Passage: 1 Timothy 1:3
This is the first time in the blog I have dealt with the issue of etymology, so perhaps a few introductory comments are in order.
The etymology of a word is the meaning of its parts. In English we might talk about a “goalpost.” This is a goal that is formed by two vertical posts. In other words, in the creation of the word for where you kick the ball in soccer — excuse me, football — somebody took the word “goal” and the word “post” and created a term. When you look at the etymology of “goalpost,” you can see its two parts and those two parts tell you the meaning of the new term, “goalpost.”
Etymologies can be fun to play with. I just found the Online Etymology Dictionary. I don’t know how reliable it is, but it is fun.
The problem in Bible Studies is that in previous years too much weight was placed on etymologies. You would find a word in a certain context, and in determining its meaning people would look at the meaning of its parts and assume that was the meaning of the current word under investigation. No effort was put into determining the word’s meaning within its current context. This led to some pretty poor exegesis and unfortunately many inaccurate sermon illustrations.
One of the most basic things you will learn in your hermeneutics class is the “Etymology fallacy.” An example like “butterfly” will be used to expose the error of placing too much weight on the meaning of its parts. Is a butterfly really a dairy product that flies? (Of course, that is a bit of an unfair description. It was believed that insects used to drink butter, or else the yellow color of the butter was similar to the color of a butterfly, so in actuality the etymology is still somewhat conveyed by the word “butterfly.”)
Any this is precisely the point. It seems to me that we have gone too far and it is time to bring the pendulum back to midpoint. You cannot assume that the meaning of the part of a word still describes the meaning of the full word. And yet sometimes they can.
One such example occurs in 1 Timothy 1:3.