January 02, 2005 Q & A

"Orthodox" Revisited - Part 1


In your answer to the meaning of "orthodox" in the OPC's name (see Meaning of Orthodox), you rightly say that it (generally) means "correct doctrine". However, your etymology of the word is not quite correct. The Greek word "doxa" means "worship" as in "correct worship." Clearly there's a relation between the two (the "regulative principle" applies to doctrine as well as worship) but there's a difference also.


Thanks for your note. What you say is partly correct. "Orthodox" can mean (at least theoretically) "correct worship" as well as "correct doctrine" (or at least some people have suggested that), but note the following points (for which I will provide documentation shortly):

(1) Almost all reference works when tracing the etymology of "orthodox" (from "ortho" + "doxa") give the original meaning (and current meaning) as "correct doctrine" or "straight opinion" or "right belief" rather than as "correct worship."

(2) Of those that mention "correct worship" as a possible meaning, most (a) also mention "correct doctrine" as correct and (b) are written from the standpoint of the Eastern Orthodox Church, which has a tradition of giving more attention to worship than to doctrine.

(3) So far as the context of the late 1930's is concerned, I think most people would agree that the focus was not upon "correct worship" (in contrast to the "incorrect worship" of Liberal Protestantism), but upon "correct doctrine" (in contrast to the "incorrect doctrine" of Liberal Protestantism).

Let's take those points, one by one.

(1) Almost all reference works when tracing the etymology of "orthodox" (from ortho" + "doxa") give the original meaning (and current meaning) as "correct doctrine" or "straight opinion" or "right belief" rather than "correct worship".

orthodoxy ... 1. authorized or generally accepted theory, doctrine, or practice .... The quality of conforming to such theories, doctrines, or practices.... ORIGIN mid 17th cent.: via late Latin from late Greek orthodoxia 'sound doctrine,' from orthodoxos (see ORTHODOX)....

orthodox ... 1. (of a person or their views, esp. religious or political ones, or other beliefs or practices) conforming to what is generally or traditionally accepted as right or true.... ORIGIN late Middle English from Greek orthodoxos (probably via ecclesiastical Latin), from orthos 'straight or right' + doxa 'opinion'."
  --The New Oxford American Dictionary (Oxford University Press, 2001), p. 1209.

orthodox ... 1. of, pertaining to, or conforming to the approved form of any doctrine, philosophy, ideology, etc... [1575-85: < LL orthodoxus, right in religion < LGk orthodoxos, equiv. to ortho- [see] ORTHO- + dox(a) belief, opinion + -os adj. suffix]"
  --Random House Unabridged Dictionary (Random House, 1999), p. 1368.

orthodox ... Adj [MF or LL; MF orthodoxe, fr. LL orthodoxus, fr. LGk orhodoxos, fr. Gk orthodoxein to have the right opinion, fr. ortho- straight, right, true + -doxein (fr. doxa opinion, belief, reputation)... 1: marked by conformity to doctrines or practices esp. in religion that are held as right or true by some authority, standard, or tradition..."
  --Merriam-Webster Third New International Dictionary (G. and C. Merriam Company, 1976), p. 1594.

Note that "doxa" here in these examples is always taken in the sense of "opinion" or "belief" and never as "worship." I think you'll find the same to be true of various standard etymological dictionaries. Here's one example:

orthodox ... according with accepted opinion XVI .... - ecclL. orthodoxus - Gr. orthodoxos, f. orthos, straight, right ... + doxa opinion, f. base of dokein...."
  --Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology (Oxford University Press, 1966), p. 634.

Doxa thus comes from dokein, to think or believe, from which we also get our word dogma (as in Reformed dogmatics).

The ultimate meaning of a word is determined more by its usage than by its etymology, but it is interesting that both etymology and historic usage support the primary idea of "sound doctrine," "true belief," of "right opinion" rather than the idea of "correct worship" (although, of course, correct worship is founded upon sound doctrine, true belief, and right opinion).

The Orthodox Presbyterian Church also values correct worship highly (thus the emphasis upon the "regulative principle of worship"), but the word "orthodox" in its name refers primarily to "sound doctrine," i.e., beliefs founded upon the infallible revelation of God Himself as "inscripturated" in the Bible. This emphasis was true of the early history of the OPC, and it continues to be true today.

(Coming up: more on "correct doctrine" and "correct worship" and the early history of the OPC.)



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