Thursday, April 13, 2006

Dialogue on Mortal & Venial Sin (vs. Ken Temple)

Ken Temple is a Reformed Baptist and a vigorous but congenial regular commenter on this blog. His words will be in green. He was responding to my recent post: Mortal & Venial Sin: The Garden-Variety Objection Answered, + Strong Biblical Support. See the original comments thread for complete context.

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Your paper fails to distinguish between spiritual final death in hell, (the second death, the lake of fire- Rev. 20:14-15) and physical death.

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

I John 5:16-17 has to be talking about physical death, because he says, "he shall ask God", and "there is a sin that does not lead to death",

Quite the contrary: again, it is too obvious to be about physical death, because that would make it a silly, insubstantial verse: "not all sins strike one dead"? But of course; we all know that. To drive home the point, let's consult the RBV (Reformed Baptist Version) for 1 John 5:16-17, which highlights your point that physical death is supposedly being discussed:

If any one sees his brother committing what is not a sin that will kill him, he will ask, and God will give him life for those whose sin does not lead to him being killed. There is sin which leads to the ending of one's life; I do not say that one is to pray for that. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is a sin which does not kill one.
What sense does that make? If you see someone committing a sin that doesn't kill him, pray for him so he won't be killed? But if the sin kills a person, don't pray for them. Right. So I contend that the passage refers to spiritual death (i.e., being separated from God and the Holy Spirit but not necessarily damned).

and yet many other passages teach that eventually, we all die physically, because of sin.

That is original sin, concerning which we have no disagreement.

"The soul that sins, it shall die". Ezekiel 18:20, chapter 33.

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. John the Baptist would still be alive and be over 2000 years old by now. You could say that no one ever becomes perfectly righteous and so no one achieves this immortality. But then you would have to apply the parallelism to 18:20 and conclude that since all of us are sinners, we should all die when we sin.

Therefore, the passage cannot mean simply physical death, because that would make no sense. We are all subject to physical death because of original sin, not actual sin. But this passage distinguishes sharply between righteous who live, and sinners who die. I contend that it is typical OT proverbial, prophetic literature, which speaks generally and makes a point that good things happen to good people and bad to bad people, and by extension, that sin may very well lead to damnation because it separates one from God, and righteousness by God's grace is associated with eschatological salvation. This is generalized, observational language, not precise theology or philosophy. "Your sins will find you out," as it says somewhere in the Bible (Billy Graham did an entire wonderful sermon on that verse once).

In fact, similar proverbial language occurs in 1 John itself. 1 Jn. 3:16 states that "no one who abides in him sins." Clearly this is idealized language; in other words, "the quintessence and ideal of the Christian is that he does not sin, because that is contrary to the nature and will of God whom he serves." John expresses it even more pungently in 3:9: "he cannot sin because he is born of God." This can only be meant in the sense I have described; it can hardly be literal.

The same applies to Ezekiel 33. What is being discussed is not simply death, but the potential of the sinner to "die in his iniquity" (33:8,9,13); that is, to be possibly damned if he does not turn from this sin. St. Paul uses the same kind of generalized language in 1 Cor 6:9: "Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?" (cf. Eph 5:5). Then he goes on in 6:11 to teach that the way out of this is to be baptized ("washed"), justified, and sanctified (past tense, whereas Protestants believe it should be future tense only and - technically - not related to salvation at all).

The moral to the story: one must read the Bible correctly, recognizing the type of literature and the context, and also incorporating a broad knowledge of the Hebraic outlook and related scriptural cross-references. Proof-texting without these necessary elements leads to illogical and false conclusions, as in your "proofs" above.

That is also what James 2:10 is teaching,

I answered that in the original post ("Reply to Objection" section), so there is no need to do so again.

along with Romans 3:23 . . .

All are subject to original sin and the sin which follows from it, unless they are protected from original sin, as in the case of the Blessed Virgin Mary. I have an entire paper about this verse. It doesn't absolutely preclude any exceptions.

and [Romans] 6:23.

