Posted by Kevin Barney on January 4, 2007
KJV John 1:11 reads as follows:
He came unto his own,
and his own received him not.
In both lines of the verse, “his own” is a translation of the Greek adjective idios, the basic meaning of which is “pertaining to, belonging to or being related to oneself; one’s own.” You will recognize this root in such English derivatives as idiot, idiom and idiosyncrasy.
Although the word is an adjective, in its two uses in John 1:11 you will notice that it is not modifying anything else, as adjectives usually do, but is standing on its own as if it were a noun. We call this a substantive.
What is particularly interesting about this passage is that the word is presented in different genders in its two occurrences in the verse. In v. 11a it is ta idia, which is neuter plural, “his own things.” But in v. 11b it is hoi idioi, which is masculine plural, “his own people.” This subtle distinction of course is completely lost in English, which does not reflect the Greek gender. (The ta and the hoi are simply the Greek definite article, which in this case is not separately represented in English.) So he came unto his own things, but it was his own people that rejected him. The expression “his own” is being used in different senses in the two parts of the verse. This parallels the preceding verse, which reads:
He was in the world,
and the world was made by him,
and the world knew him not.
The first two occurrences of “world” are talking about the physical world that he created, but the third occurrence stands for people who knew him not. (Thus, the final conjunction would be more clearly rendered as adversative, “but the world knew him not.”)
So what exactly were “his own [things]” in 1:11a? Given the emphasis on creation in the hymn, such as in v. 3 and the world of v. 10, it may simply be a reference to his creation. Alternatively, when used as a substantive idios often has the connotation of one’s home, so the allusion may be more specific than that, as Raymond Brown in the Anchor Bible suggests: the heritage of Israel, the Promised Land, Jerusalem.
And who exactly were “his own [people]” in 1:11b who rejected him? The answer may depend on whether we take the general or more specific view of “his own things” in the first half of the verse. If by that we understant the heritage of Israel and so forth, then “his own people” would seem to be the Jews. Conversely, if by “his own things” we understand all of his creation, then perhaps “his own people” has a broader and more cosmic reference to all of those who have failed to receive him throughout time–perhaps including even us.