Smash Lies: What You've Read About The Bible is Wrong | Ecclesiastes' Answer to Many Biblical Misconceptions

Just when you thought it was fine and dandy, along comes the Book of Ecclesiastes. 

Just as I wrote last in my last post, one of my favorite activities is observing and learning more about people. In this, I really enjoy listening to different people’s opinions on certain subjects and why they may feel the way they do. I find that when I speak to non-religious people or even some religious individuals on their perception of the Bible, I hear an extremely diverse array of opinions. At times, the diversity of opinion about the single text makes me wonder if they’re talking about the same book. The Bible has long been thought to be a book that tells you that if you’re good, you’ll go straight to heaven when you die and your good memory will be forever remembered. It’s been the text that many believe teaches us that both wine and money are evil and that you should deny yourself pleasure. Then, like that gruff uncle that nobody likes to talk about, comes the Book of Ecclesiastes to efficiently squash many commonly-held views about what the Bible teaches. It is for this reason why it is one of my favorite books of the Bible. 

King Solomon, Shlomo HaMelech, Son of David, King of Israel

The term “ecclesiastes” is a Greek term for the Hebrew word “koheleth” – which means “teacher”, just like the word for an advanced school of Jewish study is called a “kohel.” This word is commonly mistranslated to say “preacher.” The author of this text is believed to Shlomo ha’Melech, King Solomon – who is thought to be the wisest man who ever lived. With that in mind, this book definately holds some serious weight for those who want to know the million dollar question – “what did the Bible say about that?”In this post, we’ll take a look at how the Book of Ecclesiastes turns a box fan on the house of cards many have built up in their minds about what the Bible teaches. This is not all-encompassing, but rather an overview of some obvious misconceptions Ecclesiastes smashes. 

 Common misconception #1

The Bible says that upon death, the good will rise up to heaven and the bad will go to hell. 

Jesse James death picture, outlaw death pictures

It’s frequently thought that those who are good or those who believe will go to heaven and those who are wicked will go elsewhere. However, in multiple passages in the Book of Ecclesiastes, that doesn’t appear to be the case: 

For what happens to the children of man and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts, for all is vanity. All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return. Who knows whether the spirit of man goes upward and the spirit of the beast goes down into the earth? So I saw that there is nothing better than that a man should rejoice in his work, for that is his lot. Who can bring him to see what will be after him?” – 3:19-22 

 While many religious people are quick to state that their righteousness will save them from death or that the wicked will be damned, before any of that occurs, death is a very real truth that all should face. No one, no matter how righteous, is immune from death. A common theme throughout out the Book of Ecclesiastes is vanity – both of the wise and of the wicked. 

But all this I laid to heart, examining it all, how the righteous and the wise and their deeds are in the hand of God. Whether it is love or hate, man does not know; both are before him. It is the same for all, since the same event happens to the righteous and the wicked, to the good and the evil, to the clean and the unclean, to him who sacrifices and him who does not sacrifice. As the good one is, so is the sinner, and he who swears is as he who shuns an oath….Their love and their hate and their envy have already perished, and forever they have no more share in all that is done under the sun.” – 9:1-2,6 

Common misconception #2 

Wine is evil and enjoyment of one’s own possessions is vanity. Money is the root of all evil. 

Pinot Evil, Pinot Noir Wine
Pinot Evil – ironically a cheap favorite at some of my Erev Shabbat dinners. 

Wine and strong drink are so taboo to some Bible-believing individuals that they will even serve unfermented grape juice in place of wine where wine was once used in sacramental service. While everything should be enjoyed in moderation, food and wine are actually celebrated in this particular book of the Bible. Not only are these things encouraged, but that it is taught to enjoy these things because they will not be present in Sheol – the grave or pit – where one is going when they die. 

Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do. Let your garments be always white. Let not oil be lacking on your head. Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.” – 9:7-10 

Bread is made for laughter, and wine gladdens life, and money answers everything.” – 10:19

You may be saying to yourself, “I thought the New Testament says that money is the root of all evil?” That is another misconception:

“For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evils. It is through is craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” – 1 Timothy 6:10

Heart made with money $20 bill to represent a love of money.

 Common misconception #3 

 Shout the good news of the Bible everywhere. 

The is a certain movement of people who believe that they must tell everyone about what God has done for them anytime they are given the opportunity. While this is a good thing to do according to the Bible, one must also take into account what will make people want to listen and how they will hear – will it be through you speaking or will they experience the grace of God through what you do and how you act? Today, the common picture of religion is a preacher shouting a firey message amongst a room of individuals with little to no knowledge of the Bible that has not been puréed for them by a leader. Ecclesiastes teaches about the significance of being wise but also being quiet enough to not scare away any who may actually listen.

