"THE BOOK OF ECCLESIASTES" Wisdom To Endure Life's Vanities - I (8:1-9:18) INTRODUCTION 1. The Preacher (Solomon, 1:1) has been sharing with us counsel for dealing with life... a. Counsel gleaned from his own search for meaning - 7:27 b. Counsel guided by wisdom given him by God - cf. 1:16; 1Ki 3:12; 4:30 2. In previous lessons we have noted that the Preacher offfered... a. Counsel For Better Living - 7:1-14 b. Counsel For Balanced Living - 7:15-29 -- Helpful to taking a proactive approach to improving one's sojourn "under the sun" 3. Yet no matter what we do, there are things... a. We cannot change b. We cannot escape -- Things which certainly add to the vanity of life "under the sun" 4. Two such things are "death and taxes"; in other words... a. We cannot escape the inevitability of death b. We must endure the governments of men [Wisdom can help, however (8:1), and so as the Preacher continues, he shares "Wisdom To Endure Life's Vanities". Beginning with...] I. ENDURING THE GOVERNMENTS OF MEN A. SUBMIT TO AUTHORITIES FOR GOD'S SAKE... 1. Obey the king's command - 8:2-3 2. Respect his power, and you will be unharmed - 8:4-5a 3. A wise man will understand that judgment will come in it's own time, so don't resort to wickedness (i.e., rebellion) to alleviate misery - 8:5b-9 -- Compare this counsel with that given to Christians - Ro 13: 1-7; 1Pe 2:11-17 B. ANTICIPATE WICKED RULERS... 1. There will be times when men rule to their own detriment - 8:9 2. But they will soon be forgotten after their demise - 8:10 3. Why do some persist in their evil rule? Because their judgment does not occur immediately - 8:11 4. Even so, it is still better to fear God - 8:12-13 C. EXPECT TO BE PERPLEXED... 1. Sometimes the righteous suffer, and the wicked prosper - 8:14 2. One cannot always understand why things happen the way they do (remember Job?) - 8:16-17 D. ENJOY LIFE... 1. Delight in the fruits of your own labor - 8:15 2. Which is the advice given throughout this book - 2:24-26; 3:12-13; 5:18-20 [There is little value in getting all worked up about the inequities in the governments of men. As long as there are imperfect men, there will be imperfect governments. It is better to simply obey the laws, do good, trust in God, and enjoy the fruits of one's labor. In chapter nine, we find wisdom for...] II. ENDURING THE INEVITABILITY OF DEATH A. DEATH HAPPENS TO ALL... 1. It happens to both the righteous and the wicked - 9:1-3 a. While the righteous are in God's hands b. And the sons of men are full of evil 2. While we live, there is hope (9:4); when we die... a. We know nothing of what goes on here on earth - 9:5a,6 b. Others' memory of us soon fades - 9:5 -- We cannot escape death B. ENJOY LIFE... 1. While death is inevitable, we should still enjoy life - 9:7-8 2. Live joyfully with the wife God has given you - 9:9 3. Work diligently while you are here - 9:10 -- While we cannot escape death, there is no reason to give up on life! C. EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED... 1. Time and chance happens to all - 9:11 a. Being swift and strong does not mean you will always win b. Being wise, understanding, and skillful does not always ensure that you will be fed, rich, and the recipients of good favor 2. Sometimes death will come unexpectedly, like animals caught in a trap - 9:12 -- Anticipating the unexpected, we are less likely to be overwhelmed when it occurs D. APPRECIATE THE VALUE OF WISDOM... 1. The Preacher saw how wisdom saved a city - 9:13-15 a. Even though found in a poor man b. Even though the man was soon forgotten 2. Therefore he praises the value of wisdom - 9:16-18 a. As better than strength b. As better than weapons of war -- Though often despised when it comes from a poor man, wisdom spoken quietly is better than the shout of a ruler of fools CONCLUSION 1. We may not be able to escape all of life's vanities... a. There may be times we find ourselves under wicked governments b. Unless the Lord returns in our lifetime, death is inevitable 2. But we can endure life's vanities with the aid of the Preacher's wisdom... a. Enduring the governments of men by: 1) Submitting to authorities for God's sake 2) Understanding that wicked rulers will occur 3) Expecting to be perplexed at times 4) Enjoying our life as God gives us opportunity b. Enduring the inevitability of death by: 1) Remembering that death happens to all 2) Enjoying family and work 3) Expecting the unexpected 4) Utilizing wisdom that is available to us In our next study, we shall consider more from the Preacher on the value of wisdom and diligence in enduring life's vanities. In the meantime, let's not forget that we have another "Preacher" who has established the perfect kingdom, and delivered us from the fear of death: Jesus Christ!
The Imprecatory Psalms
|by||Dave Miller, Ph.D.|
The book of Psalms in the Old Testament contains 150 separate psalms written by David and various other individuals inspired by the God of the Bible to write them, initially, for the nation of Israel. Critics of the Bible, who question its divine inspiration, insist that the “imprecatory” psalms are proof of the human origin of the Psalms. For example, Psalm 5:10 states: “Pronounce them guilty, O God! Let them fall by their own counsels; cast them out in the multitude of their transgressions, for they have rebelled against You.” Psalm 18:40-42 declares: “You have also given me the necks of my enemies, so that I destroyed those who hated me…. Then I beat them as fine as the dust before the wind; I cast them out like dirt in the streets.” Psalm 35:1-8 asserts:
Plead my cause, O LORD, with those who strive with me; fight against those who fight against me. Take hold of shield and buckler, and stand up for my help. Also draw out the spear, and stop those who pursue me…. Let those be put to shame and brought to dishonor who seek after my life; let those be turned back and brought to confusion who plot my hurt. Let them be like chaff before the wind, and let the angel of the LORD chase them. Let their way be dark and slippery, and let the angel of the LORD pursue them…. Let destruction come upon him unexpectedly, and let his net that he has hidden catch himself; into that very destruction let him fall.
Psalm 58:6-10 is equally graphic:
Break their teeth in their mouth, O God! Break out the fangs of the young lions, O LORD! Let them flow away as waters which run continually; when he bends his bow, let his arrows be as if cut in pieces. Let them be like a snail which melts away as it goes, like a stillborn child of a woman, that they may not see the sun. Before your pots can feel the burning thorns, He shall take them away as with a whirlwind, as in His living and burning wrath. The righteous shall rejoice when he sees the vengeance; He shall wash his feet in the blood of the wicked.
And Psalm 55:15 exclaims: “Let death seize them; let them go down alive into hell….”
Critics of the Bible claim that the imprecatory psalms are proof that the Bible is not inspired (e.g., McKinsey, 2000, p. 394; Vjack, 2009). They say that the psalms are hateful, vindictive, and manifest an unchristian spirit. They say such “hate speech” demonstrates that the author(s) of the Psalms could not have been inspired by a divine Being. Atheists say these psalms prove that the Hebrew God is a blood thirsty, tribal deity like all the other pagan deities conjured up by mere men. Of course, the New Testament is not exempt from this same accusation, since Old Testament words of imprecation are quoted in the New Testament approvingly. For example, John 15:25 quotes Psalm 109:3, Acts 1:20 draws from Psalm 69:25 and Psalm 109:8, Romans 11:9-10 quotes Psalm 69:22-23, and Romans 15:3 refers to Psalm 69:9.
