Bad Hermeneutics have Consequences

I want all of my readers to listen to this CNN special on a place called Hephzibah House. Now, I am not a fan of CNN, but, to show you that they are actually being very kind, there are thus far three parts in a series being done by Jeri Massi on Hephzibah house, part 1, part 2, part 3. I am not necessarily endorsing all of the exegesis found in these programs, but they do an excellent job of showing how bad hermeneutics have consequences.

While I was listening to these programs, I did an internet search on the founder of Hephzibah House, a man by the name of Ron Williams [not the guy who wrote the Hebrew Syntax]. I found this article by him. To borrow from Alvin Plantinga, I would call this article sophomoric, but that would be an insult to sophomores. Consider this following paragraph:

The concept of having to be told what to do in order that we can combat our natural feelings is illustrated in other areas of our lives. The Lord Jesus, for example, taught in Matthew 5:28 that it is wrong for a man to look lustfully upon a woman, implicitly telling us to not do that. One could ask, Why does He teach such a thing? Because men naturally look upon women in a lustful way. In fact, any man who claims that he has never had a problem in this area is either a liar or he is dead! Just as the Scripture indicates “the eyes of man are never satisfied” (Proverbs 27:20). Therefore, the Lord, recognizing our weakness, has admonished men not to look lustfully at women. Men must not operate on the basis of their natural inclinations, but on the basis of what is right, controlling their feelings and the flesh in the process.

Is that really the context of Jesus’ statement in Matthew 5:28? Notice the structure of each of Jesus’ statements. You have “You heard it was said to you” followed by “but I say to you.” Each time Jesus is raising the bar one step higher than what people thought that the law demands. You are not just to love your neighbor but hate your enemy, but you are to love your enemies [vrs. 43-44]. You are not just to send away your wife because she displeases you, but you can only send her away by reason of unchastity [31-32]. However, it is the conclusion that Jesus comes to that is important. After increasing the demands of the law back to where they are, Jesus summarizes the laws demands, “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” [v.48]. The whole point of this passage has nothing to do with the battle against lust, and natural inclinations. Jesus is talking about the high demands of God’s law, and the fact that no one can attain what the law demands unless they are perfect, even as God himself is perfect.

Now, again, that does not mean that we should not fight against lust, and other evil inclinations, but it does mean that Jesus is not talking about that battle in this passage. He is dealing, most specifically, with the fact that the law of God is so high, that no man can attain its demands. The point is that you can’t just say that you have never slept with a woman, and therefore have never committed adultery; the point is that breaking this commandment could be as simple as lusting after someone who is not your wife. The point is the height of the law of God, and the fact that no mere fallen human being can ever attain its lofty demands.

Whose job?

Who is to perceive this duty that Solomon outlines? The Hebrew language indicates in this passage through a second person masculine singular suffix that Solomon is probably addressing a man. The context of course, would indicate that the father of the household is the subject of Solomon’s admonition. Solomon, in doing this, is underscoring and agreeing with the rest of Scripture when it teaches that child-training and education is the primary responsibility of the father of that child. The primary responsibility for this vital task is not delegated by God to the mother, Sunday School teacher, pastor, day school teacher, grandparents, or any other person, but is the primary responsibility of the father. Obviously, these other individuals are an invaluable help to the father, especially his wife, but they are helpers only. A father will stand before the judgment seat of Christ and give an account for the spiritual, emotional, and physical welfare and training of his wife and children. It therefore behooves a father to be extremely judicious and cautious in whom he selects to be his helpers in the vital task of training and educating his child. Why?

Again, more gross oversimplifications. It is true that, in Proverbs 23:13-14, the 2nd person masculine singular is used; but it is not a “suffix.” It is an imperfect. In fact, the 2ms imperfect verb forms do not involve suffixes, but, rather, a prefixed tav. Worse than that, there is a reason for the masculine being used here. The reason is because the Proverbs were originally royal in context. In all of the other Proverbs that we have in the Ancient Near East, they are written as a king seeking to train up the successor to the throne. Hence, one would easily expect the masculine to be used. It has nothing to do with who the “primary responsibility” of child training is.

One thing is certain, correction with the rod should and must start very early. In fact, correction with the rod should start much earlier than our contemporary godless and irresponsible society believes is normative. The Scripture says, “Chasten thy son while there is hope and let not thy soul spare for his crying” (Proverbs 19:18). In other words, there is a time when there is real hope that a child can be corrected and have his will broken by the parent who uses the rod of correction, and there is a time when that hope diminishes by virtue of the child’s advancing age.

