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Wrecking Ball
Andy Stanley and The Sound of Music


(Originally printed in the Spring 2004 Issue of the MCOI Journal beginning on page 8)

I am a part-time pastor at a very small country church in what many might think is the middle of nowhere. It is not likely that I will ever have much influence or notoriety, but I do take my pastoral responsibilities seriously when it comes to protecting my small flock from harmful teachings. I am especially concerned about those well-known Bible teachers and ministry leaders who regularly misuse the Scriptures in their teachings, and who gain a large following.

Like many pastors, I have gotten questions about Bill Gothard and his teachings from church members. In the process of evaluating Bill Gothard and his teachings through his organization, the Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP), I have spent a lot of time and effort examining Gothard’s method of handling Scripture as he seeks to use it to support his claims. Sadly, what I have found is a persistent pattern of Scripture twisting and manipulation. It is so prevalent, that I cannot ignore it.

Some of the examples of Scripture twisting I have encountered in IBLP publications could be considered trivial—such as pulling a passage from Isaiah to support the idea of using only wholegrain bread. But there are other examples with much more serious ramifications, and this article concerns one such example.

IBLP has published a series of booklets, from its “Medical Training Institute of America,” concerning various health-care issues. Basic Care Bulletin #9 is titled: How to Understand the Causes and the Management of Miscarriages. In the introduction, we read: 

The purpose of this Bulletin is to provide couples with as much information as possible on how to avoid miscarriages. If a miscarriage does occur, it is our purpose to provide practical steps in viewing the miscarriage from God’s perspective and wisely dealing with the resulting physical, emotional, and spiritual needs.1{MTIA}, Basic Care Bulletin #9: How to Understand the Causes and Management of Miscarriages. Medical Training Institute of America; Oak Brook, IL, 1990; p2.

The booklet discusses several possible causes of miscarriage and gives advice on how to avoid them. Scriptural proof-texts are sprinkled liberally throughout the booklet, as is common in IBLP publications. Some of those possible causes of miscarriage listed in the booklet may or may not have some validity, and while this aspect of the booklet is not my focus in this article, I am concerned with the use of Scripture throughout these sections. However, in this article I want to focus on one specific aspect of the booklet—that is, its claims concerning the connection between miscarriage and what it calls “robbing God.”

The introduction of the booklet cites Hosea 9:14 to support the claim that God judges both nations and individuals that do not follow God’s law. According to the booklet, miscarriage is one of those judgments.2{MTIA}, Basic Care Bulletin #9: How to Understand the Causes and Management of Miscarriages. Medical Training Institute of America; Oak Brook, IL, 1990, p2. With the seventh and last possible cause of miscarriage listed in this booklet, we finally arrive at a supposed “scriptural” cause of miscarriage—“robbing God.”3{MTIA}, Basic Care Bulletin #9: How to Understand the Causes and Management of Miscarriages. Medical Training Institute of America; Oak Brook, IL, 1990, p13. This section is titled: “HOW ROBBING GOD CAN BE RELATED TO MISCARRIAGES.” It goes directly to Malachi 3, the well-known “tithing” passage that condemned the Israelites for failure to pay their tithes, and it uses this passage as a basis for suggesting, strongly, that those who “fail to give tithes” just might be in danger of having God punish them with a miscarriage.

The meaning of “tithing” used in this argument is the typical meaning found in many denominations and churches today—that God requires, as a matter of biblical command, that Christians pay ten percent of their income to God’s work. Many of those teaching this doctrine insist that this “tithe” must be paid at the local church of which one is a member. This idea is known as “storehouse tithing,” because it is supposedly based on Malachi 3, which says, “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, …”. Malachi 3 has been used repeatedly to reinforce this teaching, because Malachi condemns failure to pay required tithes, and pronounces a curse on those committing this failure. In fact, Malachi pronounces a curse on the entire nation of Israel for this failure to obey a precept of the law.

I do not believe that this definition of “tithing” fits the biblical evidence. In the Bible, “tithing” was not giving ten percent of one’s income to the Lord; it was the payment of twenty to twenty-five percent of one’s farm produce and animals at the temple. The purpose of those payments was to fund the sacrificial system. As with so many of the precepts from the Law of Moses, many Christians have dragged this one way out of its context and misapplied it to us today. This IBLP/MTIA booklet is not alone in using this passage in Malachi as a hammer with which to intimidate Christians who desire to obey and please God in the matter of giving, but it does take the issue a giant step further into condemnation; and that is what prompts my reaction.

Here is the passage in Malachi 3, which is addressed to the nation of Israel. I will quote from the King James Version, as this is the version used in the booklet:

MALACHI 3:8-11:

8 Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings. 9 Ye {are} cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, [even] this whole nation. 10 Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that [there shall] not {be room} enough {to receive it.} 11 And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, and he shall not destroy the fruits of your ground; neither shall your vine cast her fruit before the time in the field, saith the LORD of hosts.

