Before jumping in to the heart of Romans 1, I’d like to point out two quick things found in verse 5:
Through him and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith.
The first is that Paul says that he received apostleship from Christ. That means he’s not just speaking to the Christians in Rome as a fellow believer. He’s speaking to them as one who has authority. The rest of what he says is not merely his opinion, it’s authoritative for the believers. The second thing I noticed in the verse was the phrase “the obedience that comes from faith.” People like to set the Book of Romans up against the Book of James as if they contradict one another. But right from one of the very first verses Paul affirms obedience and faith and then clarifies how the two books work together. Obedience comes from faith. Faith produces our obedience rather than our obedience producing our faith. Sometimes to help myself from getting confused by the word “faith,” I substitute it with “active trust.” In this instance, the verse would read “the obedience that comes from active trust”. The first eleven chapters of Romans are Paul’s exploration and explanation of what the good news of Jesus is all about. In verse 18 he jumps right in by explaining the problem confronting the world.
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness.
What’s interesting is that God’s wrath is not just waiting to be revealed in the afterlife, it’s currently being revealed. In verses 24 and 26 Paul explains that in dealing with the wicked “God gave them over” to their own desires. They are living with the consequences of their own wickedness as we speak and it’s gotten so bad that they glory in it, approve of others doing the same and “invent ways of doing evil.” A former pastor of mine used to teach “When you get caught in your sin; when your affair is discovered or your addiction is exposed, that’s not God’s wrath coming down on you. That’s God’s grace. If God were truly done with you, he’d give you over to your sin. He’d wash his hands of you and let you dive into it deeper.” If you feel convicted about your sin, be thankful, it’s because the Holy Spirit is still wrestling with you; you haven’t yet been given over to your sin or to God’s wrath. The wages of all of this; of denying God’s truth and failing to give him glory and gratitude, is being turned over to lies and wickedness and then eventually, death. There’s one other take away I’d like to offer from this passage. Evangelicals are often asked “What about the people who have never heard of Jesus? How can they get to Heaven?” It seems that Paul, right from the very start, knew this was something Christian theology would be confronted with. He explains that:
. . . since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.
Later in chapter 2, he says:
All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.)
Though many Christians stumble over an answer to this question, the answer is right here. God’s invisible qualities have been revealed from the beginning. Those with the Law will perish under it; those without the law with perish with the law that is written on their own hearts. Their own hearts will serve as a witness for or against themselves. I understand Joseph Smith’s concern for his brother Alvin, who died before Smith could re-establish the one true church. But these verses help us know that Alvin would only be accountable for what he knew, and what he did with what he knew was enough to judge him by.
“Faith produces our obedience rather than our obedience producing our faith.”
Paul affirms the first half of your sentence, but doesn’t say anything about the second. Or does he?
I want to ask more about what you say on Ch 2, but I think I’ll wait and see what Eric posts. Verse 20 comes across as much more “forceful” (not quite the word I want) than Ch 2.
Re faith: One thing I find interesting about this chapter is that whenever faith is mentioned it is mentioned in the context of action of some sort: obedience (v 5), proclamation (v 8), comforting (v 12) and righteousness (v 17). The faith that Paul is talking about, although not explicitly defined, is something much more than mere belief.
Yes that’s why I interchange faith with “active trust”. Even demons have accurate beliefs about God. Faith is much more than belief.
Good point, Tim.
Biblical faith is ‘tusting in some-one’, not believing in some-thing. And, of course, that someone is Christ Jesus.
As you rightly point out, even the demons believe.
Tim, I liked how you completely glossed over the part where Paul asserts that the Judeo-Christian god is self-evident in the world, and that all those who believe otherwise do so intentionally and degenerate into lives of filth, evil, and homosexual perversion.
The damage done to the world by this one chapter is probably incalculable.
Speaking of the evil:
What is Paul talking about here?
Paul seems to say that faith is the only thing to save us but if we lack faith, we are doing so intentionally. i.e. its not about faith in things we have not seen, but recognizing what can be seen or has been shown by God.
Is he justified in claiming this?
Is faith in Jesus that powerful and is lack of faith that intentional?
Are the doubters doomed to carnality and ultimately deserving of death?
I read Paul the same way I read Joseph Smith, with a pretty critical mind. When he makes strong (even outlandish) claims i don’t necessarily dismiss him but it reminds me that this is a man with his own strong opinions talking, and he may not be as critical of them as he should be.
Tim said: If you feel convicted about your sin, be thankful, it’s because the Holy Spirit is still wrestling with you; you haven’t yet been given over to your sin or to God’s wrath.
If I don’t feel convicted anymore, am I too far gone?
I like your comments, Tim.
It was interesting what you said about God’s invisible qualities having been revealed in his creation, and those without the law perishing with the law that is written on their own hearts, and Joseph Smith’s brother Alvin being accountable for what he knew and what he did with what he knew.
I’ve always wondered how these truths fit with Romans 10:14: “How can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” There’s something I don’t understand here.
Naturally. The problem is that maybe a billion people over 2,000 years have merely accepted Paul’s words at their apparent face value.
PS, this is obviously complete horsecrap. If it was really so freaking self-evident, then people all over the world and throughout history would have been independently coming up with the Judeo-Christian god and theology. But they haven’t.
It seems self-evident to Paul because it’s what he grew up with. It seems obvious to him because everyone’s own cultural perspective seems obvious to him.
Why isn’t there a long history of ancient polytheists musing “you know, this polytheism thing just doesn’t sit right with me; it just clashes with my intelect and the world around us.” Simple: because their religion was exactly as self-evident and obvious to them as Paul’s was to him.
Yes, I realize that Paul lived in the Roman empire and that polytheism was being practiced around him. But it wasn’t his culture. A Muslim raised in the US is still going to be raised with Muslim sensibilities and Muslim religious/cultural assumptions by his parents and his Muslim peers, even though the dominant background culture is Christian.
Jared C asked, “If I don’t feel convicted anymore, am I too far gone?”
I would say no, such a person is not beyond the point of no return, it’s just that God is letting the person reap what he or she has sown in hope that the lesson will be learned the hard way if by no other way. Romans 11:32 says “God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.” The way I understand this is God lets us be blinded by the devil so that we commit our sins in ignorance. As long as we are ignorant (unlike the devil) there is hope that we will someday repent and receive his mercy.
That relates to a question I had last night but was too tired to ask. This first chapter seems to be about those who have, in the words of v 18, suppressed the truth by their wickedness. Whom does that refer to? Everyone? Disobedient Jews? The Greeks? A subset of any of the above?
I don’t know the answer. In the following two chapters, Paul seems to be saying that all have in some way rejected God (and if that’s the case, it could be that Joseph Smith had a legitimate question about Alvin after all). But then has God given all people over to their passions — given up on them, to use Tim’s words? That doesn’t seem to be consistent with our experience.
I confess I was wondering how Tim would deal with the thorny issue of vv 26-27, as they are often used as prooftexts against homosexual behavior. But I don’t think they’re very useful as a prooftext, for two reasons. First, Paul seems to be talking about such behavior not as an evil in itself but as a consequence of something else; what he says isn’t particularly relevant to the major points he’s trying to make (if this were a legal opinion, some might consider it dictum). Second, while I don’t know specifically whom Paul was referring to, he doesn’t seem to be talking about relationships that are in any way loving, but rather those who are out of control.
I’m not disputing the traditional Christian view on the matter; it’s just that these verses don’t seem like a good source of support for it.
Well, let’s see what Paul says:
In other words, Jehovah is self-evident in the universe. Everyone should be able to just look around them and see Jehovah. So people who do not consequently acknowledge and worship Jehovah do so knowingly and intentionally: they are not “believeing differently,” they are rebelling against what reason and their senses tell them is true.
