Big Error in Bible Translation

“Greater is he that’s inside me…” These were lyrics I heard yesterday on Christian radio. They were John the Apostle’s words, Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them because greater is He who is in you, than he that is in the world. (1 John 4:4). We read the words, we sing them, we say them, but do we  understand them?

It’s we, not me. When we read the word “you,” in this verse, we automatically think “me,” despite seeing the words, “little children.” John is not writing to a single person, but to a group—plural.  He isn’t speaking to “me” but to the church, to “us.”  Except for a few letters from Paul, the New Testament writers wrote to the church. We see this by Jesus’ letters to seven churches—not to me, but to us.

The error comes from our language. Why the confusion? One reason is English lacks a word for the plural or collective “you.” Sadly, translators neglect to distinguish between the singular or plural “you.”  The one blessed exception is the ESV,  which uses “you all.” Fact: New Testament writers use the plural “you” four and a half times more than the singular. Our language hides this from us, so we willy-nilly apply them all to ME!

The error comes from our culture. We may be the most individualistic culture in history. The USA was born fighting for the values of independence and individual rights. While this is a blessing, the pendulum has swung far the other way. Our motto is E Plurabis Unum—“the one out of many. Today it is far more the many, not the one. We are less united as a people under God than a collection of individuals.

The error comes from our technology. We drive alone in cars with brand new passenger seats, but rarely any passengers. We watch programs alone on our TV sets, spend hours behind computers or texting on cell phones. Often we don’t know our neighbors or the person next to us in worship. We are sadly disconnected from each other both in society and church.

Why is all this so important? Jesus prayed that we would “BE ONE, THAT THE WORLD MAY BELIEVE.” Yet, when we read “You are the light of the world,” we think of the Sunday school song, “This little light of mine.” But can my single light dim this world’s darkness? A million scattered lights cannot. Jesus was saying, “You, all together, my church, my people, are this world’s light.”

Today we suffer from a “Jesus and me” theology, neglecting the greater truth that it is the church alone that overcomes and lights up the world. Not even the apostles believed it was their lone lights.

We are called to be a team not a bunch of loners. Often the early church’s great deeds were due to their obedience to Jesus’ command “to love one another,” a command repeated five time in John’s gospel. They worked and prayed together as a united body of believers, not, a collection of individuals. Luke often used the Greek word homothumadon, “in one accord.”  Soon after, he recorded great events that shook the world.

Peter preached at the great Pentecost in gathering, but he did not stand alone. Luke writes, “He stood up with the apostles.” They were a team. Paul nearly always travelled with a group. He realized the power in Jesus’ words, “Where two or three of you are in harmony (Gr: symphanos) there am I in the midst of you.”

Let’s Do it Again. If we are to be a church that impacts our world, we can do no less. Let us love one another that the world may believe. Let us practice our solidarity in Christ that we may fulfill His commission to reach the world He loves and died to save.

One thought on “Big Error in Bible Translation

  1. I was looking up 1 Jn 4:4 to check out what you wrote about “you all” and my ESV is this: [4] Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for *he who is in you is greater than *he who is in the world.

    It doesn’t say you all and the ESVSB note doesn’t either.

    I looked in all my translations and can’t find one that does use you all.

    Help clarify?

    Love you brother, Dale

    Like

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