I’m genuinely interested in some feedback on this.
In April of this year, I did a post entitled, Matthew 12:22-37: Blasphemy Against the Holy Spirit. Basically, I argued that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit seems to involve words, not just a rebellious attitude (as many evangelicals claim). And because the Greek verb that discusses such blasphemy is in the aorist, it appeared to me that Jesus was saying that a single occurrence of it is unforgivable.
Well, someone took issue with my reading of the text, and he got me thinking about something that’s continually been in the back of my mind: to what extent should I be concerned about the pastoral ramifications of what I write? I would hate for a person who thinks he blasphemed the Holy Spirit to stumble across my blog, conclude that he has no hope for forgiveness, and then commit suicide, or something horrible.
At the same time, my purpose in this blog is to wrestle with issues. Things in the Bible do not sit well with me all of the time. And I don’t always find the typical evangelical explanations for Bible difficulties to be all that convincing. Should I just shut up and let people assume that they’re true? If I don’t question them, then people won’t look for better explanations.
I think it’s important for people to realize a couple of things: First of all, I don’t present what I write as the final say on issues. I think there are some people who think that, just because I studied this stuff in school, I have access to secret knowledge that no one else has, making my opinion more weighty than the average lay person’s. Look, I struggle too. There are scholars who would disagree with my arguments, and all sorts of people–inside and outside of academia–can come up with possible solutions to my perplexities. My blog posts represent my struggles at a given time. They are not the final word. People shouldn’t lose their faith over anything I say or write.
Second, I myself am a person of faith. I may struggle with fundamentalist concepts of biblical inerrancy, but I’m a person who wants meaning in his life. And I look to the Bible for that. My interest in this blog is not just “The Bible is wrong here,” or “The Bible has all sorts of contradictory documents,” or “This biblical event didn’t happen.” I look to nourish my soul, and hopefully in the process to give others some inspiration. The person who wrote that response to my “Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” post said that I was portraying God as cruel. Look, sometimes the God of the Bible strikes me as cruel! But I am still looking for a spiritual life, which includes a God who loves all of his creation and is transforming me to become loving as well.
I am well aware that Jesus warns against being a stumbling-block to believers (Matthew 18:7), and that James warns teachers that they will be judged with greater strictness (James 3:1). But does that mean that I can never publicly question things? Should I just assume the typical fundamentalist and evangelical spiels because so many people’s faith is wrapped up in them? Should Galileo have stopped his research because his conclusions would make people question their religious beliefs?
I apologize if I sound arrogant, as if I have delusions of grandeur. I know I’m not Galileo. And I can imagine someone saying, “Look, no offense, but I’m not going to lose my faith over anything YOU write.” But the fact is that anyone who blogs has some circle of influence. A person can run a search on a topic and stumble upon something that you’ve written, too. How responsible are you for how that person reacts? And this will impact me when I become a professor as well: should I not cover the historical-critical method in my classes, then that contradicts students’ fundamentalism, and they may lose their faith if they take what I say seriously?
Make sure you get the book Jesus The Jewish Theologian by Brad Young. It touches upon what blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is within the context of 1st century Judaism. Also, the biggest thing of all, reading that section will make you have a good night’s rest.
You know, Felix, I actually read that book (because he impressed me when I heard him speak). But those were my drinking days, and I was reading that book in a restaraunt sipping Budweisers, so I don’t remember what he said about blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. I do remember what he said about divorce: Whoever leaves his wife in order to marry another…
If it makes you feel better, when you said that it involved words, I tuned you out right there. It doesn’t seem right to me, and I’m going to listen to my heart over the bible any day.
I personally believe that no matter what the bible or anything else says, if you can ruin your salvation just by saying something, it’s probably not worth having in the first place.
Yeah, Russell, that reminds me of what one of my relatives said: “Well, if I have committed blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, there’s nothing I can do about it now, so why worry about?”
Oh, by that definition, I already have. Intentionally. So, yeah, why worry about it?
Wow. Great thoughts. I could have signed my name under this post myself as if I wrote it.
Sometimes I wonder what people wonder about me because I openly question and wrestle with these issues not only on my blog but those of my blog circle too. But I’m never meaning to present what I say as the final say on an issue or even my final opinion, or not even necessarily my opinion. I just have objections to everything I read and I try to approach it from a somewhat scientific perspective where I try to prove things wrong or raise objections to see how they stand up and how solid they are. But sometimes I do worry whether what i write will have a negative impact on someones faith. One of the things I do is not allow my blog to receive traffic from search engines because I don’t want people accidentally stumbling on my blog and having that sort of negative faith shaking experience.
Also as you said I am a man of faith and no matter how many times it seems like I am calling into question the nature of the Bible or it’s supposed unity, I still look to it for answers and guidance and I do believe truth is bound up within it.
