"THE BOOK OF ECCLESIASTES" Epilogue & Conclusion (12:8-14) by Mark Copeland

                       "THE BOOK OF ECCLESIASTES"

                    Epilogue & Conclusion (12:8-14)


1. With advice given to the young (11:9-12:7), Ecclesiastes then draws
   to a close - 12:8-14

2. The book has often been misunderstood and abused...
   a. By taking passages out of context
   b. By drawing conclusions which ignore the author's own conclusion

3. But in the last seven verses, we find...
   a. A restatement of the result of the Preacher's search for meaning
      - 12:8
   b. An epilogue that describes the Preacher's continuing work, the
      value of wisdom, and a warning against the wrong kind of study
      - 12:9-12
   c. The grand conclusion drawn from the Preacher's search for meaning
      and purpose in life - 12:13-14

[With the "Epilogue And Conclusion" before us, we can guard against the
misapplications some have made of this book.  Therefore let's begin


      1. In the Prologue - 1:2
      2. Prior to describing his search for meaning - 1:14
      3. Throughout the course of his search:
         a. The vanity of pleasure - 2:1
         b. The vanity of industry (labor) - 2:11,22-23; 4:4
         c. The vanity of human wisdom - 2:15
         d. The vanity of all life - 2:17
         e. The vanity of leaving an inheritance - 2:18-21
      4. Throughout his words of counsel and wisdom:
         a. The vanity of earthly existence - 3:19-21
         b. The vanity of acquiring riches over family - 4:7-8
         c. The vanity of political popularity - 4:16
         d. The vanity of many dreams and many words - 5:7
         e. The vanity of loving abundance - 5:10
         f. The vanity of wealth without the gift of God to enjoy it
            - 6:2
         g. The vanity of wandering desire - 6:9
         h. The vanity of foolish laughter - 7:6
         i. The vanity of injustice in this life - 8:14
         j. The vanity of the days of darkness - 11:8
         k. The vanity of childhood and youth - 11:10

      1. He is referring to the vanity of life "under the sun"
         a. As stated in the prologue - 1:3,9,14
         b. In describing the vanity of his labor - 2:11,17-20,22
         c. In relating the evil that he saw - 3:16; 4:1,3,7,15; 5:13;
            6:1; 8:9; 9:3,6,11; 10:5
         d. In giving his counsel - 5:18; 6:12; 8:15,17; 9:9,13
      2. I.e., when life is viewed solely from an earthly perspective
         a. Examining life solely on its own merits
         b. When God and the afterlife are not taken into the equation
      3. When viewed from this perspective...
         a. There is no advantage of wisdom over folly - 2:15-16
         b. Man is no different than animals - 3:19-21
         c. The dead know nothing and they have no more reward - 9:5-6
         -- But it would be a misapplication to use these passages to
            deny life after death, or that there is no value in seeking
            after true wisdom

[If life "under the sun" is all there is, then truly, "Vanity of
vanities, all is vanity." But we have seen throughout the book that the
Preacher gave wise counsel for dealing with the vanity of life. That he
continued such work is evident from the next four verses...]


      1. He continued to teach others, and to seek for knowledge, truth
         and righteousness - 12:9-10
      2. This certainly sounds like Solomon - 1Ki 4:30-34; 10:4-8;
         cf. Ec 1:1,12,16; 2:9
      -- Note that his conclusion about life's vanity did not lead him
         to despair or inactivity!

      1. The words of the wise are of great value - 12:11-12a
         a. They are like "goads", prodding our thinking, moving us
            along in the right direction
         b. They are like "nails", that which can provide stability and
            steadfastness in our lives
         -- Especially those "given by One Shepherd" (i.e., inspired by
      2. But not all knowledge is beneficial - 12:12b
         a. There is no end to the making of books (with the printing
            press and the Internet, this is even more so!)
         b. Much study is wearisome to the flesh (cf. 1:18)
         -- Since one can't study every book, one must be selective as
            to which "shepherd(s)" they will follow!

[Since life "under the sun" is filled with so much vanity, we are
admonished by the Preacher by both example and precept to seek out the
right kind of wisdom to guide our short sojourn here on earth.  That
leads us finally to...]


      1. This is "the whole duty of man" (KJV, RSV) - 12:13
         a. This summarizes the answer to his own question - cf. 2:3
         b. This is man's reason for being, his "prime directive" for
            his existence
      2. To "fear God"
         a. That is, to revere God, to hold Him in awe
         b. This is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge - Pr 1:7;
         c. This reverence will help prolong life, and protect one from
            much evil - Pr 10:27; 14:26,27
      3. To "keep His commandments"
         a. A charge given to the nation of Israel - Deut 13:4; 30:16
         b. A charge given to the disciples of Jesus - Jn 14:15
         c. The basis by which we know that we know and love God - 1Jn2:3-4; 5:3
      -- To reverently obey God, "walking in the fear of the Lord" (Ac9:31), 
         this is the purpose of life and the key to true
         happiness! - Pr 22:4

      1. Having taken "everything" into consideration
         a. Not just from what may be observed in life "under the sun"
         b. But from wisdom given by revelation as well (cf. Ec 2:3,9;
            1Ki 4:29)
         -- I.e., the conclusion of the "whole" matter!
      2. In view of the coming Judgment - cf. 3:17; 11:9; Ac 17:30-31
         a. In which every work will be judged - Ro 2:16
         b. Whether it be good or evil - 2Co 5:10


1. People have often searched for the meaning of life...
   a. From philosopher to the common man
   b. Asking questions like:
      1) "Why am I here?"
      2) "What is my purpose for life?"
   -- Many have concluded that there is no purpose, and fallen into

2. But a search that begins with the wrong assumptions invariably leads
   to the wrong conclusion...
   a. Such as assuming that there is no God, nor life after death
   b. If what we see in this life is all there is, then truly "vanity
      of vanities, all is vanity!"

3. The Preacher with his own experiences, and his God-given wisdom...
   a. Has demonstrated that, yes, life from an earthly perspective
      alone is truly vanity!
   b. Has taught us that by fearing God and keeping His commandments,
      one can endure the vanities and perplexities of life, while
      enjoying the good things in life!
   c. As penned by the Psalmist:

                           PSALM 112
               The Blessed State of the Righteous

      Praise the LORD! Blessed is the man who fears the LORD,
         Who delights greatly in His commandments.

      His descendants will be mighty on earth;
         The generation of the upright will be blessed.

      Wealth and riches will be in his house,
         And his righteousness endures forever.

      Unto the upright there arises light in the darkness;
         He is gracious, and full of compassion, and righteous.

      A good man deals graciously and lends;
         He will guide his affairs with discretion.

      Surely he will never be shaken;
         The righteous will be in everlasting remembrance.

      He will not be afraid of evil tidings;
         His heart is steadfast, trusting in the LORD.

      His heart is established;
         He will not be afraid,
         Until he sees his desire upon his enemies.

      He has dispersed abroad, He has given to the poor;
         His righteousness endures forever;
         His horn will be exalted with honor.

      The wicked will see it and be grieved;
         He will gnash his teeth and melt away;
         The desire of the wicked shall perish.

May we be like the Preacher, then, and continue to seek out "acceptable
words", "words of truth" (12:10), especially those from the words of

      "in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge."
                                                             (Col 2:3)

"THE BOOK OF ECCLESIASTES" The Preacher's Advice To The Young (11:9-12:7) by Mark Copeland

                       "THE BOOK OF ECCLESIASTES"

             The Preacher's Advice To The Young (11:9-12:7)


1. As a result of his search for meaning in life "under the sun"...
   a. The Preacher's concluded that "all is vanity" - e.g., 1:2,14;
   b. Even one who lives many joyful years can still anticipate days of
      darkness - 11:8

2. While life "under the sun" (viewed purely from an earthly 
   perspective) is vanity...
   a. That does not mean one should simply give up in despair
   b. Throughout, the Preacher has counseled his readers to enjoy what
      good God has given one - e.g., 2:24; 3:12,13,22; 5:18-20; 7:14;

3. The lessons gleaned through the Preacher's own experience need to be
   learned by everyone, especially the young, otherwise they may...
   a. Waste years running after things that really don't satisfy
   b. Miss out on the true enjoyment of life available to them in their

[To make sure that young people do not miss the lessons he has learned,
the Preacher directs his attention towards them as he prepares to draw
his book to a close.  In 11:9-12:7, we find "The Preacher's Advice To
The Young", the first of which is...]


      1. He wants you to be joyful, to do things that are pleasing
      2. Just as the Preacher had counseled earlier - 9:7-10
      -- Therefore take advantage of the youthful capacity to enjoy

      1. You will have to give an account for what you do
      2. God will judge both the righteous and the wicked - cf. 3:17;
      -- Therefore be selective in what you do to have fun!

