No Servants With Flamethrowers

Sometimes the Bible tells us not to accept certain outrageous things, and we wonder to ourselves, “did churches really need to be told that?” The answer is yes, they did. So do we.

For example, Paul once said that no one speaking by the Spirit could say certain things. “Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost” (1 Cor. 12:3). This is a head scratcher. Did anybody in a Christian church ever think that you could call Jesus accursed?

Well, the father of lies is good at what he does. We are saved because Jesus became a curse for us, dying under the curse of God (Gal. 3:13). This substitution is the glory of our salvation, but if we substitute something else for that, something that might sound like it, we are blaspheming. And the Spirit of the Lord is not the spirit of blasphemy.

Another example would be how the church at Thyatira was misled by that woman Jezebel. A bunch of them had been dragged off into the “deep things of Satan” (Rev. 2:24), which would seem to be a bad place to be dragged, would it not? Didn’t anybody cover that in the new members class?

Isaiah pronounces a great woe on those who invert things (Is. 5:20). When the Pharisees persisted in doing this, Jesus warned about the consequences of such obstinacy.

“But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, This fellow doth not cast out devils, but by Beelzebub the prince of the devils.” (Matthew 12:24)

“Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men.” (Matthew 12:31).

Notice that Jesus does not say that they have committed the sin against the Holy Spirit, but it is here, when they are behaving this way, that He warns them about it. The blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is this — to attribute the works of God to the devil, and the works of the devil to God. The moral order of the universe is inverted, and the one guilty of this intellectual crime wrestles his soul into that position, and holds it there until it sticks there forever.

So I am convinced that this is not a sin that can be committed at a punctiliar point in time, but rather is crossing over the threshold into damnation, there to remain forever. The lack of any possibility of forgiveness is related to the very nature of the sin. There is eternal lack of forgiveness because the sin is persisted in eternally. “Whoever blaspehemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” (Mark 3:29, ESV).

Jesus does not tell the Pharisees that they have committed this sin, but at the very least He is warning them about their trajectory. That same trajectory is on display in Greg Boyd’s recent article. You can read what he said here, and go through my first response here.

“For example, it’s significant that when James and John wanted to follow the precedent of Elijah and ‘call fire down from heaven to destroy’ a Samaritan village, Jesus ‘rebuked’ them and, according to many early manuscripts, told them; ‘You do not know what spirit you are of’ (Lk. 9: 54-55; cf. 2 Kg 1:10, 12, 14). As shocking as it is, this episode clearly suggests that Jesus regarded Elijah’s enemy-destroying supernatural feat to be ungodly, if not demonic.”

The thing that is shocking here is not that Jesus was rebuking Elijah, but rather that Boyd resolves things in this way, when there was so little call for it.

First, what Jesus was doing was rebuking His disciples; He was not “rebuking” them. They wanted vengeance on someone who had slighted them, and they had a Bible verse for it. For Jesus to point out that they were not in the same position as Elijah was (2 Kings 1:10) is not to say that Elijah was in the same position they were in. I mean, for pity’s sake. Elijah was facing down a company of soldiers who had come to arrest him for speaking the Word of God to Ahaziah. The disciples were irritated by a rude Samaritan clerk at the Holiday Inn Express.

Any pastor who has had to sit on an overly-exuberant 18-year-old boy who loves to sing psalms of imprecation has been in this position. To tell that boy that “he ain’t David” is not the same thing as saying that David is that boy. Unless you’re Greg Boyd.

But wait, it gets worse. Elijah and his demons apparently had some allies in high places, and these allies were at the very least complicit in the slaughter of these poor soldiers. This destruction of the soldiers is something that Boyd grants is “a supernatural feat.” But whose power was on display there? John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit from the womb (Luke 1:15), and this Holy Spirit was one and the same with the “spirit and power of Elijah” (Luke 1:17).

In other words, Elijah did not have servants in the bushes with flame throwers. Elijah spoke the word, but God did all the killing. This was not a situation where a prophet sinned and went rogue, disobeying the Lord. This was part of his ministry, and it was holy — every bit of it.

