We have a new question from Anonymous:
The apocryphal books contain non-biblical teachings like atonement of sins by good works (almsgiving=showing mercy).
We read in Sirach 3:30 “As water quenches a blazing fire, so [showing mercy] almsgiving atones for sin.” [emph.mine]
Some people say there is the same context in the Old testament.
Daniel 4:27 “Wherefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable unto thee, and break off [heb.”perak”=redeem] thy sins by righteousness, and thine iniquities by shewing mercy [almsgiving]to the poor; if it may be a lengthening of thy tranquillity.” [emph.mine]
Proverbs 16:6 “By mercy [almsgiving] and truth iniquity is purged…”[emph.mine]
How can Daniel teach the king to redeem/atone his iniquities by almsgiving ?
First, we cannot put a comparison between the Word of God and the words of humans. The Apocrypha is the writings of humans who were not led by the Spirit to write what they wrote, therefore it is not part of the Canon of the Scripture. For more details about the Apocrypha and about the Canon of Scripture, you can consult the following articles:
As these human writings were not inspired by the Holy Spirit, so they contain the opinions of their human fallible authors. Their words and expressions do not reflect the infallibility and inerrancy of the Holy Spirit, as we will see in this article. While the Scripture is the Word of God, and each word used in it is inspired by the Holy Spirit. As we will see, the Holy Spirit uses exact words that He has explained in other passages of the Bible, never contradicting Himself, while the words of those human writings express the fallible mind and the wrong wishes of their human authors and thus they contradict the Bible.
Now, those human writings would naturally express the fallen mind of their human authors. The fallen human prefers to be justified before God by his weak and imperfect righteousness (i.e. self-righteousness), and he refuses the Righteousness of God:
“For they, being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own [righteousness], have not submitted to the righteousness of God.” (Romans 10:3)
But here is what the Bible says about that human righteousness:
“And we are all become as an unclean [thing], and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all fade as a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, have carried us away” (Isaiah 64:6)
Why does God say this about our righteousness? Why is it as filthy rags? Don’t we ever do anything good? Yes, we may do many good things, but if our good works spring from a filthy disobedient nature, then they do not glorify God and thus they are not really good. You would not accept a nice looking apple if it is presented to you with filthy hands, so how do you expect God to accept your good works when you are still a sinner by nature and all your works are defiled by that filthy nature? Our righteousness is always lacking perfection, and God does not accept anything less than perfect purity and holiness. He does not lower His standard of holiness. So His Law clearly says:
“‘So you shall keep My statutes and My judgments, by which a man may live if he does them; I am the LORD.” (Leviticus 18:5)
There is no way to be righteous before God unless we keep ALL the statutes and judgments of God perfectly and continuously (without any interruption) and without falling in any sin! This is a clear teaching of the Scripture. To give more strength to this truth, God declares a curse on whoever does not continuously and perfectly keep all His commandments:
“Cursed be he that confirmeth not the words of this law to do them! And all the people shall say, Amen.” (Deuteronomy 27:26)
The judgment is clear: Anyone who does not keep all the commandments of God perfectly and continuously is under this curse of the Law… Read more about this in our article How to be justified before God? which you should understand very well if you want to avoid the deceptions of human philosophy.
Now, the fallen humanity tries to find ways of escape from this curse, so humans who refuse to humble themselves before God try to lower this standard in order to make it look possible to be attained by our human righteousness. It is with this purpose of lowering this standard that the writers of the Apocrypha suggest that we may atone for our sins with almsgiving! This is one proof that those writings were written by non-inspired authors. Thus, instead of keeping ALL the commandments of God perfectly and continuously, they suggest we can just give money to the poor, and thus all our sins will be forgiven… But this is a deception, as the Word of God clearly says that only the perfect and continuous keeping of God’s commandments can make us live by the Law. Actually, we may give all what we have to the poor and yet not have love, and thus be nothing! “And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:3) (Read So what is love?)
You notice what the point is: The Law declares God’s truth (or justice) without any mercy (lovingkindness) for the sinner. So if God were only Just, we would all go to Hell, and that would be perfectly just and fair, as we did not keep all His commandments perfectly and continuously. This Justice (truth) of God does not allow any exception to the principle of keeping the whole Law in order to be righteous before God. According to this truth, God is not obliged to do any atonement for our sins, and He has the authority to throw us all in Hell, and that would be just.
