The New Atheism

The Four Horsemen of Atheism: Dawkins, Harris, Dennet, Hitchens

The Four Horsemen of Atheism

I am amused by the New Atheists. They think their arguments are new when in fact, they are more than two millennia old. In the Wisdom of Solomon we read the following:

For the ungodly said, reasoning with themselves, but not aright, Our life is short and tedious, and in the death of a man there is no remedy: neither was there any man known to have returned from the grave.

For we are born at all adventure: and we shall be hereafter as though we had never been: for the breath in our nostrils is as smoke, and a little spark in the moving of our heart:

Which being extinguished, our body shall be turned into ashes, and our spirit shall vanish as the soft air,

And our name shall be forgotten in time, and no man shall have our works in remembrance, and our life shall pass away as the trace of a cloud, and shall be dispersed as a mist, that is driven away with the beams of the sun, and overcome with the heat thereof.

For our time is a very shadow that passeth away; and after our end there is no returning: for it is fast sealed, so that no man cometh again.

Come on therefore, let us enjoy the good things that are present: and let us speedily use the creatures like as in youth.

Let us fill ourselves with costly wine and ointments: and let no flower of the spring pass by us:

Let us crown ourselves with rosebuds, before they be withered:

Let none of us go without his part of our voluptuousness: let us leave tokens of our joyfulness in every place: for this is our portion, and our lot is this. (Wisdom 2:1-9)

Wisdom and the Four Gospels (Wisdom 2:10-20)

The Crucifixion of Christ

The Crucifixion of Christ

Regarding the allusions to the Apocrypha in the New Testament, let us begin our discussion with an examination of an extended passage from the Wisdom of Solomon. In Wisdom chapter 2, we have a description of the ungodly man and his reaction to and oppression of the righteous. This passage is generally applicable to the relationship between the ungodly and the righteous person, whoever he (or she) may be; however, this passage is specifically applicable to the relationship between Jesus (the ultimate Righteous Man), and the religious and political leaders of His day. I would argue that the gospels are the fulfillment of this passage from the Wisdom of Solomon. With that in mind, let us examine this passage.

Let us oppress the poor righteous man, let us not spare the widow, nor reverence the ancient gray hairs of the aged. (Wisdom 2:10)

This passage begins with the oppression of the poor, which is a recurring theme of the Old and New Testaments. The book of Proverbs goes so far as to say: “A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast: but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel” (Pr 12:10). Not only does a righteous man care for the poor man and the aged, but also the creatures entrusted to his care (Gen 1:26).

Let our strength be the law of justice: for that which is feeble is found to be nothing worth. (Wisdom 2:11)

The ungodly use the law against the poor, the aged, and all of creation. To the ungodly, obedience to the letter of the law excuses a lack of mercy. Against this argument, the prophet Hosea argues that God desires mercy rather than sacrifice (Hos 6:6). To those who pride themselves on their adherence to the law, Jesus argues that judgment, mercy, and faith are the “weightier matters of the law”, which must be done without neglecting the law itself (Matt 23:23).

Therefore let us lie in wait for the righteous; because he is not for our turn, and he is clean contrary to our doings: he upbraideth us with our offending the law, and objecteth to our infamy the transgressings of our education. (Wisdom 2:12)

Here is where this passage takes a turn; while generally applicable to the relationship between the ungodly and the righteous, from this point onward this passage is specifically applies to the relationship between the ungodly and The Righteous One, who is Jesus Christ. In the Gospels we read how Jesus upbraided the religious leaders, and how they in turn plotted against him. We read how they tried to trap Jesus with questions designed to elicit answers which would have been unsatisfactory to the people or would have put Him at odds with the Roman authorities. (The question regarding whether it was lawful to pay taxes to the Roman authorities comes to mind; see Matt 22:17ff)

He professeth to have the knowledge of God: and he calleth himself the child of the Lord. (Wisdom 2:13)

This is most certainly true of Our Lord. The first example of this is found in the story of the Boy Jesus in His Father’s house. Not only were the teachers astonished at His understanding, but when His parent’s upbraided Him, Jesus asked them why they didn’t know He must be about His Father’s business (Luk 2:41-50).

