Voddie Baucham and Psalm 127

This is a post I have been working on for some time. When I started writing this post, I was looking through the book What he Must Be if he Wants to Marry My Daughter by Voddie Baucham. I was originally intending to do a complete review of this book just as I did of Candice Watters’ book a while ago, but never got around to it. However, I found that Voddie is making this interesting argument from the Hebrew text which I would like to respond, as I think it will be helpful when you dialogue with Patriarchalists and Quiverfull advocates. Now, again, there are many things for which I must respect Voddie Baucham. He is a strong opponent of the gay rights movement, and has been a leader in exposing the secular indoctrination that takes place in public schools. However, I am concerned that his views of language and scripture on issues such as marriage and children can be at times entirely reductionistic, especially when it comes to promoting these things, as well as some of the ideas we find in the Mandatory Marriage Movement.

And that leads me to his interpretation Psalm 127. Voddie has promoted this interpretation well, both in his book as well as on his blog. I would like to quote what he says, and then respond to it.

Here is what he writes in his book:

I am a recent convert to the English Standard Version of the Bible. A long-time New American Standard Bible man, it was quite a stretch for me to embrace this new translation. However, several passages made the decision easy. Among my favorite ESV renderings is Psalm 127:5. Other translations see the blessed man as a passive observer in the process. The New International Version reads, “Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.” The King James Version renders the verse, “Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them.” Even my beloved NASB reads, “How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.” However, the ESV captures a crucial nuance. There the sense of the verse is changed completely as the blessed man is active as opposed to passive in the process. The ESV reads, “Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them!”

I believe this is a crucial distinction. First, I believe the ESV got it right grammatically. Additionally, and perhaps more significantly, this rendering paints the picture of a man who does not simply receive children passively-this is a man who desires children, who seeks children. What a scathing rebuke to thse in our culture who do not value children.

This, then, is a critical attribute in any potential mate. A young man, for instance, who has no vision for children or, worse, sees them as a hinderance to his vision would be a poor candidate in the eyes of any young woman looking for a biblical husband. An appropriate perspective on this issue will at least include 1) a commitment to having children, 2) a commitment to investing in children, and 3) a commitment to providing for children[1].

He likewise reposts this same argument on his blog:

I do not believe that an economic downturn is a sufficient reason to prevent pregnancy. I base my argument on four key factors. First, children are a blessing. The Bible is clear on this issue:

“Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.” (Psalms 127:3-5 ESV)

I love the ESV translation of this passage. Here we see an important nuance in the Hebrew text. It is not the man whose quiver is filled that is blessed, but the man “who fills his quiver.” In other words, we should seek children. We should desire them.

Now, before we start, let me put up the Hebrew text of verse 5 that Voddie is referring to

אשרי הגבר אשר מלא את אשפתו מהם

Voddie’s argument is rather simple. He says that the Hebrew term מלא [fills] needs to be understood as an active because, grammatically, it is a Piel stem, and Piel stems in Hebrew are generally active. I am sure that he would say that, were this verb to be passive, it would be in the Pual stem.

Now, grammatically, Voddie is correct. The Piel is, indeed, the active D stem in Hebrew, and the Pual is, indeed, the passive D stem. However, the problem is that grammar is only one aspect of language. You have, for example, syntax, phonology, morphology, etc. that also play a role in meaning. For example, in Proverbs 1:20, you have the repetition of the “-ka, ka” sound in the Hebrew text, which is meant to emulate someone calling out. Odd morphological forms can be used to make a point, as can an unusual word order. Also, understanding how the discourse operates is, likewise, important as well. The chunking language beyond the sentence level has revolutionized our understanding of Biblical Hebrew. Hence, to ignore the discourse level of the passage in favor of looking at a simply grammatical form is way too simplistic.

This is important because the discourse of this text reveals a much more highly complicated issue than just simply looking at מלא, saying it is active, and translating it as such. Let us look at the much larger structure of this Psalm, and I think we will see that there are issues here that Voddie is just not taking into consideration.

After the title, verse 1 of this Psalm begins with two different forms of the same structure:

Substantive Participle of protasis verb…שוא…verb+לא אם יהוה

If the Lord does not [verb], in vain do they…[the ones who do the first verb]

Now, we can see that there is a connection between these two clauses. The text starts out with the presentation of the reality that the Lord has not built, and the Lord has not kept. In both of these instances, because the Lord does not do this, those who do this will labor in vain. The assumption seems to be that, in both building and in keeping, one must have the provision of the Lord before you will be able to do anything.

Verse two is a little more complicated. Here is the text:

שוא לכם משכימי קום מאחרי-שבת אכלי לחם העצבים כן יתן לידידו שנא

We again have the Hebrew terms שוא לכם [(it is) vain for you] at the beginning of this verse, but then we have this list of things: getting up early [משכימי קום], sitting late [מאחרי-שבת], and eating of the food of pain [אכלי לחם העצבים].

