Monday, January 5, 2009

Euphemisms in the Bible

Richard Wurmbrand is one of my heroes. He was tortured and imprisoned in Romania for his religious teachings. To help with his sanity, he wrote essays like this one- using only paper and pencil and his well-furnished mind.

Scripture avoids telling the complete story of certain wrong actions. In Genesis 35:22, the word “it” is written in italics, a style used whenever the translators have added something to the original text. In Hebrew this sentence remains incomplete: “Reuben went and lay with Bilhah his father’s concubine; and Israel heard.”

We would expect to be told the details of the incest and of the terrible clash between father and son which must have followed. However, the Masoretes (Jewish teachers who established rules for writing the Old Testament) left a blank space in the Hebrew text after the words “Israel heard,” to teach us that the worst in bad things is better left unsaid.

The Bible also avoids the use of epithets. The Jewish historian Josephus Flavius of the first century wrote that Pilate was a corrupt and cruel mass-murderer. We know from the Talmud that the high priest of Jesus’ time were merchants more than servants of God, stooges of the Roman empire, who obtained their high positions through bribes. But the Bible gives no reproach against the personal lives of Caiaphas and Pilate. It tells only what they did to Jesus. The Gospel writers did not consider it their calling to publicly denounce their sins.

We know from historical sources that the lives of the whole Herodian dynasty were debauchery. The Gospels report only the minimum about their dealings with the children in Bethlehem and with the apostles. One private sin is mentioned only because it led to the death of John the Baptist.

We, who delight in every defect we discover in an adversary, can benefit by emulating the Bible’s use of euphemisms and silence.

(Wurmbrand, Richard., 100 Prison Meditations Cries of Truth from Behind the Iron Curtain, Living Sacrifice Books, Bartlesville, OK, 1982, pgs 48-49)


  1. I like the Romanian Pastor Richard Wurmbrand and his writings as well. I especially enjoyed his book, "Marx and Satan," which portrayed the hellish beginnings of Marxism. Hints at Communism’s true character, not as merely being atheistic but as an actual Anti-Christ power can be glimpsed by looking into the writings of its founder–Karl Marx. Wurmbrand's book contained several poems in which he wrote about his allegiance to Satan. In a poem entitled, “The Pale Maiden,” Marx wrote:

    "Thus heaven I’ve forfeited, I know it full well. My soul, once true to God, Is chosen for hell."

    In a poem entitled, “The Player,” Marx wrote:

    "The hellish vapors rise and fill the brain, Till I go mad and my heart is utterly changed. See this sword? The prince of darkness sold it to me. For me he beats the time and gives the signs. Ever more boldly I play the dance of death."

    In another poem, he titled, “Invocation of One in Despair,” Marx declares a war of personal revenge on God:

    "So a god has snatched from me my all In the curse and rack of destiny. All his worlds are gone beyond recall Nothing but revenge is left for me. I shall build my throne high overhead, Cold, tremendous shall its summit be. For its bulwark, superstitious dreads. For its marshal, blackest agony….Then I will be able to walk triumphantly, like a god,through the ruins of their kingdom. Every word of mine is fire and action. My breast is equal to that of the creator."

    Finally, in the same poem Marx wrote:

    "I wish to avenge myself against the One who rules above."

  2. I really appreciate your comments about Marx. It is surprising to me how many Jews are attracted to his philosophies, including Wurmbrand at a younger age. I will be tracking down "Marx and Satan"--thanks for telling us about this.

  3. Thank you for this Donna. I googled "Richard Wurmbrand" and read about him. I am often deeply humbled when I learn of men and women who have suffered much for Christ's sake.