Love in an Attention Crisis

Readers of the Latin Bible could see how close love and diligence are.

Anyone who has studied a foreign language knows the fun of stumbling across a word that looks familiar. It’s like a treasure hunt. In my first weeks of high school Latin, I found that my own surname, Vincent, was a Latin word for “conqueror,” which gave rise to the word vanquish. That’s a pretty cool find for a slightly bored 15-year-old!

It was my enthusiasm for surprising derivatives that inspired me to surf the pages of the Vulgate, which Jerome translated in the late fourth century. This Latin translation of the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures served as the standard translation of the Bible in churches throughout the Western world for centuries, and many of Jerome’s interpretive decisions provide a glimpse into the heart of the church’s historic understanding of Scripture. For me, it was a hotbed of etymological discoveries.

Several years ago, I stumbled across one such nugget of linguistic history hidden in the Vulgate. It started as I was reading the Great Commandment from Luke 10:27 (ESV throughout):

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.

When Jesus told an inquisitive lawyer that all the Law and Prophets hung on these two commandments (Matt. 22:40), he knew that his audience would recognize them. Both were drawn directly from the Torah (Deut. 6:4–9; Lev. 19:18) and would have been intimately familiar. But Jesus imbued them with a new and shocking centrality, and he spoke them with an unprecedented authority (Matt. 7:29).

He also spoke them in a new language. Although Jesus himself spoke primarily Aramaic, the Gospels record his words in Greek, with “love” …

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