Saturday, December 10, 2011

J.P. Holding on Perseverance of the Saints

J.P. Holding calls himself a 1.5 pointer in terms of his adoption of TULIP. He adopts a completely redefined doctrine of total depravity and then perhaps accepts the inconsistent view of conservative Aminianism on limited atonement. As it turns out, Holding is a zero point Calvinist. We come to his views on eternal security, which are muddled and unorthodox in my estimation.

Holding argues that libertarian freedom must mean that men can truly become born again and also truly throw off their salvation. At least he is better than most because he asserts that such an act of apostasy is unforgivable. What I mean is that Holding at least attempts to be consistent in a way. In other words, if you commit this act, you can never repent of it. You have sealed your fate. Upon examining the texts Holding references, it seems to me that only two merit serious (as serious as one can be in a blog I suppose) treatment. Many of the texts Holding uses simply do not even address the issue of apostasy in my opinion. Moreover, one of the clearest texts in all of Scripture on the subject is left untreated by Holding and that is Matt. 13:18-23.

Holding has a very serious problem in establishing his position. To begin with, if genuine apostasy is possible, and if Holding’s view of apostasy is correct, then apostasy is indeed an eternal sin. The two texts that speak to this issue are Hebrews 6:4-6 and 10:26-39. In addition, Holding has a real issue with contradiction in the texts of Scripture. Why is this? This is because Jesus said there was one sin and only one sin for which man could not be forgiven: the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. Holding has built his case in such a way that if it can be demonstrated that apostasy is not the same thing as blaspheming the Holy Spirit, then his view collapses. Holding will have to abandon his claims, or he will have to accept the view that Scripture contradicts itself. Of course, since Holding buys into the idea of block logic so thoroughly, perhaps he is fine with believing that the Bible contains contradictions. If this is where we end up, then we can write Holding off as an irrational. It would be odd to be in the business of “argument” while at the same time contending that logic fails.

The Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit

This seems like the best and least complicated place to begin. The texts in the NT that talk about blaspheming the Holy Spirit are located in: Matt. 12:31-32; Mark 3:28-29; Luke 12:10. The second question that would follow pertains to whether or not unbelief can be forgiven. Finally, the object of atonement is worth mentioning before we complete our critique. That is, did Jesus die for sins in general or sinners in particular? The atonement is indelibly connected to perseverance as we will show later in this post.

In Mark 3, Jesus has an interesting exchange with His religious opponents. The chapter begins with the healing of the man with a withered hand on the Sabbath. Of course this did not set well with the Pharisees and they conspired how they might kill Him. So Jesus goes down to the sea and multitudes follow him. He heals many and casts out many demons. This further infuriates the religious crowd. He then chooses the twelve, and enters into a house. The crowds follow yet again so much so that they cannot even eat. Jesus own family thought He had lost His mind. It is here that that scribes, the specialists in the Mosaic law accused Jesus of casting out demons by Satan Himself. Jesus responds to this challenge by saying that, “all sins shall be forgiven men and whatever blasphemies they utter, but the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness!

Immediate Texts

Frist of all, Mark connects the sin of blasphemy with speech with the phrase, βλασφημίαι ὅσα ἐὰν βλασφημήσωσιν•. The connection of the noun with the verb goes to speech. However, there can be no doubt that speech is the betrayer of what lies in the heart. Jesus said as much in Matt. 12. In an honor-shame culture such as this one, the people would readily understand the issue with speaking words of shame about the Holy Spirit. The charge would resonate with them immediately. Not only this, the scribes were thoroughly familiar with the expression of blasphemy. It fell under the rubric of “the profanation of the Name.” In general, this was speech which defied God’s power and majesty. In fact, it was part of the tradition that the scribes viewed all sin as pardonable except profanation of God’s name, or blasphemy. [Lane, William L. NICNT, Mark. 144-145] Therefore, it must be understood that Jesus’ charge was familiar and exceedingly serious. It was one thing not to recognize Jesus as the Messiah. Their eyes were veiled. However, the judgment that these men were delivered over from demonic possession by the spirit of Satan rather than God was blasphemy. After all, it was the responsibility of the scribes to be aware of the redemptive acts of God. [Lane, 146] Finally, Mark makes it clear that the reason Jesus responded with this charge was specifically related to their statement that Jesus had an unclean spirit. The scribes had committed blasphemy, the eternal sin!

Matt. 12:31-32 also links blasphemy with speech when he uses the parallel between blasphemy and speaking in v. 31 and 32 respectively. Who speaks against the Son will be forgiven is paralleled with whoever blasphemes against the Son. Whoever speaks against the Spirit is paralleled with whoever blasphemes the Spirit will not be forgiven. Jesus goes on to demonstrate how words that people use reveal their true character. From the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.

