Saturday, January 26, 2013

Refutation of Jesse Morrell’s Documentary “Beyond Augustine”


Original Sin: Historic Biblical Truth, or Gnostic Error as Alleged by Pelagians?

By Keith Thompson
 


Sections:
- Introduction
- Pre-Augustine Christians on Original Sin/Depravity and the Necessity of Grace
- A Few Early Christians Influenced by Paganism Retained Free Will in Spite of the Biblical Teaching (Justin Martyr et al) 
- Significant and Substantial Differences Between Orthodox Original Sin and Predestination vs. Gnostic Views Contra Morrell
- Glaring Biblical Errors in Morrell’s Film  
- Conclusion

Introduction

For Part 2 of our reply click here

In his fifty-four minute documentary film the Pelagian and Open Theist Jesse Morrell’s thesis is that St. Augustine’s orthodox biblical teaching on original sin (i.e., all men receive a sinful nature due to the fall of man as well as Adam’s guilt imputed) finds its roots in Manichaeism, Marcionism and earlier Gnostic teachings. He tries to show the early church before Augustine affirmed libertarian free will or man’s natural ability to seek and obey God apart from grace. This Morrell does to try to validate his Pelagian beliefs as historical. He attempts to prove the Reformed doctrine of man’s depravity due to original sin is ahistorical. Otherwise put, this film is nothing less than an assault on the historic doctrine of original sin. We will therefore critique his revisionist attempt at history and document how Morrell’s thesis is full of errors. We will prove he often quotes forgeries instead of the ancient authors’ real works. We will show the doctrine of original sin is the historic doctrine of the church and that Morrell’s unbiblical Pelagian view of man’s natural ability to choose and will good autonomously is akin to Paganism.

Morrell acknowledges that the early historic councils of the Christian church condemned his Pelagian beliefs: again the denial of original sin-nature and affirmation of man’s natural ability. For example in A.D. 411 Pelagius’s student Caelestius was condemned by a local synod of Christians in Carthage North Africa for his denial of original sin. They also refused him ordination since he was unfit to lead as a heretic. This was before Augustine even entered the debate on Pelagianism, free will and original sin. Augustine was not at this council but would wait until the next year to enter into the Pelagian debate through writing (Williston Walker, A History of the Christian Church, 4th ed., [Scribner, 1985], pp. 207-208). Things like this help to refute the picture Morrell tries to paint in his film. He makes it as though Augustine was the one responsible for the doctrine of original sin entering the Church thereby causing an alleged division in the church.

Contra Morrell’s crooked painting, Christians in Africa, and all over the word, long before Augustine held to original sin. That’s why they held to the practice of baptizing infants for example. The African Church writer Cyprian died in A.D. 258 long before Augustine was born. He affirmed infant baptism due to the fact that infants contract original sin. He stated the following in the context of rejecting the practice that infants should have to wait eight whole days before being baptized: “This recently born infant has not sinned except that, being born physically according to Adam, he has contracted the contagion/infection of the ancient death at his birth” (Cyprian, Letter 58.5). Although I disagree with infant baptism this does refute Morrell so it is relevant to note. We will go into more pre-Augustine material affirming original sin and man’s inability apart from grace in later.

In A.D. 418 the Council of Carthage in Africa comprised of various Christian leaders condemned Pelagius and his student Caelestius for denying the biblical truth of original sin and man’s fallenness. Moreover, in A.D. 431 the council of Ephesus ratified this condemnation of Morrell’s Pelagian heresy. Later the council of Orange in A. D. 529 condemned semi-pelagianism which taught coming to God was possible by free will apart from grace, while remaining in God afterwards required grace. This was also denied as unbiblical error since Scripture is clear we don’t come to God freely but only by His assistance or grace since we’re corrupt by nature. Thus the church has been clear on this insofar as the early councils are concerned.

In light of this Morrell, in the beginning of his film, asserts the Christian church got this issue wrong and he even identifies the doctrine of original sin as heretical. He argues the church went off track concerning original sin similar to a court trial giving a wrong sentence or verdict. However, if Morrell is right then that would mean Jesus made false promises and prophecies concerning His church not being overcome with heresy and error. For, in Matthew 16:18 Jesus said the gates of hell would not prevail against His church. In John 16:13 Jesus said “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth (John 16:13),” thus affirming God’s people will have the Spirit and be led to truth and not error. Finally, Jesus said, “I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20). So, if Morrell is right about the church from early times until today being overcome by major heresy on such a broad scale, then that would mean Jesus made false promises and prophecies to His church. It would mean the gates of hell prevailed over His Church and that Jesus was wrong about Him and His Spirit, who leads into truth, being with the church until the end of time.