BTW, still loving the bold!
Yeah, doing the bold can actually be fun.
One thing is this: People need to visit blogs on a somewhat regular basis to get to know us better. I know you’re a person of faith because I visit your blog regularly. And those who read lots of my posts (or at least scan them) know the same about me.
What worries me is someone who just reads one thing that I wrote, without looking at the larger body of what I have to say.
Not that I’m saying anyone has to become a scholar of Pate. It’s just that what I say may not look as bad when one sees what I’m trying to do generally.
If you end up looking towards fundamentalist schools–via some ETS job search–don’t be honest, don’t be charitable. Trust me!, it’ll destroy any chances of teaching at such a place. Conservativeness, there, is measured not simply by a litany of beliefs but by disdain for the dark side.
I think your questions are great, but as a pragmatist, I would encourage you to bury your freedom of inquery with ETS type schools, should you try to teach there.
I’ve seen those institutions (where I was raised), f-over lots of people over silly theological disagreements.
Yeah, and that’s the sad thing, Jake. So many jobs out there are in the conservative institutions.
Have you considered Num 15:30-31 as the basis for the teaching on the blasphemy towards the Holy Spirit?
“‘But anyone who sins defiantly, whether native-born or alien, blasphemes the LORD, and that person must be cut off from his people. Because he has despised the LORD’s word and broken his commands, that person must surely be cut off; his guilt remains on him.’”
It would seem to me that if you say that you believe in God, that you trust in His promises and in the sacrifice His Son made for you, that when you do something that offends God, you naturally grieve and mourn over your sin because you have offended someone you love. If you read the verses prior to these in Numbers 15, it talks about “unintentional” sins and that these are covered. In other words, sins not committed in willful and knowledgeable violation of God’s commandments. If you show utter contempt for God, is this not blasphemy?
Yet, here’s the rub… look at the account of Ninevah during the time of Jonah (not Nahum). Jonah runs away from the Lord’s calling to preach to the Ninevites… why? Jonah prayed to the Lord, “Please LORD, was not this what I said while I was still in my own country? Therefore in order to forestall this I fled to Tarshish, for I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity.” (Jonah 4:2)
So it was the fact that God is compassionate, gracious and merciful, abundant in lovingkindness and one who relents concerning calamity. It is because He knew this about God and how wicked the Ninevites were that He was repulsed that God was thinking of forgiving them (the reason why he was being sent to preach to them). And indeed, because they were sorry for their sins and repented, no matter what blasphemies they spoke, no matter what profusely wicked deeds they did, when they realized the seriousness of what they had done, they repented and were forgiven. That generation was not destroyed, it was a later generation who returned to the original wickedness of their fathers who were judged (read the book of Nahum).
If you are worried whether you have blasphemed the Holy Spirit and this concerns you, then you have likely not committed the unforgivable sin…
The take home message should never be to throw up your arms and commit suicide or continue in your sin, but to repent and turn back to God BECAUSE He is gracious and forgiving.
For a long time, I’ve read Hebrews in light of Numbers 15:30-31. Hebrews at one point says that the sacrifices (which prefigured Christ) were for unintentional sins, and that certain sins can put a person beyond repentance.
Sometimes, I wonder if we should conflate the Hebrews passages with what the Pharisees did, since the Hebrews were believers who apostasized, whereas the Pharisees were unbelievers. I don’t know.
I agree with you that the broad thrust of the Bible indicates that God is merciful. That makes me ask why Jesus said that a certain sin could not be forgiven–EVER. Maybe he wasn’t saying that the Pharisees had crossed that line, but he warned them that they were in danger of doing so. But, then again, it seems that their blasphemy was saying that Jesus’ works were from the devil.
<< Sometimes, I wonder if we should conflate the Hebrews passages with what the Pharisees did, since the Hebrews were believers who apostasized, whereas the Pharisees were unbelievers. I don’t know. >>
Perhaps we might best say that the Pharisees were of those who professed to believe God, but by their actions they demonstrated that their profession was really a whole lot of hot air. And I am not only referring to their treatment of Jesus. Yet because of the things He did to demonstrate that He was really who He said He was, and they saw these things and yet still rejected Him, this is why their sin was worse. But as Jonah stated so well, “Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs.” (Jonah 2:8). They clung to their sin and unbelief and didn’t struggle with the facts and question their conclusions and ask God for guidance.