The problem is that Williams is reading this text from the King James Version in translation; he is not reading it in Hebrew. Here is the Hebrew text to this verse:

יסר בנך כי־יש תקוה ואל־המיתו אל־תשא נפשך

The phrase ואל־המיתו אל־תשא נפשך refers to the desire and concern of the person doing the punishment. They are not to lift up their desire “for his death.” Thus, the NASB has the best translation here when it translates this passage as “Discipline your son while there is hope, And do not desire his death.” The KJV simply blew this translation.

The grammatical form of the word indicates that it takes effort to carry out the conditions of this promise. The Hebrew word “to beat” in this verse is a causal verb that emphasizes that a dad must bring himself to do it. This hearkens back to what was said earlier about having to force ourselves to do what does not come naturally in this area of child correction. Not only must we cause ourselves to “beat our child” but the usage of this particular word indicates that God has designed corporal punishment so that it would cause pain. The word “beat” that is used here is the very same word used in Deuteronomy 25:2,3. In this Deuteronomy passage, it is very clear that the word is used in connection with a physical beating where pain is being inflicted by the beating as a means of punishment ordered by a judge in Israel. By this Scriptural illustration we are absolutely compelled to realize that this word is used in the sense of physical pain being caused by corporal punishment, and, further, that this is God’s very objective!

All of this is utter linguistic nonsense. The “casual verb” he is referring to here is a hiphil stem. The problem is that he assumes that all verbs in the hiphil are causative. Like most of the other stems, the hiphil verb form can have particular nuance if it is used with a given verb. In this case, the Hebrew verb נכה does not occur in the Qal, but only in the Niphal, Pual, and Hiphil. In Exodus 12:12, the Hiphil of נכה is used, and it is God who “strikes” the firstborn of Egypt. Did God have to “bring himself” to do this? This is the common verb form used form “striking” in the Hebrew Bible. Most of its occurrences are in the Hiphil. Only a person who doesn’t read the Bible in Hebrew, and relies upon the King James Version would ever make this kind of gross error.

Also, while I don’t disagree that the rod is meant to cause pain, I don’t think you can run off to a passage in Deuteronomy. There are many places where the Hiphil of נכה is used to indicate a military attack [Judges 11:21]. It also can imply striking unto death [Joshua 11:14]. Yet no one would seriously suggest that we should kill a child when we strike him!

What is the reason for the pain? It delivers, in some mysterious way, the heart of that child from its rebellion, stubbornness, and willfulness. Any regenerate person can see abundant testimony to how this mysterious process works by looking at his or her own life’s experience in walking with his Saviour. God reproves His children many times in very painful ways to deliver their hearts of the same ungodly characteristics.

Ideally, a child should know the reason that he is being dealt with in this way. In other words, he should know the sin or the rule he has broken. He should especially know how he has offended God and broken His moral law and then be called to repentance before God and others who are affected by his sin. When this is done the session of correction has its maximum benefit in the life of the child. “Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child, but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him” (Proverbs 22:15). Mysterious? Yes, but mysterious as it is, the promise is bound in this Scripture that Godly and consistent application of the rod of correction will deliver the foolish rebellion and stubborn willfulness from the heart of a child when his parents have disciplined themselves enough to carry it out.

The second directive found in this passage is also in two parts. They are: the procedure and the product of correction. The first part or the procedure of correction is highlighted by “Thou shalt beat him with the rod.” The one who does the beating, in other words, is the one who saves this child in a spiritual sense! Here is a very mysterious promise to a parent in the Scriptures, that consistent, Godly, disciplined correction of the child with the rod of correction will in some mysterious sense be instrumental in that child’s spiritual salvation from sin and death.

To ignore this very clear reference to the child’s salvation being related to his being disciplined is to ignore the very clear teaching of this passage of the Word of God. A parent must recognize and see clearly that Biblically beating his child sensitizes that child not only to the fact of sin but also to its ugliness. In addition, the child will see that the penalty must always be paid when we sin. The beating spoken of in this passage is done often and consistently so that the child recognizes he will always pay a price that he does not want to pay for rebellion against his authority. Such a child who is Biblically trained and corrected will be far more likely to respond to the spiritual concepts of sin and salvation when he reaches the age of understanding. A vital principle for a parent to grasp in this business of child correction is that our children will leave our house to obey their heavenly Father in exactly the same way as they have obeyed their earthly father.

