#244. Can any and all sins be atoned/expiated OR only those sins which were committed inadvertently? (Matt 6:14; Jn 3:16, 5:24; Acts 10:43; Rom 3:22, 4:25; Gal 3:13, etc. vs Deut 21:1-9, Lev 4-5; Num 15:30-31; cf. 1 Cor 5; Matt 6:15, 12:31, 18:35, etc.)

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This entry expands upon an earlier entry, contradiction #174: Can sin only be atoned through sacrifice or not?—a post that needs much amending itself.

Here I will try to limit my remarks [Interjection: I failed at this task, my apologies. The post goes on and on and on. Hopefully there’s a little something for everyone here.] to, first, the different stance taken between unintentional and intentional sins as viewed by the Priestly writer—that is, the difference between inadvertently committing a sin and conversely willfully and intentionally committing a sin—and second how this dichotomy was discarded, forgotten, or willfully neglected by later biblical communities, worldviews, and/or beliefs…. or was it?

Indeed, the dichotomy itself is at core unique to the beliefs and worldview of the priests who wrote these texts—beliefs, views, and morals which, as we have seen throughout this survey of the literature, were sanctified and legitimated by placing them on the lips of their cultural deity, Yahweh.

But the person who acts defiantly, be he a citizen or an alien, he blasphemes Yahweh, and that person will be cut off from among his people because he has spurned Yahweh’s word and broke his commandment. That person will be cut off; he shall bear his guilt. (Num 15:30-31)

Most commentators understand these verses as discussing the punishment for sins made intentionally, willfully, and/or consciously—acts which defiantly disobey one of Yahweh’s commandments or prohibitions. Support for this line of reasoning comes predominately through this corpus of literature’s emphatic emphasis on its corollary—that only inadvertently or unintentionally committed sins can be expiated, and only expiated through a blood sacrifice (Lev 17:11). This is apparent in the immediate context—before the “But” above—as well as elsewhere in the Priestly literature.

  • In detailing the steps in performing the sin-offering to atone for sins in Leviticus 4-5, our Aaronid priestly author emphasizes, through Yahweh’s persona, that atonement/expiation is only for sins committed unknowingly (4:14, 4:23, 4:28, 5:2, 5:3, 5:4, 5:17, 5:18) or “by mistake” (4:13, 4:22, 4:27, 5:14, 5:18).
  • This is the same language used in the immediate context of Numbers 15 when referring to: 1) sins made “by mistake” (15:22, 15:23, 15:25, 15:26, 15:27, 15:29), and conversely sins made blatantly or defiantly (15:30)—that is knowingly and intentionally, not by mistake.
  • Although not explicitly clear, this same view might also have been supported by the Levites in general. Deuteronomy 17:2-7, 17:12, and 21:1-9 might indicate this.

In other words, the elite priestly clan responsible for the production of the texts that later became the books of Leviticus and Numbers did not tolerate sins made consciously, knowingly, or intentionally. According to these priests, and their god!, these sorts of sins were not open to being atoned for; they were not eligible for sacrificial expiation. The community’s or the individual’s sin was only atoned for by the very sacrifice over which these priests presided only “because it was by mistake.”

Although nothing is explicitly said in relation to inadvertent sins and intentionally committed sins, it does appear that the Levite priests of Deuteronomy endorse the same ideology—namely intentionally committed crimes, sins, i.e., those done in full awareness of the fact that said act had been prohibited by Yahweh, are not to be tolerated. In such cases, the guilty individual is to be stoned to death (e.g., 13:7-12, 17:2-7, 17:12-13, 19:11-13, 22:22-24, 24:16).

Since most of the priestly legislation concerns itself with laws of purity—in matters of diet (Lev 11); women, i.e., menstruation and childbirth (Lev 12); skin diseases and afflictions (Lev 13-14); bodily emissions (Lev 15); sex and nudity (Lev 18, 20); miscellaneous matters (Lev 19); and issues concerning the Aaronid priesthood (Lev 21-22)—a sin made by mistake or unknowingly would amount to unknowingly or mistakenly coming into contact with impurity!

Conversely, the narrative which follows the verses above (Num 15:32-41) exemplifies a sin knowingly, willfully, or blatantly committed in the most trivial of manners—the person collecting wood on the Sabbath, who thereby intentionally disobeys Yahweh’s prohibition not to do any work on the Sabbath (Ex 31:12-17). This person shall bear his crime with no means of atonement.

