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Three brutal bible hacks – and the anti-semitic dark side of dispensationalism.

Paul and Martyrdom of Stephen

In exposing the heresy of popular hyper-dispensationalist website teacher Dom Samdahl, I came across a comment where he stated Israel had committed the unpardonable sin, and linked to a Berean Bible Society article in support, called ‘Three Brutal Murders’.

Well, I read it, and it is so typically dispensationalist – just enough truth to deceive, but filled with appalling misreading of Scripture.  It’s quite short, so I will quote it in full, section by section.  (OK, and I admit my title is rather provocative, but if that’s what it takes to start people thinking who are ensnared by dispensationalist heresy, then it will be worth it.)

Every student of the Word should know the three brutal murders around which all history revolves. These three murders represent Israel’s response to God’s three-fold call to repentance. They explain the unpardonable sin and form the background for the present dispensation of grace.

It was John the Baptist, the last of the Old Testament prophets, who was sent as the forerunner of Christ to call Israel to repentance. He was beheaded by Herod, the wicked and licentious “king of the Jews”. After John, Christ Himself took up the cry: “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand”. Him they crucified. Then, at Pentecost, Israel was given a third opportunity to repent, until they shed blood again, stoning Stephen to death.

Three murders around which all history revolves?  That’s a strong claim, and needs strong justification to back it up.  Why say that, rather than that all history revolves around the brutal murder of Jesus Christ?  In the writers view, the threefold call to repentance from God is John the Baptist, Jesus and the early church.  What is clear from this article, even if we didn’t know the stance of the website it is on, is that it is emphatically dispensationalist.  The article seems to imply that Jesus only took up the cry ‘Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand’ after John was beheaded.  It doesn’t quite say that, but that seems to be the way it is trying to pattern things.  If so, is that true?  The answer is no.  Two gospels talk about when Jesus started to preach this message and place it in exactly the same timeframe – when John was imprisoned, not when he was executed (Mark 1.14-15, Matthew 4.12, 17).  That’s a minor point, because the pattern could still hold.  It is the next paragraph when the real brutal bible hacks start:

It should be noticed, too, that their guilt, as well as their bitter enmity, increased with the second and third murders! Had Israel, responded to John’s call to repentance Herod would never have dared to even put John in jail. This explains why our Lord did nothing to release him from prison, even though this had offended John. It was not His, but theirs to do something about John’s unjust imprisonment and every moment he spent in prison testified against them. Read carefully Luke 3:18-20; 7:19-29; and Matthew 14:1-11. As to the beheading of John the Baptist, they permitted it. As to the crucifixion of Christ, they demanded it (Luke23:23,24). As to the stoning of Stephen, they committed it, casting him out of the city with their own hands and stoning him there.

Again, whilst there is much truth to this argument, there is at least one brutal bible hack here.  Firstly, much of Israel did respond to John’s repentance call, as some of the passages actually cited here show.  I did read them carefully, and there is no way that the three passages about John the Baptist have the meaning this article tries to force on them.  John was imprisoned not by will of the people, but in opposition to their will by a despotic and immoral king, who didn’t put him to death precisely because of the support John the Baptist had from those among the people who had heeded his repentance message:

Herod wanted to kill John, but he was afraid of the people, because they considered John a prophet. (Matthew 14.5)

That passage goes on to describe how Herod killed John only because of a rash public vow.  The will of the people had nothing to do with it.  As to the crucifixion of Christ, the reality is that only a relatively small part of the population are known to have demanded it – namely the crowds whipped up (and paid for, in some cases?) by the High Priestly faction and the Sandhedrin.  True, the Sanhedrin formed the corporate religious leadership of Israel (although they were not unanimous on this issue, it should be noted), and thus corporate rules applied, but to claim that the people of Israel as a whole demanded the death of Jesus is a very dangerous thing to say, very close to anti-semitism in many ways.  That’s not to say there isn’t truth in the claim that the destruction of Israel was as a consequence of a large part of the nations rejection, but to say all Israel rejected Jesus is stretching it.  Similarly, it is specifically the Sanhedrin, and just the Sanhedrin, not the people as a whole, who committed the murder of Stephen, and Stephen himself called out for God not to hold it against them.  We should note that Paul (Saul, as he was known then) was there and approved of the murder.  This ironically gives the lie to much of the argument of the final paragraph, which says:

