[b-greek] AUTOS in Luke 3:23

From: Iver Larsen (alice-iver_larsen@wycliffe.org)
Date: Sun Feb 04 2001 - 11:14:03 EST

There was a question about AUTOS in Luke 3:23, but as I have been looking
through all the uses of the nominative AUTOS in the GNT recently, I am now
wondering whether there is another alternative interpretation of the grammar.

The text was:

The suggestion was that AUTOS here means "himself" and function to intensify the
noun IHSOUS. The KJV, and a few very literal translations follow this
understanding, which I think is traditional.
KJV: And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age (began to be ???)
NASB: When He began His ministry, Jesus Himself was about thirty years of age
NIV: Now Jesus himself was about thirty years old when he began his ministry

All other translations that I have access to (about a dozen) apparently do not
translate "himself", for instance:
RSV: Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age

The "himself" interpretation has two problems.
1) It is unprecedented (at least in the NT) to have a verb intervene between
AUTOS and the name it is supposed to modify. A particle like GAR or DE can
intervene, since they require the second slot, but apart from that, all the
other places in the NT where AUTOS has the intensifying sense nothing comes
between AUTOS and the noun/pronoun it relates to.
2) Semantically, it does not make sense to intensify the name Jesus in this
context where a simple description of age is intended and the verb "to be" is
used. It is quite possible to intensify an agent for an action verb, but not the
subject of a verb like "to be" that has almost no semantic content apart from
linking the subject with the description.

Are there other possibilities?
Well, AUTOS is commonly used as a third person pronoun. My old English BAG has
for AUTOS sense 1B "to emphasize a subject already known" and sense 2 "refers
with more or less emphasis to a subject, often resuming one already mentioned.
(These two senses are so close that I don't see the need to list them under
different numbers, but that is matter of lexicography.)

The preceding context in Luke 3 was about John the Baptist, but Jesus was
briefly mentioned in a genitive absolute in 3:21. It is common in NT discourse
to refer to the main character by a pronoun only, once the character has been
properly introduced.

So, my suggestion is that the AUTOS in 3:23 may simply be the third person
pronoun "he". However, this could be misunderstood as referring to John the
Baptist, since he had been the main character for some time, and Jesus was not
clearly identified as the new main character. (John, of course, was also about
30 years old.) The following mentioning of Jesus could therefore be a
clarification that the "he" was in fact Jesus and not John.

The grammatical analysis would then be that IHSOUS is an NP in apposition to the
subject NP AUTOS, corresponding to English "And he, Jesus, as (he) was beginning
(his ministry), was about 30 years (old)."

This is the sense that almost all English versions have taken, and it is
acceptable Greek grammar as far as I can see. Actually, there are a few other
instances of AUTOS which have been understood as "himself", but might as well,
or better, be understood as a pronoun with a following apposition.

What do you think?

Iver Larsen

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