John T. Willis

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Thou or You?

Let me remind the readers that I am reporting my own experiences about religious matters in Churches of Christ for over 65 years. Undoubtedly, many other events occurred during that same time in other parts of the world. So I would encourage anyone to go far and wide to find as much information as possible.

As a teacher at David Lipscomb College in 1956-1971, one issue that emerged is that a writer in the Gospel Advocate in Nashville, Tennessee argued that when we pray in church, we must use "thou" and "thee" when we address God in all of our public prayers. He made this a doctrinal issue which everyone must follow if that person is to be a true Christian. This is obviously a misinformed view. I sent an article to the editor of the Gospel Advocate to explain that it is fine to address God as "you" and "your" in prayer. The editor never responded, but sent my article to the first writer, and the first writer published a second article refuting my article which no one ever read. I learned an important lesson in that situation. Church is dripping with CHURCH POLITICS. We CLAIM that we are open to listen to all views and to weigh all arguments. THIS IS NOT TRUE!!! Those who have money and power often control positions in Churches of Christ, just as in all churches. During that same time period, the Firm Foundation, at that time edited by Reuel Lemmons, allowed Jack Lewis at Memphis, Tennessee publish an article to present this issue in an informed manner. The view of the man who wrote the two articles in the Gospel Advocate is laughable and deeply embarrassing to the church and to anyone else who knows the English language, to say nothing of those who know Hebrew and Greek.

The truth about all this is: THE SECOND PERSON PRONOUN, ADJECTIVE, and IMPERATIVE is problematic to English speaking people BECAUSE it can be singular or plural, depending on the verse under consideration. Here we will briefly give examples of each.

1. The Second Person Pronoun.
     a. The second pronoun is "you." In the evolution of the English language, when the King James Version was published in 1611, people made a clear distinction between the singular and the plural. "T" stood for the singular, while "Y" stood for the plural. That is, "thou, thine, and thee" are singular, and "you, your, and yours" are plural. Thus, "thou" is NOT a holy term for God, but simply refers to the singular. As a clear example, in Matthew 16:23, Jesus said to Peter according to the King James Version, "Get THEE behind me, Satan!" When Jesus addresses Satan as "thee," is Jesus honoring him or exalting him or worshipping him? I hope not. Satan is one personality, and thus one MUST use the second person singular to address him.
      b.  The correct interpretation of many texts is dependent on "you" whether it is singular or plural. Here is only one example. Luke 22:31-32 says:
           verse 31: Simon, Simon, behold the Satan demanded to sift YOU like wheat. The KJV has "YOU" correctly, meaning "all you disciples of Jesus." However, many people, naively unaware that "YOU" is plural here, assume that "YOU" here means Peter. That is totally incorrect. During the trial of Jesus, ALL his disciples forsook him. Peter denied Jesus three times, but even then, Peter was closer to Jesus than any of the other Twelve. The NRSV makes this clear by translating: "Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has demanded to sift ALL OF YOU like wheat." BUT "ALL OF" is NOT in the Greek. "ALL OF" is unnecessary UNLESS people do not know the difference between the singular and the plural.
           verse 32: But I have prayed for YOU that YOUR faith may not fail; and YOU, when once YOU have turned back, strengthen YOUR brothers." Throughout verse 32, "YOU" and "YOUR" is singular, referring to Peter. Jesus knew that Peter was the strongest of the weak, and thus Peter will repent, and then Peter is responsible to encourage his spiritual brothers to repent and turn back to Jesus. The KJV uses "thy" and "thee" throughout verse 32 because in ancient English, "thy" and "thee" is singular.
   2. The Adjective.
        a. An adjective specifies or describes a noun. A person can be a GOOD person or a BAD person. "Good" and "Bad" are adjectives of "Person" in this context. But there is a problem when the adjective does not have the accompanying noun. One MUST learn whether the adjective is singular or plural.
        b. A good example of the importance of this is in Hebrews 12:23. This verse says: "You [plural] have come to Mount Zion . . . , to the assembly [church] [here the Greek word is ekklesia] of the firstborn [Greek--prototokon] who are enrolled in heaven . . ." Anyone who knows Greek sees immediately that "firstborn" is PLURAL, NOT SINGULAR. I have heard sermons and seen articles arguing that Hebrews 12:23 is a clear example of the true name of God's people, "Church of the Firstborn," and the "Firstborn" is Jesus. How wrong that can be. This text refers to the church or assembly of "firstborn people," that is, all Christians, all true followers of Jesus.

    3. The Imperative.
        a. The second imperative can be very tricky for English hearers. If a teacher says to the class: "GO" to the restaurant, NO ONE knows whether the teach is thinking of the whole class or one designated person in the class or two or three students that teacher has just named. "GO" is an imperative and can be singular or plural, depending on whether this is singular or plural.
        b. A good example of the importance of this is in Matthew 5:14. Jesus says to his followers: "YOU ARE [Greek humeis este] the light of the world." YOU here is PLURAL, NOT SINGULAR. Yes, like you, I love the little song, "This little light of mine, I want to make it shine." But that is NOT what Jesus is talking about. He is talking about ALL OF GOD'S PEOPLE IN UNITY--as a GROUP OF PEOPLE. All of YOU are the light of the world. When we are not united under God through Jesus Christ, we are NOT the light that Jesus envisions.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Let us all be much more careful about what the Bible actually SAYS, NOT what we assume. Take the time to find out what a text really means.

Share YOUR insights and experiences and works and losses and reversals with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis


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