The pronoun (αὐτὸ) in John 1:5 which refers to the light (φῶς) is translated as “it”. But in John 1:10 and thereafter, pronouns which refer to the light are translated as “he/him/his”. Why?

This is true in every English translation I’ve looked at. In KJV and NKJV there is the additional distinction that “light” is not capitalized in 1:4 and 1:5, but is capitalized 1:7-9.

What is the reason for this? Did the light change from an “it” to a “he” when it came into the world in 1:9? Is there a way to infer this from the Greek text itself? If so, what is it? If not, what is the basis for such translations?

In the verses below, the second word, him, refers to Logos. This light is the life, which in turn is in the Logos, and the Logos is already a “him”. But before coming into the world, the light itself is an “it”. Is this hermeneutic linguistic or something else?

It does appear that just using Greek text, translators could have chosen either “it” or “him” for:

  • Logos in 4, and chose “him”

  • Light in 5, and chose “it” (making logos = light harder to assume when considering the v4 choice?)

  • Light in 10,11; and chose “he/him”

John 1:4-11 NIV then SBL Greek New Testament.

4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.

4 ἐν αὐτῷ ζωὴ ἦν, καὶ ἡ ζωὴ ἦν τὸ φῶς τῶν ἀνθρώπων· 5 καὶ τὸ φῶς ἐν τῇ σκοτίᾳ φαίνει, καὶ ἡ σκοτία αὐτὸ οὐ κατέλαβεν.

6 Ἐγένετο ἄνθρωπος ἀπεσταλμένος παρὰ θεοῦ, ὄνομα αὐτῷ Ἰωάννης· 7 οὗτος ἦλθεν εἰς μαρτυρίαν, ἵνα μαρτυρήσῃ περὶ τοῦ φωτός, ἵνα πάντες πιστεύσωσιν δι’ αὐτοῦ. 8 οὐκ ἦν ἐκεῖνος τὸ φῶς, ἀλλ’ ἵνα μαρτυρήσῃ περὶ τοῦ φωτός. 9 ἦν τὸ φῶς τὸ ἀληθινὸν ὃ φωτίζει πάντα ἄνθρωπον ἐρχόμενον εἰς τὸν κόσμον.

10 Ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ ἦν, καὶ ὁ κόσμος δι’ αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο, καὶ ὁ κόσμος αὐτὸν οὐκ ἔγνω. 11 εἰς τὰ ἴδια ἦλθεν, καὶ οἱ ἴδιοι αὐτὸν οὐ παρέλαβον.

  • The "he" refers to the Word which became Jesus, a person. Light is not a name of this person, but a property. If light was shown as his name like word, then they would have translated that as masculine as well. See the Qs on the pronouns of Spirit. The old Bible versions never used masculine for the Spirit, but only for "Helper", they rendered it as neuter. hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/22785/…
    – Michael16
    Commented Aug 9, 2021 at 14:19
  • Are you saying the “He” in 10 doesnt refer to the light in 9, one sentence earlier, but to Logos in v3? Yes “him” in v4 refers to Logos (Word) in 3 as stated above. Checking your other answer again. (Btw i did read all those before. They splice out what pronoun refers to what, and all agree except one case and one person, which i think was you but checking that. Im asking something else both here and other question) Here it’s: did they have the options in both cases and.. why the change. Thats harder when you are in the minority that thinks they have other antecedents.
    – Al Brown
    Commented Aug 9, 2021 at 19:16
  • Light is a description for a name which would require same masculine pronoun . It is a parenthetical statement describing things, not defining Light as another name for the Word or Jesus. The translators use HE for consistency in English bec it doesn't have strict gender declension like other languages. The Spirit was neuter in old bibles but Word was he because English has weak declension. You can call word as IT.
    – Michael16
    Commented Aug 10, 2021 at 4:50
  • @Michael16 Question. In 1:5 where they chose “it”, did the pure grammar and vocabulary situation force that? Or did they have a translation choice between “he” and “it” and then look to the author intent for a decision?
    – Al Brown
    Commented Aug 11, 2021 at 5:41
  • 1
    It is translators choice and it depends on their view of seeing Light as an adjective describing the Word, or take it as same as Word which is as a name and shown as a person. If there was strict grammar gender declension in English then we would have faced this ambiguity as they would treat Word as neuter as well. As the old Bibles treated Spirit as neuter. We should be leaning towards old authentic rules and not try to change English as the new versions did. Maybe some translation used masculine for the Light as well.
    – Michael16
    Commented Aug 11, 2021 at 6:45

2 Answers 2


It is true. αὐτὸ is neuter in 1:5. Basically, Logos/Word in the New Testament does not always mean Jesus as it does in John 1:1-18. The same can be said for light. It does not always mean Jesus, even in John 1. Personifying light as Jesus was an way of expressing him as the ultimate revelation of God. As soon as John wrote that John is not the Light. Light is personified regardless of the pronouns. Many of the following pronouns could refer to Logos or Light. It makes no difference the two are the same. John the Baptist only prepared the way for the Christ, as the Gospels report John saying. Jesus is the Christ.

