Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Blasphemy Challenge and the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit

Although The Blasphemy Challenge is now over a month old,

[Left: "ABC's Nightline Devotes Nine Minutes to Blasphemy Promoting Atheists," NewsBusters, Scott Whitlock]

and has been mentioned on other blogs (e.g. Post-Darwinist, Uncommon Descent & Doubting Darwin) I have belatedly decided to comment on it, one reason being that I myself was a bit fuzzy on what exactly is meant by "blasphemy against the Holy Spirit":

Matthew 12:31-32. "31And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. 32Anyone 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."

Mark 3:28-29. "28I tell you the truth, all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them. 29But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin."

Luke 12:10 "And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven."

although after checking my books it turned out to be pretty much what I thought it was (see below).

First, note the graciousness of God in the verses above, that "every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men" (my emphasis) except one.

There are a number of articles on The Blasphemy Challenge (e.g. ABC News, Christian Science Monitor & Breakpoint), but I will use this short MSNBC article, which was originally in Newsweek, as my foil. My comments are in bold.

Beliefwatch: Blasphemy, Newsweek, January 8, 2006, Jerry Adler ... 'Hi my name is Lindy and I deny the existence of the Holy Spirit and you should too.' With that five-second submission to YouTube, a 24-year-old who uses the name "menotsimple" has either condemned herself to an eternity of punishment in the afterlife or struck a courageous blow against superstition. She's one of more than 400 mostly young people who have joined a campaign by the Web site BlasphemyChallenge.com to stake their souls against the existence of God. That, of course, is the ultimate no-win wager, as the 17th-century French mathematician Blaise Pascal calculated-it can't be settled until you're dead, and if you lose, you go to hell.

Fortunately for this "Lindy" (and all others who share her misunderstanding), it is not blasphemy against the Holy Spirit to "deny the existence of the Holy Spirit." If that were the case then no one could ever become a Christian, because all non-Christians, by definition, would deny the existence of the Holy Spirit (in the Christian sense).

As the following quotes from my dictionaries of theology and commentaries indicate, "The blasphemy against the Spirit ... is no specific sin ... but that disposition of deliberate hostility to ... God ... which precludes a person's contrition and repentance" (my emphasis):

"`The blasphemy against the Spirit' referred to in the above texts [Mt. 12:24-32; Mk. 3:22-30; Lk. 12:10] is no specific sin, such as denial of the Spirit's divinity, but that disposition of deliberate hostility to the power of God actualized through the third person of the Trinity which precludes a person's contrition and repentance (cf. 1 Jn. 5:16)." (Demarest, B., "Blasphemy," in Ferguson, S.B., et al., eds., "New Dictionary of Theology," Inter-Varsity Press: Leicester UK, 1988, p.105.. Emphasis original).

It is not, "insulting or rejecting Jesus or God due to ignorance or rebellion" but rather, "it is the willful and conscious rejection of God's activity and its attribution to the devil" (my emphasis):

"Blasphemy Against the Holy Spirit. A sin mentioned only in Mark 3:28-29; Luke 12:10; Matt. 12:32. The context in Mark makes it clear that this sin is not just any serious moral failure, or persistence in sin, or insulting or rejecting Jesus or God due to ignorance or rebellion: it is the willful and conscious rejection of God's activity and its attribution to the devil. The Pharisees saw a notable miracle and heard Jesus' own teaching, but they chose darkness (John 3:19) and called good evil (Isa. 5:20) by attributing the miracle to the devil. It is the enlightened, willful, high-handed nature of such a sin that makes it unforgivable (not forgiven at death, as the Jews thought, but punished through eternity). First John 5:16 speaks of a sin unto death and Heb. 6:4-6 speaks of those no agreement can bring to repentance: that is this type of sin. The person is not ignorant, but chooses to reject God, to call God the devil. There is nothing more that can be said to such a person, nor any miracle or evidence that would help him. By definition, then, no one who worries over committing this sin could have done it, for it rules out a troubled conscience. Instead it stands as a severe warning to those who know God's truth not to turn from it or to abandon their faith. " (Davids, P.H., "Blasphemy Against the Holy Spirit," in Elwell, W.A., ed., "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology," [1984], Baker: Grand Rapids MI, 1990, Seventh Printing, pp.161-162. Emphasis original).