And so that generation in Israel committed the unpardonable sin which our Lord warned would not be forgiven, either in that age, or in the age to come. Thus we close this article by quoting those precious passages from Paul’s epistles which clearly DENY the possibility of any “unpardonable sin” during the present “dispensation of the grace of God”:

“We have redemption through His blood, THE FORGIVENESS OF SINS, according to the riches of His grace” (Eph.1:7).

“Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. BUT WHERE SIN ABOUNDED, GRACE DID MUCH MORE ABOUND: that as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom.5:20,21).

Paul was there, approving and participating in the ‘unpardonable sin’, and yet after doing so, he was saved by the grace of God and penned those passages quoted at the end that are used to claim that an unpardonable sin must have been committed in an ‘earlier dispensation’.  Talk about irony!  Right there is a clear example of contradictory argument or assumptions.  But let’s look at the two brutal bible hacks.  The first is the claim that the rejection and killing of Jesus was the ‘unpardonable sin’ that Jesus warned would not be forgiven in this age or the age to come.  This is the exact kind of (false) logic that has led to vicious anti-semitism down through the church ages, with cries of ‘Christ-killers’ regarding the Jews, and yet here, in a doctrine that is supposed and claimed to reject such anti-semitism, we find it reproduced.    But the fact is, the teaching of Jesus about the ‘unpardonable sin’ is quite explicit that it is not acts against the Son that are unforgivable, but only words of blasphemy spoken against the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12.30-2, Mark 3.28-9), which in context were about specifically religious leaders and scholars who should know better, yet called good evil and evil good, and the healing work of the Spirit through Jesus the work of the devil.  Now, sure, we can debate whether this sin applied to the leadership of Israel as a whole in the time after Jesus (arguably it did), but what is absolutely not correct is to claim that these verses which teach that sins and blasphemy against the Son of Man are in no way unforgivable and then claim that the sin of murder against the Son of Man is that unforgivable sin.  This is the second and the major brutal bible hack in this short passage.

The third is fairly closely related.  Over and above the usual dispensationalist dogmatic declaration of a ‘dispensation of the grace of God’ without scriptural back up for that specific assertion, we find two passages from Paul ripped out of context (also typical dispensationlist practice) to try and make the claim that in the ‘age of grace’ the unforgivable sin is impossible.  To prove a universal negative, you have to have a very strong case, and ripping verses out of context is not the way to build that strong case.  Neither one of the two passages from Paul comes even close to being ‘proof’ of what is claimed.  Yes, they are about the forgiveness of sins and about grace, things which also featured in the teaching of Jesus and of other New Testament letters, but also there are bible verses almost certainly written well after Paul and the alleged new ‘dispensation of grace’ that warn of ‘a sin that leads to death’ (1 John 5.16-17) and that it was pointless trying to pray to restore those who committed it back to life.  Whether that is, as is quite possible, a specific reference to the ‘blasphemy against the Holy Spirit’, or some other category of sin (unforgiveness, perhaps? Although I think that is unlikely), it is quite clear that there can be unforgivable sin in the ‘age of grace’ period, despite the fact that verse such as those cited in this passage do correctly teach the surpassing grace of God to overcome sin and bring in forgiveness.

So, in an effort to draw out the alleged dispensationalist meaning of the deaths of John the Baptist, Jesus and Stephen, we find the fruit of this teaching, and it is very bad fruit indeed – echoes of the anti-semitism of the medieval church, gross misrepresentation of bible teaching on both minor details and major issues.  Jesus said of teachers ‘By their fruit you shall know them’ and that is true of teachings too.  Articles like this should make dispensationalists sit up and take note.  There is one very apt word for what needs to be done, one that takes us back almost to the start of the original article: