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The Fear of Government

By Stephen Mitchell

HandcuffsWe here, in the United States, have entered a period of civil unrest. Those on one side see government and its agents as unjust and, as a consequence, have chosen to call for attacks upon the agents of government. The result has been many woundings and even killings of these representatives and enforcers of the law. Is a Christian’s response to be based on justice? Are we to decide who is in the right and who is in the wrong and respond accordingly? On what do we base our response to this civil unrest and perceived injustices?

For those who call themselves Christians, claiming to follow the teachings of Jesus, there are some extremely clear guidelines. Jesus told His followers,

You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48)

The principle that Jesus has left us is to respond to those who attack us with kindness, with prayer, with the character of God Himself. The apostle Luke put it even clearer when he recorded Jesus’ words thus, “But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” (Luke 6:27-28)

Does this high standard of conduct extend even to those who are the legal earthly representatives of government? Does this command apply to those who wield the power of government?

Yes. Jesus explicitly commanded us to “render unto Caesar the things that belong to Caesar.” The Apostle Paul expanded on this in his letter to the church that dwelt in the heart of the Roman government’s power. In Romans 13:7, writing of the need to submit to government, he wrote “Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.” We are to give honor and obedience to our governing authorities and to their authorized representatives, our “Law Enforcement.”

Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. (Romans 13:1-2)

Paul reminds us that to oppose the civil government is to oppose God Himself since God established the government. And notice that the government’s justice, or lack of it, is not an issue. The command is simply to “be in subjection.”

This applies equally to those who have the responsibility of enforcing the government’s laws. During the Roman Empire, this was, in Israel, the responsibility of the Roman soldiers. When John, known as the Baptist, was giving instructions on righteous behavior to groups of people in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 3, a group of soldiers asked him what they should do. John did not tell them to stop enforcing unjust laws or representing an unjust government, he simply told them not to be unjust themselves. “Do not take money from anyone by force, or accuse anyone falsely, and be content with your wages.” And we are to willingly and intentionally submit ourselves to these representatives of government, whether or not we believe the laws they are enforcing are unjust. The Apostle Paul called them a “minister of God” to us. As God’s ministers, we are to submit to them in obedience.

Paul further expanded on this, writing about those who resist their authority.

But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing.

Resistance to government’s authorized representatives can result in experiencing their right to kill or maim, their right to carry and use ‘the sword.’ So it is not unusual or evil for government’s representatives to use deadly force to enforce obedience to government and its representatives. They carry a ‘sword’ for the purpose of enforcement. What they carry they have the right to use. So it is up to us individually to so react to them that they know that they have nothing to fear from us, that they do not need to use that force on us because we fully and completely obey them.

The apostle Peter summed it all up this way,

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God. Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king. (1Peter 2:13-17)

So, we who call ourselves followers of Christ must exemplify submission to government and its representatives, no matter whether we are treated justly or unjustly. It is not our right to choose what laws we will obey or what representatives of government we will submit to. We are commanded to obey and to submit. In this way we demonstrate our obedience to God and to His Son, Jesus. And if we are treated unjustly, we are to respond with kindness and love, praying for those who so mistreat us. In this way we truly show ourselves to be sons of our Father Who is in Heaven.

Do all things without grumbling or disputing;  so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world. (Philippians 2:14-15)



A Nation to Celebrate

By Stephen Mitchell

This month we celebrate the birth of our nation. As Christians, we obey Scripture by seeking the good of the place where we live. We are thankful for this nation into which we were born. But we also need to remember that we are sojourners in this land and, ultimately, our true citizenship is in another place. We serve the Great King, along with our brothers and sisters in the Lord in all countries of the world. Early in the history of our Church this was also recognized. In a letter from about A.D. 130, one such Believer named Mathetes wrote:

“For the Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech, nor lead a life which is marked out by any singularity. The course of conduct which they follow has not been devised by any speculation or deliberation of inquisitive men; nor do they, like some, proclaim themselves the advocates of any merely human doctrines. But, inhabiting Greek as well as barbarian cities, according as the lot of each of them has determined, and following the customs of the natives in respect to clothing, food, and the rest of their ordinary conduct, they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life. They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers. They marry, as do all [others]; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men, and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death, and restored to life. They are poor, yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things, and yet abound in all; they are dishonored, and yet in their very dishonor are glorified. They are evil spoken of, and yet are justified; they are reviled, and bless; they are insulted, and repay the insult with honor; they do good, yet are punished as evil-doers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life.”

    Even though we are citizens of this land, and we love our native land, yet we look further to our ultimate home with our Lord and our extended family, our fellow Believers in Christ. What we as Christians do that is peculiar to others is to gather together as a separate people to worship our Lord and to encourage each other. Less than 20 years before the above letter was written, a Roman governor noted about the Christians he persecuted that:

    “… they met on a stated day before it was light, and addressed a form of prayer to Christ, as to a divinity, binding themselves by a solemn oath, not for the purposes of any wicked design, but never to commit any fraud, theft, or adultery, never to falsify their word, nor deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up; after which it was their custom to separate, and then reassemble, to eat in common a harmless meal.”

    They would meet early like this as many were most likely slaves and would have to be in attendance on their masters. Meeting before daylight provided a time to worship early enough to still make it back to their domestic duties before their masters rose. Sometime before A.D. 165, a prominent Christian, named Justin, described Christian worship in his day:

    “[O]n the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succors the orphans and widows and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need. But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Savior on the same day rose from the dead.”

    As we can see, they were very similar in their practices to our worship practices today, showing our common heritage with them. We read the same sacred texts. We worship the same Lord. We obey the same commands. So as we celebrate our nation’s independence, let us not forget to celebrate daily the greater nation and heritage of which we are all members and citizens, along with our brothers and sisters in every nation of the world.

But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;  for you once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have RECEIVED MERCY.  Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul.  Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.  Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority,  or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right.  For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men.   Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God.  Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.  [1 Peter 2:9-17]



Depraved Hearts on Display

By Stephen Mitchell

Yazidhi girlTragedy, heartache, immense suffering, and death. Sometimes the things we hear about is more than we can process. As we are told about fifty people murdered along with some fifty more wounded in Orlando, we also hear of nineteen girls murdered in a most horrific way in the Middle East. In every case, suffering and death came at the hand of those who have yielded themselves completely to the depravity of their own hearts. It does not matter what excuse mankind uses to justify such acts, they are expressions of the evil that lies in their souls.

Jesus told us of the ultimate source of this murderous, hateful behavior. Speaking to some religious leaders who also had hatred in their souls, Jesus said,

“You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”

This demonic attitude of murderous hate has been clearly seen in the events of this past weekend. Jesus also noted that, “… out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile the man …” Every one of these men who killed, along with every one who approved of these deaths, show clearly the depraved nature of their hearts. They have shown the world the defiled nature of their souls. In spite of the claims of most of them, they have shown themselves to be, truly, children of the devil.

But they are not alone. All mankind lives under the same influence. The Apostle John wrote that “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.” This can be seen in all the acts of hatred in this world towards God and His Son Jesus, all the acts of rebellion against Their righteous standards of behavior given in Their instructions to mankind recorded in the Scriptures. All mankind is equally depraved since all mankind lies equally under the influence of the wicked one, the devil, and all are equally under God’s judgment.