Please notice the word “curse” in verse nine. That “curse” is yet another in a long line of such “curses” pronounced upon the nation of Israel because of its disobedience to God and to the covenant of the Law. Moses had promised the nation, just before they entered the Promised Land, that if they would obey the Law God had given them through Moses, then God would bless them; but if they disobeyed that Law, they would be subject to ever-increasing “curses” (see Deuteronomy 11 and 28-30).

Malachi’s “curse” is tied directly to the warnings given by Moses back in Deuteronomy 28-30. One of the “curses” warned about was crop failure. Moses warned that the olive plant would “cast {his fruit}”—that is, it would lose its fruit before ripening, and the fruit would be worthless. Another curse was that God would allow insects to eat up the crops. If the Israelites would obey, God would not allow the insect—“the devourer”—to eat the crops; if they disobeyed, he would not protect the crops from the plague of locusts (grasshoppers) eating all the crops before they could be harvested. 

DEUT. 28:38-40:

38 Thou shalt carry much seed out into the field, and shalt gather [but] little in; for the locust shall consume it. 39 Thou shalt plant vineyards, and dress [them], but shalt neither drink of the wine, nor gather [the grapes]; for the worms shall eat them. 40 Thou shalt have olive trees throughout all thy coasts, but thou shalt not anoint thyself] with the oil; for thine olive shall cast [his fruit].

Notice—locusts eating the crops, worms eating the grapes, and olive trees casting their fruit. Now look again at that passage in Malachi 3. It mentions a “curse;” it mentions the “vine cast her fruit;” and it mentions “the devourer.” Malachi is clearly connecting his “curse” with the warnings of Moses back there in Deuteronomy.

These “curses” deal with the people, their animals, their land, their plants, and even their armies. All of these “curses” were pronounced upon that one nation that had that special covenant relationship with God. Are we Christians subject to these curses? No, we are not! The New Testament clearly tells us, “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law …” (Galatians 3:13). Later in that same chapter of Galatians, Paul tells his readers that we are not under the authority of that law anymore, now that we have come to faith in Christ (Gal. 3:24-25). And Romans 8:1 tells us that “{There is} therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus …” The curse of Malachi does not apply to us, because we have been redeemed from the curse of the law, regardless of whether or not we believe in “tithing.”

But my purpose in this article is not to make the case against the tithing doctrine; it is to highlight the extreme that Bill Gothard goes to in his use of Old Testament passages like this. Many people who preach “tithing” emphasize the promised “blessing” given in Malachi, but they skirt the issue of the “curse” that is also pronounced in the same passage. Bill Gothard doesn’t skirt that issue at all; he takes it head-on and uses it to frighten Christians into “paying up” in order to avoid being attacked by Satan.

What I mean by that is this: Gothard claims that the word “devourer” in verse 11 refers, not just to the insects that ate the crops in Old Testament Israel but, in a broader sense, to Satan, who devours things we hold precious. I heard Gothard say, many times, during the Basic Seminars he conducted in the 1970s, that Satan is the devourer, and if we don’t pay our required tithes, God gives Satan the right to “devour” our substance, according to this passage.

In IBLP’s Advanced Seminar Textbook, we read: 

Are my resources being devoured because I have not faithfully tithed? Satan is the devourer of our money, possessions, family, and health. His means to bring about these losses are accidents, fires, natural disasters, excessive taxation, disease, or loss of employment. God promises to rebuke the devourer when we tithe.[4. Advanced Seminar Textbook: Instructor: Bill Gothard, Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts; Oak Brook, IL, 1986; p. 97.]

So—how does Gothard use Malachi 3 to prove that “fail[ure] to give tithes” can lead to “miscarriage?” In the miscarriage booklet, in the middle of the quotation from Malachi 3, one section is set in bold, and is underlined. Here is the way it looks in the booklet, on page 13:

And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, and he shall not destroy the fruits of your ground; neither shall your vine cast her fruit

The booklet makes the claim that the Hebrew word used here for “cast her fruit” is the same word that means “miscarriage.” From this it extrapolates that those who fail to “tithe” could be endangering their unborn baby.

Let’s examine the word used in this argument. The Hebrew word is shakol. Looking at its overall use in the Old Testament, we find the following:

  • It is used 25 times. Of those usages:
  • *The majority of them do not refer to miscarriage at all; they mean “being deprived of one’s child”—even if that “child” is an adult. It is used, for example, in several passages referring to the killing of soldiers. For examples of this meaning, see: Gen. 27:45; 42:36; 43:14; Lev. 26:22; 1 Sam. 15:33; Isa. 49:21; Jer. 15:7; Lam. 1:20; Eze. 5:17; 36:12.
  • *Sure enough, there are a few uses of the word that do mean “miscarriage.” I have found five of them. They refer to miscarriages in humans, in animals, and even for plants. The King James Version renders this as “cast her fruit” or “cast their young.” The idea is that the woman, or the animal, gives birth prematurely to a dead offspring, or to one that dies soon thereafter, or that the plant loses its fruit prematurely, so that it is wasted.

