Friday, April 14, 2006

Dialogue on Mortal and Venial Sin, Round Two (vs. Ken Temple)

By Dave Armstrong (4-14-06)

Ken Temple is a Reformed Baptist and a vigorous but congenial regular commenter on this blog. His words will be in green. My older words will be in purple. Ken's old words will be in blue.

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Thanks again, Ken, for a most stimulating discussion, and I hope you and yours enjoy a very blessed Easter. Praise our Lord Jesus for His infinite, unfathomable love for us, shown by dying on the cross (as we remember and give thanks for that on this Good Friday).

-- "if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died needlessly. Galatians 2:21

We don't believe that righteousness comes from the law, so I don't know what relevance this has.

Your last comment here is what I mean about the tendency of RCs to interpret "righteousness through the law" as only Jewish ceremonial laws of circumcision and Sabbath keeping and cleanliness and food laws, and the sacrificial system.

I said nothing about that (nor is it logically possible for you to deduce such a thing from the words above); I simply said righteousness doesn't derive from the law, meaning that it comes from God and His enabling grace, not written words on a page, however good and true they are. Have you never read Galatians 3:21 (". . . if a law had been given which could make alive, then righteousness would indeed be by the law"; cf. 2:16-17,21; 5:4-6,14,18; Rom 3:21-22; 4:13; 9:30-32; 10:3-6)? I am agreeing with Paul. Why fight over things where we agree? We disagree on more than enough to keep us busy . . . the trouble is that Catholics so often have to take time to explain the endless misunderstandings of what we believe. If you could just figure out what it is we believe, before entering into a particular discussion like this, we could save a lot of time. But it isn't to be . . .

Don't you think it includes the moral law also?

Yes. But the moral law no more makes us righteous than the ceremonial law does. This is almost the entire point of the epistle to the Galatians (and a large chunk of the epistle to the Romans). If you don't understand this, then I'm afraid you need to brush up on your Pauline theology. Catholics and Protestants agree on this.

It seems that you are separating the moral law from the "Jewish" laws, whereas Paul and Jesus and the other prophets and apostles see the whole law as one unit,

I did no such thing; I agree with this. You are simply extrapolating what you mistakenly thought my views were.

and breaking it once and not being able to keep the law at one point sends one to hell. James 2:10

This is true, and is Paul's argument for the primacy of faith and grace over law: the New Covenant over the Old Covenant. The whole argument is that grace and faith and the indwelling Holy Spirit produce true righteousness, not the law. That's all James 2:10 is saying: simply agreeing with Paul's theology in Galatians and Romans. It has nothing to do with the existence of mortal and venial sin. But if you are desperate, then I suppose you'll have to keep repeating verses that have already been adequately dealt with.

So the law includes "do not covet", "do not murder", "do not steal", "do not commit adultery", "do not lie", etc.

Indeed it does. And we are bound to the moral law, as Jesus states in Matthew 5:17-20.

The Bible excludes all good works as adding to Christ's righteousness in order to bring us to heaven.

That's correct. Catholics agree wholeheartedly. Christ's work is perfect, and nothing can be added to it. Again we agree with you here.

Good works are results of a good person, which only happens if one is born again first. Again, the horse must be in front of the cart/carriage in order for it to work, the jar must first be filled with fruit and then sealed, the document must first have content and writing on it, so that when it is sealed with wax, the reality is in there.

Good works are only possible by God's grace, yes. This is what Trent teaches.

Since we are agreed that all sin leads to spiritual death (unless repented of, and covered by the righteousness of Christ =conversion), and that we all die physically eventually, when John says, "a sin not leading to death", he has to mean, "not immediately, that is not physically, immediately", because all sin eventually leads to spiritual death in hell, and physical death.

The examples show us this distinction, because in I John 5:17-18, he says there are sins, "not leading to death", which is not true, eventually. So the meaning must mean, "eventually, immediately, and physically" -- pray for them while there is still time and God shows mercy, because all sin leads to death, eventually.

No; this is eisegesis. Your problem is that the passage (along with many others I have brought up) expressly denies that all sin has the same result: there is a mortal sin and a non-mortal sin. This business of "immediately" and "eventually" avoids, I think, the clear meaning of the text. We need not do that because the text supports our theology.