And Yahweh said to Moses: “The man shall be put to death! All the congregation [625,550 men!] is to batter him with stones outside the camp.” (Num 15:35)

The elite priestly Aaronid guild that wrote the scroll that later became the book of Leviticus and about 75% of Numbers had very inflexible and stringent beliefs about the role of sacrifice, particularly as the sole vehicle that was able, through the blood of the sacrificial animal thrown upon Yahweh’s altar (#137), to atone or expiate sin (Lev 17:11). Indeed. as many scholars have noted, there is no role for, no talk of, nor any use of the words “mercy,” “grace,” or “repentance” in this priestly corpus of literature!1 Sin, usually identified as coming into contact with an impure object, person, etc, or doing that which was deemed impure by this priestly clan, sanctified by presenting it as the commandments of Yahweh, was only atoned through sacrifice. Period. There were no exceptions.

This inflexible stance can in general be understood by knowing something about ancient priestly clans, and the role of sacrifice and blood in ancient cultures in general. Only blood had the power to expiate sin. This “fact” or “truth”—a word which many of my Christian readers nonchalantly throw around with little to no knowledge of what this means vis-à-vis our biblical writers and how they perceived their worlds—was furthermore presented by this priestly guild through the mouth of Yahweh. In other words, the worldview of the priests and how the ancients perceived the role of sacrifice and blood in general was legitimated by placing them on Yahweh’s lips.

But there’s more here. This elite Aaronid priestly guild went even further than this in having Yahweh legitimate their worldview. For Yahweh also legitimated and sanctified another one of their core tenets—namely that only crimes and sins committed inadvertently, by mistake, could be atoned for via the blood of a sacrifice. In other words, all intentional and consciously committed sins—that is knowingly doing something that Yahweh has prohibited (remember Yahweh is here a mouthpiece for the Aaronid priests)—are ineligible for atonement. That individual, as our priestly writer loves to remind us frequently “must bear his crime.” In Numbers 15:30-31, where this is expressed, the text immediately follows with an example of someone knowingly committing a sin, that is knowingly disregarding one of Yahweh’s commandments or prohibitions. It is the example of someone collecting wood on the Sabbath. This man must bear his sin; for he has knowingly and intentionally blasphemed Yahweh by profaning a day which Yahweh himself created and named holy and sacred (Gen 2:3)—again, according to the priests who penned these ancient texts. It is “Yahweh” who thus commands that this individual be put to death!

What most people miss, ignore, or are ignorant of, when speaking about the Sabbath is that for our priestly writer it was deemed as inherently part of the cosmos, in essence a holy part, that God himself created as holy when he created the world (Gen 2:3; see #1). In other words, we modern folk, heirs of science and reason, look at the world in different terms than these ancient biblical priests and their god did! We speak of natural laws that govern the universe and the bodies in it. The Aaronid priests, and priests of the ancient world in general, did not see the world in post-Newtonian categories. They saw the world as intrinsically made up of a different set of categories: the pure and the impure—categories that were woven into the very fabric of the cosmos itself!

In fact, these ancient priests perceived and believed as “truth”—here’s that word again, a “truth” that no Christian… err, let me pick on another group for a bit, that no so-called modern-day Creationist would believe—this about their world, namely that it was composed of sacred and profane time and space. For our priestly writer claims, through the mouthpiece of God almighty at the beginning of creation, that the creator deity himself created 1 day out of 7 that was holy, pure, and sacred. This was the unalterable, inflexible, inherit law, “truth,” of the universe—created as an inherent part of the cosmos by God himself at creation, at least according to this elite priestly guild—that our Saturday is sacred, consecrated, holy time! It is embedded in the fabric of creation itself, by God! It was as intricately a part of the cosmos as the law of gravity is for us post-Newtonians!

So let’s put this in context. For the priestly writer and his god, doing work on the Sabbath was a double blasphemy! Not only did the individual just blaspheme that which God created and ordained as holy and sacred by doing a profane act on that day, but he also profaned God himself, who declared and created this day in its essential nature, as a law inherently woven into the creation of the cosmos, as holy. This is why the priestly writers and their Yahweh were inflexible towards individuals who did profane works on the Sabbath—a day created in its essence as holy and sacred. For such a blatant and defiant act of profaning that which God created as sacred, all such individuals were to be stoned to death, period!