What’s more, the New Testament contains its own imprecations that are comparable to those in the Old Testament. Paul declared: “Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm. May the Lord repay him according to his works. You also must beware of him, for he has greatly resisted our words” (2 Timothy 4:14-15). When hauled before the Jewish authorities, Paul suffered when “the high priest Ananias commanded those who stood by him to strike him on the mouth. Then Paul said to him, ‘God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! For you sit to judge me according to the law, and do you command me to be struck contrary to the law?’” (Acts 23:2-3; cf. Dungan, 1888, p. 319). Such sarcastic exclamations by Paul are also seen in his suggestion that the Judaizers be castrated (Galatians 5:12), and his remarks to the Corinthians:
For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works…. For you put up with fools gladly, since you yourselves are wise! (2 Corinthians 11:13-15,19, emp. added).
And when Simon attempted to bribe the apostles in hopes of receiving miraculous ability,
Peter said to him, “Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money! You have neither part nor portion in this matter, for your heart is not right in the sight of God. Repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity” (Acts 8:20-23, emp. added).
Further, Paul minced no words when he denounced his fellow Jews:
For you also suffered the same things from your own countrymen, just as they did from the Judeans, who killed both the Lord Jesus and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they do not please God and are contrary to all men, forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they may be saved, so as always to fill up the measure of their sins; but wrath has come upon them to the uttermost (1 Thessalonians 2:14-16, emp. added).
And the faithful martyrs of persecution “cried with a loud voice, saying, ‘How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?’” (Revelation 6:10).
Are such Bible passages inappropriate, unkind, unchristian, and unloving? Does the Bible contradict itself in this regard? Is the inspiration of the Bible writers compromised by the imprecatory psalms? How are we to make sense of this seeming disparity? Consider the following seven observations.
PROPHETIC, PERSONAL FEELINGS, & POETRY
In the first place, some of these psalms are merely prophetic: the psalmist announces what the enemies of God deserve and what, in fact, will come upon them—without conveying the actual desires of the psalmist (Barnes, 2005, 1:xxx). Second, some of these psalms may be expressions of the feelings that would be felt by those who would take vengeance on the enemies of God—those armies that God would use to punish the wicked (Barnes, 1:xxxi). Third, the English reader must understand that Hebrew poetry used extravagant language that is often exaggerated, passionate, and picturesque—not intended to be taken literally (cf. Barnes, 1:xxix-xxx). The oriental mind often expressed itself in terms that the Western mind might consider disrespectful when, in fact, the speaker was not being disrespectful (e.g., Jesus referring to Mary as “woman”—John 2:4; cf. Lyons, 2004).
SIN IS REALLY BAD
While these first three observations (identified by Barnes) have merit, a fourth clarification, one that is more to the point, concerns the fact that most humans fail to realize just how heinous sin is, and the need for human sin to be denounced for its extreme ugliness. We humans simply do not have a handle on the gravity of sin. In a day when merely stating that a certain act is sinful is regarded as “hate speech,” “mean-spirited,” and “intolerant,” it is increasingly difficult for Americans to grasp the heinousness of sin. It is absolutely imperative that people train, shape, and mold their moral sensibilities to mimic God’s. They must strive to “have the mind of Christ” so that they have the right balance and the correct assessment and attitude toward every human action. An accurate assessment of spiritual reality requires that we must “abhor what is evil” (Romans 12:9) and “hate every false way” (Psalm 119:104). We must possess the same righteous revulsion that God possesses for those things that are spiritually repulsive and harmful.
The case of the Israelites at Peor provides a proper example of what it means to approximate the proper, righteous reaction to sin. When Phinehas followed a fornicating couple into their tent and, with a single thrust, drove a spear through the two of them, God’s assessment of his action is seen in the following words:
Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, has turned back My wrath from the children of Israel, because he was zealous with My zeal among them, so that I did not consume the children of Israel in My zeal. Therefore say, “Behold, I give to him My covenant of peace; and it shall be to him and his descendants after him a covenant of an everlasting priesthood, because he was zealous for his God, and made atonement for the children of Israel” (Numbers 25:11-13, emp. added).
One prominent reason atheists and the like are disturbed by the imprecatory psalms is because their spirits have been shaped by their own flawed conceptions concerning the nature of an infinite, eternal God who is perfect in all of His attributes. If such a God exists (and He does), the imprecatory psalms capture the essence of perfect love in harmony with perfect justice. This thought brings us to a fifth clarification.
GOD IS PERFECT
God is righteous. The very nature of God is contrary to evil. God’s very character and essence—His justice, His goodness, His holy hatred of all that is evil—demands that He take two actions: (1) express His love by atoning for sin in order to make a way for people to be forgiven, and (2) then punish those who choose not to avail themselves of that love. Since we humans have indulged in sin, we lack a proper perspective for offering a correct assessment of the righteous nature of God. Hence, we lack a clear understanding of why the psalms of imprecation are spiritually pure.
PUNISHMENT IS NOT EVIL
A sixth clarification concerns the fact that punishment is right and good—and not in conflict with true compassion. Current culture has difficulty conceptualizing the fact that retribution is a godly, righteous principle that applies to individuals as well as groups of individuals (e.g., nations). All laws from God have attached to them appropriate, just penalties—which are right and good to invoke. In fact, laws without penalties would be a farce! Consider the inspired historian’s report regarding the reign of Zedekiah:
And the Lord God of their fathers sent warnings to them by His messengers, rising up early and sending them, because He had compassion on His people and on His dwelling place. But they mocked the messengers of God, despised His words, and scoffed at His prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against His people, till there was no remedy. Therefore He brought against them the king of the Chaldeans, who killed their young men with the sword in the house of their sanctuary, and had no compassion on young man or virgin, on the aged or the weak; He gave them all into his hand (2 Chronicles 36:15-17, emp. added).
Observe that God “had compassion” on people in that He provided them with warnings and information that would enable them to be happy and righteous. But they spurned that instruction (even as Americans are spurning God’s moral framework today), which naturally and rightly elicited the “wrath of the Lord.” That wrath manifested itself in the form of enemies wreaking havoc on the people. The enemy “had no compassion,” which implies that God’s perfect compassion does not mean that He will exempt people from the punishment that is due them because of their own behavioral choices.
