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"The Root of All Evil" or "A Root of All Evil"?
The Definite vs. Indefinite Article in I Timothy 6:10
-- -- Jeff, Tuesday 10-27-2009, 6:30 am CDT

In the English language there is a vast difference in meaning between the definite and indefinite article. For instance if I say, "This photo is the illustration (definite article) of the gizmo," I may well mean that that the photo I am referring to represents the one-and-only illustration of it that pertains. But if I say, "This photo is an illustration (indefinite article) of the gizmo," I am implying that it is only one illustration among some number of others that also pertain.

photo of Gizmo When using the English definite and indefinite articles to translate the Greek New Testament, the workman of the Word of God immediately encounters a puzzle common to all translation work. And that is the fact that different languages have varying levels of available specificity among their possible usages.

In some expressions, it is possible to be more specific in Greek than in English. But when it comes to the distinction that English expresses between the definite and indefinite article, English is more specific than Greek, because the Greek language has no indefinite article. That doesn't mean the idea of "one gizmo among some number of others" can't be expressed in Greek. It just can't be expressed in Greek via an indefinite article.1


The verse in Scripture that talks about "the root of all evil" is I Timothy 6:10. The King James Version reads:
I Timothy 6:10
For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.
One issue with this translation, is that there is no definite article in the Greek text that is translated "the root of all evil." If there were, the translation "the root of all evil" would be accurate. But on the other hand, just because there is no Greek article doesn't necessarily mean that the "the" in the KJV is inaccurate. Since in the Greek language the definite article is not used to contrast an indefinite article, that's not it's primary purpose like it is in the English language.

When the Greek article occurs, it means "the definitely definite." As in John 17:17, which could be literally rendered with the emphasis it gives, "THE Word thine is THE Truth." But when the Greek article does not occur, that doesn't necessarily make the expression an indefinite "one among others," it can also mean "the definite." There is an occurance in one verse of all three of these usages/non-usages of the article in Greek, "the definitely definite," "the definite," and "an indefinite."

Romans 2:14 (modified)
For when the Gentiles, which have not "the definite law" [no Greek article], do by nature the things contained in "the definitely, definite law" [Greek article] (of Moses), these, having not "the definite law" [no Greek article], are "an indefinite law" [no Greek article] unto themselves (which is successful or unsuccessful depending on how much of the truth they have discovered by trial and error).
So is the love of money "the" root of all evil that exclusively pertains? Or is it "a" root of all evil among other roots?


Typical Tree Root System When it comes to the love of money there can be no gainsaying the truth of God's Word, that it is a primary feeder root for evil. For one thing, there is no argument about the translation of "all evil" in I Timothy 6:10. It is accurate. Which indicates that whenever there is evil present, love of money is always "a root" if not exclusively "the root." Which is why, when tracking down evil-doings, the old saw among law enforcement and investigative journalists to follow the money works so well.

Furthermore Mark 14:10-11, John 2:13-17, Acts 4:33-5:11, 8:18-24, James 2:1-9, 5:1-7, among many others, clearly show the evil that the love of money can produce. Likewise, the warnings in the immediate context of I Timothy 6:10 are vital to understanding the consequences of the love of money.

I Timothy 6:9-11
But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition.

For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.

But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness.

I would translate the phrase "they that will be rich" as "those planning on how to get rich." In light of which, as my own personal "check-up from the neck up" against the love of money, I try to keep inventory of how my efforts to improve my financial lot compare with the efforts I put into pursuing the things of God. God first, yes. But like a lot of other things in life, walking by the spirit -- which is to walk as God through Christ Jesus directs -- is not optional. It is the only way to keep the two in balance. Not legalisms.

It the things of God, not money, that make for an abundant life. Things like "righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness," and more. Things that are not for sale at any price denominated in money. Because the price required was the sacrifice of God's only-begotten Son.


But the question on the table, when it comes to how I Timothy 6:10 ought to be translated, depends upon whether or not "the love of money" is the only root that pertains to evil. If there are other roots, then "the love of money" is "a root of all evil" but not "the root of all evil." 2

At this point from my working of God's Word, it seems pretty clear that money is a root, not the root. But I'll leave the question open for readers to work for themselves, and comment on here if they would like.


1. Verbs in the Mandarin language are not inflected in any way, and therefore among other things, its speakers do not express time via the various verb tenses that other languages employ. Obviously, that doesn't mean that the time when the action of a verb takes place cannot be expressed in Mandarin. The language, instead of verb tenses, makes extensive use adverbs to specify time (see Verbal Aspect: Expressing "Tense" in Mandarin Chinese Grammar). Context also, as in all expressions in all languages, plays an important role.

2. The New Revised Standard version renders the verse this way:
For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.
And here's how the New International version renders it:
For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.


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