Protestants are not necessarily protesters

April 25, 2011

“The word [Protestant] seems to come from pro + testari, to testify forth, or to hold forth a position on something. Its primary historical meaning has been to assert, to maintain, to proclaim solemnly or state formally. ….To say “Protestants, by their very name, are protesters” is to obscure the fact that the word has changed its sense over the years. It would be like saying “Jonathan Edwards admits that his God is awful and terrible,” without acknowledging that those words meant “awesome and way way awesome” when Edwards used them in the 18th century.

When somebody flourishes the idea that negativity is built into the very word “Protestant,” they are ignoring the semantic drift between the word’s coinage, its application to an identifiable religious group, and its current use.

For all I know, Protestants are the ones who caused the word to drift semantically into the domain of negation, by being nattering nabobs of negativism who know what they’re against but not what they’re for. But to claim it’s built into the word is sleight of hand, intentional or not.” – Dr. Fred Sanders

HT Justin Taylor

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