A COMPUTERIZED ISAIAH
Higher critics have for a very long time insisted that the book of Isaiah was not written by one man, but by two or three. This idea has become rather generally accepted—even within Reformed circles. I recall an article several years ago in a Reformed periodical which defended this view. While it is not always admitted, the main difficulty for scholars is the prophecy of the last half of the book which predicts the return of the children of Judah under Cyrus, an event which did not take place until over a century after Isaiah prophesied of the event. The question is therefore one of prophecy itself. Did Isaiah predict, as the Word of the Lord, the return of the captives of Judah more than a hundred years before this event took place? The higher critics insist this was impossible and, doing so, deny prophecy. And this in turn involves a question concerning the inspiration of the Scriptures. It is a very old question.
The problem has recently been attacked with the assistance of computers. A recent article in Newsweekdescribes what was done.
Of all the Old Testament prophets, Isaiah is the most revered by Jews and Christians alike. The Book of Isaiah ranges prodigiously over the turbulent reigns of four Judaean kings whom Isaiah served—with dizzying changes of role—as chastiser, comforter and remorseless lobbyist for social justice. For Christians, his verses on the Suffering Servant herald the coming of Christ.
The book of Isaiah is, in fact, so protean and so diverse that scholars have long wondered whether there were several Isaiahs. One problem is historic; the time span covered in the book is about 200 years. A second is literary; one segment is expansive, full of biographical detail about the author, while another segment is cryptic, in which the author never mentions his name. Now, sophisticated electronic gadgetry has been enlisted to try to solve the Isaiah enigma. Yehuda Radday, an Israeli professor of Bible studies at Haifa’s Technion Institute, has fed the Book of Isaiah into a computer.
While the prophet’s shifts in subject matter might simply reflect a natural evolution of ideas, Radday reasoned, Isaiah’s use of language should remain constant. So Radday analyzed the linguistic properties of the book’s 18,000 words. To measure stylistic patterns, he selected 29 criteria such as sentence length, syllabification, vocabulary richness and eccentricity. He chose as Isaiah’s norm the first twelve chapters, commonly accepted as of unitary authorship, and programmed two computers to compare these with the rest of the book.
Check: Radday was convinced that the results would confirm his own belief in “one and only one” Isaiah: But the Elliot 503 and IBM 360/50 computers reported that no fewer than three authors had been at work on the complex verses of Isaiah. Astonished, Radday sent his material to West German physicist Dieter Wickmamr for a second computer check. Wickmann estimated the probability that the latter half was written by the author of the fast half at 1 in 100,000.
Despite his own statistical evidence, Radday remains skeptical. “I would not like to suggest,” he says, “that the problem of Isaiah has been solved. My results are only probabilities.” But for all his scholarly caution, the 59-year-old professor clearly found his methodology promising. Next on his list for computer analysis is the Book of Judges.
This reminds me of a story which appeared in the public press some years ago. There was a man in England who tried the same thing as Prof. Radday; only he concentrated his attention on the epistles of Paul. After careful and lengthy analysis with the aid of computers, he concluded that only a very few (I have forgotten the exact figure) of the epistles traditionally ascribed to Paul were actually authored by him. The difficulty was that this Englishman was a very prolific writer. Some wag took all his writings and, using the same formulae as the Englishman, subjected this Englishman’s writings to computer analysis. The results were that the Englishman actually wrote only a small fraction of what he had claimed to write, and there were easily detectable, by computer analysis, at least four or five different authors who had a part in the writings of this man. So much for computer analysis.
But there is a more serious side to this matter. To subject any part of Scripture to computer analysis with the purpose of learning authorship is to deny the divine authorship of Scripture. Granting that the Lord God, in His inscrutable wisdom, used men to give us the Holy Scriptures, it nevertheless remains a fact that such futile exercises as described above are, in effect, subjecting God Himself to the analysis of a computer. This is evil.
DECIDING THE UNTHINKABLE
The apostle Paul writes to the Church at Ephesus warning them about the evils in the world and admonishing the Christians at Ephesus to flee these sins. “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. For it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret.” Ephesians 5:11, 12.
One has the strong impression that this observation of the apostle has had very little effect in recent years in the Church of Christ. Paul observes that it is a shame even to speak of the wicked things done by the ungodly. People not only speak of them today; ecclesiastical assemblies discuss them and make decisions about them. And, even worse, ecclesiastical assemblies pass decisions which more or less approve of these very things.
I refer, of course, to the recent decisions of the Christian Reformed Church on homosexuality. One dislikes writing about these things. It would be better not to mention them. The sin is too great, too monstrous, too horrible even to discuss. This is why there is something unutterably sad and hopeless about the fact that the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church even spent time discussing the matter. Even .apart from the fact that a decision was taken, apart from the question of what the decision was, even if the whole matter had been totally condemned by the Synod, there is something hopeless about the mere presence of such a question on an ecclesiastical assembly. If the Churches have declined spiritually to such an extent that such a question can even come up and be seriously entertained, then there is something very hopeless about the ecclesiastical situation.
We do not intend to discuss that decision in this article. It is lengthy and involved; the matter is too clear to warrant extended discussion—after all, God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah for exactly this sin. But we do want to call attention to a basic presupposition in the whole chain of argument which is of wider application than this decision, but which is spiritually and ethically evil.