Luke 12:10 uses speak and blaspheme interchangeable when he says whoever speaks a word against the Son it will be forgiven, but whoever blasphemes the Holy Spirit it will not be forgiven him. Based on the three texts recorded in Mark, Matthew, and Luke, it would seem readily apparent that to blaspheme, while it does involve a condition of the heart, in this context most certainly involves speech. What is in the heart will proceed out of the mouth. And what proceeds from the mouth reveals the truth about what is in the heart. Of course I mean the preponderance of what comes out of the mouth. One should take care not to force a single definition onto this Greek word based on these three texts. The word blaspheme will certainly have other meanings that perhaps do not necessarily involve speech. However, we are concerned with J.P. Holding’s contention that the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit in Matt. 12, Mark 3, and Luke 12 do not mean slanderous speech. Obviously Holding is wrong.

Broader Textual Considerations

The Greek word blasphemeo appears 34 times in the NT. Paul uses it 8 times. It could be argued that in every instance, speech is considered. At least on six occasions speech is certainly the context of Paul’s writing. James uses it to refer to speech. Peter uses the word four times and he means slanderous speech in every instance. Jude uses it twice to refer to slanderous speaking.

Lexical Considerations

BDAG tells us it means to demean through speech. To speak in a disrespectful manner. In human relations, it means to revile, slander, or defame. In relation to transcendent or associated entities, it means to slander, revile, defame, speak irreverently, impiously, disrespectfully of or about. Louw-Nida says it means to speak against someone in such a way as to harm or injure his or her reputation (occurring in relation to persons or divine beings). One way in which these words were used to blaspheme God was when they were used in such a way as claiming equality with God. Any such statement was regarded by the Jews of biblical times as being harmful and injurious to the nature of God. According to the EDNT, the word group appears a total of 56 times in the NT: 34v, 18n, and 4a. In the EDNT, the kind of blasphemy that appears in the texts of Matt. 12 and Mark 3 is “absolute blasphemy.” This is direct blasphemy. Suffice it to say that the immediate context of our discussion along with the broader context of the NT as well as the lexical evidence demonstrate that blasphemy in the NT involves speech more often than not. Moreover, the immediate context of our passages certainly indicates that speech is in play in blasphemy. Hence, based on the context of Matt. 12:31-32, Luke 12:10, and Mark 3:28-29, there can be no doubt that this blasphemy involved speech. In addition, the broader use of the word throughout the NT indicates that it involves speech in the overwhelming majority of uses. Finally, the lexical considerations support the view that bound up in the definition of blasphemy is the idea of slanderous or defamatory speech. J.P. Holding’s view that blasphemy is merely unbelief does not hold up. It also does not follow that all unbelief or apostasy is blasphemy. Of course, blasphemy is one indication of an unbelieving heart. But surely it is not the only indication. Blasphemy is one of many sins that can be spawned by the sin of unbelief. In fact, most scholars would agree that all sin has its root cause, to one degree or another, in the sin of unbelief. Holding’s failure to understand this is shocking. The immediate context, the lexical evidence, and the broader textual evidence throughout the NT indicate that blasphemy has an indelible connection with speech. Moreover, there is no connection whatever between apostasy and the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. Of this, we can be certain.


For Holding, it is the clear: heartfelt repudiation of belief is apostasy. Has Holding succeeded where others have failed? Is the doctrine of eternal security, whatever form one posits, unbiblical? Holding refers to several texts that he believes support his position. Space will only permit a limited treatment of the texts in question. I will treat Holding’s positive proof first and then I will come back to His rebuttal of selected texts along with some that he omits.

Holding mentions Gal. 5:4 as an example of actual apostasy. The problem here is that the offenders were not throwing off Christ. They were not denying His deity. They were not even turning away from Him. They were adding requirements of the Law to Christ. This is far from Holding’s definition as heartfelt repudiation of belief. There is no suggestion of any kind that Judaizers were committing blasphemy against the Holy Spirit in this text. Holding seems to have introduced evidence that is more of a problem for this thesis than it is for the doctrine of perseverance.

Hebrews 6:4-6

Holding responds to MacArthur who argues these were not genuine Christians, saying that this language is used of genuine Christians elsewhere in the NT. Perhaps this is so. However, simply because the language is used to describe true believers in other texts, this does not ipso facto indicate it does so here. Unbelievers can receive the Word of God with joy. They can give the appearance, for a time, that they are indeed saved. On that basis it is reasonable to view such as having been enlightened and even having tasted of the good Word of God, at least outwardly. But after a while, Jesus said they will fall away, having no root in themselves. Holding neglects to take this verse into consideration. I will come back to it.