Jesus said to him, I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” 8 Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves. (John 14:6–11, ESV)

Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. 7 If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also: and from henceforth ye know him, and have seen him. 8 Philip saith unto him, Lord, shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us. 9 Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Shew us the Father? 10 Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? the words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me: or else believe me for the very works’ sake. 12 (John 14:6–12, KJV)

Jesus said he is the way, the truth, and the life. He also said he is the light of the world.

  • Very interesting take that saying is not John the baptist implies is a “him”. Makes sense. Not airtight though: “That cup is not Perry Webb” doesnt make the cup a person. Yes I think you’re right that it becomes Jesus and hence “He”
    – Al Brown
    Commented Aug 9, 2021 at 18:43
  • 1
    @Al Yes, the context matters. If you say Perry Webb is not the cup. Either your talking nonsense, using a metaphor, or the cup is a person. In realty light as a person is a metaphor.
    – Perry Webb
    Commented Aug 9, 2021 at 18:51
  • Im not convinced that Light and Logos are the same. Light = Life , which was in Logos. Maybe that could be called equality but requires some motivation. We also have that in 4 they choose “him” for Logos when could have chosen either, and then in 5 choose it for light when couldve either, which could be seen as evidence that they are not the same at that point.
    – Al Brown
    Commented Aug 9, 2021 at 19:00
  • 1
    @Al Are you saying they both aren't used to describe Jesus? In that case the pronouns are confusing because Logos is masculine and phos is neuter. I/m saying the person they represent is the same.
    – Perry Webb
    Commented Aug 9, 2021 at 19:06
  • See the last sentence added in the answer.
    – Perry Webb
    Commented Aug 9, 2021 at 19:09

John 1:9-is where things get a little messy, because, in English, some of the pronouns are supplied and are not explicit in the Greek.

  • V9: Ἦν τὸ φῶς τὸ ἀληθινὸν, φωτίζει πάντα ἄνθρωπον, ἐρχόμενον εἰς τὸν κόσμον. // ὃ (= "who") is a relative pronoun which is neuter singular because it refers to "true" and "Light", both neuter singular. Note that the verb, Ἦν (= "was") has no explicit pronoun and so must be translated "he/she/it was", according to the choice of the translator.
  • V10: ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ ἦν, καὶ ὁ κόσμος δι’ αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο, καὶ ὁ κόσμος αὐτὸν οὐκ ἔγνω. Both these highlighted pronouns are masculine singular (gen & Acc respectively) and so must be translated "him". These both have the referent of the implied pronoun that is the subject of ἦν (= "was") and so must be translated "he/she/it was". The explicit use of "him" later in the sentence clears this ambiguity.
  • V11: εἰς τὰ ἴδια ἦλθεν, καὶ οἱ ἴδιοι αὐτὸν οὐ παρέλαβον. Same comments as above. In this case, the verb ἦλθεν has no explicit subject and so must be translated, "he/she/it came" - the later explicit pronoun "him" removes the ambiguity.

Thus, while Jesus is the Light" (John 1:4, 8:12) the noun "light" is neuter and so any pronoun which refers to it must be neuter as per V4 & V9. However, in subsequent sentences, the pronouns do not refer to light specifically but to the One who is the light, namely Logos/Word; therefore, we have masculine pronouns.

  • But everything you wrote seems to still be saying that the light pronouns (in all cases, not just the αὐτὸ_ cases, meaning “he was” cases etc etc) could have been translated as either “he” or “it” in v5,10,12. Adding ὃ doesnt change that (is that correct?) It doesnt seem at all trivial that they talk about a light for five almost consecutive verses (exception only v6) and switch within that window when it’s true light coming into the world. Has meaning, translator intention, significant hermeneutics. Also is not obviously Equal to logos now when it was In logos just before.Did i miss anything?
    – Al Brown
    Commented Aug 9, 2021 at 18:38
  • But appreciate the details. None of that is disagreeing with any assertion you made, just with the implication that it’s relatively minor, almost obvious even. Not a minor question imo.
    – Al Brown
    Commented Aug 9, 2021 at 18:39
  • Hi @Dottard excuse could you please just verify one more thing. Are these sentences true: 1. “If based on greek text only, an English translator had the option to translate the pronoun for logos in v4 as either ‘it’ or ‘him’ in English, and had same option for the pronoun referring to light in v5.” Yes, no? If yes, then what about 2. “Because the antecedents were not feminine but were neuter or masculine, αὐτὸ_ meant the English pronoun ‘he’ was available to translators, and the English pronoun ‘it’ was available to translators. Context told them which.“ Thank you for your time and expertise.
    – Al Brown
    Commented Aug 11, 2021 at 3:09
  • @AlBrown te answer to that depends on whether the translator believed that the pronoun in V4 referred to a person or not. That is, is "Logos" a person or not? That is completely cleared up by two lines of evidence, namely, that "Logos was God" (V1) and the series of person pronouns, despite the neuter start in V9-11. Thus, all versions translate as "him".
    – Dottard
    Commented Aug 11, 2021 at 4:55
  • thanks for the reply. Yeah I didnt indicate, when I say “available to translators” i meant just from the grammar and vocabulary, not from interpretation of meaning yet. Idea being the translator would then choose from the “available” what the author meant in context.
    – Al Brown
    Commented Aug 11, 2021 at 5:02

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