Apologetics and the Scoffer
The Bible writers used precious space in Holy Writ to warn the Christian apologist about scoffers and their destructive influence on others, including Christians (2 Peter 3:3; Jude 18). In order to “be ready to give a defense” (1 Peter 3:15), a biblical study of the “scoffer” is warranted. The term occurs most prominently in the Proverbs, one of six books in the Old Testament classified as “wisdom literature,” along with Job, Psalms, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, and Lamentations. In Hebrew usage, a “proverb” (root meaning = “comparison”) is a moralistic pronouncement about everyday life. Proverbs are pithy bits of advice that give insight into existence and reality. Proverbs very practically point people down the pathway to successful living. They cut through the facade and complexities—that we humans so typically conjure up in our lives—by pinpointing how to live a godly life in preparation for eternity.
Rather than being a disconnected hodgepodge of unrelated maxims, Proverbs constitutes a distillation of wisdom gleaned from the Law of God. Wisdom is the general subject matter of the book, but the central theme is stated in 1:7—“the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction” (cf. 9:10; 15:33). In other words, the starting point for life and the real essence of wisdom is fear of God. True living cannot commence without first a genuine respect for God. A healthy fear of the Lord entails a reverence for God that includes obedience and submission to His will (Job 28:28; Psalm 111:10; Ecclesiastes 12:13). A person’s life cannot even “get off the ground” until a humble respect for God and His will is in place. Once the prerequisite of genuine regard for God is intact, the individual is in a position to hear God and to begin the process of assimilating God’s wisdom as it relates to a variety of life’s characteristics, including pride/humility, wealth/poverty, folly, goodness, use of the tongue, vengeance, strife, gluttony, justice, love, lust, laziness, death, friends, and the family.
A SCOFFING SOCIETY
The last half-century in America has brought sweeping cultural changes. Many of the values and beliefs of our civilization have been jettisoned or significantly altered. As one example, consider the fact that society in general is less respectful, less serious, and less self-controlled. More people tend to be flippant and irreverent. Paul spoke of the importance of being sober-minded, serious, and reverent (Titus 1:2-8). It’s as if the further our nation moves away from God and His moral precepts, the more reckless, undisciplined, uncontrolled, and irreverent people become. Eventually, nothing is sacred or worthy of respectful, cautious, careful handling.
Such is the case with the “scoffer” of Proverbs. Various forms of the term (verb, participle, noun) occur some 18 times in the book. Depending on the translation, the noun form is generally translated “scorner” (KJV), “scoffer” (NKJV, ASV, NASB, RSV), or “mocker” (NIV). In identifying the meaning of the underlying Hebrew terms, the language authorities speak of “chatterers,” “overbearing tittle-tattle,” “arrogant men,” “rebels,” “to brag, speak boastfully,” “to put on airs,” “to scoff, deride,” “to encourage scorn.”1 They also speak of ridicule, scorn, and mockery, make fun of, in association with arrogance, wickedness, licentiousness, and folly.2 Our English dictionaries define “scorn” as “contempt or disdain felt toward a person or object considered despicable or unworthy; to reject or refuse with derision.” “Scoff” is defined as “to mock at or treat with derision or scorn.” “Mock” means “to treat with ridicule or contempt; deride, jeer.” A good summary description of the “scoffer” is seen in the comment by the classic Hebrew lexicographer William Gesenius: “a frivolous and impudent person, who despises scoffingly the most sacred precepts of religion, piety, and morals.”3
Characteristics of the Scoffer
Solomon had much to say about this prideful, stubborn approach to life. Proverbs 1:20-22 (NASB) reads:
Wisdom shouts in the street, she lifts her voice in the square;
At the head of the noisy streets she cries out;
At the entrance of the gates in the city she utters her sayings:
“How long, O naive ones, will you love being simple-minded?
And scoffers delight themselves in scoffing and fools hate knowledge?”
The scoffer is in the same class with fools and the naïve—those disinterested in acquiring the wisdom and knowledge that can only come from God. A “fool” in Proverbs is not someone who is mentally handicapped; it is the person who is morally deficient because he or she rejects the approach to life advocated by God. Proverbs 9:7-8 reads:
He who corrects a scoffer gets dishonor for himself,
And he who reproves a wicked man gets insults for himself.
Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you,
Reprove a wise man and he will love you.