How to put these together is the trouble. Leslie Allen says that the second two colons should go together. Thus, it would be translated something like “Vain is getting up early and sitting late; as for those who eat of the food of pain, thus will the Lord give sleep to his beloved.” The reason that Allen takes this is because of the fact that the כן [thus] in the third colon of verse two is difficult to translate. Normally, it means something like “thus,” and it usually is used in a comparison. Hence, Allen suggests that the third colon should go with the fourth colon, because the third colon would then give the “just as” portion that can go with כן. The other option is to see this as an abb’a’ pattern. This is the view of John Goldengay.

Now we enter into the second half of this Psalm. Up until this point, we have seen that the emphasis is upon God’s provision. This is important because it is in light of this that we begin with the phrase נחלת יהוה [inheritance of the Lord]. This construct phrase is often taken as a genitive of authorship[2]. Walke defines this as, “A particular form of agency is involved in speaking and writing, and the genitive of authorship denotes that G wrote, spoke, or otherwise originated C[3].” This is confirmed by the presence of שכר [reward].

Now, in verse 4, we have the beginning of a simile which is then extended into verse 5. Sons of youth are likened to warriors with arrows in their hand. In verse 5, then, we have an extension of this imagery, and it is here that we have the exegetical difficulty that Voddie has brought up. It extends the imagery of the כחצים ביד גבור כן בני נעורים [arrows in the hands of a warrior] to the filling of אשפתו [his quiver]. The problem is that, up until this point, the whole emphasis has been on the provision of God. Remember back in verse 1, it is the Lord who watches over the city, and it is the Lord who builds a house. It is totally vain for man to get up an sit down, and to eat of the food of pain, because it is God who gives rest to his beloved. In that context, you have the beginning of this section saying that children are an inheritance *from* the Lord. That they are a reward *from him.” With this in formation, we can now address Baucham’s argument:

I am a recent convert to the English Standard Version of the Bible. A long-time New American Standard Bible man, it was quite a stretch for me to embrace this new translation. However, several passages made the decision easy. Among my favorite ESV renderings is Psalm 127:5. Other translations see the blessed man as a passive observer in the process. The New International Version reads, “Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.” The King James Version renders the verse, “Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them.” Even my beloved NASB reads, “How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.” However, the ESV captures a crucial nuance. There the sense of the verse is changed completely as the blessed man is active as opposed to passive in the process. The ESV reads, “Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them!”

I believe this is a crucial distinction. First, I believe the ESV got it right grammatically. Additionally, and perhaps more significantly, this rendering paints the picture of a man who does not simply receive children passively-this is a man who desires children, who seeks children. What a scathing rebuke to thse in our culture who do not value children.

This, then, is a critical attribute in any potential mate. A young man, for instance, who has no vision for children or, worse, sees them as a hinderance to his vision would be a poor candidate in the eyes of any young woman looking for a biblical husband. An appropriate perspective on this issue will at least include 1) a commitment to having children, 2) a commitment to investing in children, and 3) a commitment to providing for children[1].

There is a crucial mistake being made here, and that is, not only is מלא a Piel stem [which, as Voddie says, is active], it is also a third person masculine singular verb. The significance of this is that the subject of מלא can be any noun that is third person, masculine, and singular. The reason this is significant is that יהוה [the Lord] is third person, masculine, and singular, as is הגבר [the man]. Hence, either one of these nouns could grammatically be the subject of מלא. Now we begin to see the importance of stressing the provision of God as the main context for this Psalm. Because every verse has emphasized that it is the Lord who watches over the city, and it is the Lord who builds a house. It is totally vain for man to get up an sit down, and to eat of the food of pain, because it is God who gives rest to his beloved. In that context, you have the beginning of this section saying that children are an inheritance *from* the Lord. That they are a reward *from him.” Now we all of the sudden say that it is the *man* who fills his quiver?????????? Makes absolutely, positively no sense whatsoever. If that is the case, then the actual subject of מלא would then be the Lord. I would then translate it something like this:

Blessed is the man whose quiver he [the Lord] fills with them.

What is ironic is, what Voddie doesn’t realize is that those translations that translate מלא as a passive are actually the only translations that are keeping his position alive. The reason they are translating מלא as a passive is because, in passive verbs, you do not have to indicate who the subject is. Remember that next election year. When a candidate says, “The account was emptied” ask yourself “by whom?” Thus, translations who translate this passage as “Blessed is the man whose quiver is filled with them” are leaving it entirely open as to who the subject of מלא is, allowing the reader himself to decide who does the filling.

There is one more mess that needs to be cleaned up here. Quiverfull advocates will argue that the latter half of verse 5 [the will not be ashamed when they speak with the enemies at the gate] is dealing with culture wars. Aside from the absurd eisegetical insertion of culture wars into the context, it completely ignores the fact that there is a break with the imagery of the battle. The text says that they will not be ashamed when they *speak* [ידברו with enemies *at the gate* [בשער]. What is interesting is that the Hebrew term דבר doesn’t mean “to fight.” It means “to speak.” Now, we must ask ourselves what kind of battles took place with words at city gates. Obviously, the text is referring to legal battles. Legal battles took place at the city gates. Hence, the reason children are said to be a blessing is because of the fact that they can vouch for a man’s character if he ever has to face legal opposition.

