The Absence of "Ye:" a Modern English Tragedy

Let's talk about the Second Person Plural. What's wrong with the English language, anyway? Old English had "ye." In California we say "you guys" (even if we're talking to a group of ladies!) In the South it's "y'all." And I've even heard "all y'all" once or twice from those hailing from the deep south. My two year old simply says "yous."

If you're an English guru like me, you know the correct plural of "you" is "you." No kidding. So I do my best to refrain from tacking on "guys" every time I address my two boys or any other group of people. But darn, this is confusing!

It's confusing for Christians, too, I think, as we read through the New Testament and get an overwhelming sense that it was written--not to all Christians, or even a group of Christians--but to me, individually. We say things like "I am the Church," yet the Bible never calls a single Christian the Church; the Church is the whole, collective body of Christians who represent Christ here on earth. We encourage each other that "You have the kingdom of God within you," when in fact Christ meant something else entirely (*1).

The thing is, Greek does have a plural form of "you" and it's used over five times more frequently than the singular form. (*2) The difference this makes is drastic. It's powerful. It's missional.
     - Jesus wasn't sending you, by yourself, into your workplace or school or home as sheep among wolves (Mt 10.16; Lk 10.3), He was sending the Church out as sheep among wolves.
     - When He promised persecution (Mt 24.9; Mk 13.9), He wasn't looking at one person in the crowd, and He wasn't speaking 20 centuries into the future to you. He was prophesying that the whole Body of Christ would be persecuted as He was.
     - When He explained that God will provide for tomorrow the way He clothes the lilies and feeds the birds (Mt 6.30; Lk 12.28), He wasn't only claiming to be the Provider for my needs, but all needs.
     - Or when He said, "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love." He was expressing His love to all of us. His Church; His Bride.

Shall I go on? Ok, just a few more...
     - When He chose you to go and bear fruit--fruit that will last, (John 16.15) it was not only you, but a whole vineyard of fruit-bearers.
     - When He foretold the coming of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter (Jn 16.7), He didn't promise Him to just one Christian, but to the whole missionary force of new believers.
     - When He described the gifts the Holy Spirit would bestow (Jn 16.13-15), He wasn't identifying individuals who would be equipped with certain abilities, but commissioning an entire truth-clinging, God-glorifying, gospel-preaching, salvation-prophesying movement.

This wonderful understanding of "you" as plural ought to eliminate the ability to feel lonely in the Body of Christ. He never meant for us to be alone in our faith. It also makes it invalid to ever assume that His promises are for your neighbor in the pew, but not for you. They are not for one but for many! (Mt 26.28)


*1 - In Luke 17.21, when Jesus says, "The Kingdom of God is within you," the you is plural. He is saying that the Kingdom of God is within the crowd. Christ's other teachings on the Kingdom show us very clearly that the Kingdom is not inside us; we are inside the Kingdom. Perhaps a better to clarify what Jesus meant is that the Kingdom is "among you" (NLT) or "in your midst" (ESV and NASB). While these are certainly interpretations rather than technical translations, the lack of the second person plural in English otherwise misdirects the text.

*2 - The singular form, σύ, (su) and its variants are used a total of 177 times in the NT, while the plural, ὑμᾶς, (humas) and variants are used 932 times.

There's not a whole lot I like about the King James Version of the Bible. (I know some folks who claim it's the only inspired English translation, and we agree to disagree.) But there's just one thing--one beautiful, captivating, inspiring, little word that the King James possesses and all other translations lack: "ye."

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