Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

What is the “unforgiveable sin” in Mark 3 and Matthew 12?

Take a look at these two puzzling passages from the New Testament.

Mark 3:28-29:

28 Truly I tell you, people can be forgiven all their sins and every slander they utter,

29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.”

Matthew 12:30-32:

30 “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.

31 And so I tell you, every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.

32 Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.

What can it mean?

Well, here’s a post by Dr. Paul Gould to shed some light on it.

Excerpt:

Taken in isolation, it is hard to make sense of this passage—how is it that all kinds of sins can be forgiven but one sin will not be forgiven? What is going on here? Well, here is a principle of sound biblical interpretation:

Principle #1: In order to correctly understand a passage, we must always look at it within its context.

And what is the passages context? The broader context can be found in Matthew 12:22-32. In this broader context we read of Jesus performing a miracle (he performs an exorcism and heals a blind and mute man), we read of the crowd’s amazement and wonderment over the identity of Jesus (“Could this be the Son of David?”), we find the slanderous (and murderous) charge of the Pharisees, and we find Jesus’ response to the Pharisees charge (both his reasoned response to their explicit charge that he drives out demons by Satan’s power as well as his warning to the Pharisees if they continue to attribute to Satan what is in fact the work of God’s Spirit).

After looking at this passage in context, we find that the “unforgivable sin” is (basically) attributing what is in fact the work of God’s Spirit to His ultimate enemy, Satan.

Fair enough, you say, but there are other problems passages that talk about the unforgivable sin—Hebrews 6, 1 John 5, and Hebrews 10 come to mind. What about those passages? Well, here is our second principle of biblical interpretation:

Principle #2: Always interpret unclear passages in light of the clear teachings of Scripture (as a whole).

And what is the clear teaching of Scripture related to sin and forgiveness? It is this:

Forgiveness of sins is a consequence of man’s repentance, and repentance is a consequence of the activity of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. So in the end, it seems that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is nothing more or less than the unrelenting rejection of His advances.

So, the only unforgiveable sin is the sin of deliberately rejecting God’s efforts to draw you into a saving relationship with him. What does this mean for you? It means that if you are a Christian and you believe the essentials of the faith, then you aren’t going to be able to lose your salvation by performing sinful actions. You can’t sin your way out of God’s forgiveness, because if you accept Jesus’ death as payment for your sins, then it covers all your sins. I do think that the Bible is very clear that you can lose your salvation by “the unrelenting rejection” of God’s advances. But that’s not a description of any Christians, it’s a description of someone who does not believe in Jesus.

Filed under: Commentary, , , , , , , , ,

Does Jesus use hyperbole to make a point?

From Hank Hanegraaf’s Christian Research Institute web site.

Excerpt:

I want to pay particular attention to Jesus’ statement in Luke 14:26: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”

One way to misinterpret this verse is to take it literally. Cults often operate on the premise that the statement is literally true — that it pits loyalty to the group against love for family. In doing so, they attempt to distance followers from family members who might make them fall away.

Critics of Christianity in turn point to the verse in order to denigrate the Christian faith. An atheist, for example, quotes the verse as “a perfect illustration of how a cult operates. Sort of makes you wonder about all those conservative religionists that preach ‘traditional family values!’”

[...]It is obvious that a literal interpretation of Jesus’ statement leads to disastrous results; but what is the alternative to interpreting it literally? The only viable option is to regard the statement as being a hyperbole — a conscious exaggeration that expresses truth in a nonliteral manner.

It apparently is not easy for people to label a statement as being a hyperbole. On the surface, it may seem to signal a lack of faith when we do not take the great promises of Scripture at face value. After all, “all things are possible with God” (Mark 10:27). Interpreting hyperbolic statements literally, however, lands us in much greater difficulties than interpreting them figuratively does.

[...]Elton Trueblood shows in his book The Humor of Christ that the most distinctive feature of Jesus’ discourses is their use of exaggeration — the preposterous overstatement in the mode of “our conventional Texas story, which no one believes literally, but which everyone remembers.” G. K. Chesterton notes that “Christ had even a literary style of his own.…The diction used by Christ is quite curiously gigantesque; it is full of camels leaping through needles and mountains hurled into the sea.”

This is, in fact, accurate; for example: “When you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing” (Matt. 6:3); “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” (Matt. 19:24); The kingdom of God “is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his garden, and it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches” (Luke 13:19).

The rest of the article is worth reading – the author talks about how hyperbole works in the Bible and how to recognize it.

I thought this was important to highlight since I love to exaggerate for effect, and now we know that it’s ok that I do. It’s a teaching tool that is useful for emphasizing a point.

Filed under: Commentary, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Mike Licona explains the As, Bs, Cs, Ds and Es of New Testament reliability

Mike Licona is one of my favorite Christian apologists, and here is an excellent lecture to show you why.

