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The Unforgivable Sin and Purgatory

In my previous post I discussed one of the passages of the New Testament that has traditionally been used to support the idea of Purgatory, the place that most of the “saved” go after death to be purged of their sins (Matt 5:26  “you won’t get out of there until you have paid the last penny”).  In my judgment this passage is not talking about what happens in the afterlife, even though it has been read that way.   With another passage, the matter is not quite so clear.

In a famous passage, again in Matthew, Jesus talks about the “unforgiveable sin”:  “Therefore I tell you every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven; and whoever speaks a word against the Son of man, it will be forgiven; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit it will not be forgiven, either in this age or the ages to come.”

As you might imagine, over the Christian centuries there have been numerous interpretations of what that *one* sin was, especially by concerned believers who were worried to death that they had already committed it and so are destined to hell.  I’ve heard all sorts of suggestions, some of them rather bizarre (It’s premarital sex!  It’s masturbation!), and others not bizarre but equally scary (It’s any sin committed by a Christian after they have been filled with the Holy Spirit!).

As with most passages of the New Testament, the surest way to provide an interpretation of what Jesus is talking about is …

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Who Invented the Idea of a Suffering Messiah?
Did Jesus Teach About Purgatory?



  1. kadmiral
    kadmiral  April 6, 2018

    How do you respond to those who claim that the kingdom indeed came “with power,” referring to the start of the church “age,” when the Holy Spirit was poured out at Pentecost, and Jesus was at the right hand of God reigning? This would satisfy his prediction that some “standing here will not taste death until they see that the Kingdom of God has come in power.” Are Christians just spiritualizing Jesus’ intended meaning in order not to make him look like a liar?

    Also considering that Jesus said, “my kingdom is not of this world” or “realm” (John 18:36), and that it would not come “with things that can be observed” but that it was “among/within” them (Luke 17:19-21). Didn’t the disciples classically misunderstand that he was setting up a physical kingdom? He clearly was not referring to a physical kingdom in these passages.

    • Bart
      Bart  April 8, 2018

      Mark’s Gospel doesn’t show any evidence of knowing aobut a coming of the Spirit on Pentecost.

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    Nichrob  April 6, 2018

    I will never forget the sermon I heard on the radio as a young child on this verse. The fundamentalist minister gave example after example of people who “blasphemed against the Holy Ghost” and were DEAD within 24 hour hours. On the crackling radio, he informed the listeners that anyone who did this would burn in Hell forever! No hope, no forgiveness.. It was at that moment that I discovered how the human chemistry in the brain could produce a massive panic attack. That night was painfully horrific. However, now as an adult, it is hilarious. I also didn’t know that that day started my journey of “turning away”. Because I could not “believe” in a system with such profound contradictions. One book said “all sins will be forgiven”. The next said “no there is one that won’t…”. Talk about paradox….. So, I thank you for discussing this subject. I wish you were the subsequent speaker that night as a child….. If there ever was a night to have a “real” Biblical scholar, it was “that night”. And finally, don’t think that the airwaves are not currently filled with horrific theology producing panic attacks because they are… And you are needed today…!!

    • Bart
      Bart  April 8, 2018


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      RG959  April 14, 2018

      I can’t tell you how much fear and anxiety Christianity has filled me with. It’s an absolute poison. Every verse in the Bible on salvation contradicts its self. BART do you have any articles to help better explain this? Faith, works, faith & works.

      • Bart
        Bart  April 15, 2018

        Sorry, I’m not sure what you’re looking for.

        • Avatar
          RG959  April 16, 2018

          BART, first of all you rock! I can’t tell you how much peace you have given me on my life. I don’t think you understand(maybe you do?) as someone who has suffered so much from guilt, anxiety and depression related to the fear of my loved one who don’t believe in Jesus (whatever that means?!) My question was is there a link, video, any sort of reference (which I’m sure you’ve done) which outlines the contradictions on salvation as talked about by Jesus, Paul, James etc. for example, Jesus in Mathew separating us as sheeps and goats based off works, no sola fide. He who endures till the will be saved. Call out on the lord that’ll shake be saved. Sorry if I wasn’t clear in my original post and sorry for the lengthy response. Go duke 😉

          • Bart
            Bart  April 16, 2018

            I’m not sure I know of a book comparable to what you’re referring to, but if you want to dig into how the BIble can be used theologically in a postive sense, you might try the book by my friend Dale Martin, called Biblical Truths.