He was made to reprove our thoughts. (Wisdom 2:14)

This passage is fulfilled in the healing of the man with palsy (Matt 9:1-8). Jesus first announces to the man the forgiveness of sins, which the scribes thought was blasphemous, because only God can forgive sins. Jesus reproved them for their thoughts, after which he demonstrating that He had the power to forgive sins by healing the palsied man.

He is grievous unto us even to behold: for his life is not like other men’s, his ways are of another fashion. (Wisdom 2:15)

In the Gospel of Luke, we read how Jesus called Levi the tax collector, who then gave a great feast at his house with other tax collectors present. Seeing this, the “scribes and Pharisees complained against His disciples, saying, ‘Why do You eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?'” Jesus response was that just as a physician ministers not to those who are well, but those who are sick, so too He ministered not to those who presumed themselves to be righteous, but those who knew themselves to be sinners (Luk 5:30-31). Later, while dining with Simon the Pharisee, a sinful women came in “began to wash His feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head: and she kissed His feed and anointed them with the fragrant oil.” At this, the Pharisee murmured in his heart against Jesus for allowing Himself to be touched by a sinful woman. Jesus then rebuked the Pharisee for failing to follow the standards of hospitality by having Jesus’ feet washed before dinner, whereas the sinful woman had done this and more. Therefore to the woman he said her sins were forgiven, and that her faith had saved her (Luk 7:36-50). To the Lawyer who sought to justify himself in his own eyes, Jesus gave the Parable of the Good Samaritan, in which the Priest and Levite are the villains, while the hated Samaritan was the hero for showing mercy to someone to whom he had no relationship, no kinship, and no expectation of reward (Luk 10:25-37).

We are esteemed of him as counterfeits: he abstaineth from our ways as from filthiness: he pronounceth the end of the just to be blessed, and maketh his boast that God is his father. (Wisdom 2:16)

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus denounces the counterfeit religiosity of the Pharisees, those who “make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess” (Matt 23:25). In the Beatitudes, Jesus pronounces the blessedness of the righteous (Matt 5:3-12). The gospels use the life of Christ as an illustration of this passage from Wisdom; the good works that Jesus does enrage the ungodly, as does his description of God as His Father (Luke 10:22; John 5:28; 10:30). Thus the three clauses from this verse are applicable to the life of Christ.

Let us see if his words be true: and let us prove what shall happen in the end of him. For if the just man be the son of God, he will help him, and deliver him from the hand of his enemies. Let us examine him with despitefulness and torture, that we may know his meekness, and prove his patience. Let us condemn him with a shameful death: for by his own saying he shall be respected. (Wisdom 2:17-20)

These final verses describe the state of mind and the actions of the Chief Priests and Pharisees regarding the death of Christ. Not only that, but they specifically foretell the words of the rulers of the Jews at the foot of the cross.

The Jewish trial was done contrary to the law, using false witnesses (Matt 26:59). After accusing Jesus of blasphemy, the scribes and elders spit in Jesus face and beat him with their hands, mocking him by saying: “Prophesy unto us, thou Christ, Who is he that smote thee? (Matt 26:67-68). After delivering Jesus to the Pontius Pilate, the Romans stripped him, whipped him, put a crown of thorns on His head, mocked Him, and crucified Him (Matt 27:27-31; Joh 19:1-18).

During Jesus’ examination before the Sanhedrin, Jesus said nothing, until he was asked whether he was “the Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 14:53-62). During Jesus’ examination before Herod, Jesus said nothing (Luk 23:6-9). Jesus did not try to justify Himself, nor did he beg for mercy, but “as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth” (Isa 53:7).