And as a result, they are filthy and wicked:
Typical Judaic anti-“idolatry” screed. You want to see a classic straw man? “Search for “idolatry” in the Old Testament and see ancient paganism constantly distorted and misrepresented. There’s no attempt to discuss it on its own terms, or with any kind of nuance: it is constantly presented as something obviously and plainly ridiculous and evil. That’s propaganda. It’s the same thing as the Joseph Smith episode of South Park, or anything by Ed Decker.
Really? Flip through the Bible. Flip through the epistles. Put Paul in context. It’s as bad as Andrew desperately trying to find a way to read Boyd K. Packer’s latest as not anti-gay.
Paul’s intention is to condem all homosexual relationships precisely the way they are condemned in the Old Testament.
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Yes, no amount of sophisticated hermeneutics can get around what Paul is plainly saying – homosexuality is wicked.
I recall reading an article that mentioned that the main homosexual relations that Paul had in mind were the ones most prevalent in his social context – those between slave and master. This was a common thing in the Roman Empire.
So it adds a certain additional level of abuse that make me wonder if Paul would have had the same words for modern homosexual relations.
And Kullervo… I don’t think it’s a requirement that you sound bitter and angry in every comment you make.
Just a thought.
And Seth… I don’t think it’s a requirement that you sound like a whiny, lame apologist in every comment you make.
Just a thought.
Now Seth, don’t be silly.
Because Kullervo’s a pagan and not a Christian, he doesn’t have to act like a decent human being…
What’s your excuse then, PC?
Go play in the food processor Kullervo.
I think Paul is clearly against any indulgence in carnal pleasure outside pretty strict confines. I am sure he would not like rock and roll in any form and everything it represent. Modern culture would probably appall him more than anything. i am sure he would be aghast at most Seinfeld episodes.
I don’t know that this hurts his credibility with me, it seems a valid position to want to be very controlling of passions. Even though we see these things differently.
But the idea that the hard partying Romans have the knowledge to feel guilty about their lifestyle seems far fetched. And that should have the knowledge to have faith in Christ but just don’t.
God may be as evident as he says but he is certainly not as understandable as he implies.
if you talk to the average casual non-believer in the US you will generally find nice people who just don’t get the very religious, and they think that over focus on the bible seems either quaint or simply strange. it seems that its a lot hard to come across the experience needed to really understand Christian spirituality.
As it so happens, I don’t really personally care if Paul was a bigot or not. But I do like putting out full context.
Hey, if the pagan Gentiles get hit hard in chapter 1, just wait till chapter 2 . . .
. . . in application, a knockout blow to the conservative moralists (my culture and my personal tendencies).
Chapter 2 slew me, the self-righteous Pharisee.
I’ll point out that you’re the one who started the petulant act in this thread.
I’m legitimately bothered by Romans 1. You’re just whining.
I’m not sure Chapter 2 makes it any better, Todd.
Chapter 2 basically says that Judeo-Christians know better, so they stand under greater condemnation when they transgress. From a sort of neutral moral perspective, that seems fair: our basic idea of moral culpability requires some level of understanding. We are reflexively more lenient with people who we think “should know better,” and it’s hard to accuse someone of evil in any sense but the most strictly utilitarian if they simply do not understand the moral principles involved.
If you believe that God lays down a law and holds us accountable for following it, it is reasonable that the people who know the law are more culpable when they break it.
That’s fine and good. Except when you go back and re-read chapter 1, where he essentially asserts that everyone knows or should know God’s law, because the universe itself bears clear witness of it. Thus, anyone not living God’s law is doing so with full knowledge and full culpability, and anyone who says they don’t know better is a liar.
And that’s horsecrap.
I like to compare Paul’s take on the self-evident nature of Jehovah, and his claim that those who don’t recognise Him as being knowingly obtuse with what Alma preached against Korihor in the Book of Mormon. The key element is when Alma accuses Korihor of being possessed with a lying spirit, and then testifies that everything in the universe testifies to the reality of a Supreme Creator. I think it is interesting that Alma doesn’t particularly say, at least in the way the passage is translated, that Jehovah is the Supreme Creator, although it is self-evident from the text that he believes such. Rather, he is repudiating the idea that there is no God at all.
Still, both Paul and Alma believe that the existence of God (Jehovah) is evident in the universe, and those who actively preach against it must be lying. That seems to be a bit harsh to me. Maybe with Korihor we can acknowledge that he later confesses that he had been deceived, but Alma was dealing with a specific case, whereas Paul is addressing all non-believers. And I don’t know if there is a way to read Paul’s discourse in any other way than has been illustrated. Maybe we don’t need to try to read him in a different way. Paul is definitely the paragon of drawing the line in the sand, and I think it is worth noting this.
And unlike Alma, Paul is not talking about Theism vs. Atheism. Paul is most definitely talking about Judeo-Christianity vs. Paganism.
‘Faith produces our obedience rather than our obedience producing our faith.’
I’m with Brian J on this; I’ve personally experienced both and I don’t see why these ideas need to be mutually exclusive.
While the Jews in pre-exilic days were worshipping the one true God in a beautiful temple, my barbarian ancestors, completely uncultured, were . . .
well, you could problably fill in the blank, Kullervo.
Paul says that my ancestors were as follows:
They were aliens from the commonwealth of Israel.
They were strangers from the covenants of promise.
They were without Christ.
And they were guilty, with no excuses. The whole lot of them.
They rejected their Creator. They drowned out their own uneasy feelings with more unrighteousness. Rather than letting natural revelation invoke reflection about God and moving them inward and upward to Him, they suppressed, suppressed, suppressed.
They were senseless, heartless, faithless, ruthless.
You bet there was.
Right. And I”m saying Paul was a liar.
“God forbid; yea, let God be true, but every man a liar.”
Well that’s easy Kullervo.
I’m Mormon. Ask Todd, we’re not Christian either…!
Tim, I think you need to change the title of this blog from “LDS-Evangelical Conversation” to “Mormons, Evangelicals, and an Angry Pagan in the Peanut Gallery.”
Nice meaningless platitude.
If I thought there was any evidence at all that the ancient Jews were on the whole more moral or less evil than their pagan contemporaries, I would be willing to give Paul some credence.
And this basically sums up Paul’s horsecrap. He accuses the whole world of inherently and spontaneously knowing that Judeo-Christianity is true, and that’s absolutely ridiculous.
And he accuses them of evil behavior resulting from their conscious rejection of the One True God that they inherently and spontaneously know about, which is also pretty much demonstrably untrue. We’re talking about the civilizations that invented virtue. On the whole, they did some stuff that was good and some stuff that was bad, they lived up to their own virtues in some ways and fell short in others, and they had cultures that we would now judge good in some ways and that we would now judge appalling in other ways.
Just like their Jewish contemporaries.
Paul grew up Jewish. He is massively biased to the Jewish perspective as a result. He is making assertions about what is secretly known in the hearts of everyone else in the world, but that none of them ever say it. That’s preposterous. Paul has no idea. Paul is spreading propaganda.
Seriously, Seth, shut the f#ck up.
I don’t know what your problem is, but I am on topic here. This thread is a discussion of Romans 1. I’m discussing Romans 1, substantively.
You want to read anger into everything I say because you’ve been taught to villainize ex-Mormons? I guess that’s your prerogative.
I’ll respond more substantially later. But real quickly. . .
Kullervo, that’s the last time I’m going to edit one of your comments with cursing in it. From here on, I’m just going to trash them.
Paul does write of an idea.
And that big Gospel Idea blew the Jews’ minds.
It blew their paradigm to pieces.
Seriously Seth, what’s your problem?
