I am not from Texas. I am not remotely from anywhere in the South. I am a Yankee to the core. Nevertheless, I believe one of the primary deficiencies of my version of the English language is the lack of a word like “y’all.”
The Greek language (like many languages) has (at least) two forms of the word “you,” a singular form and a plural form (akin to y’all). However, you would never know this reading an English Bible. The following verses (plus scores others) all use a plural form of “you”, but from the standard English translation you would never have any idea:
Matt. 5:13 – You (y’all) are the salt of the earth…You (y’all) are the light of the world.
Matt. 7:2 – “For in the way you (y’all) judge, you (y’all) will be judged; and by your (y’all’s) standard of measure, it will be measured to you.
Rom. 12:2 – (y’all) do not be conformed to this world, but (y’all) be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you (y’all) may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
1Cor. 1:4 I thank my God always concerning you (y’all) for the grace of God which was given you (y’all) in Christ Jesus…even as the testimony concerning Christ was confirmed in you (y’all), so that you (y’all) are not lacking in any gift…
1Cor. 3:16 Do you (y’all) not know that you are a (singular) temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you (y’all)?
This “plural you” has significant implications for how we interpret verses on almost every page of the Bible. For example, in Romans 12, is Paul’s goal that each individual would be able to personally prove what is the will of God for their individual life? Or is this discernment process something that “y’all” do together in community? Are you individually the salt of the earth and the light of the world, or are the people of God collectively the salt and light?
Luke 17:21 is an oft quoted verse in which the KJV, NKJV and the NIV read, “the kingdom of God is within you.” This is frequently interpreted as the Amplified Bible has in its gloss “the Kingdom of God is within you [in your hearts]…” Is the Kingdom of God in our hearts? This idea was strongly promoted in the nineteenth century as classical theological liberalism approached its height. It is precisely what Adolf von Harnack says in What is Christianity?:
“The kingdom of God comes by coming to the individual, by entering into his soul and laying hold of it. True, the kingdom of God is the rule of God; but it is the rule of the holy God in the hearts of individuals…From this point of view everything that is dramatic in the external and historical sense has vanished; and gone, too, are all the external hopes for the future.” [Adolf von Harnack, What is Christianity? Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1956, 56]
Ironically, when evangelical Christians talk about the Kingdom of God being “in their hearts,” they are in essence spouting off, not Christian orthodoxy, not something a first-century Jewish man credibly could have said, but essential classical theological liberalism, the same theological liberalism which is ready to dispense with the deity of Jesus, the bodily resurrection of Jesus, the second coming of Jesus, the new creation of all things, etc. In Harnack’s mind, the notion of the Kingdom being “internal” was very much related to the way he jettisoned “all the external hopes for the future,” i.e., the New Creation of Heaven and Earth.
Because the “you” is plural, Jesus’ saying would be better translated (as the NRSV, TNIV and NASB do), “the Kingdom of God is in your midst.” The Kingdom is not a “spiritual” principle, but the demonstrable intervention of God in time and space to restore and renew life on earth. Thus the purpose of the saying is not to describe an “internal” reality of the Kingdom, but rather, the demonstration and experience of the Kingdom of God in the shared life and experience of God’s people in the public world.
A related verse is Colossians 1:27, which is often translated, “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” I’m sure it won’t surprise you to hear that the “you” in this verse is also plural, although you would never know it from your English Bible. Paul is not saying that “Christ-living-inside-of-you” is the hope of glory. While of course he would not deny the reality of Christ dwelling inside the believer, this is not the point of the verse. Rather, it is Christ in the midst of the Church, the experience of the Messiah in forming a redeemed and redemptive community of self-giving love, forgiveness, reconciliation, healing, restoration and renewal, that is the hope of glory, namely, the sign in the present that gives us expectation for the fresh work of grace God will accomplish when he makes all things new at the end. The presence of Christ in the community of the redeemed is even now the present experience and advance pledge of the restoration of all things which fills our hearts with confidence and eager expectation of its certain consummation.