Examples -- of God's judgment on King Saul for his sins in I Samuel, the Corinthians abusing the Lord's table in I Cor. 11 (he even says, some of your are dead, that is God took them home early as a punishment or discipline), and Ananias and Saphira in Acts 5,

Sometimes God does that, but these are all extraordinary circumstances; thus not appropriate for settling issues of theological dispute. We do that by analyzing the teaching portions of the NT, not narrative portions of the OT and NT. To do the latter is poor exegesis. 1 Corinthians 11 is a better example, but all it states is the self-evident truth that "some" have been judged by God and have died or become ill because of refusing to believe that Jesus' body and blood are really, truly, substantially present in the Holy Eucharist (11:27,29). Of course God judges people as He wills. Who disagrees with that? But what does it have to do with the question of mortal and venial sins?

and even the I Cor. 5 situation, although, this person repented of his sins and was restored. We don't call that an indulgence, it is called Biblical church discipline, repentance, and restoration. (2 Cor. chapters 2, 7)

This is what an indulgence is. Your argument failed there, as throughout, and you don't overcome that fact by quibbling about our description of what is an example of an indulgence in Scripture.

I have to admit that I did not study this issue or passage deeply enough, for now I see that when he says, "there is a sin leading to death", and "I do not say that he should pray for him about that", he seems to be saying that there is no hope for some sins, that they are too serious and don't pray for those. ( but I am NOT sure really what that means, John is a little unclear there.)

Fair enough. I have given you my interpretation. :-)

But, verse 18 is the key, "We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the one who was born of God keeps Him safe, and the evil one cannot harm him." ( see also I John 3:6 and 3:9 -- both showing that true Christians always repent and hate their sin, as the present continuous tense is key here, "does not keep on sinning" as a lifestyle.

I disagree. True Christians do not always do this. We all fall quite often, and we fail to repent and to hate our sin. Otherwise, we would be perfect, and I don't know any perfect people; do you? These passages must be interpreted as idealized language, as I have argued. It's the only way to read them that makes any sense.

That is also what the Greek word in Gal. 5:21 means, participle present continuous - prassontes, "continuously practicing".

Those who continually practice sin (with the implication that they will never repent of it) will be damned. Surely we agree on that. But my list of translations of Gal 5:21 in round one showed that most did not render this word as obviously meaning "continuous."

So, if the sin in verses 16-17 is a state of rebellion and rejection of Christ, or blasphemous repudiation of Christ and God, then verse 18 says that true believers will never do such a thing.

More eisegesis. First of all, the first "sin" in 5:16 is specifically said not to be mortal, so how can it be a "blasphemous repudiation of Christ"?! Secondly, this first (venial) sin is said to be committed by a "brother" - so that it is a fellow Christian, not an apostate rebel against Jesus. This is confirmed by Kittel's Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, which refers to John's use of "brother" (adelphos) in 1 John 2-3 as an instance of "spiritual brotherhood" / "Christians" (p. 22 in the one-volume edition; as in, e.g., also Rom 8:29). Since the word is used eight times in those two chapters, to mean "Christian"; it stands to reason that it would also in the remaining four instances. Therefore, the person in the first part of v. 16 is a Christian, and the meaning there cannot possibly be as you claim (rejection of Christ, etc.). Marvin Vincent, in his Word Studies in the New Testament, specifically interprets "brother" in 5:16 as "Christian brother" (Vol. II, 370).

Interestingly, Vincent freely admits that 5:16 is a difficult passage. It becomes more difficult, of course, because what I think is the fairly clear meaning cannot possibly be allowed by Protestants because their system of theology forbids it. And when there are a multiplicity of conflicting Protestant interpretations oftentimes it is one of these situations (Protestant theology vs. clear, perspicuous biblical teaching). I wrote an entire book about what Protestant commentators do when faced with such Bible passages that they must rationalize and explain away (The Catholic Verses: 95 Bible Passages That Confound Protestants). But Vincent comes as close as we can expect a good Protestant to come to actually allowing as a possibility a Catholic interpretation. Hence he writes for this verse:

Unto death. The difficulty of the passage lies in the explanation of these words. It is impossible to determine their exact meaning with certainty. Some of the many explanations are as follows: Such sin as God punishes with deadly sickness or sudden death. All those sins punished with excommunication (so the older Catholic theologians). An unrepented sin. Envy. A sinful state or condition. The sin by which the Christian falls back from Christian life into death. The anti-Christian denial that Jesus is the Christ.

. . . some of the best authorities agree, that the sin unto death does not refer to a specific act, but to a class or species of sins, the tendency of which is to cut the bond of fellowship with Christ . . . It is indeed true that this tendency inheres in all sin. Sin is essentially death. But a distinction is to be made, as Canon Westcott observes, between sins which flow from human imperfection and infirmity, and sins which are open manifestations of a character alien from God. "All unrighteousness is sin, and there is a sin not unto death."

(Vol. II, 370-371)
If is any and all sins, he says that true believers will not continue in sin. There is the perseverance of the saints and assurance of salvation and eternal security in that verse.

They will at least repent enough to be saved in the end; thank God.

