When we read the Bible and come across the personal pronoun “you”, does it always apply to us? Does every direction Jesus spoke to His disciples almost 2,000 years ago also apply to us when we read it in our generation, in our day and time?
“3 Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
10 Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 5:3-10, KJV)
It is fairly easy to see the general and universal nature of the beatitudes of Matthew chap. 5 when the third person pronouns (he, she, him, her, they) are used. We understand that these principles are meant for all people for all generations.
In Matthew chap. 5 Jesus was teaching the intent of the law more perfectly to His disciples and the people listening on that mountain in AD 27 – 28. Even though He was speaking directly to those people of that generation, we can tell from the third person pronouns that these are teachings for all of us to learn and live our lives by.
But, it becomes trickier when the first person (I, me, we), or the second person (you, your) pronoun is used.
“11 Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
12 Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.
13 Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.
14 Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.
15 Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.
16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” (Matt. 5:11-16, KJV)
Because of the second person pronouns (ye, you, thou, thee) the reader must determine if the context of the words Jesus spoke are only for those people of that generation, or if they apply to all people of every generation. As Jesus was teaching the law more perfectly to those who were under the law, did these principles only apply to those of that first century AD?
“ 17 Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.
18 For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.
19 Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
20 For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.“ (Matt. 5:17-20, KJV)
I have discussed the meaning of “heaven and earth” previously in the posts “Heaven and Earth Have Passed Away” and “Frequent Mistakes – Part V: Roses are red, Violets are blue…”. Heaven and earth was a compound metaphor that stood for the promise / covenant / contract between God and Israel (heaven and earth) under the Mosaic Law.
So, we can paraphrase Matt. 5:18 as “Till [the Mosaic covenant] pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law,….”. The Jews understood “heaven and earth” more specifically as the temple with its symbolic elements of the physical earth and heavens where God met with man. (2, 3) It becomes clear then that Jesus was telling them that the law would stand until the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, and that would be the end of the Mosaic covenant.
Then, are all of the principles Jesus taught those under the law something we can ignore?
“ 21 Ye have heard that it was said of them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment:
22 But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.
23 Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee;
24 Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.“ (Matt. 5:21-24, KJV)
It would be a impossible for us to take a gift to an altar that was destroyed in AD 70. Does that mean that it is acceptable to be angry with our brethren, and to hold anger in our hearts against them? Is it now acceptable to commit murder, or adultery, or covet our neighbors property?
Not at all. It is simply that our Father in heaven made a change in the law once Christ completed it (fulfilled it) by becoming that last sacrifice that would ever be needed for repentance (Heb. 7:12; 8:38; 9:11ff).
Therefore, those of us reading the scriptures in a time long after the destruction of the Jerusalem temple must discern which instructions were specific, and which instructions are universally applicable.
“ 22 And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved.
23 But when they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another: for verily I say unto you, Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come.“ (Matt. 10:22-23, KJV)
Proper hermeneutics demands that scriptures be understood and analyzed in the context in which Jesus spoke them to the first audience. We must ask to whom was He speaking, what were the circumstances, and the historical background, the time period. Was He speaking to just the disciples or were others present? Was He speaking before His crucifixion, or after His resurrection? Is the scripture a literal passage, or is it prophesy that will involve symbols and metaphors? (1)
We have to put ourselves in their shoes. We have to put our minds into their situation, and walk with them in their time. Is it a specific instruction just for the disciples, or does it apply to everyone of every generation?
We can only determine these questions from within the context. Many people read Matt. 10:22-23 as though “you” means “me”. They read it as though it was spoken and written to them directly. But, when we go to the beginning of the chapter we find that Jesus was directing His disciples on their mission journey throughout the then existing lands to the then existing “cities” of Israel.
“1And when he had called unto him his twelve disciples, he gave them power against unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease.
2 Now the names of the twelve apostles are these; The first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother;
3 Philip, and Bartholomew; Thomas, and Matthew the publican; James the son of Alphaeus, and Lebbaeus, whose surname was Thaddaeus;
4 Simon the Canaanite, and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed him.
5 These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not:
6 But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.“ (Matt. 10:1-6, KJV)
Having determined that Christ was speaking to His disciples before His crucifixion, we can know that the instructions He gave them in this chapter were specifically for them. The “lost sheep of the house of Israel” were not lost in the sense that no one knew where they were. God and Jesus knew where they were. The Sanhedrin knew where they were as those of the Assyrian and Babylonian dispersions (diaspora) had settled throughout Asia and were sending their “tithes” to the council in Jerusalem.