In spite of this, there is a message of hope in the midst of all this suffering. Though all the world lies under the influence of the wicked one, and all the world is justly condemned because of this, yet God sent His Son Jesus to willingly suffer the penalty due every person for their rebellion against God’s righteous standard of behavior. And Jesus did this in order to offer freely to every person forgiveness, freedom from the power of the wicked one, and a restored relationship with God Himself.

This is the real message of those who actually do represent God. As Jesus Himself told His followers,

“But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. … But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men.”

God Himself “is kind to ungrateful and evil men.”. Though He could simply destroy everyone who is in rebellion against Him, yet He does them kindness by supplying them with the necessary things for life, giving them good things, family to enjoy, rain and food, and time to repent of their evil and place their trust in the sacrifice of His Son Jesus. And those who are His true followers do the same.

So we say to this world, do not be surprised by the evil that men do. They are only expressing from their hearts the influence of the wicked one. They do not and cannot represent God Himself Who is kind to men. Look, instead, for these who show love in the midst of suffering, who pray for those who mistreat them, who are kind towards those who seek to destroy them. It is only from these that you will hear the truth that you need to escape the power of the wicked one whose influence rests in your heart as well.



A letter to a fellow Christian supporting use of bathrooms of choice

By Stephen Mitchell

Dear _______,

Before you read the rest of my reply, I would like you to read three brief articles. The first is a brief statement by the American College of Pediatricians on the issue of transgenderism, officially called Gender Dysphoria.


This second article is by Paul McHugh, formerly psychiatric chief at the Johns Hopkins Hospital and a professor of psychiatry at the John Hopkins Medical School. He is not a Christian, that I know of, but has extensive experience dealing with this field.


The third article deals with the whole subject of homosexuality, transgenderism, etc, noting that there is no btransgenderiological basis for these behaviors.


Thank you for reading these.

With the above articles in mind, I hope you noted that these sexual issues are not either/or. Each person involved in them does so on the basis of choice or because of psychological factors. They are changeable. The belief that a female spirit was accidentally placed in a male body, or vice-versa, has no support in Scripture and no empirical evidence outside of Scripture. We are born male or female, determined by our biology, and discomfort with that role is produced in us by the circumstances through which we live and the culture around us. It does not arise from our biology. As such, it should be treated like any other struggle we go through or any other psychological or behavioral disorder. For example, those struggling with kleptomania are not best treated by allowing them to steal as they wish. If we do so the true owners of the items stolen become the victims. Those struggling with rage are not best treated by allowing them to express their rage whenever they please. If we do so those who suffer the psychological distress at their rage or those abused by them become the victims. Those struggling with irrational fears are not best treated by supporting and agreeing with those fears. Those falsely accused by them then also become victims of these irrational fears (think Salem Witch Trials). Racism is not best treated by allowing racists to freely express their hatred. If we do, then the object of their racism become victims of that hatred and suffer because of it. In an identical way, those struggling with the psychological disorder of Gender Dysphoria, by supporting their right to use the bathroom of their choice, make every other person in that restroom a victim of their psychological struggle. It would be no different, logically, than if we allowed those with kleptomania to steal whenever they wished, and then forced the shopkeepers to accept it.

This also allows greater opportunity for sexual offenders to enter into female bathrooms with no method of stopping them. This is a very real threat, as I pointed out to you with this article to which I linked (http://thefederalist.com/2015/11/23/a-rape-survivor-speaks-out-about-transgender-bathrooms/).

As far as being a Christian is concerned, loving a person never implies loving their behavior. The Scriptures are adamant that we love one another, and even love our enemies. If that implied that we also love their behavior then there would never be one word condemning anyone’s sin. But the Scriptures are full of condemnation of behavior. Part of loving someone is helping them by warning them of self-destructive behavior and assisting them in overcoming and changing that behavior. Alcoholism, eating disorders, and substance abuse are additional examples of destructive behaviors.

Is it loving to encourage anyone in a behavior clinically shown to be highly destructive? Sweden has been very supportive of those in the LGBT crowd for a very long time. Note this Swedish study (http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0016885). Let me quote the results of the study:

The overall mortality for sex-reassigned persons was higher during follow-up (aHR 2.8; 95% CI 1.8–4.3) than for controls of the same birth sex, particularly death from suicide (aHR 19.1; 95% CI 5.8–62.9). Sex-reassigned persons also had an increased risk for suicide attempts (aHR 4.9; 95% CI 2.9–8.5) and psychiatric inpatient care (aHR 2.8; 95% CI 2.0–3.9). Comparisons with controls matched on reassigned sex yielded similar results. Female-to-males, but not male-to-females, had a higher risk for criminal convictions than their respective birth sex controls.

Recall what the American College of Pediatricians stated: “Rates of suicide are twenty times greater among adults who use cross-sex hormones and undergo sex reassignment surgery, even in Sweden which is among the most LGBQT – affirming countries.” That is a suicide rate of 2000% compared to the non-LGBT population. Do you really want to affirm behavior with that consequence? Do you want to support behavior that has a much higher rate of cancer and other health risks? Doesn’t our society soundly condemn cigarette smoking because it leads to cancer? Why does our society not condemn this behavior when treatment also leads to a higher cancer risk?

May I remind you that, unless you make it clear to others that all people are under God’s condemnation, you can never show them their need for salvation. That means that you have to reveal to them that they are condemned by God for their sinful behavior and that this sinful behavior has horrible physical and spiritual consequences. I ask you to read carefully Ephesians 5:1-12. Notice what we are commanded in verse 11. We are to expose deeds of darkness, not support them. Denying one’s biological sex is a denial of God’s good creation. To be male or female is not a biological mistake. Transgenderism is a declaration that one’s created identity is a mistake. That in itself is sin. God made us male or female and that maleness or femaleness is determined by whether one has two X chromosomes or an X and a Y chromosome. It is not determined any other way. To deny this is to deny the most fundamental fact about our humanity. We do not love anyone by denying their created identity as a male or female, determined by their biology. To do so is to create and support a false reality and to deny that what God designed is good.

Don’t, please don’t, buy into the sinful behavior of this culture. You only dilute your own witness and make the claim that God loves evil, which is to call God a liar.

Go back to the Scriptures. Let them determine truth for you, not the culture.

As a Pastor and as your Christian brother, I urge you to allow the Holy Spirit to teach you through His Word and to forsake the evil claims of our culture.

With love,




The American Church: A Rebellious Teenager

By Stephen Mitchell

Peer pressure can be an insidious thing. Kids get into all sorts of trouble through it. A mother has been reported recently in the news who called law enforcement on her teenage daughter for being in a stolen car. It turned out that the car was car-jacked. The mom lamented that she had not raised her children that way. That sounds like every parent’s nightmare. But it is also a description of much of the American Church.Bible

The Apostle Peter, in his first letter, writes of how the Church came into existence.

“For you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God.” (1 Peter 1:23)

We have been brought into existence by the Scriptures, by God’s Word. The Scriptures created the Church community. And we are nurtured by the Scriptures as well. The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews lamented about Christians who would not grow up, needing milk now when they should be handling meat.

