The Will of God and Clobber Verses

And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.Give us this day our daily bread,  and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” – Matt 6:7-13

There was a day and age in Christendom when the Bible was only written in Latin, and the only people who could read it were the priests. We called those the Dark Ages for good reason. Then Gutenberg’s printing press allowed for mass production (though his Bible was still in Latin), and Luther translated the Bible into German (or one of its dialects at the time) – times were changing dramatically. Today we all have Bibles, which is a beautiful thing. We can all access the Word of God.

This radical change in free access to the Bible introduced something that we had (by comparison) less of in the Dark Ages – disagreement over interpretation. If folks get to read and think for themselves, they sometimes find that they disagree on what the Bible means. There is no Pope to settle the disagreements (not for protestants, anyway) so we just have to debate and wrangle and grapple with what is true and right. This, I argue, is not a bad thing. Organic things (like people) grow through trial and difficulty, and doing the “mental gymnastics” of understanding the Bible is a helpful thing.

As disagreements have cropped up time and again we have seen the introduction of the concept of the “clobber verse” – a verse that so obviously and vehemently contradicts a theological construct that it leaves no room for debate.

By way of example, I remember having several debates in college with students who wanted to justify their continued practice of having pre-marital sex with a boyfriend or girlfriend. They would say things like “well, I’m a christian, and she’s a christian, and we love each other, and the Bible says that love covers a multitude of sins … so it’s OK.” To this we would respond simply with 1 Cor 6:9-10:

“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality,nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” [ESV]

Clobber verse. Christians take it very seriously when you tell them they will not inherit the kingdom of God. Of course the message has to be delivered with mercy. Note that it does not say “anyone who has ever committed these sins” – it is all given in a present tense, implying that it is those who live in a continual practice of fornication who are in trouble. It doesn’t stop there though, here in one fell swoop Paul deals with idolatry, adultery, homosexual acts, theft, greed, drunkenness (which is not the same as drinking), reviling (abusive language), and swindling (e.g., selling used cars … OK, maybe that’s a bit unfair).

I was sitting in church this Sunday and the preacher came across another such clobber verse, though this one is not in relation to fornication but rather Word-of-Faith theology (WoF).

Recall that WoF is not simply the fraudulent “prosperity gospel” – there are plenty of WoF types who have rejected the obvious errors of prosperity doctrine. Ultimately WoF is about self-worship. It replaces God’s sovereignty with man’s (usually referring to “dominion” instead of sovereignty … because that would be a tough sell). It replaces God’s will with man’s will. It ultimately puts man at the center of the equation, with God responding as an automaton to words spoken in faith.

In various times and places this has led WoF preachers to eschew the will of God. They will say silly things like “don’t pray for God’s will to be done” but instead “declare what you want” and “pray it in faith” and “pray the promises of scripture over your life” (they always try to tie their New Age thought back to the Bible somehow).

This type of silliness is subject to so many refutations from scripture that it boggles the mind, and yet they persist. For instance, consider the Lord Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, who said “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matt 26:39) and again “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done” (Matt 26:42). He was submitted to the will of God even though He clearly preferred to not go through the crucifixion.

On Sunday we found ourselves in another clobber verse – James 4:13-16:

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.

It’s a simple message. It doesn’t leave wiggle room for “faith in my faith” and declaring the promises you want to be true. He says quite clearly if the Lord wills – everything we hope or dream or desire in this life is subject to the Lord’s will. It is how Jesus taught us to pray. It is how Jesus prayed in the garden.

For a preacher to say “don’t pray for the will of God to be done” represents a clear departure from a very straight forward message of scripture. And yet they will (not all preachers, of course, but WoFers). If you ever find yourself sitting in a service where a preacher launches into such a diatribe against praying for God’s will to be done, that’s a good time to leave.

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3 Responses to The Will of God and Clobber Verses

  1. Do you have any sources describing a time when (1) the Bible was written only in Latin and (2) only scholars could read Latin?

