What is Sin? (Virtual Sunday School)

What is Sin? (Virtual Sunday School) January 5, 2014

Last Sunday in my Sunday school class, we reached the part of the Lord’s Prayer that asks for forgiveness of sins/debts/trespasses. Among the topics which came up, and to which we would have returned today if all church events had not been cancelled due to the severe winter weather, were the question of what “sin” should mean for Christians today, and whether we ought to obey commandments for which we cannot understand the rationale.

Despite what you will sometimes hear, it is not the case that liberal and progressive Christians have no concept of sin or no concern with morality. Far from it. We just do not accept arbitrary commands and presume that they are divinely revealed. We see within the Bible that even the Bible’s authors regularly challenge, add to, subtract from, and reinterpret laws and commands. Why should we consider it “unbiblical” to do the same? And so we seek a better reason than “it says so in the Bible” for what we emphasize and what we prohibit, since we honestly acknowledge that the Bible says many contradictory things, and that simply following what the Bible says in certain passages has led time and time again to conservative Christians being on the wrong side of history – from trying to exclude uncircumcised Gentiles in Paul’s time, to defending slavery more recently, to name just a couple of examples.

I suggested last week in my class that it would be a good exercise to find a commandment in the Bible that you instinctively consider not to be applicable to yourself or to our time. Then see if you can figure out whether you have an actual rationale for that decision.

Since weather prevents my class from meeting today, I am sharing this here, inviting both those who normally attend my Sunday school class, and all those who read this blog, to participate in discussing this topic. I hope this gives you something useful to do during this blizzard.

I’ve shared some of my own聽thoughts as a liberal Christian here on the blog before, about how principles ought to take priority over passages. But even the principles can sometimes be adopted without a clear rationale. And so those too ought to be discussed when considering this topic.

To end on a humorous note, I thought I’d share an idea I had, even though I didn’t follow through on it. I had the idea in Sunday school class last week to make a cartoon which shows some people being challenged as to why they had come onto church property despite a “No Trespassing” sign, and the people responding that they had assumed the sign indicated which version of the Lord’s Prayer is used at the church! 馃檪 I’m not much of a cartoonist, but if someone finds the idea worth turning into a cartoon and makes it, please let me know so that I can share it on the blog!


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  • Well, I will get a ball rolling by calling up a ‘definition’ of sin that I have worked under for many decades. Sin is a broken relationship between two beings. I gave this definition ‘without cause’. Kind of like no-fault insurance.

  • Craig

    “We see within the Bible that even the Bible鈥檚 authors regularly challenge, add to, subtract from, and reinterpret laws and commands.”
    Would love to know more about this, with some examples. Thanks.

    • Some examples include the centralization of worship in Deuteronomy, amd the legislation responding to it by allowing the slaughter of meat for consumption elsewhere; Ezekiel and Jeremiah responding to earlier legislation requiring child sacrifice (also reflected in laws about “every firstborn” and some allowing for firstborn humans to be redeemed); Paul disagreeing with Genesis on whether circumcision is requiired for everyone in Abraham’s household; and of course, compare Exodus 20 and 34 for evidence of different collections of “ten commandments.” Those are just a few examples off the top of my head.

  • Jerry Wilson

    Sin can be used as a generic term for human fault or shortcoming. However, it specifically applies to a transgression against God or God’s laws. In this context, to a non-believer like me, there is no such thing as sin. We generally get our modern concept of sin from the early Catholic Church who used it to scare the masses into attending.

    • Does sin not include sinning against one’s neighbour? Nathan’s parable against David’s sin against Bathsheba and Uriah is a good example.

      • Psalm 51

        For the director of music. A psalm of David. When the prophet Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba.

        2 Wash away all my iniquity
        and cleanse me from my sin.
        3 For I know my transgressions,
        and my sin is always before me.
        4 Against you, you only, have I sinned
        and done what is evil in your sight;

        • In sinning against Bathsheba and Uriah, David sinned against God. There is little doubt that he sinned against B and U – and also, incidentally, against himself. That is why God offered David as a sin offering.
          转旨职讞讟址旨讗职谞值讬执 讘职讗值讝讜止讘 讜讗职侄讟职讛指专
          转旨职讻讘址旨住职谞值讬执 讜旨诪执砖旨讈侄诇讙侄 讗址诇职讘旨执讬谉
          You will make a sin-offering of me with hyssop and I will be clean
          you will scour me and I will be white as snow

          David thus becomes a good example for us and he also prefigures the mitzvah of Jesus who offered himself on our behalf.

          • Right. That’s the perspective of most Christians. When the psalmist says, “Against you, you only, have I sinned,” in what sense do you think he intends the phrase “you only”. Are there other ways to translate this?

          • Are there other ways to translate this? – thanks for this – made me find a difference I had missed…

            The words could be rendered ‘Against you, you separately,’ These words (v 6 Hebrew numbering) are one focus of an elliptical structure (vv 3-11 Hebrew numbering) that is 8 levels deep. The focus is emphasized by the repetition of ‘you’, in both cases indicated by the pronoun ‘k’ which is attached to the word it modifies. This is not the usual way of emphasizing ‘you’ – compare the accusatory sequence (where God is accused) in Psalm 89, vv 10 ff and vv 39 ff. There the stand-alone pronoun is used for ‘you’. Part of this construction is from the word ‘to be separate from’ used as a preposition. This form isolates God as the one who ‘alone’ does great wonders (Psalm 86:10, 136:4 – see also Psalm 4 v9, ‘you Adonai of solitude’, and 102:8, ‘I am become as a bird isolated on a roof’).

            But ‘what does in mean?’. A whole bunch of things, I think – including: David’s identity as the anointed king and our identification with him in our sorry situation, and not excluding the other focus in the verse, the first of three mentions of ‘righteous’ in the poem, each of which occurs at a mid point of a circular structure. This is God’s righteousness and our separation from it. To find such structures in these poems, look for the recurring words and what they surround.

            The Psalter defines and highlights the story of Israel and its anointed king. These poems are one of the means by which our completed humanity is built in spite of the broken relationship we find ourselves in. We too must not neglect our own sovereignty, our own roles as monarch of that part of the seamless garment that we inhabit. How do we each exercise power for the good of the whole redeemed order still under construction in our ‘day’?

            Another easy definition of sin is ‘abuse of power’. It would be fair to say that we must learn to exercise power as the Lord exercises it (See Psalm 146). Again, this is the purpose of the Psalter. I have written a review this past month of NTW’s The Case for the Psalms. My hurried, even impulsive, answer is here.

          • I think that there are multiple issues that come together here. I suspect that the attribution of the psalm to David, and its connection to that particular incident, are probably later. But even so, whoever connected the psalm with that incident still deserves to be questioned. There is simply no way that I can see that the usual understanding of the psalm’s language can be embraced by anyone with any kind of moral sensibilities. David certainly had sinned against others – against Bathsheba, against Uriah, against his armies and his people, in the traditional story.

            On a side note, I recently saw it suggested that the Bathsheba/Uriah story gets told the way it does in order to emphasize that Solomon was indeed David’s son and could not be Uriah’s. And so there may be some special dynastic pleading at work in the story.

          • James, I wonder how late the inscription is and what level of theological reasoning it implies. Even if it is late, even if the whole poem is late and is written based on a reflection of the idolatry that led to the exile or some such construction, we have this attribution as a given in our canon. ‘Alone’ interpreted as ‘I don’t care about Bathsheba or Uriah’ or today ‘I don’t care what happens to central Africa’ (substitute whatever area of disaster in the world you care to name) surely gives the lie to that interpretation of ‘alone / only’. How then should we read the poem? As the anointed king’s responsibility for others? As our responsibility for the deadly consequences of our actions? (individual and corporate – since David represents the state in this case). But also recognizing that we cannot blame God for these actions because God is separate / isolated as actor in the case of our rebellion and lust. It is the same argument that can be brought against – God made me thus so I acted this way.

          • I’m not are persuaded as you are that, just because a particular understanding of the psalm intro seems problematic to us, that it could not have been what the author or the editor of the book intended. There seem to me to be far too many things that seem on face value objectionable for that to work as a guiding principle to interpretation.

          • Now you raise a number of questions. First – how persuaded am I that my level of persuasion should be compared to yours? Persuasion seems the wrong term.

            2. What do I do with these texts? Like everyone else outside the academy, I am facing a problem finding an appropriate application of these poems for myself within the community of the faithful today. To be blunt, I find the inferences of scholars sometimes opaque, irrelevant, inconclusive, and contradictory as well as sometimes suggestive and helpful – but I am far from persuaded that scholars know what the original poet or redactor ‘meant’. I think it is likely that the poets/redactors application is different from mine though I do think we share a common humanity. I doubt that it is completely different for I expect they were learning from what they suffered (as indeed Jesus did).

            3. Is the ‘face value’ of these poems ‘objectionable’ to me? It is a good question that you ask and one that occurs to me as I read them. How for instance does God teach my hands (18:35) or my fingers (144:1) to war? Does he put a sword or a gun in them and say pull the trigger? Not likely given the judgment of Psalm 82. Did David think he did? I might well not have liked David but he was a musician, and the text he wrote is no longer his alone and is greater than our scholarly assumptions. It needs the oral tradition that we apply to it today.

            4. Do I think that David repented as I would repent? Yes, I expect he did. I expect he perceived his abuse of power. And whoever wrote this poem and included in its current position (following 49-50 and the issue of sacrifice) was aware of David’s error.

            5. Or we should abandon the canon of our tradition completely? Should we not bother reading these poems since we think they are ancient religious artifacts with no application today? To say – yes, jettison these, would be, in my opinion, given the use of the psalms and other texts in the NT, a serious error in judgment in the churches. It hampers growth in responsibility among the faithful. It hampers our growth into the full stature of Christ.

            6. Do scholars lead us to abandon the text? Sometimes they do.

  • Pat68

    How about wearing mixed fibers? Lev. 19:19. 馃榾

    I think what this discussion shows, is that for all of some people’s insistence upon being literalists, we all engage in interpretation. Some are just better than others at explaining how they came to their conclusions.