We will look at all five examples of this usage. Since the booklet uses the King James Version, I will show only that translation:

1.) GENESIS 31:38: This twenty years {have} I {been} with thee; thy ewes and thy she goats have not cast their young, and the rams of thy flock have I not eaten.

This passage records Jacob’s defense against his father-in-law Laban. The usage here clearly refers to animals miscarrying.

2.) EXODUS 23:26: There shall nothing cast their young, nor be barren, in thy land: the number of thy days I will fulfill.

This is another passage, like the ones I have mentioned in Deuteronomy, that promises blessing for obedience to the Law of Sinai. This reference is not specific; it could refer to human miscarriage, animal miscarriage, plants “casting their fruit,” or any combination of the three.

The whole phrase “cast their young”/“cast their fruit” is a translation of that single Hebrew word shakol, and there is nothing in this particular context to help us pick out which form of “miscarriage” this is about. Since the Scripture speaks of “barrenness” in connection with both humans and the land, that word from the passage wouldn’t help us decide here, either. For now, we would have to say that it could refer to humans, but not necessarily. 

3.) JOB 21:10: Their bull gendereth, and faileth not; their cow calveth, and casteth not her calf.

This obviously refers to animals.

4.) HOSEA 9:14: Give them, O LORD: what wilt thou give? give them a miscarrying womb and dry breasts.

This is the only passage in the Bible that clearly uses that word shakol to refer to human miscarriage. We know this because it mentions dried-up breasts, and it also uses the word for “womb.” In other words, the context gives it away. This is the passage used in the introduction of the IBLP miscarriage booklet to support the statement that disobedience to God’s law would cause God to judge nations and individuals with miscarriages.

5.) MALACHI 3:11: And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, and he shall not destroy the fruits of your ground; neither shall your vine cast her fruit before the time in the field, saith the LORD of hosts.

This passage, the one the booklet is discussing, clearly refers to plants; it says “neither shall your vine cast her fruit.” The reason “fruit” is used instead of “young” is because of that word “vine.” That provides the context for understanding this to refer to plants losing their fruit.

Various translations say “cast their fruit,” “cast its grapes,” “drop its fruit,” “fail to bear,” “keep from producing,” “fail to bear fruit,” etc. All of them make it clear that this refers to plants and not to humans. The inclusion of the word “vine” makes this obvious.

Let’s draw some preliminary conclusions from our examination of these passages:

  • Of the 25 uses of the word shakol in the Old Testament—only FIVE of them clearly mean “miscarriage.” And only ONE out of those five clearly refers to HUMAN miscarriage: Hosea 9:14. That passage is a judgment pronounced on Israel for failure to obey the Covenant of Sinai.
  • “Miscarriage” is not the only meaning of the word, nor is it the most common meaning. Even in the context of the above passage, Hosea 9:12 uses the word in its more common meaning of “being bereaved of a live child.”
  • ONE of the five passages that do refer to “miscarriage” is not specific enough for us to conclude if it is referring to humans, animals, plants, or any combination of the three: Exodus 23:26.
  • TWO of the five clearly refer to animals, and not to humans: Gen. 31:38 and Job 21:10.
  • ONE of the five clearly refers to plants, and not humans: Mal. 3:11.

It is at this point that the IBLP medical booklet on miscarriage takes unwarranted liberties with the text of Scripture. After quoting the passage and highlighting the phrase “cast her fruit,” it says:

The above verses are extremely significant when viewed in light of Psalm 128:3: “Thy wife shall be as a fruitful vine …” (The italics and the bold are both in the booklet).4{MTIA}, Basic Care Bulletin #9: How to Understand the Causes and Management of Miscarriages. Medical Training Institute of America; Oak Brook, IL, 1990; p13.

It is clear that the writer is attempting to say that, since Scripture compares the “wife” to a “vine” in one passage, we are warranted in equating a wife with a vine in another one. That is—since Psalm 128 compares the wife to a vine, we can take the statement in Malachi 3, which clearly refers to a plant, and make it refer to a wife. But wait a minute. What about that ellipsis there? Look, again, at that quotation above. There is an ellipsis at the end. Whenever I see any IBLP publication resorting to ellipses in its quotations from Scripture, I get very suspicious. So I looked up that entire verse, and here is what I found (missing parts underlined):

Psalm 128:3: Thy wife {shall be} as a fruitful vine by the sides of thine house: thy children like olive plants round about thy table.