Let the Creationists, who ignorantly, hypocritically, and arrogantly, think they are upholding the Bible’s teachings, and who ignorantly and hypocritically think they actually believe in the same things that the authors who penned Genesis 1:1-2:3 believed, heed their folly and be stoned to death, per Yahweh’s commandment! For every Creationist, and every modern individual living in the modern world for that matter, profanes on a weekly bases “God’s” holy day. In short, we simply do not share these same beliefs; we do not see categories of pure and impure, sacred and profane as inextricably and essentially part of the cosmos, as the ancient priests who penned these texts did! This is called being honest to these ancient texts, their beliefs, and their authors.

OK, now that that’s out of my system—but there is much more to be said there; indeed I have even started another book, Why Creationists are Wrong and Disingenuous Toward the Bible: Dispelling Their Hypocrisy and Ignorance—perhaps we can now move on to what the New Testament literature says and does not say about intentional sins or other unforgivable sins.

As we would expect the literature of the New Testament departs in significant ways from this older priestly mindset… or does it?

Paul’s theology of atonement, I would argue, preserves and is founded upon the priestly idea that only the blood of a sacrifice has the power to atone/expiate sin; albeit the great difference is that now that atonement comes through the blood of Jesus’ sacrifice, and apparently extends to the atonement of all sins, for those who believe (Rom 3:22, 4:5, 4:25, etc.). The question then becomes: according to Paul, does Jesus’ sacrifice not atone for intentional or blatantly made sins, or any other sins for that matter?

We might be able to look at some examples, case by case, and determine how Paul’s ideas situate themselves against the background of the Priestly literature’s distinction between atonable sins made through error and unatonable intentionally committed sins that result in the guilt party’s bearing his sin, forever we would assume. (Remember there is no idea of after or otherworldly judgment in the Priestly literature, nor in the mind of Yahweh its god. Sin and punishment were of this world. Such afterlife fantasies were not yet invented! See #6)

Circumcision is one significant covenantal law stipulated in the Priestly literature, through the mouth of Yahweh, as an inviolable, unbreakable, “eternal covenant.” Period. No exceptions (see #28#30, & #31). We would expect then, having Numbers 15:30 and Leviticus 4-5 in mind—written by the same elite priestly guild—that anyone who purposely, willfully, and thus defiantly, disobeyed this covenantal obligation and commandment would, in the words of this priestly guild, “bear his sin.” And indeed, this is exactly what we find. From the lips of Yahweh himself:

“And my covenant will become an eternal covenant in your flesh. And an uncircumcised—a male the flesh of whose foreskin will not be circumcised—that person will be cut off from his people. He has broken my covenant!” (Gen 17:14).

It would seem then—again our task is to understand these ancient texts on their own terms, NOT on the terms of later readers, such as Paul, whom we shall get to in a minute—that any individual who consciously and willingly refuses to obey this commandment—nay, this is more than a commandment; it is an eternal covenantal sign of belonging to this god and this god’s people—is ineligible for atonement. In the words of Numbers 15:30: he has defiantly lifted his hand against Yahweh. And thus such an individual is banished.

Paul, obviously, holds very different views and beliefs concerning circumcision and what the covenantal sign is, and like the Priestly author he authorizes and legitimates his beliefs—indeed his reading of scripture—by also appealing to the divine. Again, no surprise here; this was rhetorically how ancient scribes legitimated their views, beliefs, ideologies. Surprisingly, many modern folk still do the same, and more pathetically, many modern folk are still naively taking in by these sophistic and rhetorical tricks or appeals to divine authority.

Anyway, Paul blatantly disregards the Priestly writer’s Yahweh’s eternal commandment and covenantal obligation concerning circumcision. Paul has his reasons of course; he sees the end approaching and understands—or misunderstands as the case my be—that in these end times, God had decided to do away with Torah obligations and enact as it were a last minute reassurance of salvation through belief in Jesus’ sacrificial act and vindication.

