pronouns without substantives (antecedents)?

Big words relating to interpreting the Bible and the study of *how* we determine what God wants us to do.

Moderator: grand_puba

Post Reply
User avatar
Posts: 2788
Joined: Tue Sep 28, 1999 10:45 am

pronouns without substantives (antecedents)?

Post by m273p15c » Thu Sep 24, 2009 11:44 am

In our English language, we have a rule that any pronoun must refer back to the nearest, possible antecedent. In Greek, this same notion is held, except the antecedent is called a "substantive".

In Zerr's commentary on II Samuel 24:1 and I Chronicles 21:1, he lists two passages, which he claims violate this rule. That is, he claims that some passages include pronouns without any proper substantive, or antecedent. The examples he cites are John 7:38 and I John 5:16. At first glance, these passages do refer to the Holy Spirit and the Father without clear and immediate substantives; however, closer inspection suggests otherwise. These verses are quoted here in their greater context:
John wrote:On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, "If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water." But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. (John 5:37-39)
Admittedly, Jesus is referencing the Holy Spirit without using His name, as the text explains. However, this does not violate the rule of the pronoun requiring a substantiative, because there is no pronoun referring to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is mentioned by mere allusion, not by a pronoun. So, this verse is not even applicable to our concern...

The second verse with a few preceding verses is as follows:
John wrote:And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God. Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him. If anyone sees his brother sinning a sin which does not lead to death, he will ask, and He will give him life for those who commit sin not leading to death. There is sin leading to death. I do not say that he should pray about that. (I John 5:11-16)
My understanding of Zerr's comments (secondhand source) is that verse 16 contains the same pronoun (he) used twice in close proximity, but it refers to two different people. The first "he" refers to a brother observing a sin and potentially praying to God about it. The second "he" refers to God, who may grant an extension of life for the sinner. Although a true interpretation, Zerr's concern is that the second pronoun is not identified by a substantive between the two usages of the pronoun, he. Again, this is true, but the substantive of the second pronoun, God, is found all throughout the passage.

The context is focused on our relationship to God. Therefore, it is no great leap to understand that the second usage of "he" in I John 5:16 is again referring to God, since John has repeatedly referred to God by pronoun in the preceding 5 verses.

However, it is a great leap to go from this unhelpful example to assuming the Devil as the substantive in II Samuel 24:1 for the second usage of the pronoun, "he", when the Devil (an adversary) cannot be found anywhere even in the remote context, much less the immediately preceding verses. II Samuel 24:1 is a completely different case than I John 5:16, because I John 5:16 exhibits a substantive and repeated references to it throughout verses 11-16; however, II Samuel 24:1 has no references whatsoever to the Adversary anywhere in the context. It has no substantive. Both usages of "he" must refer to God in II Samuel 24:1.

In conclusion, Zerr pulls out two verses to support a claim, which verses upon closer inspection, either do not apply or have a substantive in the near context, contradicting Zerr's claim. Therefore, Zerr's claim that a pronoun may be used without a substantiative (antecedent) does not stand, and consequently, his interpretation of II Samuel 24:1 is faulty.
May God help us to love truth sincerely and supremely (II Thessalonians 2:11-12)

Post Reply