These statements are totally contrary to what the Bible teaches. First of all, “death” in the book of Proverbs does not deal with spiritual death for eternity in hell, but it is related to the concept of the “end.” The book of Proverbs deals with the consequences of our decisions, and how decisions to not be obedient to God have consequences. In other words, we are dealing with the physical ends to a person when they do not live life the way it was meant to be lived in honoring God and his commandments above all things. Thus, the rod is not talking about salvation from sin in the same sense that Paul is talking about in his epistles. It is dealing with teaching the child the ways of the Lord, so he will not die.

According to the Apostle Paul, the only thing that can redeem a person from their “rebellion, stubbornness, and willfulness” is the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is only through God’s act of grace that a person can be changed from a rebellious God hater to a God lover. That is why the metaphor of resurrection is used of regeneration. Only God can raise the dead, and only God can take a dead sinner, and make him alive again. Thus, the real problem here is that those who hold this view are trying to play God. The rod, as understood in the book of Proverbs, is meant to be a teaching tool. However, although you may teach a lesson, that does not mean that the student will learn. The learning of the lesson comes through the work of the Holy Spirit. It is a total and complete anti-gospel to suggest that men can do the resurrecting work of the Holy Spirit with the rod when it is God and God alone who does this work. In fact, what is interesting is that you now have women from Hephzibah House coming out and saying they were abused [which I agree with]. Why didn’t the “breaking of the will” of the child work in those instances? Why are there people now speaking out against this place? Again, when you try to play God, you will always do a bad job of it.

Correction not a one-time affair

Another condition of the promise Solomon develops in this passage is that correction must be consistent and repetitive. The verb for “beat” that he uses in this verse is not a one-time action. The verb calls for ongoing activity of beating. Therefore a parent may not reasonably expect that one or two times of Biblically beating the child is going to deliver that child once and for all of the rebellious heart with which he was born. However in the same breath, we must emphasize that Godly parents who insist on complete obedience and back up their demands with immediate application of the rod discover to their joy that the need for the rod diminishes as the child recognizes the parents’ determination to apply it when necessary.

Again, we see that Williams is trying to play Hebrew scholar, and is, again, showing his ignorance. I agree that discipline should not be a one time affair. However, i totally disagree that it can be derived from the verb itself. That must be argued contextually. I would agree that, from the context this is clearly not meant to be a one time action. However, there is nothing in the verb itself that would lend itself to this kind of interpretation.

To carry out the spirit of this passage, a parent must immediately carry out correction with the rod as soon as practical after the offense has occurred. This is fully in keeping with Ecclesiastes 8:11–”Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.” God clearly states that the further correction is removed from the actual offense in terms of relative time, the less effective that correction will be. What an instructive lesson for our judicial system! How corrective can any method of punishment be when it is weeks, months, and even years after the actual offense? Therefore, a parent should apply the rod as quickly as is possible following the breaking of a rule.

Again, the key to this passage is its context:

Ecclesiastes 8:11-13 Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed quickly, therefore the hearts of the sons of men among them are given fully to do evil. 12 Although a sinner does evil a hundred times and may lengthen his life, still I know that it will be well for those who fear God, who fear Him openly. 13 But it will not be well for the evil man and he will not lengthen his days like a shadow, because he does not fear God [NASB].

Notice that the context is *God* disciplining evil men for their actions. The point is that, when God delays his punishment for wickedness, a sinner will simply continue to do evil. While I agree that there needs to boundaries, and that children need to learn that their are consequences to their evil behavior, that is not at all what this passage is talking about. It is dealing with those who say that god would never punish them, or even, there is no God because I haven’t been punished for my sin. God may delay his punishment, but punishment delayed is not punishment denied. Again, this has very little to do with the context in which Williams is using this.

I think that we have done plenty in this post to destroy the credibility of Williams and Hephzibah House in the way they handle the Hebrew Bible. To say that they are incompetent is a gross understatement. However, now I want you to go and listen to the three part series I mentioned earlier part 1, part 2, part 3. You will see that bad hermeneutics have their consequences. One can see that there needs to be a home to help these girls that get out of Hephzibah House to deal with the evil things that are discussed in these programs. Yes, bad Hermeneutics have consequences.

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