I think you are asking for the impossible here. There is no way to represent ancient paganism in a way that does the following: 1) Discusses it in its totality and 2) Discusses it with nuance. He could do one or the other, not both. So by insisting that Paul do both you are asking him to do something nobody could have done.
Paul chose option #1, which leaves one to talk in vague generalities with almost nothing specific because there was almost nothing in common, belief-wise, between the various pagan cults. And Paul is mainly interested in belief set. Put simply, ancient paganism demanded no beliefs from its adherents and rarely promulgated any beyond the need for the care and feeding of the gods. Beliefs promulgated by pagans was done by philosophers who just happened to be pagans, their philosophizing was not generated from the pagan commitments. So, no common beliefs and only vague commonalities at the level of cult worship. Paul and the prophets focused on these vague commonalities, since it was the only thing that one could focus on and address all of paganism in a single argument, so it does come across as a shallow attack because it is.
However, if one chooses option #2, nuance, there are real practical problems. Between the major gods, the minor gods, the heroes, the household deities, and the nature gods there are literally thousands of cults one would have to address. To give them all a proper treatment would require thousands of pages of argument and description. That would never happen in a world where the economic realities dictated that production of writing was extremely expensive as was transporting that writing around. Nuance is a luxury that only the modern word can afford.
There is also an existential element to this. Ancient Judaism was born in the crucible of the Exile. The only reason they survived as a coherent group was because the Exile forced them to develop in full, and in contradistinction to everyone else, their abstract concepts of God who was not connected to a place but to a people and a set of beliefs/laws. Had they not done that, Judaism would have died and the Jews would not have remained a people. They are the only group I know of who was able to maintain a coherency as a group following an exile, which were very common in the ancient near east. Thus monotheism defined them as a people and remained a point of ethnic pride. The consequence of this is to naturally see monotheism as obviously superior, which is what comes across in Paul and the Prophets. You can take issue with this as a pagan, but had Jews not done this I would guess there would not be such a thing as Jews or Judaism today.
Do I understand your position to be that knowlege of the Judeo-Christian God was available to everyone who lived in Pagan society and yet no one outside of Israel found this God?
If this knowlege is consitently avilable from within, why is missionary work required?
That’s factually not true. The borders between the various kinds of Paganism in Paul’s world were porous at best.
Again, that’s not so. At best, it is a Christian straw man, a rhetorical distorion of pagan religion. But although I think your portrayal of ancient paganism is as sorely lacking as Paul’s (if moderately less offensive), I do appreciate that you acknowledge, regardless of the reason, that Paul’s is “a shallow attack.”
I don’t take issue with it as the Jewish point of view, and I think your explanation of it is fairly reasonable. They were playing boundary-drawing games with their neighbors, and they certainly believed that had a good reason to do so. I don’t judge them for that.
But fast-forward two or three thousand years to find half the world or more accepting the cultural biases of ancient Jews as both (1) accurate portrayals of other religions and (2) direct instructions from God Himself, and I have severe problems with it.
We have a winner!
If the Judeo Christian God was as self-evident as Paul and Todd Wood assert, then it stands to reason that lots of people everywhere would have come up with him independently. But there’s not really any evidence of that happening.
And as much as Todd would probably like to say that the idea was so revolutionary that it was suppressed everywhere, that’s incredibly unlikely. Because it actually isn’t revolutionary. It might be unusual or remarkable, but if you think it is “paradigm-shatteringly revolutionary,” you are completely misunderstanding the fundamental religious tolerance of the pagans of the ancient world.
Please list for me the common beliefs among the various pagan cults, or please provide me with one link or book which does this. I ask this because while I have not studied the matter intensely, all of the sources I have read all say that there was no unity of beliefs between pagan cults and no integration between these beliefs and ethical norms. But, I’m happy to be proven wrong.
The only references I am familiar with that did attempt to do this in antiquity were much later than Paul and were an attempt to stave off rising Christianity, thus they would be inapplicable to Paul’s situation.
To be quite frank the notion of “pagan religion” is totally anachronistic to Paul’s time and is a modern construct. Both in its attempt to unify it and in the backporting of a modern notion of religion (which is a 16th century concept at the earliest) onto a people which could never have thought that way.
You’ll have to be more specific. In my view the borders were non-existent. A set of pagan practices dedicated to Zeus bore absolutely no relation to and impacted in absolutely no way pagan practices dedicated to Hermes, Dionysius, or the deities of hearth and home. There was no policing of borders because there were none. This was one of the reasons that Christianity had better survival characteristics than did paganism. Belief in Christianity precluded other beliefs, while paganisms were non-exclusive. A conversion to Christianity meant a loss for paganism, a “conversion” between pagan cults did not result in a loss for anyone.
Fallacious reasoning. Modern science is self-evident yet it only rose in western Europe. Ancient Greeks and medieval Arabs got close, but close doesn’t count.
No, I do understand the tolerance of the pagans in the revolutionary world. Adding one more non-exclusivistic one to the mix would be unrevolutionary. The fact that Judaism was exclusivistic at the level of beliefs and practices was the revolution because it was different. That being exclusivistic cramps the style of modern persons is beside the point. The world had not seen exclusive monotheism before, with the possible exception of the aborted reign of Akhenaten in Egypt.
I’m certainly not trying to “unify it.” There was no one big Church of Paganism or one big Systematic Pagan Theology. But you are demanding that paganism be understood through the very modern lens that you are accusing me of.
I realize that there was fabulous diversity between ancient pagan faiths and practices, but where youa re emphasizing their mutual independence, youa re completely missing out on their mutual compatibility.
There was a whole major belief system in Alexandria, for example, that synthesized the pantheons of the Greeks and Egyptians. Don’t tell me they had nothing to do with each other–the ancients certainly thought otherwise. The Romans were constantly understanding other cultures’ gods in terms of their own.
And the basic practices that you claim were entirely different? The details may have varied from place to place but the essential core religious act–sacrifice to the gods–was fundamentally familiar.
One could propitate Zeus without it impacting one’s worship of Hermes or Isis, but that doesn’t mean that the two were wholly unconnected. Gods were worshipped together in different ways in different areas.
To assume that this diversity means that the ancient world was filled with countess tiny distinct religions is to force a Christian/Modern understanding of “religion” on them. Where you are calling me out for claiming there is one big distinct pagan religion (which I’m not actually–at least not in the modernist understanding of “a religion”), you are doing the exact same thing on a micr scale, by assuming that all of the separate cult practices and beliefs were micro-religions, each fully distinct and independent as a modern World Religion is. And that misses the point just as badly.
Does God deliver people who lived in the midst of pagan society? Absolutely. There are all kinds of biblical stories. There are so many stories. All of them – trophies of God’s grace.
Does God mandate missionary work? Missionary work has been required since the beginning when sin came into the world. The Jews were to be right in the middle of this universal missionary endeavor. In pre-exilic days, the prophet wrote, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news” (Is. 52). Had the Jews lost sight of this in Paul’s day? Yes. Certainly, all the ends of the earth were to see the salvation of God. Paul reminds us all in Romans 10 and then strings together a beautiful necklace of O.T. pearls in chapter 15 – one of the best passages in the Bible for bringing confident expectation to the hearts of those involved in Christian missions.
Do all people experience the same amount of Gospel light? No. But Paul is saying that no one has an excuse for escaping death and judgment of God because they suppress truth in their consciences. No one. That kind pagan in some remote place in the world deserves death for his stubborn rejection of the Creator God just like the guy who has 50 Bible translations on his shelf, shaking his fist, and saying, “God is not great.”
“The world had not seen exclusive monotheism before, with the possible exception of the aborted reign of Akhenaten in Egypt.”
