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The unforgivable / eternal / unpardonable sin

Conflicting Bible passages on salvation & unforgivable sin.

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Conflicts in the Bible concerning salvation:

Numerous passages in the Christian Scriptures (New Testament) and the early Christian creeds are ambiguous about what criteria are needed for salvation. They mention:

bulletHaving faith in Jesus as the Son of God,

bullet Believing in Jesus' resurrection,

bulletUndergoing baptism,

bulletPerforming good deeds,

bulletHolding "the Catholic faith" (whatever that might mean), or

bulletSome combination of the above criteria.

However, once a person was able to adequately meet the requirement(s), the creeds and Bible verses appear to guarantee salvation to them. Some examples are:

bullet Saved via belief in Jesus: One of the most cited verses in the Bible, John 3:16 states:

"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."

Literally interpreted, "whosoever" would include everyone who believes in Jesus, no matter what sins they have committed in the past, present or future.

John 3:36: states that:

"He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him."

Whether this passages overrides unforgivable sins is unclear.

bullet

Saved via baptism: The Nicene Creed and many biblical passages state that people are forgiven of their sins through baptism, which was typically performed on an adult in the early years of the Christian movement. Reciting the Nicene Creed acknowledges "... one Baptism for the remission of sins..." The Creed says "sins," implying "all sins," not "some sins."

bullet Saved via confession: 1 John 1:9 links forgiveness to the act of confessing our sins. The says, in the King James Version: " If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." To cleanse a person from all unrighteousness would seem to imply that there is no sin that cannot be forgiven; there is no unforgivable sin!

bullet Saved via good works: Matthew 25:31-46 explains precisely who will be chosen to spent eternity in Heaven, and who will go to the torture chambers of Hell. The sole criteria is whether the person gave food, drink or clothing to the destitute, and welcomed strangers and visited the sick or persons in prison. That is, salvation is totally dependent upon one's good works towards other people and is not related to one's beliefs or actions towards God, Jesus or the Holy Spirit.

bullet Saved via the intervention of Jesus: 1 John 2:1-2 states that:

"If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world."

In this case, "propitiation" means the process by which Gods wrath at all the sins of the entire human race is either averted or satisfied.

However, other biblical passages appear to state the opposite: that a person can meet every requirement that the Bible and creeds throw at them, and still remain unforgiven -- and thus remain unsaved and destined to spend eternity in Hell. All they have to do is to commit the unforgivable sin at one or more times during their lifetime.

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Biblical texts mentioning the unforgivable sin:

Three passages in the Christian Scriptures discuss a certain class of sin which God will not forgive. Thus:

bulletIf an unsaved person committed this sin, the texts seem to imply that she/he could never attain salvation.

bulletIf a saved person committed this sin, the texts seem to imply that their salvation would be terminated and could never be reestablished in the future.

All three passages are in the synoptic gospels. Most mainline and liberal theologians believe that the Gospel of Mark was written circa 70 CE, and that the authors of Matthew and Luke copied major portions of Mark into their own gospels. Thus, the Gospel of Mark would have been the original source material for the unforgivable sin.

bulletMark 3:28-29: "Verily I say unto you, All their sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and their blasphemies wherewith soever they shall blaspheme: but whosoever shall blaspheme against the Holy Spirit hath never forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin." (ASV) The King James Version translates the last phrase as "in danger of eternal damnation."

bulletMatthew 12:31-32: "Therefore I say unto you, Every sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men; but the blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven. And whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him; but whosoever shall speak against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, nor in that which is to come." (ASV)

bulletLuke 12:10: "And every one who shall speak a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but unto him that blasphemeth against the Holy Spirit it shall not be forgiven." (ASV).

A fourth and similar passage is found in verse 44 of the Gospel of Thomas. This gospel was widely used in the early Christian church among Gnostic congregations, but was not selected to be part of the official canon. It states:

bulletJesus said, "Whoever blasphemes against the Father will be forgiven, and whoever blasphemes against the son will be forgiven, but whoever blasphemes against the holy spirit will not be forgiven, either on earth or in heaven." 1

These passages appear to specify a "one strike and you are out" policy. A single error results in torment and pain lasting an infinite duration in the torture chambers of Hell.

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Reference used:

The following information source was used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlink is not necessarily still active today.

  1. Stephen Patterson and Marvin Meyer, Trans., "The Gospel of Thomas," The Gnostic Society Library, at: http://www.gnosis.org/

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Copyright 2006 to 2013 Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Posted: 2006-OCT-24
Latest update: 2013-JUN-09

Author: B.A. Robinson
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