A Hanging Nominative?

John 1:12 in the New American Standard Bible reads, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name.” The relative clause “as many as received Him,” grammatically a nominative plural clause and that is expected to function as the subject of the following independent clause. But it doesn’t. Another subject, “He,” is inserted as the subject of the independent clause. The initial nominative clause is left dangling with a logical but without a grammatical connection to the main clause. Hence, a “hanging nominative” (called an “Independent Nominative” in some grammars).

The New International Version of this passage reads, “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” The NIV changes the initial hanging nominative to an indirect object dative,” to all who received him.” This has the effect of eliminating the hanging nominative subject of the NASB and the Greek text and perhaps smoothing out the English. But although it may be advantageous for readers of the English Bible not to encounter a hanging nominative, there are reasons why writers used them. One is for emphasis and logical focus as seen in the Greek grammars:

  • Stanley E. Porter, Idioms of the Greek New Testament, 2nd edition, 85-86.
  • Danial B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, 51-52.
  • Maximilian Zerwick, Biblical Greek, 9.
  • Herbert Weir Smyth, Greek Grammar, 261.

In John 1:12, after stating that Jesus’ own people did not receive Him (verse 11), the immediate follow-up statement refocuses the flow of thought from a negative to a positive with a hanging nominative, “but as many as received Him.” This hanging nominative has the rhetorical effect of emphasizing and pointing the readers to those who did receive Him. The following participle, “to those who believe in his name,” defines what it means to “receive Him.”

The interpreter must be careful to not ignore or distort the emphasis in the original text. Emphasis is a powerful medium of communication both in spoken and written language. If it is possible to transfer such emphasis into English, the interpreter is duty-bound to do so. More examples for examining this emphasis and focus are: Luke 21:6, John 7:38; Acts 7:40; Revelation 2:26; 3:12 and 21.

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