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food.” (Hebrews 5:12)

Here the writer of Hebrews equates milk with “the elementary principles of the oracles of God.” As a newborn needs milk to grow, so a newborn Believer in Christ needs to learn the basic principles given in God’s “oracles,” His Word.

Again, the Apostle Peter wrote, “like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation.” (1 Peter 2:2)

But the continued necessity of the Scriptures for life and growth was also expressed by others. Way back in what is probably the earliest book of the Bible, Job, Job expressed His need of God’s Word.

I have not departed from the command of His lips;

I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food.”

In fact, we are told that all of the Bible is necessary for us to become mature, responsible Believers. The Apostle Paul wrote to his protege Timothy,

“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

Just as a responsible parent gives instruction to their child with the hope that the child will listen and grow up to be a responsible adult, so the Scriptures give us instruction to help us grow into responsible adult Believers, equipped for every good work that God has prepared for us ahead of time. As the Apostle Paul wrote to the churches in Asia,

“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.“ (Ephesians 2:10)

So the Scriptures give us birth, then nurtures us as spiritual infants, then gives us spiritual meat to enable us to grow up and become useful spiritual adults, able to do the work that God has called us to do.

So, what about this peer pressure?

Our culture, of course, rejects the Scriptures as any source of truth or authority. Instead, they have their own views of truth, their own views of the purpose and roles of men and women, their own attitudes towards sexuality, and their own beliefs about origins.

So, what has this to do with the Church?

When the culture influences the Church to ignore clear statements of the Scriptures, statements long understood by the Church as meaning exactly what they say, we have submitted to the peer pressure of our culture. When the Church turns its back on statements such as, “For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day,” in order to accept the godless culture’s pronouncements, that is yielding to peer pressure to turn their backs on what they are taught through the Word.

When the Church turns its back on statements such as, “But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet” in order to accommodate the cultures revision of the male and female roles, that is yielding to the culture’s peer pressure.

And when the Church turns its back on statements such as, “For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error,” in order to accommodate the culture’s revision of God’s plan for sexuality, that is yielding to our culture’s peer pressure.

Is it any wonder that the Church in America is so weak and ineffectual? We have come to need milk and not the meat of the Word. We have, in our rebellion, turned aside to foolish pursuits, ignoring our clear instructions given to us to become mature Believers.

If we, as a Church, as a body of Believers, are going to become effective again in showing God to this world, in restraining evil, in bringing light to the spiritual darkness of our culture, we must get back to becoming mature Believers and quit turning our backs on what the Scriptures state. We need to learn again to handle the meat of the Word and quit being rebellious.

After all, as that grieving mother stated, we were not raised that way.




By Stephen Mitchell

The Book of Genesis is one of the most polarizing books in the Bible. People bring to it all sorts of presuppositions that predetermine their viewpoint of its accuracy. From its description of the origins of the Universe and all that is in it, to Israel’s right to the land, Genesis is a polarizing book. Since the Gospels quote from or allude to Genesis 1-7 and the entire New Testament quotes from or alludes to all chapters of Genesis except for chapters 31, 43 and 44, it is important to consider the accuracy of the Old Testament book of Genesis.

One of the most persistent attacks on Genesis, and the rest of the Pentateuch, is what is called the Graf-Wellhausen hypothesis. Originating before H. K. Graf in the 1700s but developed by him and subsequently by Julius Wellhausen, it posits that the Pentateuch is a late compilation of the writings of four sources: J, E, D, and P. J is the Jehovistic source from the 9th century B.C., E is the Elohistic source from the 8th century B.C., D is the book of Deuteronomy from the time of King Josiah, and P is the priestly source from the period following the exile, or the 5th century B.C.. The terms ‘Jehovistic’ and ‘Elohistic’ refers to their preferred names for God, “Jehovah (Yahweh)” being the proper name and “Elohim” the generic word ‘God,’ indicating different authors. That an author could and would use different names was rejected. The priestly document supposedly reflected the concerns of the priesthood and the Deuteronomic document supposedly reflected Levitical concerns. According to Wellhuasen’s 1877 book,

“… the Jehovistic author compiled a narrative document from the sources J and E, and this was supplemented by the addition of Deuteronomy in the time of Josiah. Leviticus 17-26 was added to the priestly document somewhat after the time of Ezekiel, while the remainder of the priestly material in the Elohistic source was compiled by Ezra. At a subsequent period the entire corpus was revised and edited to form the extant Pentateuch, perhaps by about 200 B.C.” (Harrison, 22-23)

By the 20th century, the Graf-Wellhausen hypothesis had become the accepted narrative for the origin of the Pentateuch, including Genesis, in liberal scholarship, and continues so to this day. The hypothesis has not remained static but, in the hands of various liberal scholars, has been expanded. In 1907, E. Sievers divided J, E, and P into five, three and six different sources making fifteen sources. Others have shortened sources to three or expanded them to five and frequently many more. Some rearrange them in chronological order. The large range of proposals show the emotional rather than factual basis of this hypothesis.

The hypothesis was not without its vigorous opponents. Conservative scholarship has attacked the hypothesis all along. As archaeology of the Middle East began to make leaps and bounds in the late 1800s as royal libraries were being discovered, Genesis 12-50 began to be recognized as fitting into the larger picture of the early second millennium B.C. Rather than being a fabrication to give Israel some history, Genesis was being shown to fit within the cultural and political milieu of the time it claimed its events were occurring. M. J. Selman, after an extensive discussion of early second millennium texts from Mari, Ugarit, and other places, listed thirteen cultural similarities to the passages in Genesis from the early second millennium culture (Selman, 91-139). Kenneth Kitchen listed several aspects of Genesis and the Old Testament that showed the texts were from the period they claim to be from. First, he noted how the price for slaves listed at various places in the OT reflected accurately the increasing price for slaves in the larger culture. Second, he noted how the forms of the various treaties and covenants given in the OT reflected the forms of treaties and covenants recorded in the texts of the wider culture, changing over time and that change accurately reflected in the changes in the form of treaties and covenants over time in the OT. Third, he noted how the geo-political conditions described in Genesis and the rest of the OT accurately reflect the geo-political conditions garnered from archaeology and ancient records. Fourth, the political conditions in Egypt also reflect that given in Genesis at the time Genesis claims to be occurring. Fifth, “the form of the patriarchal names themselves can help us date the Patriarchal Age. Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and even Ishmael (Abraham’s son by Hagar) have names that in their original language (Yitzchak, Ya’akov, Yoseph and Yishmael) begin with an i/y-prefix; scholars of Northwest Semitic languages call these ‘Amorite imperfective’ names” (BAR 21:02, 1995). Kitchen went on to note that, for the early second millennium B.C., of over 6,000 names, 55% of all names beginning with i/y are Amorite imperfective names. Compare this to the late second millennium names where the percentage for Amorite imperfective names is down to 30% and 25%. For the Iron Age (c. 1200 – 700 B.C.), it drops to 12%. For Assyria it drops to 1.6%. So the names of all the Patriarchs except Abraham reflects mainly the early second millennium, just as Genesis presents them (BAR 21:02).

