#STRask: June 29, 2017

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Published on 06/29/2017

In 4 min. or less, Greg answers questions about prayer, different kinds of Bible, and imprecatory prayers.


  • Why do we have to ask God for something more than once? If He loves us, why do we have to persistently beg before God answers?
  • What are the differences between the Apocrypha and Septuagint, and the Protestant and Catholic Bibles?
  • Thinking about ISIS, do you think Christians can make imprecatory prayers?


Melinda: Hello there folks. This is Melinda the Enforcer and I’m here with Greg Koukl. He just announced to me his reason for existence is to annoy me. That’s a purpose.

Greg: Well, it’s right.

Melinda: You’re fulfilling it quite well.

Greg: It’s an exalted one, too.

Melinda: I don’t know about exalted, but you’re fulfilling it.

Greg: Well, it’s always good to know that you are accomplishing what you set out to do. What was that, Brooke? Were you saying something?

That was just the Enforcer groaning that she had to do another segment with me. No.

Melinda: No, that’s okay.

Greg: No, we’ll leave it because this is one of the rare occasions that you get on the air, Brooke.

Melinda: She’s not on the air. Only we can hear her.

Greg: Oh, okay. Well, alright.

Melinda: It’s still going right? Okay, we’ll just keep going.

Greg: Let’s rock and roll then. Everybody knows this part. Let’s just jump into the questions.

Melinda: We’re professionals. Nobody knows the part that all just happened, because that’s like you’re ridiculous stuff. Okay. Here we go. First question comes from Jason L. Funk. Why do we have to ask God for something more than once? If he loves us, why do we have to persistently beg before God? Answers.

Greg: Well, you know, this is a good question.

Melinda: I knew you were going to say that.

Greg: It shows that there’s more that’s going on here than just God’s willingness or unwillingness to act. In the book of James it says the effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much, or something to that effect. The idea is that there’s a fervency and an intensity and a continued element that seems to factor into the answered prayer. He’s actually citing the circumstance of Elijah in 1 Kings 18, where he has the prophets of Baal slaughtered. Then he goes and he prays for the drought to end. He prays a number of times before his servant sees the cloud rise in the sky. Then of course, now the deluge is going and he girds up his loins and he outruns the chariot.

There’s multiple prayers for the answer. What this suggests then is that there’s something else going on than just a willingness of God to act. Are we banging on that door over and over again until finally God says, “Oh man, I’m so tired of listening to that guy. Alright, I’m going to give you what you want.” That would be like the unrighteous judge in the gospel of Luke. As Jesus is making the point, that the parallel here is not my similarity, but by contrast. God is a good judge, he’s not an unrighteous one. Even so, there is this element of persistent prayer that seems to be a factor. Jesus prayed three times in the garden, asked for the same thing. Now he didn’t get what he asked for. Paul prayed multiple times with regard to the thorn in Corinthians and he didn’t get what he asked for either.

Some person actually pointed that out. The times when you see multiple prayers in the New Testament people don’t get what they ask for, so maybe one is enough. Jesus did talk about persisting in prayer, and that’s part of the point of the Luke passage. He does say, “Will not God bring justice speedily?” I don’t know what that means, because it sure doesn’t feel that way. We have this enigma, I guess. I can’t say I understand it. If I could, I wouldn’t be calling it an enigma, I guess. The enigma is that there is a good God who wants to answer our prayers and encourages us, but then wants us to pray believing and persisting in prayer.

That’s to me the struggle. How long do you continue to persist and still keep believing? If you persist a long time and nothing happens, doesn’t this affect the faith that you bring to the project, the confidence? That’s personally a struggle for me. I’m content at this point to say that there’s an enigma here between the desire of God to answer prayers and also the propriety of persistent prayer. Those seem to be at odds with each other a little bit, ergo the question, but biblically they’re not at odds, and I don’t know how to solve that problem. I just pray about the things that are important to me. You know, James says, “You have not because you ask not”. With regards to the really important things in my life that I am frustrated that I haven’t seen prayer on, I have had this conversation with God many times as I’ve struggled with him and I’ve said, “Well one thing for sure, it will never be said of me”...

Melinda: You didn’t ask.

Greg: ...“That I didn’t ask.” Exactly, I have not because I ask not. I’m going to bang on your door another time and I’m going to keep bothering you until you do something.

Melinda: Yeah. We’ve talked about this. I mean, I think one of the reasons, the whole point of prayer is relationship and dependency on God. I think whatever God’s reasons are for not answering particular prayer, he still wants us to come because he wants us to always have the attitude of dependency on him. Then also, to pray knowing he is good and in the end surrender to his decision...

Greg: What he determines, right.