It is "the sin of the wilfully blind, who persistently refuse the illumination of the Spirit ... For such, there can be no forgiveness, for they have refused the only way of forgiveness that God has provided" (my emphasis):

"MARK 3:27-30 ... 28-30. This leads to one of the most solemn pronouncements and warnings in the whole of the New Testament, coupled, as often, with one of the greatest promises. There is forgiveness with God for every sin and blasphemy except one, which may be the deadly sin of which John speaks so cautiously in 1 John 5:16. This is the sin of the wilfully blind, who persistently refuse the illumination of the Spirit, oppose the Spirit's work, and justify themselves in doing so by deliberately misrepresenting Him. For such, there can be no forgiveness, for they have refused the only way of forgiveness that God has provided: indeed, they have slammed the door (verse 30)." (Cole, R.A., "The Gospel According to Mark: An Introduction and Commentary," The Tyndale New Testament commentaries, [1961], Inter-Varsity Press Leicester UK, 1989, Second Edition, pp.222-223. Emphasis original).

It is "not of the uttering of any form of words, but of the set of the life," for example, when "Jesus' opponents attributed His works of mercy to the devil" then "They called good evil" and "Men in such a situation cannot repent and seek forgiveness" (my emphasis):

"LUKE 12:8-10 ... 10. This leads to the solemn thought that there is a sin so serious that it cannot be forgiven. Jesus introduces this with the statement that a word spoken against Himself can be forgiven. This does not mean that such a word is a trifle. The preceding verse has shown something of the dignity of the Son of man: He is not to be taken lightly. Yet even sin against this august personage may be forgiven. Men may blaspheme but then repent; the blasphemy is not their final word. But he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit is in a much worse case. We must understand this, not of the uttering of any form of words, but of the set of the life. This blasphemy is so serious because it concerns the whole man, not a few words spoken on any one occasion. Matthew and Mark put these words in connection with the Beelzebul controversy and this helps us to get the meaning. Then Jesus' opponents attributed His works of mercy to the devil. They called good evil. Men in such a situation cannot repent and seek forgiveness: they lack a sense of sin; they reject God's competence to declare what is right. It is this continuing attitude that is the ultimate sin. God's power to forgive is not abated. But this kind of sinner no longer has the capacity to repent and believe." (Morris, L., "The Gospel According to Luke: An Introduction and Commentary," The Tyndale New Testament commentaries, [1974], Inter-Varsity Press Leicester UK, Reprinted, 1986, pp.210-211. Emphasis original).

It "indicates a deliberate refusal to acknowledge God's power, a totally perverted orientation, like ... `those who call evil good and good evil'"; it is not "failure to recognize the light" but "deliberate rejection of it once recognized" and "indicates a hardening against God which is deliberate and irreversible" (my emphasis):

"MATTHEW 12:30-32 ... 31-32. Matthew has here brought together two related and puzzling sayings found in Mark 3:28-29 and in Luke 12:10, so that the interpretation of each is governed by the other. The saying in Mark contrasts blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (which is unforgivable) with all other sins and blasphemies (which may be forgiven); that in Luke specifies the forgivable blasphemy as speaking a word against the Son of man. Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (i.e. against the manifest activity of God, as seen in v. 28) is more serious than other forms of slander and abuse (blasphemia is usually speech against God in the LXX, but in secular Greek it is used also of slander generally; so also in Rom. 3:8; 1 Cor. 10:30); it indicates a deliberate refusal to acknowledge God's power, a totally perverted orientation, like that of Isaiah 5:20 ('those who call evil good and good evil'). This was what the Pharisees were doing in attributing Jesus' healings to Satanic power. Is the Son of man then on a lower level, less than divine, that he can be slandered with impunity? Rather the incognito character of Jesus' ministry means that failure to recognize him for what he was might be excusable (cf. Acts 3:17); even Peter 'spoke against' him (26:69-75) and was forgiven. The difference is then between failure to recognize the light and deliberate rejection of it once recognized; cf. Numbers 15:30-31 for unforgivable blasphemy in contrast with unwitting sin in vv. 27-29. ... But the punishment for blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is not only on earth, but extends to the age to come; it indicates a hardening against God which is deliberate and irreversible. ... . Ultimately only God can know when an individual's opposition to his work has reached this stage of irreversible rejection." (France, R.T., "Matthew: An Introduction and Commentary," The Tyndale New Testament commentaries, Inter-Varsity Press: Leicester UK, 1985, pp.210-211.. Emphasis original)