  • edwardtbabinski

    In the Christian world, “sin” is everything one ought to avoid thinking or doing because it offends God, and only secondarily because it offends one’s fellow human beings. While “death” is something that was supernaturally decreed to be a part of creation, and is often connected in some way with “sin.”

    But what is a “sin” in a scientific sense, and what is “death,” especially in light of the theory of evolution?

    Concerning “sin,” scientists have not been able to find a way to determine what thoughts or actions offend God (neither do people of different religions agree on exactly what those thoughts and actions are), and scientists are far from discovering how the shedding of one person’s blood in the past “covers” other people’s “sin’s” including future ones, which sounds more like typical tropes in the realm of “sympathetic magic” rather than anything scientific (for that matter neither do scientists have much to go on when it comes to an ancient Hebrew ritual involving one dove that is set free and another that is bled to death and whose blood is sprinkled inside one’s home, which allegedly cleanses both leprosy and mildew).

    Moreover, in terms of the evolutionary history and survival of the human species, having offspring is key, not how much one avoids “sinning.” For instance, Jesus said the 鈥渕eek鈥 inherit the earth, but we haven鈥檛 inherited much from them genetically. Rather, it is the 鈥渄isproportionate replicators鈥 who left their mark on us, our forebears whose drive and passion got their DNA immortalized into children who would, with enough luck as well as drive and passion of their own, continue down the line. You won鈥檛 find many celibate shrinking violets in your ancestry. We are here because we had ancestors who did what it took to survive and reproduce in a world that was filled with competing groups of primates, pain, death and extinction events, long before modern humans arrived. What we inherited from them is not some taint of sin, but the very traits that allowed them to produce you. In other words, we are the genetic success stories of our ancestors鈥 behavior as well as their bodies. That is what the scientific evidence suggests.

    Lamoureux, a Christian apologist for evolution, claims there 鈥渋s no sin-death problem,鈥 since 鈥淎dam never existed, and therefore suffering and death did not enter the world in divine judgment for his transgression.鈥 But he fails to see the implications when he claims that 鈥渢he divine revelation in Gen 3, Rom 5-8, and 1 Cor 15 is very simple: humans are sinners, God judges sin, and Jesus died for sinful men and women.鈥 But evolution raises one glaring question in response to Lamoureux鈥檚 point, men and women are “sinful” because of what? Because of the very process God employed to bring about the human species?

    Or take the scientific study of the “anger reaction” in vertebrates throughout evolutionary time. We all lapse into angry outbursts from time to time. This is entirely to be expected, because our threat system has evolved so that it is activated rapidly, because defenses that come on too slowly may be too late. (Kolts) We have been prey more than predators, even for most of human evolutionary prehistory, and there isn鈥檛 much time to react when the tiger is about to pounce. Having a rapid-response amygdala for threat response is not our “sinful” fault; it is part of the way our brains evolved to function.

    Christian apologists may object that such a purely biological interpretation tends to reduce sin or evil merely to our acting on biological impulses, ignoring transcendent forms of evil made possible by our transcendence鈥攅vils such as idolatry of self, viewing other people as mere objects, and the like. But such traits could just as well be explained as being rooted in our survival instincts. As the anatomist and Christian Daryl Domning points out, our 鈥渟inful鈥 human behaviors do appear to exist, in a strictly scientific fashion, because they promote the survival and reproduction of those individuals that perform(ed) them. He adds that 鈥渢here is virtually no known human behavior that we call 鈥榮in鈥 that is not also found among nonhuman animals. Even pride, proverbially the deadliest sin of all, is not absent.鈥 Domning鈥檚 鈥渦nambiguous conclusion鈥 is that animals are 鈥渄oing things that would be sinful if done by morally reflective human beings.鈥 Moreover鈥 鈥淟ogical parsimony and the formal methods of inference used in modern studies of biological diversity affirm that these patterns of behavior are displayed in common by humans and other animals because they have been inherited from a common ancestor which also possessed them. In biologists鈥 jargon, these behaviors are homologous. Needless to say, this common ancestor long predated the first humans and cannot be identified with the biblical Adam.鈥

    Or to quote Ed Friedlander, “We do not like to be reminded of the ways in which we resemble animals. We sinners like to think our motives are more holy than those of animals. And since we generally assume animals cannot have eternal life with God, thinking about animal deaths and about our own place in nature frightens us.”

    Or to quote Sally Carrighar, “A preacher thundering from his pulpit about the uniqueness of human beings with their God-given souls would not like to realize that his very gestures, the hairs that rose on his neck, the deepened tones of his outraged voice, and the perspiration that probably ran down his skin under clerical vestments are all manifestations of anger in mammals. If he was sneering at Darwin a bit (one does not need a mirror to know that one sneers), did he remember uncomfortably that a sneer is derived from an animal’s lifting its lip to remind an enemy of its fangs? Even while he was denying the principle of evolution, how could a vehement man doubt such intimate evidence?”

    On the brighter side, to temporarily get off the topic of the evolution of “anger,” and of how the “meek” were not the ones whose genes gave birth to our species, let’s just be happy that so many members of our species learned the benefits of agreeing collectively on certain moral ideas after coming to live in ever larger, more fixed societies rather than just roaming bands of kin. Aggression and selfishness help the individual or one鈥檚 kinship group survive but typically do not promote the flourishing of much larger communities.

    Many Protestant and Catholic theistic evolutionists believe that at some point a soul appeared in two (or more) of our animal ancestors. One of these, or perhaps their representative, was assigned the name 鈥淎dam.鈥 These ensouled humans were spiritual orphans, apparently. Their parents would have looked and acted much like them, with only a handful of DNA mutations distinguishing them, biologically, but these first ensouled humans would have suckled at the breasts of a soulless mother, and picked up their first lessons on how to behave by observing and interacting with soulless parents and friends.

    Having acquired a 鈥渟oul鈥 that, according to Christian theology, now needed to be 鈥渟aved,鈥 what kind of salvation was available to our ancient ancestors who first chipped stones, carved spears, built fires, and later drew pictures of animals on the walls of caves in France? They seemed pretty involved in simply staying alive and noticing animal life, perhaps practicing some sort of religion involving the recognition of animal spirits. Which reminds me that besides the cave paintings from long ago, the oldest known human-made religious structure was built about 12,000 years ago, and is decorated with graven images of animals which would be prohibited by Exodus 20:4 thousands of years later. Early human artists also left behind carved images of large breasted women. No doubt the folks who pursued the healthiest women that could also keep their man warm at night, not necessarily the most “sinless” women, gave birth to the most offspring, leading to our species with its genes and behaviors.

    Another question, how might a scientifically savvy Christian bridge the chasm between natural and supernatural conception in the case of Jesus? Did the Holy Spirit employ a set of freshly constructed chromosomes that fused with Mary鈥檚? In that case, some divinely produced DNA would need to be produced that appeared to have come from a human father with a long evolutionary past of his own. That’s because the divinely implanted paternal chromosomes have to line up right beside the naturally evolved maternal chromosomes in Mary’s zygote. So let鈥檚 say the Holy Spirit injected a ready-made Y chromosome into Mary (along with 22 others from falsified meiosis in a non-existent human father), complete with endogenous retroviruses, fossil genes, and other hallmarks of evolution that would be capable of lining up beside Mary鈥檚 chromosomes to form a fully complementary set. So the Holy Spirit would have had to add a Y chromosome that was faked to look like it had been passed down, with occasional mutations, from an endless line of evolutionary descendants. And we know what “those” guys were like. We’ve already gone over that.

    Or to quote George L. Murphy, “The idea that we are descended from ‘beasts’ is one reason why many people have been repelled by evolutionary theory. And the idea that Christ would share that relationship is especially shocking to many Christians.”

    Also, concerning “death,” scientists have discovered that different organisms have different lifespans for biological reasons. They cannot prove such things as divine decrees when it comes to the different lifespans of different species on earth. Take single-celled organisms that reproduce via division, self-cloning. One might say that the first amoeba is still around, it has never died, though plenty of its clones have. So what is “death” in that case? All life is a river that continues flowing and flowering forth from some early replicating molecules according to modern science. But it is also a river of mutation, natural selection, death and a constant process of change made possible by all the deaths of endless rival strains, rival sub-species, rival species, till only some cousin species remain.

    Science says that “death” on an inconceivably huge scale was necessary for evolution to occur, and ultimately for the human species itself to evolve. For instance, new strains of DNA, new sub-species and new species are always arising, and the individuals in those strains and species as well as an enormous number of new strains, sub-species, and new species, die after they have spread forth to different environments and experienced different environmental pressures as well as pressures from rival species or even rival sub-species in the same neighborhood, as if a process of natural pressures and selection has been going on ever since the beginning. You can see this vast panorama of death and extinction of new strains, new sub-species and cousins species, via population genetic studies as well as the fossil record. In the case of fruit flies on the Hawaiian islands, they presumably reached those geologically young islands soon after their formation and evolved to occupy niches from forests and valleys to beaches, and today the number of fruit flies on the Hawaiian islands features somewhere about a quarter of all the known fruit fly species on earth, but now that many other insects and flies have reached the Hawaiian islands, competition has increased, and many fruit fly species are going extinct. And so it goes with nature over eons. The world was once filled with different species of apes, around the globe, but those countless ape species (known via fossils) eventually died out, leaving but a few modern day living species of apes, and of course, there are the extinct species of hominids that left behind but a single species of human, and now we are studying the diversity of the human genome around the world.

