The Corporate Application of Scripture

Maybe we need a Southern Bible Version (the SBV)?

Or perhaps a Pittsburgh one?

One of the regular reminders I give hermeneutic and homiletical students is that English uses the word “you” for both the singular and plural. So it can be easy to misunderstand many portions of the Bible. For an example, Paul asks the Corinthian church, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Cor. 3:16) Is the “you” that is used three times in this verse singular or plural? When studying the Bible, it is important to note that both original languages of Hebrew in the Old Testament and Greek in the New make a distinction between the second person singular and plural. In this verse, both the Greek and the context make it clear it is plural as Paul is telling the congregation at Corinth it is God’s temple.

That’s why a Southern Bible version might clarify this issue a bit. Paul’s question would become “Do y’all not know that y’all are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in y’all?” In Pittsburgh where I work, the natives are known for using the word yinz (a shortened form of “you uns”?) like y’all down south. So using this word would also make this distinction, though that’s starting to get too close to The Message for my liking.

Dialectical fun aside, those leading a Bible study, teaching, or preaching might want to make sure they are getting this pronoun correct. Especially in the United States, where the individualistic spirit is strong and people already read the Bible or hear a message to see “what’s in it for me” anyway, people need to be helped in seeing not only the individual but also the corporate application of Scripture.

I was reminded of this point again by a recent article in Tabletalk entitled “Doing Theology Together under the Leading of the Holy Spirit.” Gabe Fluhrer points out the following in Jesus’ discourse on the Holy Spirit in the gospel of John:

Interestingly, the personal pronoun “you” is used almost thirty times in John 14:15–31 and not once is it in the singular form. It is always plural. Why? Because Jesus is promising the guidance of the Spirit not just to individuals but to His church.

Indeed, the Spirit and His truth has been given to the church and not just to certain people.

Seeing this important truth opens up the Bible to wider and deeper applications. Examples abound. As the above example shows, considering the church and not just my individual self as the temple of God (which many professing Christians do) emphasizes such things as the importance of being at worship, learning from others, serving together in the church, etc. Recognizing many of the epistles were written to congregations or to ministers serving them can help apply the Word more fully to the body of Christ.

For instance, consider these words in Galatians 5:16. “I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” Again, most Americans would read that as an individual “you” and think of how they could personally walk by the Spirit and avoid the flesh. However, clearly it is a plural “you” in the original Greek. We need each other in order to walk in the Spirit. From the context, Paul is urging that the church in Galatia be led by the Spirit to encourage one another, warn one another of sin’s dangers, and practice the fruit of the Spirit toward one another.

In certain places, this corporate nature is expressed more definitively in English. In the book of Hebrews, the author uses the first person plural often to get at this sense of our corporate duties. Since the first person singular and plural (I versus we) are distinct in English, the meaning is more clear. So when he says such things as “let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Heb. 12:2), I am to hear readily that I am not to only be concerned that I run the race this way, but I am to encourage fellow believers to do so as well.

So though we may not have a Southern or Pittsburgh version of the Bible, looking at a concordance or commentary to help us get the proper sense of the number of persons being addressed is vital in truly understanding and applying the Scriptures. In particular, we learn that God is thinking not only of our vertical relationship with Him but, much more than we typically realize, also of our horizontal relationships with one another.

4 Comments

  1. William Duncan February 13, 2018 at 5:22 am #

    I am thankful for those like yourself who are gifted in the original languages. It is vital for the Church and its purity that the seminaries continue to require men to at least study if not become fluent. Being of rural Southern descent for the last six generations, which ultimately means Scotch-Irish and a daily user of “y’all” and “ain’t,” I thank you for your plug for a Southern bible. Of course had the authors of the King James written in the true language of the people it would be in Southernese. By the way, I ain’t got no hard feelin tword y’all Yankees.

  2. Robert Walker February 14, 2018 at 5:35 am #

    In Glasgow it would be “yous” or emphatic “yous yins” . We must have a Scots influence there in Pittsburgh. Not sure that using bad English is the answer. I liked Hendriksen’s using y o u with extra space between the letters.

  3. Sharon Sampson February 14, 2018 at 4:33 pm #

    Just reading your GR post on the Corporate Application of Scripture. Luke 22:31-32 has always been one of my favorite passages where both the individual and the corporate “you” are present, probably in ways missed by most people. Jesus is actually telling Peter that Satan has asked to sift all of the them, but that he has prayed for Peter, that when Peter turns back he can strengthen the brothers. I love it that Jesus told Peter he wasn’t the only one Satan asked to sift and that Peter had a responsibility to strengthen the brothers from the position of his own sin, repentance, and restoration. Makes me think of 2 Cor. 1 and comforting others with the comfort we have received. So cool!

    Interestingly, I just noticed that the 2011 NIV actually makes this “you” singular/plural issue more clear, unlike the ESV (or the 1983 NIV). Here are the Greek, ESV, and 2011 NIV of the Luke 22 text:

    BGT Luke 22:31 Σίμων Σίμων, ἰδοὺ ὁ σατανᾶς ἐξῃτήσατο ὑμᾶς τοῦ σινιάσαι ὡς τὸν σῖτον· 32 ἐγὼ δὲ ἐδεήθην περὶ σοῦ ἵνα μὴ ἐκλίπῃ ἡ πίστις σου· καὶ σύ ποτε ἐπιστρέψας στήρισον τοὺς ἀδελφούς σου. (Luk 22:31 BGT)

    ESV Luke 22:31 “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, 32 but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” (Luk 22:31 ESV)

    NIV Luke 22:31 “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” (Luk 22:31 NIV)

  4. Barry York February 15, 2018 at 6:57 pm #

    William, Robert, and Sharon,

    Thank you for the further insights!

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