The Blasphemy Challenge is a joint project of filmmaker Brian Flemming, director of the antireligion documentary "The God Who Wasn't There," and Brian Sapient, cofounder of the atheist Web site RationalResponders.com. Their intent was to encourage atheists to come forward and put their souls on the line, showing others that you don't have to be afraid of God. The particular form of the challenge was chosen because, by one interpretation, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, a part of the Christian Trinity, is the only sin that can never be forgiven. And once something you've said gets posted on YouTube, as any number of celebrities can attest, you never live it down.

So while the young participants in The Blasphemy Challenge probably don't really understand what they are doing, and if so have not blasphemed against the Holy Spirit (according to the above interpretation), the same cannot be said for its organisers. But I agree that, "Ultimately only God can know when an individual's opposition to his work has reached this stage of irreversible rejection (my emphasis)."

For better or worse, though, hell may not be so easy to get into. Despite the seemingly clear language in Mark 3:28-29 ("all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven"), most theologians are reluctant to pronounce anyone beyond repentance and salvation. Richard Land, a leader of the Southern Baptist Convention, says the passage, read in context, refers to a very narrow and specific definition of blasphemy: maliciously attributing God's miracles to a demon. Merely "denying" the Holy Spirit, by this reading, doesn't qualify. "My response," Land says, "would be to pray for these people: 'forgive them, [for] they know not what they do'."

While I agree that "hell may not be so easy to get into" and Christians should be "reluctant to pronounce anyone beyond repentance and salvation," I disagree that "blasphemes against the Holy Spirit" is that "narrow and specific" as to mean only "maliciously attributing God's miracles to a demon." Rather, that is but one example of the attitude that "call[s] evil good and good evil" (Isa 5:20), which then cannot ask God for forgiveness and therefore is "unforgivable" but on their side, not God's.

To which another self-described blasphemer, whose real name is Michael Lawson, replies that he knows exactly what he's doing: he's daring God to send him to hell. "We want to show that we really mean it when we say we don't believe a word in this book," he says. He means the Bible.

If this "self-described blasphemer" really "knows exactly what he's doing" in "daring God to send him to hell," then he would be an example (according to the above interpretation) of one who had committed "the blasphemy against ... the Holy Spirit" and therefore "will not be forgiven."

In that case he would be yet another "successful ... rebel... to the end" who "will not be forgiven" and therefore God gives them in the next life what they most want in this life, for God "To leave them alone" (my emphasis):

"I willingly believe that the damned are, in one sense, successful, rebels to the end; that the doors of hell are locked on the inside. .... They enjoy forever the horrible freedom they have demanded, and are therefore self-enslaved: just as the blessed, forever submitting to obedience, become through all eternity more and more free. In the long run the answer to all those who object to the doctrine of hell, is itself a question: `what are you asking God to do?' To wipe out their past sins and, at all costs, to give them a fresh start, smoothing every difficulty and offering every miraculous help? But He has done so, on Calvary. To forgive them? They will not be forgiven. To leave them alone? Alas, I am afraid that is what He does." (Lewis, C.S., "The Problem of Pain," [1940], Fount: London, Reprinted, 1977, pp.101-102. Emphasis original)

God could not be reached for comment.

