Thursday, August 05, 2004

Radix Omnium Malorum

1 Timothy 6,10: Radix enim omnium malorum est cupiditas....
This passage is regularly misquoted as "Money is the root of all evil." It should be obvious that money cannot possibly be the root of all evil since: money is an abstract form of wealth; wealth is good; and what is good cannot be the root of any evil let alone all evil.

Setting aside the misquotation, the passage is usually translated as "The love of money is the root of all evil...." This is closer to the truth, but still not right, and for two reasons. First, given that money is good, a certain love or desire for it is justified. Second, how could the love of money be the root of all evil? Some evils spring from the inordinate love of power, and other evils from other sources.

We approximate to the truth when we say that the inordinate love of money is at the root of some evils.

At this point I need the help of a classicist. Why isn't cupiditas translated as 'inordinate love of money'? More fundamentally, why isn't the Latin word rendered more generally as 'inordinate desire'? My Langenscheidt's Lateinisch-Deutsch shows Begierde, Gier, and heftiges Verlangen as equivalents. 'Inordinate desire' comports well with the context. And it is certainly truer to say that inordinate desire is the root of all evil than to say that the love of money, or the inordinate love of money, is the root of all evil.

I take it that Paul wrote to Timothy in Greek. What is the Greek word here?

Pace some Buddhists, desire as such is not the problem, inordinate desire is, inordinate desire for all sorts of things, not just money. Is the standard English translation of 1 Timothy 6,10 simply mistaken?