Each one with their neighbor

Here is a literal translation of Ephesians 4:25: 

“Therefore, laying aside falsehood, (y’all) speak truth, each one with his/her/their neighbor, because we are members of one another.”

I’m interested in the part about speaking truth, each one with their neighbor.

Some translations try to make this part sound more natural in English, which is nice, but can also change the meaning a bit. For example:

  • “Each of you must tell the truth to your neighbor” (CEB)
  • “Each of you must…speak truthfully to your neighbor” (NIV)
  • “Let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors” (NRSV)
  • “Let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor” (ESV; yes, some translations do still use masculine pronouns to refer to any/all genders…)

I like the literal translation “speak truth, each one with their neighbor,” because I think it captures something that gets missed in the other translations. It captures the sense that there are two, perhaps equally important, levels to this truth-telling. The truth-telling that Paul is talking about is, at the same time, both very communal and very personal. 

As for the communal aspect, the imperative “speak truth” is addressed to the plural “you” (“y’all,” if you will.) Paul wants the community to be marked as a community of truth tellers: to, collectively, hold a high value for truth. To try to get to the bottom of things together when the truth seems murky. To refuse, together, as a community, to settle for nice-sounding, comforting lies. 

I would love to see more churches embody this more fully. When it comes to race and racial justice, for example, we would see church communities becoming the kinds of courageous places where truth is spoken, heard, and believed―truth about things like the brutal parts of our country’s history, and Christianity’s culpability in it all, and what it’s like to be a person of color in our communities and churches today. 

Paul invites the church, collectively, to lay aside falsehood: to ditch the sugar-coated versions of US history many of us have been taught; to drop the sanitized stories about where our predecessors as people of faith were in all of this; to stop repeating false narratives of progress that refuse to recognize how bad things still are; to reject the tendency to look to white, male, powerful sources for “objective” coverage of history or present-day reality. To move away from shallow, one-sided stories and seek, instead, multiple perspectives, listening especially carefully to people on the underside of power, and people most impacted by the issues at hand.

Paul says: y’all, collectively, lay aside these lies. Y’all, collectively, speak truth. Y’all, collectively, become a truth-filled community.

And then we get to the individual aspect, the personal aspect. We want to do this collectively, Paul says, but the way―or at least one important way―in which we want to do this is “each one with their neighbor.” Conversationally. Starting with the people closest to us―geographically, relationally. With our families and friends and co-workers and other people we interact with on a regular basis. 

Perhaps, thinking about today’s conversations about systemic racism and racial injustice, this supports an idea a lot of people have already been saying (and living out): that we start within our own racial or ethnic communities. 

Anti-blackness manifests differently in different racial and ethnic communities. It’s up to each community to look within itself, to start within itself, to name the ways anti-blackness shows up and figure out how to dismantle it. 

When we think about race, it’s up to us to start with the people with whom we have the most in common in this particular conversation. It’s up to us, each with our own neighbor, to speak truth.

It’s (relatively) easy to make statements on social media that sound good and sound supportive. It’s harder to learn to speak the truth, in love, with one another, personally. 

But the people we know personally might listen and engage in a way they wouldn’t with a Facebook “friend” they don’t know very well. They might learn something from us, and likewise us from them.

After all, as Paul goes on to write, we are members of one another. We belong to one another. We are connected to one another. We need one another. And we need the most honest, truthful self that each person is able to bring to the table.

May we become truthful communities, among which truth is spoken and heard, collectively. May we become individuals who speak truth personally, each one with our own neighbor. And may all of this truth-telling help begin to build a more just world.

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