My own spiritual formation is so much more connected to and dependent upon yours than I ever before realized. And this is God’s intention – His design. I’m far from “getting” this concept. I only just recently scratched the surface! This is going to take some deep prayer and serious study to fully understand.
In the previous post, I mentioned the interesting use of pronouns in Hebrews 11:39-40. This little Scripture has really shaken the foundations of of my highly-individualized view of discipleship – in a good way. It has driven me deeper into the Scriptures and into God’s heart for humanity.
My delving has only just begun, but already I have found some fascinating things that were there all along, but only now are my eyes (and heart and mind) opening to them. And Christ’s Spirit living in me is confirming them as right and true!
One of the reasons this has remained hidden for me has been the confusion of the use of the word “you” in the English translations of the Bible. In English, the same word “you” has two very different applications: singular and plural.
I can look at my wife and say, “I love you”, and she understands from context that I mean her, alone, as a singular individual. I can then turn to my three kids and say, “I love you”, and they understand from context that I mean all of them, you plural.
The English language is unique in this respect. Almost all other languages have different words for you-singular and you-plural. Including Hebrew and Greek – the original languages of the Old and New Testaments, respectively.
Now, my linguistic upbringing as a boy from The South should have given me an advantage in this regard, as we describe the plural you as y’all. However, the translators of my Bible opted not to use Southern dialectical language in their version. I wish they had – then differentiating between the Hebrew and Greek “you” and “you all” would have been so much clearer!
John Dyer, the Director of Communications and Educational Technology for Dallas Theological Seminary, has created a BIble Web App which includes a plugin for correcting this confusion between you-singular and you-plural.
Dyer has also written an outstanding article entitled Texas Has What English Lacks that explains in more academic terms why it is so important that we differentiate between the singular and plural forms of you. In it, he says
“there are 4,720 verses (2,698 in the Old Testament and 2,022 in the New) with you plural translated as English you which could lead a reader to think it is directed at him or her personally rather than the Church as a community.”
Dyer goes on to say that
“since the Protestant Reformation, we’ve tended to emphasize the salvation of the individual and, with inverse proportion, downplayed God’s work in the Church as a community of people.”
For instance, Dyer points out that Jeremiah was writing in the second person plural (“you all”) when he penned his now famous refrain in Jeremiah 29:11. A more accurate translation of the verse from Hebrew into English would read like this:
“For I know the plans I have for you all,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you all and not to harm you all.”
Too long have English-speaking Christians (myself included!) read this verse – and many many others! – and erroneously assumed it was intended for a singular individual you. Jeremiah was writing to many thousands of exiled Israelites living as slaves in Babylon. The Hebrew language makes it clear that Jeremiah’s intention (and God’s as He was speaking to them through Jeremiah) was to address a multitude of people living together – not just a single individual living alone in isolation. The Hebrew here uses the plural you all.
I will be writing on this topic more in the future – this is just an introduction to a new concept I’ve never before realized in Scripture. I am both excited about and intimidated by it! Not only by the concept of it, but more so by the reality of it. This will forever change the way I view “my” spiritual growth versus “yours”. If this is as real as I am sensing it is, then the Christian life is OURS – our spiritual formation, our journey of discipleship. Together. And not just me and you, but all other believers around the globe, and across the spectrum of time.
I welcome your comments on this – I need your input! My growth in Christ is tied to yours in so much more of a real and deep and profound way than I ever before realized…