Then there is Hebrew poetry. A simple look at the book of Psalms shows the usage of various names for God within the same composition. If we applied the Graf-Wellhausen hypothesis to the Psalms, we would have to literally shred them. For example, notice how these two passages use both Yahweh (LORD) and Elohim (God):

Lord, You have been our dwelling place in all generations.

Before the mountains were born

Or You gave birth to the earth and the world,

Even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God. (Psalm 90:1-2)


He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High

Will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.

I will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress,

My God, in whom I trust!” (Psalm 91:1-2)


The famed archeologist Cyrus Gordon rejected the JEDP hypothesis based on his observations of early Middle Eastern texts. He noted, “The urge to chop the Bible (and other ancient writing) up into sources is often due to the false assumption that a different style must mean a different author” (Gordon, 4). He continued,

One of the fragile cornerstones of the JEDP hypothesis is the notion that the mention of “Jehovah” (actually “Yahweh”) typifies a J document while “Elohim” typifies an E document. A conflation of J and E sources into JE is supposed to account for the compound name Yahweh Elohim. All this is admirably logical and for years I never questioned it. But my Ugaritic studies destroyed this kind of logic with relevant facts. At Ugarit, deities often have compound names. One deity is called Qadish-Amrar; another, Ibb-Nikkal. … The most famous is perhaps [the Egyptian god] Amon-Re… [W]hen we are told that ‘Yahweh-Elohim’ is the result of documentary conflation, we cannot accept it any more than we can understand Amon-Re to be the result of combining an ‘A’ document with an ‘R’ document (Gordon, 4-5).

A seriously flawed system of fragmentation, the Graf-Wellhausen hypothesis cannot support the weight of a fragmented, developing series of myths written to create a national and theological history for the Jews: i.e the critics view of the Old Testament. Instead, the Pentateuch, and primarily Genesis, presents details that fit very well into the cultural and geopolitical historic time period that the Pentateuch, including Genesis, claims to present. It is history, not myth.



Cyrus H. Gordon, Higher Critics and Forbidden Fruit, Christianity Today IV/4, 1959.

Roland Kenneth Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament (Peabody, MA: Prince Press, 1999).

Kenneth Kitchen, The Patriarchal Age: Myth or History?, Biblical Archaeology Review 21:02, 1995.

M. J. Selman, Comparative Customs and the Patriarchal Age in Essays on the Patriarchal Narratives, ed. A. R. Millard and D. J. Wiseman (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1980).



Utnapishtim vs. Noah: War of the Ships (Part 3)

By Stephen Mitchell

If Noah’s ship was not copied from Utnapishtim’s ship, then we have to ask, from where did these supposed Jewish myth makers get their boat pattern?

Some commentators have looked for significance in the dimensions of the Ark, seeing importance in them as multiples of 60 and 10, like the patriarchal ages, or the length times width being three times the area of the tabernacle courtyard (Wenham, 173). However, Hong, et al, also considered 12 other hull forms of barge-type in their study “by varying principal dimensions while keeping the displaced volume constant.” They considered eight seakeeping behaviors for all thirteen hull forms, concluding that the Ark “had the second best hull design, with the best hull design in this case being hull #1, which had the worst overturning stability” (https://answersingenesis.org/noahs-ark/safety-investigation-of-noahs-ark-in-a-seaway) Thus, believing that the dimensions of the Ark were simply plucked out of the air to match some other significant supposed numerology but accidentally landing on the ideal hull form for a barge-type craft designed to ride out a major flood requires some major credulity on the part of the skeptic.

Could the Jews have simply copied ship dimensions from contemporary sea-going craft? The Ark had a beam to length ratio of 1:6 and a beam to depth ratio of 1:0.667 with three decks and a roof.

The reconstructed "solar barge" of Khufu.

The reconstructed “solar barge” of Khufu.

The oldest fully preserved ship known was discovered in a pit near the Great Pyramid. It is 143′ long by 19.5′ wide giving it a beam ratio of 1:7.33, and is from the time of the Great Pyramid about the middle of the 3rd millennium B.C. Though it is called a “barge,” it did have paddles and was thus not a true barge. However it was most likely towed by another ship in moving on the Nile (Greenhill and Morrison, 131-132). The barge used to transport Hatshepsut’s obelisk had a beam to length ratio of about 1:3. For both barges everything was carried on the deck. These certainly do not resemble the Ark with its three decks and both Egyptian barges were designed with narrow bow and stern to move smoothly through the water, unlike the Ark which merely had to be stable in water with no means or provision for propulsion.

About the time of the Jew’s return from Babylon, roughly 500 B.C., the penteconter, a 50-oared ship-of-the-line, was the predominant warship used. It was also used as a merchantman. Its beam to length ratio was about 1:7 and was designed to cut through the water quickly. Merchantmen were also plying the waters with a single deck and hold below, again with narrowed hulls at the bow and stern. Multiple decked craft were not used at this time nor were barges with multiple decks known.

“The freighters that brought grain to Athens or were the standard carriers for overseas transport of wine and oil were … capable of holding 100 to 150 tons on the average, while vessels capable of hauling 250 or mIllustrerad Verldshistoria band I Ill 117.pngore were not uncommon. (What the dimensions of the last were is anybody’s guess; the smaller American coastal packets of the first half of the nineteenth century, which had a carrying capacity in the neighborhood of 250 tons, ran 80 to 85 feet long, 23 to 25 feet wide, and 11 to 12 feet deep in the hold.) … The ordinary workhorse freighter of the Mediterranean was not so large …: it probably carried about 80 tons or so on average; it tramped leisurely from port to port, picking up and delivering any and every sort of cargo; and it took its chances on wind, weather, and pirates” (Casson, 114).

There were no ships or barges similar in shape, definitely not in size, nor in purpose to the Ark for the Jews to draw upon for a more reasonable alternative to Utnapishtim’s cube. The Ark’s carrying capacity was about 21,000 tonnes, far exceeding anything on the waters of their day (Snelling, 36). All-in-all, there does not seem to be any way for the Jews to have come up with such a craft, unless, of course, they were relating details of an actual craft designed for the purpose for which the Jews recorded it. Certainly the Ark’s beam to length ratio of 1:6 is appropriate for a barge and similar to but different from those ships designed to make their way through the water.

Noah’s ship could not have been copied from Utnapishtim’s, nor from water craft of their era. So the claim that the Jews simply copied from the Babylonian flood account, making a few alterations for their own purposes, is an unreasonable claim. Then from where did their account come?

There is one interesting detail in the Gilgamesh Epic that I mentioned in the first post: that of Utnapishtim building a frame first for his ship and then fastening on the planking. No early ships or boats were made this way. It was not until around 1,000 A.D. that we begin to see this method of shipbuilding. All known ancient shipbuilding was done by fastening planks together up to a certain point and then inserting framing for stiffening. This method of shipbuilding is called ‘shell construction.’ “[T]he vessels of classical Greece and Rome and their Bronze Age predecessors back to the fourteenth century BC at least were smooth skinned edge-joined shell-built structures with inserted frames” (Greenhill and Morrison, 50). However, from modern shipbuilding techniques, we know that ships as large as Noah’s must be built using frame, or ‘skeleton,’ construction. Though Utnapishtim’s ship is untenable as a water craft, yet it would have had to have been built using skeleton construction, as would have Noah’s craft. This detail seems to be an echo from an actual event, the building of a very large ship in antiquity.

