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March 21, 2009

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Q: How have changing definitions confused the church?

A: If one were to ask around to see what kind of definitions people have of the word species or genus, most would respond by saying they have something to do with classification. In today’s society, the words genus and species are synonymous with the Linnaean taxonomy system.

In the early 1700s, if someone said something about a “species” or “genus,” it would have had nothing to do with classification systems. So, why is this important today and what can we learn from it? The word species and its changing definition were partly responsible for the compromise of the church in late 1800s. In fact, the church is still struggling over this change. Let’s do a brief history review.

The English word species comes directly from Latin. For example, the Latin Vulgate (early Latin Bible translation), by Jerome around 400 A.D., says of Genesis 1:21:

“creavitque Deus cete grandia et omnem animam viventem atque motabilem quam produxerant aquae in species suas et omne volatile secundum genus suum et vidit Deus quod esset bonum” (emphasis added).

Species is also found in Genesis 1:24, 25 as well. The Latin basically meant the biblical “kind.” In fact, this word carried over into English and other languages that have some Latin influence. It means a “kind, form, or sort.” Another word that was commonly used for a kind in the Latin Vulgate was genus. This is evident in Genesis 1:11, 12, and 21. In both cases, these two words were used for the Hebrew word min or kind. For example, there is a dog kind, cat kind, and so on.

It made sense that Carl Linnaeus, a Swedish Christian, began using Latin terms for his new classification system. It was logical to use these common terms, which were a part of the commercial language throughout Europe (much in the way that English, for example, is a seen as a universal language in the world today for communication and so on). Linnaeus even wrote his large treatise, Systema Natvrae, and other findings, in Latin in the mid to late 1700s.

Continue reading about how semantic shifts undermined confidence in God’s Word at Fixity of Species.

News to Note Quick Look

“The inerrant Word”: Most of the clergy of mainline Protestant denominations are sitting on the left—in a manner of speaking. Read more.

“Evolving every year”: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times for Canadian creationists. Read more.

Also: “extraordinarily well preserved,” “muddies the waters,” “Reality as it really,” “Both ends of the stick,” “Might seem odd,” and don’t miss . . . . Read more.

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