For Paul, circumcision no longer functions as the covenantal sign—again in strong opposition and contradiction to Genesis 17 and the Yahweh of this text! [If my reader is stuck on “How can this be” then he or she doesn’t realize that different cultures create and legitimate different gods or if you prefer different conceptions of God. We ourselves do the same. The Yahweh of the biblical texts also stands in stark opposition to our “God of America.” That is the beliefs, views, worldview, ideologies, and values endorsed through the mouth of Yahweh are not identical to those expressed when moderners invoke “God.”] But rather, belief now is the covenantal sign, and Paul legitimates this by having recourse to scripture (Rom 4; Gal 3-4; cf. Jn 3:16, 5:24, etc.). But modern Christians must be objective and honest to the texts of the Bible. For this is what or how Paul reads these texts, shaped by his own situation, concerns, beliefs, etc. They are not what the texts say! The Priestly writer who wrote Genesis 17 as well as this writer’s Yahweh, would vehemently disagree with Paul’s interpretation. Like all interpretive practices, it is an interpretation that tells us more about the reader and his cultural views, than it does about the texts! We must be fair to these texts, the beliefs of these texts, and the authors that penned them.

Anyway, and in sum, what was deemed an intentional, willfully committed sin—not circumcising oneself—in the Priestly literature and thus ineligible for atonement, is in the hands of Paul…, well no sin at all. So it sort of drops out of this whole discussion. So much for thinking through a problem as I write. Let’s move on to another.

All in all, I think there is 1 example of an intentionally, willfully, and blatantly committed sin that is ineligible for atonement in the Pauline corpus. And this is the individual hinted at in 1 Corinthians 5 who has slept with his father’s wife! Paul condemns the individual to be “delivered over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit might be saved.” The passage has always been a thorny one for commentators. Together with Paul’s use of Deuteronomy’s popular refrain “put away from yourselves the evil person” (17:7, 19:19, 22:21, etc.), which is used in Deuteronomy to expel from the community those who have intentionally committed a sin, it seems that Paul is ordering the individual to be expelled; “he bears his own crime.”

That his flesh is to be destroyed is an interesting comment as well. Paul adheres to strict ethical measures in keeping the body pure, and this largely takes the form of him coming down rather strongly on what is termed “sexual immorality” or simply porneia in the Greek. The reason he does so is because Paul believes in bodily, physical resurrection. One’s body must be ethically flawless or spotless in order to be morally worthy for resurrection at Jesus’ coming (e.g., 1 Thess 2:12, 3:13, 4:1, 4:7, 5:23, etc.). Here, in this example, Paul seems to be saying that this individual—as well as any individual who is sexually immoral—has corrupted his flesh to the point that it merits destruction and is therefore ineligible to be resurrected! But perhaps, Paul muses, his spirit may be saved—however we wish to understand that. So this, as well as other sexually immoral acts—and Paul loves to single out homosexuality, so we’ll have to include that here as well—would qualify as an example of an intentionally and blatantly committed sin that is (or perhaps is) ineligible for atonement, and/or bodily resurrection!

Moving to the Gospel literature on Jesus’ supposed sayings, we do find places that suggest all sins are atonable—with the sole criteria that one is a believer! (Jn 3:16, 5:24).

Yet quite contrary to the theological spouting of many modern Christians and their own beliefs about salvation, the gospel literature of the New Testament—although evidencing contradictions between themselves—does not as a whole support the idea of an all out blanket salvation for all—all believers! In fact, it warns over and over again that this is not the case. Whether those believers, yes believers!, who are ineligible for salvation per this literature fit categorically into unatonable intentional sins is certainly questionable. But let’s take a look at some textual examples.

Most relevant to this entry is Jesus’ remarks in Matthew 12:31 (cf. Mk 3:28) that “every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the spirit will not be forgiven.” It is difficult to say what particular blasphemies against/of the spirit are not eligible for atonement or forgiveness. The text does not clarify. However, contextually speaking this saying comes after a passage where the Pharisees, adopting the perspective advocated in this story, have just blasphemed against the spirit of God by identifying an act of God as that of Satan. That seems to be the point there. Is this then similar or equivalent to Numbers 15:30-31?

But the person who acts defiantly… he blasphemes Yahweh, and that person will be cut off from among his people because he has spurned Yahweh’s word and broke his commandment.

We might say that the particular “crime” committed by the Pharisees might fall under one of these defiant acts, but we should note too that it is not a spurning of any of Yahweh’s commandments. In fact, I would argue it’s upholding them! This post has become too long already, but if we’re going to talk about real substantial theological and scriptural contradictions between the beliefs, views, ideology of the writers of the Torah, legitimated through the mouth piece of Yahweh, and the beliefs, views, ideology of the Gospel writers, legitimated through the mouthpiece of Jesus, then we would have to bring in the theological tenet shared by most all of the authors of the Hebrew Bible, but explicitly expressed in Exodus 4:11:

“Who makes a person dumb or deaf, gives sight or makes blind? Is it not I, Yahweh!”