It would be more reasonable to accept the account in Genesis as original and the Gilgamesh Epic as a faint echo of Genesis modified through much retelling but with some of the details retaining their accuracy. And we could conclude this, if Genesis were actually much older than the fifth or sixth century B.C.

That will be a discussion for a later post.


Lionel Casson, The Ancient Mariners (Princeton, New jersey: Princeton University Press, 1991)

Basil Greenhill with John Morrison, The Archaeology of Boats and Ships: An Introduction (Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 1995)

S. W. Hong, et al, Safety Investigation of Noah’s Ark in a Seaway (https://answersingenesis.org/noahs-ark/safety-investigation-of-noahs-ark-in-a-seaway). Accessed 9/22/2015.

Andrew A. Snelling, Earth’s Catastrophic Past, vol. 1 (Dallas, Texas: Institute for Creation Research, 2009)

Gordon J. Wenham, Word Biblical Commentary: Genesis 1-15 (Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1987)




Utnapishtim vs. Noah: War of the Ships (Part 2)

By Stephen Mitchell

Now it is time to consider the ship of Noah, commonly known as Noah’s Ark. We learn this story from the Old Testament, the book of Genesis, chapters 6 and 7. Here is what the text says, using the New American Standard, 1995, translation:

Chapter 6

13 Then God said to Noah, “The end of all flesh has come before Me; for the earth is filled with violence because of them; and behold, I am about to destroy them with the earth.

14 “Make for yourself an ark of gopher wood; you shall make the ark with rooms, and shall cover it inside and out with pitch.

15 “This is how you shall make it: the length of the ark three hundred cubits, its breadth fifty cubits, and its height thirty cubits.

16 “You shall make a window for the ark, and finish it to a cubit from the top; and set the door of the ark in the side of it; you shall make it with lower, second, and third decks.

Chapter 7

13 On the very same day Noah and Shem and Ham and Japheth, the sons of Noah, and Noah’s wife and the three wives of his sons with them, entered the ark,

14 they and every beast after its kind, and all the cattle after their kind, and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth after its kind, and every bird after its kind, all sorts of birds.

15 So they went into the ark to Noah, by twos of all flesh in which was the breath of life.

16 Those that entered, male and female of all flesh, entered as God had commanded him; and the LORD closed it behind him.

17 Then the flood came upon the earth for forty days, and the water increased and lifted up the ark, so that it rose above the earth.

18 The water prevailed and increased greatly upon the earth, and the ark floated on the surface of the water.

19 The water prevailed more and more upon the earth, so that all the high mountains everywhere under the heavens were covered.

20 The water prevailed fifteen cubits higher, and the mountains were covered.

Noah’s boat is 300 cu long, by 50 cu wide, by 30 cu tall. It at least sounds more like a ship than Utnapishtim’s boat. So how big was it? Since Noah’s boat has been the subject of much discussion and research, the following extensive quote will give the necessary details.

Most commentators adopt without question the Hebrews’ common cubit [17.5 inches], which is virtually identical to the Egyptian shorter cubit. This would logically make sense with Moses, a Hebrew with an Egyptian upbringing, writing in the first instance to Hebrews. However, most commentators simplify the calculations by adopting a rounded figure of 18 inches or 45 centimeters for the cubit. When all these considerations are taken into account, a conservative estimate for the dimensions of the Ark would be 450 feet (approximately 135 meters) long, 75 feet (22.5 meters) wide, and 45 feet (13.5 meters) high. Since the Ark had three decks (Genesis 6:16), it had a total deck area of approximately 98,800 square feet (approximately 9,100 square meters), which is equivalent to slightly more than the area of twenty standard basketball courts. The total volume of the Ark would also have been approximately 1.45 million cubic feet (approximately 41,000 cubic meters), which is approximately equal to the volumetric capacity of 540 standard livestock cars used on modern U.S. railroads. The displacement tonnage of the Ark, defined as the weight of seawater displaced by the volume of the ship when submerged to its design draft, assumed to be 15 cubits (half its height) because Genesis 7:20 refers to the Flood waters prevailing higher than 15 cubits over the mountains so that the Ark cleared them, would have been almost 20,700 tons (more than 21,000 tonnes). The gross tonnage of the Ark, which is a measurement of cubic space rather than weight—one ton in this case being equivalent to 100 cubic feet of usable storage space—would have been about 14,500 tons (approximately 14,730 tonnes), which would place it well within the category of large metal oceangoing ships today. (Snelling, 35-36)

If one does not round up the 17.5 inches to 18, the boat would have been 437.5 feet long, 72.92 feet wide, and 43.75 feet tall.


Noah's Ark

With that information, let’s consider its performance under the stated conditions of a flood. Since the only researchers who have taken the Ark seriously are creationists, it is to them that we will have to look for information on the seaworthiness of the Ark.

Note the ratio of length to width of the Ark’s design: 300 cubits to 50 cubits, or approximately 450 feet long to 75 feet wide. This ratio of 6 to 1 is well known in naval design for optimum stability. Many modern naval engineers, when designing cargo ships to battleships, utilize this same basic design ratio.

The Ark’s long, slender shape would have maximized cargo space and kept the vessel pointed into wave trends, thereby minimizing chances of it being broadsided by a wave that could capsize it. If we could take a cross-section of the Ark, we would see a pair of forces consisting of the Ark’s weight acting downward and buoyancy acting upward that form what naval engineers term a “righting couple.” This pair of forces acting in opposite, but parallel, directions tends to force the vessel to “right” itself when tilted. As shown in the figure, for any degree of tilt up to 90 degrees, the couple would right the Ark and return it to an upright orientation. (J. Morris, 13).

The Ark’s seaworthiness was as fully researched as possible and recorded in a paper originally published in the Proceedings of the International Conference on Creation Research by members of the Korean Research Institute of Ships and Engineering. The paper is titled “Safety Investigation of Noah’s Ark in a Seaway” (http://worldwideflood.org/ark/safety_aig/safety_aig.htm). In the introduction it states,

In this study, the safety of the Ark in the severe environments imposed by the waves and winds during the Genesis Flood was investigated.

In general, the safety of a ship in a seaway is related to three major safety parameters — structural safety, overturning stability, and seakeeping quality. Good structural safety ensures the hull against damage caused mainly by wave loads. Enough overturning stability is required to prevent the ship from capsizing due to the heeling moment caused by winds and waves. Good seakeeping quality is essential for the effectiveness and safety of the personnel and cargo on board.

Information about the hull is of course available from the existing references to Noah’s Ark, and from the reasonable (common sense) assumptions of naval engineers. In order to avoid any error due to the lack of complete hull information, we introduced the concept of ’relative safety’, which was defined as the relative superiority in safety compared to other hull forms. For this purpose, 12 different hull forms with the same displacement were generated systemically by varying principal dimensions of the Ark. The concept of relative safety of a ship has been introduced by several researchers, such as Comstock and Keane, Hosoka et al., Bales and Hong et al., to analyze the seakeeping quality. In this paper, we extend the relative safety concept for the seakeeping quality to the concept of total safety, including structural and overturning safety.