    Here’s a final scientific challenge to the “biblical” view of the origin and destiny of the human species. The stars have enough fuel to last for billions more years, and in some places in our cosmos there are massive stellar nurseries giving birth to baby stars that will out last all that are currently burning by billions more years. Our particular species has only popped into the cosmos in the last microsecond of cosmic time, homo sapiens is an extremely youthful species, and we can not predict how little or how much time we have before we become extinct, or our planet grows as hot and desolate as Venus, or is hit by something, or a solar flare devours us, or a nearby nova, or our sun expands with age, or the nearby Andromeda galaxy collides with ours. If our species survives long enough and continues studying genomes and computers, then we might alter our very species into something else, becoming something new once again, humanity 2.0, or we might design androids that live on after our species is gone, or some other species on the planet might evolve consciousness after our species is gone. Cosmological science coupled with paleontological science shows us that species die out all the time, and even the lives of planets, stars and galaxies are limited. And science shows us that nature can be as brutal and filled with “curses” as it is filled with “blessings.” We know that nature giveth, and nature taketh away, for no easily apparent personal, reasons. Nothing personal, it’s just natural law. All of this leaves humanity in a precarious position along with the rest of the living organisms clinging to the quaking surface of this rock flying through space. How exactly the “Bible” is supposed to make everyone feel secure in light of the vision of the cosmos that science has opened up is a BIG QUESTION for theology. Nature does not appear to be moved much by prayers. Not as much as one might think after reading say the Old Testament. How to reconcile that? The scientific view with the biblical view?

    • $41348855

      It could be argued that sin entered the world quite suddenly in evolutionary terms. If we equate the capacity for sin with moral responsibility then it seems that humans are the only animals that have it. If a chimpanzee attacked its owner you wouldn’t arrest it and take it to court. So the capacity for sin must have arisen at some point after the split between our lineage and that of the chimps. I think it’s a fair bet that we wouldn’t consider the australopithecines to be morally responsible if they were around now. I’m not sure about Homo habilis.

      I think there could have been quite a sudden jump in the evolution of our mental faculties, perhaps related to language. This might have entailed the ability to understand that certain actions are wrong for the first time. Of course, this couldn’t have happened in a single generation.

      • Indeed, and in that case, instead of a fall into sin, we have a “rise” into awareness of sin, into critical reflection on our own actions and their morality.

  • Mark

    Dr. McGrath,

    I’ve been reading with interest your various postings on God, Jesus Christ, and religion in general, as well as your understandings of scripture. I wonder if you could tell me, here, in this discussion, without referring me to another post, blog, or previously written text, wherein lies your own personal salvation? I don’t know you well, but it’s clear to me that as a religious academic, professor of the New Testament, and Sunday School teacher, (to name a few of your credentials), you must believe in and hope for eternal life in heaven. So I ask you to share with me, with us, what you personally believe to be the way to eternal life with God. I believe my question is quite relevant in this thread, given the very nature of the thread title and the allegations in your posts that Jesus Christ has, at times, been wrong. Share with us what you would tell God if you were to stand before Him tomorrow and He asked you, “Why should I let you into my heaven?”

    • Is this how you begin most conversations? Are you aware that it comes across as very odd to offer as your first communication with someone, to request information with no introduction, and to impose stipulations about how it should be provided?

      Let’s take this step by step, shall we? First of all, what if we turn our attention to the Bible. Are you aware that your final question is widely used in conservative Evangelicalism in North America, and yet does not appear in the Bible in anything like that form? Why do you suppose that might be?

      • Mark

        Yes, you are correct. The last part of my question is a direct quote from the movement, Evangelism Explosion. I’ve always thought it was a good one, as the goal in leading the lost to Christ is to somehow find a way to pose a question regarding their eternal situation in a provocative enough manner to capture their interest and engender a response.

        I felt that I addressed you respectfully with an honest question, and was under the impression that rather than beginning a conversation, I was merely joining one you had already begun, titled, ‘Virtual Sunday School’. I’ve spent many Sundays in Sunday School, and questions & answers are the norm, are they not? Is it not true that any Sunday School teacher would leap at the chance to share the way of salvation with a student, when asked? Especially in front of a large audience, such as yours?

        I’m happy to turn my attention to the Bible, and it’s not my wish to be combative here, or put you on the defensive. Are you willing to answer my question?

        • I think it is important to first address the presuppositions. If you don’t want me to link to other posts which address presuppositions which you and I clearly do not share, to save me repeating myself, then the best option seems to be to back up to a point at which we can start having a meaningful discussion. And so my question again is why you consider the “Evangelism Explosion” approach, influenced by existentialism and something very recent, historically speaking, to be the best approach to starting a discussion.

          • Mark

            It seems you are making my point: the question with which I ended my first post is generally one that provokes a poignant thought process. But again, it’s not my intention to be combative.

            It seems apparent that a man in your position would be able to quickly and concisely explain his position on the path to eternal life, without referring to previous commentary or references, (Bible references not included of course; use them, by all means). I simply wanted to hear it in your own words, but you seem unwilling to share it with us.

            You said in your first response to me that you wanted to start with the Bible; and now in your second response, you want to start with “the presuppositions”. So I will start it for you with a ‘Biblical presupposition’ (for lack of a better term, and using your words), and one which is the very basis and reason for Christ’s work on the cross:

            Romans 3:23 “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.”

            Are you satisfied with this as a foundational “presupposition”?

          • Your desire to take Romans 3:23 as foundational is typical of conservative Evangelicalism, although that that is your approach to Christianity was already clear from the question. I am willing to share things, and indeed I have shared things on this blog before. And so for me, the matter at hand is to figure out why you decided to ask me to address the topic again without linking anywhere else. It is decidedly odd, and I am sure you must know it is odd, and yet thus far you have not explained your motivation.

            And so let me respond as Jesus did when asked about how to inherit life. What do the Scriptures say, as you understand them? I notice you prefer the terminology of “eternal life” to the historical Jesus’ preferred language about “the kingdom of God,” and that you seem to believe that God will ask people a particular but arguably problematic question when they die. And so I am trying to understand what leads you to depict God in this manner, as one who stands as riddler, with human salvation presumably dependent on giving the right answer to the riddle (even though I suspect that you actually believe that, by the time the question is asked, one either made a decision that provides the correct answer, or it is too late to do so).

            My question is why you choose to depict God in these problematic ways, and to think about salvation accordingly. Those seem to me to be far more useful points of discussion than for me to simply repeat things I’ve said before. I hope I can help you think through some of these important issues in conversation here.

          • Mark

            Indeed, I hope you can. If I had to express a mission statement to my original post & question to you, the first part of it would be to discover your view of the way to salvation and eternal life, and by whom. But you don’t want to answer the question; you say, “And so for me, the matter at hand is to figure out why you decided to ask me to address the topic again without linking anywhere else.” This is not the matter at hand.

            You are a self-professing Christian. You hold a doctorate from the University of Durham in England. You chair New Testament Language at Butler University, a very good and well respected institution. You say in your posts that you teach Sunday School each week. You are, in a short, a spiritual leader. It seems to me that you would leap at the chance to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with a new person in your discussion, no matter how repetitive, no matter where else or how many times you have shared this greatest gift of God to mankind, previously.

            Now, in your third response to me, you have begun to quote Jesus, who is Christ the Lord, and summarize His declarations of eternal life. Jesus actually said, John 12:25, “He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal.”

            Then you accuse me of “depicting God…”, and you have now labeled me as a “riddler”, and further characterized me & my own point of view of the way of Salvation. I understand your point on the hypothetical question, “Why should I let you into my heaven?”, and you are correct, if I understand you: there is no debate between God and individuals upon their death. Again, I have always liked that approach with people I would like to reach for Christ, as it is thought provoking, in my view.

            So I yield to you on that. Interestingly, this raises a good point on what I see as a common misunderstanding in people today; most believe they will, by default, have an audience with God upon their death; that they will be given the opportunity to argue their case before God, and many seem to believe they have a good chance of winning their argument. Nothing, I believe, is further from the truth. Death is a quick change of scenery, one or the other, which now brings us back to my original question to you: share with us, in your own words right here and right now, the gospel of Jesus Christ and how a person may receive the free gift of eternal life in God’s kingdom.

            I have not depicted God in any way. I have simply asked you, a highly educated man and academic, to share with us, here, your own understanding of the way to eternal life, indeed as you have well said, the “Kingdom of God”.

            Can you do this, Dr. McGrath? Can you do this, without links, referrals, discussion, debate? Can you simply share the good news of Jesus with me?

          • Indeed, I am eager to do so, and am trying to do just that. But your initial comment gave me the impression that you think you already know the answer. While you may believe that the good news is a sound bite, I am persuaded that it is not, that it is God reaching out to each individual to confront them with the challenge of the way of the cross. To some, Jesus listened, exchanged some words, and told them they were not far from the kingdom. To others, Jesus offered a challenge to go and sell all they possessed. In both instances, what we have in the Gospels is likely a summary or a snippet, not the entire conversation. Until I speak with you enough to understand what you currently cling to and rely on, if anything, then we can move on to whatever the next appropriate step may be.

            In view of what you have written thus far, one could definitely get the impression thatt you may be clinging to a doctrine of cheap grace which persuades you that you make a decision of faith and then are set for eternity. If that is what is keeping you from experiencing the good news of God’s life-transforming power, then there is indeed good news to be shared. But unlike the scare tactics popular in American Evangelicalism, which offers a tract and asks for an immediate decision, I am persuaded that there is no hurry, and that it is better to help you to take the next step than to presume that I will be the one to help you to make the most decisive one, or that that is the point at which you are at this very moment.

          • Mark

            Ok. Treat me as a small child. One who comes to you with no ‘presuppositions’. One who comes to you and says, ‘Teacher, you talk about God, and being a Christian, and the Kingdom. How do I get there?’ Explain it to me as you would a child. Is it a simple process? Is it faith based? Or does it partially rely on some good I may or may not find within myself?

          • I do not think that you need to be treated like a child. Certainly your view of God and of salvation seems to be childish, but that is a different sort of issue given that you seem to actually be an adult.

            But your reference to not having presuppositions does suggest what might stand in the way of your accepting the Gospel and/or of growing towards maturity in your faith. You seem to think that presuppositions are things that human beings can easily set aside. Nothing could be further from the truth. When a child is old enough to converse, they have already been influenced by language, culture, upbringing, and environment.