[God has created man with the energy to enjoy life, especially when we
are young.  As long as that energy is directed in the right channels,
youth is to be a time of great joy!  Along the same vein, the Preacher
advises the young to...]


      1. Sorrow deprives one of the joy they should have in their youth
      2. Enough sorrow comes without our help...make sure that we do
         does not add to it through youthful indiscretions (which leads
         to the next point)

      1. Youthful indiscretions contribute to much sorrow
         a. Such as the wrong kind of companions - e.g., Pr 1:10-19
         b. Such as succumbing to the enticements of the wicked - e.g.,
            Pr 5:1-14
      2. Childhood and youth are fleeting...don't waste them on things
         that only bring much grief and sorrow in life

[Youth, while short, can be a wonderful time of life.  The key is to
heed the next admonition, which has already been alluded in references
concerning the judgment, and that is to...]


      1. Great men of God served Him from their youth (e.g., Joseph,
         Samuel, David, Solomon, Josiah, Daniel)
      2. Jesus provided the proper example as well - Lk 2:41-52
      3. Timothy, who had known the Scriptures from childhood, was to
         be an example to others - cf. 2Ti 3:15; 1Ti 4:12

      1. Even as it helped Joseph - e.g., Gen 39:7-12
      2. And as it helped Daniel - e.g., Dan 1:8

[Serving God in your youth will help avoid many of the things that
bring sorrow, and prepare you for the "days of darkness" (11:8) that
will come.  This leads us to the final point in "The Preacher's Advice
To The Young"...]


      1. Presuming you live long enough
      2. As already stated, these days will be many - 11:8
         a. They will be days in which little pleasure will be found 
            - 12:1
         b. The darkening of the lights of heaven denoting a time of
            affliction and sadness (Barnes) - 12:2

      1. The Preacher uses various figures to depict the body in old
         age and death - 12:3-7
      2. What the figures of verses 3-6 possibly represent:
         a. The keepers of the house tremble (the arms weaken)
         b. The strong men bow down (the legs become frail) 
         c. The grinders cease because they are few (the teeth fall
         d. Those that look through the windows grow dim (the eyes lose
            their sight)
         e. The doors are shut in the streets (the ears become hard of
         f. The sound of the grinding is low (the mouth and speech
            become unintelligible)
         g. When one rises up at the sound of a bird (the elderly
            easily awakened)
         h. And all the daughters of music are brought low (the voice
            no longer able to produce music)
         i. They are afraid of height (their fear of falling)
         j. And of terrors in the way (no longer feeling invincible)
         k. When the almond tree blossoms (the wakefulness of old age
            setting in)
         l. The grasshopper is a burden (an old man, bowed like the
            insect, able to move only with some difficulty)
         m. And desire fails (fleshly desires wane)
         n. For man goes to his eternal home, And the mourners go about
            the streets (an obvious reference to death)
         o. The remaining figures, alluding to decay of the body
            1) Before the silver cord (the spinal cord) is loosed 
            2) The golden bowl (the skull) is broken 
            3) The pitcher (the heart) shattered at the fountain 
            4) The wheel (the pelvis) broken at the well 
      3. Finally, the body returns to the dust, and the spirit returns
         to God - 12:7
      -- The purpose of such a description is not to depress the young,
         but to instill the proper degree of sobriety (seriousness), a
         trait becoming the young - cf. Tit 2:6


1. The challenges our youth face are great...
   a. The temptations before them are many
   b. The allurements of the world promise much, but deliver little
   c. The young are very susceptible to depression and despair
   -- In a world in which life "under the sun" is vanity, they need all
      the help they can get

2. There is much in life that can be enjoyed, provided one heeds the
   Preacher's admonition:
   a. Rejoice in our youth
   b. Remove sorrow and evil
   c. Remember God in your youth
   d. Reflect upon the days ahead

As the apostle Paul wrote to Christians in Galatia, which certainly
applies to the young:

   "Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows,
   that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the
   flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the
   Spirit reap everlasting life.  And let us not grow weary while
   doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose
   heart."  (Ga 6:7-9)

Do we wish to reap everlasting life?  Then let us sow to the Spirit by
walking after the Spirit (cf. Ga 5:16-23) and allowing the fruit of the
Spirit in our lives to produce the good things that we shall reap!

The Treaty of Tripoli and America's Founders by Dave Miller, Ph.D.


The Treaty of Tripoli and America's Founders

by  Dave Miller, Ph.D.

The world of humanity is characterized by irresoluble disagreement. The religious, political, and ideological divisions that exist among the seven billion people on the planet are staggering. These differences are not due simply to misunderstanding, or the need for further education and clarification. Truth may most certainly be known, and every human being has the God-given ability to weigh evidence and conduct himself in a rational matter, arriving at only the truth (cf. Warren, 1982; Miller, 2011). Yet, sadly, most people have arrived at their beliefs for other reasons than a desire to be right and accurate. They have an agenda, ulterior motives, and personal circumstances that mean more to them than truth. Hence, they are not actually interested in coming to correct comprehension or understanding.


This state of affairs manifests itself in the matter of the origins of the Republic. Atheists and skeptics, as well as social and political liberals, of the last half century have made it one of their missions in life to indoctrinate the public with the notion that America was not intended to be a “Christian nation,” and that the Founders were deists who advocated religious pluralism and political correctness (see Miller, 2005). They have spouted the party line that our founding documents, especially the Constitution, are strictly secular in nature, and that the God of the Bible and the Christian religion were not formative influences on the Founders’ thinking. One would think that these critics are parroting Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf with its recommendation that “in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation…more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie…. [B]y an able and persistent use of propaganda heaven itself can be presented to the people as if it were hell and, vice versa” (1939, 1.10:185,216).
For example, in an article titled “Our Godless Constitution,” Brooke Allen states: “Our nation was founded not on Christian principles but on Enlightenment ones. God only entered the picture as a very minor player, and Jesus Christ was conspicuously absent…. The Founding Fathers were not religious men” (2005; cf. Kramnick and Moore, 1996). Such brazen exclamations, though common and widespread, are outrageous, inexcusable, and completely untrue. Such shameless claims might be forgiven if the allusions to Christianity by the Founders were rare, scattered, ambiguous, or subject to alternative interpretations—but they are not.
The Founders’ commitment to the God of the Bible and Christian principles was so pervasive and endemic that indications literally permeate the mass of organic utterances from the founding era. These expressions repeatedly articulate their conviction that Christianity lies at the foundation of the Republic. One simple, but decisive, example is the fact that during the eight tumultuous years of the Revolutionary War (1775-1783), the Continental Congress, representing more than 200 quintessential Founders of the Republic, issued 15 proclamations to the American population. Those proclamations are literally replete with allusions to God, Christ, Christianity, and the Bible (see Miller, 2009). They provide intimate insight into the very religious character of the vast majority of the Founders, and their absolutely unhesitating willingness to weave their religious convictions into their political expressions. Lest the reader doubt this bold contention, consider a portion of just one of those proclamations, issued by the entire Continental Congress to the American people on March 19, 1782:
Continental Congress Proclamation
March 19, 1782
The goodness of the Supreme Being to all his rational creatures, demands their acknowledgments of gratitude and love; his absolute government of this world dictates, that it is the interest of every nation and people ardently to supplicate his favor and implore his protection…. The United States in Congress assembled, therefore, taking into consideration our present situation, our multiplied transgressions of the holy laws of our God, and his acts of kindness and goodness towards us, which we ought to record with the liveliest gratitude, think it their indispensable duty to call upon the several states, to set apart the last Thursday in April next, as a day of fasting, humiliation and prayer, that our joint supplications may then ascend to the throne of the Ruler of the Universe, beseeching Him to diffuse a spirit of universal reformation among all ranks and degrees of our citizens; and make us a holy, that so we may be an happy people…that He would incline the hearts of all men to peace, and fill them with universal charity and benevolence, and that the religion of our Divine Redeemer, with all its benign influences, may cover the earth as the waters cover the seas (Journals of…, 22:137-138, emp. added).
This one official organic utterance by the supreme political body of the United States is sufficient to refute and completely dispel the popular contention of atheists that the Founders were not religious men, or that they did not couple their political pronouncements with their religious beliefs.
Hence, the allegations of skeptics (who seek to expunge the Founders’ clearly Christian orientation by floating isolated allusions that seemingly discount this orientation), logically, cannot be interpreted as carte blanche dismissals of the role of Christianity in the founding of America. Indeed, they must be viewed as isolated and exceptional in contrast with the myriad declarations to the contrary (see Miller, 2008). And, to be fair, an honest attempt ought to be made to harmonize the exceptional with the typical.