They noted:

“Because the maximum stress was smaller than the allowable stress, the Ark could be said to have had safe structural performance” (Section 5.3).

“… it had high structural safety” (Section 5.4).

“… the Ark was 13 times more stable than the standard for safety required by the [American Bureau of Shipping’s] rule” (Section 6.2).

“… flooding of the Ark would not have occurred until the waves became 47.5m [155.84 ft.] high, when the limiting heeling angle was 31o“(Section 7).

“In conclusion, the Ark as a drifting ship, is thus believed to have had a reasonable-beam-draft ratio for the safety of the hull, crew and cargo in the high winds and waves imposed on it by the Genesis Flood” (Section 8).

Henry M. Morris, Ph.D in Hydraulic Engineering, also published a paper on the design of the Ark. In referencing the stability of the Ark he wrote:

… its relatively great length (six times its width) would tend to keep it from being subjected to wave forces of equal magnitude through its whole length, since wave fields tend to occur in broken and varying patterns, rather than in a series of long uniform crest-trough sequences, and this would be particularly true in the chaotic hydrodynamic phenomena of the Flood. The Ark would, in fact, tend to be lined up by the spectrum of hydrodynamic forces and currents in such a direction that its long axis would be parallel to the predominant direction of wave and current movement. Thus it would act as a semi-streamlined body, and the net drag forces would usually be minimal. In every way, therefore, the Ark as designed was highly stable, admirably suited for its purpose of riding out the storms of the year of the great Flood (H. Morris, 142).

So with Utnapishtim’s ship a complete disaster in a flood and Noah’s ship an ideal design for a flood, how could the Jews have copied Noah’s ship from Utnapishtim’s? Obviously, they could not and did not. If they did not copy it, then from where did they get the parameters for such an excellently designed barge? That will be the subject of the third post in this series.


Bible, New American Standard, 1995 Update.

S. W. Hong, et al, Safety Investigation of Noah’s Ark in a Seaway (http://worldwideflood.org/ark/safety_aig/safety_aig.htm). Accessed 9/14/’15.

Henry M. Morris, “The Ark of Noah,” Creation Research Science Quarterly, vol. 8, no. 2 (Sep. 1971)

John Morris, “The Survival of Noah’s Ark,” Acts and Facts, vol. 42, no. 1 (Jan 2013).

Andrew A. Snelling, Earth’s Catastrophic Past, vol. 1 (Dallas, Texas: Institute for Creation Research, 2009)



Utnapishtim vs. Noah: War of the Ships (Part 1)

By Stephen Mitchell

Recently a good friend pointed me to a family member’s blog in which the claim was made that the Genesis account of the Flood was derived from the Babylonian flood account in the Gilgamesh Epic. This claim has been made by liberal scholars since the discovery of the Epic in the nineteenth century. Along with this goes the claim that pretty much the entire Old Testament was a fabrication by the Jews, after returning to Israel from Babylon, to create a history for themselves. In these posts I want to compare the two accounts to consider the likelihood that the Genesis ship was derived from the Gilgamesh Epic ship.

The Gilgamesh Epic is recorded on twelve clay tablets discovered in the palace of Ashurbanipal, the grandson of Sennacherib. This Epic, among many other things, records an account of an ancient flood in which all mankind was killed except for Utnapishtim, his family, and others, who were in the ship with Utnapishtim. This flood account is recorded on tablet eleven, the largest single tablet of the twelve. It can be seen in the British Museum in London.

Flood Tablet

In the account, Utnapishtim tricks the people from the town of Shuruppak to labor in building, provisioning, and filling his ship.

The Gilgamesh ship is rather interesting. Here is how the tablet reads (words in square brackets “[ ]” are added by the translator to complete fragmentary or supply missing words. Words in parentheses “( )” are added for clarity. Italics are used to indicate a questionable translation.):

48   With the first glow of dawn,

49   The land was gathered [about me].

        (Lines 50-53 are too fragmentary to translate)

54   The little ones [carr]ied bitumen,

55   While the grown ones brought [all else] that was needful.

56   On the fifth day I laid her framework.

57   One (whole) acre was its floor space,

              Ten dozen cubits the height of each of her walls,

58   Ten dozen cubits each edge of the square deck.

59   I laid out the contours (and) joined her together.

60   I provided her with six decks,

61   Dividing her (thus) into seven parts.

62   Her floor plan I divided into nine parts.

63   I hammered water plugs into her.

64   I saw to the punting-poles and laid in supplies.

65   Six ‘sar’ (measures) of bitumen I poured into the furnace,

66   Three sar of asphalt [I also] poured inside.

67   Three sar of oil the basket-bearers carried,

68   Aside from the one sar of oil which the calking (sic) consumed,

69   And the two sar of oil [which] the shipman stowed away.

70   Bullocks I slaughtered for the [people],

71   And I killed sheep every day.

72   Must, red wine, oil, and white wine

73   [I gave the] workmen [to drink], as though river water,

74   That they might feast as on New Year’s Day.

75   I op[ened …] ointment, applying (it) to my hand.

76   [On the sev]enth [day] the ship was completed.

77   [The launching] was very difficult,

78   So that they had to shift the floor planks above and below,

79   [Until] two-thirds of [the structure] [had g]one [into the water].

       (Pritchard, 93-94)

“Sar,” in lines 65, 66, 67, and 69, is the Babylonian number 3,600. The measure is not supplied though it has been assumed that it is the Babylonian sutu of “a little over two gallons” (Rehwinkle, 157, note 12). In line 63, the “water plugs” probably refer to wood driven between the planks to make them water-tight (Ibid., note 10). From lines 57 and 58, the cubit was most likely the Babylonian royal cubit of about 19.8 inches (Snelling, 35).

From the text, Utnapishtim’s ship is a perfect cube. At ten dozen, 120, cubits on a side, it would have been 198 feet on each side with decks of about 28 feet 4 inches height and rooms 22 feet square. This does not account for wall thicknesses, etc. Again, from the text, it seems like it took Utnapishtim’s crew three days to build the entire structure.

One fascinating detail is in line 56. If we take “framework” to mean the internal structure of the cube and then “contours” of line 59 to refer to the planking, we have an historical anomaly.

There are, basically, two ways to construct a wooden ship. The one we are familiar with, because it has been standard practice in the Western world for centuries, is to set up a skeleton of keel and ribs—or frames, to give them their technical name—and then fasten to this a skin of planks. The other method, favored in Africa, Asia, and certain parts of northern Europe, is just the reverse: first a shell is erected by pinning each plank to its neighbors, and then a certain amount of framing is inserted to stiffen the shell. In northern Europe planks are set to overlap each other and pinned together by driving rivets through where the thickness is double. Elsewhere planks are set edge to edge and are held together by pegs or staples or nails or are even sewn together with twine made from coconut husks or split bamboo or whatever fiber happens to be available. (Casson, 27-28)

This second method of fastening the planks together first and then adding a framework of some type was used in all known ancient ship-building, not changing to the framework first construction until many centuries A.D. (Casson, 173-175). Therefore, Utnapishtim’s ship-building could be considered an historical anomaly as it is the best known way today to build a large sturdy craft but was never known to be used in ancient times.

