"The Jesus who said" - why is there a definite article before the proper name "Jesus"?



The system doesn't seem to be providing for the well-being of all the people, and that's what makes it, almost in its very nature, something contrary to the Jesus who said, "Blessed are the poor. Woe to the rich." (source: a documentary film)

Since normally proper names are not preceded by the definite article, I don't know why in a film a person said "the Jesus". I hear the definite article before Jesus, and the subtitles also confirm that, but I don't know if I heard it wrong, so here is a link to a YouTube video starting at that part of the film.

Why is the definite article used here? My hunch is it is to emphasize a particular version, if you will, among different versions of Jesus that preached on the poor and the rich. Are there other examples of the definite article being used before proper names/nouns?

Eddie Kal

Posted 2018-12-27T14:45:46.403

Reputation: 15 761


Side note: This appears to be a reference to Luke 6 (verses 20 and 24). In context and with comparison to the similar Matthew 5, Jesus does not seem to be making a direct condemnation of wealth, but rather making a point about indulging in Earthly comfort rather than seeking God. An alternate opinion, if you're interested.

– jpmc26 – 2018-12-28T03:58:23.307



When a person has said many things over the course of their life, those statements may not always be perfectly consonant with one another. Using the definite article the is an acknowledgement of that dissonance or lack of agreement between one statement and another:

Where's the President Trump who promised a middle-class tax break?

It's as if to say there is more than one version of the person, and the speaker is singling out one of them.

P.S. In the specific context of Jesus, he is known only via the biographical traditions that present his life and sayings, and thus there are literally "versions" of Jesus. Sometimes, as Jeff says, the speaker who uses that phrase is promoting the version that they consider the "true" version; at other times it is simply a recognition of there being multiple versions to choose from. I don't think it's possible to say from that brief interview which meaning the bishop has in mind.

P.P.S. In the context of the utterance in the video, the restrictive clause "who said 'Blessed are ...'" is part of the specification and essential to the distinguishing of this Jesus from some other Jesus (or Jesuses) who did not say those words. And that need not be taken literally to mean that multiple historical persons named Jesus are being distinguished from one another; it can be simply a manner of speaking, a figurative use of the definite article, just as grandpa can say to Billy who won't eat his Wheaties:

Where's the Billy whose favorite cereal is Wheaties?

What you make of the statement from that point on (whether it is a comment critical of people who don't really understand the "real" Jesus, or a reference to the fact of there being multiple views of Jesus in the lives that have survived as gospel or multiple views that have resulted from different interpretations thereof) is a matter of cultural interpretation, not of English grammar.


Posted 2018-12-27T14:45:46.403

Reputation: 116 610

7You are correct but in this case the usage of "The Jesus who said" is to differentiate what Jesus said from how some of his followers act, not other things he said. This usage is fairly common in my experience, It is pointing out that people seem to be following different ideals of Jesus--as in "You claim to follow Jesus, but considering your avarice it's clearly not the Jesus who said 'blessed are the poor...' " – Bill K – 2018-12-27T18:26:36.440

7@Bill K: Their Jesus is not your Jesus. It still comes down to there being different "versions" of Jesus, in that case with the implication that there's the authentic Jesus and the inauthentic Jesuses. – Tᴚoɯɐuo – 2018-12-27T19:17:58.257

5But your answer says that the variation is due to imperfect consonance; it seems truer that the variation is due to imperfect reception by individuals, not by imperfect consonance at the source. – elliot svensson – 2018-12-27T19:19:27.167

5I don't want this to devolve into a discussion of the true Jesus. Enough about Jesus. – Tᴚoɯɐuo – 2018-12-27T19:20:56.080

8Yes @Elliot, it's used to point out that a follower of Jesus is not acting according to the teachings of Jesus as written, implying (sarcastically) that he must be following another Jesus who had different teachings. – Bill K – 2018-12-27T19:26:49.553

1It's worth noting with more emphasis that this kind of implication can also arise from not actual inconsistency, but from interpretations that wrongly suggest inconsistency. Sometimes the answer to "where is the [name] who said [position]?" is "[name]'s support for [position] arose from [reasoning compatible with that [name] is currently doing]." – mtraceur – 2018-12-28T22:39:31.307

1'the restrictive clause "who said 'Blessed are ...'" is part of the specification' -> which is why there is no comma before "who". – AndreKR – 2018-12-29T14:08:43.707

Of course in other contexts we may really be talking about different individuals: "the John who baptised Jesus is not the John who wrote the fourth Gospel". But here it's more to emphasise that the same individual might have contrasting personalities: "This was the Jeremy Corbyn who campaigned for nuclear disarmament, not the Jeremy Corbyn who led the labour party". – Michael Kay – 2019-04-22T23:06:08.213


There are several cases where proper nouns can take "the" with some examples here.

