Ehrman Errs on Jesus’ Authority To Forgive

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I ran across this charming nugget from Bart Ehrman yesterday:

When Jesus forgives sins, he never says “I forgive you,” as God might say, but “your sins are forgiven,” which means that God has forgiven the sins. This prerogative for pronouncing sins forgiven was otherwise reserved for Jewish priests in honor of sacrifices that worshipers made at the temple.

Ehrman, Bart D. (2014-03-25). How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee (p. 127). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

That’s right. Jesus merely says “your sins are forgiven.” He never says anything that would indicate that he himself has authority to forgive sins. Not even (one must suppose) in one of the chief passages Ehrman must have had in mind, in the second chapter of Mark. It begins with Mark 2:1-5 where he tells a paralytic, “your sins are forgiven.” I’ll pick it up in the middle of that episode, Mark 2:6-12:

Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic—“I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!”

Nosirree, nothing in there indicates Jesus thought he had authority on earth to forgive sins! Nothing except the part where Jesus counters the scribes’ objections that he couldn’t do what only God can do; where he claims, and demonstrates, he has authority on earth to forgive sins.

Nothing, that is, except the obvious.

If you want to object that the whole account might be legendary—that Jesus might never have said that at all—let me assure you that Ehrman said that, too. It was a separate point he made, immediately after telling us that nothing written about Jesus indicates he claimed the authority to forgive.

It’s one of many points on which Ehrman errs.

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52 Responses to “ Ehrman Errs on Jesus’ Authority To Forgive ”

  1. More drivel from the latest crop of anti-theists. Information for those who don’t want their uninformed assumptions challenged. This from Ehrman, who’s academic writings were so highly criticized that he decided to publish for a friendlier crowd.

  2. If you want to object that the whole account might be legendary—that Jesus might never have said that at all—let me assure you that Ehrman said that, too.

    He spends his time writing/arguing over who is correctly interpreting the details of a story that he thinks is entirely legendary? I don’t get it.

    As a Christian, I obviously I disagree that it’s legend, but Ehrman seems like a person who writes letters to the editor because he thinks people have the false impression that Bigfoot is 5 feet tall rather than 6 feet. Why would he do that?

  3. Are you sure this isn’t out of context? Ehrman over at ehrmanblog.org writes:

    These Gospels do indeed think of Jesus as divine. Being made the very Son of God who can heal, cast out demons, raise the dead, pronounce divine forgiveness, receive worship together suggests that even for these Gospels Jesus was a divine being, not merely a human.

    So yes, now I agree that Jesus is portrayed as a divine being, a God-man, in all the Gospels. But in very different ways, depending on which Gospel you read

  4. Also on that blog page:

    With respect to the forgiveness of sins: when Jesus forgives sins, he never says “I forgive you,” as God might say, but “your sins are forgiven,” which means that God has forgiven your sins. This prerogative for pronouncing sins forgiven was otherwise reserved for Jewish priests in honor of sacrifices worshipers made at the temple. Jesus may be claiming a priestly, not a divine prerogrative.

    For Mark, Jesus was adopted to be God’s son at his baptism. Before that, he was a mere mortal. For Luke, Jesus was conceived by God and so was literally God’s son, from the point of his conception. (In Luke Jesus did not exist *prior* to that conception to the virgin – his conception is when he came into existence). For John, Jesus was a pre-existent divine being – the Word of God who was both with God and was God at the beginning of all things – who became a human. Here he is not born of a virgin and he is not adopted by God at the baptism (neither event is narrated in John – and could not be, given, John’s Christology).

    He still hasn’t recognized what Jesus was saying in verses 6 and following.

    Much of his book is about different ways angels and humans could be called “divine.” I got that right, in context, I’m quite sure.

    As the scribes there in Mark 2 knew, Jesus was claiming to do what only God himself could do; and when Jesus faced them on it, he didn’t back down from it one inch. Quite the opposite. Ehrman is the one who didn’t get things right in context, it appears to me.

  5. SteveK, Ehrman doesn’t think the story of Jesus is entirely legendary. He grants significant portions of it as being genuine. Just not all of it, and particularly not the parts that point toward God.

  6. Tom,

    The paragraph in question represents how Ehrman would “typically respond” to objections that Jesus’ divinity is implied in other ways (“such as forgiving people’s sins”) prior to changing his mind and “yield[ing]” to the view that the “Gospels really do think of Jesus as divine”.

    The proper context for that paragraph is that Ehrman will not be using it ever again as an argument against Jesus’ divinity in the Gospel of Mark.

  7. Actually, no, DJC; or have you read the book? I have a 925-word excerpt I could paste in here if you’d like.

    What he’s saying had changed in his interpretation is this. Whereas once he thought the Synoptic gospels said nothing whatsoever about Jesus being divine or deity, now he thinks they mean what I quoted above, in the paragraph beginning, “For Mark….” That paragraph has no effect on his mistaken view of Mark 2, except to highlight his continuing (false) belief that Jesus was not presuming he could exercise authority to forgive sins on earth.

    He definitely did not say he would never again argue against the divinity of Jesus in Mark. His view that Jesus was “adopted as the Son of God at his baptism,” according to Mark, is a direct denial that Jesus was presented as God in that book.

    I think a 925-word excerpt might run afoul of Fair Use limitations for copyright. I’ll cut it down some if you still don’t believe me.

  8. Further context, from Ehrman’s linked blog post:

    Being made the very Son of God who can heal, cast out demons, raise the dead, pronounce divine forgiveness, receive worship together suggests that even for these Gospels Jesus was a divine being, not merely a human.

    “A divine being,” for Ehrman, could mean anything from a special human to a very powerful angel. It does not (in this context) mean God. No one who understands Christian theism would call God “a divine being,” and in fact Ehrman didn’t make that mistake.

  9. Tom,

    He definitely did not say he would never again argue against the divinity of Jesus in Mark.

    The paragraph that you quoted initially is not an argument Ehrman will use any more because he now believes that Jesus is probably claiming a divine prerogative in Mark.

    Ehrman’s view before “How Jesus Became God”: Jesus probably claiming a priestly, not a divine prerogative to forgive sins.

    Ehrman’s view expressed in “How Jesus Became God”: Jesus probably claiming a divine, not a priestly prerogative to forgive sins.

    His view that Jesus was “adopted as the Son of God at his baptism,” according to Mark, is a direct denial that Jesus was presented as God in that book.

    The paragraph is strictly limited to questions of Jesus’ divinity, not whether Jesus is identical with God.

  10. Wrong again. You say,

    Ehrman’s view expressed in “How Jesus Became God”: Jesus probably claiming a divine, not a priestly prerogative to forgive sins.

    This is what he wrote in How Jesus Became God (only about 500 words). The emphasis is mine.

    There are two points to stress about such things. The first is that all of them are compatible with human, not just divine, authority. In the Hebrew Bible the prophets Elijah and Elisha did fantastic miracles— including healing the sick and raising the dead—through the power of God, and in the New Testament so did the Apostles Peter and Paul; but that did not make any of them divine. When Jesus forgives sins, he never says “I forgive you,” as God might say, but “your sins are forgiven,” which means that God has forgiven the sins. This prerogative for pronouncing sins forgiven was otherwise reserved for Jewish priests in honor of sacrifices that worshipers made at the temple. Jesus may be claiming a priestly prerogative, but not a divine one. And kings were worshiped— even in the Bible (Matt. 18 :26)— by veneration and obeisance, just as God was. Here, Jesus may be accepting the worship due to him as the future king. None of these things is, in and of itself, a clear indication that Jesus is divine.

    But even more important, these activities may not even go back to the historical Jesus. Instead, they may be traditions assigned to Jesus by later storytellers in order to heighten his eminence and significance. Recall one of the main points of this chapter: many traditions in the Gospels do not derive from the life of the historical Jesus but represent embellishments made by storytellers who were trying to convert people by convincing them of Jesus’s superiority and to instruct those who were converted. These traditions of Jesus’s eminence cannot pass the criterion of dissimilarity and are very likely later pious expansions of the stories told about him—told by people who, after his resurrection, did come to understand that he was, in some sense, divine.