In the lecture, he explains why the four biographies in the New Testament should be accepted as historically accurate: (55 minutes)

Summary:

  • What a Baltimore Ravens helmet teaches us about the importance of truth
  • What happens to Christians when they go off to university?
  • The 2007 study on attitudes of American professors to evangelical Christians
  • Authors: Who wrote the gospels?
  • Bias: Did the bias of the authors cause them to distort history?
  • Contradictions: What about the different descriptions of events in the gospels?
  • Dating: When were the gospels written?
  • Eyewitnesses: Do the gospel accounts go back to eyewitness testimony?

This is basic training for Christians. They ought to show this lecture whenever new people show up, because pastors should not quote the Bible until everyone listening has this information straight.

Filed under: Videos, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Is Mormonism supported by evidence from science, philosophy and history?

This post presents evidence against Mormonism/LDS in three main areas. The first is in the area of science. The second is in the area of philosophy. And the third is in the area of history.

The scientific evidence

First, let’s take a look at what the founder of Mormonism, Joseph Smith, believes about the origin of the universe:

“The elements are eternal. That which had a beggining will surely have an end; take a ring, it is without beggining or end – cut it for a beggining place and at the same time you have an ending place.” (“Scriptural Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith”, p. 205)

“Now, the word create came from the word baurau which does not mean to create out of nothing; it means to organize; the same as a man would organize materials and build a ship. Hence, we infer that God had materials to organize the world out of chaos – chaotic matter, which is element, and in which dwells all the glory. Element had an existance from the time he had. The pure principles of element are principles which can never be destroyed; they may be organized and re-organized, but not destroyed. They had no beggining, and can have no end.”
(“Scriptural Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith”, p. 395)

A Mormon scholar named Blake Ostler summarizes the Mormon view in a Mormon theological journal:

“In contrast to the self-sufficient and solitary absolute who creates ex nihilo (out of nothing), the Mormon God did not bring into being the ultimate constituents of the cosmos — neither its fundamental matter nor the space/time matrix which defines it. Hence, unlike the Necessary Being of classical theology who alone could not not exist and on which all else is contingent for existence, the personal God of Mormonism confronts uncreated realities which exist of metaphysical necessity. Such realities include inherently self-directing selves (intelligences), primordial elements (mass/energy), the natural laws which structure reality, and moral principles grounded in the intrinsic value of selves and the requirements for growth and happiness.” (Blake Ostler, “The Mormon Concept of God,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 17 (Summer 1984):65-93)

So, Mormons believe in an eternally existing universe, such that matter was never created out of nothing, and will never be destroyed. But this is at odds with modern cosmology.

The Big Bang cosmology is the most widely accepted cosmology of the day. It is based on several lines of evidence, and is broadly compatible with Genesis. It denies the past eternality of the universe. This peer-reviewed paper in an astrophysics journal explains. (full text here)

Excerpt:

The standard Big Bang model thus describes a universe which is not eternal in the past, but which came into being a finite time ago. Moreover,–and this deserves underscoring–the origin it posits is an absolute origin ex nihilo. For not only all matter and energy, but space and time themselves come into being at the initial cosmological singularity. As Barrow and Tipler emphasize, “At this singularity, space and time came into existence; literally nothing existed before the singularity, so, if the Universe originated at such a singularity, we would truly have a creation ex nihilo.

[...]On such a model the universe originates ex nihilo in the sense that at the initial singularity it is true that There is no earlier space-time point or it is false that Something existed prior to the singularity.

Christian cosmology requires such a creation out of nothing, but this is clearly incompatible with what Mormons believe about the universe. The claims about the universe made by the two religions are in disagreement, and we can test empirically to see who is right, using science.

Philosophical problems

Always Have a Reason contrasts two concepts of God in Mormonism: Monarchotheism and Polytheism. It turns out that although Mormonism is actually a polytheistic religion, like Hinduism. In Mormonism, humans can become God and then be God of their own planet. So there are many Gods in Mormonism, not just one.

Excerpt:

[T]he notion that there are innumerable contingent “primal intelligences” is central to this Mormon concept of god (P+M, 201; Beckwith and Parrish, 101). That there is more than one god is attested in the Pearl of Great Price, particularly Abraham 4-5. This Mormon concept has the gods positioned to move “primal intelligences along the path to godhood” (Beckwith and Parrish, 114). Among these gods are other gods which were once humans, including God the Father. Brigham Young wrote, “our Father in Heaven was begotten on a previous heavenly world by His Father, and again, He was begotten by a still more ancient Father, and so on…” (Brigham Young, The Seer, 132, quoted in Beckwith and Parrish, 106).

[...]The logic of the Mormon polytheistic concept of God entails that there is an infinite number of gods. To see this, it must be noted that each god him/herself was helped on the path to godhood by another god. There is, therefore, an infinite regress of gods, each aided on his/her path to godhood by a previous god. There is no termination in this series. Now because this entails an actually infinite collection of gods, the Mormon polytheistic concept of deity must deal with all the paradoxes which come with actually existing infinities…

The idea of counting up to an actual infinite number of things by addition (it doesn’t matter what kind of thing it is) is problematic. See here.

