 26:25:
NIV: You have said so.
His Listeners Heard: You yourself say.
This makes it sound much more like Judas has a choice here.
The Use of “They Themselves” and “He, Himself”
Jesus’s use of the third-person pronoun, autos, as a subject less common that the first and second-person pronouns.
The plural version, autoi (αὐτοὶ) is used in thirty two verses, but I am probably missing some examples. These verses use the plural pronoun most frequenyly to refer to Jesus’s opponents, and his apostles in Jesus’s final prayer after the Last Supper.
In John 17:8 shown above, there are many “they” verbs , but Jesus only emphasizes the subject once, emphasizing that his followers understood what he was saying by their own efforts.
There are twenty verses where Jesus uses the singular third-person pronoun is used as a subject. Jesus uses this pronoun to refer to himself when talking of himselves in the third-person. He also uses it frequently to talk about the Father,. For example in John 16:27:
NIV: No, the Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.
His Listeners Heard: Since the Father himself enjoys you because you yourselves have enjoyed me and have trusted because I myself started out from the Father.
This verse is interesting because the “himself” is actually translated in most English versions. It is hard to ignore because it is uncommon and begins the sentence.
There are literally hundreds of verses where Jesus’s emphasis on the subject is lost. Often he uses this emphasis in a contrast, frequently between two subject pronouns. It is sad that biblical translators choose to ignore this emphasis by almost always avoiding the addition of a reflexive pronoun that would capture it. In the next article, we examine how Jesus says people are doing things to themselves.