Despite the fact that transparent expressions of religious attachment by the mass of the Founders are legion, a battery of revisionist historians, liberal educators, skeptics, and atheists have been working feverishly for over half a century to perpetuate their unconscionable allegation that the bulk of the Founders were irreligious men. One, if not the most, prominent ploy used to propagate the secularist’s propaganda is the Treaty of Tripoli. Atheists and skeptics, using their Web sites and books, routinely seek justification for their denial of America’s Christian roots by decontextualizing the words of this political document (e.g., Harding, 2011; Walker, 1997; Allen, 2005; Buckner, 1997; Buckner and Buckner, 1993). For example, in his book The God Delusion, British atheist Richard Dawkins declares:
The religious views of the Founding Fathers are of great interest to propagandists of today’s American right, anxious to push their version of history. Contrary to their view, the fact that the United States was not founded as a Christian nation was early stated in the terms of a treaty with Tripoli (2006, p. 40, emp. added).
In an article on Dawkins’ Web site, titled “The Enigma of America’s Secular Roots” (Haselby, 2011), Sam Haselby parrots the same sentiment. He attempts to paint as irreligious the American envoy who negotiated and signed the treaty, Joel Barlow, on the basis of Barlow’s book Advice to the Privileged Orders (1793). [NOTE: As President Washington’s appointed envoy (in 1793) to negotiate treaties with Algeria, Tripoli, and Tunis, Colonel David Humphreys ultimately delegated his responsibilities to junior agents, including Joel Barlow as well as Joseph Donaldson (Irwin, 1931, p. 84; “Treaty of Peace…,” 1846a, 8:156).]
Joel Barlow
American Consul at Algiers 1795-1797
Regardless of Barlow’s personal religious sentiments, Haselby unquestionably misrepresents Barlow’s writing. He fails to recognize that Barlow was not condemning human religion carte blanche, let alone espousing the atheistic viewpoint—as do Dawkins and his fellow atheists. Rather, he was decrying false religion, as well as perversions and abuses of Christianity (e.g., Catholicism—pp. 60,62,69, et al.). More particularly, he condemned the “state-establishment of religion…[w]hen the Christian religion was perverted and pressed into the service of Government, under the name of the Christian Church” (pp. 61,68, italics in orig., emp. added). In the commencement of his denunciation of “The Church,” Barlow included a footnote to eliminate the very misunderstanding that atheists seek to perpetrate on others. He explained:
From that association of ideas, that usually connects the church with religion, I may run the risque [sic] of being misunderstood by some readers, unless I advertise them, that I consider no connection as existing between these two subjects; and that where I speak of church indefinitely, I mean the government of a state, assuming the name of God, to govern by divine authority; or in other words, darkening the consciences of men, in order to oppress them. In the United States of America, there is, strictly speaking, no such thing as a Church; and yet in no country are the people more religious… (pp. 53-54, italics in orig., emp. added)
Though America has always been filled with Christian churches, yet, as a nation, Barlow insisted that we have no church? How so? He meant that we have no one Christian sect assuming the role of a state church—the very malady that afflicted Britain. Yet, Christianity has been the singularly supreme religion that has always characterized the vast majority of Americans—including the vast majority of the Founders. In referring to Christianity in America, Barlow added: “they have ministers of religion, but no priests” (p. 54, italics in orig.). So according to Barlow, the problem is not religion; rather, problems arise when a corrupted form of Christianity is given the power of the federal government to persecute opposing Christian sects. He specifically affirmed that the bulk of the population of the country—including the Founders—were religious. Indeed, according to Barlow, Americans were unsurpassed in the world for their commitment to religion.
Barlow, therefore, did not use the word “church” as a blanket condemnation of the Christian church or religion. In fact, after providing an initial definition of his specialized use of the term, he repeatedly went out of his way to reiterate that definition’s very restricted meaning: “By church I mean any mode of worship declared to be national, or declared to have any preference in the eye of the law” (p. 61, italics in orig., emp. added; cf. “as I have before defined it”—p. 70). After citing the history of the Roman Catholic Church as exemplary of the kind of coercive religion that he condemned, he observes that such cruelty “has given rise to an opinion, that nations are cruel in proportion as they are religious” (p. 66). Ironically, Barlow’s observation represents the opinion of today’s atheist. However, Barlow disagreed with that opinion. In contrast, he stated: “But the observation ought to stand thus, That nations are cruel in proportion as they are guided by priests”—again accentuating the distinction between the positive and rightful influence of Christianity on society, and the unchristian cruelties inflicted by Catholic priests who are handed the reins of government (pp. 66-67, italics in orig.).
Barlow then concluded his chapter on the church by explicitly restating his specialized use of the term “church”:
In the United States of America there is no church; and this is one of the principal circumstances which distinguish that government from all others that ever existed; it ensures the un-embarrassed exercise of religion, the continuation of public instruction in the science of liberty and happiness, and promises a long duration to a representative government (pp. 75-76, emp. added).
Observe that when Barlow made his remarks, America, then as now, was saturated with churches from one end of the country to the other. Hence, his declaration that in America “there is no church” meant that there is no state religion, there is no religion (specifically, any one Christian denomination) that has been elevated by the federal government to the status of the state church. Observe further that Barlow listed as one of the positive, distinguishing characteristics of America the guarantee of “the unembarrassed exercise of religion”—the very thing that Dawkins, Haselby, and their atheistic associates constantly seek to expunge from society.
What Barlow and the Founders sought to communicate to the world was the fact that the newly established federal government had no direct religious ties to any one Christian sect; it did not establish a state church, as did England and other European countries. As Supreme Court Justice and Father of American Jurisprudence, Joseph Story, succinctly explained in his comments on the wording of the First Amendment to the Constitution:
The real object of the amendment was, not to countenance, much less to advance Mahometanism, or Judaism, or infidelity, by prostrating Christianity; but to exclude all rivalry among Christian sects, and to prevent any national ecclesiastical establishment, which should give to an hierarchy the exclusive patronage of the national government. It thus cut off the means of religious persecution (1833, 3.44.728.1871, emp. added).
This premiere Founder and expounder of the original intent of the Constitution fully recognized what the mass of the Founders believed—that Christianity fits “hand-in-glove” with the Republic they established, and its perpetuation throughout the nation was indispensable to the survival of the Republic:
[I]n a republic, there would seem to be a peculiar propriety in viewing the Christian religion, as the great basis, on which it must rest for its support and permanence, if it be, what it has ever been deemed by its truest friends to be, the religion of liberty…. Probably at the time of the adoption of the constitution, and of the amendment to it, now under consideration, the general, if not the universal, sentiment in America was, that Christianity ought to receive encouragement from the state, so far as was not incompatible with the private rights of conscience, and the freedom of religious worship. An attempt to level all religions, and to make it a matter of state policy to hold all in utter indifference, would have created universal disapprobation, if not universal indignation (3.44.724-726. 1867-1868, emp. added).
John Adams' letter to Thomas Jefferson
June 28, 1813
Even John Adams, under whose presidency the Treaty of Tripoli was finalized and sanctioned by Congress, and then signed by Adams himself, forthrightly affirmed the role of Christianity in the founding of the Republic. In a letter he wrote to Thomas Jefferson, dated June 28, 1813, he explained that the great foundation of the nation is Christianity:
The general principles on which the fathers achieved independence, were the only principles in which that beautiful assembly of young men could unite…. And what were these general principles? I answer, the general principles of Christianity, in which all those sects were united, and the general principles of English and American liberty, in which all those young men united, and which had united all parties in America, in majorities sufficient to assert and maintain her independence. Now I will avow, that I then believed and now believe that those general principles of Christianity are as eternal and immutable as the existence and attributes of God(“John Adams to…,” n.d., emp. added).
While serving in his official capacity as President of the United States, John Adams issued a proclamation to the entire nation that sets forth his indisputable views regarding Christianity and the nation:
John Adams' Presidential Proclamation
March 6, 1799
I do hereby recommend accordingly, that Thursday, the 25th day of April next, be observed throughout the United States of America as a day of solemn humiliation, fasting, and prayer; that the citizens on that day abstain as far as may be from their secular occupations, devote the time to the sacred duties of religion in public and in private; that they call to mind our numerous offenses against the Most High God, confess them before Him with the sincerest penitence, implore His pardoning mercy, through the Great Mediator and Redeemer, for our past transgressions, and that through the grace of His Holy Spirit we may be disposed and enabled to yield a more suitable obedience to His righteous requisitions in time to come…and that he would extend the blessings of knowledge, of true liberty, and of pure and undefiled religion throughout the world (Adams, 1799, emp. added).
Such admonitions concerning Christ, the Holy Spirit, and the Christian religion (i.e., Adams’ allusion to James 1:27) did not come from an irreligious man who rejected any connection between Christianity and the nation.
To summarize, while the Founders strenuously opposed the formation of a state-sponsored religion, i.e., the elevation of one Christian denomination above another, they firmly believed that the general principles of Christianity were part and parcel of the fabric of America, including her political and social institutions. This realization is indisputable and undeniable. We know that the Founders did not interpret the phrase in the Treaty of Tripoli the way skeptics and liberals do today, since we have a host of explicit declarations, statements, and affirmations to the contrary from the Founders themselves (Miller, 2008). But how, then, do we account for the apparent denial of this broad-based fact in the Treaty of Tripoli? Let us see.

