Monday, March 28, 2005

God's Field

You are God's field, God's building. Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you?
-1 Corinthians 3:9, 16

Literary merits aside, one of the great losses we suffer in moving away from the King James Version of the Bible is the loss of ability to distinguish between singular and plural "you." In the KJV, "thou" and "thee" are singular while "ye" and "you" are plural. In the verses above, it is ye that are God's field, ye that are God's building and you in whom God's Spirit dwells -- all plural.

I think a case could be made that modern American English doesn't have a plural form of "you" ("yous" and "y'all" aside). There's just no way to say it. Whenever we read "you," each of us naturally assumes it refers to himself or herself individually -- unless, of course, it's a negative statement in which case it refers to the other guy.

So we read the above and think, "Isn't that nice. I'm God's field. I'm God's building. God's Spirit dwells in me." But that completely misses the point of these passages. In fact, it's counter to the point.

I was a little surprised to find something of this tendency in my own thinking. I think I am generally very conscious of the Church as a mystical entity of which I am but a cell. When I think about ministry, I think Church, but I realized that when I think about the spiritual life, I think me -- as if it's just me and Jesus sitting in the corner talking about these things.

There's a place in Portland that bills itself as the world's smallest park. It perfectly illustrates the problem with this kind of thinking.

When I think about bearing fruit, I think about myself as a single plant which must produce (but I can do it since I have the Holy Spirit, right?). But this weekend as I read the words, "You are God's field," it dawned on me that that must be plural. And so it isn't just me that must bear fruit. We must bear fruit. And we can do that because the Holy Spirit dwells in us. And I don't think this means in each of us individually, except in a secondary way. I think it's more of an collective effect. almost in a Jungian sense. Which one of my brain cells had this idea? None of them, but also all of them. That's what I mean.

It draws me to Luke 17:21, the oft-quoted "the kingdom of God is within you." But the more I think about it, the more I am convinced that that is a wrong translation and that the NRSV's "the kingdom of God is among you" is much better.

We are God's field. Together we will produce much fruit.


Steve Bogner said...

I got this image in my head of a Bible translation that used y'all for the plural of 'you' - that would be fun reading! God as a southerner, as a Texan, as regular-folk, speaking in every-day language...

Andy said...

Have you read any of the Cotton Patch translations? I don't know if they use y'all that way, but they are the New Testament in colloquial southern dialect.