There was nothing more shameful than to be stripped naked and die a criminal’s death on the cross. The gospels state not only that the Jewish leaders desired the death of Jesus, but they specifically wanted the Romans to crucify Him (Joh 19:6). The author of Hebrews states that Jesus “endured the cross, despising the shame”, and is now seated at the right hand of God. (Heb 12:2).

Finally, at the foot of the cross the rulers of the Jews use the words from Wisdom to mock Christ. They sneer: “He saved others; let him save himself, if he be Christ, the chosen of God” (Luk 23:35). This is then taken up by the soldiers who mock Christ, saying: “If thou be the king of the Jews, save thyself” (Luk 23:37). Finally, one of the thieves crucified with Christ blasphemes: “If thou be Christ, save thyself and us” (Luk 23:39).

It is quite clear that this passage from Wisdom is prophetic, in that it is broadly descriptive of the life and death of Christ. Therefore, the arguments of some that the Apocrypha are not prophetic and therefore are not scripture fall to the ground.[1]

 

[1] Normal Geisler and Ralph MacKenzie write: “Contrary to the Roman Catholic argument from Christian usage, the true test of canonicity is propheticity. There is strong evidence that the apocryphal books are not prophetic. But since propheticity is the test for canonicity, this would eliminate the Apocrypha from the canon.” (Geisler and MacKenzie 1995, 196-197)


Bibliography

Geisler, N. L., & MacKenzie, R. E. (1995). Roman Catholics and Evangelicals: agreements and differences. Grand Rapids: Baker Books.

 

Idolatry as the Beginning of Perversions

Christian Idol Worship

Christian Idol Worship?[1]

A Comparison of Rom 1:24-32 and Wisdom 14:12, 24-27

For the devising of idols was the beginning of spiritual fornication, and the invention of them the corruption of life. … They kept neither lives nor marriages any longer undefiled: but either one slew another traiterously, or grieved him by adultery. So that there reigned in all men without exception blood, manslaughter, theft, and dissimulation, corruption, unfaithfulness, tumults, perjury, Disquieting of good men, forgetfulness of good turns, defiling of souls, changing of kind, disorder in marriages, adultery, and shameless uncleanness. For the worshipping of idols not to be named is the beginning, the cause, and the end, of all evil. (Wisdom 14:12, 24-27)

Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves: Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen. For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet. And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them. (Rom 1:24-32)

The apostle Paul begins with a description of idolatry (Rom 1:21-23), and the immorality arising from it. In this Paul is saying nothing new, but is simply repeating the ideas found in Wisdom. This is not a direct quotation, but Paul is definitely copying his thematic material from Wisdom, and is simply more graphic in his depiction.

In Wisdom we read that idolatry is the beginning of spiritual fornication; in Romans we read that after becoming idolaters, God “gave them up” to immorality. In Wisdom we read that idolatry is the source of defiled marriages; in Romans we read that because men worshipped the “creature more than the Creator”, they dishonored their own bodies. In Wisdom we see idolatry as the source of murders, manslaughter, theft, dishonesty, corruption, unfaithfulness, tumults, perjury, etc.; Paul describes idolaters as filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, etc. In Wisdom we read of “disorder in marriages, adultery, and shameless uncleanness; in Romans we read of fornication and “vile affections”, which Paul goes on to explain as male and female homosexual acts — which is an explication of Wisdom’s “shameless uncleanness”.[2] Everything we see in Paul, we first read in the book of Wisdom, which was Paul’s source material — his bible, if you will.


[1] We must not think that we are above reproach, while condemning others. If the idolatry is the beginning of immorality, than we sinners are all idolaters to one degree or another. We are all compromised. We are all guilty, whether Jew or Gentile, whether Christian or pagan, whether agnostic, atheist, or theist. Perhaps the test should be this. Does the other’s idolatry lead them towards sin, or away from it?