The Wording of the Treaty Itself

Having dispelled the attempt to characterize the Treaty of Tripoli as a patent denial of the Christian character of America, we now turn to the Treaty itself in an effort to understand its originally intended meaning. The treaty is dated November 4, 1796. The disputed portion of the treaty is Article 11, which reads in full:
As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion,-as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen,-and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries (“Treaty of Peace…,” 1846a, 8:155, emp. added).
At first glance, the initial declaration is startling and seemingly straightforward. How does one harmonize the mountain of evidence of America’s religious moorings with this treaty’s bold declaration that “the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion”? The answer lies in an objective consideration of the rest of the article, recognizing that the subsequent phrases clarify, define, and explain the true intent of the initial declaration.
Observe, first, that the Treaty of Tripoli in general, and Article 11 in particular, pertains specifically and exclusively to the federal government—not to the state governments or the rest of America’s social or political institutions (cf. Barton, 2000). The Founders’ discussions of the First Amendment make it very clear that the federal government was not to meddle in religious affairs, i.e., it was never to be allowed to interfere with the free exercise of the Christian religion. The Father of the Bill of Rights, George Mason, confirms this appraisal of the historical context when he offered the following wording of the First Amendment:
[A]ll men have an equal, natural and unalienable right to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience; and that no particular sect or society of Christians ought to be favored or established by law in preference to others (as quoted in Rowland, 1892, 1:244, emp. added).
While Mason’s wording did not make the final cut, it nevertheless demonstrates the historical setting of the discussions, and the specific variables with which the Founders were grappling. The point is that the treaty was assuring the Tripolitan Muslim warlord that the government of the United States would never show hostility toward his country based on America’s intimate affiliation with Christianity.
Second, notice that while the punctuation found throughout the article varies in the published forms that have come down through history, nevertheless, none place a period after “the Christian Religion.” The article clearly intends for the reader to gain clarification regarding the import of the first clause by including the subsequent clauses. The rest of the article, in fact, elaborates and expounds on the wording in the first clause. The rest of the article answers the question: In what way or ways is the government of the U.S. not founded in any sense on the Christian religion? Answer: (1) It has no disposition to show hatred toward Muslims, their laws, religion, or peaceful status; (2) The U.S. has never waged war against a Muslim nation; and (3) Therefore, it is clear that the U.S. would never attack a Muslim country solely on the grounds of religion, i.e., the differences that exist between Christianity and Islam.
The average Muslim, even today, has difficulty reconciling America’s worldwide reputation as a “Christian nation” with her concomitant refusal to forcibly impose its religious orientation on the rest of the world—as Muslim countries, themselves, have consistently sought to do throughout history. The Bey of Tripoli, along with the pashas of the other Barbary States, unquestionably viewed American ships as fair game—legitimate objects of their attacks on the high seas—for the simple and obvious reason that America was a Christian nation. No Muslim country would have accepted as true such a sweeping repudiation of America’s intimate affiliation with Christianity. If such were the intent and meaning of Article 11, the Bey would have instantly dismissed the validity of the treaty, and such a claim would be seen as a laughable and ludicrous denial of what was obviously the case, i.e., that America was inhabited by a population of people, the vast majority of whom openly professed Christianity, and manifested that profession in all its civil and social institutions. [NOTE: The term “Bey” is a title of Turkish origin that refers to a tribal chieftain, equivalent to the English term “lord.” The similar term “Dey” was used specifically to refer to the rulers of Algiers and Tripoli. “Pasha” or “bashaw” was a comparable title of rank in the Ottoman Empire.]
Abundant historical evidence verifies this understanding. Ten years earlier, authorized by Congress to negotiate with the Barbary pirates, who continually raided American ships off the coast of North Africa, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson met in London in 1786 with the Ambassador from Tripoli. On March 28, they wrote the following letter to John Jay, who was serving as the U.S. Secretary of Foreign Affairs, reporting their conversation with the ambassador.
American Peace Commissioners'
letter to John Jay
March 28, 1786
We took the liberty to make some inquiries concerning the grounds of their pretentions to make war upon nations who had done them no injury, and observed that we considered all mankind as our Friends who had done us no wrong, nor had given us any provocation. The Ambassador answered us that it was founded on the laws of their Prophet, that it was written in their Koran that all nations who should not have acknowledged their authority were sinners, that it was their right and duty to make war upon them wherever they could be found, and to make slaves of all they could take as prisoners; and that every Musselman who should be slain in battle was sure to go to Paradise (“American Peace…,” 1786).
The Tripoli ambassador clearly reflected the attitude of the Bey and his fellow citizens toward non-Muslim countries, an attitude that must be taken into account as the backdrop of the wording of Article 11 in the treaty a decade later. [NOTE: Interestingly, the only known surviving Arabic copy of the Treaty of Tripoli lacks the allusion to America not being a Christian nation.]

The Other Treaty of Tripoli

Even more telling proof that the phrase in Article 11 is misconstrued by atheists is seen in Article 14 of the subsequent treaty made with Tripoli on June 4, 1805, which reads in full:
Art. 14th. As the government of the United States of America has, in itself, no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility of Musselmen, and as the said states never have entered into any voluntary war or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, except in the defence of their just rights to freely navigate the high seas, it is declared by the contracting parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two nations. And the consuls and agents of both nations respectively, shall have liberty to exercise his religion in his own house. All slaves of the same religion shall not be impeded in going to said consul’s house at hours of prayer. The consuls shall have liberty and personal security given them, to travel within the territories of each other both by land and sea, and shall not be prevented from going on board any vessel that they may think proper to visit. They shall have likewise the liberty to appoint their own drogerman and brokers (“Treaty of Peace…,” 1846b, 8:216, emp. added).
The first two clauses are taken verbatim from the 1796 treaty—to the exclusion of the clause regarding America not being a Christian nation. Consequently, they do precisely what the Christian nation clause was intended to do in the earlier treaty: assure the Muslim pasha that America’s Christian orientation would not be the cause of hostilities directed against him. Tripolines were obligated not to attack Americans on account of America’s Christian connections, and the U.S. was not to attack Tripolines on account of their Islamic beliefs.
Article 14 even expresses concern that “consuls and agents of both nations” be permitted to practice their religion in their own homes. In other words, a consul or agent of Tripoli should not be hindered from engaging in Islamic worship in the diplomatic residence he occupies while in America. Similarly, any American consul or government agent living in Tripoli was not to be hindered from practicing his religion while residing in Tripoli. Pray tell—what religion would that be? Certainly not Islam, since he would hardly be hindered from practicing Islam in an Islamic nation. Obviously, both parties to the treaty automatically understood that American consuls and government agents would naturally practice Christianity.

Treaties with the Other Barbary States

This conclusion is verified further by the comparable treaties that were made with the Muslim rulers of the other Barbary States—
  • Two with Tunis, on August 17, 1797 and March 26, 1799 (“Treaty of Peace…,” 1846e, 8:157-161), as well as the “Altered Articles” on February 24, 1824 (1846, 8:298-300).
  • Two with Morocco, on January 1787 (“Treaty of Peace…,” 1846c, 8:100-108) and September 16, 1836 (“Treaty with Morocco…,” 1846, 8:484-487).
  • Two with Algiers, on September 5, 1795 (“Treaty of Peace…,” 1846d, 8:133-137) and June 30 and July 6, 1815 (1846f, 8:224-247), as well as a “Renewed Treaty” on December 22-23, 1816 (1846g, 8:244-248).
Not one of these treaties contains the reference to America not being a Christian nation. All omit altogether any reference to the Islamic-Christian tension that naturally existed between the two nations—with one exception. Article 15 of the June 30 and July 6, 1815 treaty with Algiers addresses the issue in the following words:
As the government of the United States has, in itself, no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of any nation, and as the said States have never entered into any voluntary war, or act of hostility, except in defence of their just rights on the high seas, it is declared, by the contracting parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony between the two nations; and the Consuls and Agents of both nations shall have liberty to celebrate the rites of their respective religions in their own houses (“Treaty of Peace…,” 1846f, 8:224-247, emp. added).
This article paraphrases the previous two treaties with Tripoli. Like the second treaty with Tripoli, it omits the “not a Christian nation” clause. Once again, observe that the agreement inherently presupposes that the religion of Algiers is Islam and the religion of America is Christianity. But the treaty intends to reassure the Dey that America’s Christian orientation will never be the cause of hostilities on the part of America. Indeed, America’s history proves that her wars have typically been reactive and defensive, and they have pertained to non-religious matters.

