It is often said that modern translations lose in expressing the meaning of the original languages if a generic “they” is used instead of a generic “he.” But, of course, we are all aware that the singular “thou” has been replaced by the plural “you.” I had not been aware of how significant this could be until recently. Certainly in studying the Psalms, the difference is remarkable. One is able to notice when God is addressed and when the congregation is addressed, or even oneself.
Iyov introduces his study of the singular in the giving of the ten commandments with this question,
- A careful look at Exodus 20:2 and the text of the Ten Commandments immediately following shows that throughout they are addressed in the singular. Why is this?
Jesus is quoted as using the singular form for the commandments in the gospels. It is a marked feature in his quotations of the commandments in Greek.
For one more example, here is a familiar passage, Rom. 10:5-10, in the KJV, RSV and NRSV, with and without a singular “thou.” Does it make a theological difference and how should we address this?
- 5For Moses describeth the righteousness which is of the law, That the man which doeth those things shall live by them.
6But the righteousness which is of faith speaketh on this wise, Say not in thine heart, Who shall ascend into heaven? (that is, to bring Christ down from above:)
7Or, Who shall descend into the deep? (that is, to bring up Christ again from the dead.)
8But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach;
9That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.
10For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.
Moses writes that the man who practices the righteousness which is based on the law shall live by it.
 But the righteousness based on faith says, Do not say in your heart, “Who will ascend into heaven?” (that is, to bring Christ down)
 or “Who will descend into the abyss?” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).
 But what does it say? The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart (that is, the word of faith which we preach);
 because, if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
 For man believes with his heart and so is justified, and he confesses with his lips and so is saved.
5 Moses writes concerning the righteousness that comes from the law, that ‘the person who does these things will live by them.’ 6But the righteousness that comes from faith says, ‘Do not say in your heart, “Who will ascend into heaven?” ’ (that is, to bring Christ down) 7‘or “Who will descend into the abyss?” ’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8But what does it say?
‘The word is near you,
on your lips and in your heart’
(that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.
Does changing the verb to the plural shift the focus to a group confession? How important are these kinds of changes? Which one is closer to the Greek? Or underlying Hebrew?