<< I agree with you that the broad thrust of the Bible indicates that God is merciful. That makes me ask why Jesus said that a certain sin could not be forgiven–EVER. Maybe he wasn’t saying that the Pharisees had crossed that line, but he warned them that they were in danger of doing so. But, then again, it seems that their blasphemy was saying that Jesus’ works were from the devil. >>
As I have gone through the bible again this year, I have noted that when God has demonstrated Himself most clearly (ie. in parting seas, speaking from the heavens, performing miracles, leading by pillars of fire and cloud and causing His word to be fulfilled by delivering mighty plagues upon the land of Egypt and making distinction between the Egyptian people and livestock and the Hebrews… when He makes Himself known in this way, the people who experience this reality are not given mercy when they rebel. We can think of Ananias and Sapphira who, in the light of the demonstrated power and working of God through the recent events, held God in such low esteem as to lie to His face, and paid for it with their lives. In the OT we have person who was stoned for picking up sticks on the sabbath. Think about it… after all that person saw, he still had no fear of God? But do we see people perishing for lying to the Holy Spirit today? No doubt I’m sure it is not completely absent from our time, but it is not common place. The amount of time one is given and whether or not they are given opportunity to repent seems to be directly proportional to what knowledge and experience they have been given.
So by observing Jesus’ good works which proved His Deity and confirmed His message and claiming they were of the devil, this is not forgivable. This is willful, knowledgeable rebellion against God. Yet for some, like Saul of Tarsus, God chose to have mercy on him despite his treatment of the disciples. How did Saul (renamed Paul) find mercy? He tells us so himself:
“I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service. Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief.” (1 Tim 1:12-13).
1. Also, Ryan, it seems as if people’s responsibility increases with time. God did not strike the Israelites dead in the early stages of their journey to Canaan. But, by the time that they spied out the land and lacked faith, God was pretty much through with that generation. He did not forgive them.
2. There are a lot of things that puzzle me. The Pharisees committed blasphemy against the Holy Spirit because they attributed Christ’s work to Satan, and that flowed from their obstinate hearts. According to Christ, that could not be forgiven. Yet, Luke-Acts presents Jesus asking God to forgive his enemies, for they knew not what they did. The Pharisees convert, as does Paul. What’s going on here? I thought they couldn’t be forgiven?
Luke does something a little different with blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, since his discussion of it doesn’t relate it specifically to the Pharisees. That may be relevant.
3. I’ve asked this question before on this blog, and maybe you can offer your insight. Jesus’ miracles were supposed to be signs that he was doing God’s will. Yet, there are passages in the Bible saying that the bad side can do wonders as well. Why should Jesus’ miracles have convinced the Pharisees, when even the bad side could do them?
<< 1. Also, Ryan, it seems as if people’s responsibility increases with time. God did not strike the Israelites dead in the early stages of their journey to Canaan. But, by the time that they spied out the land and lacked faith, God was pretty much through with that generation. He did not forgive them. >>
“Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, ‘Oh, that today you would listen as he speaks! Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, in the day of testing in the wilderness. There your fathers tested me and tried me, and they saw my works for forty years. Therefore, I became provoked at that generation and said, ‘Their hearts are always wandering and they have not known my ways.’ As I swore in my anger, ‘They will never enter my rest!’” (Heb 3:3-11, NET).
It seems that it was not so much time itself that increased their responsibility, but the fact that God continued to demonstrate Himself to them in His works during the time (ie. the feeding of the manna from heaven, giving them drink from a rock, providing healing from the snake bites, providing meat for 30 days straight, their clothing did not wear out, He continued to lead by pillar of fire by night and cloud by day). It was as if God was saying, “after all this time living under my special provisions (which you receive uniquely from the rest of the nations), don’t you know Me?!?”
Further, it was not the women and the children which were being referred to by “They will never enter my rest,” but only those fighting men aged 20 and over who were counted before they initially spied out the promised land and rebelled. None of those entered the promised land.
<< 2. There are a lot of things that puzzle me. The Pharisees committed blasphemy against the Holy Spirit because they attributed Christ’s work to Satan, and that flowed from their obstinate hearts. According to Christ, that could not be forgiven. Yet, Luke-Acts presents Jesus asking God to forgive his enemies, for they knew not what they did. The Pharisees convert, as does Paul. What’s going on here? I thought they couldn’t be forgiven? >>
What we might be missing here is that we don’t see the heart, and while we hear a lot from the rebellious pharisees, there are also those who are genuinely seeking to do what is right and not mere self-aggrandizement. Paul was one of these. So was Nicodemus.
We are told in Rom 9:15, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” But when He closes the door, there is no one who can open it; conversely, when He opens the door, no one can shut it. Clearly, God is sovereign in rendering mercy in salvation. Its not quite like the Calvinists explain, but they do have some things right (they just go too far and explain that a man’s heart is regenerated by God before they repent and believe the gospel and then attribute this as “once saved, always saved”).
As far as I can surmise, as long as God chooses to keep His window of mercy open, you can repent. Once he closed it on Pharoah, he could no longer repent because God was hardening his heart though we are told that the nature of the works God was doing would have resulted in his repentance. God sovereignly chose in this situation to close the door on Pharoah; the timing for others is indeterminate and solely dependent upon God. All we are admonished to do is respond if you feel the conviction of the Holy Spirit (ie. if the door is not yet closed). Do not delay and continue to harden your heart, or you may become one like Pharoah who cannot repent because God hardens you.