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          RG959  April 16, 2018

          Do you believe the Bible contradicts itself on obtaining salvation; especially in the New Testament? Not sure if you have a group discussion on this topic on this website. Seems to me a lot of christians differ on this topic and wanted to know your expert opinion. Thanks again for answering my questions. It means a lot.

          • Bart
            Bart  April 17, 2018

            Are you asking whether different biblical authors have different views of how one obtains salvation? Or about what Jesus has to do with it? yes indeed. The passage about the sheep and the goats in matthew 25 has a very different view from the one found, for example, in Galatians 2.

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            RG959  April 17, 2018

            Yes, seems to me different authors/books in the Bible had different views of not only obtaining salvation but keeping your salvation. Catholics/Lutherans and most Protestants, Baptists & Methodists etc…have clearly different views on obtaining and keeping salvation. As a former Calvinist (Baptist), this is what led me to stop believing. Not the contradictions on who discovered the tomb or who was at the tomb, or what Jesus said on the cross before he died, it was purely how to get to heaven and not go to hell. Once it was clear that there was no clear path, that’s when the fear of hell and the guilt was finally gone and I didn’t have to worry anymore about my close friends burning in a lake of fire forever. I feel this is very true for a lot of other people leaving the faith. Your book said it was the overall suffering that was the straw that broke the camels back for you; which I found very interesting. If people are looking for contradictions in the Bible, they should just look at the subject of salvation and the flat-out contradictions. I want to personally thank you Bart for writing your book and answering my questions. I don’t think you really understand how much good you are doing for a lot of people by showing these contradictions in the Bible. What I would have given to have someone like you educate me on this stuff before being traumatized as a child at church camp with the fear of hell. Thank you again.

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      RG959  April 14, 2018

      I am in complete solidarity with you! It feels so good to know other people are starting to wake up. I had such similar experiences as a child that still haunt me to this day. I was 8 years old, 8! What kid deserves that? It’s disgusting what these people do to glorify their own selfish righteousness and feel empowered by the “Holy Spirit” or “god” what a joke

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    jhague  April 6, 2018

    Jesus did not really heal a man possessed by a demon. And were the Pharisees Jesus’ enemies or were they the enemies of the community of people that the author of Mathew is writing to? Assuming that Jesus did not really get into a dispute with the Pharisees, were these really Jesus’ words or are these words put in Jesus mouth by the author of Matthew?

    • Bart
      Bart  April 8, 2018

      Most critical scholars would say the latter.

      • Robert
        Robert  April 8, 2018

        “Most critical scholars would say the latter”, ie, “these words [were] put in Jesus mouth by the author of Matthew.”

        No. Most critical scholars would see these words as coming to Matthew in two different sources, Mark 3,29 and Q 1210. Q gave what was presumably understood to have been a saying of Jesus and Mark certainly already put a form of this saying in Jesus mouth.

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    godspell  April 6, 2018

    I took a class on The Crusades in college, and was then introduced to the work of Sir Steven Runciman. He finishes his epic three part history with this commentary–“the Holy War in itself was nothing more than a long act of intolerance in the name of God, which is a sin against the Holy Ghost.”

    I would assume he meant any act of violence or hatred against one’s brothers that is justified by referencing someone who said violence and hate were never justified in any situation, even in self-defense, is the embodiment of that sin.

    Runciman admired some of the crusaders individually, particularly those like Baldwin I, who tried to adapt to their new setting, learn from it–but overall considered them barbarians in comparison to both the Saracens and the Byzantines.

    (He may have also been a mite anti-Jewish, but that was a common prejudice among the British aristocracy he was raised in. Oh, and he was unapologetically gay, at a time when there was quite a lot of prejudice regarding that as well.)

    I don’t know if this was his personal take, or if it was something he was taught. (He was Anglican.