But the good news here is that God is not only Just, but He is equally Merciful and loving. It was when His Mercy (lovingkindness) and truth met together that it was possible to find a way to save us: ATONEMENT. As God saw us all condemned under the curse that His truth declared on us all, His Mercy (lovingkindness) found the way to meet that high standard and at the same time to save us, and that way was Atonement by a SUBSTITUTE, i.e. by a perfect Man who could keep all the commandments of the Law (truth) and then by substitution make His Righteousness counted for those who trust Him (Mercy or lovingkindness). This is what the Psalmist describes in the following line:
“Loving-kindness and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other” (Psalm 85:10)
And the author of the Proverb explains this same truth by saying:
“By loving-kindness and truth iniquity is atoned for; and by the fear of Jehovah [men] depart from evil.” (Proverbs 16:6)
Proverbs 16:6 is one of the passages that Anonymous quoted. Do you see anything about almsgiving in this verse? Not at all! As you can see, this verse is explained in Psalm 85:10 (as Scripture explains Scripture), and it means that the only way to atone for our sins is when lovingkindness (mercy — Hebrew: chesed) and truth meet together! As fallen humans, we could not meet the perfect standard of God about lovingkindness and truth, so we could not atone for our sins:
“No man can by any means redeem his brother Or give to God a ransom for him” (Psalm 49:7)
It’s only when God keeps both His lovingkindness and truth that our iniquity is atoned for, or else God would not be just AND the justifier of the sinner who has faith in Christ:
“for [the] shewing forth of his righteousness in the present time, so that he should be just, and justify him that is of [the] faith of Jesus.” (Romans 3:26)
If God declared the sinner as righteous without bringing His curse upon him, He would be lying! Because the sinner has not met God’s standard of holiness, as we have seen above, and he deserves to be accursed and NOT called righteous. But as the lovingkindness of God met His truth, so God found the way to justify the sinner without being unjust Himself: He sent His Son (God incarnate) who lived a perfect human life and kept ALL the commandments of God perfectly and continuously (thus the truth was respected), and then He took the place of the sinner (substitution) and atoned for his sins (thus lovingkindness and truth met together on the cross). It is in this way that lovingkindness and truth atoned for our iniquity.
Now, why do some people see almsgiving in Proverbs 16:6? That’s because they don’t allow the Scripture to interpret itself, and they want to speculate about what the Hebrew “chesed” (mercy) should mean in this verse… Instead of accepting the explanation of the Bible that we saw above, they reduce the meaning of “chesed” to one particular result of mercy, i.e. almsgiving. The Bible doesn’t say “almsgiving” in Proverbs 16:6. It says “lovingkindness”, in the same way it is said in Psalm 85:10. And as the authors of the Apocrypha misinterpreted such passages of Scripture, so they reduced the whole truth to a particular commandment (i.e. almsgiving), thus lowering the standard of God and teaching the false doctrine of buying the forgiveness of our sins with money!
Against those false human teachings the Word of God clearly says:
“knowing that ye have been redeemed, not by corruptible [things, as] silver or gold, from your vain conversation handed down from [your] fathers, but by precious blood, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot, [the blood] of Christ” (1 Peter 1:18-19)
Now we pass to Daniel’s passage:
“Therefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable unto thee, and break off thy sins by righteousness, and thine iniquities by shewing mercy to the poor; if it may be a lengthening of thy tranquillity.” (Daniel 4:27)
The verb translated as “break off” in this verse is the Hebrew verb “perak” (from Chaldee) which literally means “to discontinue” or “to break off”. For those who know Arabic, does not this “perak” sound like the Arabic “faraq” (to get separated from)?… Indeed, the literal Arabic translation of this passage (the Van Dyke translation) renders this verb as “fareq” (get separated from). As you know, both Arabic and Hebrew (and Chaldee or Aramaic also) are Semitic languages, so many words are similar in these languages. In other words, Daniel told the king to get separated from his iniquities (i.e. repentance), and to give the non-optional fruit of righteousness as a result of this breaking-off. This is the simple meaning of what is said in this verse. There is nothing in this verse about atoning for our sins by almsgiving.
