The Public Interest

The fire next time

Joseph Bottum

Spring 2004

THINK not that I am come to send peace on earth,” Christ declares in the Gospel of Matthew. “I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.  And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.”


The Bible is full of hard sayings like this—too many, too hard, to be entirely exegeted away in historical criticism, or eased with gentler passages in antidote, or shrugged off as the overstatement of prophetic rhetoric. From the Pentateuch to the prophets, from the gospels to the Book of Revelation, there is something in both testaments that has no patience for political compromise, or moral casuistry, or conventional prudence, or philosophical judiciousness.  It’s not the only thing in the Bible, of course, but without it, we have no Bible. “A fire is kindled in mine anger,” as Deuteronomy puts it, “and shall burn unto the lowest hell, and shall consume the earth with her increase, and set on fire the foundations of the mountains.”

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