'Let he who is without sin among you throw the first stone!" Does this Bible verse grate on your ears? And I don't just mean because, in it, Jesus deflates your self-righteousness. I mean: Does the grammar sound correct? Or do you feel the need to say, "Let him who is without sin . . ." instead?
After The Globe and Mail ran a headline with the biblical allusion "Let he who is without sin . . ." on Nov. 20, Gerald Owen of the National Post scolded The Globe, arguing that the verb "let" requires the pronoun "him" as the verb's object.
Sadly, some in the journalistic profession have lost touch with the old ways of proper grammar. Despite Mr. Owen's noble attempt, I regret to observe that he is incorrect about the "let" requiring a "him" in John 8:7. Let me explain why "let he who is without sin . . ." is not bad grammar.
The correct translation of "he" in the original Greek depends on who the subject of the verb is. In John 8:7, "he" is the nominative subject of the verb, and hence it is the correct translation for the verb conjugated in the third person.
The confusion stems from thinking the verb is "let." It's not. The verb in the passage is "throw." Mr. Owen has smuggled in the assumption that the implicit subject of the verb is "you," as in the command, "[you must]let him throw!" But in both the Greek and Latin text, the subject of the verb is the third-person singular: "he."
Allow me to illustrate with a more accurate translation of John 8:7 (from the Latin Vulgate's subjunctive mood).
"May he who is without sin among you throw the stone at her first."
Notice that the nominative subject pronoun is correct: "May he throw." You would not wish to say (as an illiterate caveman might): "May him throw."
I agree that those who live in self-righteous glass houses shouldn't throw stones at other people's transparent moral fragility. But, even if corrective pedantry is not desirable in morals, perhaps in grammar it must be. He who has found false grammatical knowledge, send a correction! (This is the imperative mood, giving the verbal command "send!" to the third person "he," modelled on the New Testament's original Greek in John 8:7.)
C.S. Morrissey teaches New Testament Greek and Latin at Simon Fraser University.