You You Your Your You You Your Your. Understand?
The modern English language has lost the ability to make distinctions with the personal pronouns you and your which remain available in Hebrew and Greek, and were present in the English of Shakespeare and early English Bibles. Our passage today is nothing special, other than as an example for our topic of personal pronouns.
Look carefully at Isaiah 55 verses three and five in a modern translation and then the King James. Ask yourself: is God speaking to one person or more than one?
First the modern New American Standard Bible:
“Incline your ear and come to Me. Listen, that you may live; And I will make an everlasting covenant with you, According to the faithful mercies shown to David…. “Behold, you will call a nation you do not know, And a nation which knows you not will run to you, Because of the LORD your God, even the Holy One of Israel; For He has glorified you.” (NASB)
Which of the you’s and your’s are plural? Which are singular?
In the NASB and most other translations, there’s no way to know.
Next, observe the following key, and then read the older King James Version:
Here’s the key:
|thy||singular||subject||possessive / prior to consonants|
|thine||singular||object||possessive / prior to vowels|
Here’s the KJV:
Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David…. Behold, thou shalt call a nation that thou knowest not, and nations that knew not thee shall run unto thee because of the LORD thy God, and for the Holy One of Israel; for he hath glorified thee. (KJV)
One or more than one? Singular or plural pronouns? In the King James, you can tell if you know the key, i.e., the usage and meanings of thou, thee, thy, thine, ye, you, your and yours. In the NASB and other modern English translations, you and your cover all eight cases and do not indicate singular or plural case.
The older English language, such as found in Shakespeare, also preserves the information held in Hebrew and Greek words.
And so, looking at verses three and five:
|Incline your ear…||God speaks to many. Your is plural and possessive of the subject ear. Your is the people of Israel.|
|your soul…||God again speaks to many. Your is plural and possessive of subject soul. Your is again the people of Israel.|
|covenant with you…||God speaks to many. You is the plural object. The people.|
|thou shalt call…||God speaks to one “person” thou, in this case, the singular subject (and unnamed) entity, Israel.|
|that thou knowest not…||God again speaks to singular Israel. Thou is again a subject.|
|knew not thee…||God speaks to singular Israel, thee, which is now the object of the phrase.|
|run unto thee…||God speaks yet again to singular object thee, Israel.|
|Lord thy God…||Again to that singular Israel, thy is the possessor of God.|
|hath glorified thee…||Singular again. Thee is the singular object.|
In parts of this passage God speaks to a group, and in part God speaks to a single person. We know this by an understanding of the Hebrew (which we at Bible Bits do not), or by reading an older English version of the Bible such as the King James.
We’ll provide two more examples:
Deut 15:7 If there be among you [plural object] a poor man of one of thy [singular subject possessive] brethren within any of thy [sing subj poss] gates in thy [sing subj poss] land which the Lord thy [sing subj poss] God giveth thee [singular object], thou [singular subject] shalt not harden thine [singular object possessive] heart, nor shut thine [sing obj poss] hand from thy [singular subject possessive] poor brother: (KJV)
Joshua 7:13 Up, sanctify the people, and say, Sanctify yourselves against to morrow: for thus saith the Lord God of Israel, There is an accursed thing in the midst of thee [singular object], O Israel: thou [singular subject] canst not stand before thine [singular object possessive] enemies, until ye [plural subject] take away the accursed thing from among you [plural object].
Understanding the distinctions between the eight words can make a difference in our understanding of Bible passages, at least in subtle ways.
Can you find passages where larger issues of Christian doctrine are revealed by an understanding of our eight words?
When you reply, please cite scripture and commentary or other references. Blessings to you, and read the actual Bible for yourself.