Interestingly, we humans have built into our nature a realization of this spiritual principle (that cannot be accounted for on the basis of naturalistic evolution). We, in fact, approve of punishment when properly inflicted—from the proper discipline of children to the punishment of a mass murderer. We are no more to be blamed for approving the punishment of the guilty than we are for approving the acquittal of the innocent. God authored both the law and the proper penalties of law (the “curse” of Galatians 3:10). Peter implied the appropriateness of punishment when he asked Christians: “For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently?” (1 Peter 2:20). Corporal punishment for certain faults is right (cf. Deuteronomy 25:2; Psalm 89:32; Luke 12:47-48). Indeed, the Bible insightfully affirms: “Blows that hurt cleanse away evil, as do stripes the inner depths of the heart” (Proverbs 20:30). [NOTE: Parents who refuse to spank their children, mistakenly buying into current culture’s warped assessment of what constitutes proper discipline, fail to grasp God’s own directives on the matter (e.g., Proverbs 13:24; 19:18; 22:15; 23:13-14; 29:15,17).]
God’s nature defines sin and punishment. Law was given by God to define crime and designate its just penalty. The more our society moves away from firm commitment to law and punishment, the more our society will be crime-ridden and filled with anarchy and bloodshed. Liberals—in both the church and society at large—continually chip away at the divinely bestowed power of law and its due punishment. This incessant dissolution has been transpiring in the penal system of America for over 50 years. It is associated with the significant shift from focus on the rights of the victim to the rights of the criminal.
One sample of this malady is seen in the liberal media’s attempt to paint punishment as somehow mean, cruel, and barbaric. As an example, the media tried to create public sympathy for a woman convicted in 1984 of murdering two people in Houston, Texas. Karla Faye Tucker participated with her boyfriend in the brutal, horrifying death of a couple lying in bed when she used a pickax to puncture her victim with multiple stab wounds. After sitting on death row for nine years, her lawyer and other supporters insisted that “she has now undergone a startling change. She has found religion, has pursued an education and does not deserve to die” (“Texas Set…,” 1992). Tucker, herself, contended that she is “a changed woman who has found God and can serve as a resource for others if her death sentence is changed to life in prison” (“Woman’s Texas…,” 1998). Observe that by accentuating the perpetrator as a woman—and the first woman to be executed since the Civil War—as well as stressing that she has “found religion,” the media sought to divert attention away from the gravity and heinousness of her behavior by playing on emotion and pointing to completely irrelevant information. The transparent assumption is that due punishment for flagrant crime is somehow inherently evil, unmerciful, or unforgiving.
Such notions are fraught with misconception and spiritual confusion. They betray the critical realization that such people are unacquainted with the infinite, perfect God; they lack an accurate assessment of the nature of deity. They fail to understand that God’s forgiveness of sin extends to the guilt of sin—not its physical consequences. Contrast Karla Faye’s uninformed, biblically illiterate attitude with that of Paul who, when he stood before Porcius Festus, the Roman procurator of Judea, to give account of accusations made against him, declared: “If I am an offender, or have committed anything worthy of death, I do not object to dying” (Acts 25:11, emp. added). Here is inspired, tacit acknowledgement of the validity of capital punishment—due punishment for behavior that is worthy of death. Imagine if Karla Faye had known her Bible well enough to announce to the world that, while she now understood the Gospel and had submitted herself to Christ, nevertheless, she fully recognized her guilt and was perfectly willing to receive the proper punishment due for her crimes against society. The liberal media, no doubt, would have immediately silenced her by refusing to report such a statement—a statement that would have immediately “taken the wind out of the sails” of their propaganda.
God has always harnessed civil government to take vengeance on those who need to be punished. As Paul explained to Christians in Rome: “For he [the civil government—DM] is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil” (Romans 13:4). For the government to “bear the sword” (i.e., utilize capital punishment) is “good” and it is not “in vain,” i.e., it is not an inappropriate or useless action. It is God’s will for those who perpetrate crimes on society to be confronted and properly processed in accordance with righteous principles. God requires each person to bear responsibility for his or her own actions. This principle was articulated repeatedly by God in the civil law code He gave to the Israelites by means of the phrases “his blood shall be upon him” (Leviticus 20:9,13,27; Deuteronomy 19:10; Ezekiel 18:13; 33:5) and “his blood be on his own head” (Joshua 2:19; 2 Samuel 1:16; Ezekiel 33:4; Acts 18:6).
Much of American society has been severed from the moral framework God gave to nations to make sense of human behavior. Most people merely make their moral and ethical decisions based on their personal opinions, rooted largely in their emotions and feelings—how things seem to them. They misdefine “compassion.” Only Deity is capable of defining compassion, and harmonizing it with justice and punishment. The Law of Moses provides God’s delineation of appropriate punishment in the broad, summarizing declaration of the lex talionis: “Your eye shall not pity; but life shall be for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot” (Deuteronomy 19:21). This prescription was neither unloving nor immoral. It was intended to promote just and fair punishment.
By altering God’s laws, thinking we are being compassionate and merciful (i.e., allowing our “eye to show pity”), we can be guilty of circumventing and frustrating the purposes of God. Indeed, many arrogant politicians and judges are guilty of thinking they are more loving than God. They redefine love to mean sentimentality, subjective feelings, and an attitude of “tolerance” that insists on all people being allowed to do anything they desire—without question or condemnation. They are unable or unwilling to grasp the idea that God will continue to love every person consigned to hell—even as loving parents reluctantly inflict pain on their children in the form of proper discipline. True compassion does not and cannot exclude the application of just punishment. Indeed, genuine love embraces it.
The wholesome blending of compassion and justice is actually seen in the imprecatory psalms themselves. For example, in Psalm 109 David explains that the wicked had exchanged the love and goodness that he had extended to them for hatred and evil: “In return for my love they are my accusers, but I give myself to prayer. Thus they have rewarded me evil for good, and hatred for my love (vss. 4-5, emp. added). Psalm 83 couples the psalmist’s call for the shame and dismay of the wicked with a desire that they come to their senses, abandon their evil behavior, and get themselves right with God: “Fill their faces with shame, that they may seek Your name, O LORD. Let them be confounded and dismayed forever; yes, let them be put to shame and perish, that they may know that You, whose name alone is the LORD, are the Most High over all the earth” (vss. 16-18, emp. added). The psalmist even prayed for his enemies (35:12-14), even as Christians are admonished to do (Matthew 5:44). Following through with appropriate punishment of the one who spurns love is, in reality, a further extension of love—love for good and right, love for God, and yes, love for the wicked. Today’s distorted understanding of these eternal principles would imply that those who would condemn Satan himself ought to be derided as “intolerant,” “unloving,” and guilty of “hate speech.”
Justifying the Wicked
The same malady has infected the criminal justice system, which has been transformed into a bargaining establishment in which prosecutors and defense attorneys barter with each other over the guilty—the prosecutor seeking to get as stringent a punishment as possible for the accused, while the defense attorney seeks to get his client minimal punishment. The premiere and ultimate concern of guilt or innocence has been swept aside. How many murderers have received prison sentences—some of which even permit eventual release? The words of God spoken through the Law of Moses desperately need to be heard today: “Moreover you shall take no ransom for the life of a murderer who is guilty of death, but he shall surely be put to death” (Numbers 35:31). The justice system has come to specialize in “plea bargaining”—another expression for taking ransom for the life of the murderer. How dare any judge or jury spare the life of a person that God demands to be executed! God warned the Israelites: “Keep yourself far from a false matter; do not kill the innocent and righteous. For I will notjustify the wicked” (Exodus 23:7, emp. added). God declares that He will not justify the person who kills an innocent person. Yet, how many lawyers seek to acquit their guilty clients, thereby justifying the wicked? [NOTE: For the Bible view of capital punishment, see Miller, 2012.]