    What we can know with relative certainty about Jesus is that his public ministry and proclamation were not focused on his divinity; in fact , they were not about his divinity at all. They were about God. And about the kingdom that God was going to bring. And about the Son of Man who was soon to bring judgment upon the earth. When this happened the wicked would be destroyed and the righteous would be brought into the kingdom— a kingdom in which there would be no more pain, misery, or suffering. The twelve disciples of Jesus would be rulers of this future kingdom, and Jesus would rule over them. Jesus did not declare himself to be God. He believed and taught that he was the future king of the coming kingdom of God, the messiah of God yet to be revealed. This was the message he delivered to his disciples, and in the end, it was the message that got him crucified. It was only afterward, once the disciples believed that their crucified master had been raised from the dead, that they began to think that he must, in some sense, be God.

    Funny thing: the part I emphasized was in his blog post, too. Couple all this with the clarifications I wrote in #8 and #9, and the end of it all is that Ehrman still doesn’t think that Mark 2 constitutes any kind of an argument for the actual deity of Christ. “Divinity,” yes, deity, no.

    I did not misconstrue Ehrman here. I did not take him out of context.

    But just to put this to rest, let me re-quote you first, and then Ehrman again:

    You:

    Ehrman’s view expressed in “How Jesus Became God”: Jesus probably claiming a divine, not a priestly prerogative to forgive sins.

    Ehrman, in How Jesus Became God:

    Jesus may be claiming a priestly prerogative, but not a divine one.

    Clear enough?

    Now, let’s go back to the OP, please. Ehrman’s point about Jesus not claiming authority on earth to forgive sins is just wrong.

  11. If that doesn’t serve to put it to rest, I’m going to ask you one further thing: if you want to continue to suggest that I’m taking Ehrman out of context in his book, please read the book and then tell me about it.

  12. But Tom has Ehrman not inoculated himself againt criticism by stating that that there is some meaning behind the texts and we have to read past what is in plain sight? If he really believes there are unintended clues to a decidedly more prosaic story about an ordinary human mistaken for the divine by his credulous followers then it might explain why he promotes this curious understanding.

  13. If he really believes there are unintended clues to a decidedly more prosaic story about an ordinary human mistaken for the divine by his credulous followers then it might explain why he promotes this curious understanding.

    The problem with this, I think, is that Christ’s claims of his own divinity are so numerous that there just isn’t a plausible way to say that those are trumped by some unintended clues. He can’t even support a fairly narrow claim about the forgiveness of sins much less the broader claim that Christ didn’t claim his own divinity.

  14. What Ehrman does in terms of finding “messages” in the text is a sophisticated process as befits a tenured philosophy of history. It’s not all bad. The problem is in his anti-supernaturalist assumptions.

    That assumption undergirds the conclusions he draws from each step of the following process. He won’t view either the text or the canon of Scripture as being God’s authoritative word, so he finds other ways of treating it.

    He runs each “pericope” or episode of the Gospels through a historian’s filter, asking if there is multiple attestation, dissimilarity from what the author might have been expected to say if he had made it up, external corroboration, plausibility in terms of contemporary culture, etc. He accepts everything that succeeds in passing through that filter, including, for example, some of the disciples’ belief that they had seen the risen Jesus.

    So he does allow that some of what’s in the Gospels can be taken as true reportage. He says that as a historian, it’s impossible to say whether the resurrection actually happened, since if it did, it would have been a one-time event with no analogy in present experience, and historians just don’t draw definitive conclusions about those sorts of things. (I’ve simplified that for brevity, but it’s reasonably close, I think.) The same goes for most if not all of the miracles.

    On top of all that he overlays another anti-supernaturalist filter, by which he must discredit or explain away events like the disciples’ experience of the risen Jesus. He takes it that they were visions, hallucinations, or some such thing.

    Portions of Scripture that fail any of the above tests, he regards as later legendary embellishments or accretions by people who didn’t know Jesus. (Actually he regards it all as having been put to paper by people who didn’t know Jesus, but he takes it that some of their source material was accurate.)

    Finally, he examines each of the four Gospels independently and finds that, taken separately, they teach different things. Thus he concludes that in Mark, Jesus is not “the Son of God” until his baptism, whereas the later Gospels (esp. John) make his deity more and more a part of his essential nature. So he thinks the answer to “How Jesus Became God” is that there was a gradual process beginning with Mark, gradually becoming more apparent through the later Gospels, and coming to full fruition in the later Church councils–the ones that “won,” of course.

  15. One thing that strikes me as odd about what Dr. Erhman says, this specifically

    When Jesus forgives sins, he never says “I forgive you,” as God might say, but “your sins are forgiven,” which means that God has forgiven the sins. This prerogative for pronouncing sins forgiven was otherwise reserved for Jewish priests in honor of sacrifices that worshipers made at the temple

    emphasis mine.

    If Jesus was merely assuming the role of priest, then where in all of the accounts of Jesus declaring that a person’s sins are forgiven are the required sacrifice(s) on the part of the person(s) being forgiven?

  16. Tom,

    Okay, I see where the problem is. First, let me say I’m wrong to imply your quote is out of context of Ehrman’s “How Jesus Became God”. The context seems to be correct as far as I can tell. Sorry for the mistake.

    However, Ehrman’s view seems to have changed since the writing of the book, as described in the blogpost I referenced at ehrmanblog.org. He writes:

    This last one is a big one – for me, at least. And it’s not one that I develop at length in the book in any one place, since it covers a span of material.

    Ehrman’s view changed and he didn’t develop it at length in the book “How Jesus Became God” but apparently did so in the blog post. That is what I missed.

    According to the blog post (not the book “How Jesus Became God”), I believe I correctly understand Ehrman to be saying he will no longer defend the claim that Jesus was probably claiming a priestly, not a divine prerogative to forgive sins in Mark. Instead he will now argue that Jesus was probably claiming a divine, not a priestly prerogative to forgive sins. That is the only way I can interpret his final claim that Jesus pronounced divine forgiveness as a divine being:

    … I finally yielded. … Being made the very Son of God who can heal, cast out demons, raise the dead, pronounce divine forgiveness, receive worship together suggests that even for these Gospels Jesus was a divine being, not merely a human.

    To state that Jesus is a divine being pronouncing divine forgiveness can not be compatible with his old claim that Jesus was claiming a priestly, not a divine prerogative to forgive sins. Ehrman’s view has to have shifted.

  17. Erhman’s position on this point has changed (according to the blog post, yes), but his fundamental commitment to metaphysical naturalism and his anti-supernatural agenda does not seem to have changed, and that’s at the root of everything he writes. Tom made that point very clearly in his #15.

