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Eternal sin

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Eternal Sins or unforgivable sins or unpardonable sins, are a concept in Christian theology of sins which cannot or will not be forgiven, whereby salvation becomes impossible. It is claimed that it has its origin in several biblical passages.

One sin frequently considered 'eternal' is that of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit; however this phrase is rarely taken to have its literal meaning. Some sins that are frequently considered eternal include deliberate rejection of the mercy of God, and ascribing the work of the Holy Spirit to the Devil.

Biblical passages

Several passages in the Bible refer to the unforgivable sin:

  • Mark 3:28-30: "Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven all their sins and all the blasphemies they utter. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven, but is guilty of an eternal sin. He said this because they [the Pharisees] were saying, ‘He has an evil spirit’."
  • Matthew 12:30-32: "Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. And so I tell you, people will be forgiven every sin and blasphemy. But the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come."
  • Luke 12:8-10: "I tell you, whoever acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man will also acknowledge him before the angels of God. But he who disowns me before men will be disowned before the angels of God. And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven."
  • Hebrews 6:4-8: "It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace. Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned. Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are convinced of better things in your case — the things that have to do with salvation."
  • Hebrews 10:26-29: "For we—sinning wilfully without compulsion after receiving the full knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and fiery zeal about to consume the enemies of God. Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think those deserve to be punished who have trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has considered as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who have insulted the Spirit of grace?"

All three of the Gospel passages are in a context in which Jesus ministry is being criticized by the Pharisees, specifically in which they ascribe his miraculous works to Satan.

Christian doctrine

The general theology of sin is that sins committed by any person may be forgiven by God, because of the sacrifice made by Jesus in his death. An eternal sin is a class of sin which, if committed, cannot be forgiven and prevents the perpetrator from being saved.

Roman Catholicism and Orthodox Christianity

The Catholic Church, as well as the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox churches believe blasphemy against the Holy Spirit to be an unforgivable sin (i.e., eternal sin).

According to the Catholic Catechism, there are no limits to the mercy of God, but anyone who deliberately refuses to accept his mercy by repenting, rejects the forgiveness of his sins and the salvation offered by the Holy Spirit. Such hardness of heart can lead to final impenitence and eternal loss.[1]

However, the Church further believes there is no offence, however serious, that the Church cannot forgive—that no one, however wicked and guilty, may not confidently hope for forgiveness, provided his repentance is honest. Catechism says Christ desires "the gates of forgiveness should always be open to anyone who turns away from sin."[2]

The Eastern Orthodox churches essentially hold the same principles in regards to this doctrine although their understanding of the nature of "the Church" may differ slightly.

Calvinism

Some[who?] say Calvinists "are an exception; instead claiming that since Christ is not on Earth but in Heaven, therefore no one on Earth can commit an unforgivable sin against Christ." This however is not what Calvin taught. He wrote when he was refuting heresies about the sin against the Holy Spirit:

I say, therefore, that he sins against the Holy Spirit who, while so constrained by the power of divine truth that he cannot plead ignorance, yet deliberately resists, and that merely for the sake of resisting.[3]

Dissenters to the hard line view often look at the continuation of the Hebrews passage, which says "But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak." Here, the "beloved" is in reference to the subject, who is the recipient of Jesus' gospel — as a reminder to even the subjects of God's wrath are beloved people of God. "Though we thus speak" is in reference the passages previous, which harshly condemn "those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift." The passage continues:

"For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labor of love, which you have showed toward his name, in that you have ministered to the saints, and do minister. And we desire that every one of you do show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end: That you be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises." Hebrews 6:9-11
"For when God made promise to Abraham, because he could swear by no greater, he swore by himself, Saying, Surely blessing I will bless thee, and multiplying I will multiply thee. And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise. For people verily swear by the greater: and an oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife. Wherein God, willing more abundantly to show unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath: That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us: Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters into that within the veil; Whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made a high priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek. Hebrews 6:13-20

The above scripture passages indicate that an individual can taste spiritual realities and know the moving of the Holy Spirit, yet remain unsaved. Experiences prove nothing if they don't result in a new heart. Even the most wicked of people, such as Balaam and Judas, have known the working of the Spirit. "But, beloved," says the writer of Hebrews, "we are persuaded of better things of you, things that accompany salvation, though we speak in this manner." The fruit of the Spirit in the Christian Jews' lives showed they had salvation, in contrast to "those who were once enlightened" but who only produced "thorns and briers". These "thorns and briers" bring to mind the "thorny ground" in the parable of the sower (Matthew 13) - people who fall away from what they once knew, choked by the pleasures of the world. A "sow that was washed returning to wallow in the mire" (2 Peter 2:22) was always a sow. Just as a tare was always a tare. Those never saved eventually display their true nature.

Universalism

Universalists are another notable exception; instead claiming that through the atonement of Jesus Christ all of mankind will be saved, thus the sin can indeed be forgiven. From a doctrinal view, they take a more liberal approach toward the issue of salvation, under the belief that God is both loving and forgiving —and that the hardline[Neutrality is disputed] view is at odds with the principles of faith, even when applied to the sinner and the question of eternal sin.

Mormonism

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormons, have a similar understanding of the eternal sin to mainstream Christianity. The founder of Mormonism, Joseph Smith, said:

All sins shall be forgiven, except the sin against the Holy Ghost; for Jesus will save all except the sons of perdition. What must a man do to commit the unpardonable sin? He must receive the Holy Ghost, have the heavens opened unto him, and know God, and then sin against him. After a man has sinned against the Holy Ghost, there is no repentance for him. He has got to say that the sun does not shine while he sees it; he has got to deny Jesus Christ when the heavens have been opened unto him, and to deny the plan of salvation with his eyes open to the truth of it.[4]

References

  1. Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, para. 1864
  2. Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, para. 982; cf. Mt 18:21-22
  3. Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion Book III Chapter III Section 22 (Translated by Henry Beveridge.)
  4. "The King Follett Sermon," Ensign May 1971

External links

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