            The view that one can set aside one’s presuppositions is usually coupled with arrogance, and this is not surprising, as it is essentially a claim to divinity, to be able to see from a God’s eye perspective. Those who think this way tend to believe that they have got the Bible and God right, and have no need of instruction (except perhaps from likeminded people). And so in sharing the good news with you, I call upon you to repent of this viewpoint, and to recognize that you see in part and know in part, and to open yourself to moving away from dependence on your own knowledge (including the right answer to the question you imagine God asking), and instead surrender yourself wholly to completely to God, as one who will always transcend you and whose reality your mind and words will never do justice to.

          • Mark


            You just can’t do it, can you?

            You have gone from red herrings, (your first response, EE quote), tossing in philosophies such as existentialism, (better know as pessimistic existentialism), then moving to what you call ‘presuppositions’, which point to the logic of man, minimizing the relevance of Divinely inspired scripture, (“Your desire to take Romans 3:23 as foundational is typical of conservative Evangelicalism” –your third response) and treating the Word as relative & subjective to points in time, to characterizing Jesus, (4th response) and accusing me of “….clinging to a doctrine of cheap grace…”, to now, in your 5th response, judging me and calling on me to repent of what you say is my “point of view”, when all I have done from the beginning of this thread is ask you, a self-proclaimed teacher of scripture, to share your faith!

            All I have asked you to do is SHARE YOUR FAITH. Tell me what you believe is the path God has laid out for us to find and have eternal life.

            But you can’t do it. And there is a reason.

            And this brings me to the second part of my ‘mission statement’ here in your forum, after reading other posts of yours stating that Jesus, the Son of God, Christ, the Lord, was wrong about certain things.

            I wanted you to declare what you really are. And you have. What is interesting is, you can’t see it; but I believe that many of your participants here can, and do.

            It’s not my mission to judge you here, but rather expose you. It didn’t take much.

            And now, I imagine either this thread will be deleted or your responses will become more combative, even vitriolic.

          • You are mistaken. I have been sharing my faith with you. Your expectation that I will become vitriolic or delete the discussion suggests to me that you are projecting your own approach. I suspect that you also believe in a God who, like you, is prone to vitriol and deletes those who disagree with him. If it is indeed possible to set aside presuppositions, those would be an obvious place to start. That is why I am calling you to repentance, and trying to share with you the good news that there is a God who is greater than such projections of our worst human shortcomings. It saddens me that you have a viewpoint so profoundly distorted by human sinfulness that you cannot even recognize good news when someone begins to share it with you. You probably believe that you already have everything you need already. This was my suspicion from your very first comment – that you were here out of an arrogant assumption that you were in a place to instruct others, and not out of a humility that reflects a recognition of our human limitations before God.

          • Mark

            You are not sharing your faith James. You are characterizing, accusing, and judging me, when all I’ve done is ask you share with me God’s plan for Salvation, to all of mankind.

            Can’t you just share the simple Gospel plan with me?

          • Often when someone shares the good news with us, we feel as though we are being judged. That feeling can be a precursor to much-needed repentance.

          • Ian


            Mark: I have a simple answer to the ultimate question, and it is the Truth. Do you know it?

            James: There isn’t a simple answer to the ultimate question, and those who think there is, are deluded. There is truth, but it is something to be participated in, not some purported fact to be believed.

            Mark: I’ve exposed you!

            — newsflash, Mark exposes that James McGrath is not an evangelical! In other news, the Pope is catholic.

          • Mark

            Ahh Ian; I like your spirit. I’ve enjoyed reading many of your posts. Share with me the two things you refer to:

            1) What is the ultimate question
            2) What is Truth

          • Ian

            You tell me – if you were taken to be before the Lord today and he said “Why should I let you into heaven?” what would you say? What is God’s “simple Gospel plan” for salvation?

          • Mark

            I would say:

            Father God, I stand here before you today a wretched sinner, born into sin and inheriting eternal damnation from Adam. Romans 5:12 “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:”

            I believe that it is You who opened my eyes to my condition, that I would not have come to this understanding on my own. Romans 2:4 “Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?”

            You have shown me that there is absolutely no good in me whatsoever, and that I am helpless in my quest to earn my way into Heaven on my own. Psalm 53:1 “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. Corrupt are they, and have done abominable iniquity: there is none that doeth good.” Romans 3:10-12 “As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.
            They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.”

            You have shown me that You have provided all of mankind with a way to find You, and have the free gift of Eternal Life. John 3:14,15 “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.” You have shown me that you loved me so much, You were willing to sacrifice Your own Son on my behalf. John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave His only begotten Son; that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.”

            You have shown me that all I need to do to have Your free gift of eternal life, is to acknowledge my sins before You, repent of them, and place my entire faith on your Son, Jesus Christ, for the remission of my sins. Acts 2:37-38 “Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.”

            So now my Lord God, I acknowledge my sins before you, and my helplessness to help myself. I repent of them, and cast myself wholly on the blood of your Son, Jesus Christ, and I now place my faith and trust in your Son for my salvation and eternal life. Mark 9:24b “….and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.”

            I John 1:9 “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

            Isaiah 1:18 “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”

            So here I stand, my Lord and my God, with my faith placed wholly on You for my salvation.

          • Ian

            See, you have the right answer! And it is simple! Well done you good and faithful evangelical.

            But God replies “How very self absorbed of you, but when I was hungry, why did you not feed me? When I was naked, why did you not clothe me? When I was in prison, why did you not visit me? When I was homeless, why did you not give me shelter?” How do you respond then?

            [edit: I rearranged for clarity after Mark responded]

          • Mark

            God bless you, my new friend Ian. 馃槈

          • Ian

            馃槈 Thanks.

            Seriously though – can you honestly not see what James is saying? I get that you think that folks who don’t have the ‘answer’ are wrong, but you can surely see what he is getting at, no?

          • Mark

            I’m willing to keep trying! 馃檪 Help me understand.

          • Mark

            It seems that Ian has rearranged for a further question.

            Completing the rest of Christ’s saying,

            Matthew 25: 37-40

            “Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”

            I would be very uncomfortable if I were you, posing questions as if you were “God”. You have also inserted your own words into a passage of scripture. Surely you know better, Ian.

          • That seems an odd objection, given that your own answer to a question that you placed on the lips of God does not match up with this passage in Matthew 25. Perhaps a good place to start would be for you to explain this discrepancy?

          • Mark

            Agreed James. My question was a hypothetical however; not language inserted into scripture.

          • Ian

            I swapped my two paragraphs, yes. Sorry if that made it look like you’d avoided my question.

            Some notes about your response

            1. I wasn’t trying to quote. I was being hypothetical too. I was alluding to that passage, but not that bit of it. I was alluding to Matt 25:41-46. It was not my intent to pass off my quotation as scripture, otherwise I would have quoted and referenced it as such.

            2. If you think that the three mentioned issues in Matt 25 are the only three needs God cares about you filling, and that extending these to other issues of human privation is inappropriate, then you have a very strange way of interpreting scripture.

            3. It is deeply ironic that you take me to task for putting words on God’s mouth when this scenario was your idea! Nowhere in scripture does it say that God will ask “Why should I let you into my Heaven?”

            4. Furthermore the passage I alluded to is the only reference in scripture of a conversation with God about one’s eternal fate. Your imagined scenario of God asking “Why should I let you in?” and you replying with your church’s statement of faith is entirely a self-serving fantasy. If that conversation happens at all, the scripture is clear, it will be about those you have helped. No amount of appealing to Romans and your church’s insistence on sola fide will change this clear teaching of Jesus.

            5. You didn’t answer the question. You were very keen to see James answer your imaginary God-question, why aren’t you willing to answer the issue that scripture says you will be faced with?

          • Mark

            Response to:

            1. Understood.

            2. This point seems to indicate that God requires a level of performance from us for redemption.

            3. I’ll allow that as a valid point, certainly. As I pointed out to James a few minutes ago, however, my question was posed as a hypothetical, not inserted into scripture prefaced by the words, “And God said…”

            4. To quote you: “Furthermore the passage I alluded to is the only reference in scripture of what the conversation with God about your eternal fate will be.” This is completely erroneous for a number of reasons. I’ll just state one here, a point I have made earlier; I believe that many folks today believe that when they die, if there is an afterlife, they will, by default, have an audience with God and automatically be given the opportunity to make their case; to ‘reason’ with the Creator, if you will. Scripture indicates otherwise. Death is pretty much an instant change of scenery, in my personal view. For the lost, the sky changes from blue to black, pretty quickly; the smell of flowers in the air changes from fragrance to sulfur, pretty fast. And the feeling of a cool breeze on your skin changes to well, you know. It gets pretty hot. For those whose names are written in the book of Eternal Life, the sound of that car crash that took your life gets overlapped by the sound of Angels, singing the praises of God. The pain of whatever killed you physically disappears, rapidly.

            Quoting you again: “You’re imagined scenario of God asking “Why should I let you in” and you replying with your church’s statement of faith….” I quoted scripture throughout my response to you, as you are aware; it wasn’t opinion, commentary, or debate.

            Quoting you again: “If that conversation happens at all, the scripture is clear, it will be about those you have helped.” Again, completely erroneous and contrary to scripture. Your redemption cannot be obtained by your works. Isaiah 54:6 “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.”

            5. Asked and answered, point #3.

            You cannot work your way into heaven, Ian. Martin Luther realized this as he crawled up the stairs in a catholic monastery, beating himself along the way and bleeding, while holding the translation of the New Testament he had at the time and reading the book of Romans. He came to the 8th chapter: Romans 8:1-4 “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.”

            It was shortly thereafter that Martin Luther left the church of Rome, and the great Reformation began. (As an aside, the legend of him nailing his 95 thesis on the church door is dramatic and I’d like to think it’s true, but it may well be a fable, some historians say)

          • It is one of the notorious ways that certain groups flatten the diversity of Scripture, to invoke what is known as the principle of “interpreting Scripture in light of Scripture.” You start with one set of texts, and then about those which disagree it is said that they cannot mean what they clearly appear to, because that would contradict the texts with which you started. But that is clearly an inadequate approach that direspects Scripture, and which can be inverted, so that starting with the other texts, your preferred ones are said to be unable to mean what they appear to, by the same logic.