The decision has created no little stir in the Christian Reformed Church, as well it should. Various meetings have been held, at least in the Grand Rapids area, as some attempted to explain to the people of the Church the meaning and correctness of the decision—as well they might. There has been some misunderstanding about the whole matter, I presume. Some have said that the Synod approved of homosexual acts; they did not do this. But even though it is true that this was not done, nevertheless, the decision is so wrong that one wonders how it is possible for a Reformed body to come to such a decision—and that by an overwhelming majority vote.
To understand the position which Synod took, one must understand that Synod made a distinction between “homosexual,” “homosexuality,” and “homosexualism.” The first term refers to a person with homo sexual “tendencies” or “inclinations,” though he need not necessarily commit the act. The second term describes the condition of a man who has homosexual tendencies. The third designates the act itself. The third term therefore is a reference to the overt sin. This was condemned by Synod.
However, Synod took the position, upon the advice of the study committee that a man or woman may be a homosexual by reasons of birth or environmental influences. The pertinent paragraph reads: “As we have seen in the earlier part of this report, we have learned from the sciences that homosexuality often is a condition which is rooted deeply in biological and psychological aberrations that create a disorder for which the individual can be held only partly responsible, if at all.”
If this means anything at all, then the following conclusions must be drawn from this statement: 1) The sciences are regulatory in this matter even when they contradict the Scriptures. The Synod was prepared to accept the findings of science rather than the clear and unequivocal statements of the Word of God. 2) The condition of homosexuality is found in some because of biological and/or psychological aberrations. That is, a person is born this way, or he becomes this way through adverse psychological influences. This is what science tells us. 3) This condition is not therefore rooted in a sinful nature; it is not itself sin; it has nothing to do with sin or total depravity. It is biological or psychological aberration. 4) A person is not responsible therefore, for being this way (or perhaps, only minimally responsible). It is a twist of fate, a matter of the genes, something he cannot help, something for which he need not give account, a cross to be borne, a burden to carry.
It is no wonder then that Synod concluded that such a person, as long as he does not commit the act, is to be accepted into the Church, is to be treated with love and compassion, is to have the sympathy and understanding of the body of the saints, and is even to be allowed to hold office. “By the same token, churches should recognize that their homosexual members are fellow-servants of Christ who are to be given opportunity to render within the offices and structures of the congregation the same service that is expected from heterosexuals.”
We have no time nor inclination to deal with this sophistry in detail. But a few observations are nevertheless important. At the very heart of the matter lies the whole question of sin. Is sin sin? There is altogether too much denial of this in our day. One can find this same approach in practically every mental institution. When a person, so it is said, commits adultery, robs a bank, murders his father, this is not sin; it is biological or psychological aberration. The man does not need the admonitions of Scripture to repent; he needs psychiatric care. This whole theory is now carried over into the area of homosexuality. But the evil of it all is that sin is denied. More and more there is no such thing as sin. There is sickness; there is aberration; there is abnormality; but there is no sin. And, of course; if there is no sin, there is no need for repentance and conversion. And, worst of all, there is no need of the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Christ died, not to save abnormal people and those with biological aberrations (although salvation is certainly from all the afflictions which flow from sin); Christ died to save sinners. And the cross is for those who turn from sin and flee for forgiveness to the blood of atonement. How comfortable for the homosexual: he needs not repentance and conversion; he needs medical treatment. And yet how cruel: he needs not the cross; he needs the doctor of psychiatry.
Can a woman be a whore by birth and never have committed fornication? Can a murderer be such from birth and never have hated in his heart and killed? Can a fornicator be made into one by his environment and never have lusted or committed fornication. Can a drunkard be such because of biological aberrations and never have tasted a drop of liquor? What kind of sophistry is this?
Scripture presents quite another picture. Whatever terms one may want to use, homosexualism is a terrible sin. It is the kind of sin which apparently stands in a class by itself in the Scriptures. It is one of those sins which it is a shame to speak of—also for ecclesiastical assemblies. It is a sin which brings fire and brimstone from heaven upon those who do such things. It is a sin which Paul in Romans 1 describes as being a special kind of judgment of God upon those who change the glory of the incorruptible God into an image like unto corruptible man. But it is a sin which flows forth from a nature depraved and corrupted. And it is the kind of sin which results not from biological and psychological aberrations (science may know about these, but Scripture does not), but from inordinate lust. The lust is already the sin—long before the act is committed. The depraved nature of man is capable of terrible crimes—even against nature. And when a person gives himself over to these sins, he becomes a slave of them.
This is the point that needs remembering. Sin is a monster. It is a most cruel and heartless tyrant. It has power beyond our comprehension. When a person sets himself on the pathway of drunkenness, he willingly and willfully gives himself over to sin. When a person lets lust enter his life, he becomes a slave of lust. When a person turns to unnatural lust, he invites the tyrant of lust to rule in his life. And when this happens, then these sins become so completely masters that change is impossible. The chains are too tightly bound. The shackles are too heavy. The tyranny of sin is too complete. A man invites this upon himself when he enters sin’s service. He ceases to be anything else but a wretched slave of his sins, and from them there is no escape.
No escape, that is, except through the power of the cross. For grace is greater than all sin. Not sympathy is required and loving acceptance of the sinner, all the while excusing his perversity; but grace and the power of the Lord Christ. Not psychiatric treatment and excusing of sin, but conversion and repentance. For the blood of the cross cleanses from all sin.
Synod turned away from the cross and turned the sinner from the cross. How terrible!