  18. Now, I won’t deny that I am committed to Biblical Christian Theism, but like so many, I have come to that position honestly.
    This quote ( from here) sums it up (Louis is a physicist, as is Polkinghorne, as am I )

    By getting rid of the miracle stories in the Bible, Bultmann and his followers hoped to make the Christian
    story more palatable to modern man. Although I recognize the emotional weight of this sentiment, I am
    not convinced that it is an intellectually coherent approach, mainly for reasons of self-consistency. If the
    New Testament itself asserts, both directly and indirectly, that the historicity of the resurrection is
    foundational to Christianity, then it would seem to stand or fall by that fact. As a physicist, I have a natural
    penchant for wanting to see how an idea relates to more basic principles. And to analyze the validity of a
    quote like the one above, we must take a cold hard look at our fundamental presuppositions. In the words
    of John Polkinghorne:
    If we are to understand the nature of reality, we have only two possible starting points: either the
    brute fact of the physical world or the brute fact of a divine will and purpose behind that physical
    world.
    Where does each of those two fundamental starting points take us? When we use them to construct a
    worldview, what kind of sense does it make of experience, morality, truth, beauty, and our place in the
    world? These are not easy questions. There is so much mystery around us. Perhaps the best way to move
    forward would be to borrow Mermin’s tapestry analogy and carefully investigate whether the different
    threads of historical evidence, philosophical consistency, and personal knowledge can be woven together
    into a worldview that is robust. In particular, does our tapestry posses those qualities of coherence and
    (surprising) fruitfulness that characterise the best scientific tapestries?
    If I start from the brute facts of nature, I personally am unable to construct a tapestry that is both rigorous
    and rich enough to make sufficient sense of the world. By contrast, if I assume a divine will and purpose
    behind the world I believe that I can construct a much more compelling tapesty that incorporates all of the
    threads of human existence. Within that purposeful world, the case for Christianity is much more
    persuasive. To use a famous quote from C.S. Lewis:
    I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen-not only because I see it, but because by it,
    I see everything else.

  19. What confuses me about this idea that Ehrman has changed his mind is this. In that blog post he says he came to that conclusion while researching for this book. His conclusion in the book really ought to reflect his position acquired during research. And I think it does, which is to say, I really think I have represented him accurately according to what he wrote in both the book and the blog

    The confusion that keeps coming into play here is his careful distinction between deity and divinity. For me and other Christians,b the issue is deity. Ehrman accepts divinity, add I explained above, and rejects the idea that the gospels speak clearly or consistently of Jesus’s deity. He has not changed his mind on that.

    And back to the original post: he still gets Mark 2 wrong, either way you look at it.

  20. For an equally scholarly treatment of Who Jesus is, from a first rate New Testament scholar who approaches the question from a Biblical Christian Theism worldview, see Jesus according to Scripture: Restoring the Portrait from the Gospels, by Darrell L. Bock ( here). His other books are equally deep and profound and scholarly.

    This one is also very good:
    http://www.amazon.com/Who-Jesus-Linking-Historical-Christ/dp/1439190682/ref=sr_1_5?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1420060061&sr=1-5&keywords=darrell+bock

  21. Victoria,
    I can relate to the quote by Louis, especially this part.

    If I start from the brute facts of nature, I personally am unable to construct a tapestry that is both rigorous
    and rich enough to make sufficient sense of the world. By contrast, if I assume a divine will and purpose
    behind the world I believe that I can construct a much more compelling tapesty that incorporates all of the
    threads of human existence. Within that purposeful world, the case for Christianity is much more
    persuasive. To use a famous quote from C.S. Lewis:
    I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen-not only because I see it, but because by it,
    I see everything else.

  22. Only God can forgive? Not true, according to Jesus: http://trinities.org/blog/archives/4535

    “the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive” – he’s claiming that he’s *been given* authority to forgive, of course, by God. Compare with this passage:
    https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+9:7-9&version=NRSV

    He’s not, in either case, saying “Look what I did; only God could do that, so this shows that I am God.”

    Note that at the end of the Mark passage, the people glorify God for what he’s done through Jesus. This is the norm through Mark – God is someone other than Jesus.

  23. I’m at a relative’s home where I cannot take time to view the video–probably not for a day or so. So this response is only to your written comment.

    First, Ehrman wasn’t talking about Matthew. Second, Ehrman (no matter what you say!!!) missed the second half of this episode!! I cannot imagine how you can continue not to acknowledge that much at least. How could it be more obvious? That much is indisputable, but it never gets admitted here. I find that really quite remarkable. You’re so entrenched in the point you want to make, you can’t even acknowledge the very clear and indisputable one we started with.

    There remains a further part to it, of course: what does it mean that Ehrman missed it, and what does that missed portion actually mean in the original context?

    The fact that Ehrman missed it is at best an indicator of sloppiness on his part. He should at least have addressed the objection that could be raised from the latter half of that passage. Can we agree on that?

    Now, it’s also the case in context that Ehrman was talking about the Gospel of Mark, so his sloppiness arguably extends into distortion. He said Jesus was not claiming anything greater than priestly authority, and without a doubt, in the Marcan version, Jesus was.

    I think that tells us all we need to know about Ehrman: arguably, at least, he got it really quite wrong.

    What should we make of the actual meaning of the passage, though? In the Marcan version there is every indication that Jesus was claiming a prerogative belonging only to God himself. That’s how the scribes understood it there, and when Jesus faced them down on it, he gave them more, not less, reason to think so. Jesus did nothing to correct or disabuse them of that view; quite the opposite, actually. So in the Marcan passage, I see no room to deny that Jesus was claiming to forgive sins by an authority that was God’s alone.

    The crowds glorify God for what he had done through Jesus. Sure! What else would you expect!? Were you counting on their reaction in the moment to explicate Jesus’ identity? They did exactly what any crowd would do, whether Jesus were God in the flesh or not. Since their reaction would certainly have been the same in either case, then their reaction tells us nothing about which one is the case. There’s no information there for us in discerning what was being revealed about Jesus’ identity. You can use their reaction for other interpretive purposes, I’m sure, but not for this one. It’s irrelevant.

    Similarly in the Matthew passage. Note, by the way, that the crowd was wrong, strictly speaking. God had not given this authority “to men”. So is their reaction to be taken as any more informative with respect to Jesus’ deity than what we saw in the Marcan version? It’s an uninformed crowd’s reaction, not a theological explication!

    Now, remember I realize I haven’t viewed your video, so if I’m missing something important there, I’ll just have to acknowledge that provisionally for now, and deal with it tomorrow or Saturday. Until then, though, based on what you’ve written at least, I can’t find much reason to revise my position.

  24. Okay, some quick thoughts concerning John Schoenheit. I found a moment here.

    “This is what we would expect of God’s enemies. We would expect them to diminish the authority that God’s people had.”

    Really? What we really see them doing over and over again is diminishing Jesus’ authority. This statement of Schoenheit’s is true as far as it goes, but it misdirects us away from the more frequent description of what the scribes did.

    A person with the authority of God can forgive sins.

    Really? Only God can forgive sins. He can delegate authority to humans, yes, but not to the extent that we can actually forgive sins. The scribes were right: to think we can forgive sins men and women commit against God is truly blasphemy.

    What authority do we then have? We can pronounce the truth of God’s forgiveness, where God has given us that authority, which is basically in all situations where we know a person has met God’s conditions for forgiveness in Christ. Jesus didn’t say, though, he had authority to pronounce forgiveness; he said he had authority to forgeive.

    “If I’m walking by the Spirit and God gives revelation, we can forgive sins.”

    Same answer: it’s either pronouncing the truth of God’s forgiveness or else it’s a blasphemous attempt to take the place of God in the world.

    I can’t forgive anyone’s sins except for the sins they’ve committed against me. You can’t forgiven any sins except those committed against you. Only God can forgive sins committed against God. To say we can forgive a person’s sins against God is tantamount to saying we are God.

    According to Schoenheit, we ought not trust God’s enemies’ theology. True enough. Jesus’ enemies might have been misguided about some of their theology there. But then Schoenheit says God’s representative “always has” had authority to forgive sins. He talks about the prophets, implying this was true in the OT as well. Where? This is pulling theology out of thin air. The scribes did better than that!

    “If God says you can do it, you can do it.”

    “If we have the Holy Spirit we can walk with this kind of authority.”

    “Receive Holy Spirit”

    “In the authority of God based on the revelation you receive….”

    Schoenheit tags on his talk, “This would have been the perfect time for Jesus to say [he was God].” Schoenheit doesn’t understand how Jesus reserved his revelation for persons who were ready to receive it. (See Matt. 13, for example). Or if that doesn’t make sense, there’s another powerful answer: This would have been the perfect time, unless Jesus wanted to save it for another time.