[2] I do not intend to get into the culture wars over the acceptance of homosexuality, except to say this. The one side fails to differentiate between the person who is loved by God, and the homosexual acts that person commits, or the homosexual impulses endemic to that person. The other side states that homosexuality is not a choice, which may be true. After all, no one chooses as a young child a sexual orientation that puts them at odds with society at large. And since (they say) homosexuality is not a choice, then it must be a valid expression of human sexuality.

I simply state that we must deal with the homosexual as a person loved by God, while recognizing the scriptures class homosexuality as “vile affections” and “shameless uncleanness.” We must also recognize that in vilifying the homosexual (while allowing other sins such as gluttony), we drive them away from the Gospel.

The Four Gospels and the Wisdom of Solomon

Scan of the Wisdom of Solomon from the original 1611 version of the King James Bible

Wisdom of Solomon

Regarding the allusions to the Apocrypha in the New Testament, let us begin our discussion with an examination of an extended passage from the Wisdom of Solomon. This passage is generally applicable to the relationship between the ungodly and the righteous, whoever he (or she) may be; however, this passage is specifically applicable to the relationship between Jesus (as the ultimate Righteous Man), and the religious and political leaders of His day. I would argue that the gospels are the fulfillment of this passage from the Wisdom of Solomon. With that in mind, let us examine this passage.

Let us oppress the poor righteous man, let us not spare the widow, nor reverence the ancient gray hairs of the aged. (Wisdom 2:10)

This passage begins with the oppression of the poor, which is a recurring theme of the Old and New Testaments. The book of Proverbs goes so far as to say: “A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast: but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel” (Pr 12:10). Not only does a righteous man care for the poor man and the aged, but also the creatures entrusted to his care (Gen 1:26).

Let our strength be the law of justice: for that which is feeble is found to be nothing worth. (Wisdom 2:11)

The ungodly use the law against the poor, the aged, and all of creation. To the ungodly, obedience to the letter of the law excuses a lack of mercy. Against this argument, the voice prophet Hosea argues that God desires mercy rather than sacrifice (Hos 6:6). To those who pride themselves on their adherence to the law, Jesus argues that judgment, mercy, and faith are the “weightier matters of the law”, which must be done without neglecting the law itself (Matt 23:23).

Therefore let us lie in wait for the righteous; because he is not for our turn, and he is clean contrary to our doings: he upbraideth us with our offending the law, and objecteth to our infamy the transgressings of our education. (Wisdom 2:12)

Here is where this passage takes a turn; while generally applicable to the relationship between the ungodly and the righteous, from this point onward this passage is specifically applies to the relationship between the ungodly and The Righteous One, who is Jesus Christ. In the Gospels we read how Jesus upbraided the religious leaders, and how they in turn plotted against him. We read how they tried to trap Jesus with questions designed to elicit answers which would have been unsatisfactory to the people, or would have put Him at odds with the Roman authorities. (The question regarding whether it was lawful to pay taxes to the Roman authorities comes to mind; see Matt 22:17ff)

He professeth to have the knowledge of God: and he calleth himself the child of the Lord. (Wisdom 2:13)

This is most certainly true of Our Lord. The first example of this is found in the story of the Boy Jesus in His Father’s house. Not only were the teachers astonished at His understanding, but when His parent’s upbraided Him, Jesus asked them why they didn’t know He must be about His Father’s business (Luk 2:41-50).

He was made to reprove our thoughts. (Wisdom 2:14)

This passage is fulfilled in the healing of the man with palsy (Matt 9:1-8). Jesus first announces to the man the forgiveness of sins, which the scribes thought was blasphemous, because only God can forgive sins. Jesus reproved them for their thoughts, after which he demonstrating that He had the power to forgive sins by healing the palsied man.

