The fool has said in his heart…

I’m working my way through a collection of Spurgeon’s sermons (at least 150-200 of them) on my PDA. In “The Carnal Mind Enmity Against God”, sermon #20 (which you can find here), I ran across this, which I hadn’t heard before:

That passage in the Psalms, “The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God,” is wrongly translated. It should be, “The fool hath said in his heart, no God.“ The fool does not say in his heart there is no God, for he knows there is a God; but he says, “No God—I don’t want any; I wish there were none.”

He goes on to say that this proves that the carnal mind is enmity against God – for wishing someone to not be is equivalent to wishing them to be dead.

But what really got my attention was the part about the Psalm 14:1 being mistranslated. I checked all my favorite translations, and they all translate it the same way. So I looked up Spurgeon’s full treatment of the Psalm in The Treasury of David (here), where he indeed gives some more information:

It is not merely the wish of the sinner’s corrupt nature, and the hope of his rebellious heart, but he manages after a fashion to bring himself to assert it, and at certain seasons he thinks that he believes it. It is a solemn reflection that some who worship God with their lips may in their hearts be saying, “no God.” It is worthy of observation that he does not say there is no Jehovah, but there is no Elohim; Deity in the abstract is not so much the object of attack, as the covenant, personal, ruling and governing presence of God in the world. God as ruler, lawgiver, worker, Saviour, is the butt at which the arrows of human wrath are shot. How impotent the malice! How mad the rage which raves and foams against Him in whom we live and move and have our being! How horrible the insanity which leads a man who owes his all to God to cry out, “No God”! How terrible the depravity which makes the whole race adopt this as their hearts desire, “no God!”

All this puts an entirely different complexion on the verse.

Previously, I thought this verse didn’t apply to me. Certainly some verses in Proverbs, describing the fool, have applied to me in the past, but I thought I was in the clear on this one. But if I ask myself if I’ve ever wanted God, in His role as righteous and just judge, to overlook my sin – particularly when I was mired in it at any given time, I’d have to say that I have. How is that different from the fool as described above?

It isn’t.

That’s heavy.

(If there are any Hebrew scholars out there, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this mistranslation issue.)

My follow-up post: The fool has said in his heart, redux.



  1. Though I’m not a Hebrew scholar, the litmus test of interpreting Scripture is by using other Scripture, right?

    Romans 1:20-21 tells us that He is both understood (20) and known (21) “by the things that are made.” Despite this knowlege and understanding, they became fooling by professing ‘their wisdom’. How did they do this? By (ex)changing the truth of God and exalting the creature over the Creator. i.e; they put their own agenda ahead of His. (22-25)

    Verse 26-32 tells us that, because of this exchange, God gave them up to vile passions and a debased mind. It would appear that part of this debased mindset is the denial of the (verse 20) universal revelation of His eternal power and Godhead.

    So…the fool who has said “no, God” eventually becomes foolish enough to believe there is “no God.” Dabbling in sin, steamrolling our will over the revealed will of God has a price; a hardened (and in this case) foolish heart. A great example of this process is revealed as we see God harden Pharaoh’s heart as Pharaoh continues in rebellion.

    I like Spurgeon’s take on this. It appears that verse does apply to us…in that we are essentially saying “no, God” every time we sin. Just another confirmation of the fallen nature that we are (still) trying to rend impotent.

    When Paul says in Galatians that “I am crucified with Christ” he reminds us that, sadly, we still live in the flesh; though we are delivered from the flesh’s power as we live by faith in the Son. “nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me,” we are still faced with the presence of the fleshly desires of our fallen selves.

    We differ from the fool described in Psalms only by the supernatural regeneration given by grace. We seek to mortify our continual attitude of “no, God” as we relinquish the flesh’s hold on us, moving toward the freedom of our crucifed lives.

    • I never heard the Spurgeon account, but it makes sense! I believe that saying no to God is the greatest sin. Thanks for shedding light on this text.

  2. Good passages and thoughts, Jeff – thanks!

    Yeah, that Spurgeon was ok, wasn’t he?

  3. Hmm…
    I think that Spurgeon might be reading into the text here. Hebrew does not have a form of the verb “to be”, and the insertion of it is not as subjective as it might seem when seeing the words “there is” in italics (as in the KJV, NAS, etc). Basically (and I’m very rusty/bad with my Hebrew), when no verb is present, it generally implies the form of “to be”. Every major English translation I’ve looked at has the “there is” translation. I even remember Dr. Barrick (sp?) at the Master’s College, who said that the “to be” verbs shouldn’t be italicized because they’re implied and would have been understood by fluent Hebrew speakers/readers.
    Greek sometimes does the same thing. However, the LXX (=Septuagint=Greek OT) inserts the “to be” verb, just like the English translations.

    Basically, I think that Spurgeon makes a good point about the fool’s relationship to God (because he knew the Scriptures and had good theology), but I don’t think that this Psalm is saying what he says it is.

  4. I definitely won’t argue with you, since I know nothing about Hebrew – but I wonder if this footnote from Calvin’s commentary has something to do with Spurgeon’s take on the verse (indeed, he does refer to Calvin in The Treasury of David):

    280 Some critics observe, that as יהוה, Yehovah, the name which denotes the infinite, self-existent essence of God, is not the word here employed, but אלוהס, a name which they regard as referring to God as judge and governor of the world, the meaning of the first verse is not that the fool denies the existence of God, but only his providence and government of the world; that he persuades himself God has no concern about the actions of men, and that there will be no judgment to come; and, therefore, goes on in sin, in the hope of escaping with impunity. — See Poole’s Synopsis Criticorum. The Targum paraphrases the words, “There is no God,” thus, “There is no אלוהס government of God in the earth.”

    In other words, CHS might be taking this approach just because of the use of Elohim rather than Yahweh…

  5. I’m with Danny on this one (and yes, Dr. Barrick doesn’t like italic “to be” verbs).

    I think that CHS’s interpretation is reading something into the text that is not there (I think it is splitting hairs when people make arguments based solely on what name for God is used – Elohim is the general word for God, I don’t believe it has any secret meaning). The simple understanding is “the fool says in his heart there is no God” The article is added because the thought is in reference to fools collectively, generally.

    But there is something to be said by what is meant – because we all know aethiests – don’t they say “there is no God”?
    So I don’t really feel the need to argue against the plain meaning of this verse. Now, if we are talking about the innate sense of God (as spoken of in Romans 1) that is something different.

    This phrase is repeated in Psalm 10:4b – where just about the same translation would be made – “All his thoughts are, ‘There is no God.'”
    But in the context there is room for a “duel” meaning. On the one hand outwardly the fool/wicked say “there is no God” – but in verse 11 is says this: “he [the wicked] thinks in his heart, ‘God has forgotten, he has hidden his face, he will never see.'”

    So the psalmist doesn’t seem to have a problem saying both things about the wicked. I don’t have a problem either – because I think both are true.

    But, I wouldn’t die over this 😉

  6. sorry – I shouldn’t have said “outwardly” because the text says the fool says it in his heart.

    I guess I would go with the fool being deceived – having rejected the truth for a lie.

    So he actually doesn’t believe there is a God. But, scripture is clear, he is without excuse.

  7. Thanks for your additional insight, Nathan!

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