So when you have painted yourself into an anabaptist corner, and your theology requires you to say that black is white, and that up is down, and that holy is unholy, and that God is the devil, and the devil is God, perhaps it is time to go back and review some of your foundational assumptions. You don’t ever want “I love the devil” to show up in your conclusions.

Now I have said before that many Christians are better Christians than they are logicians. Another way of saying this is that blasphemies are hidden in the premises of many false doctrines, or in true doctrines wrongly applied. Who does not see that an arrogant husband could not abuse the doctrine that a wife is to render obedience to her husband “as unto the Lord” (Eph. 5:22)? There is a way of understanding this that is the aroma of life, and another way of applying it that is the stench of death.

So when someone holds a doctrine that implicitly sets the Old Testament and the New Testament at odds (as I believe Lutheranism and dispensationalism do), this does not prevent the existence of Lutherans and dispensationalists who are godlier than I will ever be. The same is true of some anabaptists, who are dear to the Father. But then there are anabaptists like Boyd, in the grip of an idea, who say things — out loud, into the microphone — like “Elijah’s power was demonic.” Crikey! For those just joining us, I rarely use exclamation points.

There’s a new take on the Mount of Transfiguration. We all knew that Jesus cast out a strong demon when He came down off the mountain (Mark 9:29). What we didn’t know is that He was up there practicing on Moses and Elijah, who were, as it turns out, the toughest cases of all.

Wrong. F. Go back. Do over.

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Todd
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Todd

Pastor Wilson: This is a peripheral inquiry. Can you recommend a book which succinctly explains the problem with Lutheranism which you mentioned? My pastor recently resigned to become a Lutheran minister; I’m interested to better understand, beyond the consubstantiation issue, the differences between Reformed theology and Lutheranism. Thank you.

bethyada
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The blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is this — to attribute the works of God to the devil, and the works of the devil to God I note that Isaiah contrasted called good evil and evil good (Isa 5:20). I am not however convinced that blasphemy of the Holy Spirit includes the latter. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for stating that the spirit that worked thru him (Jesus) was an unclean spirit. They were insulting the Holy Spirit directly. Satan masquerades as an angel of light. It may seems that at times people mistake Satan’s work for God’s work (he is… Read more »

melody
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melody

I find Greg Boyd a very disturbing man; and I mean that in the worst kind of way. Some that I love dearly have become followers of him – I pray for them every day that God will open their eyes.

Bro. Steve
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Bro. Steve

There’s nothing about acknowledging the distinct epochs and covenants in the Bible that forces us to the conclusion that Elijah was performing the works of the devil. The guy who wrote that, whom I have never heard of before, was just whacked. He’s practicing the kind of hermeneutic that’ll get you handling snakes and drinking poison. As you know, nutjob interpretation is not the exclusive domain of dispensationalists. Our fellow travelers wearing the Calvinist tee-shirts have made some hermeneutical missteps that’ll shoot your eyebrows aloft. My point is that it’s a mistake to make the copy-and-paste error of attributing the… Read more »

Tim
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Tim

Sound analysis on a tough doctrine. As a confessional Lutheran, I do not agree that Lutherans pit the OT and NT against one another. On the contrary: I have learned more about how Law and Gospel are interwoven into both testaments as a Lutheran. Does that mean that every Lutheran has a robust understanding of what this means? No. But you’d be hard pressed to arrive at your conclusion through the documents of confessional Lutheranism.

David Douglas
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David Douglas

A child of Machen’s Liberals it would seem.

mekt75
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Bro. Steve is right in that you are coming off as saying dispensational thought leads to fools like Boyd, who I had also never heard of.

Tim
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Tim

Thanks, Pastor Wilson. Will take the opportunity to re-examine the confessions.

As a former “legitimate” child or grandchild of Machen for years, I for one think there’s much to be gained by Lutheran/Reformed dialogue. I have spent more energy correcting the false impressions of Lutherans regarding the Reformed than vice versa. We need each other in the Church catholic.

Todd, if you are interested, Issues, Etc. will be airing “Myths About Lutheranism” over a 24-hour period this coming Friday/Saturday [issuesetc.org]. Obviously from the Lutheran perspective, but may be helpful nonetheless.

Tim

Bert Perry
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I am supposed to avoid genetic fallacies, but I cannot help but notice Boyd’s Princeton and Yale heritage, and the fact that he is using a United Methodist scholar as a source. It would seem that he is really a theological liberal masquerading as an evangellyfish. This kind of thing, moreover, is the exact same thing I remember hearing back in my wasted youth as a United Methodist. But to try and come up with a halfway coherent point, it strikes me as hilarious that Boyd is comparing a refusal of hospitality with in your face paganism. In similar logic,… Read more »

Eric Stampher
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Eric Stampher

If obstinate inversion = eternal sin

Is it the eternal sin?
I.e. — it there any other?

When Adam saw himself naked — he might have stood loud & proud, staking his claim on the territory he had just won, rather than hide like a little baby who succombed to his parent’s definition of what was right and wrong.

Fortunate for us, the Spirit was already unsticking him from the first human inversion.

John Barry
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John Barry

“Well, the father of lies is good at what he does. We are saved because Jesus became a curse for us, dying under the curse of God (Gal. 3:13).”

If, in fact, Jesus did not die “under the curse of God”, is it blasphemous to assert that he did?

It is not by accident that Paul omits “by God” when he cites Deuteronomy in Gal 3:13.

Jane
Member

John, who besides God pronounced the curse of Deuteronomy?

John Barry
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John Barry

Jane,

Had Jesus committed a crime punishable by death?

Is every person, without exception, who has been hanged, cursed by God?

John Barry
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John Barry

Who makes the greater error, the one who says, “God cursed Jesus” or the one who says “Elijah’s power was demonic”?

Luke
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Luke

Just be clear, he may self proclaim the anabaptist moniker, but I am quite confident that Sattler, Simons, Hubmair, Riedemann, and even Aman would have put aside their quibbles to jointly “apply the ban” the Greg Boyd long ago! :)

That said, thank you for these responses! Boyd’s statement is one of a truckload of these sort of “could-easily-be-understood-as-sort-of-Marcionite” kind assertions being made by far too many these days. They need to be answered, and I appreciate the way you answer them

Rick Davis
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John, “God cursed Jesus” doesnt’ sound like blasphemy. It sounds more or less like a simple statement of the atonement. (Is. 53:10-11) I doubt it would make most orthodox theologians flinch. Just a few examples: “…the Father cursed Jesus in our place.” – R.C. Sproul “It was God that cursed Jesus Christ. And He cursed Him for us, it says.” -John MacArthur “He was truly cursed by God, because God decreed that He endure this punishment in order to set us free.” -Thomas Aquinas “If we read, “Cursed of God is every one that hangs on a tree,” the addition… Read more »

Jeff Moss
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Jeff Moss

Also, there’s a difference between saying as Paul does that Jesus was under a curse, epikataratos (Galations 3:13), and saying as the Evil One does that He is anathema (1 Corinthians 12:3).

John Barry
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John Barry

Rick, Thank you for your comment. Does God cursing Jesus simply mean that God subjected Jesus to suffering? Is this what the orthodox theologians you cite mean when they say that God cursed Jesus? How is this a simple statement of the Atonement? Did the priest in the OT curse the lamb when making atonement? If not, why do some introduce to the Atonement the notion of cursing with respect to the Lamb of God? Do you know why these orthodox theologians add to the text to arrive at their interpretation? And if you interpret this passage similarly, why do… Read more »

wtrsims
Member

John, who dictated that a lamb, or any of the animals used in the sacrificial system, should die for sin and for what reason? I always figured it was to bear the curse and wages of sin–death–in place of the one represented in the sacrifice. And it’s not that the priest cursed the sacrificial lamb, but that God cursed the lamb in place of Israel. I’do also like to point out that even the Levitical priesthood served as a sacrifice in their being Levites and priests by fulfilling the LORD’s requirement for the firstborn of every Israelite by serving as… Read more »