As the perfect antithesis to John C’s deep and insightful recent post, I’d like to ask the opposite.
I thought I had a firm handle on this one until recently, but I’d like to get the take on this from the rest of the ninjas in the Mormon blogger dojo. So…
What constitutes “speaking against the Holy Ghost”?
13 Replies to “Damning Knowledge”
The Holy Ghost is the only means by which we can make any meaningful spiritual progression in this or any life. To “speak against” him, or “deny” him is simply to deny ourselves of saving knowledge.
So we see that the only difference between Jesus’ plan and that of Lucifer was whether there would be the possibility of perdition. So, what was that difference? Well, my speculation ties back to our destinies as Kings and Priests. If Satan wanted all the power and to “destroy the agency” of humanity, then there would be no Kings or Queens, made of us. There would simply be him. There would be no perdition, because there would be no Kings or Queens to appostatize.
our destinies as Kings and Priests
Ooooh, John, that rocks. It would appear, then, that the Fulness is a direct assault on Satan’s plan.
Ronan, I love the plainness of the response, man. Yours is why I started rethinking all this a few weeks ago. I had this (lame) elaborate thing all worked out so that tons of people were speaking against the HG, mostly out of my suspicion (more like “WTF?!”) over the “you-can-count-them-on-the-fingers-of-one-hand” idea I hear often.
Very good stuff. Keep it coming.
Let me also add that this sin is “unpardonable” not because the Holy Ghost’s feelings will be hurt if we deny him, but because to act against him is simply to damn ourselves, something that even the mercy of God cannot overcome. In that sense we are all at risk of this. We may even be guilty from time to time, but if we allow the Holy Ghost back into our lives (something God cannot force us to do) we, in effect, “pardon” ourselves.
David, as you know I prefer down-to-earth explanations for things. The Gospel is practical, not some weird cosmic mind-warp.
Any chance you could be a little more specific, Ronan? Like, what would be an example of denying the Holy Ghost?
Are you suggesting that anyone who becomes an ex-Mormon (particularly via excommunication – must be re-baptized) is denying themselves of saving knowledge? I refer, obviously, to the ones who don’t come back.
I have wondered about this concept myself, when considering folks who have left our church and joined another. These people typically still believe in the Godhead (Father, Son, HG) but want to leave behind the other trimmings.
Are all atheists in denial, then? Like the atheist who woke up after the resurrection and said, “I’ll be damned.” And he was. =) (Sorry.)
FHL, I can’t speak for Ronan, but I do speak for myself in response to your question, and that is this: I think the revelations of the Holy Ghost transcend denominational ties. Whether one leaves one church and joins another is moot so long as that individual received what God feels is necessary (some form of spiritual encounter, to one degree or another). “But Dave, what does this have to do with ‘speaking against the Holy Ghost’?” Because I have a hunch that one cannot “speak against” the HG without acquiring some form of knowledge from the HG, as Ronan pointed out. That knowledge, again from John’s post, is nicely summarized in D&C 131:5-6. So, IMO, “leaving one’s church” is not equal to “speaking against the HG.” After all, what’s in a church? I think John Taylor realized this when he draws a strong line of demarcation between the church and the kingdom. And a cursory reading of the synoptics reveal Jesus’ pre-occupation with kingdom concepts (which are more pneumatic than ecclesiastical).
My utterly personal belief is that “denying the Holy Ghost” is something all of us can do, regardless of who has our membership records. I may be an active Mormon, but if I deny the Holy Ghost the opportunity to work in my life (through sin and pride, without repentance), I am damned. Not as a result of a spiteful God’s ire, but because without the Holy Ghost turning my heart to God and changing my nature, I cannot be saved, worlds without end.
In other words, “denying the Holy Ghost” is not denying his existence per se (otherwise why is it not “unpardonable” to deny Jesus or the Father?), but rather denying–or rejecting–his work in your life.
This is my personal, modern exegesis. Can someone tell me what biblical scholars think Jesus meant by it in the NT?
Ronan, Matthew 12:31-32 is where the verse is. I preened a few of the sources I have on the book, and will summarize what these guys came up with using Hagner’s WBC quotation:
“Jesus asserts that it was ‘by the Spirit of God’ that he cast out demons (v. 28). Therefore, to ascribe Jesus’ activity to the pwer of Beelzebul (v. 24) was not merely to say a word against the Son of Man but to blaspheme against the Spirit (cf. v. 18). To blaspheme against the Spirit was in a mental way to undercut the very possibility of experiencing the reality of God’s salvation. In other words, this blasphemy by its very nature makes forgiveness impossible (in that sense, it is analagous to apostasy; cf. Heb. 6:4-6). Even to speak a word against or to slander the Son of Man is at one level forgivable and not as morally culpable as the blasphemy of the Spirit. The Son of Man was, after all, present in veiled form and was thus not unmistakable. But the blasphemy of the Spirit amounts to final rejection of God’s plain salvific activity, and thus for this reason it is far more culpable–indeed, something not to be forgiven, either in this age or the age to come. To put it another way, blasphemy against the Spirit includes the slander of the Son of Man–to oppose the Spirit is to oppose Jesus and his mission–but the blasphemy of the Son of Man need not, although it may, involve something quite so catastrophic as blasphemy of the Spirit. In the case of the Pharisees [in these verses], the opposition to Jesus had unfortunately ended in the blasphemy of teh Spirit.”