The disciples therefore knew where Christ was sending them.
“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia,” (1 Pet. 1:1, KJV)
Peter was speaking to the “strangers,” those of the dispersion still living outside of Judea and Jerusalem, in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. I am sure there were those of other nations (gentiles) in those congregations, but primarily Peter was sent to the spiritually lost of the tribes of Israel to preach the gospel of Christ.
So, the instructions Christ gave His disciples in Matt. chap. 10 are not instructions for all men of all generations, as many of those cities of the “lost tribes of Israel” no longer exist. Pontus was located on the southern coast of the Black Sea, and today is part of the territory of Turkey. Cappadocia (Kapadokya) is a region in Turkey that contains many villages and cities. Galatia was a city in what is now called Turkey, bounded on the north by Bithynia and Paphlagonia, and on the south by Lycaonia and Cappadocia, on the east by Pontus, and the west by Phrygia.
These cities existed in the first century AD. When Christ told His disciples that they would not finish going through them before He returned, are we to believe that He is still waiting until men today go to those cities in Turkey to preach the gospel? Are we to believe these instructions are still active for all men to go to other “cities” of the “state” of Israel today, in our generation?
“ 32 Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers.
33 Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?
34 Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city:
35 That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar.
36 Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation.“ (Matt. 23:32-35, KJV)
Which “ye” is meant in Matt. 23:32? Which “you” is meant in Matt. 23:35-36? We can only know by keeping the scriptures within the context of that chapter. The audience to whom Christ was speaking is identified in Matt. 23:13:
“ But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!”
Jesus defines the “you” and the “ye” He spoke to. It was directed at the scribes and Pharisees who lived during the first century AD before the destruction of the temple. He cried “Woe” unto THEM seven more times in that same chapter, in that same context describing their condition and pronouncing their ultimate doom.
All of those things were going to happen to them in that generation of the first century AD, and it was that generation which was “this generation” at the time the Lord spoke those words. It is not “this generation” when we are reading the scriptures almost 2,000 years later, and we are not the scribes and Pharisees.
We must empathize with those people of the first century AD to whom Christ was speaking, and we must determine the context of the scriptures in order to know when “you” spoken in that generation applies only to “them” or when it applies to “me” when we read it today.
” 64 Jesus saith to him, `Thou hast said; nevertheless I say to you, hereafter ye shall see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of the power, and coming upon the clouds, of the heaven.'” (Matt. 26:64, YLT)
Who was “you” in this scripture? Who was Jesus speaking to? We can find that Caiaphas was the recipient of this judgment prophesy by looking back at the previous verse in Matt. 26:57 and see that the context is in the conversation Jesus had with the high priest Caiaphas before His crucifixion. Therefore, by leaving it in its proper context, the hermeneutic principal demands that this “you” be understood as a statement only meant for Caiaphas. It is not meant for “me” today. Thus, if Caiaphas was going to see Christ coming in the clouds of heaven, then Jesus’ return was during Caiaphas’ lifetime.
“ 19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:
20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.“ (Matt. 28:19-20, KJV)
The above two verses are commonly called the great commission, and are used by many preachers as their mission statement. But, who was Christ speaking to? Matt. 28:16 identifies the audience as the eleven disciples. Verse 20 is better translated in the AMP, NET, NIV, ESV and YLT among several other English translations as “end of the age”, the end of the Mosaic age and the destruction of the temple.
Does the “ye” only apply to the disciples? Did Christ mean He would leave us after the destruction of the temple in AD 70? No. But this great commission given to the disciples / apostles is carried forward by Paul to Timothy.
“ 2 And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.” (2 Tim. 2:2, KJV)
In this manner, we can discern when the second person pronouns are indicating specific statements only meant for specific individuals, and when they encompass general principles meant to be applied to all men throughout all generations. It is very important to stay with the hermeneutic principles to be able to correctly analyze the scriptures.
Not every “you” means “me” when we read the scriptures today.
(All bold emphasis is mine.)
1) What is Biblical Hermeneutics here
2) Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus, Book 3, chap. 6.3, 4 here
3) When Heaven and Earth Passed Away Everything Changed, by Paul T. Penley, 2015 ReenactingTheWay