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"You" and "You" - Singular or Plural? (Monday with Mounce 139)

Categories Mondays with Mounce

Monday with MounceI wish modern English had a different form for “you” plural. It would solve some sticky translation problems. So until then, I guess we all have to learn some Greek.

Philip finds Nathanael to tell him about Jesus, and Nathanael responds with his now famous, “Can anything good come from [Nazareth]?” (John 1:46). Jesus tells Nathanael that he saw him under the fig tree, and Nathanael responds “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel” (1:49).

But then Jesus says, “Jesus said, ‘You (πιστεύεις) believe because I told you (σοι) I saw you (σε) under the fig tree. You (ὄψῃ) will see greater things than that.’ He then added, ‘Very truly I tell you (ὑμῖν), you will see (ὄψεσθε) “heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on” the Son of Man’” (NIV, 1:50-51).

Did you notice how the number of the second person pronoun shifted from singular to plural? There is no way you would pick that up from the English. Jesus is talking (apparently) just to Nathanael, but in v 51 he shifts to speaking to Nathanael and Philip.

But there may be even more.

The shift to the plural may also signify that the fulfillment of this promise includes all the disciples who would, over the next several years, experience the power of the coming kingdom of God. Carson comments, “The fulfillment of the promise of 1:51, the culmination of the Father’s attestation of the Son, the privilege of seeing the glory of the Son of Man — these transpire throughout the Fourth Gospel, and are climaxed by Jesus’ death and resurrection” (page 164).

This is why the ESV has the habit of including footnotes when the Greek is so obscured by the English. “The Greek for you is plural; twice in this verse.” So also the NIV and probably others.

Youplural

This is why I personally am spending so much time these days working on ways for people who know a little Greek to be able to go deeper in their Bible study, both with my book, Greek for the Rest of Us and my new video series, "The Biblical Greek Primer.”

Anyone with even the most basic awareness of Greek should be able to pull up their favorite Bible study software, do a mouse over the word “you,” and see that it is plural.

Until then, we can be thankful for footnotes.

MouncewWilliam D. [Bill] Mounce posts about the Greek language, exegesis, and related topics at  Koinonia. He is the author of numerous books, including the bestselling Basics of Biblical Greek, and is the general editor for 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 NIVLearn more and visit Bill's other blog on spiritual growth, Life is a Journey, at www.billmounce.com

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