Recently, I was engaged in a discussion concerning Psalms 14.1 in which the opposing party viewed it as the quintessential verse to disprove the bible, inerrancy, God, etc and ad nauseum. Of course, since he didn’t care for my view-point, in that I proved him wrong, he said he would rather talk with some one educated because the educated person would obviously know that he was licked. Arrogant, to say the least, but it fits.
|New Living Translation||New American Standard Version||JPS – 1985|
|Only fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, and their actions are evil; not one of them does good!2The LORD looks down from heaven on the entire human race; he looks to see if anyone is truly wise, if anyone seeks God.3 But no, all have turned away; all have become corrupt. No one does good, not a single one!|
4 Will those who do evil never learn? They eat up my people like bread and wouldn’t think of praying to the LORD.
5 Terror will grip them, for God is with those who obey him.
6 The wicked frustrate the plans of the oppressed, but the LORD will protect his people.
7 Who will come from Mount Zion to rescue Israel? When the LORD restores his people, Jacob will shout with joy, and Israel will rejoice. A psalm of David.
|For the choir director. A Psalm of David. The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they have committed abominable deeds; There is no one who does good.2The LORD has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men To see if there are any who understand, Who seek after God.3 They have all turned aside, together they have become corrupt; There is no one who does good, not even one.|
4 Do all the workers of wickedness not know, Who eat up my people as they eat bread, And do not call upon the Lord?
5 There they are in great dread, For God is with the righteous generation.
6 You would put to shame the counsel of the afflicted, But the LORD is his refuge.
7 Oh, that the salvation of Israel would come out of Zion! When the LORD restores His captive people, Jacob will rejoice, Israel will be glad.
|For the leader. Of David. The benighted man thinks, “God does not care.” Man’s deeds are corrupt and loathsome; no one does good.2The LORD looks down from heaven on mankind to find a man of understanding, a man mindful of God.3 All have turned bad, altogether foul; there is none who does good, not even one.|
4 Are they so witless, all those evildoers, who devour my people as they devour food, and do not invoke the LORD?
5 There they will be seized with fright, for God is present in the circle of the righteous.
6 You may set at naught the counsel of the lowly, but the LORD is his refuge.
7 O that the deliverance of Israel might come from Zion! When the LORD restores the fortunes of His people, Jacob will exult, Israel will rejoice
The adversary’s argument is that the first verse assumes an atheist would be immoral, and thus ‘one lone ethical atheist’ would destroy all of religion., again ad nauseum. Here are my arguments:
The fact remains that this verse is speaking about evil men who have denied God, not people who denied God and suddenly became evil. What you have mistakenly done is to latch on to something, interpret it how you desire to see it, and then build your theology upon your own interpretation instead of what it says.
Further, we can examine this morally – an atheist cannot accept Christ and thus is wicked, and by that I mean not having his sins removed. Whether a good man or a great man, if a man dies in his sins, he dies immoral.
If you note the present tense ‘A wicked/immoral man says no to God/there is no God.’ Simply, John, this is talking about the people who refuse to believe in the God of Israel to do wicked things, not because they are wicked.
However, with that said – albeit from a poor uneducated sap such as myself – I turn to the Jewish bible. We note that the JPS translates it as such:
The benighted man thinks, “God does not care.” Man’s deeds are corrupt and loathsome; no one does good.
Here we have a man who is overtaken with darkness; he believes that God could care less about his actions. The author of Psalm 14 sees that a pre-existing condition leads someone to say that ‘God does not care’ or as a Targum says, ‘There is no rule of God on Earth.’ Here, it is not atheism which makes a man wicked, or that an atheist will be wicked. Instead, we have a man who is wicked and thus refuses God. Indeed, ‘there is’ is added text. We should also look at Psalm 10.4 which declares the same thing. An immoral man does not want God and refuses Him. This is not an intellectual atheism, but a life led as practical atheism (Holman). Simply, a wicked man says ‘No, God.’ It is not speaking about ‘behavioral consequences’ of not believing.
There is no God is not a philosophical denial of God’s existence; it is to reject the belief that God matters, that God’s will is of any importance in human affairs (see Psalm 10.4).
The fool is one whose life is lived without the direction or acknowledgment of God. . . . he lives as if there were no covenant, and thus as if there were no God — “There is no God.”
Consider the rest of the Psalm – we shouldn’t proof text, or is proof texting allowed if you have letters behind your name? – in which we find that the shape of the Psalm is one familiar to us. We have an immoral man who refuses God, but God looks for someone who will serve Him. All have sinned and there is no one good, no, not one. When God finds this obedient man, then Israel’s salvation will come from Zion. One really has to study what immoral and good means in light of the Hebrew Scriptures, as well as learn to take the entire passage within context. Further, considering that atheism is something unknown in the ancient world, it would have been something completely foreign to this text.
Tell me, do wicked men often refuse God? Did the kings of Israel come to believe that God didn’t care what they did as kings? And did God finally send the deliverance from Zion?
Some atheists, it seems, view the bible much in the same way as they did as Christians, through a very literal and fundamentalist view-point. Once we actually decide to study for ourselves, the original language, the cultural contexts, what is actually being said, and we decide not to proof text, we might actually arrive at an answer which does not make us appear benighted.
(John Hobbins has an excellent post on the translation of this verse.)