Writing over a century ago, Moses Lard commented on the negative impact on American society of the crime of murder (listed in Romans 1:29), and predicted a frightful reaction from God for America’s failure to address the crime in accordance with His will—
This crime, according to the Bible, should always be punished with death. But in our day, especially in our country, it generally brings with it only a good deal of notoriety, and not death. But we may rest assured of this, that God will one day visit on the people of this country a fearful retribution for the indulgence which they show to the crime. Take the life of him who willfully and with malice takes the life of his fellow man—do this surely, do it in all cases, and murder will cease. Fail to do this, and you breed mobs; for the world is apt to feel that a murderer hung by a mob is a less evil than a murderer turned loose by a corrupt court of law, to murder again at will. That is a morbid and most pernicious sentiment which forgets what is due to God, to society, and to the murdered, through sickly sympathy for the murderer. It is devoid of justice; nor is it any proper expression of mercy (1875, p. 64, emp. added).
Writing 70 years later, R.L. Whiteside echoed similar sentiments:
It is foolish to expect anything but an increase of murders…. Three things will decrease murders—: namely, (1) quick and sure punishment of the killer, (2) impress upon the growing generation higher regard for human life, and (3) teach them a deeper reverence of God and his word by impressing upon them that God is the rightful ruler and that we must give account to him. And it would do a lot of good for people to be reminded that a lot of foolish speculation does not abolish hell (1945, p. 42, emp. added).
These observations suggest that American society has been traveling down a road for over a century in which a healthy, sensible, indispensable view of crime and punishment has been steadily eroding. We are now reaping the whirlwind (Hosea 8:7).
CONDEMNING EVIL IS RIGHT
A final clarification that establishes the legitimacy and divinity of the imprecatory psalms is seen in the fact that pronouncing a person’s dire spiritual predicament is holy, right, and good (Proverbs 27:5). The current “politically correct” portion of society, no doubt desiring to justify their own sins (Luke 10:29), claims that pinpointing misconduct is “mean-spirited,” “judgmental,” “intolerant,” and “hate speech.” But the spiritually-minded person, the one who has sought to emulate the spirit and temperament of Deity, understands the value and the necessity of being forthright in the condemnation of behavior that endangers society and souls. That is why Peter, quoted earlier, reacted so abruptly to Simon’s attempt to bribe the apostles with money. That is why Paul could write by inspiration concerning the Judaizing teachers who sought to subvert souls: “I could wish that those who trouble you would even cut themselves off!” (Galatians 5:12). And it is why, in Matthew 23, Jesus Himself pronounced seven “woes” on the Pharisees, labeling them “hypocrites,” “sons of hell,” “blind guides,” “fools and blind,” “whitewashed tombs,” “full of hypocrisy and lawlessness,” and “serpents, brood of vipers.” Imprecations were designed to signal a spiritual state of emergency in which the righteous person is fighting desperately for God’s honor and reputation—while attempting to reclaim the recalcitrant. Imprecations even provide encouragement and reassurance for the faithful, motivating them to take courage and press the spiritual battle.
All of these observations point to the fact that it cannot be inherently wrong to desire the downfall and appropriate punishment of God’s enemies. Those who are intensely interested in seeing God’s will done on Earth (Matthew 6:10), will yearn and pray for God’s justice to be done for all—with punishment inflicted on those who deserve it. This may be done without personal malice, or a vindictive or revengeful spirit. Indeed, the imprecatory psalms are—
- Pure, unselfish zeal for the honor of God;
- Holy hatred of that which is contrary to the nature of God and His divine purposes;
- Righteous indignation—anger without sin (Ephesians 4:26);
- A desire to see the righteous character of God vindicated;
- A desire that those who hold God in contempt be held accountable;
- A desire to give glory to God’s justice and goodness.
But what are we to make of the apparent tension between the exclamations of the “imprecatory psalms” and the passages that warn the faithful not to glory in the death of the wicked? For example, Obadiah 12 warns: “But you should not have gazed on the day of your brother in the day of his captivity; nor should you have rejoiced over the children of Judah in the day of their destruction; nor should you have spoken proudly in the day of distress.” Proverbs 24:17 states: “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles.” [NOTE: Jonah was wanting in this regard (Jonah 4:1).] Jesus commanded love for enemies (Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:35). Paul said Christians are to bless those who persecute them, overcome evil with good, and never render evil for evil (Romans 12:14,21; 1 Thessalonians 5:15). Peter said the same (1 Peter 3:9).
The answer lies in the fact that, like God, we do not desire that anyone be lost eternally. We take no joy or delight in those who die lost and face eternal torment. We hold no ill will or desire for personal vengeance against those who wrong us. Concerning this feature of the divine nature, Ezekiel 33:11 quotes God as saying: “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why should you die?” Paul alluded to this feature of divinity as well when he said that God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4, emp. added). Peter added that God is “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9, emp. added). It is God’s will that no human being go to hell! Hence, all who are consigned to hell will have chosen to be there, based on the choices they made during their one and only probationary period on Earth. They cannot logically or justly blame anyone else for their own choices.
In perfect harmony with this principle is the fact that we should desire that those who refuse to turn from their evil ways be held accountable accordingly (cf. Moses’ attitude in Numbers 14:13-23). What person in his or her right mind does not want to see a child rapist—say one who has sexually assaulted a five-year-old girl—be caught and punished for his foul deeds? While we should not harbor hatred in our hearts for such a degraded individual, we should possess a righteous desire that he be called to account for his heinous behavior and properly punished. This rational, righteous desire is one critical principle that is reflected in the imprecatory psalms.
For all wicked behavior (as defined by God Himself), we should desire to see His righteous character vindicated. Like the psalmist, we should be content to trust God that He will render suitable vengeance in His own way, in His own good time. Though God does not want anyone to be lost; though He loves—with a perfect love—every single person who has lived on Earth throughout the thousands of years of human history; nevertheless, He has plainly declared that He will consign the vast majority of them to a place of unending torment (Matthew 7:14; cf. Butt, 2012). We must respect this logical principle—and urge all humans to emulate it.
The imprecatory psalms cannot rationally be used by atheists and skeptics to disprove the divine origin of the Bible. Indeed, such material is precisely what we would expect to encounter in a document produced by a holy, infinite God. No logical argument, using the imprecatory psalms, may be set forth that proves that the Bible is not inspired by God.