Holding then argues against the view that this verse is purely hypothetical. He argues that there is no conditional sentence in the text. I am not sure which English version Holding is referring to when he says there is not if in the Greek text in verse 6. The trouble is that the conditional aspect of this text is located in v. 9, not verse 6. It is there the ei appears. Verse 9 says, “But, beloved, we are convinced of better things concerning you, and things that accompany salvation, if even (though) we speak like this (we are speaking this way).” The writer then says, “For God is not unjust.” This language clearly indicates a hypothetical component and this is not merely supported by the presence of the conjunction ei, but the entire context of the chapter. I will come back to that point.

Holding then spends considerable time talking about repentance but says nothing note that would require response as far as I can tell.

The overall context of these three verses falls within the immediate context of progressing in the faith. The writer of Hebrews is clearly not pleased with the lack of spiritual growth of these Hebrew Christians. He urges them to grow up. He argues that they should not be concerned about laying the foundation again and again. Move on is his imperative. However, he says this we will do if God permits and then he introduces our text. After the text, an analogy, and a disclosure that he is not worried about the salvation of the Hebrew Christians, being convinced that God is not unjust, even though he is speaking in this way. Calvinists and others argue that God uses warnings as His means to providentially oversee the perseverance of His saints. Holding nowhere refuted why such a view is misguided. He simply made fun of it and moved on. Given the strong hypothetical in 6:9 “though we are speaking in this way,” is literally, if we speak like this. Hebrews 6:4-6 is best viewed as a hypothetical because of how it is situation contextually, because of the conditional clause that appears in v. 9, because of the convicting view of God’s justice in v. 10, because of the restatement of the unshakable promise to Abraham, and because of the hope mentioned in v. 19. Moreover, Scripture is its own interpreter and there are plain texts that indicate that salvation can never be forfeited once given.

Heb. 10:22-39

Holding argues that this sin is the sin of unbelief. Holding selects v. 22 as the context for v. 26. But the writer mentions love, good deeds and continuing to assemble together. There can be no doubt that the writer is concerned with the sin of apostasy. But once more, there is nothing to indicate that genuine believers who were truly saved actually tossed away their salvation. The warning goes out to all, as a means of perseverance, that turning back to the sacrificial system of the law will not provide forgiveness and cleansing any longer. Of the sanctification language, I do not take the phrase literally. Just as Peter talked about the false teachers who have supposed been redeemed, so the writer of Hebrews uses the same literary device concerning those who were turning back from that very covenant that had supposed sanctified them. The view that this text makes a significant different between those who turn back and those who preserve is located in v. 39. Once more, Holding misplaces the limits of the text and the results are disastrous. The writer could not be more clear about the existence of two groups and which group “we” belong to. He says, “But we are not of shrinking back into perdition, but faithful into preserving of the soul.” The writer says “we” are not of those who turn back, but of those who continue to life.

The intent of this blog was not to lay out an argument for the perseverance of the saints, a doctrine to which I am firmly committed. Rather, it was simply to explore the contentions of J.P. Holding that this doctrine is not taught in Scripture. Holding’s view required a logical connection between the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit and Apostasy. If he could not make that connection, his entire argument fails. As I have shown above, Holding failed to provide adequate evidence to support his definition of blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. He also failed to show any Scriptural evidence connecting the sin of unbelief or apostasy with the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. In addition, Holding failed to show any proof that the texts in Hebrews 6 and 10 addressed the loss of salvation given. Finally, Holding never interacted with Matt. 13:18-23. Here Jesus talks about several types of responders to the Word of God. One of the groups takes the Word and receives it with joy. But after a while, because of affliction or persecution, he falls away. This describes perfectly the situation with the Hebrew Christians. They were facing persecution and some were defecting. These are the ones that Christ mentioned in Matt. 13:18-23. They were never good ground. They were never really saved. The only ones who are genuinely saved are those who bring forth fruit, 30-60-100 fold. Why Holding does not make this connection I do not know.

Based on the context of the incident of blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, the lexical evidence, and the broader context of the NT, it would seem that Holding is wrong to identify it with unbelief or apostasy. Since this is the only sin that cannot be forgiven, the texts in Hebrews must be taken differently, otherwise we have a violent contradiction. Given that we clearly know that only one sin is eternal, and that that sin is not throwing away one’s salvation, it must be held that Hebrews could not be talking about the literal throwing away of one’s salvation. The immediate context containing the conditional clause, and the corpus of Scripture would mandate a hypothetical interpretation of Hebrews 6. Hebrews 10 clearly does not leave us hanging as the author tells his audience that we are not of those who draw back. All of this indicates that Holding’s criticism of how P in TULIP is understood has little to commend it. When you couple this with a positive presentation of the doctrine of perseverance [HERE], Holding’s entire criticism seems rather unconvincing. You can find excellent articles on these texts here and here.

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