Observe that Solomon meant that if you impart correction and reproof to someone with a prideful attitude, you are wasting your time, “casting your pearls before swine” (Matthew 7:6), and will receive only abuse, hate, and resentment in return. We so often feel like it is our duty and mission in life to correct everyone around us. This passage teaches that we need to be more judicious and discriminating regarding when to “weigh in” on a matter that arises in another person’s life. We literally must make an assessment of such a person before we offer advice (Proverbs 26:4-5).4 That assessment would have to be based on “fruit” (Matthew 7:20).
Proverbs 9:12 states: “If you are wise, you are wise for yourself, and if you scoff, you alone will bear it.” In other words, by embracing and inculcating wisdom into your life, you will receive its benefits and be rewarded. On the other hand, if you scoff at wisdom and refuse to apply God’s insight to your circumstances, you will hurt yourself by being your own worst enemy. Past generations captured this concept well in the reference to those who would “cut off their nose to spite their face.”
Proverbs 14:6 says: “A scoffer seeks wisdom and does not find it, but knowledge is easy to him who understands.” By “seeking wisdom,” Solomon means that a scoffer’s pursuit of proper thinking and insight is a useless enterprise, since he is not actually interested in finding it. For him, the pursuit of wisdom is a vain exercise. But if our heart and attitude is right, and we are sincerely and sensibly seeking God’s perspective, we will find it. When Festus accused Paul of being driven insane by learning, Paul responded: “I am not mad, most noble Festus, but speak the words of truth and reason” (Acts 26:25). Spiritual insight and the wherewithal to function effectively in this life is available to those who sincerely, genuinely desire it. As Jesus explained: “If anyone wants to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine” (John 7:17).
Proverbs 15:12 informs us: “A scoffer does not love one who corrects him, nor will he go to the wise.” Again, the scoffer resents constructive criticism and helpful input that would make life go better for him and spiritually prepare him for eternity. His complete lack of interest in spiritual things, and his prideful, self-absorbed attitude means that he refuses to enlist the aid of those who could help him, those who have already “been around the block.”
Rearing a Scoffer
From whence come scoffers? How do they arise? How does a person become a scoffer? Proverbs addresses these questions as well. Proverbs 13:1 reads: “A wise son heeds his father’s instruction, but a scoffer does not listen to rebuke.” The very nature and attitude of a scoffer means that he will not listen to sage counsel from parents and others who would help him. It also means that he will not receive the benefits to be gained from being disciplined—either orally or physically. That is one reason why parents must start young in the administration of corporal punishment: “Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him” (Proverbs 22:15). One of the ways to head off having a scoffer for a son or daughter is to address the scoffing attitude early on. Spanking must have as its end to alter attitude. If the application of physical pain to the posterior does not alter the attitude, perhaps you did not get the job done and more diligence is needed.
Proverbs 17:21 says: “He who begets a scoffer does so to his sorrow, and the father of a fool has no joy.” Observe that “scoffer” is put in parallel construction with “fool,” showing the close connection between the two. Proverbs has much to say about parenting. Sometimes the unwillingness of the scoffer to listen to advice and to heed wise counsel is an indication that his parents did not get the job done early on. Parents must make a child listen to them. That’s not something that comes naturally for a child. A child must be made to show respect and to be attentive to parental guidance. Children are self-absorbed and consumed in their little world, so they must be brought to reality by parents who insist/demand that the child stop his preoccupation with trivialities, look the parent in the face, and pay attention to the parent’s instructions. Such respect and honor must be taught and demanded. Proverbs also has much to say about the fact that bringing a child under control in order to instill respect for authority and receptivity to wisdom takes corporal punishment (13:24; 19:18; 22:15; 23:13-14; 29:15,17). When such is done early in the child’s life, depending on the child, it will be needed rarely as time goes by.
On the other hand, when that aspect of childrearing is neglected or omitted, the adult that results is in need of firmer measures than mere verbal rebuke: “Strike a scoffer, and the simple will become wary; Rebuke one who has understanding, and he will discern knowledge” (Proverbs 19:25). Notice that there are people in society who will not be corrected by mere oral admonition. God Himself declares that physical punishment is necessary and appropriate. Yet, our society has degenerated so far from God that they would declare such punishment as “cruel and inhumane.” Remember that Eli’s own two sons—who were not mere boys—were in need of more than the verbal reprimands their father gave them (1 Samuel 2:23-25). They were in need of physical intervention and restraint (1 Samuel 3:13). Corporal and capital punishment were authored by God (Genesis 9:6; Proverbs 13:24; Romans 13:4).