All people on Earth are under obligation to face spiritual reality before it is too late. The ultimate imprecation looms before us. Hear the words of Jesus: “And I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him!” (Luke 12:4-5, emp. added). The threat of, and consignment to, hell is neither unloving nor unholy. All persons of accountable age and mind have the ability to choose the right course in life that will terminate in the heavenly home (Revelation 21:10-27). The God of the Bible earnestly desires and expects us to exercise that ability. Each individual decides his own eternal destiny by his own actions while on Earth.
Barnes, Albert (2005 reprint), Notes on the Old Testament: Psalms (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).
Butt, Kyle (2012), “Why Did God Create People—Knowing That Many Would Go to Hell?” Apologetics Press, http://www.apologeticspress.org/APContent.aspx?category=12&article=4194.
Dungan, D.R. (1888), Hermeneutics (Delight, AR: Gospel Light).
Lard, Moses (1875), Commentary on Paul’s Letter to Romans (Lexington, KY: Transylvania Printing and Publishing).
Lyons, Eric (2004), “How Rude!?” Apologetics Press, http://www.apologeticspress.org/apcontent.aspx?category=6&article=770.
McKinsey, Dennis (2000), Biblical Errancy (New York: Prometheus Books).
Miller, Dave (2012), “Capital Punishment and the Bible,” Reason & Revelation, 32:62-64,68-71.
“Texas Set to Execute First Woman Since 1863” (1992), The New York Times, June 21, http://www.nytimes.com/1992/06/21/us/texas-set-to-execute-first-woman-since-1863.html.
Vjack (2009), “Psalm 109:8 Reveals Christian Extremist Hate,” Atheist Revolution, November 23, http://www.atheistrev.com/2009/11/psalm-1098-reveals-christian-extremist.html.
Whiteside, R.L. (1945), A New Commentary on Paul’s Letter to the Saints at Rome (Denton, TX: Inys Whiteside).
“Woman’s Texas Execution to Proceed” (1998), CNN, February 2, http://www.cnn.com/US/9802/02/tucker/index.html.
The Holy Scriptures--Verbally Inspired
|by||Wayne Jackson, M.A.|
In logic, there is a principle called the Law of the Excluded Middle. Simply stated, it is this: a thing must either be, or not be, the case. A line is either straight, or it is not. There is no middle position. Applied to the Bible, one therefore might declare: The Scriptures are either inspired of God, or they are not inspired of God. If the writings of the Bible are not inspired of God, then they are the mere productions of men, and as such would merit no religious respect; in fact, in view of their exalted claims, they would merit only contempt.
Paul, an apostle of Christ, wrote: “Every scripture is inspired of God, and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be complete, furnished completely unto every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). The Bible asserts its own inspiration—of this there is no doubt. But to what extent does the sacred volume claim inspiration? This is a question that has perplexed many.
SOME POPULAR, BUT FALSE THEORIES
Some have suggested that the Bible is “inspired” only in the sense that other great literary productions are inspired. That is, they all are simply the results of natural genius, characteristic of men of unusual ability. Such a notion must be rejected immediately since: (a) it makes liars of the biblical writers who claimed the Holy Spirit as the ultimate source of their documents (2 Samuel 23:2; Acts 1:16); and (b) it leaves unexplained the mystery of why modern man, with his accumulated learning, has not been able to produce a comparable volume that has the capacity to make the Bible obsolete.
Others have claimed that only certain portions of the Scriptures are inspired of God. We often hear it said, for example, that those sections of the Bible that deal with faith and morals are inspired, but that other areas, particularly those accounts which contain certain miraculous elements, are merely the productions of good—but superstitious and fallible—men. Again, though, such a concept is not consistent with the declarations of the divine writers. They extended inspiration to every area of the Scriptures, even emphasizing, in many instances, those very sections that modernists dub as non-historical, mythical, etc. See, for example: Matthew 12:39-40; 19:4ff.; Luke 4:27; John 3:14-15.
Too, the allegation has been made that the Bible is inspired in “sense,” but not in “sentence.” By that, it is meant that in some sense the Scriptures are of divine origin, but that the very words of the Holy Book are not to be construed as inspired. Such a view is nonsensical. If the words of the sacred narrative are not inspired, pray tell what is inspired? Is the binding? The paper? The ink? The truth is, if the words of the Bible are not inspired of God, then the Bible contains no inspiration at all!
What do we mean when we speak of the “verbal inspiration” of the Holy Scriptures? Frank E. Gaebelein has suggested that a sound view of inspiration holds that “the original documents of the Bible were written by men, who, though permitted the exercise of their own personalities and literary talents, yet wrote under the control and guidance of the Spirit of God, the result being in every word of the original documents a perfect and errorless recording of the exact message which God desired to give to man” (1950, p. 9). In his classic work, Theopneustia—The Plenary Inspiration of the Holy Scriptures, L. Glaussen, professor of systematic theology, Oratoire, Geneva, defined inspiration as “that inexplicable power which the Divine Spirit put forth of old on the authors of holy Scripture, in order to their guidance even in the employment of the words they used, and to preserve them alike from all error and from all omission” (n.d., p. 34).
Let us take a closer look at 2 Timothy 3:16. The Greek text says: pasa graphe theopneustos—“all scripture [is] God-breathed.” Something within this context is said to be “God-breathed.” What is it? All Scripture. The term “scripture” [graphe] denotes that which is written. But it is the words of the biblical text that are written; hence, the very words of the Bible are God-breathed! No one can appeal to 2 Timothy 3:16 as an evidence of Bible inspiration without, at the same time, introducing the concept of verbal inspiration. The truth is, the doctrine of the verbal inspiration of the Scriptures is abundantly claimed throughout the sacred canon. Consider the following examples.
- More than 3,800 times in the Old Testament, the claim is made that the Scriptures are the word [or words] of God. For instance, “And Jehovah said unto Moses, Write this for a memorial in a book...” (Exodus 17:14). David declared: “The Spirit of Jehovah spake by me, and his word was upon my tongue” (2 Samuel 23:2). God instructed the prophet Jeremiah, “Behold, I have put my words in your mouth” (Jeremiah 1:9). The Scriptures are exalted as the Word of God some 175 times in Psalm 119 alone!
- Jesus Christ certainly endorsed the concept of verbal inspiration. He affirmed that neither “one jot nor one tittle” would pass away from the law “until all things be accomplished” (Matthew 5:17-18). The jot was the smallest Hebrew letter, and the tittle was a tiny projection on certain Hebrew characters. Professor A.B. Bruce has noted: “Jesus expresses here in the strongest manner His conviction that the whole Old Testament is a Divine revelation, and that therefore every minute precept has religious significance...” (1956, 1:104). The Lord frequently made arguments based upon the text of the Old Testament, wherein He stressed very precise grammatical points. His argument for the resurrection from the dead in Matthew 22:32 depends upon the present tense form of a verb—“I am [not “was”] the God of Abraham....”
Within the same context, Christ quoted Psalm 110:1, showing that David, speaking in the Spirit, said, “The Lord said unto my Lord...” (Matthew 22:41ff.). Again, the emphasis is on a single word. Jesus (affirming His own deity) asked the Pharisees why David referred to his own descendant, the promised Messiah, as Lord. Not recognizing the dual nature of the Messiah (i.e., as man, He was David’s seed; as deity, He was David’s Lord), they were unable to answer. But had Christ not believed in the inspired words of the Old Testament, He could hardly have reasoned as He did (see also John 10:30ff.).
- Christ promised His apostles that the words of their gospel declaration would be given them. He told them: “But when they deliver you up, be not anxious how or what you shall speak; for it shall be given you in that hour what you shall speak” (Matthew 10:19). And, note Luke’s parallel that they were not to “meditate beforehand” how to answer their antagonists (Luke 21:14). That has to involve their very words!
- It is quite clear that the penmen of Scripture were conscious of the fact that they were recording the words of God. Paul wrote: “I received of the Lord that which I also delivered unto you” (1 Corinthians 11:23). Again, “This we say unto you by the word of the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:15). “When you received from us the word of the message, even the word of God, you accepted it not as the word of men, but, as it is in truth, the word of God, which also works in you that believe” (1 Thessalonians 2:13). When Philip preached in Samaria, those people to whom he spoke had heard “the word of God” (Acts 8:14).In a remarkable passage, Paul asked: “For who among men knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of the man, which is in him?” He means this: you cannot know what is in my mind until I, by my words, reveal to you what I am thinking. That is the apostle’s illustration. Here is his point. “Even so the things of God none knoweth, save the Spirit of God...which things [i.e., the things of God] we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Spirit teacheth; combining spiritual things with spiritual words” (1 Corinthians 2:11-13). There is not a more comprehensive statement of verbal inspiration to be found anywhere in the holy writings. The mind of God has been made known by means of the inspired words of those representatives whom He chose for that noble task.
- The biblical writers considered one another’s productions to be inspired of God. In 1 Timothy 5:18, Paul writes: “For the scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox when he treadeth out the corn. And, The laborer is worthy of his hire.” In this passage, the apostle has combined Deuteronomy 25:4 and Luke 10:7, and classified them both as “scripture.” Similarly, Peter refers to Paul’s epistles as “scripture” in 2 Peter 3:15-16.
MECHANICAL DICTATION—A STRAW MAN
Whenever you hear someone accusing advocates of verbal inspiration of believing in “mechanical dictation,” most likely you are dealing with a theological liberal! The notion of “mechanical dictation” [i.e., that the Bible writers were only dictaphones or typewriters, hence, their cultural and personality factors did not enter into their works] is not taught by many conservative Bible scholars. Certainly, Paul’s writings differ in style from those of John, etc. But that does not negate the fact that after God used the individual writers of Scripture, in the final process, only the exact words that He wanted in the text appeared there!
HAS TRANSMISSION DESTROYED INSPIRATION?
“But suppose,” someone wonders, “the Bible was verbally inspired initially. Hasn’t the transmission of the text across the centuries caused a corruption of the original documents, so that verbal inspiration has been virtually destroyed?” No, not at all. The text of the Bible—both Old and New Testaments—has been preserved in a remarkable fashion. For example, after years of scientific research in connection with the text of the Old Testament, professor Robert Dick Wilson, who was thoroughly acquainted with forty-five languages, stated that “we are scientifically certain that we have substantially the same text that was in the possession of Christ and the apostles...” (1929, p. 8, emp. added). Evidence for the textual reliability of the New Testament is no less impressive. Scholars are now in possession of some 5,378 Greek manuscripts (in part or in whole) of the New Testament, and some of these date to the early part of the second century A.D. It has been estimated that textual variations concern only about 1/1000th part of the entire text (see Gregory, 1907, p. 528). Transmission, therefore, has not destroyed verbal inspiration.
DOES TRANSLATION AFFECT INSPIRATION?
Since the Holy Scriptures originally were penned in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, and since then have been translated into many languages, some are concerned that the translation process has destroyed the Bible’s initial inspiration. But there is no need for concern over this matter so long as accurate translation is effected. When a word is translated precisely from one language into another, the same thought or idea is conveyed; thus, the same message is received.
That translation need not affect inspiration is evinced by an appeal to the New Testament itself. In the 3rd-2nd centuries B.C., the Hebrew Scriptures were translated into Greek. This version, which was begun in Alexandria, Egypt, is known as the Septuagint. Note this interesting fact: Jesus Christ Himself, and His inspired New Testament writers, frequently quoted from the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament Scriptures! For example, in Matthew 22:32, Christ quoted from the Septuagint (Exodus 3:6), and of that passage said: “Have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God?” (22:31). The translation from Hebrew to Greek did not alter the fact that the message was the Word of God!
It also might be observed in this connection that scholars generally agree that the Septuagint is not as reliable a translation as is the Hebrew text of the Old Testament. Yet in spite of this, the New Testament frequently quotes it. However, as one author observed: “The writers of the New Testament appear to have been so careful to give the true sense of the Old Testament, that they forsook the Septuagint version whenever it did not give that sense...” (Horne, 1841, 1:312). The fact is, when a New Testament writer was quoting from the Greek Old Testament, the Holy Spirit sometimes led him to slightly alter the phraseology to give a more accurate sense. Thus, inspiration was still preserved though a less-than-perfect translation was being used.
The Scriptures are the verbally inspired Word of God. This view has been entertained by reverent students of the Holy Writings for multiplied centuries. Fritz Rienecker noted that the Jewish “rabbinical teaching was that the Spirit of God rested on and in the prophets and spoke through them so that their words did not come from themselves, but from the mouth of God and they spoke and wrote in the Holy Spirit. The early church was in entire agreement with this view” (1980, 2:301).
Let us therefore exalt the Holy Scriptures as the living Word of God (Hebrews 4:12), and acknowledge them as the only authoritative source of religious guidance.
Bruce, A.B. (1956), Expositor’s New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).
Gaebelein, Frank E. (1950), The Meaning of Inspiration (Chicago, IL: Inter-Varsity).
Glaussen, L. (no date), Theopneustia—The Plenary Inspiration of the Holy Scriptures (Chicago, IL: Moody).
Gregory, C.R. (1907), Canon and Text of the New Testament (New York: Scribners).
Horne, Thomas H. (1842), An Introduction to the Critical Study and Knowledge of the Holy Scriptures (Philadelplhia, PA: Whetham & Son).
Rienecker, Fritz (1980), A Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan).
Wilson, Robert Dick (1929), A Scientific Investigation of the Old Testament (New York: Harper & Brothers).
The Holy Scriptures--Indestructible!
|by||Wayne Jackson, M.A.|
The Word of God “lives and abides.” Thus wrote Peter, the inspired apostle of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:23). To buttress this claim regarding the enduring nature of the sacred Word, the divine spokesman quoted from the Old Testament prophet, Isaiah (40:6ff.), declaring: “All flesh is as grass, and all the glory thereof as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower falleth: But the word of the Lord abideth for ever” (1 Peter 1:24-25). Men come and go. Generations vanish. But the Holy Scriptures march on triumphantly.