Yahweh is sovereign. Period. In the Hebrew Bible there is no demon-possessed, no independent Satan figure who makes people blind, deaf, dumb (see #94). It is Yahweh who does this. Period. This is what the theological tenet Yahweh is Sovereign meant to these ancient authors. Of course this whole belief system and worldview are radically done away with in the period that witnessed the production of the New Testament literature. But per the Torah in general, and certainly the Priestly literature in particular where leprosy is also seen as coming from Yahweh, ideas of Satan and demon-possession stand in stark opposition to the view and belief system expressed through Exodus 4:11 above.

If we were to impose the beliefs, views, and worldview of the Yahweh of Exodus 4:11 onto these Gospel passages, then the Pharisees might indeed have a valid point. For Jesus’ retort “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand. If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself” (Matt 12:25-26) becomes ironically self-condemning. Since according to Exodus 4:11 and its Yahweh, the Yahweh of the Priestly literature, and the Yahweh of the Torah in general, it is Yahweh as Sovereign who makes individuals mute, blind, deaf. And if Jesus casts out this Yahweh in the name of his “Father,” then it’s not an issue of Satan casting out Satan, but Yahweh casting out Yahweh! Or to put in in more objective terms from our scholarly vantage point: the Yahweh of the Torah is in stark contradiction to the heavenly Father of the gospel writers! Period. To think that man’s perceptions of his world, of the forces in that world, or how that world works, his beliefs, values, culture, views of God, etc. do not change over millennia is simply pathetically ignorant of and about ourselves and our species. Lastly, just because some readers living centuries after these divergent texts were written with their differing worldviews and beliefs decided to put them together and label this collection “the Book,” we should not think that no changes in human perspectives, values, beliefs, wordlviews, ideologies, etc. didn’t occur. The texts claim otherwise!

But pushing further. It is not that the authors of the texts that became the New Testament no longer believed in the worldview, values, beliefs of peoples, elite priests, and ancient scribes who lived in a vastly different geopolitical world and influenced by vastly different perspective of the world hundreds of years before them, it really has to do with us, and frankly our inability as a culture to be honest to these texts. For we, as a culture, a human species living in a vastly different worldview, no longer believe neither those views expressed in Exodus 4:11 nor those expressed in the Gospels. Deafness, blindness, etc are not the marks of demons, nor the punishments of gods or a god! Our worldview has bacteria, genetics, viruses, DNA, microscopes, particle accelerators, x-rays, magnetic-electro fields—unseen things/forces that would have been accorded to either Yahweh or demonic forces in these older worldviews. And like these older worldviews, their gods were also created to legitimate, uphold, and sanctify these human perceptions of the world.

So, in the worldview of our gospel writers and even the Judaism that preceded them, the view of the world had changed. Now influenced by Greek cosmological ideas, Persian ideas, etc. the Jews of the 2nd-1st centuries BCE understood there to be demonic-forces in the world that worked against Yahweh. Squaring this new idea with the old theology that Yahweh is Sovereign was a challenge that later biblical scribes faced (e.g., Daniel, Job, Ecclesiastes). How do you accord autonomous demonic forces in the world that are antagonist to Yahweh, but still preserve the theology of Yahweh is Sovereign?

By the time the gospel writers wrote, and perhaps even Jesus taught, the idea that god Yahweh made people blind, deaf, and dumb was no longer upheld. Sure, one could engage in an elaborate process of reinterpreting these ancient Old Testament passages to make them conform to and harmonize with the current new worldview, but this is to do disservice to the texts, their authors, and the cultures that produced them. The better trajectory is to be honest to these ancient texts and their beliefs, and to understand how and why these authors believed what they did and realize that they expressed those beliefs through the mouthpiece of their cultural deity, and that later peoples no longer shared these same beliefs. This is not some elaborate theological sophistry. It is being honest to these texts! The texts tell us this: that views of God, beliefs, worldviews, ideologies changed and clashed with one another, etc.

So too, we create gods, a God to uphold our worldview, values, beliefs, etc. This is basic Understanding the Human Species 101. Maybe I ought to teach a class on that. The task for our species, then, is can we be honest: to ourselves, and to the authors and cultures that wrote this ancient literature? The cards are staking up against us.

There are other sins in the Gospel literature, to get back on focus, that are also not eligible to be forgiven.

