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       Habakkuk 1:13a states, “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrongdoing.”[1] Based on this text, Ray Pritchard, R. C. Sproul, and Tim Challies declare that God cannot look upon evil. The following quotes from these men seem to add support to D. A. Carson’s claim that exegetical fallacies are “painfully frequent.”[2] The quotes are lengthy but needful to represent their position. The first quote is from Ray Pritchard:

       We know from Habakkuk 1:13 that God cannot look with favor upon wickedness. His eyes are too pure to approve the evil in the world. . . . God’s holiness demands that he turn away from sin. . . . Therefore (and this is a big “therefore"), when God looked down and saw his Son bearing the sin of the world, he didn’t see his Son, he saw instead the sin that he was bearing. And in that awful moment, the Father turned away. . . .  He turned away in complete revulsion at the ugliness of sin. When he did that, Jesus was alone. Completely forsaken. God-forsaken. Abandoned. Deserted. Disowned (emphasis added).[3]

       R. C. Sproul teaches essentially the same thing. The embellishments are different; however, his premises and the conclusion are consistent with those of Pritchard. During a message to the participants of the Together for the Gospel 2008 conference, he dramatically proclaimed:             


After he [Jesus] became the scapegoat and the Father imputes to him every sin of every one of his people, we see the most intense, dense, concentration of evil ever experienced on this planet. Jesus was the ultimate obscenity. And so what happened? The Bible tells us that God is too holy to even look at sin, and he cannot bear to look at this concentrated, monumental condensation of evil. And his eyes are averted from his son. He didn't just feel forsaken; he was forsaken. For Jesus to become the curse, he has to be utterly, totally, and completely forsaken by the Father (emphasis added)..[4]

            Tim Challies was present when Sproul gave that message. He accepted it wholeheartedly. He then reiterated Sproul’s hypothesis in his blog. Challies added different details, but the premises and conclusion remain unchanged:

God is too holy to even look at sin. His eyes are averted from His Son. The light of His countenance is turned off; all blessedness is removed from His Son whom He loves. And in its place is the full measure of the divine curse. . . . God turns out the light of the sun so as God turns His face, even the sun won’t shine on Calvary. Bearing the full measure of the curse Christ screams “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus did not merely feel forsaken; He was forsaken. He was utterly, totally and completely forsaken by the Father (emphasis added).[5]


Norman L. Geisler and Ronald M. Brooks encourage their readers to discover the syllogistic arguments used by others in order to evaluate their deductions. One way to find the syllogism is to first identify the conclusion. “Writers will either state it and then support it, or lead you down a road toward it.”[6] Pritchard et al lead the reader down the road to the same conclusion: God turned away from Jesus on the cross and forsook him. All three begin with the major premise that God cannot look upon evil. Each of them presents his minor premise a little differently. It would take extensive review to examine these minor premises properly; therefore, this paper will not expand upon them. It is the contention of this student that the premises and conclusions of all three authors are unequivocally false. However, this paper limits itself only to the major premise—God cannot look upon evil.


Carson explains that an unwarranted associative jump is a logical fallacy that “occurs when a word or phrase triggers off an associated idea, concept, or experience that bears no close relation to the text at hand, yet is used to interpret the text.”[7] The quotes under review refer to Matthew 27:45-46: “From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ (which means ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’).” Those who conclude Christ was forsaken need support for their claim. That no direct correlation exists between the passage in Habakkuk and Matthew does not prevent them from fabricating one. Habakkuk 1:13 is not a Messianic passage.[8] Its subject matter is different from that of Matthew 27, which describes the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ. Habakkuk is struggling with his idea of justice and God’s plan to punish “wicked people with a people even more wicked!”[9] God’s plan alarmed Habakkuk. He thought it was unjust. He was expressing his belief that God should not allow the wicked Chaldeans to oppress Israel.[10] When he said to God that his eyes were too pure to look on evil, he was arguing his point. Therefore, there is no express correlation between the two passages, (i.e., Habakkuk 1:13a and Matthew 27). They have no direct exegetical bearing upon each other. Consequently, teaching that God cannot look upon evil based on Habakkuk 1:13 qualifies as an unwarranted associative jump when applied to Matthew 27.


