It’s All Greek (or Latin) to Me

Have you ever wondered about all those fancy Greek and Latin terms that some Christians throw around? Perhaps not. If you’re not one of those people who wonder what the heck people mean when they say things like “hypo-static union” or “orthopraxy” then you’ll probably not find much interest in this.

If, however, you do have some inkling of curiosity about those things, you might be interested in this post. While this is not going to be an exhaustive list, it does contain some of the more commonly used terms. Also, in some cases, this may not reveal everything you want as I don’t intend to get involved in-depth on some of the deeper meanings and implications of these terms. Rather, it’s just a quick primer of some of the terms I’ve come across in the last few years that made me wonder what they meant.

Let’s start with some of the Latin terms:

  • Orthodoxy – This comes from two Latin words which break down as “ortho” or “right” and “doxy” meaning “belief.” So, this is the concept of “right belief” or believing the right things. Usually this is applied to commonly accepted truths about faith and theology.
  • Orthopraxy – This one is obviously quite similar, but the “praxy” refers to “practice.” In other words, this would refer to doing the right things. Often it’s thought of as an extension, or result of, orthodoxy.
  • Hermeneutics – This essentially is defined as the science/art of biblical interpretation. Everyone who does any sort of Bible study tends to have their own hermeneutic which has a lot to do with paradigms and perspectives. Though there are certain hermeneutics that are more general, such as “authorial intent” which tries to interpret the Bible based on what the original author’s intent was in writing a particular statement or work.
  • Sola Scriptura – This phrase means “Only Scripture.” There is some controversy over how this phrase is to be understood, but the standard Reformed-Church understanding of it is that scripture should be the only infallible source of truth and authority for orthodox Christianity. (See how I started combining terms? Cool, huh?)
  • Sola Fide – This phrase means “Only Faith.” It is the Reformed doctrine of salvation by faith alone, and not by works.
  • Vulgate – This term is pretty widely used and you may be familiar with it. It is the term used to describe the Latin translation of the Bible. Remember that the original texts were written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek.
  • Imago Dei – This is translated as “Image of God.” It is used to describe the creation of Man in God’s image. Christian doctrine holds that all human beings “carry” the Image of God.
  • Eschatology – This is the study of the “end times.” That’s the short version, though there is a great deal of teaching and doctrine around this type of study. Often, it refers to a type of biblical interpretation, or hermeneutic, based on how scripture addresses the end times.
  • Christology – This, of course, is the study of the Messiah. Many scholars use this as a hermeneutic to study Old Testament scripture in light of the revelation of Christ. They look at OT writings and attempt to interpret them by seeing, or potentially seeing, references to Christ.

And some of the more common Greek terms:

  • Christos – This, of course, refers to Jesus Christ. The word is derived from the Greek translation of the Hebrew term for Messiah. Since the New Testament was written almost exclusively in Greek, this explains why the term has been so commonly accepted as opposed to using a Hebrew derivative.
  • Logos – Again, typically a reference to the Christ. It actually means “Word” or “Speech” or at least consistently has that idea. The popularity of using this term for Christ probably came from the fact that John’s Gospel refers to the “Word” in reference to Jesus.
  • Hypo-static Union – This is a fun one. This refers to the idea that Jesus was simultaneously fully God and fully Man. This is a necessary attribute of Christ as without it, it drastically impacts our idea of salvation. You are encouraged to study this one further elsewhere as there is a great deal of theology and doctrine built on this concept that I won’t have the time to cover here.
  • Homousios – This term was arrived at during the first Ecumenical Council at Nicaea. It refers to the idea the Jesus was of “the same substance” as God the Father. This term helped the church fathers at the time develop what we now know as the Nicaean Creed which affirms the doctrine of the Trinity.

That should be about enough for most people. Plus, I can’t think of any other terms off the top of my head. If there are any Greek or Latin terms that haven’t been listed here that you think should be included, please feel free to leave your comments and suggestions. Also, most of the definitions I have provided are based on my own informal study, so if any linguistic scholars deem these definitions somehow insufficient or inaccurate, please feel free to correct me.

At the very least, I hope this helps to un-confuse some of the rhetoric you might hear thrown about in Christian circles. And, perhaps it will help to encourage someone to look more into these concepts, where they came from, why they have been defined as such, etc.

Grace, love and peace.

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  1. I remembered a couple more this morning:

    * Prima Scriptura – Similar to sola scriptura, except that this view holds that scripture is the “primary” source of infallible authority, but not the ONLY infallible authority. According to most reformers, sola scriptura holds that scripture is the ONLY INFALLIBLE authority, though it does recognize other authorities (e.g. tradition, history, etc.)

    * Semper Reformanda – This is the idea that the church is “always reforming.” Basically, what this means is that our understanding of God and the scriptures are constantly maturing and our level of understanding is always growing (or at least changing).

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