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Use of the Permissive Idiom in the SDA Commentary

The SDA Bible Commentary on God Being Said to Do That Which He Merely Permitted

 The writers of the Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary obviously understood the idiomatic expressions where scripture seems to say God personally did something when He merely permitted or allowed it.

 Here are examples:

“The Scriptures sometimes represent God as doing that which He does not specifically prevent.” (SDA BC vol. 2, p531; on 1 Sam 16:14)

“In the verse under consideration we have another instance in which God is said to do that which He does not prevent.” (SDA BC vol. 2, p710; on 2 Sam 24:1)

“In the Bible, God is frequently presented as doing that which He does not restrain. The whole picture is a parable. Ahab had chosen to be guided by false prophets, and God simply permitted him to be guided by these prophets to his ruin.” (SDA BC vol. 2, p840; on 1 Kings 22:22)

“God is frequently said to do that which He does not prevent.” (SDA BC vol. 3, p184, on 1 Chron 21:1)

“This is a parabolic vision and must be interpreted as such. In it God is represented as doing that which He does not restrain. God does not coerce the will. When evil men willfully choose to follow deception He does not intervene.  Since God is supreme, His refusal to restrain the forces of evil is often represented as though He directly sends the evil … Thus it was in the case of Ahab, Satan was already at work through the agency of the false prophets, and God simply did not prevent the course the king had chosen for himself.” (SDA BC vol. 3, p258; on 2 Chron 18:18)

“In other words, it was not the Spirit of the Lord that influenced Assyria to go against Israel and Judah, but the spirit of the evil one. How, then, can it be said that Assyria was a tool in the hand of the Lord? God’s protecting hand was withdrawn from the power against whom judgment had been decreed, and Assyria was permitted to work out her selfish, evil will. It is thus that the Lord works out His sovereign will in a world that is in rebellion against Him.” (SDA BC vol.4, p152; on Isa 10:7)

“God is the author of “light” and “peace.” He permits “evil,” whether moral or material, that men and angels may witness the result of a departure from the eternal principles of right. … In scripture God is often represented as causing that which He does not prevent.” (SDA BC vol. 4, p267; on Isa 45:7)

“In the nontechnical language of the Bible, God is often represented as doing that which He does not prevent. The question may be understood permissively, “O Lord, why have you permitted us to err?” etc. Since God never coerces the will, He does not prevent men from following the evil course of their choosing. In one sense of the word men actually do not have God’s permission to do evil. They have God’s permission to do right but because they are free moral agents God does not prevent them from following the way of evil if they so choose. We would hardly say of our children, if some of them grow up and leave the path of rectitude , that they have our permission to do evil. Because of their maturity we simply no longer interfere with their choice.” (SDA BC vol. 4, p 325; on Isa 63:17)

“… the prophet here ascribes to Jehovah all of Judah’s affliction, which he narrates in detail. The Lord is often said to do that which He does not prevent …” (SDA BC vol. 4, p551, on Lam 2:2)

“That is, the Lord permits the evil prophet to be deceived in the same sense in which He hardened Pharaoh’s heart, by permitting the seed of obstinacy to spring up and bear fruit.” (SDA BC vol. 4, p622; on Eze 14:9)

The quote above is regarding the first portion of Eze 14:9: “And if the prophet be deceived … I the LORD have deceived that prophet …” The second portion of the verse attributes another action to God: “… I will stretch out my hand upon him, and will destroy him …” The authors of the SDA Bible Commentary saw fit to offer a similar, separate explanation for this portion of the verse:

“However, in the Scriptures,God, the physician, is often represented, in figure, as sending also the results of the disease upon those who refuse His remedy.” (SDA BC vol. 4, p622; on Eze 14:9)

The writers of the Commentary obviously understood what was happening in the Bible regarding God’s claims of action. Unfortunately, many Bible students do not see this. They merely say things like “I take the Bible just as it reads.” Through ignorance, laziness or an unwillingness to alter their permission they miss the true meaning. See also the extended explanation with the quote above which mentions other cases of God appearing to do what He permitted.

“In Bible figure, many acts are attributed to God, not with the idea that He actually performs them, but from the point of view that in His omnipotence and omniscience He does not prevent them. An understanding of this principle helps to explain many apparently contradictory statements, which, like the one here under consideration, seem to contradict flatly the Bible teaching that God’s character is pure and holy.” (SDA BC vol. 4, p647; on Eze 20:25)

“In Bible figure God is frequently said to do that which He permits to be done or does not prevent. Some of the versions such as Luther’ s and Van Ess’s introduce the permissive idea directly into their translation: “I permitted them to be polluted,” etc. (SDA BC vol. 4, p647; on Eze 20:26)

“By figure God is frequently said  to do that which He permits or does not prevent …” (SDA BC vol. 4, p662; on Eze 24:16)

“The power is here represented as that of the Lord, since frequently in the Scriptures, God is said to do that which He permits Satan to do.” (SDA BC vol, 4, p707; on Eze 38:4)

“In the Bible God is often represented as doing that which He does not prevent.” (SDA BC vol. 6, p588; on Rom 9:18)

“That which He thus permits is often represented in the Bible as though directly done by Him.” (SDA BC vol. 6, p589; on Rom 9:21)

“In the Scriptures God is often said to do that which He does not prevent.” (SDA BC vol. 7, p274; on 2 Thess 2:11)

Here are examples showing EGW’s understanding:

“David had neglected the duty of punishing the crime of Amnon, and because of the unfaithfulness of the king and father and the impenitence of the son, the Lord permitted events to take their natural course, and did not restrain Absalom. When parents or rulers neglect the duty of punishing iniquity, God Himself will take the case in hand. His restraining power will be in a measure removed from the agencies of evil, so that a train of circumstances will arise which will punish sin with sin.” (PP 728)

“Thus was fulfilled the word of God to David by the prophet, “Behold, I will raise up evil against thee out of thine own house, and I will take thy wives before thine eyes, and give them unto thy neighbor…. For thou didst it secretly: but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun.” 2 Samuel 12:11, 12. Not that God prompted these acts of wickedness, but because of David’s sin He did not exercise His power to prevent them.” (PP 739)

“With a view to extending his conquests among foreign nations, David determined to increase his army by requiring military service from all who were of proper age. To effect this, it became necessary to take a census of the population. It was pride and ambition that prompted this action of the king.” (PP 747)

It seems that Adventists had a better understanding of the character of God in the past, in Ellen White’s day and even somewhat when the Bible Commentary was written. But Calvinistic thinking has come in along with an emphasis on a legal gospel. A number of times I have heard people say things like “we need to take the Bible just as it reads.” Well I have a problem with that – there are various figures of speech including this idiom and many other idioms; there are metaphors and parables, many things that cannot be taken literally. In many areas, we have to dig deeply to find the scripture treasures.