He is grievous unto us even to behold: for his life is not like other men’s, his ways are of another fashion. (Wisdom 2:15)

In the Gospel of Luke, we read how Jesus called Levi the tax collector, who then gave a great feast at his house with other tax collectors present. Seeing this, the “scribes and Pharisees complained against His disciples, saying, ‘Why do You eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?'” Jesus response was that just as a physician ministers not to those who are well, but those who are sick, so too He ministered not to those who presumed themselves to be righteous, but those who knew themselves to be sinners (Luk 5:30-31). Later, while dining with Simon the Pharisee, a sinful women came in “began to wash His feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head: and she kissed His feed and anointed them with the fragrant oil.” At this, the Pharisee murmured in his heart against Jesus for allowing Himself to be touched by a sinful woman. Jesus then rebuked the Pharisee for failing to follow the standards of hospitality by having Jesus’ feet washed before dinner, whereas the sinful woman had done this and more. Therefore to the woman he said her sins were forgiven, and that her faith had saved her (Luk 7:36-50). To the Lawyer who sought to justify himself in his own eyes, Jesus gave the Parable of the Good Samaritan, in which the Priest and Levite are the villains, while the hated Samaritan was the hero for showing mercy to someone to whom he had no relationship, no kinship, and no expectation of reward (Luk 10:25-37).

We are esteemed of him as counterfeits: he abstaineth from our ways as from filthiness: he pronounceth the end of the just to be blessed, and maketh his boast that God is his father. (Wisdom 2:16)

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus denounces the counterfeit religiosity of the Pharisees, those who “make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess” (Matt 23:25). In the Beatitudes, Jesus pronounces the blessedness of the righteous (Matt 5:3-12). The gospels use the life of Christ as an illustration of this passage from Wisdom; the good works that Jesus does enrage the ungodly, as does his description of God as His Father (Luke 10:22; John 5:28; 10:30).

Let us see if his words be true: and let us prove what shall happen in the end of him.  For if the just man be the son of God, he will help him, and deliver him from the hand of his enemies. Let us examine him with despitefulness and torture, that we may know his meekness, and prove his patience. Let us condemn him with a shameful death: for by his own saying he shall be respected. (Wisdom 2:17-20)

These final verses describe the state of mind and the actions of the Chief Priests and Pharisees regarding the death of Christ.

The Jewish trial was done contrary to the law, using false witnesses (Matt 26:59). After accusing Jesus of blasphemy, the scribes and elders spit in Jesus face and beat him with their hands, mocking him by saying: ” Prophesy unto us, thou Christ, Who is he that smote thee? (Matt 26:67-68). After delivering Jesus to the Pontius Pilate, the Romans stripped him, whipped him, put a crown of thorns on His head, mocked Him, and crucified Him (Matt 27:27-31; Joh 19:1-18).

During Jesus’ examination before the Sanhedrin, Jesus said nothing, until he was asked whether he was “the Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 14:53-62). During Jesus’ examination before Herod, Jesus said nothing (Luk 23:6-9). Jesus did not try to justify Himself, nor did he beg for mercy, but “as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth” (Isa 53:7).

There was nothing more shameful than to be stripped naked and die a criminal’s death on the cross. The gospels state not only that the Jewish leaders desired the death of Jesus, but they specifically wanted the Romans to crucify Him (Joh 19:6). The author of Hebrews states that Jesus “endured the cross, despising the shame”, and is now seated at the right hand of God. (Heb 12:2).

Finally, at the foot of the cross the rulers of the Jews use the words from Wisdom to mock Christ. They sneer: “He saved others; let him save himself, if he be Christ, the chosen of God” (Luk 23:35). This is then taken up by the soldiers who mock Christ, saying: “If thou be the king of the Jews, save thyself” (Luk 23:37). Finally, one of the thieves crucified with Christ blasphemes: “If thou be Christ, save thyself and us” (Luk 23:39).