But we cannot assure that the king really understood what Daniel actually told him. In fact, this verse (i.e. Daniel 4:27) is not the direct teaching of Daniel. What we read here is the account of that pagan king about what Daniel told him. Actually, this account of the king really shows us that he didn’t understand the advice of Daniel in a deep way. One of the proofs for what I am saying is found at the beginning of this pagan king’s account:
“But at the last Daniel came in before me, whose name is Belteshazzar, according to the name of my god, and in whom is the spirit of the holy gods; and before him I told the dream” (Daniel 4:8)
This pagan king is amazed by what the God of Daniel could do, but he still didn’t give up his false gods! For him, the God of Daniel is one of those gods — actually the most high among them — but He’s not his ONLY Lord and Savior. In fact, even while writing this letter, he considers one of those false gods as his god (“my god”). This pagan king still couldn’t understand what’s the difference between the Holy Spirit and the spirits of his “holy gods”, the false gods… Even while writing this account, the king still doesn’t understand with which Spirit Daniel prophesied… So just as we can’t conclude from verse 4 that the Bible teaches polytheism, as this is the account of a pagan king, in the same way we can’t build any doctrine on verse 27 where this pagan king once again tells us what he understood of Daniel’s advice for him to repent. It seems that, just like the authors of the Apocrypha, he reduced the fruit of repentance only to one commandment which is almsgiving to the poor… But it is also clear that Daniel didn’t limit his advice to almsgiving, but he told the king about real righteousness (i.e. God’s righteousness), as the king says in verse 27: “Therefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable unto thee, and break off thy sins by righteousness, and thine iniquities by shewing mercy to the poor; if it may be a lengthening of thy tranquillity.” (Daniel 4:27) You see how the king is interpreting what Daniel said: first he says Daniel told him to break off his sins by righteousness, then he interprets that as meaning that he should break off his iniquities (his sins) by showing mercy to the poor… So it seems that he equated righteousness to showing mercy to the poor…
But one would ask: As Daniel is writing this account about this king’s letter, then why did he not make a comment about his error here? The answer is that Daniel usually doesn’t make a comment in such cases, and leaves us to find the right interpretation in the other passages of the Bible. This is what Daniel does in other passages of his Book. For instance, about this same pagan king Daniel says without adding any comment about the king’s error:
“Then king Nebuchadnezzar fell on his face and worshipped Daniel, and commanded that they should offer an oblation and sweet odours unto him.” (Daniel 2:46)
This doesn’t mean that Daniel agreed with this false worship. The truth is that Daniel wants us to judge on what happened in this verse in the light of the teaching of the Scripture that says:
“Thou shalt do homage to [the] Lord thy God, and him alone shalt thou serve.” (Matthew 4:10)
In the same way, in the Book of Job many wrong things were said by humans, and the author wrote them exactly as they were said, without any comment about the human errors. But at the end God made His comment:
“Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?” (Job 38:2)
In this comment, God was not saying that His Word is “words without knowledge”!! He’s commenting about the human errors in speech in the whole of Job’s Book.
This same thing God does in the Book of Judges! When Jephthah sacrificed his daughter (cf. Judges 11:30-31, Judges 11:34-35, and Judges 11:39), God didn’t make a comment immediately! He only gave us the account about what happened through the man of God who was led by the Spirit to write those things. If you read that passage without understanding it in the light of other passages of Scripture, you may conclude that it is acceptable to sacrifice humans! But God made a little — but very important — comment at the end:
“In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes.” (Judges 21:25)
This was an important comment! So Jephthah did what was right in his own eyes, but not what was right in God’s eyes!
So this is the same thing that happened in Daniel 4:27: Daniel gave the account of this pagan king as it is and without any comment, but later in a prayer he gave us his comment about this righteousness that the king couldn’t really understand:
“Incline thine ear, O my God, and hear; open thine eyes and behold our desolations, and the city that is called by thy name: for we do not present our supplications before thee because of our righteousnesses, but because of thy manifold mercies.” (Daniel 9:18)
Then he adds a direct teaching from God:
“Seventy weeks are apportioned out upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to close the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make expiation for iniquity, and to bring in the righteousness of the ages, and to seal the vision and prophet, and to anoint the holy of holies.” (Daniel 9:24)
So the direct teaching of the Bible is that almsgiving (and any other human merit or righteousness) cannot in any way atone for our sins. It’s only by the blood of Jesus Christ (as described in Daniel 9:24-26) that we have the expiation for iniquity.
And yet those human writings, called Apocrypha, teach that we can atone for our sins by almsgiving! The authors of the Apocrypha give us a direct teaching (and not an account about a pagan king’s understanding…) They say that almsgiving can atone for sins, while the Bible says it can’t! Only perfect lovingkindness and truth can atone our iniquity, as Christ died for our sins and rose again for our justification.
Grace be with you!
Disciple of Jesus Christ