    You may be right in your interpretation, but it seems a bit forced. Jesus does not consider himself the Holy Spirit. If it’s okay to slander the Son of Man, why not him? Jesus is often ambiguous, forcing us to decide for ourselves what he meant, and who he was. No doubt we all get it wrong sometimes. But for me, Runciman’s interpretation seems best. Truest, put it that way. Whatever Jesus meant, that’s what it should mean.

    • Avatar
      godspell  April 6, 2018

      Ah shoot, I thought that quote I clipped from Wikipedia sounded off. Double-checked on Google Books. Been a long time since I read Runciman, but he says “THE sin against the Holy Ghost.” Because there is only one. However much we may differ on what it is.

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    ddorner  April 6, 2018

    I’m sure you’ve answered this elsewhere. But what was Jesus’ understanding of the Holy Spirit? Obviously it’s not the 3rd person of the trinity, but also seems to be apart from both God and Jesus himself. In some ways Jesus seems to be admitting he himself is *not* God, but only that his power is from God.

    • Bart
      Bart  April 8, 2018

      I’m afraid there is no way of knowing. But if he did talk about the Spirit, it would have been in a theologically unsophisticated sense of God’s active spirit on earth, e.g., at the creation.

  6. Robert
    Robert  April 6, 2018

    “… The unforgivable sin is rejecting the divine source for Jesus’ life and work or, in short, rejecting Jesus.”

    Unless one is particularly interested in a Matthean interpretation of this ‘blasphemy against the Holy Spirit’ logion, it would be much better methodologically to begin with the earlier hypothetical Q and Markan contexts of this statement rather than the Matthean context. Your interpretation here does not really deal with the most important contrast in this logion. Why is it acceptable to blaspheme against ‘the Son of Man’? Is not the ‘Son of Man’, according to your interpretation, also to be sent by God, no less than Jesus in the gospel of Matthew? Those of us who are not so sure about your possibly anachronistic interpretation of the Son of Man in the hypothetical Q source, in the earlier tradition, or perhaps even on the lips of Jesus, might very well interpret this logion very differently, and for good reasons. So how do you explain it being forgivable to blaspheme against the Son of Man?

    • Bart
      Bart  April 8, 2018

      The context in Mark is the same as in Matthew; and the saying is Mark’s not Q’s — unless you’re thinking of a different passage? But whatever comes from Q of course does not *have* a narrative context.

      • Robert
        Robert  April 8, 2018

        “The context in Mark is the same as in Matthew; and the saying is Mark’s not Q’s — unless you’re thinking of a different passage? But whatever comes from Q of course does not *have* a narrative context.”

        The problem is precisely that you are deriving your interpretation of this logion from Matthew (or even Mark’s) narrative context, when you should pay more attention to the logion itself in it’s earliest context, which you (and I) believe to be the hypothetical Q source and the earlier, pre-Q tradition. Here’s the logion as reconstructed by the IQP:

        And whoever says a word against the son of humanity, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against (blasphemes in Lk, possibly from Mark) the holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him.

        Your interpretation, based on the Matthean context, is essentially: “… The unforgivable sin is rejecting the divine source for Jesus’ life and work or, in short, rejecting Jesus.”

        But this totally ignores how we are to understand who the Son of Man is in this and other Q-logia. If we follow your understanding of the apocalyptic, divine figure of the Son of Man in Q (and in the earlier tradition, even dating back to the very words of Jesus), your interpretation needs to explain why it is supposedly forgivable to speak against the Son of Man but not forgivable to speak against the holy Spirit. And your explanation fails to do this. Jesus in Q would supposedly be saying that it is not forgivable to reject the divine source for Jesus’ life and work but it is forgivable to reject the divine source for the work of the coming Son of Man? Do you see the problem now?