"The wages of sin is death." Again, this is the generalized, proverbial language which is so common in Scripture. It doesn't prohibit the Catholic belief in mortal and venial sins at all, because proverbial language by its nature doesn't intend to cover every particularity. But as an interesting aside (something I just noticed), the immediately preceding verse (Rom 6:22) contradicts the Protestant teaching on sanctification since Paul states: "the return you get is sanctification and its end, eternal life." Paul would have flunked out of Protestant seminary. Doesn't he know that eternal life comes from justification, and that sanctification has nothing to do with it - only with grateful acts done out of thankfulness for eternal life already achieved by justification? Tsk, tsk, tsk. Paul was already mixed-up about this in 1 Cor 6:11, so this is becoming a disturbing trend.

That is what Jesus teaches in Matthew 5, on anger -- He is saying just because you didn't physically murder anyone, don't think you are "not guilty"; and Matthew 5:28, just because you didn't commit physcial adultery, don't think you are not guilty.

No Catholic disagrees, so I fail to see the significance of citing this passage. But you again neglect to see the many indications in the same Sermon on the Mount of distinctions between different sins and rewards. Those who are persecuted get a greater reward in heaven (5:11-12). One must have a greater righteousness than the scribes and Pharisees (i.e., perfect keeping of the Law) to enter heaven (5:20): a very un-Protestant verse indeed. Jesus should have said, "unless you have faith alone, regardless of righteousness, which is important but relegated only to non-salvific sanctification, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."

You want to highlight 5:28 because you think it obliterates all distinctions of seriousness of sin, yet you ignore 5:21-22, just six verses earlier, in which Jesus applies the exact same principle (thoughts precipitating some sin are also liable to judgment), except that here He lists three different punishments for three different types of angry judgmentalism (precisely as in the distinction between mortal and venial sin). In fact, one of the sins even puts one in danger of hell itself (Gk. Gehenna here, which always refers to hell). One couldn't ask for more evidence of mortal sin than that (a sin which subjects one to possible hellfire), and I just happened to run into it while examining the context of yet another of your flawed, fallacious "proof texts."

God zapped Ananias and Saphira in Acts 5,

I think you would agree that this was quite an exceptional situation and thus hardly applicable as a general rule of normative theology today. Peter raised people from the dead, too. How many times have you or anyone reading this done that?

Saul in Samuel, and the Corinthians for treating the Lord's supper in a cavalier fashion. But these are examples of God punishing people by physical death because of the seriousness of thier sins.

Clearly that doesn't happen routinely, so this is a non sequitur. You can't use the exception to prove the rule.

I Cor 5 seems to say the same thing, "for the destruction of his flesh, that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord Jesus."

I'm delighted that you mentioned this, because this is the best biblical evidence for indulgences.
This wasn't talking about physical death at all, because "flesh" was used metaphorically, not literally. Thus, Paul refers back to the same person in 2 Corinthians 2:6-11. He "binds" the sinner in the first passage and then "looses"temporal punishment in the second, which is exactly what we mean by an indulgence. Some Protestant proof text, huh? :-)

So, there are degrees of seriousness of sin, obviously real physical adultery is worse than lust, in its effects on people, but Jesus is saying in Matthew 5:28ff that lust makes you guilty.

That's why we believe that lustfulness with full intent and understanding and consent of the will can be a mortal sin; yes. We agree that it can possibly cause one to be damned, whereas you would say that all sins have the same effect and are already covered by the blood of Christ.


James 1:14-15 amplifies this: sinful desire "gives birth to sin; and sin when it is full-grown brings forth death." This is spiritual death because, again, we don't die every time we sin. This is talking about serious sin leading to spiritual death. It starts with a relatively smaller sin. There we go: lesser and greater sins: venial and mortal.

The same for anger, which is leaves one just as guilty as far as sending us to hell as real murder.

Even civil courts make distinctions in penalties for murder based on whether it is premeditated or out of a momentary anger, or involuntary manslaughter. But you would have us to believe that God in His infinite mercy does not make similar distinctions with regard to sin?

But real murder is obviously worse in the consequences and effects in this life. That is one of the differences between a crime and a sin. A crime is punishable by the state, but not all sins of thought are.

That's right. God knows our thoughts; so He is capable of distinguishing mortal and venial sins. And we can do so by examining our own conscience.

So, evangelical Protestants do believe in degrees of sin, but there are not degrees of guilt in the realm of sin that will send one to hell.

That is not biblical teaching, as I have been repeatedly showing.

That is the point of James 2:10 and Romans 3:23 and 6:23. One sin makes us all guilty and as far as our being able to stand before God ( justification), we are all guilty, unless forgiven and covered by Christ's righteousness.

