Common 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 to “us.” Except for a few letters from Paul, the New Testament writers wrote to the church. Jesus also wrote to the church—seven of them in Revelation—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 “Father, may they be one that the world will believe.” (John 17:21) 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, “of one mind and heart.” 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.
Categories one in the Spirit.

PRAYER: O Lord Jesus, are you still praying for your church to be one? If so, intercede with us and through us by your Spirit.  We ask, we believe and we receive the answer in our local congregations and among our local congregations. Start a miracle work of revelation to our leaders that they may see the church alone  can be this world’s light. Thank you. Amen.

2 thoughts on “Common Error in Bible Translation

  1. Great posting today. I really enjoy reading your blog even though I don’t often comment. One thing to encourage you is that the culture in America in some ways is trending away from the extreme individualism of the last several generations and more towards a “we” mentality. Don’t get me wrong, our primary cultural motivator for the “we” seems to be (paradoxically) that “we” makes “me” happier or more productive or…. Nonetheless, it is a step in the right direction. Culture is changing because of the rebellion against the unhappy outcomes of the previous generations starting with the Baby Boomers. No generation in America had more “stuff” and no generation in America was less happy with it. The kids and grandkids and great grandkids of the Boomer generation are starting to see the fallacy in that. But they are also throwing away the church in their resistance to the status quo. At least church as practiced by their forbearers. This has been a wakeup call to some of the church in America (look at this blog) that the status quo must change and the true Gospel needs to be both shared and modeled or the church will be more and more marginalized.

    Anyway, glad to have read this.


    • Thank you. You’re right. I noticed it in the late 90’s among the younger set. Rather than pair-off as was common before, they began to hang out in groups at malls, restaurants, etc. However the problem of individualism is still endemic in the church. Youth leaders recognize this phenomenon and plan activites accordingly. But church leaders at the top miss this phenomenon. It could be one reason young adults are leaving the church in droves.

      I have not found a way to get this message to church leaders. Maybe you could help. Somehow church leaders, especially pastors, need to understand that a “we,” rather than “me” church is not only true to the apostolic spirit, it could make the church more user friendly and appealing to young adults at a time they are spreading their wings and searching for avenues to fulfill their “herd instincts” on a social level.

      Any ideas?



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