googlef87758e9b6df9bec.html A Sure Word: John 3:7: Who are You?

Sunday, February 21, 2010

John 3:7: Who are You?

When I first began studying Greek, it didn't take long before I realized that learning a new language was more than just learning its vocabulary. Every language has its own rules of grammar which must also be learned. Yet more than that, every language has its own particular set of idioms which can confound non-native speakers.

Even though I strive to better understand Greek grammar, I still occasionally get tripped up on certain idioms. Even now, I occasionally project my English understanding onto a Greek text. One such instance came to my realization just recently concerning the 2nd person pronoun, "you." As a native English speaker, I have a very good understanding of what someone means when he says, "you." I know, for example, that if someone walked up to me on the street and asked, "How do you get to 1st Street?," I know that he's not really asking how "I" get to 1st Street. Instead, he wants to know how "he" can get to 1st Street. He's using "you" in an indefinite sense to mean, "anyone". He's asking, "How does someone get to 1st Street?" or more likely, he asking, “How do I get to 1st Street?”

The indefinite sense of "you" is an English idiom. It didn't really occur to me that other languages (in this case, Greek) don't use "you" in that same sense. As we read the Bible, every use of "you" means someone in particular.

For the sake of application, let's look at John 3:7:

"Do not marvel because I said to you, 'You must be born again."

First, many English readers are unaware that the second "you" in this verse is plural; that subtle point is lost in translation because there is not a plural "you" in English. I think the translators of the KJV were onto something by using "Ye" to denote a plural pronoun. But besides that, who did Jesus specifically mean when He said, "you (2p, pl) must be born again"? In English, this seems like a candidate for an indefinite pronoun:

Question: "How do you get saved?"
Answer: "You must be born again."

However, we must remember that there is not an indefinite use of "you" in Greek so Jesus meant someone in particular. Exactly who Jesus meant is not really the point of this post. The point of this post is simply to help us become more aware that we need to ask the question. However, since I raised the point I will answer it; I believe that, in John 3:7, Jesus was talking specifically about the Pharisees, of which Nicodemus was one. Thus, John 3:7 might be paraphrased as:

"Do not marvel that I said to you, Nicodemus, that you Pharisees must be born again."

Of course, in John 3:3, Jesus used the indefinite pronoun "τις" to communicate that it is necessary for “someone” to be born again to enter heaven. But as we read the Bible, whenever we read the word "you", we need to stop and consider exactly who is being discussed.

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