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 … – Jason Bassford Sep 9 '19 at 1:09

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. – Michael Harvey Sep 8 '19 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 '19 at 21:07
  • @MichaelHarvey ... the best-known musical setting by Albert Hay Malotte (1935) uses "Our Father which art in heaven..." – GEdgar Sep 9 '19 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 '19 at 21:07

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