A Simple Fallacy

Dr. Robert Morey  |  December 10, 2007

Natural theologians constantly commit one of the simplest errors. They take an idealized and romantic modern concept of human “Reason,” that developed during the Renaissance, particularly during the French Revolution, and insert it back into biblical times and even attempt to insert it into biblical texts. But is it possible that ancient writers, most of whom died thousands of years before the Renaissance, knew of and believed in modern Renaissance romantic ideals of an exalted and abstract “Reason,” before whom all must bow, including God?

Ideas have a history that we cannot ignore. We can trace when, where, and through whom an idea first appeared in history. Newton’s idea of the “law of gravity” and Einstein’s “theory of relativity” are good examples of this.

The attempt to take a modern idea and push it back thousands of years before it appeared in history is a grave mistake. If someone claimed that Einstein’s theory of relativity was taught in the Bible, they would be grossly mistaken. But this is exactly what those who believe in Natural Theology, Natural Law, and Philosophy do all the time.

When they use Renaissance idiomatic phrases such as “before the Bar of Reason,” “the demands of Reason,” etc., this is a dead give away that they are guilty of this fundamental error. This phrase “before the Bar of Reason” requires an explanation today as public education no longer teaches the rudiments of European history.

The French Natural Philosophers had abstracted, idealized, romanticized, and then absolutized human reason into an all-seeing, all-knowing, omnipresent, omnipotent, infallible, “Reason.” They took man’s limited and faulty ability to think about issues and then came to a conclusion and elevated it into the Origin of truth, justice, morals, meaning, and beauty. “Reason” was the measure of all things, including God. They had replaced “God” with “Reason.” During the French Revolution, people were dragged before the “bar” or bench of a rationalist judge who proclaimed their guilty verdict in the name of “Reason.”

This is one of the fundamental methodological errors of J.P. Moreland, Norman Geisler, William lane Craig, Greg Koukl, Francis Beckwith, et al. They cite such texts as Isa. 1:18 (”Let us reason together”) and Acts 17:2 (”Paul…reasoned with them”), to prove (sic) that the modern Renaissance concept of “Reason” can be found in the Bible. They assume that the mere presence of the verb “reason” in such passages is sufficient proof that the authors of Scripture knew of and believed in the Renaissance concept of the noun “Reason.”

First, it is outrageous for them to insert a modern idea into ancient biblical times and texts.
Second, none of them even attempt to do any exegesis of the texts they cite. It would appear that they never bothered to check the Hebrew or Greek. They cite texts much like Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Third, even if we pretended, in a moment of insanity, that modern Renaissance ideas like “Reason” could magically appear in ancient biblical times and texts, this would still require hard exegetical work to support it.

To test the vaunted claims of Natural Theologians that their modern ideas of “Reason” can be found in the Bible, you must take several steps.

Step One: You must identify all the Hebrew and Greek words that were translated “reason” in English translations. What will you find? There were nine different Hebrew words and eleven different Greek words that were sometimes translated as “reason” by some versions some of the time.

Step Two: You must analyze these Hebrew and Greek words grammatically. When you do, you will first discover that, for the most part, they are usually verbs, not nouns. This is significant. Natural theologians appeal to some “thing” called “Reason,” which is supposedly the Origin of truth and morals. But there is no Hebrew or Greek noun in Scripture that corresponds to the Renaissance noun “Reason.”

Step Three: Since there are over one hundred biblical passages where the word “reason” appears in some English versions, you have to exegete each passage in its context. When you do, you will find that most versions are in error to use the word “reason.”
Nearly all the Hebrew and Greek words translated “reason” have nothing to do with human “reason” per se but are simple conjunctions. They are grammatical, not anthropological, in nature.

Old Testament Vocabulary