It is quite clear that this passage from Wisdom is prophetic, in that it is broadly descriptive of the life and death of Christ. Therefore, the arguments of some that the Apocrypha are not prophetic and therefore are not scripture fall to the ground.[1]

 


 

[1] Normal Geisler and Ralph MacKenzie write: “Contrary to the Roman Catholic argument from Christian usage, the true test of canonicity is propheticity. There is strong evidence that the apocryphal books are not prophetic. But since propheticity is the test for canonicity, this would eliminate the Apocrypha from the canon.” (Geisler and MacKenzie 1995, 196-197)

Signs and Wonders

Peace be with you, God will prosper you.

Prosperity Gospel

If a man desire much experience, she [wisdom] knoweth things of old, and conjectureth aright what is to come: she knoweth the subtilties of speeches, and can expound dark sentences: she foreseeth signs and wonders, and the events of seasons and times. (Wisdom 8:8)

For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. (Mt 24:24)

For false Christs and false prophets shall rise, and shall shew signs and wonders, to seduce, if it were possible, even the elect. (Mr 13:22)

Then said Jesus unto him, Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe. (Joh 4:48)

By stretching forth thine hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done by the name of thy holy child Jesus. (Ac 4:30)

And by the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people; (and they were all with one accord in Solomon’s porch. (Ac 5:12)

Long time therefore abode they speaking boldly in the Lord, which gave testimony unto the word of his grace, and granted signs and wonders to be done by their hands. (Ac 14:3)

Through mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God; so that from Jerusalem, and round about unto Illyricum, I have fully preached the gospel of Christ. (Ro 15:19)

Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds. (2Co 12:12)

God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will? (Heb 2:4)

The phrase “signs and wonders” is used nine times in the New Testament, but never used in the Hebrew Scriptures. The phrase comes from the Wisdom of Solomon, and is found in an extended monologue on wisdom. Since we know wisdom to be allegorically associated with Jesus Christ, it is clear that it is Jesus Christ who foreseeth signs and wonders. Without the quotation from the Wisdom of Solomon, it is not clear what the difference is between the signs and wonders performed by Christ and His disciples, and the signs and wonders performed by the false prophets.

In Wisdom we see the growth of an individual who desires wisdom, which gives us a way of discerning between false prophets and true disciples.

  • The true disciples loves wisdom, and seeks her out (v. 1)
  • The true disciples seeks wisdom rather than riches (v. 5)
  • The true disciple is prudent (v. 6)
  • The true disciple loves righteousness (v. 7)
  • The true disciple practices the virtues (temperance, prudence, justice, and fortitude) (v.7)[i]
  • The true disciple lives with wisdom, counseled by wisdom, and is comforted by wisdom (v. 9)

The false prophet, who is no true disciple, will be no lover of wisdom, and will seek to profit from the gospel. The false prophet will be extravagant rather than prudent, and will surround himself (or herself) with the things of this world. The false prophet will be self-indulgent and reckless, will show partiality, and will lack courage and strength.

Notice that Jesus warns against those who seek to persuade the faithful through signs and wonders, and those who seek after signs and wonders instead of the Christ who is the source. Those whose preaching is focused on signs and wonders, and those whose desire is for signs and wonders instead of Christ, are equally in error. Signs and wonders are not salvific, nor do signs and wonders validate the teaching of a prophet. When the nobleman approached Jesus and besought him to heal his son, Jesus stated: “Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe.” The nobleman’s reply demonstrated his belief: “Sir, come down ere [before] my child die.” No longer was he asking for a sign, he was merely seeking for Christ to visit to come before his son died. In seeking after healing, he received neither healing nor the presence of Christ; in seeking after Christ, the nobleman received both Christ and the healing of his son.


[i] The Greek word translated here as fortitude (ἀνδρείαν, andreian) can be translated in a variety of ways. The short definitions are manliness, manhood, manly spirit. Please note that these are to be interpreted in the fashion of the ancient world, in which certain characteristics were thought to be “manly virtues”. In fact, the Latin translation for ἀνδρείαν is virtus, from the Latin root vir, meaning man. Thus the opposite of the manly virtues would be the feminine weaknesses (according to the ancient accounting, not modern approach to gender distinctions.)