    Anyway, Jesus didn’t make that claim, says Schoenheit. Then he adds, “What [Jesus] did say was, ‘as God’s representative I can say this or that.'”

    No, actually, Jesus didn’t say that. This again is theology from thin air.

    What then about John 20:21?

    Let’s first bear in mind that very little else that Schoenheit said is supportable. Bear in mind that there is nothing in Scripture that actually gives humans the right to forgive sins against God, unless it is this passage. If this passage gives us that authority, it is the only one. Very seldom should we draw interpretations from one Scripture that run counter to the sense of the rest of the Bible (or to the common-sense fact that no one can forgive sins committed against someone other than himself or herself).

    Now, to that let us add this grammatical analysis from the Expositor’s Bible Commentary:

    23 A similar expression occurs in Jesus’ commission to Peter: “Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Matt 16:19). In both statements the Greek verb of the second clause is a periphrastic future perfect (ἔσται δεδεμένον, estai dedemenon, “will be bound”; ἔσται λελυμένον, estai lelumenon, “will be loosed”), a rare form in koine Greek. Generally it is explained as an alternative for the simple future passive, having lost its original force. Apparently, however, in this instance it may retain the meaning of the future perfect, which implies that its action precedes that of the first verb of each sentence. As in English today, the future perfect was a dying tense that ultimately disappeared from common usage. The appearance of the form is therefore all the more significant. The delegation of power to the disciples to forgive or to retain the guilt of sin thus depends on the previous forgiveness by God. Perhaps this concept underlies Paul’s verdict on the man in the church at Corinth who was guilty of gross immorality and seemed unrepentant (1 Cor 5:1–5). For a discussion of the grammatical problem involved, see J.R. Mantey, “The Mistranslation of the Perfect Tense in John 20:23, Matt 10:19, and Matt 18:18” in JBL 58 (1939): 243–49. Mantey points out that the Greek fathers never quoted this passage in support of absolution. In the Matthean passages the future perfect is translated as a simple future passive, but properly the distinction of completed action should have been retained. The distinction between the periphrastic and the nonperiphrastic use is that in the periphrastic the participles and auxiliary have nothing between them except postpositives: note, e.g., the nonperiphrastic instances in Gen 41:36 (LXX); Exod 12:6 (LXX); Luke 12:52; and the periphrastic instances in Matt 10:22; John 6:31; 16:24; 19:19; Eph 5:5; James 5:15.

    Tenney, M. C. (1981). John. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: John and Acts (Vol. 9, p. 194). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

    Note also the commentary by Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown, on how the apostles understood this passage, and what they did not do with it!

    23. Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them, &c.—In any literal and authoritative sense this power was never exercised by one of the apostles, and plainly was never understood by themselves as possessed by them or conveyed to them. (See on Mt 16:19). The power to intrude upon the relation between men and God cannot have been given by Christ to His ministers in any but a ministerial or declarative sense—as the authorized interpreters of His word, while in the actings of His ministers, the real nature of the power committed to them is seen in the exercise of church discipline.

    Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Vol. 2, p. 169). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

    These two quick quotes, along with the rest of his highly questionable interpretation, seriously undermine Schoenheit’s interpretation. I find nothing of probative value in it.

  25. Finally, before we listen much longer to Arian Christians here, let me draw attention to point 10 here. I’m considerably more open to hearing from outright skeptics than those who claim to be Christian but deny Jesus Christ.

  26. @Tom
    Amen to those responses.
    I was thinking along somewhat similar lines regarding how to understand the what the crowds were saying in Matthew’s parallel account. They simply did not understand who Jesus really is. We can infer that from Matthew 16:13-20.
    The Trinity and the Incarnation are based on the entire New Testament revelation. Together with Jesus’ bodily resurrection, they are fundamental to Christian truth.

  27. Even in 2 Samuel 12:13-14 Nathan the prophet only declares that God has taken away David’s sin after David’s confession and repentance. Nathan did not forgive David – God did!

  28. Hi Tom,

    OK, that’s a lot. First, I agree that Dr. Ehrman is simply wrong that in the gospels Jesus only can pronounce forgiveness. I think he’s in the grip of the old assumption – which you seem to share – that only God can forgive. Anyway, I’m just more interested in the text than in Bart-bashing.

    Second, neither Schoenheit or I “Arians.” We are biblical unitarians. There is literally no connection with 4th c. Arianism, beyond simply the similarity of both being unitarian.

    “In the Marcan version there is every indication that Jesus was claiming a prerogative belonging only to God himself. That’s how the scribes understood it there…”

    Well, look at the whole book. God is someone else, someone other than Jesus, in the whole book, start to finish. http://trinities.org/blog/archives/5620

    I see no reason whatever to think that the author of Mark means to teach that Jesus is divine, or God himself, because he can forgive sins. It is the unbelieving Jews who assert that only God can forgive – this is just part of their refusal to believe in Jesus as Messiah. So, Jesus proves that he had God’s endorsement and empowerment by healing. The reader is to conclude that he also has been authorized to forgive.

    The reading I’m suggesting is very easy to understand. Just as a bank, say, could authorize you to forgive (not pronounce forgiveness, but forgive) a debt, so God has authorized his Messiah to forgive. When one is so authorized, what one does is what the sender does. I’m the bank manager, and I send you to a debtor. “Look, Tom, if he’s truly sorry, and says he wants to pay it back, just tell him Merry Christmas – the debt is forgiven.” Now, if you do that on my behalf, I have thereby forgiven the debt. But it was you who forgave it for me.

    “But only the owner of the debt can forgive a debt!” Well, it can’t be forgiven without his approval. But he can authorize another to forgive.

    Now, you find this idea inconvenient. But let me ask you: could you and I do what I just described, if I owned the debt, and you worked for me? I assume you’ll agree here. So, then why can’t the omnipotent God do this through his human Messiah? We’ll need a reason here – and not just that it doesn’t jibe with your apologetic strategy or theological assumptions.

    It is simply not self-evident that only God can forgive, so if you want to assert that, you will need to argue for it.

    If you want to show that something’s impossible, generally, you derive a contradiction from it. But honestly, I have no idea how one might do that with “God authorizes someone else to forgive.”

    That the Messiah-rejecting Jews thought it, I’m afraid, is a pretty weak reason. Is that all you can offer?

    It is simply not part of common sense that only God can forgive, precisely because of the practice of authorizing others to work on our behalf.

    As to the the rest of the Bible – where do you think the Bible says that God can’t authorize anyone to forgive for him? Do tell..

    I can see how you can resist Mt 16, but not John 20.

    https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John+20%3A21-23&version=NRSV

    Note that Jesus is explicitly making them his (and God’s) agents. And in that context, he empowers them to forgive. (v. 23) This is not hard to understand stuff… unless it conflicts with one’s theological commitments.

    In sum, you’re taking it as obviously true that only God himself can forgive. I’m sorry, but that’s far from obvious. You’ll need to bring reason or scripture to bear on this, my friend.

  29. PS – I guess I understand what you have your rule #10. But “manifestly” is the key word there. I am not saying are arguing anything “manifestly” i.e. obviously false. To the contrary – you’ll note that I’m sticking very close to both common sense and the explicit teachings of the New Testament.

    For the record, I absolutely do not “deny Jesus Christ” in any way. He is my Lord, and has been since I was born again in 1978. I accept his teaching fully and completely. You are welcome to hold me to any of his standards, and to any standard of reason.

  30. @Dale
    How does any conclusion about Jesus’ status as fully God and fully human and the 2nd person of the Trinity follow simply from that passage in John 20?

  31. How is it that the combined doctrines of the Trinity, the Incarnation, and the Deity/Humanity of Jesus (the hypostatic union, I believe is the technical term) are not the inference to the best explanation for all of the Biblical data?

    I am firmly convinced that these fundamental principles bring clarity, cohesion and coherence to the Biblical data (which is what the early Church councils seemed to think as well) and that’s why they are in our orthodox Christian creeds.

