This is really more of a grammar lesson than an actual word study, but the word “you” is so badly misunderstood in what passes for New Testament teaching, that I think “you all” will soon see why it is needed. The problem in this case is not teachers with an axe to grind, or deliberate distortion of the text. The culprit in this error is the English language itself. This subject is one where Elizabethan English, if rightly understood, does a better job of translating than “modern” versions. The reason is that, unlike any other language I have encountered, modern literary English makes no distinction between singular and plural in the second person pronoun, “you.” Speakers of other languages do not have this problem to the same extent.
In older English, it was easier: “ye, your, and you” indicated plurals, while “thou, thine, and thee” were singular in reference. They were not, as some suppose, an indicator of status or reverence, but simply of how many people were being addressed.
Since modern convention makes no such distinction, however, native speakers of English tend to read most occurrences of “you” as if they were individually addressed, whereas in the vast majority – more than twice as many – of the New Testament references, the word is in fact plural – addressed to a group, not an individual.
In the PNT translation, (available for free download on this site), I have attempted to remedy this problem by using “you all” for the plural, substituting an italicized “you” where multiple “you all’s” would seem too much for non-southern readers.
The Greek language, like most others, makes very clear distinctions. In English translations, however, the word “you” has been used for both singular (su, sou, soi, se) and plural (humeis, humon, humin, humas) pronouns. A plural “you” addressed a group of people, as a group, a unit. If the individual members of a group were intended, hekastos humon, “each / every one of you”, was used. This is seen in 12 of the 77 uses of hekastos (each, every) in the New Testament. Consequently, there was no confusion on the part of the original readers or writers, as to the intention of a speaker or reporter.
In addition to the over 1000 uses of the singular pronoun, and nearly 2200 of the plural (I really don’t think you wanted me to list them all!), a subject is also clearly expressed in every verb form. So one must also distinguish between “you” and “you all” when there is no pronominal subject in evidence. Here too, plurals predominate.
By this time, those of you who, like my dear husband of 50 years, “hated grammar” in grade-school, will be asking, “SO WHAT??? Who cares???”
As pointed out repeatedly in Citizens of the Kingdom, it makes a huge difference in one’s understanding of function and responsibility in the Christian brotherhood!
Our being designated as “the light of the world” (Mt.5:14), “the salt of the earth” (Mt.5:14), “the temple of the Holy Spirit” (I Cor.3:16,17; 6:19), and “the Body of Christ” (I Cor.12:27), are all plural. NONE of this is talking to or about individuals. “This little light of mine” is NOT a Scriptural idea! If the Kingdom doesn’t happen together, as a corporate entity, it doesn’t happen at all!
Likewise, most instructions are given in the plural. There are, of course, some things that have to be relegated to individual effort. Interpersonal activity mentioned in the Sermon on the Mount, for example (Mt.5:22-37) – relating to a brother, to one’s wife, to an abuser, to a court of law – is, and must be, one’s own responsibility, and is addressed in the singular.
But notice how Jesus shifts back to the plural, when turning to the treatment of “enemies”.
If all alone and isolated, I were expected to figure out how to offer genuine love to a person who has considered me an enemy, and to good to those who hate, or have abused me, I would often give up in despair. But this monumental assignment is addressed in the plural! It is a group project!
So are all the “blessings” in the Beatitudes, and the vast majority of Paul’s instructions to the churches. What is totally impossible for an individual, while it may still be difficult, becomes possible in a mutually supportive brotherhood! That is Kingdom living! Together, we can do and be far more than any of us could ever do or be alone.
Now, this is not to disparage individual accountability. That’s where the twelve occurrences of hekastos humon , “each one of you”, come in. One’s initial commitment to Jesus and his Kingdom is clearly an individual matter. However much we might wish it to be otherwise, no one can make that momentous decision for another. From Peter’s first sermons (Ac.2:38, 3:26) all the way to Jesus’ warning to the compromising folks in Thyatira (Rv.2:23) about the results of their behavior, individual responsibility is not negated.
Every person is also responsible for making his own contribution to the worshiping group (I Cor.14:26), as well as to the relief of suffering brethren (I Cor.16:2), and earlier in the same letter (1:12) “every one” is scolded for their divisive following of strong personalities instead of the Lord Jesus.
“Each one of you” is responsible for marital love and care (Eph.5:33), for remembering, observing and propagating Paul’s teaching regarding faithfulness (I Thes.2:11, 4:4) and for loving each other (II Thes.1:3).
“Each of you” is admonished (Heb.6:11) to demonstrate the “same eagerness, in confidence, hope,” and (v.10) generosity, “until the end.”
However, if you sift carefully through the gospels, you will also find some surprises. I will simply list a few, without comment. You can work on them with a group of brethren. (Please share your observations!)
Mt.7:7 – all 6 verbs are second person plural in form. Those in v.8 are third person singular.
The same is true in the parallel passage in Lk.11:9-10.
Mt.21:22 – both verbs are second person plural.
Jn.3:7 – the first “you” is singular, but the second is plural!
Jn.14:13,14; 15:7, 16; 16:23,24,26 – The pronouns and second person verbs are all plural.
Even these few examples show that there is intended to be a lot more corporate, mutual involvement than we are accustomed to assuming. There are similar surprises in the epistles.
You can easily sort out more of these, using either the PNT mentioned before, or better yet, get yourself a Greek interlinear New Testament, where each word is identified for you. They are easy to recognize: if a word identified as “you” has 2 or 3 letters, it is singular; if it has 4 or 5, it is plural. I have included more grammatical information in the appendix to Translation Notes.
And remember that except for the “pastoral epistles” (Timothy, Titus, Philemon), all of Paul’s epistles, Hebrews, and the letters of Peter, James, Jude, and the first letter of John, are uniformly addressed to congregations, or perhaps clusters of congregations, not to individuals, although some include personal notes.
Paul describes the desirable balance in I Cor.12:27: “You all (pl) are the Body of Christ, and individually, parts of it.” This is elaborated in chapter 7 of Citizens of the Kingdom.
May “each of us” , and “you /we all”, faithfully do our part – together!