Of course, imagining a ship that is a perfect cube shows a complete lack of any practical knowledge of seaworthiness. While it would be quite difficult to tip over if it had enough ballast in the base, it would be most likely fatal in any vigorously rough sea with roll, pitch, and yaw. Nothing in its structure would align it along the line of wave motion. Instead, the waves would spin it like a top and dash it around. As a craft, it would be unstable in the extreme. Also necessary to consider would be the water pressure on the hull. With exactly half the ship below the water line, the pressure on the hull at the lowest point would be slightly over 43 psi (http://www.engineeringtoolbox.com/hydrostatic-pressure-water-d_1632.html) or a little over 3 tons of pressure on each square foot of hull. This would necessitate an extremely large framework at the bottom of the cube.

The fact that it was launched does not mesh well with its intended purpose of surviving a flood. A flood would simply lift it from where it was built. Line 64 mentions punting-poles. These were used to move along a craft in relatively shallow water but would be useless in a flood, especially from 198 plus feet, if one could imagine even holding and manipulating a pole 198 plus feet long.

All-in-all, except for the framework first construction, Utnapishtim’s ship seems like a vessel dreamed up by a city dweller with no concept of seaworthiness or conditions in deep water and only a slight knowledge of small ships punted about in relatively shallow and calm water, something we should not be surprised at in ancient mythology beside the shores of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.


Lionel Casson, The Ancient Mariners (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1991)

James B. Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts Referring to the Old Testament (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1969)

Alfred M. Rehwinkel, The Flood in the Light of the Bible, Geology and Archaeology (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1951)

Andrew A. Snelling, Earth’s Catastrophic Past, vol. 1 (Dallas, Texas: Institute for Creation Research, 2009)




Gratuitous Evil and the Sovereignty of God

By Stephen Mitchell


“Gratuitous Evil” is defined simply as pointless evil, evil that does not accomplish or allow for a greater good. Rowe described the concept, “[t]here exist instances of intense suffering which an omnipotent, omniscient being could have prevented without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse” (Rowe, 336). Rowe’s understanding has become the standard way of describing gratuitous evil. For example, Coley defines it as “any evil that does not in some way lead to a greater good or prevent some worse evil” (Coley, 48). Assuming that God would not allow such brings up the question, if gratuitous evil does exist, does it contradict the doctrine of God’s sovereignty? In other words, as Hume noted of God, “Is he willing to prevent evil, but not able? then he is impotent” (Hume, n.p.) This paper will attempt to answer this question.


The nontheist has traditionally regarded evil as proof against the existence of an omnipotent, omnibenevolent God. Mackie, for example, in a discussion of the free-will solution to the problem of evil, noted “. . . if men’s wills are really free this must mean that even God cannot control them, that is, that God is no longer omnipotent” (Mackie, 209-210). For the nontheist, “[a]n omniscient, wholly good being would prevent the occurrence of any intense suffering it could, unless it could not do so without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse” (Rowe, 336). But, in the case of most intense suffering, especially among the innocent, can there be shown a subsequent greater good that obtained from the suffering or a greater evil that was prevented? The nontheist says “No!” For the nontheist, the existence of evil and, argued more recently, gratuitous evil, provides a strong argument against the existence of a supreme being who is both wholly good and omnipotent. Rowe put it clearly when he wrote:

“It seems quite unlikely that all the instances of intense suffering occurring daily in our world are intimately related to the occurrence of greater goods or the prevention of evils at least as bad; and even more unlikely, should they somehow all be so related, than an omnipotent, omniscient being could not have achieved at least some of those goods (or prevented some of those evils) without permitting the instances of intense suffering that are supposedly related to them. In the light of our experience and knowledge of the variety and scale of human and animal suffering in our world, the idea that none of this suffering could have been prevented by an omnipotent being without thereby losing a greater good or permitting an evil at least as bad seems an extraordinary absurd idea, quite beyond our belief” (337-338).

And Hume would find himself in agreement with Rowe.

“But there is no view of human life, or of the condition of mankind, from which, without the greatest violence, we can infer the moral attributes, or learn that infinite benevolence, conjoined with infinite power and infinite wisdom, which we must discover by the eyes of faith alone” (Hume, n.p.)

All agree that one cannot see most of the greater good that theists frequently insist upon. To the nontheist, evil in general brings about very little, if any, good in this world. The apparent gratuitousness of evil belies either the omnibenevolence, or the omnipotence, or the very existence of God for the nontheist.


The theist, to some extent, has agreed with the nontheist that gratuitous evil does deny the omnipotence and/or omnibenevolence of God. To overcome the objection, the theist has traditionally held to the position that gratuitous evil does not exist.

“Central to the ‘Greater-Good’ theodicy is the denial of gratuitous evil. It maintains that God is justified in permitting only that evil which will bring about a greater good or prevent an evil equally bad or worse. Such a premise has been accepted by the vast majority of Christian philosophers throughout the history of Christendom and has been used as a means to defend a position of classical theism against the problem of evil” (Brubaker, 65).

Geisler and Bocchino insisted, “[o]ur not knowing all of the good purposes God has for pain and suffering doesn’t mean that there are no good purposes” (239). Groothuis wrote, “[a]ll evils serve some justifiable purpose in God’s economy” (638). Gerstner also accepted that evil is not without a good purpose. “Much that we call evil only appears to be so because our finite judgment lacks perspective. But even real evil may frequently, perhaps always, be of benefit to ourselves and others” (20). Swinburne concluded “that it follows from the Principle of Credulity that bad states for which no greater-good defence (sic) can apparently be provided must count against the existence of God” (29).
So, for the nontheist, the omnipotent, omnibenevolent God is denied based on gratuitous evil and, for most theists, gratuitous evil is denied based on the omnipotent, omnibenevolent God. Both agree that God’s nature is incompatible with gratuitous evil.
But, as Brubaker has suggested:

“Perhaps theists have been defending the existence of God from the wrong angle. Instead of denying gratuitous suffering and postulating the greater good stemming from every evil, the more consistent and logical approach may very well be to accept the reality of gratuitous evil and then to attempt to prove that such evil does not count against the existence of an omniscient, omnipotent, wholly good Being” (71).

His point is well taken.


For the Christian theist, a discussion of the existence of gratuitous evil must begin with the revelation of God. Do the Scriptures present the Christian with any instances of gratuitous evil?
In Jer 7.31 God states, “They have built the high places of Topheth, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I did not command, and it did not come into My mind.” This last phrase was repeated with the same context in Jer 19.5 and 32.35. In what sense did God say “it did not come into My mind?” It cannot be that He was surprised at it as He warned them against this very practice in Lev 18.21 and warned Israel what He would do to anyone who practiced such evil in Lev 20.2-5. Instead, “God disclaims any connection with this hideous practice” (Feinberg, 77). Now if God is disclaiming any connection with this infant sacrifice, then surely that would be an evil about which God had no plans other than the judgment He described in Jer 7.32-34 and 19.6-13. It would seem to fit the description of a gratuitous evil, one which occurred without preventing a worse evil or bringing about a greater good.
Additional passages one might consider are Genesis 6.5-7 and 11-12. There God said of the earth that it was totally corrupt, filled with violence, and that the wickedness of man was an expression of the evil intention of every thought of his heart. The fact that God was sorry He had made man and grieved, determined to completely annihilate man and animal except for the few in the ark, would lend support to the rampant evil being unable to produce a greater good or prevent a greater evil. All God could do was wipe them out and start over.

“Verse 12 intentionally recalls v. 5, where ‘the LORD saw’ the intensity of human evil (‘every,’ ‘all’), and 1:31, where ‘the LORD saw’ the ‘good’ earth he had made. Here ‘God saw’ that the ‘good’ earth was now corrupt, and the corruption was all-inclusive (‘all people’), excepting Noah. For this reason ‘only Noah was left’ from the earth (7:23). The burden of guilt rests with man, although the earth and all its creatures suffer with him. ‘Their ways’ reiterates that sin is not an isolated event here or there: corruption pervades the lifestyle of the antediluvian population. They are corrupt to the cultural core” (Matthews, 360).

The passages considered appear to show that gratuitous evil is a reality. Now it would also appear to be true that there could be a good brought about from these instances that is beyond our human understanding. As Geisler stated, “God knows a good purpose for all evil, even if we do not. Simply because finite minds cannot conceive of a good purpose for some evil does not mean that there is none” (Geisler, 222). But if this were true it would be reasonable to expect that God would have explained someplace in His revelation that He has a good purpose for every evil since, for almost all evil, man cannot see the good. Yet, God never declared this in Scripture. He does state that He overcomes the evil intent in some circumstances but these are not given to us in such a way as to conclude that He planned the evil to occur in order to bring about the good.


So, if gratuitous evil does exist, what does it imply about the sovereignty of God? Does it mean that God is unable to control His creation? Again, one must answer by looking to the Scriptures.
The Scriptures are emphatic that God’s sovereignty is not in any way curtailed. His power and decisions cannot be thwarted or changed.

Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, and the one who formed you from the womb, “I, the LORD, am the maker of all things, stretching out the heavens by Myself and spreading out the earth all alone, causing the omens of boasters to fail, making fools out of diviners, causing wise men to draw back and turning their knowledge into foolishness, confirming the word of His servant and performing the purpose of His messengers” (Isa 44.24‑26a).

And again, “I am God. Even from eternity I am He, And there is none who can deliver out of My hand; I act and who can reverse it?” (Isa 43.12b-13). Or, as Nebuchadnezzar stated after God released him from his boanthropy:
All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, But He does according to His will in the host of heaven And among the inhabitants of earth; And no one can ward off His hand Or say to Him, ‘What have You done?‘ (Dan 4.35).

That God’s sovereignty and power is absolute is seen in His destruction of the earth with the flood, the partings of the Red Sea and the Jordan for Israel, the provision of manna and clothes that did not wear out, His calling Cyrus to do His will 150 years before Cyrus’ reign, the fear of obedient Jehoshaphat by the surrounding nations and so many other events in Scripture. But if God is so sovereignly in control of all things, how can gratuitous evil exist?
Understanding the answer to this question must begin with understanding the nature of the actions by God’s created free moral agents. God gave His moral agents free will, freedom of choice in their actions.

“[W]hen we use the term ‘free will’ we mean what is called libertarian freedom: Given choices A and B, one can literally choose to do either one, no circumstances exist that are sufficient to determine one’s choice; a person’s choice is up to him, and if he does one of them, he could have done otherwise, or at least he could have refrained from acting at all” (Moreland and Craig, 240)

God created man as a free moral agent able to make free choices. This freedom meant freedom to choose to do good but also freedom to choose to do evil.

“Now God can create free creatures, but He can’t cause or determine them to do only what is right. For if He does so, then they aren’t significantly free after all; they do not do what is right freely. To create creatures capable of moral good, therefore, He must create creatures capable of moral evil; and He can’t give these creatures the freedom to perform evil and at the same time prevent them from doing so” (Plantinga, 30)

God made man perfect and without fault and placed him in a perfectly good creation without any defect of any kind. But God also gave man freedom of choice with the option of obeying God or disobeying Him. In giving this freedom to man God also gave man a test, a choice to do good or evil. Man chose to do evil. “Because he was over creation, all creation felt the consequences of sin. From this flows (either directly or indirectly) all suffering and pain in this world” (Little, 45). “Because man was lord over creation, when man fell, it affected all of creation and this explains natural evil (Ro. 8:22)” (Ibid., 47).
In order to restrain or limit the amount of evil in this world, God initially provided for man a moral sense of right and wrong, written on his heart (Rom 2.14-15), along with knowledge of God Himself through nature (Rom 1.19-20). Then God later added the written revelation of Himself (Heb 1.1), followed by coming to earth in person to show us His character (Joh 14.8-9). Rather than violating the freedom of choice He gave man, God has labored to persuade man to turn to God and forsake man’s evil. For example, when God spoke to Cain about his hatred of his brother, Abel, God could have simply stopped him, but instead, God worked to persuade him to choose what is right and to warn him of the consequences (Gen 4.3-12). Another example is God’s dealings with Israel. “God’s respect for His unfaithful bride, Israel (seen in Hosea and other prophetic writings), pleading with her to return, is a far more obvious and repeated expression of God’s way of dealing with His sinful creation” (Middelman, 64). Rather than God forcing Israel’s obedience and worship, God pleads for it. So, in one way, God restrains evil by pleading with man for the good.
But what if man does not listen? God has given man himself the responsibility of restraining the evil of those who refuse to listen and obey God. We see this in His institution of human government. As Paul wrote in Rom 13.3‑4:

For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.

God gave man knowledge of right and wrong so man could restrain himself, and God gave human government the responsibility of restraining those who refuse to restrain themselves. The net effect is that man will suffer the effects of evil that man himself allows. This system admits the occurrence of gratuitous evil.

“God has not obligated Himself either by promise or covenantal word to bring ‘good’ out of evil—He has only promised to redeem men from evil (Gen. 3:15). However, at certain points and under certain circumstances God can (and has), when it is consistent with His character and purpose intervened in the affairs of men because of His goodness, in answer to the prayer of His people, or because of His grace. Some evil in this world is without purpose and God is under no obligation to do anything with it except condemn it. God’s commandments are designed to diminish the amount of evil in this world, so it is not so much that man should expect God to bring ‘good’ from evil, but that man should refrain from doing evil. God may, for His own good reasons, bring some good from some evil, but it is not as an explanation for why the evil occurred—the ‘good’ most often is in spite of the evil” (Little, 47).

God’s sovereignty is seen in the times He steps into history to overcome evil with good, to render judgment upon the wicked, to answer the prayers of His people, and in His actions guiding the world to fulfill His ultimate plan for history. God has informed man that judgment is coming (Gen 2.16-17 and Heb 9.27). What man does in response to His warning is on man’s shoulders alone. God is without fault or blame. God will ultimately accomplish His good purposes (2Pet 2.9-10). But, in the meantime:

Let the one who does wrong, still do wrong; and the one who is filthy, still be filthy; and let the one who is righteous, still practice righteousness; and the one who is holy, still keep himself holy. ‘Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.’ Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter by the gates into the city. Outside are the dogs and the sorcerers and the immoral persons and the murderers and the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying” (Rev 22.11-15).

So the answer to the question is: the existence of gratuitous evil does not contradict the sovereignty of God.



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