  32. Just to clarify my #33: I am convinced that the core orthodox Christian creeds do represent and summarize the inference to the best explanation for the Biblical data.

  33. Greetings again, Dale,

    Regarding #31, it seems a bit disingenuous for you to say, “ou’ll note that I’m sticking very close to both common sense and the explicit teachings of the New Testament.” You know very well that what I note is that you’re not sticking close to the teachings of the New Testament as I understand them (explicitly). You might at least have said, “I am using the NT for my source material,” or something a little more in line with what you could reasonably expect me to “note.”

    I confess I do not know the difference between Arianism and biblical unitarianism, and I’ll accept the correction you’ve made there without need for any dispute.

    Your blog post on whether Mark teaches Jesus is God is not very convincing, I’m afraid. I’ve already addressed point 2 there. Your point 1 touches far too lightly on the idea, “the Son of God. So not God himself.” Surely you’ve heard trinitarians who believe that “Son of God” does not entail, “not the second Person of the Trinity.” Surely you don’t think that quick statement on your part would fall short of being a clear and refutation of that position. Surely you don’t think that affirmation equals argument. Surely you think better of your interlocutors than to think that would be sufficient!

    Your points 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 11, 12, 14, and 16 all commit basically the same error; quite a disappointing one, actually, for a professor of philosophy to make.

    Your point 8 there is either another instance of the same, or else simply irrelevant to the question. I’m not quite sure which in this case.

    Your point 10 is commonly understood by trinitarians to be another of the dozens of occasions, entirely in character with Jesus’ overall pattern, on which he questions a person in order to get that person to think through his own beliefs and habits. Jesus did not deny being good. The whole rest of the NT affirms his goodness. He himself affirms it when he asks the Jews whether they can rightly accuse him of any sin. In other words, there’s nothing persuasive at all about your point 10.

    Your point 13 is easily dispensed with through kenosis theory.

    The end of your point 14 supports trinitarianism.

    Point 15, where Jesus cries out the words of Psalm 22, is well-understood by trinitarians as (first of all) a reminder of the Psalm 22 connection, and (second) a cry to the Father over the pain he bore while bearing our sins on the cross. Of course he died, in his human body and human nature. Surely you’ve read the Chalcedonian Creed. Surely you don’t think you’re the first person to notice there’s an issue there. Surely you don’t think, “So, he’s not God,” refutes all the work trinitarians have put into explaining that. Surely you can’t think the issue is that simple! There’s no argument there! There’s no counter-reasoning there! There’s just unitarian hand-waving, of a rather astonishing character.

    Maybe you have more thorough arguments somewhere else. Maybe you thought that on my blog, and with my readership, all you needed to do was affirm your position without explaining it, and we’d all go, “My goodness! He’s right!” That’s not the case here, though.

    And then there is this in your comment 30 here:

    I see no reason whatever to think that the author of Mark means to teach that Jesus is divine, or God himself, because he can forgive sins. It is the unbelieving Jews who assert that only God can forgive – this is just part of their refusal to believe in Jesus as Messiah. So, Jesus proves that he had God’s endorsement and empowerment by healing. The reader is to conclude that he also has been authorized to forgive.

    You see no reason, you say, even though I gave you one. You don’t address it; you just (apparently) don’t see it, and you simply repeat the affirmation I raised an argument against. Of course your version is “easy to understand.” It’s just wrong, if my argument (which you ignored) is correct.

    There’s no argument there, just affirmation.

    You say I find this idea “inconvenient.” Sheesh. I didn’t say that. I said I find it wrong. You go on,

    Now, you find this idea inconvenient. But let me ask you: could you and I do what I just described, if I owned the debt, and you worked for me? I assume you’ll agree here. So, then why can’t the omnipotent God do this through his human Messiah? We’ll need a reason here – and not just that it doesn’t jibe with your apologetic strategy or theological assumptions.

    If you owned the bank, and you authorized me to forgive debts, then I could forgive debts by your authority. But you have to account for the centuries and volumes of tradition making it clear that no one could do that for God. Could God authorize humans to forgive debts? Sure, if he hadn’t already made it clear that it was his prerogative alone! But in this case, no, not without contradicting himself.

    If you had had decades of experience and written statements making it clear that no one but you could ever forgive bank debts except yourself, you couldn’t authorize me to do that either; at least, not without denying yourself. God doesn’t deny himself. And that, my friend, is the very contradiction that you were unable to derive, but which turns out to be there.

    You ask,

    That the Messiah-rejecting Jews thought it, I’m afraid, is a pretty weak reason. Is that all you can offer?

    Please, Dr. Tuggy, give me a break. No, that’s not all I can offer, and it’s not all I have offered.

    You go on,

    It is simply not part of common sense that only God can forgive, precisely because of the practice of authorizing others to work on our behalf.

    In the Jewish context, if Jesus were trying to say, “I’ve been delegated authority to forgive on God’s behalf,” common sense tells me he would have said so. Otherwise, to say he has authority to forgive would quite clearly to be be speaking blasphemy.

    If you can’t see how I can resist John 20, then fine. I can certainly see it; and I gave rather a stronger argument for my position than, “I can’t see how you can disagree with me.”

    You say, rather condescendingly, “This is not hard to understand stuff… unless it conflicts with one’s theological commitments.”

    No one said it was hard to understand. I don’t think I displayed any difficulty in understanding. I examined your position and listed some reasons to consider it not opaque but wrong. There is a difference.

    I’m disappointed in you, Dr. Tuggy. This is no argument you’re presenting. It’s hard even to find reasons you adopt your position rather than the trinitarian one. Your reasons for your position ignore trinitarian reasoning. Surely you know better than to think that’s good thinking!

  34. Hi Tom,

    OK, there’s a tone of aggravation and contempt coming through loud and clear. No need for that. Just ask questions. I am not being disingenuous or tricky in the slightest. I am choosing to focus narrowly on the subject at hand, not display all my knowledge of patristic theology, etc.

    You’ll note that in my comment and post I’m arguing against the evangelical tradition that Jesus is God himself – that Jesus is a self, a who, and so is God, and that they’re the same one, the same self. This is what I have read you arguing. This is a very common view with evangelical apologists, in my experience. (And it is what I thought, off and on, when I was just going with the tide, as an evangelical – but I wasn’t consistent…)

    Now, I know quite well the ins and outs of trinitarian theorizing. One aspect of it is people thinking it (some formulation of trinitarian theology) is equivalent to “Jesus is God” or “the deity of Christ” – the idea that Jesus is God himself. That fits some Trinity theories but not others. Thus, I leave to one side, until you assert some Trinity theory or other. Ditto with Chalcedon.

    “Surely you’ve heard trinitarians who believe that “Son of God” does not entail, “not the second Person of the Trinity.””

    Well, sure. But since it is obvious that God not his own Son, then pointing out that Jesus is the Son of God shows that he is not God himself. That well refutes the view that Jesus is God himself.

    If you want to switch to a more catholic view, that’s fine. This may not be the place to discuss it though.

    You’re not getting what my argument was. On my reading, there is no apparent contradiction. On yours, there is. Yours has been that Jesus is God himself (because only God himself can forgive sins, and Jesus forgives sins) and yet in Mark, God is someone other than Jesus. That’s a contradiction. Now, there are plenty of old moves to make here, dating to mostly the 4th c. But those theories are, to put it mildly, hard to understand, and they don’t fit the rather feet on the ground, non-theoretical nature of Mark. My view, I suggest, is a better fit. One does better to leave out the catholic speculations, in my view.

    Those traditional moves will also complicate your argument. e.g. Jesus shares in the divine nature. OK, but it’s not going to say in the Bible anywhere that only a Person sharing in the divine nature can forgive. Nor is that self-evident, or seemingly provable from other grounds.