            So what if you explain what you think is going in on Matthew 25. Who is being judged? If what people do does not matter, then why is that the only thing addressed?

            Do note that this is not suggesting that there is no need for forgiveness – as though this were simply about merit. But even Paul, with whom you begin your theological thinking, says in Galatians that those who live a certain way will not inherit the kingdom of God. And so once again, although you are quoting Scripture, we all know that even the Devil can do that. How do you explain the vast gulf between your own system peppered with Scripture, and the actual statements of Scripture taken seriously on their own terms and in their own context?

          • Mark

            Quoting you James:

            “It is one of the notorious ways that certain groups flatten the diversity of Scripture, to invoke what is known as the principle of “interpreting Scripture in light of Scripture.” You start with one set of texts, and then about those which disagree it is said that they cannot mean what they clearly appear to, because that would contradict the texts with which you started. But that is clearly an inadequate approach that direspects Scripture, and which can be inverted, so that starting with the other texts, your preferred ones are said to be unable to mean what they appear to, by the same logic.”

            James this makes no sense. No disrespect, but this is…well, kinda like babble.

            “So what if you explain what you think is going in on Matthew 25. Who is being judged? If what people do does not matter, then why is that the only thing addressed?”

            Seems my answer to this is the same as the way I answered Ian earlier; we obviously disagree on the Atonement. I’ve been asking you for days now to provide your statement of faith. You don’t seem to have one; yours is a religion of works and a “feel good” system of using scripture when and how you please, even if it means contradicting it.

            “But even Paul, with whom you begin your theological thinking, says in Galatians that those who live a certain way will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

            Seems you are doing here exactly what you just accused me of doing: reversing scriptural principle to extrapolate your philosophy.

            “But that is clearly an inadequate approach that direspects Scripture, and which can be inverted, so that starting with the other texts, your preferred ones are said to be unable to mean what they appear to, by the same logic.”

            James you’re a Phd. Your grammar here doesn’t even make sense. You can do better. (Or maybe you’re just way smarter than me!)

            [Edit: I’m not trying to patronize–I really mean that! (The smart part, that is)]

          • Ian

            How can it be erroneous and contrary to scripture when it is right there. Jesus says this will happen, are you saying he’s lying? As I said before you can point to all kinds of other places in the bible, but it won’t make Matt 25 go away.

            Furthermore the passage I alluded to is the only reference in scripture of what the conversation with God about your eternal fate will be.” This is completely erroneous for a number of reasons.

            You pointed out several reasons why Matt 25 is bad theology, in your view, but not one of why my statement is wrong. This is the only reference in scripture (as far as I recall) of what the conversation with God about your eternal fate will be. If you can find another description in scripture of the conversation at your judgement, please cite it.

            You’ve given a scenario of what you think your judgement will be like “in your personal view”. But I thought you were interested in the biblical view. Which is here in Matt 25, explicitly. And it is about how you treated the image of God in others, not about how polished your Lutheran theology is.

            I understand you don’t want this to be true. But it is there. If you claim to follow the bible, you can’t just ignore it.

          • Mark

            Quoting you: “You pointed out several reasons why Matt 25 is bad theology, in your view, but not one of why my statement is wrong.” Another erroneous statement from you. I have said nothing that points to Matthew 25 as bad theology.

            Let’s take this in it’s full context. If you read the entire text of what Christ said, you will see that He was referring to a final judgement day event. Matt 25:31-33 “When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.”

            To me, it is clear that a judgement has already taken place before the dialogue begins. The lost have already been separated from the saved. (Sheep from the goats) Now the dialogue begins: Matt 25:34-36 “Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.”

            There is never an indication that this dialogue takes place on an individual basis with each person as they face God. This is the parallel you are trying to draw. The dialogue is a statement from Christ to those the Father has given him, post judgement and separation of the lost and saved.

            You are twisting scripture if you try to draw a parallel between Christ’s statement to the saved, and then to the lost, and a hypothetical question.

          • Ian

            Whether it is a question is beside the point, and I tried to destress it (though I forgot in one place and went back and corrected it after).

            The point is that the conversation is not about good theology. Jesus doesn’t say “You are condemned because you didn’t believe in salvation by the blood of the lamb, or because you didn’t put your trust in my atoning sacrifice.” or anything even remotely connected with what you said would be your reasons for being allowed into heaven.

            The conversation is about what they did. Both the lost and the saved seem somewhat surprised, neither of them realised that it was their treatment of Jesus, proxied through human beings in need, that would be the distinguishing factor.

            “Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world, because I hungered and you gave me food”, not “inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the word, because you repented and accepted the atoning sacrifice of the cross”

            It is very simple. Your squirming to make scripture say something other than it clearly says is both amusing and sad!

            To me, it is clear that a judgement has already taken place before the dialogue begins

            True, but the dialogue gives the reasons for the judgement choice. To suggest that Matt 25 signifies a judgement based on confession of faith, followed by a conversation based on works unrelated to the judgement choice is bizarre. I really hope you’re not trying to suggest that.

          • Mark

            I see the point you are trying to make Ian.

            It seems our understandings of atonement are different?

            I’ve stated mine, now it’s your turn. 馃檪

          • Ian

            It seems our understandings of atonement are different?

            In a weird way, probably not. 馃檪

            I’ve stated mine, now it’s your turn. 馃檪

            First a caveat: I butted into a conversation you were having with James. I want to be clear I’m neither able nor trying to answer on behalf of him, or of progressive Christians generally. I am not a progressive Christian, though I am married to one (as well as being the brother of an Evangelical Baptist minister and the son of a traditionalist Episcopalian, etc).

            Before we get to atonement, the key chasm between us is the inerrancy of the bible, I think.

            I think the bible was written by regular human beings, who were inspired by God (in the normal sense of being inspired by a sunset, or inspired by love). It was not dictated by God, nor did God use it as a vehicle for communicating with mankind. Some writers claimed to be writing the words God gave them (and not all, or even most of them claim that), but I see no reason to believe they were any more correct in that, than you would be if you claimed to be speaking for God.

            Many such books, letters and sermons were written, most of which are lost to us, most of the rest are only ever read by scholars and a few keen history-buffs. But the ones that do come to us as scripture do so because of communities who recognized them as being suitable for teaching, learning, correction, for helping their communities or them individually understand God, or relate to each other better.

            So over hundreds of years for the NT, we see different groups of texts copied, circulated, and by that process we end up with a set of texts that, at a particular moment in time, a group of Bishops decided would be ‘it’. Their choice was controversial, their decision was revisited several times (not least by Luther, who excluded Hebrews, James, Jude and Revelation – if you buy a German Lutheran bible, you’ll still see these books printed in an appendix, not part of the main NT). But ultimately it was a human decision, to the best of my ability to discern.

            So when I read the bible I do not see one coherent idea of God at all. It does not surprise me that different authors can have different emphases. It doesn’t surprise me at all that your answer to the question “why should I let you in?” is entirely taken from Romans and John. Where Matthew 25 suggests a different emphasis. And Mark’s Jesus is very different again.

            So your idea about atonement is not something I understand differently. I understand where you’re coming from. I just don’t think that particular atonement theology, among the tens that have had significant followings through Christian history, has any great claim to be the one best interpretation of the bible, let alone corresponding to some ultimate Truth.

            No theology sits perfectly with everything in the bible. Each has certain passages that they make more important, and other passages that don’t fit as well that need to be interpreted correctly. So for your view, Matt 25 is in tension. You can certainly make Matt 25 fit your view (you can make anything fit any view), but it does need a bit of careful treatment. If you wanted to convince someone your atonement theology is right, Matt 25 isn’t a passage you reach for right away. You go for Romans, possibly John. Matt 25 comes later, where you explain how, in context, it does fit, even though it might seem like it doesn’t.

            Same with any other theory of atonement, because all of them rely on a book that has many facets, written by people with different understandings of what is important, and how God works.

            So my view is there is no easy access to the right answer. And I think anyone who claims there are easy answers is both deluded and dangerous. I think much of Evangelicalism is evil and dangerous, partly because they teach that they have the correct answers, and anyone who disagrees with them, disagrees with God.

            So where does my salvation come from?

            Well, if there is a God, then it comes from God.

            And perhaps God will say (again using your framing story of a conversation) “hey, you weren’t certain. You didn’t convince yourself that you knew the truth, and you didn’t accept these particular doctrinal points, so you’re condemned.’ Then, sadly, I’m condemned in that case.

            Or perhaps God will say “why didn’t you feed me when I was hungry”, because even though I have a yearning for social justice and the help of those in need, I could have and should have done more. I shared some of the blessing I have, but not all.

            Or perhaps I’ll reach the halls of Asgard, and Thor will say “why did you not fight for righteousness? Why did you shy away from weapons and warmaking – only true hearted warriors can enter Valhalla.”

            Or perhaps God will recognize that my desire was to see the Kingdom come, and though I struggled with doubt and arrogance and apathy, I never lost faith that humanity could and should be better.

            Or perhaps God will not say anything at all, because this idea of God as a person is just humans projecting images of ourselves outwards into the unsympathetic cosmos. Perhaps the idea of eternal life is an imagined refuge against the uncaring reality of death.

            Plenty of people on all sides tell me that they are absolutely sure they know which scenario is correct (along with many variations), and they can all give me post-hoc rationalizations until the cows come home. I know which I think most likely, and in the right situation, I’ll give my post-hoc rationalizations too.

            But I don’t think any of us know. And the people who claim the most certainty, to the best of my ability to discern, know the least.

            I hope you understand all this. Even though you know you’re right and I’m wrong, and so on.

          • Mark

            Outstanding. Now THAT, Ian, is exactly what I’ve been looking for, rather than endless wrangling. Thank you for your honest expression of what you believe, for taking the time to write it, and having the courage to post it.

            You absolutely nailed it early in your post:

            “….the key chasm between us is the inerrancy of the bible, I think.”

