“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. The Prophet Jeremiah and Jesus Christ

    […] Lizorkin-Eyzenberg, Eli. “” He came to his own “: What can we see in Greek that we can not see in English?” Israel Institute of Biblical Studies. Accessed April 4, 2019. https://blog.israelbiblicalstudies.com/jewish-studies/john-1-10-12/ […]

  2. Ray Luff

    I believe that the Christ’s ownership includes the world (goyim, ethnos) and the Jew. I think it is good to contemplate on that and that. It is not only the Jew that rejected Christ. Clearly the gentile-nations rejected Him as well as the Jewish leadership. BUT the verse goes on to say some became Children of God by believing in His name. This reference to Children of God is prophetic. Something that so far had not happened.

    6  I have said, Ye are gods;
    And all of you are children of the most High.
    7  But ye shall die like men,
    And fall like one of the princes.
    8  Arise, O God, judge the earth:
    For thou shalt inherit all nations.

    The Cambridge Paragraph Bible: Of the Authorized English Version (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1873), cxix.

    That passage opens up a whole different topic. But I think the invitation to be a child of God is very significant. The singular name for God in the Old Testament is “EL” but plural name for God “Eloheim” which is used more often I believe includes an entourage of His children and His angels and of course His only begotten son. Paul said there are a cloud of witnesses. It might be a better translation to change the small g “gods” in that passage to demigods. Certainly nothing equal to God (the Mormons go the wrong direction with this.)

  3. Stan Gain

    I am not a theologian but I love the written Word with all my heart and would defend it with my life. I also love the Jewish people in the same way.

    In Colossians 1:16 it says that all things were created through Him and FOR Him. With this understanding that all things are created FOR Him, then it is surely not unreasonable to take a small step in understanding ‘His own’ as the world. John’s writing would surely back this up when in 3:16 he writes that God so loved ‘the world’. Surely ‘the world’ would include the Jews as part of a world that is His own! To exclude the non-Jewish people would render John3:16 as ‘God so loved the Jews!’

    Am I being too simplistic?

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Stan, hi. Welcome to our forum. Very much appreciate your comment/question. First allow me to disagree that you are not a theologian :-), I think you are and a very good one at that. Actually, all people including those who do not believe are in one way or another theologians. Some are bad, some are good, some are somewhere in the middle.

      OK… after this short chit chat… John. It is obvious that there is some kind of difficulty here. Because sometimes we do see John use the world not like others (AND NOT LIKE we always thought). I would suggest that you are using two methods I (purposely) do not. One is that you are assuming (as is normal) that Paul uses Greek words the same way John does (and vice versa) and two, you are interpreting an ancient text in already pre-cooked way. In other words you already know what world means in John 3:16 (so do most people I think :-)), and then you project it to the rest.

      Now… I will be honest with you… I am myself not very comfortable with the questions I am raising. Theologically I have no known heresies (at least not to my knowledge and I do hold MDiv in protestant theology) :-), but I am trying to think/read through John AS IF THERE were no Colassians and as if there were no other Gospels. In other-words I am trying to read John as John, seeing where it will lead. If you read my Jewish-Samaritan Journey (banner to the right) from the beginning I think you will be astounded to see the kind of things we’ve been learning because of that method. (None are heretical (this one is by far more radical thing I said), but many are surely non-traditional). I therefore invite you to first catch up and then continue to think with us. I think we can use another great mind! Yours, Dr. Eli

  4. Rafael

    In order to read this as coming to his own people and being rejected by them, you have to jump ahead and read the end before the beginning. But if you’re going to do that, you cannot jump to the Jewish people, per se.

    Historically, Yeshua has been much more violently and more frequently rejected by the non Jew, such as Russia, Germany, South Korea, China, etc. Every nation has persecuted, or is beginning to persecute Christians. Even my own country is now openly stripping all christianity from all public venues. It is doing so illegally under the pretense of law. The persecution here has only just begun.

    Historically, there has always been more messianic Jews per capita than Christians of any other nation. As a result, it is easy to argue that the Jews have always been more accepting of Yeshua than any other group of people in history.

    This then leads me to believe that this passage cannot be targeting the Jews. It seems to me that it is targeting all of humanity. When asked if it was legal to pay taxes to a foreign government, Yeshua put the focus on the image of the coin and used that to transition to the image of God. His audience knew that the only things with the image of God were humans, not just Jews.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Yes, but you are missing my whole point. Please, read the commentary from the beginning. Hoi Ioudaioi are not “the Jews”. http://iibsblogs.wpengine.com/gospel-of-john/

      1. Rafael

        Then I am perplexed. I got here to this page because I did go back and start at the beginning. And yet, I am at a loss to know what “point” I’m missing.

        Besides, I think you may have missed MY point. I made no connection that I’m aware of to the hoi loudaioi. I spoke of the “his own” of the scripture referenced at the tip of this article, if I’m not mistaken. Are you suggesting that the hoi loudaioi was “his own”?

        1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

          Yes :-). How exactly I am still working on. But there is diffidently a sense that that is true.

  5. Thorleif Ragnarsson

    Isaiah prophesied much about the coming Messiah from the Holy Spirit. Isaiah 9:6-7 ” A child is born to us! A son is given to us! And He will be our ruler. He will be called, ” Wonderful Counselor,” ” Mighty God,” “Eternal Father,” ” Prince of Peace.” His royal power will continue to grow; his kingdom will always be at peace.” Isaiah 53 is all about Jesus Christ the Messiah, the Son of God. ” He was pierced for our transgressions. He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed.” The Holy Spirit spoke these things through the prophet Isaiah. Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the Word made flesh, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, The Prince of Peace. As He spoke to the great Rabbi Nicodemus, ” For God so loved the world that He gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For god did not send His Son into the world to be its judge, but to be its Savior.” John 3:16-17. ” I am telling you the truth” Jesus replied, ” Before Abraham was born, ‘I AM’.” then they picked up stones to throw at Him, but Jesus hid Himself and left the Temple.” John 8:58-59. ” When you raise up the Son of Man, you will know that I Am Who I Am; then you will know I do nothing on my own authority, but I say only what the Father has instructed Me to say.” John 8:28. John 10:30- ” The Father and I are one.” Then The people again picked up stones to throw at Him. Jesus said to them, ” I have done many good deeds in your presence which the Father gave Me to do; for which one of these do you want to stone Me?” They answered, “We do not want to stone you for any good deeds, but because of your blasphamy! You are only a man, but you are trying to make yourself God!” John 10: 30-33. And of course this one ” Phillip said to Him, ” Lord, show us the Father, that is all we need.” Jesus answered, ” for a long time I have been with you all; yet you do not know Me Philip? Whoever has seen Me has seen the Father. Why, then, do you say, ‘ Show us the Father’? Do you not believe Philip that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me? The words that I have spoken to you,” Jesus said to His diciples,” do not come from Me. The Father, who remains in Me, does His own work.” John 14:8-10. So we see who Jesus Christ the Son of God, the Messiah really is. Mighty God, Eternal Father.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Thorleif, thanks for your comment and welcome to the group! Dr. Elia

  6. […] It is in this light that we should understand the earlier words of John in connection with the hoi Ioudaioi that “his own people did not receive him” in John 1.11 (Read “He came unto His own”). […]