        The Markan context is not directly important to this problem because the saying in Mark does not make this contrast between blaspheming the Son of Man and blaspheming the holy Spirit. It is a non-problem in Mark. The Markan version says that all blasphemies will be forgiven to ‘sons of men’, ie, human beings that blaspheme. The use of ‘sons of men’ in the plural may be a remnant of ‘son of man’ terminology appearing in the version of this logion in the pre-Markan tradition. If the pre-Markan tradition knew something similar to the Q version of the logion, the problem might have been eliminated by changing the ‘Son of Man’ object of blasphemy to the ‘sons of men’ subject of blasphemy. Or perhaps it bears witness to an even earlier version than what may be reconstructed as the Q-version behind Matthew and Luke, ie, something like: ‘sons of men can speak against me, (also) a son of man, but if anyone speaks against the holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven …’

        The Markan context of this logion only becomes indirectly important for misunderstanding this logion becuase it is used and adapted by Matthew and then used by you to interpret this logion, all the while ignoring the problem of why it is unforgivable to speak against the the holy Spirit as divine source of Jesus’ ministry but supposedly forgivable to speak against the divine apocalyptic figure of the Son of Man?

    • talmoore
      talmoore  April 8, 2018

      See, this is where it has become helpful to me that I’m trying to write an historically plausible novel — i.e. a logical, coherent narrative — because it has forced me to reconstruct the story from the bottom up, rather than the top down reconstruction that scholars are forced to do. That is to say, I’m not hampered by the rigor of strict academia, which forces scholars to pick away at the image until a semblence of a picture emerges. I’m free literally to attempt to reproduce the image itself, based off of the hints of what remains of the image along with a basic understanding out of how such images are created in the first place.

      It’s somewhat analogous to restoring old paintings. The way a painting like Leonardo’s Last Supper, for example, is restored is that the restorer painstakingly removes the build up of dirt and gunk, and attempts to revitalize whatever faded pigments remain. It’s a long, torturous process that can take decades, and in the end, only leaves the restorer with a frustratingly diminished image of the original. This, to me, is what textual critics such as Dr. Ehrman are doing with the Gospel narrative.

      As an independent author, the way I approach the reconstruction of the historical Jesus, however, is analogous to a painter looking at the Last Supper, analyzing what Leonardo did, and then literally replicating the painting onto a separate canvas. This gives me the freedom to create something that captures — though not perfectly — the original work, in detail. So where as the restored Last Supper is full of holes and dull, muted details, the replication is complete, vivid and vibrant.

      So what have I learned from such a process? Well, one the most significant things I learned is that the reason that the Gospels say that blaspheming Jesus is forgivable, but blaspheming the Holy Spirit is unforgivable is all-too-obvious from the perspective of someone literally trying to replicate that painting. All it takes is filling in the necessary details! And when you fill in the details, what is the complete picture? It’s this:

      Jesus’ power came from the Holy Spirit. Jesus was simply the vessel in which the power of God entered, in the form of the Holy Spirit. So by blaspheming Jesus, one is simply blaspheming the vessel. But by blaspheming the Holy Spirit, one is literally blaspheming the power of God. That’s why the Gospels say that. That’s a coherent picture. That’s a narrative that makes sense.

      • Robert
        Robert  April 9, 2018

        Hi, talmoore.

        I’ll answer in case this is intended for me. Your ‘vessel’ interpretation of blasphemy against the Son of Man is viable if Jesus is indeed referring to a/the son of man as himself. But it does not work with Bart’s interpretation of the Son of Man as a divine apocalyptic heavenly figure who is is to be sent by God to destroy all the powers of evil and establish the kingdom of God. In the gospels the Son of Man typically does refer to Jesus, but Bart is reconstructing what Jesus himself meant by the Son of Man on the lips of the historical Jesus and he does not consider the ‘son of man’ to be referring to Jesus. This is why it is important to look at the Q-version of this saying, which is the hypothetical source used by Matthew and Luke and which also contains ‘son of man’ sayings. Mt 12,31 is based on Mk 3,29, but Mt 3,32 and Lk 12,10 are believed to represent the Q-version of this saying and it is the Q-version of this saying that makes the contrast between speaking against the son of man being forgivable but speaking against the holy Spirit being unforgivable. If one takes this Q-saying as Jesus referring to himself (which is especially easy to do in Aramaic) it becomes more difficult to insist on other Q-sayings as using the Son of Man as referring to a divine apocalyptic heavenly figure who is is to be sent by God to destroy all the powers of evil and establish the kingdom of God.