The Other Treaties Include Religion

Even more historical confirmation is seen in the fact that not only do all the other treaties that were made with the Barbary States omit the allusion to America not being a Christian nation—including the other Tripoli treaty—they actually contain allusions to Christianity. For example, the January 1787 treaty with Morocco (“Treaty of Peace…,” 1846c, 8:100-108) contains the following references: “In the Name of Almighty God” and “trusting in God” (p. 100). It also refers to “the Christian powers” (in Article X, p. 102), “any Christian power” (in Article XI, p. 102), “the other Christian nations” (in Article XVII, p. 103), and “any of the Christian powers” (in Article XXIV, p. 104)—the last two references clearly implying that America is among them. Article XXV states: “This treaty shall continue in full force, with the help of God, for fifty years” (p. 104, emp. added). Several times the treaty alludes to “Moors”—the term used to refer to “a Muslim people of mixed Berber and Arab descent” in northwest Africa (American Heritage…, 2000, p. 1142)—in Article VI (p. 101), Article XI (p. 102), and Article XXI (p. 103). Article XI places “Moors” in juxtaposition to “Christians” (Article XI, p. 104), and the “Additional Article” contrasts “Moorish” with “Christian Powers” (p. 104). The September 16, 1836 treaty with Morocco contains essentially the same contrasts.
The September 5, 1795 treaty with Algiers—made just 14 months before the 1796 treaty with Tripoli that contains the “not a Christian nation” expression—includes in Article XVII assurance that the “consul of the United States of North-America…shall have liberty to exercise his religion in his own house” (“Treaty of Peace…,” 1846d, 8:135). This treaty was authorized by the same President who initiated the 1796 treaty with Tripoli—George Washington. In addition to the evidence provided by Article 15 of the June 30 and July 6, 1815 treaty with Algiers mentioned above, Article 14 of the same treaty secures the right of captive Christians in Algiers, who are able to escape and make their way to any U.S. ships, to remain on board unscathed, and no remuneration must be paid “for the said Christians” (“Treaty of Peace…,” 1846f, 8:246).
The August 17, 1797 treaty with Tunis begins with the words “God is infinite” and refers to “the most distinguished and honored President of the Congress of the United States of America, the most distinguished among those who profess the religion of the Messiah” (“Treaty of Peace…,” 1846e, 8:157). This unmistakable declaration of commitment to the religion of Christ refers to President John Adams—the very President whose act of signing the 1797 Treaty of Tripoli, the skeptics claim proves that he and the Congress repudiated Christianity! Article IX of the same treaty states: “If by accident and by the permission of God, a vessel of one of the contracting parties shall be cast by tempest upon the coasts of the other…” (p. 158, emp. added). The treaty concludes with an affirmation that the two contracting parties shall observe the terms of the treaty “with the will of the Most High” (p. 161—an expression used in both the Quran and the Bible), and the treaty is dated in both Islamic and Christian reckoning: “in the present month of Rebia Elul, of the Hegira one thousand two hundred and twelve, corresponding with the month of August of the Christian year one thousand seven hundred and ninety-seven,” followed by the signatures and seals of the Muslim leaders (p. 161). The accompanying verification by the American representatives, William Eaton and James Cathcart, claims authority for their actions on the basis of President John Adams, and closes with these words: “Done in Tunis, the twenty-sixth day of March, in the year of the Christian era one thousand seven hundred and ninety-nine, and of American independence the twenty-third” (p. 161, emp. added).
To summarize, the treaties made with the Barbary States are literally riddled with religious allusions and transparent indications of the Christian orientation of the United States in contradistinction to the Islamic orientation of the Barbary States. This fact alone proves that no treaty ever ratified by the United States would deny the Christian connections that have characterized the nation from its birth. The very idea is absurd—and such a declaration would be an outright falsehood. Those who so construe the 1797 Treaty of Tripoli are guilty of shoddy historical investigation at the very least, and outright dishonesty and flagrant bias at the very worst.


It is sad when any people become so biased in their belief system that they will latch onto a handful of misleading incidents and exploit them in an effort to legitimize that belief system. Atheists are guilty of the very malady they insist Christians suffer from—an irrational, prejudicial, mindless commitment to discredited ideas. The evidence is mammoth and decisive: the God of the Bible exists, and the Christian religion (in its pure, New Testament form) is the only belief system that He has authored for people living today (see www.apologeticspress.org). The Founders of the American Republic, with few exceptions, understood these facts and embraced them. As John Quincy Adams, son of John Adams and 6th President, declared:
From the day of the Declaration, the people of the North American Union and of its constituent States, were associated bodies of civilized men and Christians, in a state of nature; but not of Anarchy. They were bound by the laws of God, which they all, and by the laws of the Gospel, which they nearly all, acknowledged as the rules of their conduct (1821, p. 26, emp. added).
With this Christian worldview firmly fixed in their minds, they launched what indisputably has become the greatest nation in human history.


Adams, John (1799), “By the President of the United States of America. A Proclamation,” Library of Congress, http://tinyurl.com/Adams1799.
Adams, John Quincy (1821), Address Delivered at the request of a Committee of the Citizens of Washington on the Occasion of Reading the Declaration of Independence on the 4th of July, 1821 (Washington: Davis & Force), http://digital.library.umsystem.edu/cgi/t/text/text-idx?sid=b80c023f0 007f89b5b95e4be026fa267;c=jul;idno=jul000087.
Allen, Brooke (2005), “Our Godless Constitution,” The Nation, February 3, http://www.thenation.com/article/our-godless-constitution.
“Altered Articles of the Treaty of Peace and Friendship, Between the United States and the Bashaw Bey of Tunis, February 24, 1824” (1846), The Public Statutes at Large of the United States, ed. Richard Peters (Boston, MA: Charles C. Little and James Brown).
American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (2000), (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin), fourth edition.
“American Peace Commissioners to John Jay” (1786), The Thomas Jefferson Papers Series 1. General Correspondence. 1651-1827, Library of Congress, March 28, http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.mss/mtj.mtjbib001849.
Barlow, Joel (1793), Advice to the Privileged Orders (London: J. Johnston), third edition, http://tinyurl.com/Barlow1793.
Barton, David (2000), “Treaty of Tripoli,” Wallbuilders, http://www.wallbuilders.com/LIBissuesArticles.asp?id=125.
Buckner, Ed (1997), “Does the 1796-97 Treaty with Tripoli Matter to Church/State Separation?” http://www.stephenjaygould.org/ctrl/buckner_tripoli.html.
Buckner, Ed and Michael (1993), “Quotations that Support the Separation of State and Church,” Internet Infidels, http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/ed_buckner/quotations.html#I.
Dawkins, Richard (2006), The God Delusion (London: Bantam Press).
Harding, Ken (2011), “Our Founding Fathers Were Not Christians,” BibleTrash.com, July 5, http://freethought.mbdojo.com/foundingfathers.html.
Haselby, Sam (2011), “The Enigma of America’s Secular Roots,” The Guardian, January 3, http://richarddawkins.net/articles/572948-the-enigma-of-america-s-secular-roots; http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2011/jan/03/america-secular-roots-treaty-tripoli.
Hitler, Adolf (1939), Mein Kampf, Project Gutenberg, http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks02/0200601.txt.
Irwin, Ray (1931), The Diplomatic Relations of the United States with the Barbary Powers (Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press).
“John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, June 28, 1813” (no date), The Thomas Jefferson Papers Series 1. General Correspondence, 1651-1827, Library of Congress, http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.mss/mtj.mtjbib021451.
Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789 (1904-1937), ed. Worthington C. Ford, et al. (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office), Library of Congress, http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/amlaw/lwjc.html.
Kramnick, Isaac and R. Laurence Moore (1996), The Godless Constitution: The Case Against Religious Correctness (New York: W.W. Horton).
Miller, Dave (2005), “Deism, Atheism, and the Founders,” Apologetics Press, http://www.apologeticspress.org/APContent.aspx?category=7&article=1654&topic=31.
Miller, Dave (2008), The Silencing of God (Montgomery, AL: Apologetics Press), http://www.apologeticspress.org/store/Product.aspx?pid=51.
Miller, Dave (2009), Christ and the Continental Congress (Montgomery, AL: Apologetics Press), http://www.apologeticspress.org/store/Product.aspx?pid=45.
Miller, Dave (2011), “Is Christianity Logical? (Part I),” Reason & Revelation, 31[6]:50-59, June 3, http://www.apologeticspress.org/apPubPage.aspx?pub=1&issue=977&article=1499.
Rowland, Kate (1892), The Life of George Mason (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons).
Story, Joseph (1833), Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States (Boston, MA: Hilliard, Gray, & Co.), http://www.constitution.org/js/js_344.htm.
“Treaty of Peace and Friendship Between the United States of America, and the Bey and Subjects of Tripoli, of Barbary, November 4, 1796” (1846a),The Public Statutes at Large of the United States, ed. Richard Peters (Boston, MA: Charles C. Little and James Brown), http://tinyurl.com/TreatyTripoli1846a.
“Treaty of Peace and Amity, Between the United States of America, and the Bashaw, Bey, and Subjects of Tripoli, in Barbary, June 4, 1805” (1846b), The Public Statutes at Large of the United States, ed. Richard Peters (Boston, MA: Charles C. Little and James Brown).
“Treaty of Peace and Friendship Between the United States of America and His Imperial Majesty, the Emperor of Morocco, January, 1787” (1846c), The Public Statutes at Large of the United States, ed. Richard Peters (Boston, MA: Charles C. Little and James Brown).
“Treaty of Peace and Amity Between the Dey of Algiers and the United States of America, September 5, 1795” (1846d), The Public Statutes at Large of the United States, ed. Richard Peters (Boston, MA: Charles C. Little and James Brown).
“Treaty of Peace and Friendship, Between the United States of America and the Kingdom of Tunis, August, 1797, March 26, 1799” (1846e), The Public Statutes at Large of the United States, ed. Richard Peters (Boston, MA: Charles C. Little and James Brown).
“Treaty of Peace and Amity, Concluded Between the United States of America and His Highness Omar Bashaw, Dey of Algiers, June 30, and July 6, 1815” (1846f), The Public Statutes at Large of the United States, ed. Richard Peters (Boston, MA: Charles C. Little and James Brown).
“Treaty of Peace and Amity, Concluded Between the United States of America and the Dey and Regency of Algiers, December 23 and 24, 1816” (1846g), The Public Statutes at Large of the United States, ed. Richard Peters (Boston, MA: Charles C. Little and James Brown).
“Treaty with Morocco, September 16, 1836” (1846), The Public Statutes at Large of the United States, ed. Richard Peters (Boston, MA: Charles C. Little and James Brown).
Walker, Jim (1997), “The Government of the United States of America is Not, in Any Sense Founded on the Christian Religion,” NoBeliefs.com, April 11, http://www.nobeliefs.com/Tripoli.htm.
Warren, Thomas B. (1982), Logic & the Bible (Ramer, TN: National Christian Press).