I have read about Akhenaten. And you think that he was the genesis for this?
Right, and I am saying that Paul is–and you are–full of crap when he says that the kind pagan in the remote place in the world is stubbornly rejecting his conscience.
There’s no evidence that that’s actually happening to anyone. Only baseless assertions of people like you who conclude that it theologically must be happening. But nobody is actually reporting the kind of internal struggle that you and Paul are insisting happens inside the heart of every non-Christian in the world, throughout history. You’re just making conclusory statements about it that hold exactly as much weight as if I said “Every Christian knows deep down inside that the Bible is a sad work of fiction.”
No, I don’t think he was the genesis for Hebrew monotheism. I merely mentioned his name for completeness. He did precede the Hebrews chronologically speaking, but there is no evidence that the Hebrews were influenced by him.
In any case, Akhenaten’s beliefs died with him, Egypt was all too ready to go back to the old Gods, away from the worship of Aten. And, the monotheism may have been an official henotheism, not a pure monotheism in the style of the ancient Hebrews.
Tim: I’m beginning to wonder what is the purpose of this Book of Romans series? Is it to discuss the meaning of what Paul wrote—what he thought—or to discuss whether or not Paul was correct?
1. Paul says everyone is a sinner.
2. Some might say otherwise. That there are exceptions.
Among the billions throughout human history, what does the evidence suggest?
Who has been the exception, Kullervo?
I don’t see how they’re mutually exclusive.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but I am of the understanding that in reality, the “pure monotheism” of the ancient Hebrews took a long time to develop into “pure monotheism.” And at one point it sure looked a lot like henotheism.
No, I am not trying to unify it. I am merely explaining why your demands on Paul are anachronistic.
No, by the logic of the ancients (as opposed to modern logic on the matter) their mutual independence establishes their mutual compatibility. I thought that was obvious.
That’s not what I am looking for. Of course there were attempts to synthesize the pantheons. Zeus could be seen as Jupiter which in turn could be seen as Baal etc. I am looking for a belief system which unified some or all of the various cults. And, the synthesis done by Romans had as much to do with political practicalities as it did with any genuine religious impulses. The Romans were happy to let everyone worship what they wanted. If they found a way to connect local cults with Roman cults, well that was icing on the cake, but it wasn’t required.
I already conceded that care and feeding of the Gods was the primary task of ancient cults. There were no beliefs behind this other than than need to take care of the gods. Since Paul is focusing on beliefs, what beliefs is he supposed to be engaging here?
I already said as much.
No, I have been careful to refer to them as cults, because that’s what they are in the technical sense, practices centered in cultic activity. If I ever referred to them as a religion it was a slip of the tongue.
At this point I fail to see your point. I made my initial assertions knowing every single point you made in this post and had already taken them into account. In fact, they bolster my assertion that your request of Paul would have been impossible for anyone living in the 1st century AD. It’s quite simply impossible to deal with common beliefs of pagans because there weren’t any apart from the cultus deorum. The other option of proceeding in a nuanced way by treating a large number of cults separately was impossible from an economic standpoint.
Perhaps a better way to make your point is to re-write the offending passages in Romans 1 and post them here so that I can see what you wanted from Paul.
I am not wishing Paul had made a more nuanced case for paganism. I am saying that the case Paul makes against paganism is a straw man, an attack of propaganda. He is telling lies about paganism to bolster his own position.
You are correct on that point. That’s why I said that monotheism developed in the exile (6th century BCE). The first unambiguous monotheistic passages are in 2nd Isaiah, which most scholars date to that period. Though people like to proof text monotheism from the Pentateuch they tend to do this because they hold what I think are untenable views about the dating of the Pentateuch.
Lie is a pretty strong word and almost impossible to prove when it comes to religious beliefs.
I think you can only assert that Paul was lying if you can establish intent to do so.
You have not done so.
Religious beliefs about other peoples’ religious beliefs?
I am not wishing Paul had made a more nuanced case for paganism. I am saying that the case Paul makes against paganism is a straw man, an attack of propaganda. He is making false and distorted statements about paganism to bolster his own position.
You are confusing “assert” with “prove, in a court of law.”
I’m asserting that Paul made false statements about ancient pagans, and I am asserting that he knew or should have known his statements were false, because he lived in an ancient pagan world.
As if the old times were good times?
No, Paul makes the opposite case about mankind.
You emphatically state that Paul has slandered paganism.
My impression is that some Pagans believe they existed before the Judea-Christian Tradition. That there was peace and harmony before the entrance of this Tradition. And that it was this Tradition that brought in violence, cruelty, and all the mess that we are currently in.
But these ancient pagans were messed up, really messed up, just like we are today.
When it comes to the human race, there are not greener pastures anywhere, Kullervo.
When St. Paul states that “no one seeks for God”, he meant it.
We are all born with our backsides to God. We don’t want Him. But He wants us. That is why He broke into the sewer pipe to enter this world. To save us from ourselves, the world, and the devil.
And as Paul makes this universal case about the human race, he doesn’t just let us all listen to him talk. He brings forth the witnesses. Look at the string of witnesses in chapter three.
Are all of them slandering, too?
Have I ever said anything, ever, that was even remotely like this?
Nope. These ancient pagans were sometimes good, sometimes evil, sometimes full of integrity and sometimes hypoctites, but on the whole, as individuals and as nations, they were all pretty decent.
Just like we are today.
Right, well, this part is pretty much verified historical fact. That said, I realize that you are a young earth creationist and thus not interested in real, verifiable history, so you’re going to decide to believe in nonsense anyway.
The rest of it, though, the part about a goddess-worshipping pastoral pagan paradise is also nonsense though. And that’s why I don’t believe it either.
“These ancient pagans were sometimes good, sometimes evil, sometimes full of integrity and sometimes hypoctites, but on the whole, as individuals and as nations, they were all pretty decent.
Just like we are today.”
And ‘lost’. Just like we are today… without Christ Jesus to save us.
What witnesses in chapter 3? The Psalms?
“My religion teaches that everyone is wicked, and as proof positive I present you with… poetry from my religion!”
Yeah, color me unimpressed.
Again, you say they are lost because your religion says so!
If I thought there was any evidence that Christians were, as a rule, happier, more satisfied, more well-adjusted, or generally happier than adherents of any other religion, I might be willing to give you some credit. But there’s no such evidence. The only evidence is “I conclude that it must be so because I believe my theology requires it to be so.”
1. That is why I tried to be careful in my wording not to make a direct connection with you, Kullervo.
2. But we disagree on the “all pretty decent” part.
I think the biblical ancients tell a more accurate story.
Ecclesiastes 7:20 – “For there is not a just man on earth who does good and does not sin.”
And it seems that this author had a lot of experience in rubbing his shoulders with his own culture and likewise outside pagan cultures.
Right, well, I think Ecclesiastes does not paint an accurate picture of humanity.
Most people I meet, and I woudl eb willing to bet most people you meet, are decent people. They’re probably not paragons of virtue, but I never said they were. They have weaknesses and strengths, but when the chips are down and it matters, they usually do the right thing. They try to live up to their moral oblgations to their families and their communities.
Yeah, there are evil people out there. But they’re definitely in the minority. Regular people are basically decent, and they always have been.
This idea you are preaching, this total depravity, not only is it just observably not true, but by insisting that people are broken and filthy you actually push people into being filthy. By telling people they are depraved, they come to believe they are depraved, and when they fall off the wagon they fall off all the way. You’ve convinced them that they are murderers, rapists, and thieves, so when they have a moment of weakness, they act the way they have come to believe is their true nature.
By preaching total depravity, you have actually contributed to humanity’s total depravity.
The fact that he should have known does not make him a liar if he didn’t.