Grant R. Osborne describes the semantic fallacy of ignoring the context. He instructs his readers that “ignoring the context is the basic error that encompasses the others and makes them possible.”[11] The proposition that God cannot look upon evil is fallacious because it ignores the context of Habakkuk 1:13. Those who use the first half of the verse to teach God cannot look upon evil, ignore the last half. Context is crucial when interpreting. “Statements simply have no meaning apart from” it.[12] It is illegitimate exegesis to pull half of a verse out of its context and use it to support a doctrine. If one looks at the rest of the verse, it becomes obvious that God was looking at evil men. “Why do you idly look at traitors and remain silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he?" (emphasis added, Habakkuk 1:13b, English Standard Version, ESV). The last half of the verse should settle the matter because “the immediate context is the final arbiter for all decisions regarding the meaning of a term or concept.”[13]      


Carson describes problems in distinguishing the figurative and the literal as a “fertile field for fallacies of exegesis.”[14] This is applicable to the premise that God cannot look upon evil. The sense of Habakkuk 1:13a highlights God’s inability to tolerate sin. It does not mean that God cannot literally look upon evil. It refers to God’s holiness. It is figurative.  

This epithet is applied to God as the pure One, whose eyes cannot bear what is morally unclean, i.e., cannot look upon evil. The purity of God is not measured here by His seeing evil, but is described as exalted above it, and not coming at all into comparison with it. . . . who canst not look upon, i.e., canst not tolerate (emphasis added).[15]


God does not have literal, physical eyes, because “God does not a physical body. Scripture uses various parts of the human body to describe God’s activities in a metaphorical way” (emphasis added).[16] The metaphor depicts God’s omniscience and omnipresence. “God . . .  is the ever present eye to which all things are perfectly revealed.”[17] He is everywhere; he sees and knows everything.

Knowledge belongs to God. . . . Objections . . . seem to arise, partly from the supposed distance of God in heaven, from men on earth, and partly from the thick and dark clouds which intervene between them. . . . [These objections are] easily answered by observing the omnipresence of God, or his presence in all places; and that the darkness hides not anything from his all-piercing, all-penetrating eye, the darkness and the light being alike to him” (emphasis added).[18]  


Pritchard began by acknowledging the use of metaphor. “God cannot look with favor upon wickedness. His eyes are too pure to approve the evil in the world” (emphasis added).[19] Unfortunately, he did not stop there. “The Father turned away. . . .  He turned away in complete revulsion at the ugliness of sin” (emphasis added).[20] He would have done well to heed Carson’s exhortation to “avoid going beyond what is written.”[21]  


It is difficult to determine why a scholar would fail to address the entire verse or fail to consider the figurative intent of the passage. The men who promote the idea that God cannot look upon evil are educated. They know better. So blatant is the oversight that it qualifies for a fourth fallacy—selective citing. James W. Sire describes this as a “misuse of evidence in an argument . . . when only a portion of the relevant text is cited.”[22]

Carson explains that this type of fallacy is an “appeal to selective evidence that enables the interpreter to say what he or she wants to say, without really listening to what the Word of God says.”[23] He goes on to explain that “the fallacy lies in [the] . . . implicit supposition that the presentation of selective evidence constitutes proof.”[24] The Word of God is quite clear. Hebrews 4:13 states, “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” The Bible also affirms this in Amos 9:8a. “Surely the eyes of the Sovereign LORD are on the sinful kingdom.” Even Satan appears before God. “On another day the angels came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came with them to present himself before him” (emphasis added, Job 2:1). Consequently, it is fallacious to assert that God cannot literally look upon evil. The student must be diligent. Having an education or being an author is not a guarantee of solid, biblical exegesis. As Geisler and Feinberg pointed out, “It is relatively easy to assert a belief or opinion. It is quite another matter to defend that belief or opinion. Obviously, the mere assertion of a belief does not guarantee its truth.”[25]


Emotion is a normal and heartfelt response for the Christian. This is especially true when considering the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. However, using emotion in place of solid exegesis is misleading at best. As Carson pointed out, “an emotional appeal used as a substitute for truth is worthless.”[26] The message that Pritchard presents is laden with emotion. Sproul’s video message cited above is poignant. It stirs up the listener’s feelings. However, it is not truth. Perhaps these men want to explain the vileness of sin, the righteous judgment of God, and the unfathomable riches of Christ’s love. Even if this is their motivation, there is still a problem. These concepts must not be taught with emotional appeals that bring tears but not truth. Note the affecting pattern used by another teacher who asserts that God cannot look upon sin—John MacArthur:  

As a sinful child does not cease to be the essence of his father, but by his sin loses the intimate fellowship with his father, so Christ did not cease to be God but lost the intimacy of fellowship with His Father which He had eternally known. He had never been anything but loved by His Father. . . . And now, having been loved by His Father perfectly for all eternity, He is treated as if His Father hates Him and His Father turns His back on Him. Why does He do that? Because He's of purer eyes than to behold evil and cannot look upon iniquityHabakkuk 1:12 and 13 (emphasis added).[27]


The appeal to the reader's emotions is evident. As MacArthur weaves the story line, the reader identifies with the child. He knows what it is to have sinned. It is likely that the reader has experienced a loss of intimacy at sometime. Then, according to MacArthur, the “Father turns His back on Him.” The thought of that is emotionally distressing. The student needs to remember that emotion does not equal truth. Worship based on that misconception of the crucifixion is not worship at all. It is misguided sentiment at best. The stories told by each of these four men have emotional appeal, but they are unscriptural. “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth” (emphasis added, John 4:24). Sadly, purely emotive appeals are “often successful in winning the gullible.”[28] The student must guard against such gullibility.  


