I had a moment during the sermon at church on Sunday. This happens often because my personal Bible is the KJV version but my pastor preaches from the ESV or the NASB. The result is that I always end up comparing the different translations. I honestly love it because usually within the differences I find greater understanding.
What happened today, however, blew me away.
The Greek word anastrophē (ἀναστροφή) is used multiple times in Hebrews 13. The day’s passage began in verse 7, which, in the ESV, is rendered:
Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.
Anastrophē is translated “way of life.”
But the King James says:
Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation.
Here, anastrophē is “conversation.”
I quickly scribbled “conversation” on the back of my hand, which is where I write all my important reminders during church.
When I got home, I spent some time online browsing the Etymological Dictionary, trying to discover why the King James would call it conversation. Turns out, it’s as simple as history:
mid-14c., “place where one lives or dwells,” also “general course of actions or habits, manner of conducting oneself in the world,” both senses now obsolete; from Old French conversacion “behavior, life, way of life, monastic life,” and directly from Latin conversationem (nominative conversatio) “frequent use, frequent abode in a place, intercourse, conversation,” noun of action from past-participle stem of conversari “to live, dwell, live with, keep company with,” passive voice of conversare “to turn about, turn about with,” from assimilated form of com “with, together” (see con-) + versare, frequentative of vertere “to turn” (from PIE root *wer- (2) “to turn, bend”).
Who knew? Originally “conversation” meant “a way of life” — the KJV and the ESV were actually saying the exact same thing.
That was when it hit me: What if the Great “Conversation” isn’t just wise people talking to each other? What if it’s a way of life?
A couple more thoughts came in quick succession:
- If it’s a way of life, it’s a good way of life. Maybe when we talk about classical education as initiating our students into the Good Life, there is more there than just words that sound nice.
- “Conversation” sounds suspiciously like the word “conversion,” now that I think about it.
I decided to pursue that second thought by spending more time in the Dictionary, which never lets me down.
mid-14c., originally of religion, “a radical and complete change in spirit, purpose, and direction of life away from sin and toward love of God,” from Old French conversion “change, transformation, entry into religious life; way of life, behavior; dwelling, residence; sexual intercourse,” from Latin conversionem (nominative conversio) “a turning round, revolving; alteration, change,” noun of action from past-participle stem of convertere “to turn around; to transform,” from assimilated form of com “with, together” (see con-) + vertere “to turn” (from PIE root *wer- (2) “to turn, bend”).
Ah, yes. There we go. Versare and vertere are related roots, both based on the PIE root wer (a PIE root precedes Latin — PIE means Proto-Indo-European) which means “to turn.” Conversation is just more passive than conversion, it would seem.
So here we are with all the thoughts we’ve been having all these years now neatly tied up in a bow by a handy Latin lesson, for let us not forget that another idea that has always been in the mix is that “education is repentance” (a la George Grant) or, more aptly, that education is “conversion to the truth” (a la Roger Scruton).
It’s all the same thing, and we’ve been saying it all along without realizing it.
In a classical education, we bring our students into the Great Conversation — initiate them into the Good Life — by helping them repent and convert to the truth.
But I repeat myself.
This post originally appeared as an article in the Scholé Sistership.
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