KERA, Dallas’s NPR affiliate, covered this: Southern-Style Scripture And Other Technological Leaps Of Faith
Texas Has What English Lacks
As a preteen on my first visit out of the South, I remember hearing giggles from some people on the New York Subway whenever I spoke. Since I grew up in a large city, I knew that I didn’t have a traditional Texas twang, so it took me a while to realize what was so funny – my use of the word “Y’all” to refer to a group of friends.
Fast forward 20 years, and just about any time I teach from the Scriptures I have to point out a place where the English Bible says “you,” but the original Hebrew or Greek indicates you plural rather than you singular. This means the original author was addressing to a group of people, but a modern English reader can’t detect this because in common English we use “you” for both singular (“you are awesome”) and plural (“you are a team”). This often leads modern readers to think “you” refers to him or her as an individual, when in fact it refers to the community of faith.
Here in Texas (and in the Southern US more generally), I tell my audience that we have a perfect equivalent to the original Greek/Hebrew second person plural: “y’all” the contraction of “you all.” This of course always gets me a good laugh. And this is not unique to the Southern US – many other areas of the English speaking world also have spoken forms of you plural such as “you guys,” “yinz,” and “you lot.”
A few weeks ago, I decided to see how many times this happens. It turns out there are at least 4,720 verses (2,698 in the Hebrew Bible and 2,022 in the Greek) with you plural translated as English “you” which could lead a reader to think it is directed at him or her personally rather than the Church as a community.
So I initially set out to develop a plugin for a Bible software project that would convert all “You plurals” to “Y’all” for my Bible project. I liked it so much I decided to create a Google Chrome extension that does the same thing for some popular Bible websites (youversion.com/bible.com, biblegateway.com, biblehub.com).
Texas Bible – Google Chrome Extension
If you’d like to try to the plugin, here’s the URL: Texas Bible Extension
When the plugin is running, here’s what it looks like on YouVersion.com and BibleGateway.com
As I mentioned, the Southern US is not the only place to have a spoken version of the second person plural. Pennsylvania (Pittsburgh) has “yinz,” the UK has “you lot,” and many Americans say “you guys” to refer to mixed gender groups. So I made all these selectable allowing you to read the any English version as it would sound read to your regional congregation.
Once the extension is installed in Google Chrome, you can go to the Options area and select which second person plural version you like and see all the variants (some of which I had to make up like the Reflexive rendering of Old English “Ye”).
Why, Why Did You Make this?
And now here’s the fun part. Why in the world would someone do this? Here’s a few reasons:
1. For Fun and Joy
I enjoy the programming gifts God’s given me, I like to tinker with the Bible, and I like to learn new programming techniques such as making a browser extension which before this I had never tried.
2. Commentary on The Individual vs. The Community
On a more serious note, it seems that since the Protestant Reformation we’ve tended to emphasize the salvation of the individual and, with inverse proportion, downplayed God’s work in the Church as a community of people.
There are, of course, many reasons for this, but I think that two technologies (i.e. human inventions) have exacerbated the issue: (a) The technology of the book which encourages us to encounter Scripture textually in isolation rather than orally in a group; and (b) The technology of the English language (again, a human creation) which doesn’t have an agreed upon second person plural and therefore discards or hides important biblical data.
I can’t do much about the first issue, but the “Texas Bible” extension does work to overcome the second. Here’s a few examples of the human community emphasis in Scripture:
And God said, “Behold, I have given y’all every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. Y’all shall have them for food. (Gen 1:29, tESV – Texan ESV)
For I know the plans I have for yinz, declares Yahweh, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give yinz a future and a hope. (Jeremiah 29:11, pESV – Pittsburgh ESV)
…Work out your guys’s salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you guys, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. (Phil. 2:12-14, usESV)
To me, it’s a very different Bible and one that tells us something important about the the body of Christ.
3. Commentary on Language
You might notice that in the second example above, the term “the LORD” has been switched to “Yahweh.” In English translation, the Hebrew name for God (the four letters YHWH) has been traditionally translated as “the LORD” (usually in small caps) in an effort to revere the name of God and carry on a a tradition of the Jews not to speak his name
However, I find that outside nerdy academic circles almost no one knows that “the LORD” (Yahweh) is different from “the Lord.” What was originally meant as reverence may now actually be unintentionally hiding something important about God himself. This leads to the question: Which is worse, not revering the name of God or not knowing it exists to revere? In the Chrome extension this is an option, so you get to decide.
I, too, want to revere God and his holy name, and yet I also want to take this chance to point out how powerful language itself is in shaping what we see in the world. Just as Adam formed his world by naming the animals, we continually form and reform our world by what we words we assign to it (are you pro-life or anti-choice?). These words are not simple references or tags, they color what we see… and what we cannot see.
Bible translators, therefore, have an enormously complex task of trying to transfer whole worlds between cultures and inevitably things get “lost in translation.” Hopefully, this plugin will offer some options as to what we read.
4. Commentary on “Text” in the Age of Remixes
Penultimately, I am doing something rather radical here: I am messing with God’s word.
But is it really “God’s Word” which which I am messing? As we’ve said, isn’t a translation already that but also more?
This means I am only taking the work of translation one step further. But what right do I as an individual have to remix, reuse, and change someone else’s hard work? Zondervan/Biblia is free to update the NIV1984 to the NIV2011, but what about me? If I were to publish these changes, I could rightfully be sued. So what have I done exactly?
To answer this question, we must realize that in the Age of the Internet, a “text” is something very different than it was in the Age of Print. Texts are not fixed entities sitting on shelves, reflecting only the notes and highlights that one person has added. On the web, a “text” is something more like an oral story from the age before Print, in that anyone can take, change, and edit the “text,” and then reproduce it.
And yet, I have not even done that. I have only provided the tools to mass produce a change that is stored as data. Ah, what a strange new world in which we live where a “text” is not a “text”!
5. Commentary on Scripture Itself
Finally, I am deeply interested in talking about what exactly Scripture is and how mediums contribute to our understanding of them.
Is the Bible, “a love letter from Jesus” or a storehouse of “timeless truths” captured in chapters and verses? Is it the very words of God dictated through several different men or does it merely record events of revelation? Does it become revelation as we read it and does it have a single meaning in all ages or multiple meanings that expand with the canon? Is it like other books or it is somehow sanctified and holy? Can a nonbeliever study it the same way Christian do, or does the Spirit have an ineffable role in interpretation? Furthermore, is Scripture it something to be studied, proclaimed, and understood, or does it change us as we hear it spoken aloud in a community? Does any of this change if we hear a scroll read aloud, read a printed book in our own room, scan the text on our phones, or hear it on the radio in a closed country?
you y’all answer these questions, I do hope you y’all like the tool, and it helps you y’all grow closer to the LORD Yahweh!