“he Came Unto His Own”: What Can We See In Greek That We Can’t See In English? (gospel Of John 1.10-12)

10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

This passage is probably one of the most important passages for discovering the true meaning of the Gospel of John. Why is this passage so important?  First of all, this passage is part of the book’s prologue. It is in the prologue where the trajectory for all the material that follows is determined.  In other words, the way the interpreter understands the prologue will affect how he reads the rest of what John had to say.

Generally speaking, both Christian and most Jewish scholars after them read this passage as if the unit of thought begins at vs.11 and continues until vs. 13. (We need to keep in mind that when the Gospel was first authored, there were no breaks between chapters and verses.) However, vs. 11 continues to develop the idea that begins in vs.10. This is significant because without verse 10, verse 11 is can be easily misread.

Vs. 11 traditionally is interpreted as follows. “He came unto his own (meaning the Jews), but his own (meaning the Jews) did not accept him.” In this traditional interpretation vs. 12 continues to juxtapose Jewish national unbelief with the faith of universalized/international Christians. However, there are two problems with this interpretation that at least should temper our conclusions until we know more:

1)      First it is grammatically problematic. Literally the translation of the first “own” in vs. 11 from the Greek should be rendered as “He came to his own things.” The Greek word is in fact in neuter plural, and therefore cannot in anyway refer to the Jewish people or any people for that matter.  It most probably refers to “the world” in vs. 10 that proceeds vs.11 (… the world was made through him, yet the world did not receive him.) The second “own” in vs. 11 can in fact refer to the Jewish people, but does not have to, since it can simply refer to humanity rejecting God’s Kingship. The traditional interpretation argues against the logical and simple flow of text (line of thought) in John’s narrative.  If one is careful to distinguish the genders used by the author, the first “own” is neuter and the second “own” is masculine, then the traditional interpretation may be not as certain as previously thought.

2)      This interpretation is also problematic historically, because it’s reading in a later history back into a previous history. Before I lose you, please, let me explain. You see whether someone thinks that John was authored extremely early (around 40 C.E.) or fairly late (around 90 C.E.) during all of the first century Jewish followers of Jesus were still very much present in large numbers. Many of the original Jewish leaders of the early Jesus movement and their (Jewish) disciples played an active role in the life of the Early Church.

At this point, I’m not setting forth any conclusive theories; but simply raising problems with the usual assumed reading of this text. If the traditional interpretation of Jn. 1.10-13 is indeed the correct interpretation, then the basic assumption about this Gospel is unavoidable – it is in fact an early Christian anti-Jewish document, regardless of its very rich Christian spiritual message. However, I am suggesting that there is at least one alternative way to read the Gospel of John.  But more about this in later sections of this commentary.

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© By Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg, Ph.D.

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  1. […] Gospel was also reinterpreted to be an anti-Jewish document instead of an inner Jewish one (Read “He came unto His own”). The character of Judas Iscariot was also misread in an effort to fit the textual facts into this […]

  2. Alyson

    When I read these verses, I always thought that the world as a whole – all people – could be included in the rejection of Jesus, not just Jews. As part of mankind, Romans had also been part of God’s creation and had participated in the crucifixion.
    God’s Creation had rebelled. While the Jews held a special place in God’s Heart, because they were to be God’s People, representing Him to the rest of mankind, gentiles were also part of God’s Creation and had disappointed God time and again.
    When I read the New Testament, I’ve always felt that the apostles still saw themselves as Jews – Jews who had witnessed the Messiah. They don’t seem to feel they are a separate religion (like we have today), but the next era of Judaism (just like there was as an era of Judges and an era of Kings, now there was an era of the Messiah).
    I’m still relatively new to Bible study and, while an avid student, I’m well aware that I have much to learn. Your blog always challenges me to return to scripture and see how God is speaking to me through His Word. However, if you have insights that my limited understanding could not have reached, I would be so appreciative if you’d share them with me!

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Alyson, hi. Try this – http://iibsblogs.wpengine.com/2013/02/john-4-43-54-was-galilee-jesus-real-home/

      I think what you are saying is good and acceptable, but I don’t think it is accurate. I think what is going on in John is more complex. (I don’t fully grasp it myself) 🙂

      Dr. Eli

  3. Laurel

    Hello Dr. Eli,

    I’m afraid this question comes from a very uninformed perspective when it comes to understanding Greek or Hebrew translation into English, but the Gospel of John has always been my favorite because of its mystical nature so I feel compelled to ask this anyway.

    Your clarification of this passage is very interesting to me, because it supports what my own understanding of this has been. Jesus also says (John 10:30) “I and the Father are One.” In the Vincent’s Word Studies section of biblecommenter.com, it is noted: “One…the neuter, not the masculine…one person. It implies unity of essence.” And another comment at biblehub.com: “Most of the Christian fathers understood (these words)…as referring to the oneness or unity of nature between the Father and the Son.”

