Of all the unlikely places in the world, I first heard the phrase "all y'all" in a small classroom at the southern tip of Africa.
We were novice, New Testament Greek students, trying our hand at deciphering Koine phrases into workable English. We got stuck on the pronoun "humin.” In our English Bibles, we read it as "you,” but "you" wasn't the best translation. "Humin" is a plural pronoun, the second-person cousin to "we" and "our.” All we had were “you” and its first-person cousins "I" and "me.”
"What we need," our seminary professor said, "is to borrow a little from the American South. They have a way of expressing ‘you’ plural: ‘all y'all.’"
The implications were striking, as this understanding highlighted how many passages in the New Testament were, in fact, addressed not so much to individual readers, but to all y'all. Colossians 1:27 states that God chose to make known “the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” I had long thought of that passage as referring to the mysterious and wonderful indwelling of the Holy Spirit in me as a believer. However, the verse might be more accurately translated as God choosing to make known the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in all y'all. Or better yet - Christ among all y'all, the hope of glory. Identifying the you-plural sent me scurrying back to Colossians 1, where I could then see that Paul was talking about that wonderful mystery revealed in the Gospel of both Jews and Gentiles being included by God by the same-saving faith. Christ among all y'all, the hope of glory.
The New Testament is replete with all y'all verses, and the new ESV translation has done an admirable job of flagging those instances of plural "you" usage in the footnotes. The impact of identifying the all y'alls in the New Testament as both a believer and a Bible teacher has been far-reaching.
The New Testament does not view Christians primarily as a group of loosely affiliated saved individuals, nor does it address us as loosely affiliated saved communities comprised of local churches. While Scripture does address us as individuals and has words of instruction for local churches, the controlling metaphor is still that of the one: the bride of Christ, the body of Christ. The all y'all.
The past few weeks have brought devastating stories about the targeting and persecution of Christians in Syria and Egypt. The news hurts, even for those of us who are on the other side of the world. And well it should: we know how debilitating pain in even one small part of the body can be. A smashed toe can make a grown man limp for weeks; a migraine causes the whole body to suffer. And so too the pain in the Middle-Eastern church affects us all.
Yet just as pain is felt by all y'all, so too our spiritual efforts affect the whole body. In Ephesians 6:11, Paul writes: "Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil." However, with the plurals highlighted, it reads this way: "All y'all, put on the whole armor of God, that all y'all may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil."
The devil sure has schemes against the body of Christ, and right now his fiery arrows are directed towards beloved brothers and sisters in Egypt, Syria and the persecuted church worldwide. But what I take from Ephesians 6's plural "you" is this: when we personally put on the armor of God, then we corporately take our stand with the worldwide church of God. When I raise my shield of faith, it is raised for all y'all. When you personally wear the belt of truth, it girds the loins of all y'all. When you pray, it strengthens the feet of all y'all.
We do it together. And once we've done it, all y'all, the church will stand.