In many parts of the 1 Corinthians 2, the first-person plural 'we' often appears to be consistently exclusive, speaking only of Paul/Timothy & the Apostles:

Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? We don’t need letters of recommendation to you or from you as some other people do, do we? ... our adequacy is from God, who made us adequate to be servants of a new covenant not based on the letter but on the Spirit, for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. - 2 Corinthians 3:1,5-6

Yet in other passages it is obviously used inclusively:

what agreement does Christ have with Beliar? Or what does a believer share in common with an unbeliever? And what mutual agreement does the temple of God have with idols? For we are the temple of the living God, just as God said, “I will live in them and will walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.” 2 Corinthians 6:15-16


  • Are there any typical rules-of-thumb which can help us to understand when a first-person plural might be more likely inclusive or exclusive?
  • Does its usage typically tend towards one or the other, or is it always vague and entirely context-dependent?


1 Answer 1


I don't think there are any rules of thumb, because it's entirely a matter of interpretation. That is to say, the meanings of words and the grammar are not going to answer it for you. You've just got to read it both ways, and think about whether one makes more sense than the other, or if it's ambiguous.

The first hearers had no advantage over you in this respect, remember. They didn't automatically know whether to include themselves in the “we” either. What you've run into here is just the challenge any of us have in understanding anything that's said to us. (Pragmatics is the study of how humans figure these things out.)

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