Without Y’all, You’re Misinterpreting Your Bible

dilbert_misinterpretationLet’s all be honest here for a moment.  We are self-centered–especially when we read the Bible.  When you read the word “you” in your Bible, who do you immediately think of?  Your sister?  Your wife?  Your boss?  Of course not.  You think: “This is talking to me.

That’s my point.  Whenever you read “you” in the Bible, your immediate thought is, “This passage is speaking about and to me.”

It’s not about ‘you’; it’s about ‘y’all’.

One of our most frequent interpretive offensives isn’t even our fault.  Unlike Greek and Hebrew, English does not differentiate between you and you.  That was unclear.  English does not differentiate between you and y’all.  Catch my drift?  Maybe an example will help you to understand.  Consider this very familiar passage:

“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”

(1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

How many times have you read this passage and assumed it was talking about your body?  How many times have you read this as some kind of motivation to get up off the couch and stick with that New Year’s resolution to get your body back into shape?  Or maybe you at least read the passage in context and used the verse as a motive to abstain from personal sexual impurity.

Allow me to show you why we should advocate for an English translation that uses you and y’all.  Here’s the same passage, but this time, whenever the you is plural in Greek, I will write y’all:

“Or do y’all not know that y’all’s body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within y’all, whom y’all have from God? Y’all are not y’all’s own, for y’all were bought with a price. So glorify God in y’all’s body.”

(1 Corinthians 6:19-20, Southern Translators’ Version)

All of the sudden, this passage is about something totally different.  Paul’s actually speaking about the local church.  He’s advocating for purity in y’all’s body–i.e., the local church body.  Whatever application this passage may have for your personal exercise regiment is a secondary issue.  Paul is primarily concerned with the church realizing that it is the temple of the Holy Spirit.

Most of us are repeat offenders.  We automatically think you, but the Bible mostly speaks to y’all.  I wonder whether the American spirit of individuality has reinforced this individualistic interpretation of God’s Word.  Our Bible translators really need to address this issue in future editions, because I believe this problem has contributed to the modern Christian’s denigration of the local church body.  How much more would we value the local church if we realized most of the NT speaks to y’all, not you?

Who’s the Audience?

Our second offense occurs primarily in the epistles.  An epistle by nature is written by an individual to an audience.  Most of the epistles actually name specifically their target:

“Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, to the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thess. 1:1)

“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who are elect exiles of the dispersion…according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood…” (1 Peter 1:1-2)

“Paul, an apostle…and all the brothers who are with me, to the churches of Galatia…” (Galatians 1:1-2)

Show of hands: How many of us completely gloss over these introductory addresses?  And yet these initial words govern every you, y’all, we, and us in the entire letter.  When Paul uses pronouns, they aren’t for our free interpretation.  When Paul addresses a letter to a church or churches, we have to realize that the truths he proclaim in his letter about y’all are truths specifically true about believers.

For instance, in Ephesians 2:4-5 Paul proclaims, “But God being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses and sins, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved.”  The us and we in this passage does not include every single person who picks up Ephesians.  Paul has already clarified in his opening address that he is speaking with Christians.  The rich love of God has been poured out on believers in the regeneration they have experienced in Christ.

Does this mean non-Christians should not read the epistles?  Of course not.  As a non-Muslim, I can still read the Qur’an.  But when the Qur’an says you or us, I do not identify myself with the writer of the Qur’an because I am not Muslim.  I read the Qur’an as an outsider.  It’s similar with the Bible and non-Christians.

The Gospels: the Christian Gateway Drug.

I would argue that the Gospels are the gate by which we enter the blessed reality of the epistles.  Only after we repent and believe in the Jesus of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are we able to read you and us in Paul or Peter and say, “That means me, too!”  In John’s gospel, he shamelessly owns up to this intention: “But these are written so that y’all may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing y’all may have life in his name!” (John 20:31).  Once you come to faith through John’s gospel, the epistles are opened to you as the glorious new reality of your life together with the church of Christ.

In many senses, the New Testament books have been arranged in a way that fit our experience as believers.  At the beginning of the NT in the Gospels, we are confronted with Jesus Christ.  In Acts, we are called to repent and believe in this crucified and risen Savior and to join the church.  In the epistles, we receive instruction, exhortation, and encouragement for our life in the new realities in the local church.  In Revelation, our hope is directed toward the end of God’s divine plan of salvation in the return of our Savior, and the culmination of everything we have believed: the resurrection, final glorification, and eternal existence together with God in the new heavens and earth.

In conclusion, y’all need to advocate for an official Southern Translators’ Version of the Bible, y’alls and all.  It would do you and y’all good.

***UPDATE***: Our prayers have been answered–behold, Yallversion.com

Published by Chad C. Ashby

Instructor of Literature, Math, and Theology at Greenville Classical Academy Greenville, SC