Hagner, Donald A. Matthew 1-13. Word Biblical Commentary, 33a. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1993; page 349.
And here’s JS on it:
“All sins and blasphemy are to be forgiven except the sin against the Holy Ghost. . . . Any man that has a friend in eternity can save him if he has not committed the unpardonable sin. He cannot be damned through all eternity. . . . Jesus Christ will save all except the sons of perdition. What must a man do to commit the unpardonable sin? They must receive the Holy Ghost, have the heavens opened unto them, and know God, and then sin against him. . . . There have also been remarks made concerning all men being redeemed from hell. But I say that any man who commits the unpardonable sin must dwell in hell worlds without end.”
Kent P. Jackson, comp. and ed., Joseph Smith’s Commentary on the Bible. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1994, 90 – 91.
It seems like one needs to receive quite a bit of the Holy Spirit (a fulness? D&C 109:15), according to JS, in order to speak against it. The Protestant viewpoint above would most likely agree, but probably lessen the degree to which one receives the spirit in order to merit the “speaking against” part. What I didn’t post here is how the commentary I grabbed gives a long list of scholars who honestly have no idea what this entails and leave it at that. Who knows, man.
Bottom line: avoid evil.
Hm, you know, I’d have recognized the WBC even if you hadn’t cited it.
From a more h-c perspective, this is a very difficult passage. First, it combines Mark’s word on the unforgivable sin, which is contrasted with all other sins (Mk 3:28-29), with Luke’s in 12:10, which says that blasphemy against the Son of Man is forgivable. This makes these two statements depend on each for interpretation. It is also well-nigh impossible to suggest which has primacy.
The idea that all sins and blasphemies will be forgiven is a statement of God’s willingness to forgive. That some sins are more serious than others is very old; the idea of an unforgivable sin is found in 1 Sam 3:14, the condemnation of the House of Eli.
The three possibilities for understanding the contrast between the Spirit and the Son of Man are usually given as:
1) Rejection of Jesus in his mortal ministry would be forgiven, but denial of the Spirit in post-Easter activities is unforgivable.
2) Opposition to Jesus when perceived only as a man is forgivable, but opposition to the Holy Spirit is unforgivable. This is essentially a contrast between sinning in ignorance and sinning willfully.
3) Opposition to the church’s preaching is forgivable if followed by repentance, but once one has entered the church, subsequent unbelief will not be forgiven.
The first really has no basis in the text b/c there is no evidence of the required temporal distinction and b/c Son of Man is not a designation for the earthly Jesus. The second is likewise unacceptable b/c there is no basis for equating sin against the Son of Man with sinning in ignorance. The third is unlikely because it compares two different groups, those who believe and those who do not.
So…what to do? I’ve never read anyone who could satisfactorily work out the comparison. But denial of the Spirit in the context of a exorcism always has christological overtones and is probably tantamount to a denial that God is working through Jesus. This is a denial of God, and therefore a blasphemy.
But if anyone runs onto a good h-c work on the comparison, I’d love to have a reference. Maybe I’ll look for something tomorrow in the lieberry.
One more thing: This passage has caused some very serious heartbreak and quite a remarkable number of suicides when folks decided they 1) knew what the unforgivable sin was and 2) thought they had committed it. So given a choice, it’s always wise to tone down the rhetoric.
Oh yeah. Let’s not forget 1 John 5:16, the “sin unto death.” That’ll make everything perfectly clear…NOT.
Mogget, yeah sometimes the WBC simply re-states what’s in the text but with more words, or it generalizes too much. But it does have its advantages–I like the authors’ individual translations along with footnotes, as well as the attention to form, structure, and setting. Structure is big-time for me when analyzing a text. The WBCs on the Aramaic sections of the Bible (parts of Ezra & Daniel) are probably some of the better ones out there, next to the Hermeneia volumes.
But denial of the Spirit in the context of a exorcism always has christological overtones and is probably tantamount to a denial that God is working through Jesus. This is a denial of God, and therefore a blasphemy.
Yeah, which was the conclusion in the WBC, and a few others I have (Calvin, Kingsbury, Carson, etc.).
Well, I’ve never consulted the OT side, but I will remember that you have recommended it and give it a try when next I need to consult something.
WRT the NT side, I’m just not a fan. I haven’t looked at the entire passage in WBD myself, tho, so I ought to do that before I go further.