            NOW we can have a productive discussion! And let’s endeavor to keep it civil & kind. (ME INCLUDED!!)

            (James, you’re with us here, right? I know I’m sorely outnumbered, but that’s ok! :] )

            We have moved to the inerrancy of the Bible as a topic. Is this OK?

            May I start the discussion, respectfully to your community, with a statement?

            Without a written Word, in this case the Bible; without an authoritative reference to which man may look for absolute Truth, religion is left to wander helplessly and bounce from one philosophy to another, as interpreted by man.

            Any way we can all agree on that? I think I already know the answer… (you guys know I already know the answers anyway–you’ve admitted it) (joke)

          • I would say that, even with an allegedly inerrant Bible, and perhaps in particular where that belief is present, we find the greatest proliferation of diverse interpretations. Even if the Bible is inerrant, it does not lead to agreement about what the allegedly inerrant text supposedly means.

            From a liberal perspective, it not only seems clear that we do not have an inerrant text – and certainly not an inerrant table of contents either. It also seems that the idea that God would give such a thing to make everything clear and prevent us from needing to cultivate our own facilities for reasoning, deduction, and discernment reflects the sort of immature approach to religion that wants everything cut and dried, black and white, and thinks that what matters is having right answers rather than caring about other people.

            Returning to my earlier point, which I clearly could have worded better: you are starting from the assumption that authors of works included in the Bible could not disagree. Then you are taking one set of texts and silencing other voices by saying that they cannot mean what they appear to, because if they did they would disagree with the verses you have chosen to begin with.

          • I am completely in agreement with James here and will bow out of any discussion on the merits of the word inerrant. It has no place in my life. It is an escape from obedience. It is a distraction.

          • Mark

            I bet you keep reading the posts though, Bob. 馃檪

          • I will receive replies that are directed to me, but I am now unsubscribed to the conversation. This subject does not obey a reasonable philosophy of language. The wind blows where it wills – that is, it is errant in its perfection so that all may be saved.

          • Mark

            So would it be accurate to summarize your post James by saying that even if it were proven beyond all reasonable doubt that the Bible is the single, Divinely inspired Word of God, it wouldn’t matter because it would only be applicable by man’s interpretation?

          • Given that there are contradictions within the Bible (try following the chronologies and geographical movements in Matthew’s and Luke’s infancy stories, for instance), what you are likely to offer is not “proof beyond all reasonable doubt” that the collection that these texts are now part of is inerrant, but ad hoc attempts to explain away such evidence.

            This constitutes imposing your dogma – your doctrine about Scripture – onto the Bible, even at the cost of denying that the Biblical texts actually mean what they say. That is not respecting Scripture, it is praising it while silencing some of its voices in the very process.

          • Mark

            I disagree that there are contradictions. But given that you say there are, and your denial that the Bible is the Infallible Word of God, it’s fair to say that you have now placed this book on the same level with the Koran, Book of Mormon, Buddhist Holy Book, etc. So perhaps we should pursue this discussion from a literary perspective, comparatively speaking, to these other so-called ‘holy books’, none of which, by the way, claim to be the inspired Word of the living God.

          • I take it you haven’t actually read the Qur’an, then. But I don’t accept that either one thing is inerrant, or all of them must be judged equal. Binary rhetoric is common in fundamentalism, but few in practice accept that, for instance, since their parents were not inerrant, therefore anything they said can be ignored as garbage. Each piece of literature and each other thing stands or falls on its merits.

            And, for the record, the Bible doesn’t claim anything about itself, since there was no complete Bible with Old and New Testaments until after the texts that are in it were written. That should be obvious, but given what you wrote, I thought it might need to be spelled out anyway.

          • Mark

            I have read the Qur’an, (thanks for the sp correction) although not in it’s entirety. This collection of stuff was actually combined by his wife, years after his death, and she had to literally travel the countryside searching for anyone who had ever listened to “Mohammed” and get them to recite from memory, to the best of their ability, whatever they could remember. This collection of stuff amounts to nothing more than a comic book in my opinion and in the end, the book calls for the murder of anyone who disagrees with it. The idea from you that you can judge this book equally to the Bible is ludicrous.

            Quoting you, “And, for the record, the Bible doesn’t claim anything about itself….” This is absolutely, factually wrong. Every single book contained in the Bible states that it is the “Word of the Lord”, in one of several ways. “Thus saith the Lord….” “The word of the Lord according to…” and so on. No other book in existence dares to make this claim. This is the primary reason the Apocrypha was discarded in the second edition of the King James translation. None of the writers of any of those books, (whoever the writers were) made any statement anywhere that they were delivering the Word of the Living God.

            The Bible is an incredible assemblage of books written by Holy men of God. 2 Peter 1:20-21 Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” II Tim 3:16 “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.”

          • Ian

            Every single book contained in the Bible states that it is the “Word of the Lord”, in one of several ways. “Thus saith the Lord….” “The word of the Lord according to…” and so on.

            Can you give us references to these in all 66?

          • Ian

            (Such that the same wording cannot be found in the apocrypha.)

          • Mark’s statement seems to ignore Paul putting his name as the author, not to mention Paul’s own “I, and not the Lord” and “I speak as a fool and not according to the Lord.”

            But even when it comes to the prophetic writings, the situation is not fundamentally different from the Qur’an. We have people who apparently said “thus says Yahweh,” and what they purportedly said, as it was remembered, was written down by others, and we do not in most instances know by whom or how long after.

          • Mark

            James, James…..c’mon. If you are going to quote the Word of God, then also provide the references, each time, choosing your own translation. It makes it difficult to have a discussion with you when you purportedly quote from the Bible without providing the references.

            For example, you quote Paul the Apostle as ‘speaking as a fool’. The actual text from Corinthians reads: “What I am saying, I am not saying as the Lord would, but as in foolishness, in this confidence of boasting.”

            James, you have just done what you have spent much ink on accusing me of here: ‘taking scripture and making it mean what you want it to mean’ (to paraphrase your remarks)

            Read this entire passage in II Corinthians 11, James. Paul was defending his apostleship, and in doing so he made it clear that he was making remarks as a fallen man would do, even while under the divine inspiration of God. Yet, as a collective, Paul did not step outside of God’s inspiration in this text. His words were still ordained of God. If you understand or are knowledgable of the culture of Corinth at the time of Paul when he wrote this epistle to the churches there, it will better help you understand the complexity of this passage.

          • I did provide my own translation, slightly more literal than the NIV at this point. I am confident that, if you are not familiar enough with the Scriptures to recognize the verse, you can do a search and look it up, just as you did this time.

            Paul very clearly works to persuade his readers as one would expect a human being writing a letter of this sort to do. You are obviously free to treat his words as ordained by God, even in those instances where he doesn’t finish a sentence or says he is speaking as a fool. But that is your decision to “go beyond what is written” and impose another layer of humanly-constructed belief upon this human text.

          • Mark

            I respond by referring back to the latter part of my previous post to you James.

          • Ian

            The latter is what I’m interested in, really, can he build a set of criteria that includes the 66 and excludes all others. Irrespective of any other goal, I’ve never met anyone who has claimed that there is a *literary* connection. Folks say there are spiritual or authorship/apostolic/prophetic criteria, but not a literary one. I’m interested to see if it can be done.

          • Mark

            It will take some time to compile it, but I shall undertake the task. Will it change your mind about the authenticity of the Bible? (Not that it matters–this is good stuff to work on)

            Ian, I have a number of atheistic/evolutionists in my family. The two most outspoken atheists are two daughters, (not my own, although I own them!) one aged 34 and the other aged 28. Both of them educated in liberal institutions. I am constantly working on the apologetic; years ago, I had to answer this question for myself: ‘How do I know the Bible is what it says it is?’ I.E., the infallible, authentic, Word of the living God. Better yet, how do I defend it? So I embarked on this task. You know what I found? I found that it’s amazing how easy it is to distinguish the Bible from any other literary work in existence; the avenues are endless, and I hope to share them with this community, all due respect.
            So give me a little time, and I am positive I will render the authenticity I have myself put forward, and those references for which you are calling. Fair enough?

          • Ian

            Will it change your mind about the authenticity of the Bible?

            I’m aware that some writers claim to be writing the words of God. I just don’t see a good reason to believe them. So it wouldn’t change that. I’m interested because I never heard anyone claim that before. I’m interested to see how you get something like that out of Jude, or Esther, Ruth or Philemon. I have absolutely unshakable faith in the creativity of human interpretation, so I’m sure you can do it. I’m just interested to see how you build a set of criteria on language like that which includes just the 66 books of the protestant bible, and excludes all others.

            I found that it’s amazing how easy it is to distinguish the Bible from any other literary work in existence

            The question is a bit different (I know you know this, I want to just emphasize a problem in these kinds of arguments). Every holy book is different and unique from other literary works in some ways. If you go looking for criteria to make it so. I’ve read similar apologetics for the Qu’ran, the Book of Mormon, the writings of Baha’u’llah, and the Gita. Being unique is easy, finding criteria that we would agree are the important ones for truth without direct reference to the book you want to end up as truth is harder. Post-hoc rationalization is very very easy.

            So give me a little time, and I am positive I will render the authenticity I have myself put forward

            That is fair enough, but I’m a little concerned that this would be a bit side-tracking for this thread on James’s blog. I would be interested to have this discussion. Perhaps, if we’ve lost the audience, by email would be better.

            I would say that i spent about half my life as an evangelical though. Believing in inerrancy, immersed in apologetics. So your strategy might be a little naive. But that’s for you to figure out, I guess. In general I’m always happy to have these conversations as long as we can disagree without being nasty.

          • Mark

            Great reply Ian. I shall undertake the task and stay in touch with you.

            I like what you have said in the second paragraph of your remarks: “Every holy book is different and unique from other literary works in some ways.”

            Are they?

            “Mohammed”, in his writings in the Qu’ran, (sometime around 660 A.D.) borrowed from the Bible. This man was raised using the scriptures; he had a knowledge of the old and new testaments. He uses characters in his writings taken directly from the old testament, e.g. Abraham, David, etc. He borrowed from scripture.