<< 3. I’ve asked this question before on this blog, and maybe you can offer your insight. Jesus’ miracles were supposed to be signs that he was doing God’s will. Yet, there are passages in the Bible saying that the bad side can do wonders as well. Why should Jesus’ miracles have convinced the Pharisees, when even the bad side could do them? >>
“Now a certain man, a Pharisee named Nicodemus, who was a member of the Jewish ruling council, came to Jesus at night and said to him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs that you do unless God is with him.’” (John 3:1-2, NET).
Jesus doesn’t correct Nicodemus. What he says is correct. The interesting thing is that Nicodemus doesn’t say “I know” but “WE know” as though he is confessing that when the Pharisees got together and discussed these things, they became convinced that what Jesus did could not happen except by God. But some of them became jealous and, instead of bending their neck, they continued in their proud hearts to resist God even though they knew the truth.
Whenever God allows signs to be fulfilled from a false prophet, it is to test the hearts of the people: do they pay attention first and foremost to the words and test them, allowing the signs to confirm them, or do they pay attention to the signs first and follow the signs even if the words being spoken mean that they follow after things God has not commanded them? This is essentially the test we are told about in Deut 13:1-11.
So the reason Jesus’ miracles should have convinced the Pharisees is because what He said was true and right, thus the signs confirmed that He was sent by God. Jesus stated exactly what the law stated and He lifted it up and called the people to repent, and He also showed mercy on those who were humble of heart by healing them and feeding them.
PS. Ezek 18:24 pretty much axes the “once saved always saved” Calvinist doctrine. True, if you walk humbly before your God and put your trust in Him, there is nothing that can snatch you out of His hand. But you can certainly jump out!
“But if a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and practices wrongdoing according to all the abominable practices the wicked carry out, will he live? All his righteous acts will not be remembered; because of the unfaithful acts he has done and the sin he has committed, he will die.”
I’m struggling somewhat with your third point. If what Jesus was saying was obviously right, then why did he need miracles to confirm it?
Also, I can see why the Pharisees may have had problems with Jesus. In their eyes, Jesus wasn’t speaking in accordance with the Torah. To them, he was violating the Sabbath, and claiming to be God.
But, then again, according to the Gospels, Jesus pretty much refuted their understanding of these issues.
<< I’m struggling somewhat with your third point. If what Jesus was saying was obviously right, then why did he need miracles to confirm it? >>
He didn’t, aside from fulfilling the scriptures which said that He would. I would also add that He did them out of God’s kindness and mercy because He knew that some of them, like Thomas, needed to see them.
“Do not believe me unless I do what my Father does. But if I do it, even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.” (John 10:37-38)
On the other hand, recall the encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. Jesus did no miracles aside from telling the woman about her life of sin. Then we see that she and those from the town that came out to Jesus with her all believed in Him and were saved!
Now recall Jesus’ words when they rejected the words He spoke and the deeds He did: “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.” (Matt 12:39)
Jesus also showed that they were not looking for HIM because of the signs He performed, but to selfishly fill their bellies: “I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.” (John 6:26)
<< Also, I can see why the Pharisees may have had problems with Jesus. In their eyes, Jesus wasn’t speaking in accordance with the Torah. To them, he was violating the Sabbath, and claiming to be God. >>
As you said, Jesus refuted their understanding on these issues. One of the main principles they should have gleaned from God’s word and His demonstrated acts and ways is that He desires mercy, not sacrifice… “Lord, I fasted twice a week and tithed 10 percent of all I owned”. From Hosea 6:6 we read, “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.” Jesus said, “Which one of you wouldn’t rescue his animal if it fell into a hole on the Sabbath?” Jesus proved to them by this that they knew this principle but willingly violated it when it came to God’s people, loading burdens on their backs and not lifting a finger to help them.
Could be. Sometimes, I wonder how convincing Jesus’ arguments were. There are passages in the Gospels in which Jesus silences the Pharisees. But, to the whole thing about the ox in the ditch, the Pharisees could’ve said, “Look, that applies to emergencies that come up on the Sabbath. But these sick people are not an emergency. They can come back tomorrow to be healed.”
Or Jesus’ whole argument about him being God: The Bible calls certain judges “gods,” so why can’t that apply to the one God has sanctified and sent into the world (John 10)? To that, couldn’t the Pharisees say, “But that assumes God has sanctified you and sent you into the world”?
At the same time, the broad thrust of the Hebrew Bible is mercy. And Jesus may not have just leaned on an assumption to say that he as the Messiah is God, since he appeals to that one Psalm to say that the Messiah will be David’s Lord.