“Thus also my heavenly Father will do to you, if each of you does not forgive in your heart his brother” (Matt 18:35)

The saying implies that just as one might not be able to forgive someone else of their sin, then so too God will not be able to forgive that person’s own sin—a hard lesson to swallow!

Again, as in the case of Numbers 15:30 above where the commandment is exemplified through a story—the individual who carries wood on the Sabbath and is stoned to death—so too here. This particular commandment or saying is exemplified by its preceding story. But in the story, what is forgiven is “debt.” Debt is often used as a metaphor for sin in general in the New Testament (e.g., heavenly Father prayer), but is that how we should understand Matt 18:35? In either case, here too is an example of specific sins not eligible for atonement or forgiveness—namely, those which we are unable to forgive our fellow human beings of. Statistically I reckon that would be a lot of unatonable, unforgivable, sins! Whether these are the same sort of sins as Numbers 15:30—well it looks like they wouldn’t have to be. This seems to be an even larger category of unatonable, unforgivable sins!

There are a number of parables in Matthew that also warn, contrary to Paul and the Gospel of John, that belief is not the criterion by which sins are forgiven or salvation granted. This is often voiced in Jesus’ pithy but long ignored warnings that serve as punch lines to the end of many parables:

Difficult is the way which leads to life and there are few who find it (7:14).

Not everyone who says to me “Lord, lord” shall enter the kingdom of heaven (7:21).

It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God (19:24).

For the last will be first, and the first last (20:16).

For many are called, but few are chosen (22:14).

Assuredly I say to you, I do not know you (25:12).

Assuredly I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one the least of these, you did not do it to me. And these will be cast away into everlasting punishment (25:45-46)

The last saying needs to be examined more closely. This is the conclusion to the parable of the Son of Man’s coming judgment, and those here who have been condemned to everlasting punishment, we must assume that their sins/crimes were not forgiven, atonable. What crimes/sins did these individuals commit that were not forgivable? Not feeding the hungry, not clothing the naked, not tending after the poor, homeless, and sick! If we combine this harsh and inflexible soteriology (salvation theology) with Matthew’s other principles, we start to see what exactly Matthew’s Jesus did not forgive as sins—any morally unethical treatment of a fellow human!

Any sin committed against a fellow human, and that specifically includes not coming to their aid, not being a servant to another, is categorically portrayed as unforgivable in the Gospel of Matthew. Specifically, unforgivable, unatonable sins/crimes in Matthew, which in this afterlife soteriolgy lead to eternal condemnation, are:

  • Any individual who does not forgive the sins/trespasses of others, their own sins/trespasses will not be forgiven! (6:14, 18:35)
  • Committing adultery, and perhaps all “sexual immorality” (5:27-32). Again, Matthew’s Jesus does not do away with the Old Testament punishment for adultery, which is death (but see #192); rather he redefines what adultery is—lusting with the eye! The goal for Matthew’s community, as legitimated through the mouthpiece of Jesus, is to be more righteous than Torah-followers! In all of Jesus’ “you have heard it said” sayings the Torah commandment and punishment is not done away with (5:17-18); rather what the crime is becomes more extreme! It is now the thought of said sin that becomes the sin, not its doing! The punishment, as far as this text is concerned, remains the same, and is now therefore extended to the thinking of the sin, and not just the doing of it! This is in fact more harsh than Numbers 15:30, or any Torah stipulation! In the language of Matthew’s Jesus, it demands more righteousness!
  • Every one who does not bear good fruit, that is do good (7:19). Presumably again, we are to understand this as an ethical obligation to fellow humans.
  • Those who do not do “the will of the Father” (7:21-23). This deserves a whole other enter because “will of the Father” as defined by Jesus himself in this gospel is in complete and utter contradiction of doing, say for example, the will of Yahweh as defined by Leviticus. Again, it is humans, human communities, etc. who in legitimating their own ethical systems and beliefs, appeal to divine authority claiming it is the will of God. Certainly there may be parallels to be found between what the Yahweh of the Aaronid priests command and what the Father of Matthew’s Jesus commands. But when Matthew’s Jesus says “Therefore whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets”—sorry, this is not what is advocated by the Yahweh, the Yahwehs, of the Torah and the Prophetic literature. This is rather how the Law and the Prophets were interpreted, viewed, perceived, in the Judaism of Jesus’ and Matthew’s day. Again, such reinterpretive maneuvers tell us more about the views, beliefs, and perceptions of its readers, than those of the actual texts that such later interpretive traditions purport to re-present.
  • It is implied that whoever hears Matthew’s Jesus’ teachings and does not do them will also be unforgiven, not saved (7:26-27). This is perhaps the best similarity to Numbers 15:30—a willful and blatant refusal to obey the commandments. Of course this contradicts John’s Jesus, who—I would argue “John” consciously created to speak against Matthew’s Jesus—merely states that hearing and believing is the criteria by which one is saved, nothing is ever said about doing them (Jn 5:24; cf. 3:16). We will explore this later when we get to NT contradictions.
  • Whoever denies Jesus, that is Matthew’s Jesus (10:33)! This seems to included: those who love father and mother, son and daughter more than Jesus, and those who do not pick up there own cross, i.e., become martyrs.
  • Whoever blasphemes against the Spirit (of God) (12:31). Certainly the individuals in the 2 entries above would qualify.
  • Causing a child who believes in Jesus to sin (18:6).
  • Those whose hand or foot has caused them to sin, and they have not cut it off! (18:8).
  • Those who have committed adultery with their eye and have not plucked it out!! (18:9). Yes, we are to read these literally—if your righteousness does not exceed that of the Torah, you will not be saved is the message here! What do you hold more valuable: your eye or your (eternal) life?
  • Those who do not forgive a fellow man’s debt (18:35). I sure hope my creditors are reading this!
  • Apparently all who are not watchful and ready (25:1-13).
  • And finally, those who do not feed the hungry, give drink to the poor, take in the homeless, clothe the naked, and minister to the sick and imprisoned (25:31-46).