            Joe Smith did exactly the same thing when he compiled the ‘Book of Morman’, 19th century. In his very first chapter, he plagiarised from Psalms, David’s writings, “…..and it is marvelous in our eyes.” This, while he held a rock to his head (also know as a ‘seer stone’) as he supposedly interpreted plates made of gold and found in a hill, sometime around 1823.

            Do you know who wrote the very first words of Scripture?

            God, Himself. Sometime around 1400 B.C., Mount Sinai. He wrote the Ten Commandments, with His finger, on tablets of stone, as Moses stood by.

            I think this is absolutely amazing.

          • Ian

            Are they?

            Yes they are. The bible has similarities to other texts too. Everything is similar in some respects and different in others. And, if you talk to them, the faithful tend to find the differences really important, and the similarities trivial or facile.

            As for who wrote the first words of scripture, you’re just begging the question. It would be absolutely amazing. But God’s involvement, not to mention the historical believability of Exodus, are things you’re trying to demonstrate, you don’t get to use them as a presupposition.

          • Mark

            Are the Ten Commandments relevant to us, today? And if so, why?

            Assuming they are relevant, how did we get them?

          • Ian

            Marginally relevant, mostly historically. I’d say.

            They’re a bit of a hodgepodge.

            I think we got them from Jewish tradition, which appears a couple of times in the ot texts. They reflect part of Jewish concern for morality at the time: religious purity, property rights, and a couple of other basic tenets of morality. But even then they are neither necessary nor sufficient to understand contemporary Jewish morality.

            I certainly see nothing in them that appears to me non-human in origin.

          • Ian

            And I think if you wanted to make a 10-point list of the core principles of morality, you could do far better.

          • Mark

            Ok. I run with that.

            Since you believe they are ‘hand-me-downs’ from Jewish tradition, (paraphrasing your remarks) and “neither necessary nor sufficient to understand contemporary Jewish morality”…

            Would you agree or disagree that if the entire world today kept the original Ten Commandments, as written in Exodus, the world would be a better place than it currently is or ever has been?

            [Edit: Ok. I’ll run with that.]

          • Ian

            Hmm, on one hand I think any consistent set of morality, if everyone adhered to it, would make the world a better place, so it is hardly a high bar.

            On the other hand, the world would be better off keeping some and not others.

            A little light coveting of goods fuels the economy. If you never wanted anything that you didn’t need, it isn’t clear to me that we’d ever have left agrarianism. But I guess it depends on how you define covet (one reason why the commandments aren’t much use in practice).

            The commandments relating to Yahweh would not make the world better in a deep sense. Sure, if everyone worshipped Yahweh, there may be less religious conflict (though there’s plenty of religious conflict between Yahweh worshippers, so probably not much). But a world without classical Indian literature, Icelandic epics, classical greek culture, without the Kumbh Mela, I think would be sadder. And one without statues.

            So I think the question is a bit odd. For the purpose of this discussion though, I’m happy to concede it. Let’s say the world would be better if everyone always followed them. It doesn’t mean it would not be even better still if the world followed other ones. As a set of moral principles, they are okay, but I see no reason to think they are optimal.

          • Mark

            “….any consistent set of morality, if everyone adhered to it, would make the world a better place….”

            From where do we get “morality”, in the first place? Ourselves? Mankind’s own behavior, historically and down through the ages, indicates that he is ill-equipped to devise “morality” of any kind.

            But moving on:

            “A little light coveting of good fuels the economy.” I think what you are trying to say here is that the observation of other’s material gains should provide motivation for each one of us, personally, to achieve greater gain. “Covet”, defined, means to desire and lust to have that specific thing that someone else already, rightfully, has and owns.

            “But a world without classical Indian literature, Icelandic epics, classical greek culture, without the Kumbh Mela, I think would be sadder. And one without statues.”

            If you study history, you will discover that when the world was dominated by such pagan gods as you describe, it was an incredibly chaotic place. If one was to survive, one had to subject himself to an authority who governed a walled city, or at the least, even as recently as the 12th century, a castle, which offered some level of protection.

            The Jews spent the early generations of their existence ridding the world of such pagan cultures, under direct orders from God. They were the most feared of all nations at the time. After they defeated Egypt in their Exodus, they moved forward and destroyed pagan cultures as they migrated. In many instances, leaders of various nations, upon learning of the Hebrews drawing near to their country, would send a truce party to the Hebrews, declaring their knowledge of the Hebrew God and asking to be exempted from destruction. You may read this history in a number of works by ancient historians, ‘The Antiquities of the Jews’ by Josephus, being a good place to start.

            “As a set of moral principles, they are okay, but I see no reason to think they are optimal.”


            #6. “Thou shalt not murder.” Not optimal?

            #7. “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” Not optimal, really? No other infraction, in my humble opinion, reaches farther and deeper into the lives of people than the act of adultery.

            #8. “Thou shalt not steal.” Really? Not optimal? If, starting today, no one in the world ever stole anything ever again, the world would change in a way we cannot even imagine. And you say, “Not optimal?”

            Ian…..I can go on. Do you really stand by this statement at this point? I don’t see how.

          • Ian

            As I said, it depends on your definition of covet.

            I don’t buy the ‘Jews were responsible for civilization’ stuff, I’m afraid. It is just a bizarre and naive interpretation of world history. Pre-Christian rome vs Christian medieval Europe. It wasn’t pagan gods that you had to be scared of in C12 Europe, it was Christians. So yeah, I’m not buying that.

            Not to mention the painful western bias.


            I think you misread what I wrote. “As a set of moral principles…”

            But sure

            #6 (I note with interest your numbering, btw) – could be better. I think murder isn’t the only form of violence one should prohibit, nor the only thing that a person can lose that they should not lose. And I notice again, a very large ambiguity is there in the word ‘murder’. So Christians and Jews have consistently claimed that the killing that they or their armies are involved with is not murder. So yes, could be better. You shall neither murder nor maim would be an instant improvement.

            #7 “No other infraction, in my humble opinion, reaches farther and deeper into the lives of people than the act of adultery.” – wow, well, you’ve had a very different life experience to me then! Still, yes adultery is a fine prohibition, but better would be to treat your spouse with respect in all things. Adultery is covered in the ten commandments but domestic violence, marital rape, emotional abuse, and so on, aren’t. I think we can do better than just prohibiting ‘adultery’.

            #8. “Thou shalt not steal.” – I’d include this.

            But where is “You shall not take or treat another person as property”, as one obvious way that countless lives over the last 2500 years could have been helped. Or “treat all people with respect, regardless of their age, race, nationality, creed, gender, sexuality, disability or wealth.” Positive commandments to help those in need, to care for the environment. And so on. Overall, I can’t see how anyone can look at these particular ten and think “yes, this combination of ten commandments is the single best possible moral code.” Not without coming to that conclusion first for ideological reasons.

            Where does morality come from? From a range of places, happy to go into this if it is where you think you have the best apologetic.

            But perhaps this is better now by email. Not least because my browser is choking loading up these long comment threads, so I’m not sure how long it can get before it just doesn’t load any more.

          • Mark

            Quoting you: “It is just a bizarre and naive interpretation of world history. Pre-Christian rome vs Christian medieval Europe. It wasn’t pagan gods that you had to be scared of in C12 Europe, it was Christians.”

            Ian, this statement is loaded with nonsense. I almost feel like you are baiting me here.

            “Pre-Christian rome” is a nonsensical oxymoron. The church of Rome, even to this day, has denied Christ as Lord. Rome has never carried the label, “Christian”. Rome, as a government, never wanted to be involved in Jewish affairs. Pilate was highly irritated at the fact that he had to become involved in what he knew his Roman superiors would regard as a small, local uprising among their many governed provinces, in this case, Jerusalem. He tried to wash his hands of this uprising, but the Jews wouldn’t relent. He did what he had to do, trying at the time to placate the Jews; even going so far as to put a title on the cross of Jesus saying, “Jesus, the king of the Jews”. He didn’t care if Jesus was the king of the Jews; he simply wanted to give this uprising, this tumult in a country area of Rome’s dominance, what they wanted: he killed Jesus, and put down this turmoil before it made him look bad to the Roman government. Unfortunately for him, his plan backfired when Christ arose from the dead, 3 days later!

            ” It wasn’t pagan gods that you had to be scared of in C12 Europe, it was Christians.”

            You are referring to the crusades, sponsored by the Church of Rome. These were not Christians, Ian.

            Your further assessments of my remarks regarding commandments # 6, 7 & 8, don’t contribute in a positive way to this discussion at all. For example, your treatment of my remarks on #7: “Still, yes adultery is a fine prohibition, but better would be to treat your spouse with respect in all things.” You want to equate any and all everyday circumstances with infidelity & unfaithfulness. Doesn’t fly, Ian, with anybody.

          • Ian

            “Pre-Christian rome” is a nonsensical oxymoron.

            Pre-Christian Rome has a very specific meaning in European history.

            The church of Rome, even to this day, has denied Christ as Lord.

            Are you forgetting what you were talking about. You were saying how Judaism and Christianity drove out Paganism. You don’t get to have your cake and eat it. Either these people driving out paganism and bringing culture and security were Yahweh worshippers, who followed the first commandment, or they weren’t.

            You are referring to the crusades,

            No, I wasn’t. I was referring to the rest of the continent in the period. Who (other than pockets around the northern fringes) claimed to be Christian. But were more chaotic than Rome during the pax.

            But sure, if the Roman church wasn’t Christian, then Europe wasn’t Christian at this point. So why did you say “as late as the C12”? If the forces that drove out paganism only arrived at the reformation, then you’re three hundred years too early.

            Do you know much European history? You told me to read some, as if you thought I knew less than you. My wife has a masters degree in it, and was rolling her eyes at your claims. I don’t say that to be rude, but because your characterisation seems to be unlike anything I or she has ever read. So it is worth asking whether it is your knowledge of medieval and ancient history is deficient, rather than ours.

