SHOULD WE USE THE WORDS, WE, US,
I AND ME, YOU?
Some discussion has been made here about the use of the words, ‘we’, and ‘us’. They object to the terminology as though they were ‘cuss words’. One recent expression of upset were these:
“...often use the collective "we" in accusational presumptions, it says "we" need to repent of "our" bigotries. I just feel that people might be more comfortable if writers say "I" need to repent of "my" bigotry, that would not include others, in an awful accusation. This we thing is getting way to overused here.”
Said by someone....
Yet, the word ‘we’ is far more gentle and humble than the word ‘you’. Imagine if I had said ‘you need to repent’, and thereby could in pride exclude the possibility of ‘me’ being included in the statement. That is an insult for any mortal, fallible, human to make. God can make commands, and not have to use ‘we’, for He is perfect, infallible, all knowing, and in command. His commands have an understood ‘you’ with them. For instance, ‘go ye into all the world and preach the gospel’ includes the ‘ye’ (you). The commandments, ‘thou (you) shall not kill’, ‘thou shall not steal’, all have the ‘you’ directly shown. Yet, it is God saying it, so we have to accept His authority. Other commandments infer the ‘you’. One often spoken one by Jesus was ‘REPENT’, and the ‘you’ is inferred.
When speaking on things like ‘bigotry’, the Scriptures show that God is no respecter of persons, and loves all of us, so the ‘you’ can be used by us in the form of ‘we’, for none of us can claim to be sinless.
1 John 1:8 (KJV)
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
So, I could have said in pride, ‘you’ must repent of such sins. Yet, since all of us have failed, sinned, come short of the glory of God, in humility, we must use ‘we’ in such speaking.
Romans 3:23 (KJV)
For all (of us) have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;
The word ‘we’ is a figure of speech. It denotes the speaker is including himself/herself as one in the same boat, in the same need of the exhortation as all the others.
Notice how Paul used ‘we’.
2 Corinthians 3:1 (KJV)
Do we begin again to commend ourselves? or need we, as some others, epistles of commendation to you, or letters of commendation from you?
Did his use of ‘we’ mean that he meant ‘everyone’ or a small group, that included himself. Sometimes in ‘figurative language’ the use of ‘we’ does not mean everyone that is present, or that will even read this. Some people are not fitting to be in that ‘we’ of the verse. Some do need to ‘commend’ themselves, for they have no commendation of proven good behavior as did Paul, and a small group. Yet, he used the word ‘we’, which some could feel it means all who ever read the verse. No, the word ‘we’ is used figuratively to include the speaker, and normally a far fewer number than will ever read or hear the statement. It is figurative language.
When Paul uses the word ‘we’ to those in Thessalonica, he says ‘we’. Who is that ‘we’? Can we claim to be part of the ‘we’? could Timothy? Could John Mark? Could everyone who reads it? No, it is not meant to identify one group or another, but is a figurative language that Paul included himself with others who were able to claim this truth. Not everyone is included in his ‘we’.
1 Thessalonians 1:8 (KJV)
For from you sounded out the word of the Lord not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad; so that we need not to speak any thing.
Paul wrote the book of Hebrews as part of Galatians, wherein he was speaking to some who were claiming to be Christians, but were trusting in sacrifices, and other Old Testament rituals to be their salvation. To them, he says that ‘we’ can come boldly, and obtain mercy. Yet, many of us, that were not included in the original hearing of these words, and the ‘we’ and the ‘us’, have included ourselves in this promise. It is figurative language, wherein Paul included himself in the promise of grace and mercy, as he was speaking in promise to that select group, and we appropriate that ‘we’ to include us (I hope).
Hebrews 4:16 (KJV)
Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.
Euphemism is substituting a more agreeable expression for something unpleasant or taboo. Sometimes, ‘we’ use that figure of speech type to speak something hard to accept, in a form more acceptable. We might say ‘he fell asleep’ (for ‘he died’ Acts 7:60)
Hyperbole is a deliberate exaggeration for emphasis, an obvious overstatement. We find it used in the Bible:‘My eyes shed streams of tears’
‘the cities are great and walled up to heaven’ (Deut. 1:28)An apostrophe addresses directly things, or persons, absent or imaginary. We find the Bible often uses apostrophe:‘Why look you with envy, o many peaked mountain?’(Psalms 68:16) ‘o earth, earth, earth, hear the word of the Lord’ (Jer. 22:29)‘say unto them, O ye dry bones’(Ezek. 37:4)
A synecdoche is a part that is put for a whole, or a whole is put for a part. A more exclusive term is used for a less inclusive term or vice versa.
Sometimes a singular is put for a plural or plural for a singular. We find the Bible uses such:
‘then shall ye bring down my grey hairs with sorrow to the grave’
(Gen. 42:38, actually, not just his grey hair, but all of himself went to the grave)
Figurative language is not banned in the Word of God, and of itself is not sinful. We find it in the Bible, as shown, and many other forms of figurative language.
In the preamble of the Declaration of Independence we find these words:
‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.’
Does that ‘we’ mean everyone who was there, or everyone who ever read it, or is it a ‘figure of speech’, meaning that those who wanted to declare freedom from England? The ‘we’ could have upset a few, like Aaron Burr, but it was said anyhow.
Our Constitution begins with the figurative language too:
“We, the people of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
Do any of you get upset that you are included in that ‘we’. I am sure some do. Some do not want to insure ‘domestic tranquility’, some do not want to ‘provide for the common defense.’ Others may not want to ‘promote the general welfare’. Yet, they used the word ‘we’, which included themselves, and all others who wanted to join this wonderful nation.
Abraham Lincoln made a famous speech at Gettysburg. In it, he used the figurative ‘we’ also:
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
November 19, 1863
Abraham Lincoln included himself in the ‘we’, but I am sure if John Wilkes Booth were in the crowd, he was angry to be in that ‘we’. So, today, when the ‘we’ is used figuratively, it is a way to humbly not put oneself above others, but to admit the speaker is in the same group as others. It does not mean that Abraham Lincoln was so naive that he thought that during the Civil War there was not some who would object to the many times he said ‘we’. He was not naive. It is general figurative language that most people understand.
God can use the ‘you’ and say ‘repent’ and ‘confess your faults.’ I am not God and have failures and stumblings as all humans do. So, I use the ‘we’ to illustrate that I am not trying to take the role of God. Now, if there are perfect people out there who have never sinned, never been bigoted, and never needed to have a ‘change of heart’, then they have a right to hate and be bigoted against we who use ‘we’. OOPS, maybe that is impossible, to be perfect from bigotry, but prove they have bigotry by their bigotry against those of us who use ‘we’ in a figurative sense.