Well fuck me! It looks like no one is getting saved according to the sayings of Matthew’s Jesus. This is worse than the Old Testament! So unlike the Pauline literature, and the Gospel of John, Matthew’s Jesus does not postulate belief as an all encompassing blanket-criterion for being forgiven or saved. But this is a contradiction between New Testament texts that we will revisit later on.

Indeed, it is not belief, nor Paul’s sacrificial atonement theology, but righteousness that is the sole criterion for Jesus’ Matthew, and that righteousness is defined in ultra-human ethical terms. The message is clear: Anyone whose righteousness does not exceed the righteousness stipulated in the Torah will not be saved!

Alas, luckily for modern Christians, other and contradictory Gospels and Jesuses were preserved in the New Testament to temper the Jesus of Matthew. For Christians will cite Paul, cite the Jesus of John, use Paul and the Jesus of John to reinterpret or interpret “away” Matthew’s Jesus with his ridiculous out-dated requirements of righteousness! Why do, when we can now simply believe? Because, hell, who wants to live according to religious teachings whose ethics basically says you have to do one-up on the Torah, be more righteous than Torah commandments! We can simply believe—better yet feign belief—and be saved!

OK, I’ve done enough damage for one entry; it’s time to stop.

Footnotes    

  1. See particularly Friedman’s discussion of each sources unique terminology in the Introduction to his The Bible with Sources Revealed.

2 thoughts on “#244. Can any and all sins be atoned/expiated OR only those sins which were committed inadvertently? (Matt 6:14; Jn 3:16, 5:24; Acts 10:43; Rom 3:22, 4:25; Gal 3:13, etc. vs Deut 21:1-9, Lev 4-5; Num 15:30-31; cf. 1 Cor 5; Matt 6:15, 12:31, 18:35, etc.)

  1. Dr. DiMattei

    Thank you for this interesting article.

    I would be interested in knowing more about the intent of the author of the Gospel according to Matthew.
    Could you maybe elaborate on the cultural or historical context which drove the author to set such unachievable expectations for salvation (it seems unrealistic for anyone to not commit at least once one of the unatonable sins listed in Matthew)?
    If his goal was to discourage any willingful believer, then it would be mission accomplished, but why would he set himself such a goal?

    1. Arthur, thanks for your thoughtful comment. Personally I rather like this post, especially the analysis of Matthew, or the criteria by which Jesus’ Matthew envisioned salvation. As you rightly note—it’s near impossible to uphold.

      I love teaching the gospel of Matthew to my Christian students in my New Testament class because it makes them think, heavy-heartedly, about these same questions. Most of my students initially respond to Matthew’s near-impossible ethical requirements as “what Christians should strive for” not what is required. But my close readers soon realize that this modernized theological interpretation is not supported by the text at all. Thus, faced with what the text clearly and adamantly states, we’re forced then to grapple with it on its own terms—and not those of Paul or John where the sole criterion of salvation is defined by belief.