            Your further assessments of my remarks regarding commandments # 6, 7 & 8, don’t contribute in a positive way to this discussion at all.

            Well okay, but they were intended as a positive contribution. If you don’t like my opinion, that’s fine, but there’s not need to be tetchy.

            If the question is “are the ten commandments the most perfect set of moral commands possible?” then pointing out how they are deficient and could be improved is definitely germane and contribute to the discussion.

            If ‘contributing to the discussion’ is only agreeing with you, then there’s little point.

            You want to equate any and all everyday circumstances with infidelity & unfaithfulness.

            Where do you get that from, I gave explicit examples: domestic violence, marital rape, emotional abuse. Yeah, I wanna equate them with infidelity, as crimes against a marriage, you bet.

            And if the question is “would the world have been better off, if the commandments had been different”, I can’t imagine how adding prohibitions against domestic violence and marital rape wouldn’t have been a net positive. Given the number of women who have and continue to suffer those things.

            Doesn’t fly, Ian, with anybody.

            By which you mean, it doesn’t fly with you or people who agree with you.

            It flies with me. And you’re going to have to be more specific about the kinds of answers you want from me if you think this is derailing the conversation.

          • Mark

            “My wife has a masters degree in it, and was rolling her eyes at your claims. I don’t say that to be rude, but because your characterisation [sic] seems to be unlike anything I or she has ever read. So it is worth asking whether it is your knowledge of medieval and ancient history is deficient, rather than ours.”

            Welcome to the discussion, wife! I have great respect for your husband, Ian.

            Ian, sorry for the satire; couldn’t help myself. Ok, we are both tired now; lets pick this up again tomorrow, shall we?

            10:25 EST. Your wife’s eyes are rolling, and mine are fading. (smile) I’ll be back tomorrow with the same level of enthusiasm, as you will also.

            Cheers my friend. Good night, for now.

          • Ian

            Can we switch to email please? It is now taking five minutes for the reply box to appear for me, and a further 60 seconds for me to copy and paste.

          • Ian

            (five minutes from clicking on the email notification – that one appeared more quickly)

          • Mark

            Lol; Ian, you’re the best. God bless you. (Smiles)

          • Ian

            characterisation [sic]

            Incidentally – I do live in the UK, if that helps the spelling confusion. We spell it with an s 馃檪

          • Mark

            You crack me up! “Heaton”…..as you may or may not already know, I come from a long line of blue-blooded snobs! Thanks for hanging with me in this discussion! You are a ‘man’s man’. !!!

          • Ian

            They were the most feared of all nations at the time

            Firstly, other than the Jews themselves, according to whom?

            None of the surrounding countries seem to have even noticed they existed at that time. So much so that only a small minority of archaeologists of the period think the exodus and conquest even happened (at least in any way recognizable in the biblical accounts).

            Secondly, is being the most feared nation somehow a good thing, or a sign of ending chaos? If you believe the bible accounts, the Hebrews (not yet the Jews) committed genocide. You’re going to have a challenge convincing me that genocide is ever the lesser of two evils. You stand with an ignominious list of despicable tyrants on that moral judgement.

          • Mark

            “If you believe the bible accounts, the Hebrews (not yet the Jews) committed genocide.”

            Yep. By today’s standards, they surely did. Just read the book of Kings & Chronicles. It was ugly.

            However…..the great flood was even worse. God, Himself, repenting that He had ever made mankind in the first place. Genesis 6:5-7 “And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart. And the LORD said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them.”

            Obviously, there is only one way to deal with an evil and reprobate heart, either personally or nationally. It’s history, recorded.

          • Ian

            Missed this, sorry for the late reply.

            I’ve lost what you think the ten commandments is doing then. If people armed with the ten commandments can carry out genocide without feeling they were contradicting them, then yes, I think they are very clearly lacking.

            Lacking “do not commit genocide” at the very least. Seems obvious the world would be better off with that as one of its central commandments!

            Sorry if you think that is not constructive. I struggle to see how you can appeal to my understanding of morality on one hand, and on the other try to convince me that genocide was or is, in some cases, the right option. To me that seems like the very epitome of evil.

            You may not want to rely on my innate morality as an apologetic tool, in that case.

          • Ian

            No worries.

            Without a written Word, in this case the Bible; without an authoritative reference to which man may look for absolute Truth, religion is left to wander helplessly and bounce from one philosophy to another, as interpreted by man.


            And there’s an interesting ambiguity in that paragraph, I think.

            I may be reading things into your view, but it seems to imply “if you don’t believe in an authoritative bible, then you have to believe religion is aimless and relative”, which in turn is a stones throw from the implication “if religion is to have any aim and absolute claim, we must believe the bible is authoritative.” The problem I have with that is it seems backwards. Either the bible is the one true communication of the living God, or it isn’t. If it isn’t, then the fact that we’d rather it were, because the effects of that would be better, is irrelevant.

            The other interesting thing in what you say is that, as James points out, your if-then works backwards. If the bible is not the divine Truth of God, then religion wanders helplessly from one philosophy to another as interpreted by man. I agree with James that when I look at how religion works, and the religious claims of all faiths and none, and the way those claims, and interpretations change over time, I think it almost undeniable that religion does “wander helplessly and bounce from one philosophy to another, as interpreted by man”, and as such I think that is evidence that there is no direct unambiguous communication from God at work. [I realise strictly I affirmed the consequent there, so my reasoning is logically invalid, but only because I was making a vague point, not a logical point – we can return if you think this is a fundamental error].

            So, I see the conversation with James has gone on from here, and it was he, not I, whose views you were interested in, so I’m happy to leave it there, or continue, at your discretion.

          • Mark

            Ian, may I insert this here; you strike me as an intelligent person and articulate, but please understand that it is bad practice in any discussion forum to post and then go back and rearrange your post, ‘post-comment-response’. Say what you mean, and mean what you say, and then stand by it. 馃檪

          • Ian

            I have a bad habit of editing. I try to keep it to typos, and mark when I’ve made something bigger. i know its not good, when the other person is replying right off, sorry.

          • Mark

            It’s ok. Just take your time. 馃檪

          • In spite of Mark’s preference for exercising word power to put an individual on the spot, and your, Ian, note that this judgment ‘is there’ in the text, I think the tension can be resolved by recognizing it as tension between the individual and the corporate judgments. The Matthew passage is about the judgment ‘of the nations’, the sheep and the goats. And while an individual voice (the anointed, the monarch, the prophet, the poet) can and does stand for and speak for the/a nation, (e.g. Psalms 42-44 and many others), nevertheless we need to recognize both the judgment of the nation and our own individual part in it as member of that political body.

            It seems to me that the Lutheran view is often distorted into an extreme individual salvation doctrine. I doubt we can really support that ‘North American way’ from the Scripture through our own reasoning. We could say that we are reasoning alone without respect to the damage (sin) we are a part of (the other side of against you only). We should be reasoning together – so that our sins may be white as snow (sorry – couldn’t resist it! Y’all know what snow means today)

          • Ian

            I’m aware Matt 25 is used to evidence corporate judgement. But I think that interpretation is even more tension. I’ll let Mark speak for himself, but I’d be very surprised if he thinks that whole nations are condemned or inherit eternal life, based on their corporate performance towards the needy!

            Its a rather tenuous interpretation that God judges whole nations, then re-assigns individuals within them according to their faith. If so, what is the purpose of this judgement, if its classification is to be thrown out later?

          • Nations reap what they have sown. The worship of Mammon will result in the melt-down of the market, etc.

            I do not know what happens after death and I don’t think anyone else in this discussion does either. What I do know is that my call is to glorify Christ in my body through my actions and my reading of the canon of Scripture. No human taught me this though many were involved in my learning (whether they knew it or not and some were not ‘believers’). This humanity is all part of my body. I am neither saved nor lost without them. When my unbelieving friend is called to the final judgment, I will be there on his behalf and will stand or fall with him.

          • Ian

            Thanks Bob

            When my unbelieving friend is called to the final judgment, I will be there on his behalf and will stand or fall with him.

            Wow. That’s not something I’ve heard someone say before, not in those terms any way. And it strikes me as very impressive. Can you say anything more about this, I’d love to know more.

          • Ian, as one who has learned to fear God, (and I write with trepidation), I am called to follow what Yhwh, the God of Israel, does on this earth. (see the list in e.g. Psalm 146). In Job, Yhwh is the ultimate Advocate, or Referee. This is what Jesus did in his work on earth. And this is the role of the ‘present’ Advocate, the Spirit, or Paraclete (from the Hebrew NXM = comfort as in Isaiah 40).

            My role in this is as a member of the ‘Body of Christ’, that company that Jesus teaches in his role as pioneer and finisher of our faith. This is a living and directed ‘vine’ into which I am grafted. It is role that takes some (sometimes difficult and painful) learning time. I have learned from both NT and TNK especially the Psalms, on which I have written a book, Seeing the Psalter. I have learned much also from the myriad of scholars like James, who keep my mind from wandering too far, and from my wife, who does what needs to be done without speaking about it.

            As far as my unbelieving friend, or brother, or child, or neighbour is concerned, I cannot answer for such a person, but I can and must stand by each, for each also is part of that body that taught me and is therefore also ‘in Christ’, as God’s hand.

            When I first defined sin on this thread, it was in terms of present relationship, yet here I give it a continuity, and cause-effect implications as well. Judgment is much bigger than our individual needs.

          • Ian

            Thanks again Bob, that also helps me understand your reply to me about Matt 25, above. I appreciate the detail.

    • SpyPlus

      What did Jesus say? Luke 10:

      25 And a [a]lawyer stood up and put Him to the test, saying, 鈥淭eacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?鈥 26 And He said to him, 鈥淲hat is written in the Law? [b]How does it read to you?鈥 27 And he answered, 鈥淵ou shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.鈥 28 And He said to him, 鈥淵ou have answered correctly; do this and you will live.鈥

  • SpyPlus

    Sin ultimately is just another word for selfishness.