Tuesday, April 9, 2013

12 Polemicists of the New and Old Testaments

“Those who stand for nothing will fall for anything.”

– Alexander Hamilton

A debate is an examination of the perceived benefits of one opinion as opposed to another.  At the end of a debate there is often a common ground established between the opposing parties forming a framework for a final consensus.  A good illustration of a debate is a legislative process known as reconciliation.  The Senate has a bill as well as the House.  Reconciliation finds common ground that becomes the final bill.  Everyone “wins” and everyone “loses.”  Think of a debate as “verbal negotiation” where both parties surrender some ground to the other party in order to achieve a common goal.  The result?  Two winners, no losers.

On the other hand, a polemic is a verbal contest of one conviction versus another.  There are no compromises, winner takes all.  Wikipedia defines “polemic” thusly; “…a polemic is intended only to establish the truth of a point of view while refuting the opposing point of view.”  Think of a polemic as “verbal combat” that “takes no prisoners.”  The result?  Victor and vanquished.  In fact, the word “polemic” comes from the Greek word polemos meaning “war.”  According to Merriam Webster on line dictionary the first known use of the word “polemic” is traced to 1638.  Wikipedia asserts that “polemic” did not come into common usage until 1815 – 1820.  It’s use was not common early on as it is not listed in Webster’s 1828.

In our day and time, the clear difference between debate and polemics is blurred nearly to extinction.  Our post-modern existential culture, not recognizing truth of any kind, asserts that there is no such thing as a “conviction,” there is only the ever changing opinion.  Increasingly those holding true convictions, the polemics among us if you please, are seen as “narrow minded,” “judgmental,” “bigoted” and “hateful.”  To espouse any kind of “absolute” assaults the primary “virtue” of our culture…”tolerance.”

Spiritually speaking, even a casual examination of the Bible reveals a multitude of polemic episodes from Genesis to Revelation!  The first polemic contest in the Bible takes place while Adam and Eve are still in the garden, though not for long.


God: “...thou shalt surely die!”

Satan: “…thou shalt NOT surely die!”[1]


God took no prisoners, as the polemic promise of Christ striking Satan’s head took place on Resurrection Morning!  Nearly every page of the Bible is polemic in nature.  Good vs. evil, light vs. darkness, bitter vs. sweet, truth vs. falsehood, obedience vs. rebellion, faith vs. unbelief.  Many scriptures set the Christians polemic paradigm but two are prominent, II Corinthians 6.14 – 18 and I Peter 3.13 – 16.  In the II Corinthians passage Paul sets the polemic stage in the most stark contrast possible in the rhetorical question format. Peter pulls out his “metaphorical sword” and challenges us all to be ready for the polemic contest.  For those inclined to “tolerance,” “coexistence,” “opinion” and “accommodation,” the Bible will prove unsettling.  If one finds polemics uncomfortable, one will certainly find the Bible even more disturbing.  Polemicists abound in God’s Word!   Let’s examine 12 of the Bibles most prominent polemicists:

1.   CHRIST – Our Lord and Savior uttered the most polemic statement of all time: “I am THE way, THE truth and THE life.  NO MAN comes to the Father EXCEPT by me!” – John 14.6

2.   PAUL – Paul had polemic encounters nearly everywhere he went: “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent…” – Acts 17.30

3.   JOHN THE BAPTIST – The tenacity of John was admired by Christ as he truly was a polemicist “faithful unto death.” – “…Herod had seized John and bound him and put him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because John had been saying to him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.” – Matthew 14.3 – 4

4.   PETER & JOHN – After being threatened by the Sanhedrin for speaking in Jesus’ Name, Peter and John offer up a polemic remembered by many even today: “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” – Acts 4.12

5.   STEPHEN – Having been arrested for speaking in the Forbidden Name, Stephen issues a polemic challenge to the Sanhedrin: “You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did.  Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute?  They killed those who previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become; you who received the law as ordained by angels, and yet did not keep it.” – Acts 7.51 – 53

6.   JEREMIAH – The “Weeping Prophet” never converted anyone but his polemics are still honored by God’s people.  He stood up to the king and his entire nation issuing one polemic challenge after another.  “Thus says the Lord, “Behold, I am giving this city into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he will burn it with fire.  You will not escape from his hand, for you will surely be captured and delivered into his hand; and you will see the king of Babylon eye to eye, and he will speak to you face to face, and you will go to Babylon.’” - Jeremiah 34.2b – 3

7.   MOSES – The polemic war between Moses and Pharaoh is iconic.  Who could ever forget; “The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, sent me to you, saying, “Let my people go, that they may serve me in the wilderness.  But behold, you have not listened until now.” - Exodus 7.16

8.   ELIJAH – As polemics go, no confrontation between good and evil is more poignant than the face off on top of Mt. Carmel between Elijah and the 450 prophets of Baal! – Observe  his polemic public prayer shouted out loud for all to hear; “O Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, today let it be known that You are God in Israel and that I am Your servant and I have done all these things at Your word.  Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that You, O Lord, are God , and that You have turned their heart back again.” - I Kings 18.36 – 40

9.   SHADRACH, MESHACH & ABEDNEGO – It was like a spiritual “shoot out at the O.K. Coral.”  With a backdrop of the “Fiery Furnace,” Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego drew a line in the sand for King Nebuchadnezzar, the most powerful man in the world: “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter.  If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king.  But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” – Daniel 3.16b - 18

10.               JOSHUA & CALEB – Jesus enjoins us all to remain “faithful unto death.”  When Joshua and Caleb were faced with death by stoning they continued to lay down their polemic challenge to the rebellious Israelis; “The land which we passed through to spy out is an exceedingly good land.  If the Lord is pleased with us, then He will bring us into this land and give it to us – a land which flows with milk and honey.  Only do not rebel against the Lord; and do not fear the people of the land, for they will be our prey.  Their protection has been removed from them, and the Lord is with us; do not fear them.” Numbers 14.1 - 10

11.               SAMUEL – One man of God transitioned Israel from foreign subjection to the dawn of power and prosperity.  The first king of Israel, Saul, turned out to be a rebellious apostate requiring Samuel to polemically challenge him.  “Is it not true, though you were little in your own eyes, you were made the head of the tribes of Israel?  And the Lord anointed you king over Israel, and the Lord sent you on a mission and said, ‘Go and utterly destroy the sinners, the Amalekites, and fight against them until they are exterminated.’  Why then did you not obey the voice of the Lord, but rushed upon the spoil and did what was evil in the sight of the Lord?” - I Samuel 15.17 – 19

12.               NATHAN – One can imagine just how difficult a polemic is when    the opposition is a good friend and brother.  Such was the case with Nathan the prophet.  He was the personal prophet and confidant of his good friend, King David.  Despite his personal feelings towards the king, Nathan does not shirk from his polemic responsibilities.  "You are the man! Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, 'I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you out of the hand of Saul.  And I gave you your master's house and your master's wives into your arms and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah. And if this were too little, I would add to you as much more.  Why have you despised the word of the LORD, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and have taken his wife to be your wife and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites.  Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.'  Thus says the LORD, 'Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of your own house. And I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun.  For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel and before the sun.'"  - I Samuel 12.1 – 14


Thank God He speaks to us through His word polemically, candidly, forthrightly and clearly!  We are challenged by Him to speak the same way to those who are outside of Gods will for “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God!”   May those hearers have “ears to hear” the polemics of God.


-      Russ McCullough / 9 April 2013

[1] All Scripture references are from either the King James, English Standard or New American Standard versions.

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