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But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear: [1 Peter 3:15 KJV]

In 1 Peter 3:15, the verb ἁγιάσατε (sanctify), the article and noun ταῖς καρδίαις (hearts), the adjective ἕτοιμοι (be ready), and the pronouns ὑμῶν, ὑμᾶς, and ὑμῖν (you) are all plural.

Are these Collective Plurals or are they Distributive Plurals?

I've looked in Mounce, Wallace, Dana & Mantey, Moulton & Millgan, Blass & Debrunner, A.T. Robertson, and even Gildersleeve; pretty much without success. I've also noted that this case doesn't appear to fit in the "Neuter plural with singular verb exception" category.

Yes, I suspect one could argue for "both" in this context, but I'm specifically concerned with how to grammatically differentiate between Collectives and Distributives, not only here, but throughout the NT and LXX corpus.

Is the meaning here that we (the church as a whole) should be ready to give a group answer?

Or, is it that we (as members of the church) should each individually be ready to give an answer?

i.e. does the plural refer to the group as a whole or to the individual members of the group instead?

c.f., e.g. in English, “We the People of the United States… do ordain and establish… “ means the group ordains and establishes as a group.

While, “We went our separate ways” means that each member of the group went off individually in his/her own chosen direction.

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  • Welcome to SE-BH. Please see the Tour and Help (below, bottom left) as to the purpose and the functioning of the site. I have edited only for the sake of clarity to assist your readership in regard of the quoted text.
    – Nigel J
    Jun 2, 2021 at 22:05
  • The word ἀπολογίαν ('answer') is in the singular and I suggest that that is relevant. A corporate body still needs a single spokesperson to convey a single answer. But also, if all must be ever ready, for all circumstances, then every circumstance (singular and plural) is here being addressed by the apostle, I would suggest. (Up-voted +1.)
    – Nigel J
    Jun 2, 2021 at 22:09
  • Church Group consists of individuals. All commands pertains to individuals, individuals attain heaven and receive reward, not groups.
    – Michael16
    Jul 9, 2022 at 7:24

1 Answer 1

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The object is more important than the plural subject

It's not about who gives the defense, but about whom the defense is given to

You're asking about the phrase:

[you] (plural) ready to give a defense (singular)

Meaning of distributive vs collective

Distributive plural (MLA)

When each part of a plural subject possesses something individually, the thing possessed must generally be in the plural as well. For example:

The two women blew their noses.

Collective plural (Univ of S Carolina)

This is the collective reading...

The men lifted the piano.

The phrase in Greek means the idea of the distributive plural, even though the noun is singular, reading like this:

The two women blew their nose.

Greek

In English, we're all worried up the kazoo about making these match perfectly. So, we're naturally asking English questions that the Greek speakers naturally didn't care or think about.

Koine Greek is slang and not necessarily that precise in matching the number for subjects with verbs. Peter didn't have to follow the "Greek MLA stylebook" in his day because there wasn't one. So, he not trying to be as technical as we would be in English.

He's just addressing the group in the plural, then talking about individual situations in the singular.

1 Peter 3:15 (SBLG)

κύριον δὲ τὸν Χριστὸν ἁγιάσατε ἐν ταῖς καρδίαις ὑμῶν, ἕτοιμοι ἀεὶ πρὸς ἀπολογίαν παντὶ τῷ αἰτοῦντι ὑμᾶς λόγον περὶ τῆς ἐν ὑμῖν ἐλπίδος,

My translation:

but sanctify Lord Christ in your hearts, always ready with an answer for everyone who requests you account for the hope in you

lit: (emphasized segment)

ἕτοιμοι ἀεὶ πρὸς ἀπολογίαν παντὶ τῷ αἰτοῦντι ὑμᾶς
ready always to defense/answer every the asking you
adj-nom adv prep noun-acc adj-dat article-dat participle pronoun-dat
plural singular singular singular pres-sing-dat plural

Objects and slang grammar

Sometimes "bad" grammar makes the point better. But, Peter didn't have "bad" grammar because there wasn't a "Greek MLA stylebook" in his day. They just used the words that best made the point.

[you (plural)] always ready with an answer is akin to saying:

All of you, search your heart.

That's technically incorrect, but we understand the "correct" meaning to be:

Each of you, search your [own] heart.

The grammatically incorrect way is less wordy and easier to read, say, and hear. That's why we are all guilty of doing this all the time in English. That's what Koine Greek does, albeit they didn't have grammar style books to say it was "wrong", but this was how Koine Greek was used.

This each of you type of language follow "everyone who requests you" part of the verse.

Note, with everyone who and requests you, I consider both to be raised objects, which helps this make more sense. This is like saying, "I saw the dog eat the rabbit eat the carrot," where dog and rabbit are raised objects. Peter is talking this way in ready with an answer for everyone who requests you account.

Peter's point is for the individual

The emphasis is on each individual asking for an account, seeking an answer. The term "every one" is a plurality, but treated as individuals, so this will also be treated as singular, or a "multiple singular".

For instance:

Everyone, please take your seat.

The speaker is addressing many people, but as individuals.

This would be grammatically wrong in English:

Everyone, please take your seats.

Essentially, Peter makes "a defense/answer" singular, not because all Christians should only have one, singular, group-approved answer for all visitors, but because every individual who asks deserves an individual, tailored answer.

Albeit, Peter does address them as a group, so the ability to do this is indeed a shared responsibility. But, it's not the same as saying:

All men, move the piano.

But, more like saying:

All men, move every piano.

It does read, "everyone who asks," after all.

There are multiple, individual jobs to do, and a plurality of people ready to do the jobs, and somehow they need to make sure that each individual job gets done. Whether every piano (and every answer) requires many people or just one isn't something Peter specifies. We're supposed to figure that out together and get each and every piano moved.

And, we are to give each and every person a good answer to whatever question is asked of any of us.

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