In every job in which I’ve been privileged to serve, language has been a critical tool. Writer, editor, preacher: I’ve lived by words (and The Word!)
It came naturally enough. My grandfather loved to gleefully help form my 2-year-old mouth around such gems as “transparent”, “translucent” and such – I had to learn the definitions, too. My nickname as a child was “Little Dictionary”.
In the Air Force, all of us who scored highly on the AFQT (Armed Forces Qualifying Test) were automatically signed up to take a language aptitude test. I did too well and they wanted to teach me Vietnamese. But I had other skills, and escaped 53 weeks in beautiful Monterey California, and had a direct assignment to Chanute.
The language aptitude has been helpful in working with Scripture. While English is a wonderful and versatile language it does have its limits.
One big one is our second person pronouns.
Other pronouns exist in singular and plural forms: I/we, s/he/they; in the second person, only “you”. Is that you-singular or y’all, plural?
Greek, for instance, does differentiate. And many times we take instructions given to the community as individual mandates, to the exclusion of everyone else. If it matters to you, learn Greek and do some translation; discover which you is which. My point is a little different.
We live our lives individually but we live our lives within community, many communities. Both aspects are important, vital. I would propose that when we encounter the word “you” in the English Bible, we consider it both as singular and plural.
When Jesus says something like, “The truth shall make you free,” it could mean that as we search for truth, embrace reality, we will be fuller, freer individuals. Or it could mean as we search for truth, embrace reality, we will have fuller, freer communities, societies.
Works either way, right?
Words, language, the ability to communicate with each other, is one of the marvelous gifts God gives us. It’s a shame when we don’t use it. It’s pitiable when we exclude the needs of individuals or the needs of all with whom we share our existence.
Perhaps to be faithful we need to learn how to think and act in both singular and plural.
Just a thought.
Pastor Doug Campbell is a retired Lutheran pastor and a member of Faith, Wilmington. He currently is supplying pulpits in the Southern Ohio Synod. He was formerly Deputy Wing Chaplain for the Civil Air Patrol in Ohio. Before seminary he worked for the Chillicothe (O) Gazette, and as the editor of the Chanute AFB newspaper in Rantoul, Illinois.
This weekly column is provided to the News Journal on a monthly rotation basis by members of the Wilmington Area Ministerial Association.