Adult Criminal Behavior
Observe also the effect that the punishment of lawless people has on others in society: “Strike a scoffer, and the simple will become wary” (Proverbs 19:25). It is a fact that punishment of the lawbreaker is a deterrent to the spread of criminal behavior. God stated that principle repeatedly in the Old Testament, and even repeated it in the New (Deuteronomy 13:11; 17:13; 21:21; Acts 5:11; 1 Timothy 5:20). The Bible teaches the corollary of this principle as well. Where there is inadequate, insufficient, or delayed punishment, crime and violence increase. As Solomon stated in Ecclesiastes 8:11—“Because the sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.” This very phenomenon is occurring even now in our country—and even in the Church. The concept is repeated in Proverbs 21:11—“When the scoffer is punished, the simple is made wise; but when the wise is instructed, he receives knowledge.” Proverbs 19:29 reads: “Judgments are prepared for scoffers, and beatings for the backs of fools.” Question: Based on such declarations, does God want scoffers punished? To ask is to answer.
Yet, our criminal justice system, beginning in the 1960s, has been turned away from the original intent of the Founders. The architects of American jurisprudence sought to emulate Bible principles and inculcate into our laws the thinking of God. But in recent years, the entire system has shifted from concern for the rights of the victim to the rights of the criminal. Our prisons are full to overflowing, and lawlessness continues to increase. The godly concept of justice has fallen on hard times. As if describing our own society, Proverb 19:28 declares, “A disreputable witness scorns justice.” “Scorns” is the verb form of the word for scoffer. Those who are either lawbreakers themselves or who “approve of those” (Romans 1:32) who are, scoff at justice. Proverbs 14:9 adds: “Fools mock at sin.” That is precisely why John Adams, Signer of the Declaration of Independence, Vice-President under George Washington, and Second President of the United States, declared on October 11, 1798—“We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion…. Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”5 The greater the numbers of Americans who scoff at justice and Christian morality, the more inevitable will be our national doom.
The Heart of the Scoffer & How to Handle It
Proverbs 21:24 pinpoints the central malady of the scoffer: “A proud and haughty man—‘Scoffer’ is his name; he acts with arrogant pride.” Here is the perennial problem of us all: pride. It reared its ugly head in the Garden, and it threatens us now. The scoffer is inherently prideful. The bottom line, taproot cause of all departure from God’s will is human pride. Pride is the attribute of thinking highly of self (Romans 12:3). Pride is self-centeredness. It is approaching life from the perspective of personal desire—what do Iwant? What will make me happy? What will bolster my status? What will enhance my circumstances? No wonder John summarized the nature of worldliness in terms of the three avenues through which Satan seeks to subvert people: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 John 2:16). Even the lust of the flesh and eyes are actually further manifestations of pride. When our flesh and our eyes desire something which we should not have, the motivation behind the fleshly lust is the desire to enhance self. Selfishness is the essence of pride. The scoffer is eaten up by it.
Proverbs 22:10 gives additional advice on how to deal with the scoffer: “Cast out the scoffer, and contention will leave; yes, strife and reproach will cease.” Let’s get direct and practical on this one. What are the elders to do with a member of the church who stirs up trouble by mocking authority, righteousness, or serious matters? What should be done when a member badmouths the elders behind their backs, and undermines their authority because of a decision they’ve made? Solomon said: “Cast him out.” Paul agreed with Solomon. He told the church at Corinth regarding an impenitent fornicator: “[W]hen you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, deliver such a one to Satan…. [P]urge out the old leaven…. Therefore ‘put away from yourselves the evil person’” (1 Corinthians 5:4-5,7,13).
So very much heartache, division, and confusion has been generated in the Church over the years simply because those causing division were not handled promptly and biblically. We have not taken God’s words seriously. We’ve lacked the faith and zeal to step up to the plate and act. We do not share God’s sentiments when He says: “The devising of foolishness is sin, and the scoffer is an abomination to men” (Proverbs 24:9). We have allowed the body of Christ to be torn asunder, because we did not listen to our God when He warned us that “Scoffers set a city aflame, but wise men turn away wrath” (Proverbs 29:8).
Who Are the Scoffers Today?