    In any case, you grant that it is easy to understand how God could authorize a human to forgive. Good. But then,

    “Could God authorize humans to forgive debts? Sure, if he hadn’t already made it clear that it was his prerogative alone! But in this case, no, not without contradicting himself.”

    Later you mention centuries of tradition. Tom, do you consider post-biblical tradition authoritative, or only the Bible? I assume the latter. So then, I would like to know where you think God says that he can’t or won’t ever authorize someone else to forgive on his behalf. Or even just something like: Only I can forgive sins.

    I know it’s commonplace of evangelical tradition, but I’m asking you where this is in the Bible.

    Now, about the contradiction you allege. Note, that there’s nothing contradictory about these two statements.

    Only I forgive debts. (spoken at t1)
    Only I or my assigned agent can forgive debts. (spoken at t2)

    A person may change what his policy is. This needn’t amount to “denying himself.” Unless previously, he sworn unconditionally that it’ll always be his policy to retain the right of forgiveness only to himself.

    So you need to show somewhere in the Bible where God says that only he can forgive, and then he needs to imply somehow that this will always be his policy.

    I await your reply.

    But first, have a beer and take a deep breath! 🙂

    God bless,
    Dale

  35. Dale, thanks, for that calming response.

    I’ll forgo the beer, though, thanks.

    Meanwhile, though, I’m still rather astonished at this:

    “Surely you’ve heard trinitarians who believe that “Son of God” does not entail, “not the second Person of the Trinity.””

    Well, sure. But since it is obvious that God not his own Son, then pointing out that Jesus is the Son of God shows that he is not God himself. That well refutes the view that Jesus is God himself.

    No, actually, it doesn’t.

    Since you’re content with bare affirmations such as that one, I’ll remain content with mine; especially since I have made a broader point about it previously.

  36. Regarding forgiveness in the Bible, the precedent is clear. Across dozens of occasions, only God forgives sins committed against God. Only God is ever petitioned for forgiveness of sins committed against God. No priest forgives sins. No prophet forgives sins. No king forgives sins. Where God does not forgive, there is no other recourse.

    Is there some need for God then to make the explicit statement, “The reason that only I forgive sins committed against me is because only I can do so”?

    The OT is not all presented in that kind of philosophical, propositional language, but primarily as story; and the point of the story is quite consistently clear.

    In view of that very consistent record, it seems to me you need to make a case for your view; and your case must differentiate responsibly between being a messenger of God’s forgiveness and being one who has authority to forgive. Up until now that’s been unclear on your part.

    No one doubts that Christians can pronounce God’s forgiveness where God’s forgiveness is clearly offered by God. No one has ever, however, shown anyone in Scripture but Jesus claiming actual authority to forgive sins. I’d really like to see how you can support mere humans’ authority to forgive sins against God.

  37. Here’s something for you to consider while you prepare your response to my previous comment. While I appreciate your cordiality, and I’m fine with the give-and-take of rational discussion over the meaning of Scripture, I categorically disagree with this:

    PS – I guess I understand what you have your rule #10. But “manifestly” is the key word there. I am not saying are arguing anything “manifestly” i.e. obviously false. To the contrary – you’ll note that I’m sticking very close to both common sense and the explicit teachings of the New Testament.

    For the record, I absolutely do not “deny Jesus Christ” in any way. He is my Lord, and has been since I was born again in 1978. I accept his teaching fully and completely. You are welcome to hold me to any of his standards, and to any standard of reason.

    It seems to me you are sticking more closely your bank-debt analogy than to any actual teachings from the New Testament. You have provided no biblical reason to think that humans have authority to forgive sins committed against God, except for the passage from John 20. I rebutted your interpretation there with an expert’s grammatical analysis, and with an unambiguous reminder that no apostle or other follower of Christ in the Bible interpreted that passage in the way you think we must. Your response to that rebuttal was empty.

    You deny Jesus Christ as the second Person of the Trinity. Thus when you say, “He is my Lord,” you have a different person in mind than Jesus Christ, God incarnate. You are playing games with language, in my carefully considered view, using the name of Jesus Christ for some distorted representation of who he is.

    One or the other of us, either you or I, is mentioned in Matthew 7:15. What shall we do about that?

  38. Further:

    “Surely you’ve heard trinitarians who believe that “Son of God” does not entail, “not the second Person of the Trinity.””

    Well, sure. But since it is obvious that God not his own Son, then pointing out that Jesus is the Son of God shows that he is not God himself. That well refutes the view that Jesus is God himself.

    It doesn’t refute the trinitarian position that Jesus is the second Person of the Trinity, so why do you keep repeating that? I honestly don’t understand where it gets you. You’re telling us,

    1. God is not his own Son.
    2. Jesus is the Son of God.
    3. Therefore Jesus is not God.

    That’s fine as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go anywhere close to Trinitarian teaching, whose version of that syllogism would be,

    1a. The First Person of the Trinity is not the Son of the First Person of the Trinity.
    2a. Jesus is the Son of the First Person of the Trinity.
    3a. Therefore Jesus is not the First Person of the Trinity.

    I’m surprised you’re skirting that matter. Is it because you want to avoid bringing in the patristics or what you are rather ambiguously calling “catholic” teaching? Why not just go ahead and explain it, rather than refuting a formulation (which I’ve cast into the first syllogism above) that’s almost absurdly irrelevant to trinitarian beliefs?

    Now, about the contradiction you allege. Note, that there’s nothing contradictory about these two statements.

    Only I forgive debts. (spoken at t1)
    Only I or my assigned agent can forgive debts. (spoken at t2)

    A person may change what his policy is. This needn’t amount to “denying himself.” Unless previously, he sworn unconditionally that it’ll always be his policy to retain the right of forgiveness only to himself.

    So you need to show somewhere in the Bible where God says that only he can forgive, and then he needs to imply somehow that this will always be his policy.

    Granted: it’s not a contradiction for a person to change his policy. Is there, then, any evidence that God changed his policy? The John 20 passage is weak support for your position, if it is support at all; you haven’t given us any reason to think that your interpretation stands against the rebuttal previously made.

    In multiple passages where the apostles could have claimed authority to forgive (if they had thought they had that authority), they were careful not to use language suggesting they were doing so. See Acts 2:38, 5:31, 13:38, Rom. 4:7, Eph. 4:32, Ja 5:15, 1 John 1:9, 1 John 2:12. Where people forgave sins, it was sins committed against them, not against God. See for example Eph. 4:32 again, and 2 Cor 2:5ff, where Paul urges forgiveness be extended to the one who “caused pain … to all of you.”

    So I find nothing compelling about your assertion that God has granted others besides himself authority to forgive sins committed against God; nor do I find any Scriptural reason to think that God has changed his policy. Your only support for the t2 alteration is that God didn’t explicitly say he hadn’t changed his policy. Granted, there is the tiniest bit of logical wiggle room for you there. It exists, but it’s not very impressive–especially since (again) when Jesus corrected the scribes in Mark 2, he didn’t correct them for thinking only God could forgive sins, he corrected them for underestimating who he was.

    His message to the scribes there (what he does and does not say) speaks in the same voice as God’s silence concerning any t2 policy amendment. You have nothing to point to that would indicate God had made that policy shift. Instead we have ample evidence in the NT that no one recognized any such policy shift. It’s really quite odd for you to rest your position (if that’s what you’re doing) on a t2 policy shift that no one spoke of or seems to have noticed!

    Policy shifts are generally accompanied with policy re-statements for the benefit of those affected, after all. Good managers might say they are almost always necessarily so accompanied; and this one in particular would seem to require it, since it would overturn centuries of practice, and void the common-sense understanding that no one can forgive sins committed against another subject besides himself or herself. (“What? That guy slugged you? That’s okay. He’ll be fine. I’m forgiving him.” Really?)

    So there is a pretty strong argument from silence to be derived from the lack of any such statement.

    You’re clearly reading that new policy into the text. May I quote you here? “We’ll need a reason here – and not just that it doesn’t jibe with your apologetic strategy or theological assumptions.”