In English, you use the article THE with proper nouns:

to emphasize the uniqueness of that entity:

e.g. It's THE Barbra Streisand.

to specify what singular entity you were referring to:

e.g. THE Elvis I got to know was a defeated king.

The specific construction "the Jesus who said" could fit into either category.

It could be clarifying which Jesus said the quote, including disambiguating between multiple presentations associated with the same physical human being. This is the meaning used in Tᴚoɯɐuo's example, as if there is a Trump who is pro tax breaks and another who isn't delivering them.

Alternatively it could presume that the identity in question is perfectly clear and coherent, and be drawing attention to something specific about that person. For example one might say "The President Trump who promised to build a wall can hardly expect a warm welcome in Mexico."

As a grammatical question, it's also worth noting that there are other constructions with proper nouns and articles not mentioned in the linked page.

Sometimes a definite article is placed between the proper noun and the specification, as in "Pliny the Younger" or "Pope Gregory the Great." (although in these cases the specification might be described as part of the name)

If there is an adjective modifying the proper noun in question, then it could take an article and that article could be definite or indefinite. For example "A discouraged Robert was inspired by watching a spider making his web." or "This puzzle was no match for the crafty Daedalus."


Posted 2018-12-27T14:45:46.403

Reputation: 251


Your supposition is correct. The use of the definite article is a rhetorical device to indicate that what is being said is the truth because truth is necessarily unique whereas error is manifold.

For Christians, Christianity is supposed to be determined by the meaning of what were the actual words of Jesus. But people differ in how they interpret those words. So the sentence means "something contrary to what I interpret as the meaning of certain words of Jesus." Rhetorically, however, the speaker wants to imply by using the definite article that there is only one correct interpretation, namely the speaker's.

Jeff Morrow

Posted 2018-12-27T14:45:46.403

Reputation: 19 401

2Based on the other answers, this is harder to correctly answer than it seems, but you most certainly have it correct. The implication here is basically "this is what Jesus said, and if you're not following it, you're following an impostor." Kind of like how if you hear a story about your friend Robert, but what you are being told sounds out of character, you might say "that's not the Robert I know." You are implying that a listener who thinks otherwise doesn't really know Jesus. – Michael W. – 2018-12-28T17:40:46.693

1@MichaelW.: or that you don’t know the real Robert... – jmoreno – 2018-12-29T17:24:43.093

In this particular context, yes: the speaker is speaking of "the Jesus" that he personally identifies with. But in a different context, the construct does not necessarily have this implication: "It is sometimes difficult to remember that the Jesus who entered Jerusalem on a donkey is the same Jesus who was condemned by the crowd just a week later". The essence of the construct is that we are focusing on a particular facet or persona of the individual, not on their entire nature and identity. – Michael Kay – 2019-04-22T23:00:15.623


I don't think the speaker had any intent to imply that there were multiple versions of Jesus or that Jesus' statements at different times contradicted each other.

On the contrary, using the definite article here is a rhetorical device intended to emphasize that (in the speaker's opinion) the same Jesus who made those two statements wouldn't have supported something contrary to the speaker's interpretation of those statements.

This is a somewhat common device used for setting up a contrast. In this case, the contrast is between the speaker's interpretation of a couple of quotes from Jesus and what the speaker perceives to be the results of "the system." (I haven't watched the video, but I'm assuming from the context and its title that "the system" is capitalism or at least some attempted implementation thereof.)


Posted 2018-12-27T14:45:46.403

Reputation: 436


My assumption is that the person who wrote it was not a native English speaker. Often someone who's second or third language is English will add an unnecessary definite article. While doing so might be correct in their first language, it isn't in English.

Steve Wright

Posted 2018-12-27T14:45:46.403

Reputation: 1

3Ironic that a post about poor English would contain poor English. – Sod Almighty – 2018-12-29T14:39:52.590

4First, this excerpt wasn't written, it was spoken by a Catholic bishop from the archdiocese of Detroit. He sounds like a native speaker to me, and an eloquent one at that. Other answers here do a good job of explaining why this construct is used on occasion. I'm not surprised that the TRomano I know weighed in with a good additional example. – J.R. – 2018-12-29T22:16:26.713