As it so happens, I don’t think he should have known in the first place.
Just because something has usage in a court of law is not a refutation of my argument here. That is mere appeal to the general prejudice people have against the legal system, and it ignores that a lot of our legal terms have the usage they do BECAUSE they are based in reality.
No, I just appreciate the biblical honesty from Paul and a whole slew of others.
It is not popular. It is not Hollywood, but it is honest.
Paul is honest about himself in Romans 7. And as I read that, I thought (think), “That is me, too.”
Give me Law. And I know what I am thinking on the inside. And it gets rather ugly.
So I don’t go around thinking, “I am better than some of YOU evil people out there. You murderers. You rapists. You thieves.” Unless, it is when my thinking is detached from the very Gospel that saves me.
To shun any talk about our depravity does us no good.
No good argument, or witty person can make a believer out of you. Only God can do that.
If you don’t believe Paul, then you don’t believe God.
And that’s ok. None of it depends on you.
As far as I’m concerned, most people are not as decent as they need to be.
We live in an unreasonable situation – a catch 22 world. Being decent doesn’t cut it. Being “nice” isn’t anywhere near good enough.
The vast majority of the population of the United States only gets to live the way it does because the majority of the world’s population is being oppressed, held back, or even killed. The nice folks in suburbia not only do nothing about this, they even refuse to even acknowledge the reality.
All Americans have blood on their hands. The fact that they were born into this situation does not obviate this reality. The true character of a people is defined by what they do in their spare time. On these grounds, I find our society repulsive.
Now, does that mean I do my best to be a real downer at parties? No it does not.
But I find Ecclesiastes to be one of the truest books in the Bible.
Most people are not good. And nice doesn’t even come close to cutting it. Being fortunate enough to live in the American quarantine chamber (meaning you don’t have to ever test yourself against the more flashy calamities going on out there) doesn’t change this.
People in the Congo are not inherently different than people in Akron Ohio. They just live in different situations. And if you can have a genocide there, that means the only thing separating you from a genocide in Ohio is mere circumstance. Nothing really inherent in the people.
In peasant Russia around the year 1900, it was commonplace for the peasants to blame any bad event in the village on whatever traveler or stranger happened to be passing through. They’d drag the person out into the streets, wrap him up in sheets with lots of pillows, and beat him with clubs and wood planks until his insides turned to jelly (not a mark on the body though – creative those human beings).
We’d like to think we’re better than that, but we really aren’t.
People act like monsters, and always have. And the fact that a bunch of American bloggers managed to win the lottery and live in a country where we get to ignore this, never experience anything really catastrophic, and congratulate ourselves on being somehow enlightened doesn’t change a thing.
People are not generally good. Like human beings in all times and places, they are a mixture of both.
I think Paul is correct in his grim assessment of the nature of humanity, so was Ecclesiastes.
David Clark: “Please list for me the common beliefs among the various pagan cults, or please provide me with one link or book which does this.”
For a sympathetic (to Paganism) perspective from a Christian author, see Robert Louis Wilkins’ “The Christians as the Romans Saw Them.” Here’s a link:
Because he investigates the Pagan response to Christianity, Wilkins at the same time also provides a great deal of insight into “what” this Paganism consisted of.
Another (and even more recent) book that takes a very sympathetic look at ancient Paganism from a Christian perspective is “Among the Gentiles: Greco-Roman Religion and Christianity”, by Luke Timothy Johnson. I have just started Johnson’s book, but his main thesis is that both the very idea of “being religious” and also various “ways” of “being religious” were adopted by Christians from Paganism. From the description at the publisher’s site: “Using these criteria as the basis for his exploration of Christianity and paganism, Johnson finds multiple points of similarity in religious sensibility.”
Not only did Christians inherit the idea of “being religious” from Pagans, they also inherited the idea of “being moral”. This is why the Church has throughout it’s history relied so heavily on the Pagan writings of Plato, Aristotle and the Stoics for ethical instruction.
Also see Ramsay MacMullen’s book “Paganism in the Roman Empire.” MacMullen is probably the greatest living historian of the Roman Empire (at least in the Anglophone world). MacMullen emphatically insists that Paganism can be treated as a coherent (although far from monolithic) religious tradition.
MacMullen is a very challenging author for non-academics. He “makes few concessions to the reader”, to put it nicely. A more accessible, but still scholarly, book that also treats Paganism as a coherent phenomenon (and not some silly anachronism) is James B. Rives’ “Religion in the Roman Empire”. Here is a helpful review:
Rives points out that “In short, the impression we get from the sources is that people thought not so much in terms of ‘different religions,” as we might today, but simply of varying local customs with regard to the gods.” [p. 6]
It is also necessary to look at early Christianity with one’s eyes open. It was a religious free for all in which there was no agreement whatsoever on the most fundamental points. There was no agreement about the nature of Jesus, for example. Was he human, divine, both? Did he really die? If so, did he come back? Was he God? The Son of God? The ONLY Son of God? What about the Mosaic Law? And what about the Holy Spirit? Trinitarianism? Etc. And there was just as little agreement when it came to practice as there was in the realm of belief. Even the most basic things like baptism and circumcision were completely unresolved among all those who called themselves Christians. Therefore, when asked “how unified or coherent was ancient Paganism”, a perfectly reasonable, and telling, answer is “compared to what?”
Naming some instances, or even lots of instances, of extreme evil doesn’t refute what I’m saying. People do lots of evil things. All the time. That doesn’t mean humanity is evil.
Don’t mistake my words. I’m not naively claiming that humanity is inherently good, deep down to the core. Just that, on the balance, most people are decent most of the time. The fact that we’re all capable of horrible evil doesn’t make us monsters any more than the fact that we’re all capable of great good makes us all saints.
Most of the time, most people, given the chance, do the decent thing. Lots of times they don’t. But more often they do.
I realize that’s not good enough for Todd’s god, but I don’t worry about it because I don’t think Todd’s god gets to decide.
People act like monsters, and always have. [SNIP]
People are not generally good.
When did Seth convert to Protestantism?
I guess he’s a one-point Calvinist.
I’m sorry, Kullervo, I’ve just got to say it.
What. The. Hell.
The point of this series was supposed to be for Mormons and Evangelical Christians to talk about the text of a book that they both generally hold to be inspired. To compare religious insights, to see where we agree and where we disagree and how far apart we are from one another. You’ve always been welcome to participate even though you decided some time ago that you’re not going to be Mormon or even Christian anymore because you’re a long-time commentator at this blog and a personal friend to many of us, and most of us believe you bring insight and a degree of balance to the conversation.
But as far as I can tell, your main contribution to this thread has been to tell Mormons and evangelicals alike how full of crap they are and how much Romans 1 sucks. I’ll bet this is exactly the kind of Mormon-Evangelical interfaith dialogue Bob Millett envisioned when he proposed this project.
I believe that you have valid arguments to make here, but I also think you’ve been so uncivil and cantankerous about making them that I doubt anyone cares. I’ve been watching this thread proceed all day, and the longer it has gone on, the less I’ve wanted to look at it or participate at all, and I feel like you’ve been the main reason for that.
You want to argue that Paul isn’t being fair to pagan religion, fine. You want to note that Romans 1 condemns homosexual relationships (it does) and call that an ugly thing, go for it.
But try to be nice about it. Calling Paul a liar and comparing him to Ed Decker and South Park and telling Seth to shut the f*** up was way uncalled for.
And no, I’m not very fond of the things Seth and PC said to you either, but if I had to go schoolyard on this, I’d say you started it.
It is because of Paul that I had so many debates with evangelicals on my mission who found it really important to point out that nobody is good.