    • nomasir says:

      It’s an excellent point – likely demonstrating my “European” bias. We stipulate that (a) there were always non-latin translations of the Bible because it’s original authorship was never in Latin (Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic in places); and that (b) the lack of access from the common man was heightened by this Roman Catholic Church’s “Latin-only” disposition … many commoners couldn’t read their own languages (though more could read them than could Latin) or afford to own Bibles (again, not everybody was destitute, but there were certainly many who were and books weren’t cheap, the Kindle Fire not yet being invented); and (c) this really was as much related to Roman Catholicism, which was the only viable denomination in much of Europe at the time.

      Wikipedia actually has a nice article on the Latin Vulgate translation. I know, Wikipedia is hardly authoritative – but they do generally provide sources, such as the statement of the council of trent.

      As regarding the Latin, the council of Trent says: “But if any one receive not, as sacred and canonical, the said books entire with all their parts, as they have been used to be read in the Catholic Church, and as they are contained in the old Latin vulgate edition; and knowingly and deliberately contemn the traditions aforesaid; let him be anathema.” [emphasis added]

      It’s actually a pretty cool read once you get past the introductions. These guys at Trent were battling more than just translation into common languages, but protestantism as a whole. They outlawed commoners from trying to interpret scriptural meaning:

      “Furthermore, in order to restrain petulant spirits, It decrees, that no one, relying on his own skill, shall,—in matters of faith, and of morals pertaining to the edification of Christian doctrine, —wresting the sacred Scripture to his own senses, presume to interpret the said sacred Scripture contrary to that sense which holy mother Church,—whose it is to judge of the true sense and interpretation of the holy Scriptures,—hath held and doth hold; or even contrary to the unanimous consent of the Fathers; even though such interpretations were never (intended) to be at any time published. Contraveners shall be made known by their Ordinaries, and be punished with the penalties by law established.”

      They even went after “printers” –

      “And wishing, as is just, to impose a restraint, in this matter, also on printers, who now without restraint,—thinking, that is, that whatsoever they please is allowed them,—print, without the license of ecclesiastical superiors, the said books of sacred Scripture, and the notes and comments upon them of all persons indifferently, with the press ofttimes unnamed, often even fictitious, and what is more grievous still, without the author’s name; and also keep for indiscriminate sale books of this kind printed elsewhere; (this Synod) ordains and decrees, that, henceforth, the sacred Scripture, and especially the said old and vulgate edition, be printed in the most correct manner possible; and that it shall not be lawful for any one to print, or cause to be printed, any books whatever, on sacred matters, without the name of the author; nor to sell them in future, or even to keep them, unless they shall have been first examined, and approved of, by the Ordinary; under pain of the anathema and fine imposed in a canon of the last Council of Lateran: and, if they be Regulars, besides this examination and approval, they shall be bound to obtain a license also from their own superiors, who shall have examined the books according to the form of their own statutes. As to those who lend, or circulate them in manuscript, without their having been first examined, and approved of, they shall be subjected to the same penalties as printers: and they who shall have them in their possession or shall read them, shall, unless they discover the authors, be themselves regarded as the authors. And the said approbation of books of this kind shall be given in writing; and for this end it shall appear authentically at the beginning of the book, whether the book be written, or printed; and all this, that is, both the approbation and the examination, shall be done gratis, that so what ought to be approved, may be approved, and what ought to be condemned, may be condemned.”

      Finally, this guy has a nice article on the subject. Interestingly, his thrust seems to be a comparison of the Latin-Vulgate-Only times and the “KJV-only” arguments present in American Christendom during the 1900s.

      • I’m no expert on the history of biblical translations, so we should probably defer to them if one can be found. But I think it’s important to clarify *why* there was general prohibition of a bunch of different translations: not necessarily to prevent *access* by the common man, as your post suggests, but because the Latin Vulgate translation(s) were perceived as the “right” translation, and subsequent translations into local vernacular would let additional interpretations creep in. Indeed, the Latin Vulgate *was* the vernacular at one point, *intended* for the “common man,” and only ceased to be as the language died/diverged.

        Your last linked article actually emphasizes this distinction, since he really focuses on arguments of “which is better,” not “which is more readily available/readable.”

        I think my reaction began with the use of of the phrase “Dark Ages,” which suggests an oppression and lack of “enlightenment” that modern historians no longer generally agree with.

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