        By the way, I like your image of restoring paintings. Textual criticism and interpretation can indeed help us restore the portraits painted by the writers of the gospels, but, of course, Jesus did not personally sit for those portraits. The gospel authors were not eye-witnesses but only knew of Jesus through several decades of oral tradition and a hypothetical Q sayings source before the first gospel was written. Some even date the hypothetical Q-text to as late as 70 CE or shortly before because of the woes against Jerusalem.

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    randal  April 6, 2018

    I was tormented for many years as a child and into my teens thinking that I had committed the “unpardonable sin”. Bringing kids up in fundamentalist churches should be a crime.

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    Eskil  April 6, 2018

    This passage is also in Gospel of Thomas, isn’t i t? Is it also in Q? Then it originally didn’t have any contexts, did it?

    (44) Jesus 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.”

    • Bart
      Bart  April 8, 2018

      Right — no context for saying in either Q or Thomas. But the earliest source for it is Mark, where the context is the same as in Matthew.

      • Robert
        Robert  April 8, 2018

        Most 2-source scholars do think there was a Q-version of this saying (Q12,10). See Luke’s version in Lk 12,10, whereas Matthew produces a mini-doublet by keeping a shortened version of the Markan logion in Mt 12,31 and then adding his own version of the Q-logion (Mt 12,32). Both Luke and Matthew include the idea of speaking a word against the Son of Man being forgiven but speaking against the holy Spirit not being forgiven. As for the Q-context of this saying, one can see definite connections of Q 12,10 to both Q 12,8-9 and Q 12,11-12, but we do not know if Q first linked these these sayings together and Luke followed his Q-source of if Luke himself strung these sayings together.

  9. Avatar
    jbskq5  April 6, 2018

    I know so many people, religious and otherwise, who are stricken with a fear of the afterlife-either of being punished with hell for sin or for unbelief, or for being separated from their loved ones regardless of which afterlife they end up in. I am really looking forward to your next book to help me navigate these conversations, and hopefully to show even convicted religious people the possibility that their modern ideals of the concept may be the product of human artifice than of concrete teaching. Thanks for writing it, and again, I can’t wait to get my hands on it!

  10. talmoore
    talmoore  April 6, 2018

    Dr. Ehrman, I’m starting to get concerned that you might be barking up the wrong tree. Did you get a chance to read that article on Gehenna from the Jewish Encyclopedia that I linked a few posts ago? If not, I’ll link it for you again below. I’m afraid you are getting lost in the weeds and, thus, terribly confused about this topic because you’re approaching it as a textual critic — i.e. analyzing Christian scipture — rather than as an historian or sociologist. Namely, you’re using a negative argument rather than a positive argument, which means that you seem to be trying to uncover what the historical Jewish Jesus actually believed and preached by essentially removing the “christian” elements from christian literature, instead of doing what should be obvious: reading the Jewish literature to see what the historical Jews, and thus the historical Jewish Jesus, probably believed and preached.

    Did Jesus preach a purgatory on par to Roman Catholic doctrine? Probably not. But did Jesus preach that some (if not most) Jews would have to go through an expurgatory process of “purification” before being allowed entry into the Next Kingdom? I’m almost positive he did. Indeed, that purported quote about “blaspheming the Holy Spirit” in Mark 3:28-30 is one of the most Jewish things I have ever heard attributed to Jesus. Even the last phrase – “in this age or the age to come” — is literally a Hebrew couplet!

    עולם הזה ועולם הבא
    ‘Olam ha-zeh, wa-‘Olam ha-ba

    To me it seems all rather obvious. Clearly, when John the Baptist was baptizing Jews along the Jordan river, he was absolving them of their sins. Why? Because they wanted an assurance of their salvation. But how many Jews could John have possibly have baptized in that time? A few hunderd? A thousand? Two thousand? Let’s be generous and say John baptized two thousand Jews. So if we were to say that the Judgment was absolutely binary — the sinless are saved and the sinful are condemned — then we’re talking about an ‘Olam ha-Ba with, what? two thousand individuals?! That makes absolutely no sense what-so-ever. Clearly, the winnowing process that John was describing (e.g. Luke 3:9) doesn’t suggest that merely a few thousand people will escape eternal torment in “the fire”. Obviously, many more Jews will have the chance to be saved, otherwise the whole eschatological argument becomes absurd. And who will the others gain entry into the Next Kingdom? Via the expurgatory process in Gehenna!

