WHAT IS A “LATCHET?”
by Shawn Brasseaux
The term “latchet” is found only four times in the text of the Authorized Version:
- Isaiah 5:27: “None shall be weary nor stumble among them; none shall slumber nor sleep; neither shall the girdle of their loins be loosed, nor the latchet of their shoes be broken:….” (The Prophet Isaiah is describing the formidable and mighty foes whom the LORD will bring upon sinful Israel.)
- Mark 1:7: “And preached, saying, There cometh one mightier than I after me, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose.”
- Luke 3:16: “John answered, saying unto them all, I indeed baptize you with water; but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire:….”
- John 1:27: “He it is, who coming after me is preferred before me, whose shoe’s latchet I am not worthy to unloose.”
We want to draw our attention to the final three references, John the Baptist’s message about Jesus Christ. John says he is not worthy to unloose the “latchet” of the Lord’s shoes. Despite being an archaic word, we can guess its likely meaning because “latchet” is paired with “loosing” and it has the familiar term “latch” within it (although, surprisingly, the words “latch” and “latchet” are etymologically unrelated). These “shoes” were open sandals. Like with any shoes, there was a way to fasten them to feet. “Latchet” comes to us from the French “lachet,” itself based on “laz” (“lace”). In the case of Bible times, a thong (strip of leather) was used to secure shoes to one’s feet.
Yet, exactly what was John the Baptist communicating when he declared he was not worthy to unloose the “latchet” of the Lord Jesus’ shoes? It takes a little cultural insight. The servant untying his master’s shoes was the lowest and humblest task in that day, and John did not even consider himself worthy of doing that with Jesus! During Bible times, one of servant’s jobs was to untie and remove his master’s sandals. Sinful John confessed to Israel that he is so lowly compared to the magnificent and holy Messiah Jesus whom he is preaching, that he, as Jesus’ servant, is not worthy of even stooping down and untying his Lord’s sandals (John did not think he was good enough to perform one of the lowest types of service!). In fact, John added in Matthew 3:11, “whose shoes I am not worthy to bear”—John said he was unworthy of also picking up Jesus’ shoes! John cautioned Israel not to take Jesus’ arrival lightly (which they still did, despite that warning).