In terms of being perfect, which is why I kinda think Paul was really trying to say, yeah, pobody’s nerfect. In terms of being generally decent human beings, I definitely side with kullervo on this. Most people are decent folks, trying to lead good lives, which, as one atheist friend of mine defined it as, is “not trying to jack up other people’s lives, and generally trying to not be an a-hole.” I think that there are a lot of people who fit into this category.
And I think that people who focus on the Biblical claim that nobody is good are only going to succeed in alienating their target audience even more than they already have just by having a target audience.
Not what I am looking for, I want a book that talks about the common beliefs of pagans. Not common practices. Not common ceremonies. Not common gods. Since this mainly talks about Christians, it would seem to not fit the bill.
The contents of the book look very similar to Johnson’s lectures on the same subject from the Teaching Company. I have listened to those lectures. Twice. This is not what I am looking for in any case.
Seeing as how Plato rejected traditional paganism and Aristotle was certainly non-standard I fail to see how this helps your case or answers my questions. As for the Stoics, their heavy emphasis on playing the part that was dealt you would make them fit in with basically any set of religious practices. And, their beliefs were derived from a philosophical school, not from pagan beliefs. Again, not what I am looking for.
Read the review. Talks about common practices, common community, political uses of pagan practices, religious syncretism. Been there, done that, wore the t-shirt. Not what I am looking for.
All very true. I don’t care to compare pagan beliefs to anything else, a simply description of these commonalities will suffice.
I’ll take whatever points I can get.
For some reason, the subject reminded me of that part in Into the Woods where the main characters are arguing about whether to offer Jack to the giant to get her to stop flattening the kingdom. And of course most of them don’t want to do it because they feel icky about ditching him like that. And the witch is taking the pragmatic route and saying it’s worth it to save all their own skins.
At one point she sneers at all the wishy-washy moralistic bleating from everyone else and notes “you’re not good, you’re not bad – you’re just nice.”
Which is kind of how I feel about middle class America a lot of the time.
Well to be fair, since a pagan had been invited to the party I figured it was only fair to try and deal with some of his beliefs. Though, it’s pretty ironic that a big chunk of the conversation in an Evangelical/Mormon dialogue was between the pagan and the non-Evangelical Christian.
I didn’t think that Kullervo was being any more of a schmuck than he is 100% of the time. And since this behavior is pretty well tolerated around here, I just tried to ignore his behavior and stick to the issues he was raising.
Thanks for that David. I appreciate your effort.
I’m beginning to wonder what is the purpose of this Book of Romans series? Is it to discuss the meaning of what Paul wrote—what he thought—or to discuss whether or not Paul was correct?
That is an excellent question. One which has caused me to regret accepting Kullervo’s request to write a review of one of the chapters.
I assumed that the discussion would center around a common belief that Paul’s words are true and we would be discussing how we apply the truthfulness of his work to Mormonism/Evangelicalism/Christianity. Kullervo has made it rather clear that if we are to try this again, it should be with a text that everyone agrees is sacred. It would be too tempting for Evangelicals to get after the Book of Mormon’s origin rather than its content any time we found something we disagreed with in the text or its application.
Kullervo, I think, was trying to raise some valid objections which I don’t mind in the least discussing. The “fly in the ointment” presentation made those issues less appealing.
Do I understand your position to be that knowlege of the Judeo-Christian God was available to everyone who lived in Pagan society and yet no one outside of Israel found this God?
If this knowlege is consitently avilable from within, why is missionary work required?
I think you’re trying to get Paul to say more than what he was saying. Paul’s ultimate point over the next 3 chapters is that everyone stands condemned. Paul is not saying that the names “Jesus” and “Jehovah” are sitting on everyone’s tongues and the only reason we don’t hear them is because the Amazonians are too stubborn to speak them. He’s not even saying that every 12 year old knows the 10 commandments.
He’s saying that by observing nature, everyone can discern there is a creator who deserves praise. Rejecting the creator is the first step into wickedness. Men don’t need the Law to know their wicked; their own hearts tell them it’s so.
So no, I don’t think “Jehovah” (or even the gospel) is self evident to all men. I don’t think Paul thinks that either.
Later in Chapter 4 he says
I don’t think there is anything magical about the name J-E-S-U-S. I don’t think men need to hear it or speak it to be saved (though I most definitely think that only Jesus saves). I think this passage from Romans 4 helps us out in knowing how someone who has not heard the name “Jesus” can be saved. She acknowledges that she’s broken even her own moral code and she looks to God to set her right instead of trying to be right on her own.
I acknowledge that I don’t know who those people are or how many of them there might be. But I think God would be willing to work with that as he did for Abraham.
Indubitably. That thought crashes into Romans 10:
I think the situation is dire for everyone, everywhere. Because of our sinfulness we all need it spelled out for us by someone who can now see the world as it really is.
I’ve heard missionary stories (I’ll leave them in the “legend” category for now) of some one reaching the same place as Abraham, seeking God and then a missionary comes into their village. I’m not going to complain that God broke his own rules if a 12th Century Inca is in heaven. I think these passages make space for them.
I think Paul is clearly against any indulgence in carnal pleasure outside pretty strict confines. I am sure he would not like rock and roll in any form and everything it represent. Modern culture would probably appall him more than anything. i am sure he would be aghast at most Seinfeld episodes.
I don’t see Paul that way at all. He’s the one who said “all things are permissible”. He’s the one who argued hard for freedom in Christ. I don’t at all take him to be the first in a long line of Christian curmudgeons.
As far as the verses in reference to homosexuality: I didn’t mention them because they aren’t central to the theme of the chapter (and I knew they’d come up on their own).
Paul, clearly understanding the context of the Christians in Rome chose an example from a list of sins that would be obvious to them. Sit through a parade of sexual deviants and then read the chapter. You’ll be two steps ahead of him before he even makes his point.
I don’t presume that Paul thinks homosexuality is any worse than greed, depravity, envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice gossip, slanderer, God-hating, insolence, or arrogance. To a group of Madoff investors he may have chosen a different example.
I have read a number of commentators who have tried to put the verses in light of a particular Roman practice in an effort to soften it or make room for monogamous homosexual relationships. I think they succeed in allowing people to walk away from the passage thinking they can ignore it, but fail if you actually return to the passage and re-read it.
Always interesting that people prefer to pick on Leviticus rather than Romans 1.
David Clark: “Not what I am looking for, I want a book that talks about the common beliefs of pagans. Not common practices. Not common ceremonies. Not common gods.”
All of the sources that I cited do, in fact, deal with common areas of belief. And, besides, it is not possible to separate belief from practice. Religious beliefs are directly reflected in religious practice and vice-versa. And, very obviously, “common gods” means “common beliefs”.
David Clark: “Seeing as how Plato rejected traditional paganism and Aristotle was certainly non-standard I fail to see how this helps your case or answers my questions. As for the Stoics, their heavy emphasis on playing the part that was dealt you would make them fit in with basically any set of religious practices. And, their beliefs were derived from a philosophical school, not from pagan beliefs.”
Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and the Stoics were all traditional Pagan polytheists. They were to Paganism as Augustine, Aquinas, etc, are to Christianity.
‘I think you’re trying to get Paul to say more than what he was saying.’
Nah, I was really just trying to verify that was what Todd actually believed.
I believe that we’re born with a natural sense of right and wrong that we all fail to uphold. The inborn sorrow that this acknowlegement brings sets us off on a path that leads to the Savior.
However, I also know that there are many reasons that a person may not recognize the Savior’s influence in this life; which is why I rejoice in the LDS program of vicarious ordinances.
David Clark: “Not what I am looking for, I want a book that talks about the common beliefs of pagans. Not common practices. Not common ceremonies. Not common gods.”