    So now let’s assume that Jesus picked up where John left off. Does Jesus think that only those people who received John’s baptism are saved, and everyone else is condemned to eternal damnation? Obviously not, or he wouldn’t have started his own mission. Jesus clearly saw his mission as an extension of John’s, but instead of baptizing with water, Jesus was baptizing with “the Holy Spirit”. But, again, we have ask the same question. Did Jesus really think he would be able to baptize every Jew in the world — even the millions of Jews in the Diaspora — before Judgment Day? A day that Jesus believed was coming any day now? Again, we are faced with another absurdity. Let us be generous and say that Jesus’ mission lasted the three years that conservative scholars claim (though I’m more inclined to say that Jesus’ mission lasted a mere 5 months). If Jesus truly believed that A) Judgment Day was right around the corner, B) only his baptism via Holy Spirit would justify a Jew for entry in the Next Kingdom, and C) all else would be damned to eternal torment in Gehenna, then why did Jesus spend the vast majority of his time only in Galilee and environs??

    The only reasonable answer is that Jesus did not, in fact, believe his baptism via the Holy Spirit was the ONLY guarantee of entry into the Next Kingdom, and that all others were eternally doomed. The only reasonable conclusion is that Jesus actually believed — and preached! — that he had THE BEST way to be saved. That is, he preached that if you are a sin-ridden Jew right now, if you don’t receive purification through his baptism via the Holy Spirit now, then you will have to be purified another way: namely, via the fires of Gehenna. In other words, Jesus was selling a method of avoiding “purgatory”! A Jew could either received baptism by Jesus (or later by his surviving apostles) and be spared the purification by fire, OR a Jew could refuse the Holy Spirit and be consigned to the flames for purification. This is what Jesus meant by “blaspheming” the Holy Spirit. If you accept baptism and absolution of sins via the Holy Spirit, then you’re guarantee VIP entry into the Next Kingdom. If you refuse the Holy Spirit, well, then your sins will have to be purged via a stint in Gehenna. That was Jesus’ message. That’s what Jesus was selling. Jesus was, in essence, a snakeoil saleman selling his Get-out-of-Hell free card to people!

    The way it looks to me, anything and everything else that you’re trying to glean from scripture, I’m afraid, is simply misleading you into reconstructing an absurd Jesus.

    Does that make sense?


    • Avatar
      godspell  April 8, 2018

      I think Bart is correct in his statement that Jesus believed that you were saved or damned by the way you treated others. Live as if the Kingdom were already here, and you will enter into it. No baptism, of water or spirit, will save you if you go on living a sinful life, by which he primarily means a selfish and spiteful one. Love your enemies. Forgive the sins commited against you. Commit no act of violence, for any reason. Give to the poor, tend to the sick, comfort the imprisoned and oppressed.

      Hard to say how close to this ideal one has to come to enter the Kingdom, and perhaps that’s where purgatory comes in–perhaps he did believe there would be some purification needed, and perhaps baptism would help towards that end–but it doesn’t make the difference between salvation and damnation. It merely hastens the way for those who are already of good will.

      And since he believes he can offer this, he does. He knows he can’t baptize everyone, preach to everyone, but you do what you can. He’s only a man, and God won’t expect the impossible from him. He’ll minister to anyone who wants it, which usually means Jews, but there are indications he increasingly believed that people of all races, nations, and beliefs could be saved. That people of faith could be found anywhere, and they are the people he cares about most.

      But he also believed many would not be saved–and furthermore, would try to hold back those who could. Many would go on living sinful lives to the end–including those who considered themselves sinless (in many ways, those are the worst sinners, as history has often proved).

      The Sheep needed protection from the Goats. The Goats were those who refused to save themselves, and wished to drag others down with them. For that, there could be no forgiveness. That was the sin against the Holy Ghost. The one unforgivable sin. To commit evil in the name of God. To pervert faith itself. To claim they were righteous and all others sinners. He who exalts himself shall be humbled.