There is a saying: “Homer must be handled with care.” The allusion, of course, is to the compositions of the blind poet of ancient Greece. The implication in the proverb is this—Homer’s works have been treasured and preserved cautiously for centuries. And yet, in spite of this meticulous care, only scant copies of Homer’s writings survive. There is no complete copy of the poet’s works prior to the thirteenth century A.D.—more than 2,000 years after the Greek writer lived (Schrivener, 1883, p. 4). By way of vivid contrast, the Bible, though viciously opposed and oppressed across several millennia, is reflected in thousands of Hebrew and Greek manuscripts, and even today continues to be the best-selling publication in the world.
Biblical antagonists have a long and violent history as they have sought, frequently by force, to eliminate the sacred Scriptures from public access. Reflect upon the following examples of malevolence toward the Creator and His Word.
When the noble Hebrew king, Josiah, was killed in battle, his son Jehoahaz came to the throne. He reigned but three months before Pharaoh-necoh of Egypt put him in chains and transported him to the land of the Pyramids. A brother, Eliakim, was placed upon the throne; his name was changed to Jehoiakim. Jehoiakim began to reign when he was twenty-five years of age. He taxed the Jews heavily on behalf of Pharaoh. He strayed from the Lord and immersed the nation in idolatry (2 Kings 23:28-37). The prophet Jeremiah was commissioned by Jehovah to write a sacred scroll, which threatened divine destruction unless the king and his people repented of their wickedness. Jehoiakim treated the matter with absolute contempt. After briefly listening to the message being read, he confiscated the scroll, cut up the leaves with a knife, and cast them into a fire (Jeremiah 36). But the Holy Word was not to be dismissed so easily.
After the death of Alexander the Great, the Greek empire was divided into four segments (cf. Daniel 8:8), and the Jewish people fell under the control of a remarkably evil ruler whose name was Antiochus Epiphanes. Antiochus, known popularly as “the madman,” launched a bloody persecution against the Hebrew people. One aspect of his vendetta was an attempt to destroy copies of the Jewish Scriptures. An ancient document records this episode:
And [the officials of Antiochus] rent in pieces the books of the law which they found, and set them on fire. And wheresoever was found with any a book of the covenant, and if any consented to the law, the king’s sentence delivered him to death (The Apocrypha, I Maccabees 1:56-57).
The historian Josephus commented upon this event: “And if there were any sacred book of the law found, it was destroyed, and those [Jews] with whom they were found miserably perished also” (Antiquities, 12.5.4). The heathen plan backfired, however, for it was this very persecution that generated more intense examination of the divine Writings. Out of this circumstance the genuine books of the Old Testament canon were formally separated from contemporary spurious documents that feigned inspiration (McClintock and Strong, 1968, 2:76).
Following the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth from the dead, Christianity was introduced into the Roman world. It spread like wildfire in the stifling environment of ancient paganism. Not many decades passed before Rome came to view the Christian system, with its New Testament Scriptures, as a threat to the security of the empire. And so history repeated itself. A determined effort to eradicate the Bible from antique society was initiated by the Roman ruler, Valerius Diocletian.
Diocletian occupied the Imperial throne from A.D. 284-305. In A.D. 303, he inaugurated a series of merciless persecutions upon those who professed the religion of Christ. Hurst noted:
[A]ll assemblies of Christians were forbidden and churches were ordered to be torn down. Four different edicts were issued, each excelling the preceding in intensity. One edict ordered the burning of every copy of the Bible—the first instance in [Christian] history when the Scriptures were made an object of attack (1897, 1:175).
Of course, as every student of history knows, events changed radically when Constantine the Great came to the Roman throne in A.D. 306 at the age of thirty-two. He solidified the Western empire by the defeat of his rival, Maxentius, in A.D. 312. The following year Constantine (in concert with Licinius, emperor in the East) issued a decree that granted legal protection to Christians. A form of this document is found in Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History (Book X, Chapter V). Once more the sacred Scriptures could find their way from places of seclusion and exert their benevolent influence.
PAGAN INTELLECTUAL ASSAULT
If one method of opposition fails, then another must be employed—so surmised the apostles of paganism. Julian, a nephew of Constantine, came to the Roman throne in A.D. 361. When Julian was quite young, his family was murdered by wicked churchmen, into whose hands he was thrust for care. This circumstance, together with his early exposure to pagan philosophy, led him to renounce Christianity at the age of twenty (though it is doubtful that he was ever sincerely disposed toward the religion of Jesus). The year he assumed Roman rule, at the age of thirty, he openly declared his hostility to the Bible (hence he became known as “Julian, the Apostate”). Three centuries of bloodshed had not enhanced the cause of heathenism. Persecution had merely accelerated the spread of the Christian cause. Julian thus determined that he, with logical argument, would destroy the influence of the Scriptures.
There had been earlier attempts to meet Christianity head-on in intellectual debate. Celsus (c. A.D. 178) had written a treatise called “True Discourse,” which was “the first literary attack upon Christianity” (Cross, 1958, p. 256). Similarly, Porphyry (c. A.D. 232-303) authored several books against the Scriptures. These efforts, however, were isolated, and largely stood in the shadow of the violent persecution of those early centuries. Now, in a period of greater tranquility, Julian would renew the assault. Shortly before his death, he wrote a bitter attack against Christianity, the only remains of which are to be found in a refutation produced by Cyril of Alexandria (c. A.D. 432). The “Apostate” merely regurgitated the arguments of Celsus and Porphyry in a modified form, expanded somewhat by his larger acquaintance with the Bible (Schaff, 1981, 3:75). While this literary effort was doubtlessly effective with some, a skeptical historian, Edward Gibbon (1737-1794), penned this curious remark: “[T]he Pagans...derived, from the popular work of their Imperial missionary [Julian], an inexhaustible supply of fallacious objections” (n.d., 1:766; emp. added). “Fallacious objections?” Strange but powerful words from an infidel! Nathaniel Lardner (1684-1768), in his renowned work, The Credibility of the Gospel History has shown that Julian, in his vitriolic narrative, actually provided a number of incidental admissions that confirm the truth of most of the leading facts of Gospel history (see Schaff, 1981, 3:77-79).
The Bible has had to survive not only the persecution of its enemies, but also has had to weather the opposition of its so-called “friends” as well. Though some historical revisionists attempt to exonerate the Roman Catholic system of efforts to suppress the Holy Scriptures, the plain facts are undeniable. On numerous occasions in centuries past, church authorities had committed the Bible to flames under the guise that the translation was vulgar. The Fourth Rule of the Council of Trent stated that the indiscriminate circulation of the Scriptures in the common vernacular would generate “more harm than good.” Therefore, those reading or possessing the Bible “without...permission may not receive absolution from their sins till they have handed [copies of the Scriptures] over to the ordinary” (Schroeder, 1950, p. 274).