That would then indeed the problem of those who had committed the "blasphemy against the Holy Spirit", "God could" no longer "be reached" - from their side!

[...]

Stephen E. Jones, BSc. (Biology).


Exodus 7:1-6. 1Then the LORD said to Moses, "See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron will be your prophet. 2You are to say everything I command you, and your brother Aaron is to tell Pharaoh to let the Israelites go out of his country. 3But I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and though I multiply my miraculous signs and wonders in Egypt, 4he will not listen to you. Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and with mighty acts of judgment I will bring out my divisions, my people the Israelites. 5And the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring the Israelites out of it." 6Moses and Aaron did just as the LORD commanded them.

6 comments:

Geocreationist said...

I was glad to see you write on this. I don't think many people are clear on what blashpeming the holy spirit is. However, what you posted is pretty much my own understanding as well.

I find it interesting that blaspheming Jesus is forgivable, but it clearly is. Two examples that come to mind are Paul and possibly Peter.

Do you consider Judas an example of blaspheming the holy spirit? Personally, I've never thought the argument all the way through.

Stephen E. Jones said...

Geocreationist

>I was glad to see you write on this. I don't think many people are clear on what blashpeming the holy spirit is. However, what you posted is pretty much my own understanding as well.

Thanks.

>I find it interesting that blaspheming Jesus is forgivable, but it clearly is. Two examples that come to mind are Paul and possibly Peter.

I don't know about Peter but Paul admitted in 1 Tim 1:13 that he "was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man" but "was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief."

That Paul "acted in ignorance and unbelief" and was forgiven shows that he did not commit the unforgivable sin of "blaspheming against the Holy Spirit", which in turn shows that the latter is *knowingly* acting against God, Christ and Christians.

>Do you consider Judas an example of blaspheming the holy spirit?

Probably not because, like the other disciples and Paul, he did not really appreciate who Jesus was, i.e. God.

See the quote in my post that says, "Rather the _incognito_ character of Jesus' ministry means that failure to recognize him for what he was might be excusable".

>Personally, I've never thought the argument all the way through.

The key is the "Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness" (Isa 5:20) attitude.

That if one knows deep down that Jesus is (or at least could be) God (as I personally think that extreme anti-Christians like Dawkins and the organisers - not necessarily the participants - of this Blasphemy Challenge do), and yet still one *deliberately and knowingly* opposes Jesus, Christianity, and Christians, calling it and them evil, and calling evil and evildoers good (as Dawkins and his ilk do), then one has committed the "blasphemy against the Holy Spirit", because one has made it *impossible* for one to repent and receive forgiveness from God, which is mediated by the Holy Spirit.

It is really nothing new, being contained in the Old Testament, as per one of my quotes: "The difference is then between failure to recognize the light and deliberate rejection of it once recognized; cf. Numbers 15:30-31 for unforgivable blasphemy in contrast with unwitting sin in vv. 27-29."

It is also in Isa 6:9-10 as quoted by Jesus in Mt 13:14-16 (see also Jn 12:40 & Acts 28:27):

"In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: `You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. For this people's *heart has become calloused*; they hardly hear with their ears, and *they have closed their eyes*. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and *turn, and I would heal them*.' But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear." (my emphasis).

Stephen E. Jones

Unguided said...

Stephen

Calling Dawkins a blasphemer seems to be overly harsh.

From what I have seen, his issue is evidence. I agree he also ridicules those he sees as doing evil in the Lord's name for their own benefit (and unfortunately these people are not uncommon).

However, I would have thought this puts him in the doubting Thomas or Paul cateorgy rather than a blasphemer.

Stephen E. Jones said...

Unguided

>Calling Dawkins a blasphemer seems to be overly harsh.

The issue in my comment (I did not even mention Dawkins in my post) is not whether Dawkins is "a blasphemer" but whether he had committed the "blasphemy against the Holy Spirit."

As my post with its quotes pointed out, they are two entirely different things. As per my comment, the Apostle Paul admitted to having been "once a blasphemer ... in ignorance".

