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The Unforgiven

05/24/2018
Seek The Truth Blog

The Unforgiven:

Hyper-fundamentalist groups often lack the fundamental concept of forgiveness that Christ himself established and the Apostle Paul propagated throughout the many cities during his travel. Enforcing a rigid, literal interpretation of the text, specific passages are highlighted as a means to justify unrelenting condemnation, ostracizing of, and even excommunication from members of their own group. One of the most common passages from the Bible that is abused by hyper-fundamentalist groups is found in the Book of Hebrews.

While many Christians unfamiliar with the history of the Bible canon might strongly object to a study questioning the authenticity or apostleship of one of the sacred books, church history shows this to be fairly recent obstacle hindering critical thought. The Book of Hebrews originally believed to have been written by the Apostle Paul and included in the Bible canon on this premise, has been disputed since ancient times. In his "Preface to Hebrews", Martin Luther acknowledges this fact:

Up to this point we have had to do with the true and certain chief books of the New Testament. The four which follow have from ancient times had a different reputation.
- Martin Luther, Preface to the Epistle to the Hebrews

The majority of scholars today agree that Paul was not the author of Hebrews, and this belief is not only based on literary style, but also through a theological study of the text and a well-documented history of such analysis. Church fathers such as Tertullian noted the different manner in which the theology and doctrine appear in the text, as did Origen of Alexander and others. Martin Luther took issue with chapters 6 and 10, because in his opinion, it stood firmly against the Gospels by forbidding sinners to repentance:

Again, there is a hard knot in the fact that in chapters 6 and 10 it flatly denies and forbids to sinners repentance after baptism, and in Hebrews 12:17, it says that Esau sought repentance and did not find it. This seems, as it stands, to be against all the Gospels and St. Paul's epistles; and although one might make a gloss on it, the words are so clear that I do not know whether that would be sufficient. My opinion is that it is an epistle of many pieces put together, and it does not deal with any one subject in an orderly way.
- Martin Luther, Preface to the Epistle to the Hebrews

For hyper-fundamentalist groups that make (partial) use of the Mosiac Law in the Old Covenant, the author of the book of Hebrews provides an ample amount of reverence to the Old Covenant to support their theology. This, in stark contrast with the author of the letter to Philippians (believed by most scholars to be the Apostle Paul) who considered righteousness based on the Mosaic Law to be "dung". (Phil. 3:6-8). But to further Martin Luther's observation, scholars have for centuries noticed the statements in Hebrews often used by isolationist sects concerning those who leave:

For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.
- Hebrews 6:4-8

Those who hold to a hyper-fundamentalist view of this passage from Hebrews, especially those who view their group as the only "enlightened ones", cannot with open arms welcome those who no longer believe in their theology. For this reason, former members of groups that practice ex-communication or shunning are sometimes uncomfortable with a backslidden Christian who returns to the church. Those opposed to a literal interpretation of this verse lean more towards Martin Luther's views about the difference in theology regarding repentance, leaving open doors to forgiveness and acceptance. Traditional Christian groups, for the most part, do their best to filter theological understanding of such difficult passages through the views expressed by Jesus Christ himself: unlimited forgiveness.

Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.
- Matt. 18:21-22

These two verses almost fully explain the difference between hyper-fundamentalist and traditional Christian views on religion. More specifically, they outline the difference between hyper-fundamentalism and the instructions of Christ. Peter, still viewing religion through the filter of the Mosaic Law, was trying to understand the proper boundaries. How many times can we forgive a person? We need an exact number! Our religion must dictate! Jesus, not speaking literally, multiplied Peter's number by seven to stress the importance of always forgiving others. Sadly, some who interpret this passage literally mistakenly think that Jesus simply "changed the rules" from seven to 490.

Luther's Preface to Bible Books and Letters:
http://www.godrules.net/library/luther/NEW1luther_f8.htm