More:

Finally, it seems polytheistic Mormonism has a difficulty at its heart–namely the infinite regress of deity.

[...]Each god relies upon a former god, which itself relies upon a former god, forever. Certainly, this is an incoherence at the core of this concept of deity, for it provides no explanation for the existence of the gods, nor does it explain the existence of the universe.

Now let’s see the historical evidence against Mormonism.

The historical evidence

J. Warner Wallace explains how the “Book of Abraham”, a part of the Mormon Scriptures, faces historical difficulties.

The Book of Abraham papyri are not as old as claimed:

Mormon prophets and teachers have always maintained that the papyri that was purchased by Joseph Smith was the actual papyri that was created and written by Abraham. In fact, early believers were told that the papyri were the writings of Abraham.

[...]There is little doubt that the earliest of leaders and witnesses believed and maintained that these papyri were, in fact the very scrolls upon which Abraham and Joseph wrote. These papyri were considered to be the original scrolls until they were later recovered in 1966. After discovering the original papyri, scientists, linguists, archeologists and investigators (both Mormon and non-Mormon) examined them and came to agree that the papyri are far too young to have been written by Abraham. They are approximately 1500 to 2000 years too late, dating from anywhere between 500 B.C. (John A. Wilson, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Summer 1968, p. 70.) and 60 A.D. If they papyri had never been discovered, this truth would never have come to light. Today, however, we know the truth, and the truth contradicts the statements of the earliest Mormon leaders and witnesses.

The Book of Abraham papyri do not claim what Joseph Smith said:

In addition to this, the existing papyri simply don’t say anything that would place them in the era related to 2000BC in ancient Egypt. The content of the papyri would at least help verify the dating of the document, even if the content had been transcribed or copied from an earlier document. But the papyri simply tell us about an ancient burial ritual and prayers that are consistent with Egyptian culture in 500BC. Nothing in the papyri hints specifically or exclusively to a time in history in which Abraham would have lived.

So there is a clear difference hear between the Bible and Mormonism, when it comes to historical verification.

Further study

There is a very good podcast featuring J. Warner Wallace that summarizes some other theological problems with Mormonism that I blogged about before. And if you want a nice long PDF to print out and read at lunch (which is what I did with it) you can grab this PDF by Michael Licona, entitled “Behold, I Stand at the Door and Knock“.

Filed under: Polemics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

New study: most younger evangelicals hold to Biblical views on sexual issues

This National Review article says that evangelical Protestants, which is the most conservative kind of Christian there is, are sticking with the Bible’s teachings on sex.

Excerpt:

The research, to be fully released in September, was introduced in Mark Regnerus’s presentation “Sex in America: Sociological Trends in American Sexuality,” unveiled at a recent gathering of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission’s leadership summit. According to Regnerus, when compared with the general population and with their non-observant peers, churchgoing Evangelical Christians are retaining orthodox views on Biblical sexuality, despite the shifts in broader American culture.

Regnerus surveyed 15,378 persons between the ages of 18 and 60, but he focuses in particular on respondents under 40. Significantly, Regnerus did the important work of differentiating between those who identify merely verbally with a particular religious tradition and those who actually attend church weekly. A political poll that didn’t differentiate between likely and unlikely voters wouldn’t be an accurate representation of the electorate, and for the same reasons, a survey should distinguish between someone who says “Catholic” or “Baptist” when asked for a religious identity and someone who actually shows up in the pews.

While support for same-sex marriage characterized a solid majority of those identifying as atheists, agnostics, liberal Catholics, and liberal Protestants, only 11 percent of young Evangelicals actively expressed support for same-sex marriage.

Approximately 6 percent of religiously active Evangelicals expressed support for abortion rights, while over 70 percent of their non-believing peer group said they believed in abortion rights.

While a large cross-section of all Americans believe in marriage’s importance, Regnerus found that, for example, Evangelicals are less likely than most to perceive marriage as “outdated.”

Evangelical Christians were also drastically less likely to believe that cohabitation is a good idea. While upward of 70 percent of those who claim no religious affiliation or those who are “spiritual but not religious” agree that cohabitation is acceptable, approximately 5 percent of Evangelicals agreed that cohabitation is acceptable. “While left-leaning Evangelicals have received considerable media attention lately, it pays to survey the masses and see just what’s going on,” says Regnerus. “These data suggest that while a modest minority of Evangelicals under 40 profess what we might call more sexually liberal attitudes, it’s not a significant minority. Minorities can be vocal. Survey data help us understand just how large or small they really are.”

I am glad that I am an evangelical Protestant Christian. Wherever the battle lines in the culture war are drawn, you can always count on us to be there.

Filed under: News, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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