There can be no reasonable doubt that Dawkins is "a blasphemer" in the first sense and I am sure he would proudly admit it! For example, in his book, "The God Delusion," he described the "God of the Old Testament" (who in Christianity is the same God of the New Testament) as:

"The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully." (Dawkins, R., "The God Delusion," Bantam Press: London, 2006, p.31).

However, if you disagree that this makes Dawkins "a blasphemer" in the first sense, then we must agree to differ.

The next question is whether Dawkins is "a blasphemer" in the second sense, of having *knowingly* and *deliberately* blasphemed God, and therefore having committed the unforgivable sin of "blasphemy against the Holy Spirit".

As I said, "I *personally* think that extreme anti-Christians like Dawkins" do know "deep down that Jesus is (or at least could be) God, and yet still ... *deliberately and knowingly* opposes Jesus, Christianity, and Christians, calling it and them evil, and calling evil and evildoers good" in which case they have "committed the "blasphemy against the Holy Spirit".

However, if you disagree that this makes Dawkins "a blasphemer" in the second sense also, then again we must agree to differ.

I accept that, as I quoted in my post, "Ultimately only God can know when an individual's opposition to his work has reached this stage of irreversible rejection," and so Dawkins could still become a Christian and prove me wrong, in which case I would be *delighted*. Indeed, inconsistently I have often prayed for Dawkins' conversion, the last time only a matter of days ago.

In the final analysis, the proof of this pudding is in the eating.

>From what I have seen, his issue is evidence. I agree he also ridicules those he sees as doing evil in the Lord's name for their own benefit (and unfortunately these people are not uncommon).

Disagree. See above. What "evidence" *could* convince Dawkins (in this life) that God exists and Christianity is true? If the answer is "none", then is that not an operational definition of one who has committed the "blasphemy against the Holy Spirit"?

And *why* does Dawkins selectively pick on the comparatively few Christians who do "evil in the Lord's name for their own benefit" (which persons are also criticised, if not disowned, by most Christians) and ignore *the vast majority* of Christians who *don't* do "evil in the Lord's name for their own benefit"?

>However, I would have thought this puts him in the doubting Thomas or Paul cateorgy rather than a blasphemer.

We must then agree to disagree. See above.

Stephen E. Jones

Frank Walton said...

If you're interested, I have a blogsite against the blasphemy challenge here.

Stephen E. Jones said...

Frank

>If you're interested, I have a blogsite against the blasphemy challenge here.

Thanks. I had a brief look at it.

I agree with your point under "2. Is the Blasphemy Challenge rational?" [http://tinyurl.com/387awc]

If atheists *really* didn't think there was a God, it would be irrational challenging what doesn't exist.

For example, no atheist would waste their time challenging Zeus or Wotan (or the Tooth Fairy), because they *know* they don't exist.

So the fact they waste their time (in fact a *lot* of time) challenging the Christian God, shows that deep down they must think He does (or at least could) exist!

The late atheist Stephen Jay Gould, when writing about Darwinist treatment of the geneticist Richard Goldschmidt, pointed out that it is "a general principle for objects of intense ridicule" (which therefore includes God), "No one likes to waste time on a nonentity":

"Who then was this Goldschmidt whom so many reviled in ignorance? First of all-and this must be a general principle for objects of intense ridicule-he could not have been a minor or second-rate thinker, for such scientists are not worth the emotional energy devoted to Goldschmidt's intellectual persecution. No one likes to waste time on a nonentity." (Gould, S.J., "The Uses of Heresy: An Introduction to Richard Goldschmidt's The Material Basis of Evolution," in Goldschmidt, R.B., "The Material Basis of Evolution," [1940], Yale University Press: New Haven CT, 1982, reprint, p.xiv).

That atheists like Richard Dawkins and the organisers of The Blasphemy Challenge waste *so much* time on ridiculing and attacking the *Christian* God, shows that deep down they don't think He is a "nonentity", i.e. they *do* think He is an entity!

Stephen E. Jones