Epistles of Thomas

October 4, 2017

Wm Paul Young and Latin this Time

Filed under: Uncategorized — Thomas @ 22:07

I continue to read Young’s book, Lies We Believe About God, and today came across an attempt to use the Latin etymology of the word ‘religion’ to make a point. The chapter is concerned with the lie “God created my religion.” Here is his statement:

The word religion derives from two Latin words, the prefix re- meaning “back” or “again” and –ligio, referring to “something that binds one thing to another.” Religion is my attempt to bind myself back to God—a noble gesture, but one doomed from the start and quite impossible. What began as a relationship with a living Jesus often devolves into a religion, defined by what we do: external activities, posing, right words, clothes, holy gestures, hushed tones.

This is the fourth time Young has delved into ancient languages and the first time he has used Latin to try and make his point. We have several problems here that immediately spring to mind. First, as we’ve discussed before, a word’s etymology has no bearing on its current usage, nor does a word’s current usage prove anything about what a word meant in the past. Secondly, the word ‘religion’ refers to all religions and not just those who believe that there is a God to whom they can rebind themselves. Third, the word religion probably doesn’t actually derive from “re” and “-ligio” but rather from “re -lego,” which is to “read again.” Wikipedia is actually helpful in providing a detailed discussion of the debate. Or for those of you who prefer scholarly sources there is this 1912 article, “The Etymology of Religion” in the Journal of the American Oriental Society.

Finally, the Christian usage of religion = re-bind can be traced back to Lactantius (c. 250 – c. 325). Here is what he had to say in Divinae institutiones, IV, 28:

What, then, is it? Truly religion is the cultivation of the truth, but superstition of that which is false. And it makes the entire difference what you worship, not how you worship, or what prayer you offer. But because the worshippers of the gods imagine themselves to be religious, though they are superstitious, they are neither able to distinguish religion from superstition, nor to express the meaning of the names. We have said that the name of religion is derived from the bond of piety, because God has tied man to Himself, and bound him by piety; for we must serve Him as a master, and be obedient to Him as a father.

Lactantius, “The Divine Institutes,” in Fathers of the Third and Fourth Centuries: Lactantius, Venantius, Asterius, Victorinus, Dionysius, Apostolic Teaching and Constitutions, Homily, and Liturgies, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, trans. William Fletcher, vol. 7, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1886), 131.

Young makes the same point as Lactantius about it not mattering how you worship or what prayer you offer. However, given what Young has written about the nature of God I don’t think he would be comfortable with Lactantius’ language of serving God as our master and being obedient to him as a father.



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