misquoted verses – all days were written before there were any

Psalms 139 is held by Calvinists to be their strong proof text for various doctrines. In verse 16, depending on the translation, states that “the days were fashioned for me, when as yet there were none” (NKJV):

Psa 139:16 Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, The days fashioned for me, When as yet there were none of them.

Calvinists take this verse to mean that everyone’s entire life was predestined before they were born. This verse is their “proof” that God knows every event in someone’s future (from birth to death). But does it mean that? Could it mean anything else? Is that the natural understanding of the text?

In context, King David is speaking about fetology (the development of unborn babies).

Psa 139:13 For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother’s womb.
Psa 139:14 I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are Your works, And that my soul knows very well.
Psa 139:15 My frame was not hidden from You, When I was made in secret, And skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.
Psa 139:16 Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, The days fashioned for me, When as yet there were none of them.

In verse 13, David starts talking about how his parts were “formed”. In verse 14, David says he was “made”. In verse 15, David was “made” and “wrought”. Then in verse 16, the NKJ uses the word “fashioned” in reference to days. Something is rotten in the state of Denmark. Here is the KVJ translation:

Psa 139:16 Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them.

The KJV translators correctly saw that King David’s subject did not stray. King David was still talking about fetology in verse 16. David is talking about being formed in the womb. God saw David developing in the womb, had a blueprint (book), and David’s fetal development followed that path. David’s point is not “fatalism”, but that “fetal development is not Ad Hoc”. Before David developed as a baby, that path had been designed by God.

To put this in perspective, in the preceding 3 verses David is clearly talking about how his body is designed during pregnancy. In the last verse, Calvinists believe David switches topics to talk about fatalism. This is a mistranslation. The entire passage is about fetal development.

Besides the most natural reading (as detailed above), the Calvinist claim is impeded on other fronts:

1. In the following verses, David asks God to test him:

Psa 139:23 Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts:
Psa 139:24 And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

If verse 16 is about fatalism, why would David believe that God needed to “search” him to “know his thoughts”? Why would David ask God to lead him? David is not a fatalist. David is indicating that God may not already know David’s true allegiances, and David challenges God.

2. Even if the verse meant that “God had future days planed after birth”, it does not follow that those “days” are planned in a deterministic sense. Throughout the Bible, God’s plans are thwarted. I can have “plans” for my children, but it is up to them to embrace those plans or not. This would be a more natural reading than “my life was 100% predetermined before birth”. The text in no way hints are fatalism.

3. David is writing poetry. He uses figurative terms such as “lowest parts of the earth” and also:

Psa 139:9 If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea;

This is strange imagery. For someone to grab parts of this to affirm their pet theology would be a mistake.

4. The overall theme of Psalms 139 might not be exportable. Although Christians like to generalize the themes of Psalms 139, they should take pause. David had a unique relationship with God. David was God’s anointed and was even allowed to get away with sin that King Saul would never have survived. When modern Christians read Psalms 139 it must be in this context.

About christopher fisher

The blog is meant for educational/entertainment purposes. All material can be used and reproduced in any length for any purpose as long as I am cited as the source.
This entry was posted in Bible, Calvinism, God, Misquoted Verses, Omniscience, Open Theism, Theology. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to misquoted verses – all days were written before there were any

  1. Pingback: misquoted verses – all days were written before there were any | God is Open

  2. Pingback: All Our Days Were Not Written | God is Open

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