Both Doug and Iyov are right. As usual, God (or the devil) is in the details.
The relevance of the etymology of a word for the interpretation of a specific text can never be assumed. It must be demonstrated. Thus far, Doug is in the right.
On the other hand, the biblical text itself frequently engages in etymological (and “folk” etymological, or pseudo-etymological) exegesis. Etiologies are an obvious case in point. More generally, biblical authors often play off the etymologies (or quasi-etymologies!) of the words they use. A bibliography of studies which touch on this phenomenon – those of Michael Fishbane come immediately to mind – might be compiled for the benefit of all. I’m hoping Iyov will do this. If not, I will.
The piece which sparked the debate was penned by Claude Mariottini. In a brief comment on Jeremiah 1:1-10, he emphasized that prophets are “called by” God based on the etymology of nabi ‘prophet,’ in biblical Hebrew. Personally, I doubt that the etymology of nabi is “live” in Jeremiah 1:5. In any case, it is necessary to demonstrate that it is, not assume that it is.
The curious thing is that Claude’s point is in the text in bright red letters apart from recourse to the etymology of nabi. Just go and read Jer 1:4-10. That Jeremiah is “called by” God is absolutely obvious.
I suppose it’s easier to remember the point by hanging it, so to speak, on the hook of a keyword’s etymology. So long as you know what you’re doing, I’m not opposed to this.
When I listen to a sermon or read a commentary, I tend to be acidly critical of the contents. [Ed.: surprise, surprise.] I was trained to be by the rabbis, priests, and pastors at whose feet I have sat over the years. I am thankful for that training.
But, so as not to lose heart completely, I learned to play a game early on. Every time I notice that a preacher or a commentator just pulled a rabbit out of a hat (by an inappropriate appeal to etymology, for example), I race in my mind to connect the rabbit to the historical sense, as I understand it, of one or more biblical texts. It’s important, I think, to think in terms of texts, not individual words and dictionary definitions.
[Ed.: aren’t you working on a dictionary of ancient Hebrew right now for Logos? Yeah, I know. But it’s going to be a different kind of dictionary. Just wait and see.]
As for the rabbit that was pulled from the hat, it usually is possible to connect it with a text that is, so to speak, its rightful rabbit hole. Usually more than one rabbit hole, in fact, turns up.
A very interesting fact, if you think about it. It has something to do with canon, I think. How canon shapes our thinking in such a way that even when we go wrong in our Einzelexegese, we do not, at least not fatally, go wrong from the point of view of the whole.
It remains to emphasize that the historical critical approach to the Bible is about flushing out rabbits from rabbit holes, not pulling them out of a hat.
Still, I have a confession to make. In the presence of truly powerful magic, the rabbit pulled out of the hat is so mesmerizing that I don’t feel I must, at least on the spot, find the rabbit hole(s) from which it came.
Examples of aggadic midrash come to mind, and halachic exegesis, too (the latter in particular is an acquired taste for a Gentile, not something I would expect everyone to appreciate). Should one wish to get a feel for the magic of New Testament exegesis, I recommend, for starters, the work of Richard B. Hays.
Did I mention that God is in the details?