As a choir singer I studied Arvo Pärt's composition "Which was the Son of...", text exracted from the Bible (Luke 3,23-38). It's simply Christ's genealogy. I was surprised that the relative pronoun used was 'which' and not 'who'. I suppose it is an ancient usage, and would not be correct in modern English

Thanks for an explanation!

  • There were two of them. Which [of them] was the Son of … Used in that context and sense, it seems less natural to say who [of them] was the Son of … Sep 9, 2019 at 1:09

2 Answers 2


From the Oxford English Dictionary (requires subscription)

I 2 b. Also (Old English and occasionally later) = Who. Obsolete except as a dialect or humorous substitute for what.

  • As a schoolkid in London in the 1950s I recited the Lord's Prayer starting "Our father, which art in heaven..." which is in the King James Bible (Matthew Chapter 6 verses 9 to 13). Nobody wondered about it. Modern versions use 'who'. My Catholic wife was taught 'who' in the 1950s. Sep 8, 2019 at 20:34
  • Thanks for the quote and the reference to King James Bible, which (!) I don't know as I'm Belgian
    – Christian
    Sep 8, 2019 at 21:07
  • @MichaelHarvey ... the best-known musical setting by Albert Hay Malotte (1935) uses "Our Father which art in heaven..."
    – GEdgar
    Sep 9, 2019 at 0:12

In King James Bible it's indeed "which was", but in its 21st century edition it's "who was", so you are correct in saying that it is an ancient usage, and would not be correct in modern English.

However, there is one instance when you can refer to a person using "which": if it's followed by a noun.

You decide which doctor is right for you.


  • Thanks for your remark, but in this case it is not a relative pronoun, you could say 'any' or 'the best'
    – Christian
    Sep 8, 2019 at 21:07

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