Does God Tempt People? by Eric Lyons, M.Min.


Does God Tempt People?

by  Eric Lyons, M.Min.

In his February 12, 2009 debate with Kyle Butt, Dan Barker alleged that he “knows” the God of the Bible cannot exist because “there are mutually incompatible properties/characteristics of the God that’s in this book [the Bible—EL] that rule out the possibility of His existence.” Seven minutes and 54 seconds into his first speech, Barker cited James 1:13 and Genesis 22:1 as proof that the God of the Bible cannot exist. Since James 1:13 says: “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man” (KJV), and Genesis 22:1 affirms that “God did tempt Abraham” (KJV) to sacrifice his son, Barker asserted that God is like a married bachelor or a square circle—He cannot logically exist.
If Genesis 22:1 actually taught that God really tempted Abraham to commit evil and sin, then the God of the Bible might be a “square circle,” i.e., a logical contradiction. But, the fact of the matter is, God did not tempt Abraham to commit evil. Barker formulated his argument based upon the King James Version and only one meaning of the Hebrew word (nissâ) found in Genesis 22:1. Although the word can mean “to tempt,” the first two meanings that Brown, Driver, and Briggs give for nissâ in their Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament is “to test, to try” (1993). Likewise, the Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament (1997) defines the word simply “to test” (Jenni and Westermann, 1997, 2:741-742). The Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament agrees that nissâ is best translated, whether in secular or theological contexts, as “testing” (Botterweck, et al., 1998, 9:443-455). For this reason, virtually all major translations in recent times, including the NKJV, NASB, ESV, NIV, and RSV, translate Genesis 22:1 using the term “tested,” not tempted.
When David put on the armor of King Saul prior to battling Goliath, the shepherd realized: “I cannot walk with these, for I have not tested (nissâ) them” (1 Samuel 17:39, emp. added). Obviously, this testing had nothing to do with David “tempting” his armor; he simply had not tested or tried on Saul’s armor previously. God led Israel during 40 years of desert wanderings “to humble...and test” them (Deuteronomy 8:2, emp. added), not to tempt them to sin. Notice also the contrast in Exodus 20:20 between (1) God testing man and (2) trying to cause man to sin. After giving Israel the Ten Commandments, Moses said: “Do not fear; for God has come to test (nissâ) you, and that His fear may be before you, so that you may not sin” (Exodus 20:20, emp. added). If one were to use Barker’s reasoning that nissâ must mean “to tempt,” regardless of the context, then he would have to interpret Exodus 20:20 to mean that God tempted Israel to sin, so that they will not sin.
When a person interprets the Bible, or any other book, without recognizing that words have a variety of meanings and can be used in various senses, a rational interpretation is impossible. Many alleged Bible contradictions, including several of those that Dan Barker mentioned in the Butt/Barker Debate, are easily explained simply by acknowledging that words are used in a variety of ways. Is a word to be taken literally or figuratively? Must the term in one place mean the exact same thing when in another context, or may it have different meanings? If English-speaking Americans can intelligibly converse about running to the store in the 21st century by driving a car, or if we can easily communicate about parking on driveways, and driving on parkways, why do some people have such a difficult time understanding the various ways in which words were used in Bible times? Could it be that some Bible critics like Barker are simply predisposed to interpret Scripture unfairly? The evidence reveals that is exactly what is happening.
Rather then contradicting James 1:13, Genesis 22:1 actually corresponds perfectly with what James wrote near the beginning of his epistle: “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (1:2-4, emp. added). By instructing Abraham to sacrifice his promised son (cf. Hebrews 11:17), God gave Abraham another opportunity to prove his loyalty to Him, while Abraham simultaneously used this trial to continue developing a more complete, mature faith.


Botterweck, G. Johannes, Helmer Ringgren, and Heinz-Josef Fabry (1998), Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).
Brown, Francis, S.R. Driver, and Charles B. Briggs (1993), A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament (Electronic Database: Biblesoft).
Butt, Kyle and Dan Barker (2009), Does the God of the Bible Exist? (Montgomery, AL: Apologetics Press).
Jenni, Ernst and Claus Westerman (1997), Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson).

Dawkins Can’t See the Forest for the Trees by Kyle Butt, M.Div.


Dawkins Can’t See the Forest for the Trees

by  Kyle Butt, M.Div.

Richard Dawkins recently penned The Greatest Show on Earth that he believes sets forth overwhelming evidence to establish the “fact” of evolution. He wrote the book because he admitted that in his previous works, he “realized that the evidence for evolution itself was nowhere explicitly set out, and that this was a serious gap” that he “needed to close” (2009, p. vii). This self-acknowledged gap remains open, however, because the text of his newest book fails completely to state explicitly anything resembling “the evidence for evolution.”

Confirmation of the book’s failure to provide a rational case for evolution can be clearly seen in Dawkins’ discussion about trees (pp. 377-380). In his assessment of trees, Dawkins suggests that tall tree trunks are simply a waste of energy that could be disposed of “if only all the trees in the forest could come to some agreement” not to grow past a certain height. He states:

And this brings us face to face with the difference between a designed economy and an evolutionary economy. In a designed economy there would be no trees, or certainly no very tall trees: no forests, no canopy. Trees are a waste. Trees are extravagant. Tree trunks are standing monuments to futile competition—futile if we think in terms of planned economy. But the natural economy is not planned. Individual plants compete with other plants, of the same and other species, and the result is that they grow taller and taller, far taller than any planner would recommend (p. 379).
According to Dawkins, tall tree trunks are the squandered natural resources of plants that must constantly compete with other plants to capture the precious rays of sunshine that drive their nutrition production. In fact, he states that massive tree trunks “have no purpose apart from competing with other trees” (p. 379). He concludes that “the forest would look very different if its economy had been designed for the benefit of the forest as a whole” (p. 380, italics in orig.). He believes that only the idea of competition between individual trees can account for the look of a forest with massive-trunked trees filling it. In summarizing his “evidence” about trees, he states: “Everything about trees is compatible with the view that they were not designed—unless, of course, they were designed to supply us with timber, or to delight our eyes and flatter our cameras in the new England Fall” (p. 380, emp. added).

