“One of the most enduring of errors, the root fallacy presupposes that every word actually has a meaning bound up with its shape or its components. In this view, meaning is determined by etymology; that is, by the roots or roots of a word. How many times have we been told that because the verbal cognate of [apostolos] (apostle) is [apostello] (I send), the root meaning of ‘apostle’ is ‘one who is sent’? In the preface of the New King James Bible, we are told that the ‘literal’ meaning of [monogenes] is ‘only begotten.’ Is that true? How often do preachers refer to the verb [agapao] (to love), contrast it with [phileo] (to love), and deduce that the text is saying something about a special kind of loving, for no other reason than that [agapao] is used?

All of this is linguistic nonsense. We might have guessed as much if we were more acquainted with the etymology of English words. Anthony C. Thiselton offers by way of example our word nice, which comes from the Latin nescius, meaning ‘ignorant.’ Our ‘goodbye’ is a contraction for Anglo-Saxon ‘God be with you.’ Now it may be possible to trace out diachronically just how nescius generated ‘nice’; it is certainly easy to imagine how ‘God be with you’ came to be contracted to ‘good-bye.’ But I know of no one today who in saying such and such a person is ‘nice’ believes that he or she has in some measure labeled that person ignorant because the ‘root meaning’ or ‘hidden meaning’ or ‘literal meaning’ of ‘nice’ is ‘ignorant.’” – Excerpt from Exegetical Fallacies by D.A. Carson

Speaker, Educator, President of A Clear Lens, Inc. and host of A Clear Lens Podcast. B.Sc., M.Ed. Lives in Las Vegas with his wife, two sons, and dogs.


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