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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 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 at 22:09
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This question does not really arise in the first century church because the idea of an institution is is absent. The Greek word commonly translated "church" is ἐκκλησία meaning (literally), "called out ones", ie, assembly, congregation, community. The idea of an institution in the modern sense arose much later in the early medieval period.

This can be sensed in the above passage in 1 Peter 3:14-16

14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear what they fear; do not be shaken.” 15 But in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give a defense to everyone who asks you the reason for the hope that is in you. But respond with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who slander you may be put to shame by your good behavior in Christ. 17 For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.

The highlighted actions above can only be done individually, never corporately. While an institution can do some things, its interface with other is invariably via a person who must display kindness and gentleness. An institution cannot sanctify Christ in the heart.

Therefore, I would argue that the plurals here must be referring to a collection of individuals and how we individually deal with others. We are saved as individuals, never as a corporation or part of a church.

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