Just one more thing: as I pointed out in my first post in this thread, there were no common beliefs held among all of the various cults and sects calling themselves Christian at the time, either. So one wonders what is the point of demanding this only of Pagans, but not of Christians?
I’ll say this one more time. I was trying to point out what Kullervo’s request entailed. In my mind his request entailed that Paul do something vis-a-vis pagans that would only be possible if there were common beliefs among the pagans. This is a meta-argument about the point Kullervo was making, not a point about the pagans themselves.
As for the diversity of Christianity, your timeline is off. In the lifetime of Paul there were two main camps in Christianity, Jewish Christians and Hellenic Christians. The Bible itself is pretty forthright in discussing their differences and yet they considered themselves the same “religion,” not separate sects. The diversity of Christianities, especially the introduction of gnostic influences started in the late 1st century and continued down to the 3rd. My point is it happened after Paul, so I don’t have to take into account diversity of Christianity in Paul’s time, it didn’t really exist yet.
In any case, like I said, this has been a meta-argument, not an argument about pagan beliefs. That’s as clear as I can possibly make it and it will be my last word on the subject.
That’s not something most Mormons need to be convinced of; it’s directly related to why we spend much time and money building and attending temples. Your fellow evangelicals? The teaching that those who haven’t heard of Jesus are destined for hell is much, much less common than it used to be among evangelicals, but it’s still taught in some circles. Here‘s one example I had no trouble finding:
Arrogant attitudes such as that — and I am not accusing Tim or Jack or anyone one else here of agreeing with that statement — that turned me off to evangelicalism umpteen years ago and got me looking at other types of Christianity.
The person who wrote the above based his belief partly on the first six chapters in Romans. It’s interesting how people can read the same passages and come to opposite conclusions.
and to be fair to your quote, I don’t know that I could argue with the substance of his argument. Death IS what we all deserve. I think that’s the bigger take away from the first 6 chapters of Romans than my explanation of a total of 6 verses from chapters 1 and 2.
I think the Holy Spirit is nonetheless actively calling people to Himself from all sorts of circumstances.
And I fully agree. I don’t think either one of is willing to limit the Holy Spirit as to the situations where he would reach out to people.
‘Death IS what we all deserve.’
I’ve seen this represented in different ways by christian friends..
If this means that we are separated from God when we willfully disobey him, and need the the sacrifce of His Son to reconcile us to Him; I have no problem with that.
However, if it means that the time I lied to my mom in the 8th grade warrants that I should spend eternity in a molten bath… I can’t say I’m there with you.
What would you say the definition of “sin” is? That’s a debate in the traditional Christian world.
What Christianity strikes at is the catch-22 we all find ourselves in. It’s not just that we are bad and deserve punishment. It’s that there is no possible way that any of us could be otherwise.
It’s not exactly our fault, but that doesn’t make any difference. The world is ruthless and cares not for any of you. It will crush you as soon as look at you. And for sins, there must be consequences and punishment. You can’t get out of this.
And it has nothing to do with whether you are “nice” or not. The situation is untenable, impossible, and pitiless.
Christianity embraces that awful fact head-on (rather than skirting avoiding the question like secularism does), tells no lies about it – and then provides a way to transcend it.
To the Evangelicals–why would God create people when he knew that they would all be so awful as to warrant eternal torment after death?
Your question could be stated “Why did God create something as beautiful as humanity and then give it free will if they were only going to mess it up?”
I’d venture to say that He did it because he thought people would be even more beautiful with free will and he would have a way to fix the problem caused by it. If his solution doesn’t overcome the problem for everyone because of their free will, he must really value allowing people to choose for themselves.
Better than describing Hell as a place with fire and brimstone, Hell is a place without God. If someone doesn’t want anything to do with God, “he gives them over” to their own desire. He allows them the choice.
Eric: “It’s interesting how people can read the same passages and come to opposite conclusions.”
That’s in large part due to the fact that many people come to their conclusions before ever reading the text.
katyjane: “To the Evangelicals–why would God create people when he knew that they would all be so awful as to warrant eternal torment after death?”
I’m glad that you directed that to Evangelicals, because the question makes no sense directed at Mormons.
Tim: “Death IS what we all deserve.”
Can you explain this a bit more; specifically, what do you mean by “death”? (And then why we all deserve it—and I may have to ask you to clarify what you mean by ‘deserve’ as well.) Thanks!
‘What would you say the definition of “sin” is? That’s a debate in the traditional Christian world.’
God’s laws are eternal and are the only path to our happiness. Sin is deliberately turning away from what we know is right in our hearts, putting our wills before His and reaping the pain and misery that result. We cannot be saved in our sins because they separate us from Him; I don’t believe this is a punishment- It’s just the way it is.
‘If someone doesn’t want anything to do with God, “he gives them over” to their own desire. He allows them the choice.’
-Does this include someone who chooses the wrong theology?
Ahh, we get back to the age old question: (1) God is all loving. (2) God is all-knowing. (3) God is all powerful. (4) There is a foul, foul evil in this world that cannot be denied.
Whereas many might seek to tweak the omnis. Most don’t deny the evil that permeates and relentlessly desires to suck our hope and make us all skeptics of the Judea-Christian Creator God.
But in thinking about God, and Jews, and pagans, and missions, my mind has been diverted to the book of Jonah.
Jonah is fixated on the evil of a pagan empire. He wants them all to die. No doubt, these pagans were the cause of a lot of cruel death. But in this book, you see the message so strongly: (1) Pagans are wicked. (2) Pagans will perish if they don’t repent (3) God’s heart is so large and so full of love and compassion to pagans.
And I find Jonah 1 so intriguing. Who does the Bible present as more sincere? (1) The prophet of God? or (2) polytheistic pagan sailors?
In chapter 1, I want to meet and hang out with the pagans. Look at the God of all, the God of life and love – his smile is upon those men.
Can you explain this a bit more; specifically, what do you mean by “death”?
I take the Bible to mean real physical death.
Genesis 3:2-3 says:
Death is an effect of sin.
Does this include someone who chooses the wrong theology?
I like your definition of sin.
Do you think wrong theology ever leads people to sin? Would following a false prophet be a sin? Would rejecting a true prophet be a sin?
Isn’t rejecting God a theological choice?
Thanks Tim. This is going to get off subject I’m afraid, but I want to press a bit more: Why is physical death a negative? Paul seems to present physical death as something I would hope to avoid (or dread, etc.), but why?
Physical death is a negative because it leads to a permanent separation from God and every good thing that comes from him.
What would you say?
It actually makes more even more sense directed to Mormons. Read Mosiah 3 to see what Mormons think people deserve.
But the real clincher is that in Mormon theology God expected Adam and Eve to screw it up. In fact, read 2 Nephi 2 and you will see that they had to screw it up for God’s plan to work. An evangelical can argue that God hoped that Adam and Eve would live in paradise, with their descendants, forever. Redemption is plan “B” for evangelicals. For Mormons, fallen man and redemption is plan “A”
David Clark: it makes no sense in the context of how I read katyjane’s question because, for Mormons, God did not create humans at all: we have always existed; he just created opportunities for us to progress. Katyjane can correct me if I read the context of her question wrong.
Tim: I’ve never understood that side of Evangelical thought, so thanks. My answer is a bit different—more vague in some ways, although yours is also vague. My answer is that physical bodies are somehow important for us to progress. I don’t know what that “something” is that makes them so important, but that’s the deal: bodies allow us to do…something. Your answer is more direct in some ways—you directly identify what important thing a physical body allows—but exactly why a physical body is required to allow us to dwell with God…that’s not clear to me. (Maybe you have an explanation for that too, in which case I’m the only one with a vague answer!)
So are you asking me why did God create us in the first place?