“Persistent effort was made by the Romanizers to suppress the English Bible. In 1543 an act was passed forbidding absolutely the use of Tyndale’s version, and any reading of the Scriptures in assemblies without royal license” (Newman, 1902, p. 262). Thousands of copies were burned. “Of the estimated 18,000 copies printed between 1525-1528, only two fragments are known to remain” (Thiessen, 1949, p. 84).
As a result of the tyrannical power of the Roman Catholic Church, the Protestant Reformation was born. A by-product of the Reformation was an emphasis upon the use of the individual mind for personal Bible interpretation (as opposed to the dictums of the priesthood). While this spirit was admirable, some took it beyond the bounds of legitimacy, virtually deifying human reason. The movement was distinctly identified when Johann Selmer (1725-1791) began to argue that biblical events must be judged in the light of human reason/experience, and so, the reality of Jesus’ miracles was called into question, Christ’s deity was denied, etc. The rationalistic disposition grew rapidly in the fertile fields of the German universities, and perhaps reached its culmination with the publication of Friedrich Strauss’ Life of Jesus (1835), in which the author undertook to show that the Gospel accounts were mere “myths” (Hurlbut, 1954, pp. 178-179).
In France, Rationalism found a champion in Francois Marie Arouer—popularly known by his pen-name, Voltaire—a deist who produced several volumes brimming with hatred for the Bible. No one in Europe did as much to destroy faith in the Word of God as Voltaire. France rejected the Scriptures, tied a copy of the Bible to the tail of a donkey, and dragged it though the streets to the city dump, where it was ceremoniously burned. But, as Coffman notes, “since that time, the government of France has fallen thirty-five times” (1968, pp. 343-344). Voltaire predicted that within a hundred years of his death (1778) Christianity would be swept from existence and pass into history (Collett, n.d., p. 63), yet two centuries have come and gone, and today, rare is the person who owns a copy of Voltaire’s writings, while almost every home is adorned with a Bible. The Encyclopaedia Britannica notes that Voltaire was “inordinately vain, and totally unscrupulous in gaining money, [and] in attacking an enemy” (1958, 23:250). Indeed! His final days were spent in agony. As an ex-Catholic, he loathed the idea of not having a “Christian burial.” He even signed a confession begging God to forgive his sins—which his biographers claim was insincere (Brandes, 1930, 2:328-329). When the composer Mozart heard of the skeptic’s death, he wrote: “[T]he ungodly, arch-villain, Voltaire, has died miserably, like a dog—just like a brute. That is his reward” (as quoted in Parton, 1881, 2:617).
In America, the battle against the Bible was led by men like Thomas Paine and Robert Ingersoll. Paine (1737-1809) came out of a Quaker background, and gained considerable prominence as a result of his writings (e.g., Common Sense) advocating America’s independence from Britain. Eventually he went to France. There he yielded to the influence of French deism, and so composed his infamous tome, The Age of Reason, which was a passionate attack against the Bible. His qualification for such a task may be illustrated by the following admission. In discussing a passage in the book of Job, Paine says: “I recollect not enough of the passages in Job to insert them correctly...for I keep no Bible” (n.d., p. 33). Again: “[When] I began the former part of The Age of Reason, I had, besides, neither Bible nor Testament to refer to, though I was writing against both...” (n.d., p. 71). So much for “scholarship.” Paine died a bitter and lonely old man, having lost most of his friends due to his political views and his hostility towards Christianity (Cross, 1958, p. 1005). His trifling little volume is mostly ignored today. In this writer’s city (Stockton, California) of more than a quarter-of-a-million people, the public library’s only copy of The Age of Reason has been checked out sixteen times in the past ten years!
Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899) was a politician who gained his real fame as an agnostic lecturer. He toured the country blasting the Bible. Quite the eloquent speaker, he was paid as much as $5,000 for some of his speeches, and thousands thronged to hear him rail against things holy. His “Mistakes of Moses” was a popular presentation. William Jennings Bryan once quipped that it would be much more interesting to hear Moses on the “Mistakes of Ingersoll.” Ingersoll had been greatly influenced by the writings of Voltaire and Paine (as well as others), and initially was a deist. Eventually, he evolved into a full-blown agnostic (Larson, 1962, pp. 76-77). Ingersoll was enamored with Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, and argued that Darwin’s discoveries, “carried to their legitimate conclusion,” destroy the Scriptures (as quoted in Larson, 1962, p. 223). Ingersoll’s influence pretty much died when he did. I phoned a major Barnes & Noble distribution center and inquired regarding Ingersoll’s books. Not a solitary volume was carried in their inventory! It is a fact, though, that the views of Voltaire, Ingersoll, etc., have influenced some religionists of our era. Modern theological liberalism is so doctrinally nebulous that now even skeptics are warmly regarded. A few decades ago, Dean Shaller Mathews of the theological department of the University of Chicago asserted that the days are gone when men like Robert Ingersoll would be regarded as anti-Christ (Horsch, 1938, p. 7).
Yes, its critics wax and wane, but the Bible abides. It will outlast them all. In the words of John Clifford:
Last eve I passed beside a blacksmith’s door
And heard the anvil ring the vesper chime;
When looking in, I saw upon the floor,
Old hammers worn with beating years of time.
“How may anvils have you had,” said I,
“To wear and batter all these hammers so?”
“Just one,” said he; then said with twinkling eye,
“The anvil wears the hammers out, you know.”And so, I thought, the anvil of God’s word
For ages skeptics’ blows have beat upon;
Yet, though the noise of falling blows was heard,
The anvil is unharmed—the hammers gone!
Apocrypha, The (1894), (New York: Thomas Nelson & Sons) revised edition.
Brandes, Georg (1930), Voltaire (New York: Frederick Ungar).
Coffman, Burton (1968), Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (Austin, TX: Firm Foundation Publishing House).
Collett, Sidney (no date), All About the Bible (London: Revell).
Cross, F.L. (1958), The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (London: Oxford University Press).
Encyclopaedia Britannica (1958), “Voltaire,” (London: Encyclopaedia Britannica).
Eusebius (1955 reprint), Ecclesiastical History (Grand Rapids,MI: Baker).
Gibbon, Edward (no date), The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (New York: Random House).
Horsch, John (1938), Modern Religious Liberalism (Chicago, IL: Bible Institute Colportage Association).
Hurlbut, J.L. (1954), The Story of the Christian Church (Philadelphia, PA: John C. Winston).
Hurst, John F. (1897), History of the Christian Church (New York: Eaton & Mains).
Josephus, Flavius (1957), The Life and Works of Flavius Josephus (Philadelphia, PA: John C. Winston).
Larson, Orvin (1962), American Infidel: Robert G. Ingersoll (New York: Citadel Press).
McClintock, John and James Strong (1968, reprint), Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).
Newman, A.H. (1902), A Manual of Church History (Philadelphia, PA: American Baptist Publication Society), Vol. II.
Paine, Thomas (no date), The Age of Reason (Baltimore, MD: Ottenheimer).
Parton, James (1881), Life of Voltaire (Boston, MA: Houghton-Mifflin).
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