Melinda: ...I think it doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t keep praying the same thing, just like Jesus did in the garden, but he asked the same thing three times, but he also every time said, “Not my will, your will.” I think in the end we believe...One of the things I learned at some point in my life, when I pray, and I didn’t get what I answered, I don’t know, it’s not like I particularly thought about God that he wasn’t good, or he wanted to hold things from me, but I think over time I had a little bit of an attitude. For me, the shift was realizing whatever it was, to believe that God is good. When I pray, even if I keep praying every single day for it, in the end I leave it in his good, wise hands.

Greg: Just a little pushback on one thing you said, and that is the main point of prayer is relationship. I think there’s a point, a significant point of utility to prayer.

Melinda: Well, yes.

Greg: We pray to get things done, to get answers. To me, the struggle, one thing that I struggle with is it is not that God doesn’t answer prayer, because I think sometimes he says yes and sometimes he says no. What I struggle with is the quite expansive promises regarding answer to prayer that I see, say in John 15 and in 1 John 5, whatever you ask, I’ll do kind of thing. There’s some qualification there, but even with the qualification it seems like a very magnanimous offer. Then when it seems like the skies are brass, and I don’t mean just for me but for others as well listening, on something you persisted on that seems to be a good thing, a thing that’s consistent with God’s revealed will, et cetera, and you see no movement on it, then I wonder what do these things mean. That’s the bigger confusion to me, not so much God’s goodness, I don’t think, but it’s more like what about these promises. How am I supposed to understand those promises? That’s the struggle for me.

Melinda: Right. I think it’s Tim Keller who quotes John Newton. This has been helpful for me, the way God answers. I mean, I realize yes, no, maybe, but that never seemed quite satisfying. He quotes John Newton I believe it is who says that...I don’t know how to put it. God will answer us in the way we would’ve prayed if we knew everything God knew.

Greg: Oh, yeah.

Melinda: Whatever his answer, whether it’s delayed, whether it’s no, in my frustration I can say, “Okay, Lord, you know much more than I do and I’m going to trust your answer.”

Greg: Right.

Melinda: Next question comes from 82. What are the differences between the Apocrypha, Septuagint and the Protestant Catholic Bibles?

Greg: Well, the Septuagint is simply the Greek translation of the Old Testament. This was done some hundred years or so prior to the time of Christ. This was the Old Testament that was in use in the vernacular in the trade language.

Melinda: There were a lot of Hellenized Jews by that time.

Greg: Yeah, that’s right. I mean it was the language of the people, like English is the trade language of the world right now. French used to be, that’s why they called it the lingua franca. Now the lingua franca is Anglais. Back then it was Greek, so you had a translation of the Old Testament into Greek that had wide usage. Even among the Apostles their citations of the Old Testament were often from the Septuagint, the Greek translation, just like we would cite an English translation. Even though they could speak Greek, or Hebrew I should say, they still used the Greek translation. That’s what the Septuagint is. It’s called Septuagint from the word 70 and there’s a story about 70 scholars that were isolated that translated it all and it had to be perfect among...I don’t know if that’s true. It’s probably apocryphal, but anyway, that’s where the name came from.

Melinda: Which brings up the Apocrypha.

Greg: The Apocrypha. Well, let me make this distinction. You’ve got the Old Testament and you have the New Testament and then you have the inter-testamental books. The Old Testament in Hebrew, translated into Greek: Septuagint. New Testament, Greek translated into Latin: Vulgate. Okay, but then we’ve got these books kind of in the middle. These are principally from the period of Malachi to John the Baptist, this inter-testamental period.

Melinda: Where there was silence for...

Greg: Well, this would be the point. This is the case.

Melinda: Theoretically. If you just have the Protestant Bible, you have silence between in those few hundred years.

Greg: Yeah. Before we get to the Protestant Bible, because it almost sounds there like we’re secularizing a certain version, I think the better way to put it is that these books were in existence and were admired and had some usefulness to the Jews, these books that are called the Apocrypha. They had historical value. They had homiletic value or...

Melinda: Devotional value.

Greg: ...There, thank you, devotional value. Pardon me. It isn’t that we speak lightly of them. However, the Jews never considered these canonical. Alright? When you come to the New Testament period, the early church, there was some debate about some of these books and whether they should be included in the New Testament canon or not. It really wasn’t until the 16th century that the Council of Trent officially canonized those books called the Apocrypha that you will find in the Catholic Bibles. They were not in the collections of Bibles in general. Actually, now I’m thinking about the Vaticanus. These are from the fourth and fifth century. I don’t know if they had those other books in them, but they did have the Old Testament and most of the New Testament, but I’m not sure about this.

Generally speaking, these were not accepted. They did not find full acceptance by the Christian community. There was a mixed bag on that. However, when the Protestant Reformation came around, there were doctrines of the Roman Catholic church that were being challenged biblically by Luther and his followers that they found some support for...

Melinda: The Catholic church found support for.