The Sword of the Spirit in the Apocrypha

Stained Glass representation of the Sword of the Spirit

The Sword of the Spirit

He shall take to him his jealousy for complete armour, and make the creature his weapon for the revenge of his enemies. He shall put on righteousness as a breastplate, and true judgment instead of an helmet. He shall take holiness for an invincible shield. His severe wrath shall he sharpen for a sword, and the world shall fight with him against the unwise. (Wis 5:17-20)

This passage is a bit complicated, as the subject seems to switch between the Lord and the righteous. Nevertheless, this passage (and the following passage from Wisdom 18) is the source for the metaphor used by the apostle’s Paul and John, and the anonymous author of Hebrews — that of putting on the armor of God, and arming oneself with God’s own weaponry.

Thine Almighty word leaped down from heaven out of thy royal throne, as a fierce man of war into the midst of a land of destruction, And brought thine unfeigned commandment as a sharp sword, and standing up filled all things with death; and it touched the heaven, but it stood upon the earth. (Wis 18:15-16)

This passage makes the connection between the New Testament and Wisdom even more clear. The sword in this case is the “unfeigned commandment”, which is another way of saying the law of the Lord (Ps 119:1). The connection between the sword of the “unfeigned commandment”, the “word of God” as sharper than any two-edged sword is clear.

For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. (Heb 4:12)

The apostle Paul borrows this metaphor in his famous passage regarding putting on the “whole armor of God.” This martial metaphor is often preached as representing the Christian life, which is indeed true. But only rarely does anyone speak about what it means to “withstand in the evil day”, which is an apocalyptic statement. In other words, Paul is not primarily talking about the daily life of the Christian, although that is part of it. But the putting on of the “whole armor of God”, which includes being armed with the “sword of the Spirit”, is something we do every day so that we may be ready for the day of the Lord, the day of judgment.

Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Eph 6:13-17)

The passages from Wisdom are also connected to the passage from John’s Revelation where Christ is seen with a two-edged sword coming out of his mouth, which is the same metaphor used for the word of God in the book of Hebrews.

And in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle. … And he had in his right hand seven stars: and out of his mouth went a sharp twoedged sword: and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength. (Rev 1:13, 16)

The book of Revelation is not yet finished with the metaphor of the sword. In the letter to the church of Pergamos, we see repeated the details of the image of Christ used in the first chapter.

And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write; These things saith he which hath the sharp sword with two edges. (Rev 2:12)

We have already spoken of the Sword of the Spirit, and connected this with the “whole armor of God” spoken of by Paul, and the sword proceeding from the mouth of the Son of God spoken of by St. John the Theologian. What we have not done is discuss this in its apocalyptic dimension in any detail.

The Revelation of St. John is written in the apocalyptic style, a literary form that was popular in Second Temple Judaism (the form of Judaism that existed after the return of the exiles from Babylon.) While Wisdom is not part of the apocalyptic genre, the passage in Wisdom where the “unfeigned commandment” is described as a “sharp sword” is clearly apocalyptic in nature. The description of the “almighty Word” who leapt from the heavens to earth and brought death to the Egyptians not only has reference to the exile in and exodus from Egypt, but looks forward to a future deliverance.

When Paul and John borrow the metaphor of the “sharp sword” from Wisdom, we are meant to understand its apocalyptic context. While this is clear in John’s Revelation, it adds another dimension to the book of Romans. You see, the apocalyptic is not only a description of the end of days, but is meant to give us comfort in our afflictions. When Paul uses imagery borrowed from apocalyptic literature, he is letting us know that no matter what trials we are going through, there is a purpose, that God is in control, and that evil will not have its way forever.