This is untrue. I dealt with all of these above.

I Cor. 6:9-12, Eph. 5:5 do not not teach what you claim. Read the whole passages, and they are teaching someone who continually is practicing those kinds of sins, will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Same for Rev. 22:15, "practices lying" ( practices = a participle -- poiew. Same in Galatians 5:19-21, ". . . those who continually practice these things shall not inherit the kingdom of God."

I Cor. 6:9-10, "such were some of you" -- talking about their identity and continual lifestyle of those things.

Not so fast, though. It's true that continual sin indicates far more seriousness and commitment to rebellion against God. But it doesn't follow that a continual commission of these sins is the only sufficient condition for damnation or separation from God (whether temporary or permanent). That follows from the way we use language in this regard. If I worship an idol, even once, I am an idolater. If I commit adultery or murder just once, I am an adulterer or murderer. This is how we all talk; this is how you talk. Therefore, it follows that one who committed such a serious sin even once would be subject to possible damnation, by Paul's teaching in 1 Cor 6:9-12. If someone is a "sexual pervert" (even once) and doesn't repent, he will not inherit the kingdom of God. It's the same for thieves, greedy, drunkards, revilers, etc. Paul is trying to show how important it is to repent.

The same applies to Ephesians 5:5: "no fornicator . . . has any inheritance in the kingdom." Okay; that's clear enough, isn't it? But who is a fornicator? Well, one who has committed this sin. He doesn't have to commit it many times to be described as this, because all it means is "one who has committed fornication." Look it up in the dictionary. I just looked in my biggest one and it had exactly what I just wrote. It doesn't depend on numbers of times the sin is committed. Therefore, by the way the English language and logic work, neither does Eph 5:5 or 1 Cor 6:9-12. Nor does Rev 22:15. If I "murder" someone once I am a murderer and could end up "outside" the gates of heaven. The same applies to the other sins.

Galatians 5:21 in RSV does not read the way you cited the verse above. It says: "those who do such things." That would seem to support the Catholic strict position on these sins. KJV has "they which do such things." Other translations also have renderings which do not necessarily mean "continual or ongoing commission of listed sins":

NRSV, Beck, Goodspeed, Amplified: "those who do such things."
TEV: "those who do these things."
CEV: "no one who does these things."
NASB, NKJV, Williams: "those who practice such things."
ASV: "they who practise such things."
Barclay: "people who practice things like these."
NEB: "those who behave in such ways."
REB: "no one who behaves like that."
Jerusalem: "those who behave like this."

So far, none of these 16 translations (including several which are paraphrases or "free" translations) need to be interpreted (and only interpreted) in the fashion you claim: as referring to continual commission of the sins. I have found five versions, however, which do suggest that:

NIV: "those who live like this."
Phillips: "those who indulge in such things."
Moffatt: "people who indulge in such practices."
Wuest: "those who are in the habit of practicing things of that nature."
Living: "anyone living that sort of life"

With that 16 to 5 ratio, I don't think you can be dogmatic about your claims here; therefore the Catholic interpretation is not ruled out by this passage. Even if Paul does mean what you claim (which is possible, I think), it still doesn't mean that those who commit some serious sin even once are not also in danger of hellfire, per 1 Cor 6:9-12 and Eph 5:5, as exegeted above.

True believers still sin, but hate their sin, stay in the battle, confess their sins, and keep trusting in Christ and His atonement and source of forgiveness, "If any one sins, we have an advocate with the Father. . . " I John 2:1

Amen. No argument there. True believers confess their sins. That's why we have confession! Now you're starting to catch on . . .

"If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and the blood of Jesus cleanses us from ALL sin." I John 1:5-10)

AMEN. Correct: any sin can be forgiven if we repent and seek forgiveness from God.

I am so glad for Luther and Calvin and the other Reformers who restored Biblical truth in this issue,

As I have shown above, it is not that "biblical" after all to deny the existence of mortal sin and the distinction between mortal and venial sin. And Luther was not a reformer but a revolutionary, since his doctrines (where he departed from Catholicism) cannot be found in the early Church.

for your way, the RCC way is bondage and legalism and perfectionism, and adds works righteousness of the work of Christ

Is that so? Funny, I haven't noticed that in my 15 years as a Catholic, and defending it.

-- "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.

Thanks for the discussion!

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