In assessing Dawkins’ conclusion about trees, it must be stressed that he has not provided any evidence by which one could conclude that “everything about trees is compatible with the view that they were not designed.” He has not shown how genetic information could spontaneously assemble itself through any known natural process that would give rise to a tree. He has not shown how genetic mutations could change one tree into another kind of tree, say an apple tree into an oak. Nor has he shown how trees could possibly share any type of ancestral relationship with animals, which he would have to do in order to defend evolution and refute creation. All Dawkins has shown is that trees have the genetic ability to grow trunks that eventually reach a certain limit of height and breadth that they cannot exceed.

Furthermore, Dawkins admits defeat, at least in his discussion of trees, when he acknowledges that a Creator could have in mind other things besides forest economy. Dawkins acknowledges that tree trunks would make perfect sense if they were designed to provide humans with timber or beauty. Yet that is precisely why the Bible explains God created the world—to be inhabited by man: “For thus says the Lord, Who created the heavens, Who is God, Who formed the earth and made it, Who has established it, Who did not create it in vain, Who formed it to be inhabited (Isaiah 45:18). Not only that, but also to show the glory of God (cf. Psalm 19:1 and Isaiah 6:3). Dawkins’ obvious mistake is that he refuses to accept that the Creator of the world might have a more involved agenda than Dawkins is willing to allow or can even conceptualize. Why would Dawkins waste at least three pages of his book on “explicit evidence” supposedly proving evolution, only to admit that everything he just said about trees is not evidence of evolution “if” the Designer had humans in mind? Simply because this is the only kind of “evidence” that can be marshaled for evolution—the kind that can rationally be refuted when a correct interpretation of the facts is made available.


Dawkins, Richard (2009), The Greatest Show on Earth (New York: Free Press).

Controversy About Hell Continues by Caleb Colley, Ph.D.


Controversy About Hell Continues

by  Caleb Colley, Ph.D.

A 1999 Gallup poll showed that only 56% of Americans held a firm conviction in the existence of hell (1999, p. 30). When Pope Benedict XVI stressed that impenitent sinners risk “eternal damnation,” his remarks received coverage from many major media outlets (see Lyons, 2007). Perhaps modernity is so inundated by political correctness that it no longer concerns itself with the eternal consequence of sin, even though the Bible emphasizes it (Matthew 5:22; 8:12; 25:41-46; Mark 9:43; 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9).
Now the biblical doctrine of eternal punishment is back in the news. On July 8, 2007, ABC’s Good Morning America reported that a well-known evangelical preacher, Carlton Pearson, lost his ministerial position at a large Tulsa, Oklahoma church because of his unconventional stance on hell. Pearson became convinced that hell is temporary and, in fact, not external to earthly existence. “I couldn’t reconcile a God whose mercy endures forever and this torture chamber that’s customized for unbelievers,” Pearson told ABC (quoted in “A Question...,” 2007). “You can’t be happy. And how can you really love a God who’s torturing your grandmother?” (“A Question...”).
After reaching the conclusion that the Bible is merely the work of uninspired, primitive men prone to “mistranslations” and “political agendas,” Mr. Pearson watched a news report about human suffering in the Third World and thought he heard God telling him that hell is earthly, human existence (“A Question...”; cf. Weir, 2007). Pearson summarized his newfound position: “We may go through hell, but nobody goes to hell” (quoted in Weir, 2007). “The bitter torment of the idea of an angry, visceral, distant, stoic, harsh, unrelenting, unforgiving, intolerant God is Hell,” Mr. Pearson concluded (“A Question....”). He proceeded to describe this notion to an ABC interviewer: “It’s pagan. It’s superstitious. And if you trace its history, it goes way back to where men feared the gods because something happened in life that caused frustration,” adding that people who believe in hell create it for themselves and others (“A Question...”).
Mr. Pearson’s story prompted ABC to develop a 20/20 report on various ideas about punishment in the afterlife. Bill Weir reported that when Mr. Pearson began teaching that hell is on Earth, “[i]t wasn't long before Christian magazines demonized him. The denomination that made him a bishop officially labeled him a heretic. His assistant pastors quit, and his congregation dropped from 6,000 to fewer than 300” (2007). Pearson enjoyed association with such prominent denominational ministers as Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and Oral Roberts, and a popular appeal that earned him the opportunity to counsel Presidents Clinton and Bush on faith-based initiatives (2007). However, Pearson so dedicated himself to an odd doctrinal position as to warrant his removal from an “evangelical empire built over a lifetime” (Weir, 2007).
The denial of eternal punishment certainly is unoriginal with Pearson. There always have been those who rejected the doctrine of hell by insisting that it in unreasonable. The idea that the souls of the faithful are immortal, while those of the unfaithful perish at their physical death is known as annihilationism. Gnostic groups have taken this position for hundreds of years. “There is no literal hell in the Gnostic tradition. It is a state that exists for people here” (Pierce, 2007; cf. Hoeller, n.d.). Certain Gnostics and other religionists may, like Mr. Pearson, have alleged that the traditional doctrine of hell is founded solely in the imagination of men, but their sentiments are antithetical to the plain teaching of Scripture.
In the July 1852 issue of Christian Magazine, a popular preacher from Nashville, Tennessee, Jesse B. Ferguson, asked: “Is Hell a dungeon dug by Almighty hands before man was born, into which the wicked are to be plunged? And is the salvation upon the preacher’s lips a salvation from such a Hell? For ourself [sic], we rejoice to say it, we never believed, and upon the evidence so far offered, never can believe it” (1852, p. 202). In a Christianity Today article titled “Fire, Then Nothing,” 135 years later, denominational scholar Clark Pinnock suggested that the souls of the wicked are annihilated at physical death (1987). In his book, The Fire That Consumes, Edward Fudge taught the same concept when he wrote: “The wicked, following whatever degree and duration of pain that God may justly inflict, will finally and truly die, perish and become extinct for ever and ever”(1982, p. 425). John Clayton, known for his numerous compromises of the Genesis Creation account, reviewing Fudge’s work, commented:
One of the most frequent challenges of atheists during our lectures is the question of the reasonableness of the concept of hell. Why would a loving, caring, merciful God create man as he is, knowing that man would sin, reject God, and be condemned to an eternal punishment? I have had to plead ignorance in this area because I had no logical answer that was consistent with the Bible.... I have never been able to be comfortable with the position that a person who rejected God should suffer forever and ever and ever (1990, p. 20, emp. in orig.).
Fudge’s influence was felt far and wide, and continues today. Writers such as F. LaGard Smith and Homer Hailey have propagated annihilationism, and Apologetics Press has dealt directly and decisively with the false idea that the Bible teaches a temporary punishment or instantaneous annihilation of the soul (see Lyons and Butt, 2005a; Lyons and Butt 2005b). Dave Miller discussed the numerous Bible passages that clearly teach the reality of “the vengeance of eternal fire” (2003a; Jude 7).
In the process of denying the eternality of hell, however, the disenfranchised Oklahoma preacher made additional, significant allegations against Christianity. Do Pearson’s emotionally-charged, philosophic complaints against divine punishment merit our endorsement?

Is the Bible merely a product of misguided mortals?