Greg: ...The Catholic did, in the Apocrypha. I think this is a pretty straightforward characterization. In a counter-reformation move, they canonized the Apocrypha. Part of what was under challenge is the purgatory and the like. There was apparently some justification they found scripturally for those, I think, unusual and non-biblical doctrines, they found them in the Apocrypha, and so therefore they canonized it. Just because you canonize it 1600 years later does not mean that the Protestants took books out of the canon of scripture. Rather, I think it’s more accurate to say that the Roman Catholic church put books back in that were questionable all the time.

Melinda: Not back in, put books in.

Greg: Put books in, that’s right - not back in - that were questionable. To me, the most significant aspect of this is these are Jewish works that the Jews themselves did not consider on par with the rest of the scripture.

Melinda: Okay. Next question comes from allforhymn. Thinking about ISIS, do you think Christians can make imprecatory prayers?

Greg: Wait, we just had that question.

Melinda: That was on the other show.

Greg: Oh my goodness, that’s right.

Melinda: Yeah. Is that funny? I already picked this one out to do. That was on the long podcast.

Greg: Right. We did have that question.

Melinda: You should be prepared to answer this.

Greg: What did I say?

Melinda: I wasn’t paying attention. I was teaching Brooke how to use a budgeting app.

Greg: You always say something like that, you know “I was hard at work doing something else.”

Melinda: I’ve been listening to you for what, 20...

Greg: We’ve never had this question come up that I can recall.

Melinda: No, that’s true.

Greg: An imprecatory psalm is a psalm that was written by the psalmist in which he invokes God’s wrath upon some evil person. One of them even says something to the effect, “may you dash their children’s heads upon the stone” or something like that.

Melinda: Yeah. Sometimes they’re disturbing to read, and I even have trouble reading this prayerfully.

Greg: Devotionally.

Melinda: You know, what am I to learn from this?

Greg: Yeah, let me meditate on that for a moment. There are two ways to take this. One of them is as a genuine prayer by the writer where he is genuinely asking God to act in this way. Now, whether God chooses to do so is up to God, but this is the intent of the prayer, for God to act and exercise justice on terribly wicked people. Another way to understand it is that this is the psalmist venting and he does not really mean what he’s saying. The example I used in the show earlier today was when you see something really, really wicked or awful and you just say, “God damn it”, and you kind of mean it deep inside of you, “damn that, damn it. It’s so awful”, that’s the most appropriate way to react to it, but you’re not actually wishing damnation upon the person that you’re speaking about. It’s a way of venting and in a sense metaphorically condemning their actions.

It could be one of two ways. My response to the caller today was to say whatever the psalmist was doing, we could do because there’s no hint in the passages that what the psalmist was doing was inappropriate. Now, was the psalmist just venting? If that’s what was going on then I think we can vent that way. Was the psalmist genuinely calling down judgment on a wicked people? Well, if he was then we can do that as well. I tend to think that in some cases at least he was calling down judgment. I haven’t don’t a very thorough analysis of this and kind of checked all the commentaries and all that other stuff, but as I read it this is my sense. I do think the illustration that was given on the show was ISIS crucifying children, which I’d never heard about that. I don’t doubt it, but I don’t follow the news. I don’t have to countenance this ghastly kind of stuff, but if that’s what they’re doing, I think calling judgment down on them using an imprecatory prayer sounds like it makes a lot of sense to me.

God can do what he wants, but in the book of Revelation as the caller pointed out, we do have the saints who had been murdered for the sake of the lamb, asking God, how long will it be until he avenges their blood. Now the important thing here is it’s God avenging the blood. We are not taking our own vengeance. One thing that I mentioned to you after that call, and I came out and said, “I wish I would’ve said this”, now I get a chance to say it. I think our standard posture should be to bless our enemies and not curse. Bless and not curse, okay. Don’t return evil for evil. In this case though, this is a prayer to God, and I don’t think that that’s an act of evil to pray in that way. Sometimes the evil is so egregious that it seems to justify an imprecatory prayer.

Melinda: In the things, the commentaries I’ve read explaining the imprecatory prayers also makes the point that it’s usually not personal grievances being aired here, but there’s a higher justice here. It’s objective justice or it’s God’s honor, you know God’s enemies, that this isn’t just petty vengeance type things but it’s speaking at a higher, more objective level where God’s name and his honor is involved.

Greg: Right.

Melinda: It’s a good thing for us to have that perspective, to be that jealous for God’s honor, like God is jealous for his own honor.

Greg: Mm-hmm. I’m just cruising through some psalms right now, looking for an imprecatory psalm.

Melinda: Can never find one when you need one.

Greg: Never find one when you need one, like on the freeway. That’s when I need an imprecatory psalm.

Melinda: I suspect that doesn’t quite qualify.

Greg: I can always form my own, get a little creative.

Melinda: I doubt they’re going to be quite as spiritual. That’s very helpful, thank you, Greg. That’s it for this episode, folks. STRask, send us your questions on Twitter using the #STRask and we’ll put Greg on a timer to answer the question. I’m Melinda the Enforcer with Greg Koukl. Two episodes every week, Mondays and Thursdays. Bye bye for Stand to Reason.