In college, I had the opportunity to work at a Boy Scout canoe base in northern Maine. Simply put, it was incredible. Just imagine being able to live in the woods for an entire summer totally severed from civilization – and going without a shower for weeks on end. Ah yes, the teenager’s dream.
All that being said, I had a really difficult time communicating with the natives. I would say, “hey y’all!” The Mainers would look at me with confusion all over their face and reply, “yessuh mistah.”
They didn’t understand the concept of “y’all.” Grammatically, this term should be used as the second person plural form of you. Spanish speakers utilize the vosotros form of words when speaking in the second person to a number of people, just as certain dialects of English use “y’all.” By using this grammatically tenuous phrase, we are recognizing the fact that the term “you” can be imprecise.
Along those lines, let’s look at something from 1 Corinthians: “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple” (3:16-17). Too bad Paul wasn’t from Texas, because this would have been a perfect opportunity to use y’all.
That is, the Greek form of “you are” in the first sentence above is in the second person plural. You – the church, the body of Christ, the whole congregation, the entire community – is God’s temple. Modern Christianity has an unfortunate tendency to individualize and personalize the good news of Jesus Christ. Yet the ancient church, those who composed the New Testament and early Christian theology, were speaking to communities.
It’s not just a Texas thing, and Paul would definitely understand…