Students of the Word should “develop a healthy skepticism” and “the ability to recognize good argumentation and evidence.”[29] The assertions cited from Pritchard et al certainly highlight this need. Status within the church does not substantiate anyone’s claims. Those claims must be judged “not on the basis of who said it, but on the basis of the wise reasons they advance.”[30] As demonstrated in this paper, their reasons are unsupported. There is no express correlation between the Habakkuk 1:13 and Matthew 27:45-46. They use the first half of the verse to teach God cannot look upon evil, but they ignore the last half of the verse. They take a metaphor describing God’s omniscience and omnipresence and use it as a literal fact about God’s “eyes.” They ignore the context of Habakkuk 1:13, thus demonstrating their selective and prejudicial use of evidence. Finally, their rhetoric is heavy on emotion but void of sound exegesis.

Make a mistake in the interpretation of Shakespeare’s plays . . . and there is unlikely to be an entailment of eternal consequence; but we cannot lightly accept a similar laxity in the interpretation of Scripture. We are dealing with God’s thoughts: we are obligated to take the greatest pains to understand them truly and to explain them clearly (emphasis added).[31]



[1]Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture is from the New International Version (Zondervan Publishing Company, Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984).


[2]D. A. Carson, Exegetical Fallacies, 2nd ed. (Carlisle, U.K.: Baker Academic, 1996), p. 15.


[3]Ray Pritchard, "The Forsaken Christ," Keep Believing Ministries,  span>> (accessed April 6, 2012).


[4]R. C. Sproul, “Curse Motif of the Atonement” (sermon, Together for the Gospel 2008, Louisville, KY: April 16, 2008), WMV file, 46:12 span>> (accessed April 16, 2012).


[5]Tim Challies, "T4G-R. C. Sproul," Informing The Reforming, entry posted April 16, 2008, span>> (accessed April 22, 2012).


[6]Norman L. Geisler and Ronald M. Brooks, Come, Let Us Reason: an Introduction to Logical Thinking (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 1990), p. 119-120, 130.


[7]Carson, p. 115.


[8]Josh McDowell, Chapter 9: The Messianic Prophecies of the Old Testament Fulfilled in Jesus Christ, in the My Redeemer Bookshelf,  span>> (accessed May 29, 2012).


[9]David Mathis, “From Protest to Praise,” desiring God, entry posted December 18, 2009, span>> (accessed May 31, 2012).


[10]C. F. Keil and Franz Delitzsch, Minor Prophets, vol. 10 of Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Hendrickson Pub, 2006), p. 7388.


[11]Grant R. Osborne, The Hermeneutical Spiral: a Comprehensive Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, Rev. and expanded, 2nd ed. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2006), p. 93.


[12]Ibid., p. 37.


[13]Ibid., pp. 37-38.

[14]Carson, p. 141.  


[15]Keil and Delitzsch, p. 7338.


[16]Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: an Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), p. 158.


[17]Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology (3-Volumes, Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1999), Vol 1: p. 396.


[18]John Gill, Of the Omniscience of God, in A Body of Doctrinal Divinity,; (accessed May 29, 2012).






[21]Carson, p. 115.


[22]James W. Sire, Scripture Twisting: 20 Ways the Cults Misread the Bible (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 1980), p. 80.


[23]Carson, p. 54.


[24]Ibid., p. 55.


[25]Geisler and Feinberg, p. 55. 

[26]Carson, p. 106. 


[27]John MacArthur, “God's Commentary on the Passion of Christ,” Grace to You, (accessed May 21, 2012).


[28]Carson, p. 107.  


[29]Norman L. Geisler and Paul D. Feinberg, Introduction to Philosophy: A Christian Perspective, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1987), p. 21.


[30]Carson, p. 123.

[31]Carson, p. 15. 

Views: 3784

Tags: Habakkuk

Comment by Daniel on June 9, 2012 at 10:04am

I like your last paragraph.  I think we also have to take into account the DUAL authorship of Scripture though and not go so far in the defense of God's thoughts that we don't put it in the context of Man's as well.

Comment by Alex Guggenheim on June 9, 2012 at 2:01pm

Fantastic theological rigor on your part E.A. and to the comical shame of these allegedly informed Teachers.

Comment by Jason on June 9, 2012 at 3:47pm

I do agree that it is a bit of a careless use of that particular verse.

Good job, EA.