So, it does not undo all I wrote, but I see that I left out verse 18 and that helps us interpret it in context.

It does nothing whatsoever to resolve your great difficulties, I'm afraid.

Dave wrote, on why the need to distinguish between physical and spiritual death:

"Why do I need to? Isn't it obvious that damnation is different from physical death?"

The reason you need to is because the Bible does distinguish lots of times.

I've done what was necessary to defend my position, including different senses of "death" in Scripture.

When judgment was pronounced upon Adam and Eve, "in the day you eat of it, you shall surely die" Genesis 2:17

How did they die? They kept living for a total of 930 years before he died. ( Gen. 5:5)

So, their immediate death was spiritual death and they were already dead spiritually, the moment they ate and disobeyed God.

I agree. And I think 1 John 5 is a very similar example. Both Adam and Eve and the one who commits mortal sin are subject to spiritual death but not necessarily damnation. They are in a place with God where they should not be. It is a fallen state; a rebellious posture.

Since we agree on original sin, and Augustine's brilliant development of that from Ps. 51 and Romans 5:12, and Ephesians 2:1-3, which says, "we were dead in our trespasses in sins", then John surely knows that all are already dead spiritually, so he must mean, a sin that will cause God's judgment immediately and swiftly, like Ananias and Saphira and the Corinthians, etc.

Protestant Greek Bible scholar Marvin Vincent didn't think it was so easy to figure out (i.e., from a Protestant perspective). I don't see that you have overcome my reasoning. Nothing in the text itself suggests a swift judgment of physical death.

It is a warning to repent before it is too late. Praying for others helps in the restoration process .

I don't buy it. It would be nice if you would interact directly with my arguments.

"Again, you have it exactly backwards. If you take this literally to mean that everyone who sins, dies, when why is any sinner still alive? And then in the very next verse: Ezekiel 18:21, the wicked man who repents and becomes righteous and keeps the law and the commandments "shall not die." Okay; I don't see anyone having become immortal because they were righteous."

It is possible I am not communicating very well,

No; you're doing fine in that regard. I was simply doing a reductio ad absurdum on your position.

but I am trying to show that all sin brings both spiritual death and eventually physical death.

We all die. But we all sin. It is Jesus Who makes it possible for some of us to be saved, but it doesn't follow that "all sin brings spiritual death." Some does and some doesn't. That is what we have been learning from the Bible.

Those that are zapped by God in judgment get the physical death sooner than normal.

Sure; but that is very rare, as far as we know. God could have killed Hitler in 1935. That quite possibly would have saved 100 million lives or so. He could have killed and judged Stalin in 1925, before he starved 10 million Ukrainians and murdered who knows how many more Russians. So obviously this is not always the case by a long shot.

Obviously, my point is not to imply that someone can escape physical death forever as we all eventually die.

John is saying that we should pray, and that we know we have eternal life ( verse 13), and that we have confidence in prayer that God hears our prayers ( verse 14-15), and we should pray for others who we see are sinning (v. 16-17) that God will have mercy. John does not exclude other things like warning, church discipline, counsel, exhortation to repent, etc. In verse 18 he says that true believers don’t continue in sin, and don’t commit sins so heinous that send them to hell and loose their justifying grace.

Therefore, taking verses 13-18 all together of I John chapter 5, it actually goes against the RCC interpretation of loosing one’s salvation and mortal and venial sins, etc.

How is that? Did you give an argument that I missed?

"Again, you have it exactly backwards. If you take this literally to mean that everyone who sins, dies, when why is any sinner still alive?"

Here, you proved my point on the distinction between spiritual death and physical death.

It's not your point; it is the biblical point. We have no disagreement on this distinction; only on where it applies in particulars.

Everyone eventually dies. You proved my point, because John cannot be contradicting other Scripture when he says, "there is a sin not leading to death", because all sin always eventually leads to death, unless it is covered by the righteous of Christ. The same Holy Spirit inspired Ezekiel and John and Paul.

Now we're back to this again. Either you have to deal with my fairly extensive exegetical arguments, or we'll just go round and round, and I am not fond of wasting my time repeating myself.

"And then in the very next verse: Ezekiel 18:21, the wicked man who repents and becomes righteous and keeps the law and the commandments "shall not die."

Obviously, here he means, "not immediately"!

I explained what I meant yesterday. Since you pick and choose dinky pieces of the "pie" of my overall argument, readers don't have a clue what I was arguing.

"Okay; I don't see anyone having become immortal because they were righteous."

I never argued for that, Dave. That proves my point, rather than yours.

I was again doing a reductio ad absurdum of your argument: showing that it had gaping holes in it and was incoherent.

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