Who in our day fits the description of the scoffer from the book of Proverbs? First on the list would surely be many atheists, agnostics, skeptics, and evolutionists. The world population stats show that over one billion people on the planet claim no affiliation with religion in any form. They scoff at the idea of God and those who follow Him. They believe that the Universe and life on Earth came about solely through naturalistic processes without any divine intelligence. They scoff at anyone who thinks otherwise. They believe that only the physical Universe exists with nothing metaphysical—beyond the physical. In this category would be many of the radical animal rights people and environmentalists who think that animals are people and that it’s up to humans to save the planet. The Bible assessment of such individuals is simple: “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Psalm 14:1; 53:1).
Observe that the Christian apologist who defends the existence of God and the inspiration of the Bible must be prepared to recognize and cope with what it feels like to be scoffed at. For example, legion are those today who scoff at the historicity of the Noahic Flood—though the geological evidence for such a catastrophic deluge is worldwide.6 The strategy of the scoffer is to make the recipient of his scoffing to feel pressure to give up his view and accept the thinking of the scoffer. The victim is made to feel that the scoffer possesses knowledge that the victim is not privy to; the scoffer’s condescending jab creates an air of authority designed to intimidate and bully the believer into submission and gather other followers from among his audience. The approach is effective and explains why Scripture warns about scoffers so often and how to handle them. No wonder Peter explained:
…knowing this first: that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.” For this they willfully forget: that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in the water, by which the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water. But the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word, are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men (2 Peter 3:3-7).
Modern uniformitarian “geology” was developed by scoffers as a direct counter to biblical catastrophism and the Flood. The Christian must not capitulate to such deceitful tactics. The truth outweighs the counterfeit confidence of the scoffer.
Who else qualifies as a scoffer? Those people and organizations that seek to undermine the American way of life often merit the label when they mock and belittle those individuals who seek to uphold it. By “American way of life,” I mean the Christian moral principles on which the nation was founded. Organizations such as the ACLU, AUSCS, FFR, BLM, Antifa, and LGBTQ groups are feverishly attempting to silence God in our society by systematically expunging all references to God, Christ, and the Bible from our schools, our government, and public life. In close proximity to these groups are those liberal politicians who also have made it clear that they share the same anti-Christian views.7
Two premiere, politicized moral issues, that have become prominently championed by liberal politicians, liberal media, the educational system, Hollywood, and beyond, are abortion (which includes embryonic stem-cell research) and homosexuality (which has expanded to include transgenderism). Since the 1960s, the Feminist Movement and other subversive forces, have scoffed at the traditional American values that made our nation great. They have demeaned and ridiculed the home and family as God intended. They have celebrated sexual promiscuity and demanded the right to destroy unborn babies—to the tune of more than 63 million since 1973.8 Their lust for sexual license has led to the widespread acceptance of homosexuality—a catastrophic issue in the culture war that is raging across the country.9 The decline of sexual sensibility has sparked cries for the acceptance of polygamy and other forms of sexual deviancy. All such people are scoffers who scoff at God and His plan for the home—the basic building block of humanity. The faithful must not flinch in the face of such forceful coercion.
A fitting conclusion to this brief consideration of the scoffer is found in Proverbs 3:33-35. Ironically, the Lord Himself will heap back upon the scoffer his own scoffing, even as He will bring judgment on the scoffer in the end:
The curse of the LORD is on the house of the wicked,
But He blesses the home of the just.
Surely He scorns the scornful,
But gives grace to the humble.
The wise shall inherit glory,
But shame shall be the legacy of fools (Proverbs 19:29).
1 L. Koehler, W. Baumgartner, M.E.J. Richardson, & J.J. Stamm (1994-2000), The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: E.J. Brill, electronic ed.), pp. 529,533-534.
2 William Gesenius (1847), Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1979 reprint), pp. 435,440; William Holladay (1988), A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans), p. 176.
3 Ibid., p. 435.
4 Jeff Miller (2017), “Jesus Gave Him No Answer,” Reason & Revelation, 37:112-113, 116; Eric Lyons (2004), “He Opened Not His Mouth,” Apologetics Press, https://apologeticspress.org/apcontent.aspx?category=6&article=1437.
5 John Adams (1854), The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States, ed. Charles Adams (Boston, MA: Little, Brown, and Company), 9:229.
6 Jeff Miller (2019), “Was the Flood Global? Testimony from Scripture and Science,” Reason & Revelation,39:38-41,44-47.
7 History demonstrates that socialism, communism, and Marxism have shown themselves to be antithetical to Christianity.
9 See Jeff Miller and Dave Miller (2021), Homosexuality: Scripture, Society, Science, and Psychology (Montgomery, AL: Apologetics Press).
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