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No. 77: In Defense of Latin

BIBLICAL Horizons, No. 77
September, 1995
Copyright 1995, Biblical Horizons

James Jordan in the June/July 1995 Biblical Horizons wrote a very helpful essay, "The Great Hangover," the gist of which I entirely agree with. The theme of the essay was that the Church to move forward must shuck off the old husks of Hellenism, Rabbinism, and undo admiration for all things Roman. But, let me offer a mild rejoinder to one element of his essay. As a euphonic pedagogical device, Jim rhythmically repeats a catchy line that both the cultures and languages of the ancient classical world should be abandoned. As a mild rejoinder, let me suggest that the abandonment of Latin for our children is not in the best interest of them or the future.

The reasons for preserving Latin have less to do with absorbing the Classical world than they do with unlocking our own. Approximately two-thirds of the vocabulary of modern English is derived from Latin. It is also the case that most of the linguistic world of modern Europe is Latin derivative. Italian, Rumanian, Spanish, Portuguese, and French all are descendants of Latin. To know Latin enables one to see English in three dimensions, and it opens up virtually all of modern Europe in a similar three dimensional way. Jerome’s Latin Vulgate created the modern linguistic world. The tribal languages of the ancient world of what is now Europe were transformed by Biblical and theological Latin. To know Latin is to be enabled to see almost magically how what may be dead, secular forms everywhere around us have living Biblical roots.

Just one example. Our psychiatric age is forever babbling about compulsions and uncontrolled behaviors. In the English Bible in Romans 1, three times the Greek term paradoken is translated as "given over" (vv. 24, 26, 28). Sinners are "given over" to greater sin as a punishment for refusing to repent for previous sin. In the Latin Vulgate, the term that is used is the term addictis from which we derive the English, "addiction." What has become a stale, pop cliche, is astonishingly illuminated as to its original meaning. This is one of thousands of examples. Latin is not just a Classical language, it is also the language of the Christian "middle ages," and a great Biblical and theological language that has created our modern world.