The Bible militates against Pearson’s doctrine about hell, so Pearson saw the need to discredit the Bible by stating that it is not from God at all, but rather from the pens of troubled men who were prone to make outlandish claims. For Pearson, a man claiming to be a minister of the Gospel, to deny the authority of the Scriptures out-of-hand is astounding, and contradictory to the mountain of evidence for the Bible’s inspiration. Among the facts about the Bible are the following.
It is a matter of historical record that Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible (see Lyons and Staff, 2003). Would Mr. Pearson challenge the character or ability of Moses, the historical giant of faith who led an entire nation for 40 years? Moses is far from being the only author of the Bible. It was written over the course of approximately 1,600 years by over 40 men from different places and backgrounds, and yet it flawlessly tells one epic story without once contradicting itself. Against which of these inspired men would Mr. Pearson hurl the accusation that his writings are the product of gross incompetence, frivolous emotionality, or political mindedness? Kyle Butt noted:
To say that the writers of the Bible were diverse would be an understatement. Yet, though their educational and cultural backgrounds varied extensively, and though many of them were separated by several centuries, the 66 books that compose the Bible fit together perfectly. To achieve such a feat by employing mere human ingenuity and wisdom would be impossible. In fact, it would be impossible from a human standpoint to gather the writings of 40 men from the same culture, with the same educational background, during the same time period, and get anything close to the unity that is evident in the Bible. The Bible’s unity is a piece of remarkable evidence that proves its divine origin (2007b, emp. in orig.).
For generations, men have attempted to find places in the sacred text where an inspired writer contradicted himself or another of the Bible’s writer, but they have come away empty (see Jackson, 1983; Lyons, 2003; Lyons, 2005). Unless Mr. Pearson can explain the unity of the Bible apart from divine inspiration, his allegations against the Bible crumble. Considering that no one in history has accomplished this, it seems infinitely unlikely that Mr. Pearson is up to the task.
The Bible contains scientific foreknowledge that would be absent if the men who wrote the Bible lacked divine guidance (see Butt, 2007a). One such instance of profound scientific foreknowledge centers around the administration of circumcision.
In Genesis 17:12, God specifically directed Abraham to circumcise newborn males on the eighth day. Why the eighth day?... On the eighth day, the amount of prothrombin present actually is elevated above one-hundred percent of normal—and is the only day in the male’s life in which this will be the case under normal conditions. If surgery is to be performed, day eight is the perfect day to do it. Vitamin K and prothrombin levels are at their peak (Thompson, 1993, emp. in orig.).
If the Genesis author (Moses) lacked divine revelation to inform him of the correct day on which to perform circumcision, how else could he have known it? Equally powerful examples of scientific foreknowledge abound throughout the pages of Scripture (see Thompson, 2003, pp. 48-62). Before Mr. Pearson dismisses the Bible’s inspiration, he will have to explain the scientific foreknowledge that leaps off its pages and convinces its readers. Mr. Pearson cannot. Furthermore, the Bible contains hundreds of predictive prophecies, all of which were fulfilled in every minute detail (see Butt, 2006; Thompson, 2003, pp. 42-48). Does this, or the fact that the Bible is completely accurate in its report of facts, jibe with Mr. Pearson’s contemptuous characterization of the Bible writers (see Jackson, 1991; Thompson and Lyons, 2004; Thompson, 2003, pp. 33-42)?

Is the traditional conception of hell only a product of medieval superstition?

Dante Alighieri (1265-1321), considered by many the finest poet of the middle ages, created a vivid, poetic portrait of eternal torment in The Divine Comedy. While a literary analysis of Dante’s work is beyond the scope of this article, the multitudes of Dante’s readers, from medieval times until now, have understood that Dante’s use of poetic license means that the details of his comedy are figurative approximations of what hell may be like; not definitive explanations of the nature of hell. Dante clearly advocated the reality of eternal punishment. John Ciardi, in his essay titled “How to Read Dante,” which introduces his translation of The Divine Comedy, stated: “Dante writes of Hell as a literal place of sin and punishment. The damned are there because they offended a theological system that enforces certain consequences of suffering” (Alighieri, 2003, p. xiv). Those professing Christianity in the middle ages had a general understanding that hell represented separation from God (see Russell, 1968, p. 57).
Noting that Augustine (A.D. 354-430), Dante (1265-1321), and Milton (1608-1674) all wrote in the same general theological tradition, John Hick commented:
The doctrines which lie behind these great works of art were normative within the church until recent times and broadly represent what the rest of the world, looking at Christianity as a whole over its two thousand years of existence, sees as its teaching concerning the life to come (1976, p. 198).
So, while Christian writers throughout history have commented about hell with greater or lesser degrees of adherence to the biblical description of that place, their basic notion of eternal torment was derived ultimately from the Bible. The traditional conception of hell certainly was not a novel one. No medieval writer ever sat down and thought, “Today, I’ll invent a place where God punishes people,” because the existence and characteristics of that place already had been divulged in holy writ. Medieval thinkers thought about hell largely for the same reason we write about hell today: God has revealed certain details about it. It would be interesting to learn whether Mr. Pearson did serious research concerning medieval tradition prior to making his allegation that those in the middle ages concocted a new, terrifying notion of hell. Mr. Pearson is the one who seems extremely and irresponsibly creative with his theology.

Could an all-loving God punish people?

The Bible teaches that God is both loving and just. “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne; mercy and truth go before Your face” (Psalm 89:14). A primary argument against the existence of the God of the Bible is that the biblical portrait of God is contradictory; an all-loving God could not punish people by condemning them to an eternal hell. Is it possible to reconcile the notion of eternal punishment with the God described in the Bible? Certainly. Consider, among others, these reasons:
Love does not require the absence of discipline. For example, a mother of a small child may punish a small child for mischievous and dangerous acts. Such correction may be painful, yet necessary. The problem of the magnitude of eternal punishment persists, however. Here, we must consider the justice of God, which Mr. Pearson has maligned and/or ignored.
While love defines God (1 John 4:8), he also is characterized by justice. Psalm 89:14 states that “righteousness and justice” are the foundation of His throne. Justice demands that each person gets what he or she deserves. Those of us who live in civilized society realize that order and peace are impossible without justice. If God had no way of carrying out spiritual consequences of disobedience, He would lack the quality of justice. Because God is a “righteous judge” (2 Timothy 4:8), and knows everyone’s heart (see Colley, 2004b), He makes no judicial errors (see Butt, 2002, pp. 129-130). Furthermore, God has given every guilty human the opportunity to avoid eternal punishment. God hopes that all humans will take advantage of the salvation He offers (2 Peter 3:9). God is infinite in love, mercy, and justice, so we may depend on His infinite capability to make righteous judgments and mete perfect punishments (see Colley, 2004a).

Does hell exist on Earth?

Mr. Pearson admits that his notion of hell existing on Earth came through what he believed to be a special, personal communication with God. It is outside the scope of this article to address whether God communicates directly and personally with people today, but we have proved elsewhere that He does not (see Miller, 2003b). Observe that Pearson offered no scriptural basis for his doctrine of a present hell. This is necessarily the case for, if Mr. Pearson studied the biblical data on this topic of hell at all, he should have realized that there is no scriptural basis for his doctrine. Furthermore, in order to tell Mr. Pearson that hell is not a real place, but rather a state of earthly frustration or disappointment, God would be forced to contradict what He already revealed (see Lyons and Butt, 2005a, Lyons and Butt 2005b).
There is, however, historical precedent for Mr. Pearson’s imaginative notion that hell exists on Earth. Unification Church members (popularly called “Moonies” due to their allegiance to Sun Myung Moon and his Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity) taught that hell exists on Earth and eventually will be transformed into the kingdom of heaven on Earth (“Building...,” n.d., Gruss, 1994, p. 196; cf. McDowell and Stewart, 1983, pp. 99-104). Hell becomes very inconsequential if it merely is mixed with the vast collections of experiences, thoughts, and emotions of which life consists, and eventually will transform into heaven. By partnering with the cult leader Moon in subscribing to this false doctrine, Mr. Pearson has opened the door even further to all manner of unscriptural approaches to fundamental theological principles.

Can saints be happy while sinners are lost?

Geisler observed: “The presupposition of this question is that we are more merciful than is God” (1999, p. 314). Christians wish damnation upon no one, but they also understand that God is perfectly merciful, desiring that everyone should be saved (2 Peter 3:9). Mr. Pearson has implied a distorted conception of Christian happiness. Christians are joyful not because souls are lost—or because of any negative circumstances such as sickness and death—but rather because Jesus has provided eternal salvation. Among other spiritual blessings, Christ offers providential care whereby even painful circumstances can be worked out for the ultimate good of His followers (Romans 8:28).
Christians certainly are not pleased by tragedies such as the eternal loss of souls. They mourn over sinful choices and consequences (Matthew 5:4). At the same time, however, their relationship to Christ brings the “peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). Paul expressed this overriding, perpetual happiness: “I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11-13). Paul suffered his share of disappointment, as he watched some of his companions forsake the Lord, and prophesied of a great apostasy (1 Timothy 1:19-20; 4:1-5). Yet, Paul maintained a joyful spirit: “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4). In the end, Christians will be happy in heaven, despite the fact that others, even loved ones, will be lost (see Revelation 21:4; cf. Jackson, 2003).


As Carlton Pearson’s arguments crumble before a consideration of biblical principle and historical analysis, we do not judge his motives, but rather pray that he will repent and obey the Lord (Matthew 7:21). If people such as Mr. Pearson are lost eternally it will be because they, having been warned about the danger of damnation, have chosen to live out of harmony with God’s will. Jonathan Edwards’ comment on this topic is pertinent:
It is a most unreasonable thing to suppose that there should be no future punishment, to suppose that God, who had made man a rational creature, able to know his duty, and sensible that he is deserving punishment when he does it not; should let man alone, and let him live as he will, and never punish him for his sins, and never make any difference between the good and the bad. . . . How unreasonable it is to suppose, that he who made the world, should leave things in such confusion, and never take care of the governing of his creatures, and that he should never judge his reasonable creatures (quoted in Geisler, 1999, p. 315).
Hell is devoid of grace, the saving power God extends while we live on Earth (Romans 1:16). We must encourage all to appropriate God’s grace to their souls by obeying the Gospel—the only way to avoid the vengeance of God (2 Thessalonians 1:8).


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