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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

MY Father Who Art In Heaven? Paying Attention To Plural Pronouns In The Bible

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Many of us read the Bible as though it were written purely for our personal devotional reading, in spite of the fact that most of our scriptures are addressed to whole communities of people.

One of the ways the King James (Authorized) version of the Bible is helpful is that it distinguishes between a singular “you” and a plural “you” (as in the Southern “you all”).  According to the English language of the time, when one refers to one person, the pronouns “thee,” “thou” and “thine” are used. When the “you” is plural, the words “ye,” “you” and “yours” are used.

Our modern English no longer makes those distinctions. As an example, when Jesus offers his teaching on prayer in the Sermon on the Mount, we see that the “Lord’s Prayer” is meant to be a communal prayer, introduced with “When ye pray...”

Note the plural pronouns "we," “our” and “us” used here. Rather than our praying “My Father who art in heaven,” and “give me my daily bread,” we are asking our one Father, who loves everyone alike (note the use of the singular “Thy” and “Thine”), that all of the hungry everywhere be fed. Even the prayer for forgiveness of our debts (or trespasses), while certainly including each us as individuals, is for all of God’s people to be forgiven--as they in turn forgive others.

Then, addressing individual prayer, he says, "When thou prayest, go to thy closet and pray in secret," then he adds the following for group prayer, "When ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do." In other words, prayer is never for displaying our eloquence or to parading our piety. Keep it short and without pretense when you pray in the presence of others.

I find it very helpful reading the Bible from this perspective. It is certainly personal, of course, but is not just for our private interpretation or edification.

In short, the Good Book is about one God, singular, for all of the people of God, plural.                
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