      • talmoore
        talmoore  April 9, 2018

        I think all of that “love your neighbor” stuff postdates Jesus’ death, when the nascent Christian movement needed to find a way to all get along as they hunkered down in anticipation of Jesus’ return and the Endtimes (note how Sharia Law postdates Muhammad’s death as well). I don’t think the historical Jesus emphasized any of that feel-good stuff. I think he was all doom and gloom.

        • Avatar
          godspell  April 10, 2018

          I think you need to back that up.

          And you can’t.

          There’s just no way all of that came out of thin air. Jesus believed it, and he taught it to his followers, and in fact lived it–took to previously unknown extremes–for some time after his death.

          As Christianity took hold, it became harder and harder to practice. Too many people who joined up simply because it was getting popular. Too many temperaments incompatible with what Jesus had taught.

          Too many goats in the fold.

          • talmoore
            talmoore  April 11, 2018

            You’re correct. I can’t totally back that up. Because the historial record is simply too sparse.

            However, from my research into apocalyptic movements, the initial appeal of such movements was that the followers of the founder believed they had a special place in comparison to the rest of humanity. And that the sense of exceptionalism tends to have an adverse effect on the followers’ view of the rest of humanity.

            That’s why the love your neighbor stuff tends to start off contained within the group, and only breaks out to include those outside the movement once the movement becomes too large. The movement can no longer be cloistered, because it has become too spread out within the human population, so it starts to project its own internal ethics onto those outside the movement, with the intention of appearing welcoming and non-threatening to those outside.

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          Pattycake1974  April 10, 2018

          Since Jesus came from such an impoverished background, I could definitely see him preaching love your neighbor as well as take care of the sick and the poor. Basic needs were being neglected, so it seems to me he was instructing them to model their behavior as though they were living in God’s Kingdom already.

          • talmoore
            talmoore  April 11, 2018

            My sense of Jesus was that he preached to his followers the same kind of ethics one finds within the Prophets, such as Amos and Hoshea, who — within their historical context — were trying to tell Israelite rulers that they should help the poor and oppressed, or face the wrath of God. Jesus probably subscribed to the very same idea of respect and beneficence toward the poor and oppressed in order to gain salvation for the World-to-come. I’m sure Jesus was speaking particularly to Jews about Jews, and that he was only preaching this ethic so as to illustrate the type of people that God would consider “righteous” and, thus, worthy of salvation. I would be terribly surprised of Jesus were actually talking about a universal love for all mankind.

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    Todd  April 6, 2018

    What Jesus taught during his life is NOT what the vast majority of contemporary Christian’s believe and practice. You make that very clear in all of your writings. What I am interested in is how we came from what Jesus taught to what is preached today, especially in contemporary evangelical churches.

    Will you get into any of that in your new book ?

    • Bart
      Bart  April 8, 2018

      To some extent — I’ll be talking about the progression from Jesus’ views (and those before him) to later views about the afterlife.

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    fishician  April 6, 2018

    What do you think Jesus meant are the consequences of not being forgiven, in this age, or the one to come? Does that imply some sort of punishment “in this age” and not just the future age? Or does it simply mean exclusion from the coming kingdom of God?

    • Bart
      Bart  April 8, 2018

      My sense is that it means future exclusion from the kingdom when it comes.

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    JoeRoark  April 6, 2018

    It so happens that just this morning I was reading William Barclay’s ‘The Mind of Christ’, pp125-127 where he explains that the scribes and Pharisees “…had come to a state when they could call good evil and evil good. That is the sin against the Holy Spirit, for it is the consequence of consistent and continuous refusal of the guidance of the Spirit.”
    He also offers: “…the one man who cannot have committed the sin against the Holy Spirit is the man who fears that he has; for, if he had, the days of the possibility of remorse would be past.”

  14. Telling
    Telling  April 6, 2018

    I think you could put this apocalyptic message together with some Gospel of Thomas sayings, such as the Kingdom is spread out all over the earth but people don’t see it, and it is in front of your noses. The Thomas sayings are of what we call new-age ideas of present moment awareness. The apocalyptic message fits like a glove (I hadn’t realized this until reading your post today), the Kingdom coming at some future time to this world. This would happen — given a present moment focus — with a change in focus, not location, a future heaven being right here (in front of us now but people don’t see it). Have you, or have other historians, considered such possibility, Thomas phrases and apocalyptic messages being of similar kind? This would be quite something, wouldn’t it? For it could lend credibility to Thomas as authentic Jesus sayings, or the reverse for those believing the Church distorted the Jesus message: Jesus teaching an apocalyptic message of present moment awareness..

