Is it "You" or "Y'all"? 1 Cor 6:19 Illustrates Some Exegesis Hurdles (Monday with Mounce 200)
Because English uses the same form, "you," for both singular and plural, it can make exegesis a little complicated at times. In some of these circumstances, you will find your English translation footnoting the fact that the "you" is singular or plural.
Take for example 1 Cor 3:16-17. "Do you (οἴδατε) not know that you are (ἐστε) God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you (ἐν ὑμῖν)? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him (τοῦτον). For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple (οἵτινές ἐστε ὑμεῖς)" (ESV). The "you" in v 16 is footnoted, "The Greek for you is plural in verses 16 and 17."
Most understand that Paul is speaking here corporately, and that it is all the believers in Corinth that together form the temple of God, the habitation of God. And to destroy that temple is to invite destruction on yourself. (There's a thought for all the gossips and slanderers that destroy local fellowships, but that's a different blog.)
But then note the use of similar imagery a few chapters later. In 6:19 Paul writes, "Or do you not know that your (ὑμῶν) body (τὸ σῶμα) is a temple (ναὸς) of the Holy Spirit within you (ὑμῖν), whom you have (ἔχετε) from God? You are (ἐστέ) not your own" (ESV).
In this case, it sounds like each individual believer's body is a body that would be violated by prostitution. After all, he is talking about the effects of joining one's body with a prostitute. So why the plural "you" (ὑμῖν, ἐστέ)? This is where a little exegetical sensitivity emerges. Paul is speaking to a group of people, and what he says applies to each one of them individually. It is not so much the form of the pronoun but the context that helps make this decision.
If we would just adopted the southern expression "y'all" for the plural—even though it can function in the south as a singular—this type of problem would be minimized.
Or else we could all just learn Greek.
William D. [Bill] Mounce posts about the Greek language, exegesis, and related topics at Koinonia. He is the author of numerous works including the recent Basics of Biblical Greek Video Lectures and the bestselling Basics of Biblical Greek. He is the general editor of Mounce's Complete Expository Dictionary of the Old and New Testament Words. He served as the New Testament chair of the English Standard Version Bible translation, and is currently on the Committee for Bible Translation for the NIV.
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