  39. Tom, just a quick comment on #38 – more tomorrow.

    “Well, sure. But since it is obvious that God is not his own Son, then pointing out that Jesus is the Son of God shows that he is not God himself. That well refutes the view that Jesus is God himself.

    No, actually, it doesn’t.

    Since you’re content with bare affirmations…”

    Tom, here is the argument.

    1. -S(g,g) It is not the case that God is the Son of himself.
    2. S(j,g) Jesus is the Son of God.
    3. -(g=j) (1,2) It is not the case that Jesus and God are numerically one.

    1-3 is a valid argument. Things that differ (one the Son, the other not) must truly be two, not numerically one. And if they’re not numerically one, they’re not the same self.

    So you see, there was an argument there. And it is an argument you should endorse. Indeed, any trinitarian OR unitarian should endorse it as sound.

    You agree with 1 and 2 – yes?

    And you do see how 3 is implied by them? If not, I can go into it some more.

  40. Dale, did you see #41? I do endorse the argument you’ve just stated; I just find it irrelevant to the Trinitarian question, for reasons given in #41. What surprises me is that you’ve repeated it several times now as if it were relevant, when you ought to have known that it isn’t. Can you understand how that would seem surprising to someone like me?

    I agree that I was incorrect with my use of the description, “bare affirmation,” in #38, and I offer my apologies for that. You had an argument for your conclusion there.

  41. Hi Tom,

    Yeah, I was just working my way down from #38. You’re, um… a bit verbose.

    I realize that you’re losing patience, and are about ready to dismiss me as a “wolf.” No – I think it takes more than having a false theory about Jesus to be that… Which of us is a dangerous false teacher? I assume: neither. This an argument between Christians. Let’s not poison the well with such accusations. In any case, I continue the argument.

    “You deny Jesus Christ as the second Person of the Trinity. Thus when you say, “He is my Lord,” you have a different person in mind”

    No, I’m not talking about one being and you another. You and I have different christological theories about one and the same Jesus. Neither of us is changing the subject.

    I”m glad that you concede the soundness of the above argument. This means that you think it is false that only God himself can forgive sins. I take it, though, that you’d still want to get some traditional christological point out of his forgiving sins. I think the point is just that he is truly the Messiah, and truly authorized to both forgive and heal. You will need some argument like this:

    1. Only a being who is ___ can forgive sins.
    2. Jesus forgave sins.
    3. Therefore, Jesus is ___.

    I invite you to fill in the blanks. We can then proceed to examine whether or not there is scriptural support for #1.

    Now about the triviality of proving that Jesus isn’t God himself. In a sense it is trivial, but in a sense not, as many evangelicals, as I explained, often think that. This is shown both by the language in worship and other contexts, and by their apologetic arguments.

    “1a. The First Person of the Trinity is not the Son of the First Person of the Trinity.
    2a. Jesus is the Son of the First Person of the Trinity.
    3a. Therefore Jesus is not the First Person of the Trinity.”

    Yes, Tom, I understand that any trinitarian must say that Father and Son are different divine persons. It follows, of course, that they are different beings. This is often unrecognized, and sometimes it is outright denied (by relative identity theorists).

    The term “catholic” here just means creedally orthodox – the traditions that stem from and consider authoritative the 4th and 5th c. creeds. This applies to some, but not to all Protestants. I assume it applies to you, though you make take the view that the creed are authoritative only insofar as they truly summarize biblical teaching. I’m not catholic, because I they deviated significantly from the NT in that era.

    Let’s focus here – deep into the comments of a blog post, we’re not going to settle the matter about Christians having authority to forgive. Let us instead focus on the case of Jesus – the subject of the original post.

    “void the common-sense understanding that no one can forgive sins committed against another subject besides himself or herself. (“What? That guy slugged you? That’s okay. He’ll be fine. I’m forgiving him.” Really?)”

    Tom, obviously a necessary condition is that the offended party has actually authorized the other person as his agent to forgive. Without that authorization, one can’t do that.

    About policy shifts – in the NT they are many and (to those people then) shocking. Think about it – as a converted Jew, you could now disregard all the old purity laws, holidays – shocking stuff! But again, let’s focus on Jesus.

    You seem to say at one point that I’m relying too much on the analogy to debt forgiveness. But the point of that is only to open our mind to the possibility that Jesus can forgive not because he’s the offended party, God himself, but rather because he’s a very special person – God’s Christ – who has been so authorized. That is my main point.

    Revisit the passage with fresh eyes:

    “Why do you question these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic—“I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” ”

    Who can forgive sins but God alone? Your interpretation is: I can too, because I am _____. This is a big improvement, in my view, over the reading: I can, because I’m God himself. My interpretation is: I can too, because I’m the Messiah, and have been so authorized.

    In favor of my reading, (1) it involves no bold metaphysical thesis, arguably not found in Mark, namely _____, and (2) he uses a Messianic title for himself here – “Son of Man”. Also, (3) note the “on earth” – i.e. on my mission here and now. This qualification would be pointless if his authority to forgive were based on something about his metaphysical essence. But it makes sense, if he’s saying that as part of his ministry as Messiah, here and now, he’s been given this authority.

    Now, I think he passed this authority on to the apostles, and you disagree. Of course, you have to hold that, if indeed the authority derives from ___. I think that’s probably why some commenters are so desperate to find a reading of e.g. John 20 that doesn’t have people (who aren’t ___) authorized to forgive.

    So, let’s go from there. Please fill out the above argument for us but saying just what you think ____ is.

    And please don’t accuse me of being cagey. I’m painfully aware of the many different things a trinitarian might give for ____. That’s why I’m asking you, and not assuming.

    God bless,
    Dale

  42. Dale,

    “Different Christological theories” means when you speak of Jesus Christ you are speaking of someone other than I’m speaking of. In spite of what you say, you are speaking of one being, and I of another.

    Indeed, when you speak of Christianity, you have a different sense of it in mind than I have. When I speak of Christianity, I speak (among other things, yet centrally) of the belief that Jesus Christ is the second Person of the Trinity. Now, if that’s an essential belief of Christianity, as a strong majority of trinitarians think it is, then this is not “an argument between Christians.” You reject a central belief of Christianity, as I understand it. That means (by my understanding) your belief is not Christian.

    This is not about poisoning the well. This is about being careful with terminology. Now, if your view of Christ is correct, then I suppose your view that you and I are both Christians could also be correct. But let’s not define our terms based on the assumption that your view of Christ (and Christianity) is right and mine is wrong. That would be a worse mistake than poisoning the well–especially since if I poisoned the well as you say, I did so equally with both of us.

    I believe this is a dispute between a Christian and a non-Christian belief. Apparently you see it otherwise. (That in itself is a point of disagreement, though hardly the main one on the table.) Let’s be frank about what we disagree over, okay? And please don’t place upon me the expectation that I should agree that this is a dispute among Christians. Thank you.

    Regarding your fill-in-the-blank:

    Perhaps my verbosity led you to miss an important, and oft-repeated, set of words. You say, “This means that you think it is false that only God himself can forgive sins.” Sure. I do not think only God can forgive sins. At least five times in my comments I specified that only God can forgive sins “committed against God.” Specifically, I wrote,

    I can’t forgive anyone’s sins except for the sins they’ve committed against me. You can’t forgiven any sins except those committed against you. Only God can forgive sins committed against God. To say we can forgive a person’s sins against God is tantamount to saying we are God.

    From there I think you can determine how I would fill in your blank. I wouldn’t; at least, not in the form you presented it. It would be false and misleading. You put it this way:

    1. Only a being who is ___ can forgive sins.

    I would put it:

    Only the one who is sinned against can forgive that sin.

    Bear in mind that if I sin against you, I sin against God, too, at the same time. You can forgive the sin I committed against you, but not the sin I committed against God.