 The words of the wise heard in quiet are better than the shouting of a ruler among fools.” – 9:17

The same teacher in the Book of Proverbs has more to say about the benefits of remaining quiet: 

“A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” – Proverbs 15:1

Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.” – Proverbs 17:28 

There are far more common misconceptions about the wisdom of the Bible to be discovered, but one of the most common misconceptions is that someone else must present these to people on a platter – or a blog. It is for that reason that I encourage those who have mostly thought about the Bible as a lame book that forbade drinking wine, enjoying what they had worked for, and thinking they are immune from death, to investigate the Bible for themselves. They’re sure to be extremely surprised to find wisdom from the ancient text and just how relevant that wisdom still is. 

Smash Lies: Easy-To-Condemn VS Must-Condemn

Coming out of Christianity into a Torah-observant lifestyle, one of the most surprising aspects of the shift has been discovering that many more things are “kosher” than I thought. I found this particularly amusing because Christians typically refer to the Jews as being “in bondage” to the Torah while they’ll turn around and make rules against alcohol consumption, smoking, dancing, saying certain words, and even consuming caffeine. Here are some things that aren’t as “unkosher” as you thought. 

1. Drinking. 
While it is very true that letting alcohol (or anything, for that matter) control your life is against Torah, consuming alcohol is certainly a kosher activity. Heck, in the ninth chapter in Judges, it reports that wine not only brings joy to man, but to God as well….and that’s in a book entitled “Judges”! King David said in Psalm 104 that wine gladdens a man’s heart and even the Apostle Paul even wrote in the New Testament in a letter to Timothy saying to drink wine to help ease the stomach (1 Timothy 5), which it has been shown to be a very remedy for the common “rumbly-in-the-tumbly”as wine eases digestion. My wife and I along with my in-laws welcome the Shabbat every week with wine and we frequently use wine to bless God. While, yes, it’s very true that drinking can be taken too far, the same can be said for eating or shopping. The key is to take all things in moderation.

2. Dancing. 
It has always perplexed me why some denominations ban all dancing. I can understand some modern forms of dancing because they aren’t really dancing; more like fully-clothed, simulated you-know-what. Still, dancing remains the body’s expression of the soul. Even though David did end up inadvertently flashing the help with his moves, it was because he was dancing before the Elohim with “…all his might” in a linen garment; not the best material for immense sweating from dancing as vigorously as you humanly can. Even though this didn’t put David on good terms with Michal, it didn’t keep him from writing extensively about the joys and benefits of dancing. I have a feeling if “the worm” dance had existed in his day, David’s tunic would have been dirtier than it probably already has from gettin’ down. 

3. Cursing. 
While some words might not sound as pretty as others, they certainly aren’t always sins to utter. The modern stigmatization of certain forms of speech has more of a cultural background than Biblical significance. While the Scriptures do not really put much emphasis against saying certain words, the Torah is very thorough in Its instruction to not take the Name of God (יהוה) in vain (Exodus 20:7) and further explains to the extent of saying those who do so will not be held guiltless. What does it mean to take It in vain? That means to make His Name common or devoid of meaning. This can be done by swearing by Name of the Creator in promises you don’t intend to or just don’t have the ability to keep. When a promise with His Name added to it is devoid of weight, that detracts from the importance of His Name and lessens Its holiness in the world. Another concept that blows my mind is when religious individuals will criticize someone over their use of a certain culturally unsavory four-or-five-letter word, yet the same individual will tell bold-faced lies about themselves or others. So, while it is prudent to be mindful of what you say, a lie is much more frowned upon Scripturally than a certain four-letter-world uttered when you hit your thumb with a hammer. 

4. Smoking. 
Again, smoking is yet another activity that has much more of a cultural stigma than Biblical stigma. I personally find it extremely interesting that tobacco smoking has been a cultural normal since before the exodus from Egypt, and the Torah takes no stance on its consumption. Even though the Torah does make statements forbidding certain types of meat, it never mentions tobacco once. In fact, God specifically says in Genesis 1:29 “…’Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food.” David goes on to describe herbs as being “for service of man” in Psalm 104. Many will make the claim that “Well, that’s because they did not know the potential harm that tobacco smoke can pose that the body”, yet that argument wouldn’t hold up when tobacco is compared to the consumption of pork or shellfish; which modern research has revealed these foods to be harmful to the human body beyond any understanding that the ancient Israelites could have had; yet God forbade them anyways. While it may not be the most savory of habits, smoking cigarettes, cigars, or tobacco from a pipe is certainly not a sin according to the Scriptures. In fact, smoking a pipe has been shown to lower stress levels in many individuals and stress kills more people  than all other substances combined.

While many of these “kosher” habits aren’t always the most favorable in religious circles, most of the same religious circles have much greater issues to attend to. While it’s very easy to forbid the usual frowned upon activities, many of these communities suffer from gossip and lies that tear their communities apart, infidelity that tear their families apart, and abuse that leave children and spouses permanently emotionally and spiritually damaged. 

It’s time to shift the focus from the easy-to-condemn to the must-condemn.