If so, my answer is “because he could and it was an awesome display of his power, love and beauty”.
As physical beings we’re different than God. That difference somehow allows us to be in relationship with him though we lack holiness. If we were only spiritual, we could have no relationship with him if we fell into sin (as Lucifer did). So through the gift of life God allows us to figure out if we want more of him, but through sin we lose our ability to keep that life.
I have ZERO idea “why” it is that way. CS Lewis might call it deep magic.
I’m not asking the first question; that was katyjane’s.
But your “As physical beings…” paragraph addresses what I was asking. Thanks.
If Dallas Willard could do all my talking for me I’d let him. Go to this link and look for the heading on Heaven and Hell.
It doesn’t matter how you read katyjane’s question, though for the record I think I interpreted it correctly. In any case, assuming I’m 100% wrong, it still applies to Mormons. Why would God create/organize/create opportunities for progress for all of those spirits in heaven when he knew at least 1/3 of them would endure eternal torment by following Satan?
Your answer does not eliminate the objection, it merely moves it backwards in time.
David Clark: “It doesn’t matter how you read katyjane’s question…”
It matters to me. Does it make a difference how I answer your question if how I think and understand doesn’t matter to you? I’m serious: I don’t want to waste your time or mine.
BrianJ, its actually a problem under both Mormon and Evangelical theological constructs. I’ve discussed this issue elsewhere but this comment is generally representative of the main dilemma; especially note the last two paragraphs.
I’m interested in your answer Brian.
aquinas: I’m speaking from a “Joseph-centered” point of view: if Joseph (and canonized scripture) says that spirits cannot be created, then I think it makes no sense for Mormons to speak otherwise. I understand that many Mormons do speak otherwise, but I still think that makes no sense. Hence, my reply to katyjane was not meant to encompass all diversities of Mormon thought (unlike your thoughtful comment that you linked to).
Tim: I assume you mean my answer to David Clark’s question, “Why would God create/organize/create opportunities…?” Here’s the difference I see in katyjane’s question as it applies to Evangelicals versus Mormons (*Mormons who pay attention to Joseph Smith and the Book of Abraham). Is there a difference between:
a) creating someone who did not exist, knowing that he/she would suffer without relief?
b) creating something that might improve the state of someone who currently exists, knowing that he/she might not take advantage of your creation?
Clearly, I think ‘a’ applies to Evangelicalism and ‘b’ could be applied to both Evangelicalism and Mormonism.
The other part of David Clark’s question—eternal torment—is not, to my knowledge, directly addressed in LDS scripture in this way: Is outer darkness a worse state than whatever state we experienced before God “came into our lives”? (Or whatever fate awaited us had he never done so.) If it is worse, then that would bring Mormonism closer to an ‘a’-like question. I think that’s a possibility, but I think it’s also possible (and I have an uneducated hunch that it’s more likely) that what we call “outer darkness” is essentially a return to a sans-God state.
Quoting LDS scripture from the LDS website.
And as the wiki entry on outer darkness helpfully points out:
The wiki also conveniently references Abraham 3:18, so given your predilection for Joseph and the Book of Abraham, this should be very persuasive. Gnolaum here is an everlasting hell. However, this is not everlasting in the D&C 19 sense that everlasting is not really everlasting. No, this “everlasting” appears to be the standard English definition of everlasting, though one wonders why one has to use the term “gnolaum” to call something really everlasting when there is a perfectly good English term, “everlasting” which does the same thing.
In any case it appears that outer darkness is 1) pretty hellish and 2) forever. So back to katyjane’s original question, why did God do what he did when 1/3 of the spirits would be in this really bad place forever? It’s the same problem facing the evangelical.
Hmmm. When I was growing up, I was taught by somewhat fundamentalist-leaning parents (NOT polygamists, just very literal, conservative, and frankly a little “fringe” in their approach) that outer darkness is a state of disorganization beyond space and time. Further, they said that we all dwelled there as intelligences before Heavenly Father organized us into spirit bodies — a type of primordial soup for spirits, I suppose. Those who commit the unpardonable sin are cast back into that state of disorganization, and that is outer darkness.
It was even hinted that God might, at one point, go back into the soup and give them another shot at life and progression.
I have no idea where they got these ideas and have minimal investment in them today. Still, I’d be interested to see, David, the source that refers “gnolaum” as being referred to as “forever” in terms of perpetuity in time vs. a place (or non-place?) that exists outside of space and time.
Katie L, see this post.
Crazy!! I guess they didn’t just make it up after all. 🙂
Huh. It sounds to me like it would be possible to read JS as saying that outer darkness / hell is “gnolaum” in the sense that the place itself exists in perpetuity, but that individual people’s “stays” there are not necessarily eternal.
Of course, about all I know on the topic is what my parents told me growing up, the post aquinas just linked to, and the Wikipedia article you quoted, David. So I obviously have limited information on this.
I asked the question of the Evangelicals and not the Mormons because, as a former Mormon, I feel quite comfortable with LDS beliefs. And as the LDS teachings as I understood them were that spirits were not created by God, but something that always existed, then I don’t feel like God created things knowing that He was going to damn them to eternal torment for not being taught required teachings to not go to Hell.
As far as the 1/3 of the spirits who chose not to participate and thus not get bodies… well, I have two thoughts about that. First, I feel like they probably knew what they were giving up (as opposed to some kid in another country who is taught his whole life that Christians are bad and evil, if he is taught anything at all about Christ, and never really had a chance to believe otherwise, and that kid is sent to Hell for circumstances he had no control over).
Second, I have a hard time mourning things that for all experience that I have had never existed. I can relate to people who mess up. I can relate to people who never were taught about Jesus. I can relate to people navigating the world as best as they can. Just as I don’t feel bad or worry too much about the possibility that I might have a miscarriage before I even know that I’m pregnant through whatever means, and thus a potential life was not brought into the world, nor about any sins that I may have committed when I was a kid but don’t remember, I’m not as worried about stuff that happened in the pre-existence.
I believe and trust in a good, loving, personal god. I have a difficult time reconciling a good, loving, personal god to someone who condemns people to eternal suffering for circumstances that were way beyond their control, and for all intents and purposes, unfixable by them.
However, Tim, I am getting the impression from you (and correct me if I’m wrong) that you (and maybe all/many/most? Evs) believe that people are judged based on what they should have known. Thus, a person who is never taught about Jesus are judged based on what they did know–the calls of the conscience, the morality that seems common among all, and following the promptings that each individual may have had–and since God knows, God is in the position to judge that. That is also what I have come away from the first few chapters of Romans feeling like Paul was saying, also.
I’m not in a position to speak for all/many/most Evangelicals on the topic because the Bible isn’t any more clear about it than what is said in Romans 1 and 2. That’s what I believe and what pastors and scholars I respect believe.
But I wouldn’t have to throw a stick very far to find someone who thinks little 9 year old Abdul in Afghanistan is most definitely going to Hell because he never heard about Jesus before the suicide bomber killed him.
Interesting comment, katyjane. Thanks for weighing in.
By the way:
“sins that I may have committed when I was a kid but don’t remember”
If that’s your way of getting out of the $20 you’ve owed me for years, it’s not gonna work!
BrianJ–I think you should work on forgetting the sins I committed when I was a kid, too. 🙂
I apologize for falling behind in commenting on these posts and participating in the discussions. Been horribly busy these past two weeks.
Tim, I really liked your take on this here:
And in spite of my earlier outburst at you, Kullervo, I just wanted to say that you did give me some things to think about. I’d never really stepped outside my perspective and considered how actual pagans might feel about Paul’s words in Romans 1. Probably the same way I feel when I read Joseph Smith’s First Vision account.