Re: 1 John 5:20 - who is hOUTOS?

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Fri Aug 28 1998 - 16:15:08 EDT

At 12:25 PM -0500 8/28/98, wrote:
>Dear Carl:
><< >hOUTOS may have an anaphoric, deictic, contrastive or cataphoric
>reference. I
> >don't know that hOUTOS *normally* refers to an immediate antecedent. Each
> >instance must be analyzed in view of its own context, both immediate and
> >larger.
> >
> >In 2 John 7 we have a case where hOUTOS does not refer to the immediate
> >antecedent. In John 11:4 hAUTH hH ASTHENEIA refers to the cognate verb in
> >verses 1, 2, and 3. In this case the noun that follows hAUTH points out the
> >natural antecedent.
> <<2 John 7 is different; >>
>How so, Carl? It looks quite similar to 1 John 5:20, in that hOUTOS, being
>preceded by "Jesus Christ," is followed by an equative verb and an articulated

Sorry. MEA CULPA! I wasn't looking at 2 Jn 7! I was looking at 1 John 5:20
in comparison with Jn 11:4. I agree that 2 Jn 7 is a parallel to 1 John
5:20. Somehow I got sidetracked; what I'm meaning to say is evidently
something that you're not arguing at all--I was saying that I think 1 John
5:20 is very different from Jn 11:4. And that is what I still think.

><<in hAUTH hH ASQENEIA, hAUTH is a demonstrative
> pronoun used predicatively with the article--I guess we'd call this the
> "deictic" function; it is not itself the subject of the sentence; if I had
> to translate it hyperliterally (as Will Wagers once sought), I'd make it:
> "The sickness, this one, ... " But we normally use this adjectivally and
> render it "This sickness." So that is not really comparable to a situation
> where the demonstrative pronoun functions as a subject referring to an
> antecedent noun (whether or not the antecedent precedes or follows). I
> don't think it's proper to refer to ASQENEIA as the "antecedent" of hAUTH. >>
>They may not share the exact same grammatical function, but hAUTH, with or
>without ASTHENEIA, in this text, refers back to the use of the cognate verb
>mentioned earlier. In this case we have what appears to be a middle position
>between deixis and anaphoric reference.

I guess I see your point, and in view of it, I think one might convey the
deictic hAUTH with ASQENEIA as: In this instance (the hAUTH being
predicative and therefore having the force of an adverb), the illness is
not ... Certainly we do have anaphoric reference to the verb ASQENEI in
verse 3. You're talking about the anaphoric reference; but what I'm saying
is that there is no ANTECEDENT to hAUTH: it is in agreement with and used
predicatively with hH ASQENEIA, which is the subject of the clause. On the
other hand, hOUTOS in 1 Jn 5:20 is a pronoun subject, while anaphoric at
the same time to something preceding.

> >I believe the same is true in 1 John 5:20, where hO ALHTHINOS, following
> >hOUTOS, refers to the TON ALHTHINON . . . TWi ALHTHINWi of the previous
> >Others take a different view and consider IHSOU CHRISTOU as the reference.
><< Whether one deems hOUTOS to refer back to TON ALHQINON of the previous
> sentence or to IHSOU CRISTOU, I don't think it's comparable to 2 John 7 in
> any case. >>
>Again, how so? In both texts we have hOUTOS preceded by "Jesus Christ,
>followed by an equative verb with an articulated subject. Is there any
>grammatical reason which causes you to view "Jesus Christ" as the antecedent
>in one text, but not in the other?

If I understand you rightly, you're saying that we should understand the
construction of 1 John 5:20 as




i.e. Are you understanding hOUTOS hO ALHQINOS QEOS KAI ZWH AIWNIOS as the
subject of ESTIN? I would have said that hOUTOS is the subject and that hO
ALHQINOS QEOS KAI ZWH AIWNIOS is the predicate nominative equated with the
subject hOUTOS by ESTIN.

Or are you understanding hO ALHQINOS QEOS KAI ZWH AIWNIOS as the subject
and hOUTOS as the predicate word?

As for the other sentence, I don't think that ESTIN in Jn 11:4 is equative;
I rather think it is existential.

><<And personally I think it DOES refer back to IHSOU CRISTOU
> precisely in order to go ahead and equate IHSOUS CRISTOS with hO ALHQINOS
> QEOS. This, however, does indeed involve interpretation. >>
>Thank you for your personal view, Carl. My point is that grammar is not
>decisive in this instance, even though in your initial comments you seemed to
>think it was (see below).

Well, I agree that it's not decisive. And I certainly didn't intend to
argue that John's theology dictates what the grammar must be.

><<Larry Kruper has just argued that hO ALHQINOS QEOS is only used of the
>Father, but I rather think the two are being equated here. >>
>If you want to take the theological view that Jesus is equated with the
>Father, then that is your prerogative. Again, I was merely commenting on the
>grammar, explaining that the use of hOUTOS must be considered carefully, and
>pointing out that dogmatic judgments about what it "must" refer to,
>grammatically speaking, should be avoided.
><< This, of course, is precisely a disputed point of interpretation, and I
>don't think that the theological issue is one that can be resolved by a
>"correct" construction of this text--it is precisely what the "correct"
>construction of this text is that
> is in dispute. >>
>Kyle asked whom hOUTOS referred to, and the fact is, grammatically, it can
>refer to either "the true God" or "Jesus Christ." My intent was to avoid
>theology, and give a balanced response to his grammatical question. I believe
>your initial comment was that "grammatically hOUTOS here can only refer to
>IHSOU CRISTWi which immediately precedes it at the end of the preceding
>While I respect your views on these matters, I don't think that is a very
>balanced reply, do you?

Well, I have to say that I can see (theoretically) the plausibility of
construing TWi ALHQINWi as the antecedent of hOUTOS. But it seems to me
somewhat unnatural to draw a differentiation between TWi ALHQINWi and TWi
hUIWi AUTOU IHSOU CRISTWi: It seems to me most natural to read the sequence
IHSOU CRISTWi) as "We know that God's son has come and has given us
understanding to know the true one, and we are in the true one, in his son,
Jesus Christ." I guess the real question here is how we understand the
relationship of EN TWi ALHQINWi and EN TWi hUIWi AUTOU. My inclination is
to see the second EN phrase as an expansion and clarification of the first,
and then to see hOUTOS in the next sentence is restating the equation
implicit in the word order of that last part of 5:19.

So, to recapitulate, I can see your reading of the relationship of 5:19 and
5:20 as theoretically plausible, but I can only say think it's a less
natural way of understanding the word-order. I do agree that 2 Jn 7 is
comparable to 1 Jn 5:20, but I think the construction in Jn 11:4 is quite
different. Finally, I will confess I agree with you that the grammar alone
is not sufficient to assure us that IHSOU CRISTOU is the only possible
antecedent of hOUTOS. And it would indeed seem that our theological slants
are what incline us to preference of one way of construing the text over
another. Is that better balanced? Ultimately, it is the grammar we're
discussing here, not theology, of course.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics/Washington University
One Brookings Drive/St. Louis, MO, USA 63130/(314) 935-4018
Home: 7222 Colgate Ave./St. Louis, MO 63130/(314) 726-5649 OR

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