Does this mean that we should go through the Bible, find passages that refer to olives or olive trees, and apply those passages to our children?! Is this really how we should be treating Scripture? If you think this is ridiculous, I agree, and ask: What would be the difference between doing this and equating a wife with a vine, based on the same interpretive method?

Remember—Hosea 9:14 does warn that miscarriages could be part of God’s judgment against Israel for disobeying the Law of Moses. But since we are not under the authority of the Law of Moses, and since Christ “redeemed us from the curse of the law,” what we should be preaching is our freedom from these curses, not our susceptibility to them. Instead, the miscarriage booklet goes on to say: 

When a couple does not render to the Lord the percentage due Him—a simple token that all they possess belongs to Him—He warns that the “devourer” will be permitted to take from them things that they may hold very dear.5{MTIA}, Basic Care Bulletin #9: How to Understand the Causes and Management of Miscarriages. Medical Training Institute of America; Oak Brook, IL, 1990; p13.

Let’s face the issue squarely:

1)The passage in Malachi 3 is being misapplied to Christians. It is not about Christian “tithing” or Christian giving; it is about Old Covenant Jewish tax-paying. It has no direct application to Christians.

2) The “curse of the law” is being misapplied to Christians. We have been redeemed from that curse, and set free from the jurisdiction of that law.

3) “Vine” is erroneously equated with “pregnant wife.” This kind of “hermeneutic” twists the Scriptures like a pretzel.

4) The “devourer”—the locust that ate the crops in ancient Israel—is erroneously equated with Satan.

5) The clear meaning of this type of “application” is that if Christians don’t “pay up” on their supposed required “tithes,” then God gives Satan, the devourer, permission to kill the unborn babies of those Christians as punishment because they “fail to give tithes.”

6) This clearly leads to a horrifying conclusion: We Christians are under the curse of the law after all. All the curses pronounced on the Jews for disobedience to that law are pronounced upon Christians who fail to “tithe.” Forget Gal. 3:13 (“Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law …”); forget Rom. 8:1 (“… no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus …”). We are still under that curse, and we better not forget it, or God just might let Satan kill our unborn babies.

The import of this is enormous! Considering how many people are influenced by Bill Gothard and his teachings, the potential for bondage and condemnation among those who believe this teaching is enormous. When I showed this information to some friends, one responded by saying, “What horrible levels of false guilt and recrimination people must feel to actually believe these things!”

This cannot be allowed to stand unchallenged! Was miscarriage a possible judgment under that law? Yes, it was (Hosea 9:14). Was miscarriage warned about in that tithing passage in Mal. 3? No, it wasn’t. What was warned about in that passage was insects eating the crops and plants casting their fruit. Are Christian women in any danger of miscarriage today because they “fail to give tithes?” Of course not. There is no such thing as “failure to tithe” for the Christian, and we are not under the curses of that old law, anyway.

Instead of placing such condemnation on Christians, we need to be explaining to them their glorious freedom in Christ. We need to show them that they need not fear curses or condemnation from the God who chose them, redeemed them, blesses them with every spiritual blessing, and keeps them by His power. We need to make sure they understand that they are not in any danger whatsoever if they “fail to give tithes.” We need to help them learn to enjoy giving to God from a heart of love and sacrifice and gratefulness, rather than “paying up” to avoid having their unborn babies killed as punishment.

I have no interest in judging the motives of the people who wrote this IBLP booklet on miscarriage. I am sure they wanted to help Christian women deal with miscarriage. But I have a responsibility to speak out when I see what is actually being taught, no matter what the motives of the teachers are. And those who teach these kinds of extreme, legalistic, condemning ideas should be marked out and warned against. The sadness I feel as I see this kind of teaching is sometimes almost overwhelming.Ω

Mike Mahurin is a former college and high school teacher who now tutors home schoolers in a variety of subjects, including Latin, logic, writing, and history. He also pastors a small church part-time. He and his wife have three children, and they live in Texas.

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Wrecking Ball
Andy Stanley and The Sound of Music

End Notes   [ + ]

1. {MTIA}, Basic Care Bulletin #9: How to Understand the Causes and Management of Miscarriages. Medical Training Institute of America; Oak Brook, IL, 1990; p2.
2. {MTIA}, Basic Care Bulletin #9: How to Understand the Causes and Management of Miscarriages. Medical Training Institute of America; Oak Brook, IL, 1990, p2.
3. {MTIA}, Basic Care Bulletin #9: How to Understand the Causes and Management of Miscarriages. Medical Training Institute of America; Oak Brook, IL, 1990, p13.
4, 5. {MTIA}, Basic Care Bulletin #9: How to Understand the Causes and Management of Miscarriages. Medical Training Institute of America; Oak Brook, IL, 1990; p13.