    Going on:

    I understand that any trinitarian must say that Father and Son are different divine persons. It follows, of course, that they are different beings. This is often unrecognized, and sometimes it is outright denied (by relative
    identity theorists).

    No, actually, it doesn’t. It follows either that they are different beings, and orthodox trinitarian formulations are incorrect; or that orthodox trinitarian formulations of substance and person are correct, and they are one in being while three in person.

    About policy shifts in the NT: they are frequent, yes. They are shocking, yes. They are also communicated as policy shifts, and the parties respond to them as policy shifts. That last pair of conditions is unmet in the case of your alleged shift.

    This part confuses me:

    Who can forgive sins but God alone? Your interpretation is: I can too, because I am _____. This is a big improvement, in my view, over the
    reading: I can, because I’m God himself. My interpretation is: I can too, because I’m the Messiah, and have been so authorized.

    No, that’s not my interpretation, if I”m reading this paragraph correctly. See above. Your intent is a bit unclear to me, however, because of the shifting pronouns.

    Anyway, I understand what your interpretation there is. It depends on the policy shift you say was taking place. I see no evidence of such a policy shift, so I see no reason to give credence to your interpretation.

    Your reasons for accepting that position start with “no bold metaphysical shift.” That is, you are fitting it into your theology/metaphysics. You support that with the idea that Mark doesn’t present Jesus as God. That seems rather question-begging, when the issue is whether this passage indicates that Jesus is God. Is Jesus’ deity found elsewhere in Mark? Perhaps: see Komoszewski and Bowman on that. But we are dealing with this passage here now.

    Jesus use of the Messianic “Son of Man” has no necessary connection, as far as I can see, to your argument.

    Your point 3 seems weak. The meaning doesn’t change materially if “on earth” is removed. The point is (at least arguably), there is one now on earth who has the authority to forgive sins.

    Your description, “commenters are so desperate,” not only fails to address the reasoning that’s been offered to you on that point; it’s also poisoning the well.

  43. Tom, you just granted that an argument is sound, the conclusion of which is that Jesus and God are two.

    Now, you seem to be taking that back. You again insist that only the one sinned against can forgive a sin, and then embrace the conclusion that Jesus is the same one, the same self who was sinned against. Which is to say that Jesus is God himself.

    The only way this position can come out coherent (self-consistent) is if you understand the Trinity along the lines of relative identity.

    On that, you can see: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/trinity/#RelIde
    and also
    http://trinities.org/blog/archives/6989

    It should worry you, I think, that most Christian philosophers, indeed, nearly all evangelical philosophers reject this strategy.

    Back to my comment above, here is the incoherence I allege in your views:

    1. Jesus and God are the same self. (your claim)
    2. For any x and y to be the same F, three things must be true: x is an F, x is an F, and x=y. (self-evident, according to me, and a majority of philosophers)
    3. Jesus and God are not identical. (your claim)

    From any two of these, it follows that the remaining one is false. Go ahead – try all the combos out, in your mind or on paper.

    Relative identity trinitarians reject 2.

    Because a majority of Christian philosophers think that is too high a price, they go for other solutions. This is nearly always (Leftow is the exception) denying 1. Oddly enough, both social trinitarians and unitarians like me agree in denying 1.

    About the you’re not a Christian rhetoric – I do have a minimalistic view of what it takes to be a Christian, based on the explicit statements of the NT. On that, see episodes 52-4 here: http://trinities.org/blog/?s=Reasonableness I encourage you to hear out Locke’s case, and search the scriptures to see if he’s right.

    Your view is more traditionally catholic, like that of Locke’s bitter Calvinist enemy Edwards. (ep 54) Yes, I completely understand that this is a common evangelical view, that “the deity of Christ” is a truly essential belief. I used to hold it – both the theory, and the claim that the theory is essential. But now I’m convinced that both are yet further parts of catholic tradition which are actually not taught in the NT.

    People can disagree about the essential characteristics of something, yet be talking about the same thing. Many theologians wholly eschew a kenosis approach to the incarnation, for instance. Those kenosis theorists (e.g.Stephen T. Davis, Stephen Evans) deny that divinty implies, e.g. omniscience, while the others strong/y affirm that. Kenosis theorists hold that Jesus, during his ministry, was not omniscient. But neither side shrieks that the other believes in the wrong Jesus, another Jesus, etc.

    Is it outrageous to compare catholic tradition to the Bible and to reluctantly reject the former when one is convinced that it conflicts with the latter? If you’re a Protestant, you should not have that attitude. If you agree that’s a reasonable procedure – then now you understand what biblical unitarians are up to. We just think more Reformation needs to happen. e.g. http://21stcr.org/

    God bless,
    Dale

  44. Dale,

    I’ll accept your correction. I am not saying that Jesus can forgive sins because Jesus is the identical self that is sinned against. Jesus is not identical with God; he is identical with the Second Person of the Trinity. The Trinity is God, to the closest human approximation of who and what God is. That is, the Trinity is our limited but best description of the reality that is God. It is an incomplete and inadequate description. I do not know what makes three-in-one possible, but on the other hand, I do not find it surprising that God would be beyond human description and understanding.

    I am of course not qualified to write an SEP article on various views of the Trinity, as apparently you are. I am content to take it that God is Trinity, three in one, and that this is beyond my understanding. I take it as such because the biblical record makes it clear that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all treated and described as God, but not as the same persons.

    I need to let you know that I am not in the habit of devoting time to podcasts except when I’m traveling alone. I much prefer to deal with the written word.

    You still have not provided any positive reason whatever to believe that God changed his policy to allow humans to forgive sins committed against God. Nor is there any reason to doubt that the Logos of God, Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, would be so authorized. There was no change of policy articulated in the NT, but there was a new understanding of God-as-Trinity introduced there.

    So goes the biblical data, which is our best guide to who and what God is.

  45. @Tom – re #48
    Have you read John Polkinghorne’s “Quantum Physics and Theology: An Unexpected Kinship” here)?

    Basically, he says what you just said, from the point of view of a physicist looking at the conceptual revolutions that physics has gone through since its beginnings. Our understanding of concepts such as the Trinity, Jesus’ human x divine nature, etc required a profound shift in thinking and understanding comparable to (indeed greater than) the transition from classical physics to (ultimately) Quantum Field Theory and General Relativity. In an analogous way, the facts about Jesus of Nazareth as witnessed by His disciples, and their divinely inspired writing (the new revelation) put the early Christians in a very similar position – the ‘classical monotheism’ of the Old Testament ( those many and various ways that God had spoken to their ancestors ) could not contain the fuller revelation of God in Jesus Christ ( Hebrews 1:1-4, for example). Although it could prefigure that new revelation in many ways (just as the mathematics of classical physics laid the foundations for what was to come in QFT and GR, new fundamental postulates and new physics were needed), it was not enough to contain the deeper truths that God had in store for us.

  46. Of course, analogies are not formal proofs, but it just seems fitting for God’s revelation of Himself and His plan of salvation to be at least as surprising as the richness and depth of His created order.

  47. “the biblical data, which is our best guide to who and what God is.”

    Exactly! I’d like to end on that note of unabashed agreement. 🙂

    But before I sign off,

    “The Trinity is God”

    Right, that’s the defining thesis of trinitarianism.

    Jesus, then, isn’t the Trinity, so isn’t (identical to) God. There’s just one God.

    If you look at the SEP “Trinity” entry (http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/trinity/), here are a few brief thoughts that may be helpful to you:

    What is this Trinity? Is it a self? Then you’re probably some sort of one-self trinitarian.

    It’s not a self, but rather a community (or whole) of three selves? Then you’re a three-self trinitarian.

    If you refuse to say whether or not it’s a self, or if you say that it is and it ain’t, then you’re a mysterian.

    Each sort of position has its own problems. But I think the main consideration has to be fit with apostolic tradition.

    Blog on, sir.