Leo Strauss — the great German-American political philosopher renowned for his close readings of classic texts — set great store on what was written in the precise center of ancient works.
Now, it turns out that, in the Bible that we Protestants use, the Old Testament and New Testament each have an odd number of books, which means there is a book in each testament that is in the middle; and in each case that book has an odd number of chapters, which means there is a chapter in each book that is in the middle; and in each case that chapter has an odd number of verses, which means that there is a verse in each chapter that is in the middle. The odds of randomly drawing six odd numbers in a row, by they way, are 1 in 64.
So the purpose of this brief post is to consider, just for fun, the two verses in the precise mid-points of the two testaments, namely Proverbs 16:17 and II Thessalonians 2:9.
Important caveat: I say “just for fun” for a number of reasons. First, the Protestant Bible is not organized the same way and with the same books as the Hebrew and Catholic Bibles. Second, it could be argued that there are better ways to identify the mid-point in the two testaments: One could argue, for instance, that it is better to count up all the verses or all the words in the original Hebrew and Greek. Third, as discussed here, the original texts did not even have chapter and verse divisions. On the other hand, one might counter that there is always a divine hand guiding the production of Scripture, not only when it is first written, but as it is preserved and organized.
By the way, because the combined Old-plus-New-Testament Bible has 66 books, this “find the mid-point” exercise won’t work for the Protestant Bible taken as a whole.
So let’s discuss the two mid-points.
Proverbs 16:17 says, “The highway of the upright avoids evil; those who guard their ways preserve their lives.” And II Thessalonians 2:9 says, “The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with how Satan works. He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie ….”
The former is pretty straightforward. Here’s the John MacArthur study Bible annotation: “A plain road represents the habitual course of the righteous in departing from evil. As long as he stays on it, he is safe.”
The latter requires a bit more backstory. St. Paul is talking about the end times and, without getting into too much detail, I’ll just note that “the lawless one” is generally thought to be the Antichrist (for more on him, see Revelation 13:1-18).
My NIV study Bible annotation for II Thessalonians 2:9 says:
This lawless one will use “counterfeit miracles, signs, and wonders” to deceive and draw a following. Miracles from God can help strengthen our faith and lead people to Christ, but all miracles are not necessarily from God. Christ’s miracles were significant, not just because of their power, but because of their purpose — to help, to heal, and to point us to God. The man of lawlessness will have power to do amazing things, but his power will be from Satan. He will use this power to destroy and to lead people away from God and toward himself. If any so-called religious personality draws attention only to himself or herself, his or her work is not from God.
Similarly, the John MacArthur study Bible states: “This ‘lawless one’ will do mighty acts pointing to himself as supernaturally empowered. His whole operation will be deceptive, luring the world to worship him and be damned.”
Is there an interesting common denominator shared by the two verses? Well, sure: Both are blunt warnings about the evil that is out there ready to destroy us — and will, too, if we aren’t alert to it.
I think it is interesting that the verses are about evil: not about God directly, not about the central importance of love and faith, not about the practices of prayer or sacrifices, and not randomly about begats or concubines. And I would note that both verses affirm human agency in choosing to turn away from evil (this is only implicit in II Thessalonians 2:9, but the next verse declares, “They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved”).
There is such a thing as simple coincidence, and I’m not saying there is a divine hand in putting these warnings about evil and the imperative of resisting it right at the heart of both testaments — but it wouldn’t be an inexplicable thing for God to do, and who knows?
Final spooky note: Taking all this to its logical conclusion, I suppose you’d want to identify the single word in the middle of the two mid-point verses. That won’t quite work, since there are an even number of Greek words in II Thessalonians 2:9 and, if my Hebrew is right, an even number of Hebrew words in Proverbs 16:17. But the word “Satan” is one of the two middle words in the former and, again assuming my Hebrew is right, “evil” is one of the two middle words in the latter.