Can you explain the difference between heautou and idios?




I would like to ask for your insight. I am trying to understand two Greek words better. As I was doing a Google search I came upon your website and read many of your articles. I also noticed your apparent love for Greek word studies.   

Here are the two Greek words I am trying to gain a better understanding of:
- heautou  (Strongs #1438)
- idios  (Strongs #2398)

I would greatly appreciate your understanding of these words and if there is any subtle difference between them.

I have many questions regarding greek words and the differences between them. There can be several Greek words translated into the same English word. Without knowing the differences in the Greek, I believe a lot of meaning and understanding can be lost. If you have any suggestions for a good online websites for Greek word studies that would help in this area it would be appreciated as well.

While understanding Greek is not a requirement to understand God's word, seeing what was said in the original language does often add richness to one's understanding. I happened to have collected over the years a nice library of reference works and this spills over into my writings. For on-line resources take a look at our Reference Material page. Several sources for Greek courses, discussion lists, and the like are listed.

heautou is a personal pronoun (third person reflexive to get technical) meaning himself, herself, themselves, or itself, depending on the case ending. It is used most often in situations where something is acted upon one's self. They can be internal, such as condemn, deceive, deny, exalt, examine, humble, justify, know, love, and trust. They also can be external, such as save, kill, gird, drink, and purify.

Example: "for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was" (James 1:24). "how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?" (Hebrews 9:14).

In a few instances, heautou can express the idea of possessing a very personal thing. Usually the translators will use the phrase "his own" in these cases. Hence, you will find verses speaking of his own life, his own body, his own soul, or his own wife.

Example: "So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself" (Ephesians 5:28). The first three are references to possession and the last is a reference to action upon self. But notice that there is still the idea that something is being acted upon what is seen as a very personal possession. Love is applied to one's own body and one's own wife.

idios is a possessive pronoun meaning that it belongs to the person, especially as oppose to a group. There is no action or idea being applied to the person or his very personal possession; it simply indicates possession.

Example: "For each one shall bear his own load" (Galatians 6:5). Here the load must be born by me, personally, as it belongs to me. heautou would not fit in this case because the load is not me or strongly associated with me.

See also:

Questions and Answers regarding the Terminology in the Bible