Now, I think that it is important to recognize the nature and character of the blessing of children as this Psalm presents it, because, in this context, it appears that the text is *downplaying* the blessing of children. Consider this Psalm in the context of Psalm 128:

Psalm 128:1-6 How blessed is everyone who fears the LORD, Who walks in His ways. 2 When you shall eat of the fruit of your hands, You will be happy and it will be well with you. 3 Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine Within your house, Your children like olive plants Around your table. 4 Behold, for thus shall the man be blessed Who fears the LORD. 5 The LORD bless you from Zion, And may you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life. 6 Indeed, may you see your children’s children. Peace be upon Israel!

Notice how the next Psalm begins with an exclamation of how blessed the man who fears God is. Note the list of benefits that God can give to the believer when he fears him:

Your work may satisfy you.
You may be happy and well.
You may have children.
His people may prosper.
You may have long life.

Now, no one is going to argue that everyone who fears God has these things, as there have been many Godly men whom God has put through the fire of testing, and God sometimes calls men to serve him in ways which will make these things impossible. However, these are typical blessings that God gives to those who fear him. Notice the huge number of benefits that man has because he fears the Lord. Put these things: satisfaction of work, happiness and wellness, children, prosperity, and long life up against the mere having of someone to vouch for you in a legal trial. One begins to see how these Psalms are actually *downplaying* the blessing of Children, because they are exalting the fear of the Lord as something that is an infinitely greater blessing than Children. Now, that does not mean that that these Psalms do not see children as a blessing. However, the message of these two Psalms would be something like this: Yes, there is some blessing in having children, because you have some benefits in legal trials. However, the much greater blessing is fearing God, because God will add a multitude of wonderful and amazing blessings which cannot even compare to the mere blessing of Children. The reason is that God provides all things, and when man fears him, God will watch out for him.

I think, when this Psalm is understood in its context, it is, ironically, a scathing rebuke to people like Voddie Baucham and the Quiverfull movement. Because of their commitment to simply being countercultural, they read the text in the light of the current fertility crisis, and then they see the blessing of having children, but they see it in isolation from its relationship to fearing God. It is one of the dangers of being a cultural apologist and seeking to do exegesis. I had a friend who study under D.A. Carson relay an excellent quote from him to me. She told me that he said that evangelicals tend to confuse the notion that the Bible was written *for* us with the notion that the Bible was written *to* us. When you confuse those two things, you will read the text as if it was written to you to address your particular problem. Hence, you don’t seek to understand the text in *its* own context, seeking to address the problems of *its* audience, and you can end up completely missing the point of the whole passage.

Worse than that, it also will affect your solution to the problem at hand. For example, contraception, really, is not the issue in the fertility crisis. According to this website, in 2008, 1.21 million abortions were performed in the United States. Imagine adding over a million children a year simply by getting rid of abortion. That would solve our problem easily. In other words, the problem would be solved by simply viewing human life as sacred, and by viewing infants as created in the image of God. This also does not require adding to the Biblical view of pro-life by postulating that pro-life has something to do with the production of life [a position which, I believe, consistently will lead to a doctrine similar to the Mormon doctrine of preexistence]. Get rid of abortion, keep contraception [even at the rate it is being used now], and the fertility crisis is solved. That is not to say that there are not ethical issues with whether a person is using contraception to serve himself or to serve God. However, that is to say that it is the height of eisegesis to say that the Bible says that deliberate childlessness is wrong. It is only by a foreign imposition upon the scriptures due to tradition or cultural antithesis that anyone would think that the Bible teaches that deliberate childlessness is wrong. Let us stay with what God has commanded, and not seek to add to his commands, as if his commands were not enough. If we stay with what he commands, and do not add to them, it will be sufficient to solve our problems.

[1] Baucham, Voddie. What He Must Be If He Wants to Marry My Daughter. Crossway Books. Wheaton, Illinois. 2009 pgs 123-124
[2] Waltke, Bruce. O’Connor, Michael. An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax. Eisenbrauns. Winona Lake, Indiana. 1990. §9.5.1c.
Jouon, Paul. Muraoka, T. A Grammar of Biblical Hebrew. Editrice Pontificio Istituto Biblico. Roma, Italia. 2005. §129 d2
[3] Waltke/O’Connor, ibid.

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3 Responses to “Voddie Baucham and Psalm 127”

  1. mike Says:

    thanks for taking the time to share this

  2. otrmin Says:

    Your welcome, Mike!

  3. Shawn Mathis Says:

    “Because of their commitment to simply being countercultural, they read the text in the light of the current fertility crisis, and then they see the blessing of having children, but they see it in isolation from its relationship to fearing God. It is one of the dangers of being a cultural apologist and seeking to do exegesis.”–well said.

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