      Given this, I then often have my students try to imagine what historical context or circumstances might have produced such a strict ethical code? In what world or worldview might Jesus’ Matthew’s ethics be properly understood?

      There is an answer to these questions, and that is understanding the eschatological background here. The idea that specific Jewish communities were living in “the end times” was prevalent throughout the Palestinian landscape from roughly the time that Daniel was written (circa 165 BCE) to the failed bar Kochba revolt of the 2nd century CE. The Qumran community, to take one example, not only saw themselves as living in the end times, but they understood their own sectarianism as part of the end times plan—that is that God had chosen them as the remnant to be saved. Scholars have noted that this same type of eschatological worldview permeated Paul’s view of his own community—in Paul’s word’s “those in Christ.” Indeed Paul understood or imagined that he himself would be alive at the eschaton when Jesus would reappear (1 Thess. 4:14-15, 17) and “those in Christ” would be saved from death. We should readily note that Paul’s criterion for salvation—namely belief—is vastly different from and in many ways contradictory to Matthew’s criteria, or those of his Jesus.

      For Jesus’ Matthew the ethical responsibility was closely knit to ethical action, or non-action as the case may be—not belief.

      –Whoever hears Jesus’ teachings and does not do them will also be unforgiven, not saved (7:26-27)
      –Those who do not do “the will of the Father” (7:21-23)
      –Those who do not feed the hungry, give drink to the poor, take in the homeless, clothe the naked, and minister to the sick and imprisoned (25:31-46)
      –Those who do not produce good deeds (7:19)

      No where is belief mentioned as one of—let alone the sole—requirement, and we might rightly acknowledge that Matthew is working against other less Jewish forms of Christianity (say Paul’s gentile-based type) that have defined salvation in terms of belief (this debate is also represented in James). So the social background within which this gospel was written was one where Matthew—in all respects a Jewish believer—felt it necessary to redefine the ethical responsibilities of his sect and perhaps of the Christian movement at large. His key ethical/salvational criteria are summed up in: “For I say to you, that unless your righteousness excels beyond that of the scribes and Pharisees you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven!”

      Modern critics and Christians alike have long understood Pauline Christianity as teaching an abrogation of Torah law, but here Jesus’ Matthew seems to take the complete opposite view—an intensification of Torah law, and particularly the righteousness of the law, as I pointed out in the post above.

      Thus Matthew’s Jesus’ ethical requirements might be understood as a sort of bucket list. And this makes good sense in view of the eschatological climate here. Again, I often ask my Christian students what would they do, ethically, if they believed whole-heartedly that God was coming to earth tomorrow, next week, next month and was going to judge the world, would that eschatological belief compel them to let others treat them unjustly, to give more of them when asked for assistance, to go out of their way for the poor, hungry, socially oppressed, to not only not sin in deed (the righteousness of Torah law) but neither in thought as well (the righteousness of Matthew’s Jesus’ ethics) —in short to not think of worldly affairs, physical and social needs, etc. but to utterly prepare for judgement tomorrow, next week, next month. It seems then that this is the only historical context in which to understand Matthew’s strict ethical requirements.

      Righteousness—a key requirement for salvation for both Paul and Matthew—are thus viewed differently. For Paul it was a gift of God as it were to those who believed in Jesus as the sacrifical “lamb” who expiated sins and thus made all believers righteous. And devoid of an ethical law code, Paul is repeatedly at pains to express to his mostly Greek converts that this righteousness obtained through sacrifice must be kept until Jesus’ coming. For even “those in Christ” would be judged according to this righteousness at Jesus’ coming, which Paul envisioned, like Matthew and his community, to be coming soon.

      For Matthew, however, this righteousness came by excelling upon the Torah, by doing a one-up on the Torah. Thus his “you have heard…. but I say to you” ethics.

      In either case, both of these authors understood that this requirement of complete righteousness was possible given that their eschatological worldviews envisioned them living in the end times.

      This is really the kernel of the 1st century Jewish-Christian movement; it was an eschatological movement. Modern Christianity with its over-reliance on John’s blanket criteria of belief, the affairs of this world, and the all too prominent ego is really another beast. As an historian I would argue that Christianity was a historical phenomenon—an eschatological one—that came and went. What survives in its name is a perversion of the ideas and beliefs represented in this collection of archaic texts. But that’s a story for another time….. cheers.

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