    Jesus also says of those who receive his message (John 17:22-23) “And the glory which You have given me I have given them, that they may be one, even as we are one.” And biblehub.com notes: “The last clause shows the meaning of the first. It is not the future glory of the heavenly state, but *the secret of that present unity* just before spoken of; the glory, therefore, of the indwelling Spirit of Christ.”

    I have begun to study the Tree of Life, and my understanding is that the Divine Essence of the Creative powers of the Supernal Triangle is also the Essence of the entire manifest world below the Abyss, which would include all human consciousness, even though an individual consciousness may not be aware of its indwelling Divine Essence. Jesus Christ was aware of his Divine nature, while the people he taught were not aware of the presence of the Divine Essence within their being.

    In Christian mystical terms, the Father would be the unmanifest Divine aspect, and the Son would be the manifest Divine aspect, which is of one Essence with the Father, but expressed in a different state. In John 10:36, when Jesus says: “Do you say of him, whom the Father has sanctified, and sent into the world, you blaspheme; because I said, I am the Son of God?”, Vincent’s Word Studies notes that in the Greek there is no article “the” before “Son of God”. The author says of this: “Its absence directs us to the character rather than to the person of Jesus.” So from this perspective, Jesus Christ, representing the self-aware consciousness of the manifest Divinity or ‘Son’, “was in the world, and the world was made through him (through the ‘Son’), yet the world did not know him.”

    So my question is, could the Greek that has been translated as “He came to his own” be a reference to the fact that everything Jesus Christ would have encountered during his incarnation — including, but not limited to, all of the people — would represent the manifest world, the ‘Son’ (which, since it is not an unmanifest Unity but a manifest diversity, might be conceived of as neuter plural?), and that this manifest world was of common Essence with his self-aware Divine nature (as the ‘Son’), but the human consciousness of that manifest world, represented by the people he encountered, did not recognize this Essence within him just as they didn’t recognize it within themselves?

    Those who did recognize Jesus’ Divine nature and internalize his teaching, would then also become aware of their own participation in that inner Divine Essence which is “born not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” So I’m wondering, would this interpretation fit with the Greek word choice? (I’m thinking also of the parallel in Zen Buddhism that characterizes the nature of the phenomenal world as “the ten thousand things”.)

    This is a very interesting subject. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the blog on John’s Gospel.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Shalom, Laurel. This is a little bit embarrassing, because by replying in this way I may come across as not intellectual enough :-), but truthfully you lost me somewhere along the way (though I think I followed 85% of your logic). I am not 100% sure what you asking, so I am hesitant to provide an answer to the question I don’t fully understand. I suggest that you you ask your question again and keep it to only two paragraphs. Thank you in advance.

    2. Lois Eaton

      John 17:22-23 has been interpreted in so many ways. Maybe it is a lot simpler than we are accustomed to thinking. When Yeshua said ‘That they may be one’ did He really mean that we are to be one physical essence? Or did he simply mean that we are to have one mind, one goal, one purpose, all in perfect communication with the Father? If so, then he surely meant the same when he said ‘Even as we are one”. These verses do not support the trinity concept at all. They Do support the idea that Father and son, 2 separate entities, are in perfect communion with one another.

    3. Aaron

      Luke 18:32-33 , Luke 21:24. The orthodox Jewish people didn’t chant his death at the hands of his enemies – the Hellenized Jews and Greek residents were the ones who were chanting when he was handed over to the Romans. And that only happened because the crowd was deceptively stirred up by Pharisees with false reports extracted from the secret trial that took place the night before. The mixed Hellenists (a worldly bunch) were deceived into sentencing him to death. The Romans did the deed. The Jews ALMOST recognized him as who he was and would have made Him into their Messiah, which is exactly when the curtain came to a close. This was a ripe time for Him to be revealed. The faithful Jews of the land were ready to team up with Him and take the world by storm. But why have a mere human Messiah when you can have a resurrected one that conquers every realm? He knew that. That’s the reason He kept his true identity a secret and didn’t solicit who he really was. He would immediately have every faithful Jew’s loyalty if he did that. That’s also why He lost large numbers when he admitted that his death at the hands of Roman executioners was eminent. It broke their hopes, hopes that were genuinely good, but lacked some foresight. The problem was that He had a bigger enemy to defeat that they couldn’t see coming – an enemy who’s so sly that he evades the focus of every generation. The Adversary, a ancient and cunning disembodied creature. He would be more than willing to see them all conquer the world only to sit in accusation of each and every one of them before the Father – one by one, as each person went into the afterlife, only to be eternally dead and separated from the who loved them. Everything would succeed only to fail. If a rebellion was lead at that time, The Father would not have their eternity secured, with their sins completely atoned for. He would gain so many only to lose them in the end. They would never be resurrected to a new life if someone did not take on their rightful death first and satisfy all the legitimate accusations that would have been made against them concerning the Law, taking on all the legal repercussions, according to Moses. This was the Adversary’s Ace card in the hole and the Father knew it. This Messiah knew that he had to take care of this business first so that he could one day return and take the whole UNIVERSE by storm, all of Israel, together. Now the Adversary, the enemy of the Father and His kind, will fail – and the Holy people will finally be able to rest in His arms and never worry about being separated from Him again by any accusative adversary. This is the Legacy of the King – a Jew of Jews, a Rabbi of Rabbis. The Lover of Israel. May He forever bless His people Israel, and may they forever bless His Name.