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    anthonygale  April 6, 2018

    That interpretation sounds similar to the idea that one has to believe in Jesus to be saved. I realize that isnt quite what it is saying, but if not believing Jesus came from God is the only unpardonable sin, believing in Jesus is the one thing you absolutely must do. Do you think this saying goes back to Jesus? This isnt the same thing as Paul saying one must believe in the ressurection to be saved, but Im wondering if its enough to argue Pauls understanding has basis in something Jesus said (and developed from it).

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    Tony  April 6, 2018

    Both Matthew 12:24 and Luke 11:15 were copied from Mark 3:22-26. It is interesting to note Paul’s observation in 1 Cor 2:6-10 where the satanic rulers caused their own demise by crucifying the Lord of Glory. Perhaps Mark worked Paul’s version of Satan’s end into a Jesus parable.

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      Pattycake1974  April 10, 2018

      Hey Tony,
      I see lots of humans here but no Satan:
      1 Corinthians 1 & 2–
      “For it is written: “I will destroy the (human) wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”
      “Where is the wise PERSON? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? “For the foolishness of God is wiser than HUMAN wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than HUMAN strength.”

      “Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by HUMAN standards;

      ‭‭“And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or HUMAN wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God.”

      “so that your faith might not rest on HUMAN wisdom, but on God’s power.”

      “We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the (human) wisdom of this age or of the (human) rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing.”

      “However, as it is written: “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no HUMAN mind has conceived” — the things God has prepared for those who love him—”

      “This is what we speak, not in words taught us by HUMAN wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words.”

      ‭”Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the (human) standards of this age, you should become “fools” so that you may become wise.”
      “So then, no more boasting about HUMAN leaders! All things are yours,”

      The meaning of Archon: http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/1741-archon

      The meaning of Age: http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/891-age-old

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    ardeare  April 6, 2018

    Jesus would have witnessed people who died from crucifixions, cancers, heart attacks, accidents, etc. Are you saying that you believe Jesus thought all these people just ceased to exist after their earthly bodies had expired? Also, according to your theory on the “Son of Man,” who is a separate entity that would come and establish Gods’ kingdom on earth, would people from that time forward also continue to live routine, albeit more perfect lives, only to die and cease to exist for all eternity?

    • Bart
      Bart  April 8, 2018

      Jesus thought that at the end all people would be raised from the dead, some to reward and some to punishment. He never indicates what is happening to them in the meantime (i.e., the *historical* Jesus, so far as we know, never gave any indication)

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    pmwslc  April 6, 2018

    A bit off topic, I’m afraid: the March 24 – 30 issue of The Economist has an article in the Books and Arts section on the Garima Gospels, illuminated Christian manuscripts around 1,500 years old that have been stored and protected at the Abba Garima monastery in Ethiopia. A bit of looking around on the web finds pictures of the illustrations and descriptions of the documents themselves and how they have been preserved over the years, but little about what the Gospels actually say. Do they add anything surprising or controversial to Biblical scholarship?

    • Bart
      Bart  April 8, 2018

      I don’t know! But I doubt it, if they are 6th century Gospels. I haven’t looked into them at all, I”m afraid, but if they were ground breaking I think I would have heard of them

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    doug  April 6, 2018

    Good point that Jesus wasn’t “a modern American Christian”. People today sometimes overlook the fact that the people who Jesus intended his message for lived in the first century. He did not intend his message to be for people in the distant future, because he believed the Kingdom of God was coming in the near future, i.e., the first century.

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    Pattycake1974  April 6, 2018

    “The only one that won’t be forgiven is that blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, committed by anyone who claims that the power manifest in the life and work of Jesus did not come from the Spirit of God but was from the powers of darkness.”

    Is this from the historical Jesus? If it is, what would Jesus have been manifesting to make people believe he’s using the powers of darkness?

    • Bart
      Bart  April 8, 2018

      I doubt it. I think it’s the later Christian interpretatoin of Jesus.

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