Koine and Biblical and Medieval Greek • Re: Luke 12:20. Who are “they”?

New Testament Grammars have very little justification to exist outside of a religious belief that this collection of books of fairly varied language and style and authorship has some sort of grammatical unity imposed by God. This is not an idea that my own faith compels me to subscribe to. But let's see what they have to say.


The Robertson link doesn't call it a passive at all. It claims 1) that Mathew 2:20 is an example of plural for singular, to "purposely conceal the identity of the person referred to" and that "the same principle applies" for Luke 12:20.

Matthew 2:20 is probably plural for singular, but it is not concealing anybody's identity. Herod was mentioned by name to Joseph in verse 2:13, and he has again been mentioned in verse 19. And in Luke 12:20, whose identity is being concealed precisely? God? If so, then Robertson's answer to this thread is that "'they' in Luke 12:20 refers to God."


The second link (DBF) makes exactly the same claim that "they" refers to God, but points us to Luke 6:38 and 16:9. In both cases that is debatable. Many people have read the plural of 6:38 to refer to mankind, and the old translations, made before the habit of theological smoothing of corners got quite so ingrained, all referred to "men" or "they" here.

16:9 borders on the silly as a citation, as the reader immediately discovers if he reads on to 16:22 where the subject of ἀπενεχθῆναι is specified. Luke's heavenly bestiary is a bit more inclusive.


Zerwick's discussion is very good and he cites another verse, Luke 12:48, for the same claim, though made somewhat less definitely than by the earlier grammars, that "they" is God. Yet Luke 12:48 is a general application of a parable and hardly stands for "God." And it is a mystery to me why he would bring up Luke 23:31 for comparison, even with a "?". Perhaps someone else has a guess.


But I'm happy that Jean has put forward an answer now: "They" is "God". That is a very religious and orthodox answer, of course, so it is hard to dispute with gusto. But I would suggest instead that Luke's heavenly taxonomy here (see again 16:22) is somewhat more expansive than that of the very orthodox Protestants that he has cited.

Statistics: Posted by jeidsath — Tue Oct 24, 2023 4:51 pm

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