Comment by Phil James on June 9, 2012 at 7:01pm

It also ought to give us pause when someone declares God cannot do something, which Jesus went around doing.

Jesus looked at sin; Jesus befriended sinners who were still in their sin; Sinners came close to Jesus; Jesus touched sinners, and sinners touched him, etc

Comment by Marv on June 9, 2012 at 7:45pm

E.A., I either don't quite understand what you are getting at here. Or else I don't quite agree with you.

You seem to have two points of focus: there is something about Jesus' experience of the crucifixion that you have a particular bete noire about. I believe you have posted on this in the past. The idea that part of what Jesus suffered on the cross was something we can characterize as separation from the Father. You seem to understand that while Jesus uttered words expressive of the feeling of abandonment, He was not really experiencing the feeling of abandonment, much less actually being abandoned. Frankly, I am not sure why you object to this idea.

Second, with this in mind you argue that certain people engage in faulty exegesis, exegetical fallacies in making a case for this idea. I have to admit, I've only looked at the first three so far. And I'm not at all sure I quite see the problems that you do. I'll discuss these in subsequent comments.

Comment by Marv on June 9, 2012 at 8:12pm

You say "no direct correlation exists between the passage in Habakkuk and Matthew does not prevent them from fabricating one." I'm not sure either that you are accurately applying the principle, and pretty sure you are not being fair to the people you are critiquing.


"Habakkuk 1:13 is not a Messianic passage.[8] Its subject matter is different from that of Matthew 27, which describes the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ."


So what? 


These guys don't claim it's a messianic passage. And why does it have to be a messianic passage. Are you under the impression that two passages have to be explicitly linked by a statement in the text to serve as commentary on one another? 


One other person around here made a remark along those lines. Suggested that because the text didn't SAY it connected back to a previous text, then we shouldn't either. Nonsense. 


I just don't see how this is an example of "unwarranted associative jumps."


Sproul, et al are making the point that God hates sin utterly, that sin is totally repugnant to Him. He learns this from Hab. 1:13. Accordingly we cannot stand in His presence for eternity with the guilt of our sin on us. The God-man Jesus has no sin, and is the Father's perfect delight.


To say that in bearing our sin, Jesus took on Himself that which God hates, that which is repugnant to Him--took it into His human life so that He could receive the penalty for OUR sin. So He suffered. So He died. And it would seem part of His suffering was the awareness of God's displeasure directed toward Him, as sin-bearer. 


Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—


For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (though I recall you have some particular thoughts about this verse.)


Or else you seem to think that Sproul et al are saying that God literally cannot look at evil and so He didn't look at Jesus while He was on the cross. I do believe they are using the same anthropomorphism as Habakkuk. "He turns His eyes." Well, I presume He doesn't have eyes as we understand them, the physical parts. But He hates sin. I believe Prichard's citation makes this clear.


I just don't see any fallacious citation at this point.

Comment by Marv on June 9, 2012 at 8:29pm

Nor do I see how they are ignoring context. Habakkuk cites a principle, that sin is utterly repugnant to God. In his context, he refers to this truth about God to express astonishment that God has basically hired some tremendously sinful people to do a job for Him.

Still, the truth remains, sin is utterly repugnant to God.

To assert then that Jesus Christ, in bearing our sin, experienced the pointed end of God's repugnance... well, even if you think this didn't happen, that still isn't a misapplication of the verse on the basis of ignoring context. 

Or if it is, tell me how, please.

Comment by Marv on June 9, 2012 at 8:32pm

Your "figurative fallacy" section....

Sproul is not misunderstanding the figure.

I think the key to this whole thing is not that Sproul et al are misunderstanding the Bible, but that you seem (at least to me) to be misunderstanding Sproul and the others.

Comment by Marv on June 9, 2012 at 8:40pm

Yeah, I agree with Phil in principle but don't see how it really applies in this case.

Thank God that Jesus looked my way, who am riven with sinfulness.

On the other hand Jesus did a lot of things that God can't, or at least, doesn't ever do. Sleep, die, for example.

Still nothing in these guys' statements are about God not literally being able to see sin or something. They are using figurative language. Maybe some of our interpreters here are falling into a figuative fallacy in interpreting Sproul et al. 

Comment by E. A. Johnston on June 10, 2012 at 5:08am

@ Daniel--I think in terms of concursive operation (okay, my response to you is "bearded.") "

By "concursive operation" may be meant that form of revelation illustrated in an inspired psalm or epistle or history, in which no human activity—not even control of the will—is superseded, but the Holy Spirit works in, with and through them all in such a manner as to communicate to the product qualities distinctly superhuman.      B. B. Warfield, The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible (Phillipsburg, NJ: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1979), p. 83.

@ Alex and Jason and Phil--Thanks!


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