      1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

        Aron, thanks for your feedback and welcome to the group. I think you will have a lot to contribute to our discussions. Let’s keep thinking together. What do you say? Dr. Eli

  4. Jeff Estes

    Interesting discussion; when I’ve read this section, I have wondered whether “to his own” would be similar to what is said in English jargon when a person “comes into their own”, that is, to become fully mature in their abilities or nature. In any case, “his own people”, whether Jewish or all people in general, was what I assumed was originally implied.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Yes. But I think when you read through my commentary especially if you did so from the begining I think you can see other important (perhaps even more important aspects).

      General commentary – http://iibsblogs.wpengine.com/

      Read especially – http://iibsblogs.wpengine.com/2013/02/john-4-43-54-was-galilee-jesus-real-home/

  5. David Gibbons

    Dr. Eli, I don’t know what translation you are using when you quote the passage at the top, but the ESV (English Standard Version) follows your translation suggestion, at least in the notes.

    It is interesting indeed to ponder who “His own people” were who rejected him. It is unlikely to be the Judean Authorities, but may well be the Judeans, though by that does it mean the people of Judea, or those who followed the temple cult wherever they lived?

    What it cannot seem to mean is the Galileans, who the synoptics would have us think of as first and foremost his people, and I agree, it seems unlikely to refer to the whole of the the Judean people (That is, what is commonly now called Jews).

    That really doesn’t leave much, unless by his people all of us are meant, and that may make some sense in light of the world references. That way it would read “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to the world that was his, and the people, who were also His, did not receive him (en masse). But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God”

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      I am using ESV, and best I remember it catches the issue and seeks to reflect it. I think in John his people are the Judeans mostly though it is of course complex. This Gospel (I think) is a Judean Jesus-movement self-critic that is meant to influence Israelite Samaritans among others to come to faith in Jesus as the Messiah. That is the paradox Jesus says salvation is from hoi Ioudaioi and this Gospel says that he was buried according to the costumes of Hoi Ioudaioi. I think your last rendering comes close to what I am saying. Let’s keep thinking together. Great to have you contributing to our discussions. Helps a lot.

  6. Lois Eaton

    To me it doesn’t matter whether ‘his own’refers just to the Jews or to all of us – if it does refer to the Jews I do not see it as a rejection in any way, but a cry of grieving love.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Lois, would please unpack that?

      1. Lois Eaton

        Could it be a cry of pain because He sent His son to the people He called ‘The apple of His eye’and yet so many did not even recognise him for who he was? If so, that does not in anyway imply rejection.

        1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

          Yes. BUT the 1000000 question is who are meant here buy his own (people). Judeans? Jewish people?

  7. Paula Maybery

    Dr Eli I have just finished reading this article and it is so interesting, I felt I wanted to write even though it has left me deep in thought…It must have been astounding for the Judeans who knew Jesus very well to suddenly hear him saying he is from G-d. and as stated above he was a Jew surrounded by Jews because the world had not expanded so greatly, I do understand the neutral pluralness of’own’ and the masculine 2nd ‘own’… Bless us all as we ponder!

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Paula, thanks for your comment and welcome to the blog.

  8. […] It is likely that we should understand Jn. 1.11-12 within this context: “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who b… […]

  9. […] It is likely that we should understand Jn. 1.11-12 within this context: “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who b… […]

  10. Charles van den Berg

    On this moment I can not open my mouth and ask any question of give any command. When I think out this things I only can by quiet and again wondering my God and His Word (written LOGOS, You became for me flesh and blood in Jezus Christ). In my heart is again a new and deeper secret longing to know more about my Messiah (Redeemer) , The Revealer of alle secrets of heaven and earth and tot know Him is ‘en arche ‘. Let be this my portion in the dialogue on this moment. Thanks you for all this richniss. Charles L. van den Berg.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Dear Charles, thank you for your comment. Let us continue to be amazed at the words of the Living God.