Within the first five minutes of his film Morrell quotes two early 19th century authors I never heard of, James Miller and John Murray (edit Jan. 27, 2013: Morrell's strange sourcing style led me to think Miller and Murray wrote those works, but they actually published them. Beausobre and W. F. Hook actually wrote them, never heard of them either), writing as though the early church universally rejected original sin and held to libertarian free will (libertarian free will meaning man is free to act or choose apart from God’s eternal determinations or constraints of nature). These authors claim it was the Manichean Gnostics who were responsible for denying free will and teaching that man is fallen and thereby in need of grace to obey God. This, again, is Morrell’s main contention in the film.

If Morrell is correct on this point then when we examine the writings of the many early orthodox Christians before Augustine, we should not find that they believed original sin like he did. Nor should we find that they taught the necessity of grace to obey God due to man’s fallen condition like he did. After all, Augustine introduced these teachings to the church which he got from Manichaean Gnostics, right? This is, however, precisely what one does find in the pre-Augustine early church period contra Morrell’s false revision of history. Once it is proven that original sin and the necessity of grace to obey are pre-Augustinian orthodox Christian doctrines, this will render erroneous Morrell’s entire premise that the early Christians denied original sin and that Gnosticism is responsible for it.

Pre-Augustine Christians on Original Sin/Depravity and the Necessity of Grace

In the film Morrell parrots the Pelagian accusation that Augustine adopted the doctrine of original sin and man’s fallenness from Manichaeism (a later form of Gnosticism) and not from church writers before him or the Bible. A young Pelagian named Julian who lived during Augustine’s time seems to be responsible for this obtuse accusation against Augustine. Julian wrote a four-volume work trying to defend the errors of his teacher Pelagius (Morrell’s teacher as well), refute Augustine and original sin, and prove Augustine’s teaching was akin to Gnosticism.

However Augustine responded with the work titled Against Julian sufficiently refuting all of Julian’s arguments. In it Augustine proved the Christian church writers before him affirmed the doctrine of original sin and man’s fallenness by pooling many of their writings. That utterly refuted any attempt to credit this biblical doctrine to Gnosticism. So I don’t understand why modern Pelagians of today such as Morrell continue in their quests of revisionism on this issue. Thus I will appeal to Augustine’s citations of those orthodox Christians before him for this paper. I will also appeal to John Gill’s tome The Cause of God and Truth which documents, among other doctrines, the teaching of original sin and human depravity in the early church writers prior to Augustine. I will also appeal to Philip Schaff’s monumental History of the Christian Church, Gregg Allison’s recent tome Historical Theology which is a systematic theology of the early church’s teachings, as well as J. N. D. Kelly’s classic work Early Christian Doctrines among other works.

Right at the outset of his work Against Julian Augustine stated something ironic which is fitting for this situation: “I ask why you boast that you have at least externally replied to my book when in your four books you have not even touched upon a quarter of my one book to refute it” (Augustine, Against Julian, Book I). It has always been a Pelagian trend to not address the best of, and all of, the other side. In fact although Morrell presents himself as addressing this issue sufficiently in his film, in reality he has not at all addressed the case for original sin’s historicity offered by those works I mentioned above. He has given a very one-sided error-ridden painting of history involving much deception by omission. If he wanted to seriously engage this issue, his film would have needed to interact with those serious works I mentioned.

Moreover, near the end of Book 4 of Augustine’s reply he catches Julian dishonestly misquoting him and adding words to past statements he said to try to make him say something he didn’t. Morrell does something similar in the film since, as I mentioned, he quotes spurious sources written in the name of early Christians and also longer versions of early Christian writings which are only longer because a later forger added extra words. We will prove this in a minute.

Contra Morrell, respected church historian Philip Schaff noted that the Latin fathers before Augustine were quite clear on the doctrine of original sin: “…the Latin fathers, especially Tertullian, and Cyprian, Hilary and Ambrose…emphasized the hereditary sin and hereditary guilt of man, and the sovereignty of God’s grace, without however, denying freedom and individual accountability” (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol. 3, [Hendrickson Publishers, 2011], p. 786). Augustine picked up on this biblical and historical teaching later. So according to serious historians, it’s erroneous for Morrell to argue Augustine introduced original sin to the church from Gnosticism. That’s not at all true. The doctrine has a rich history in the Christian church long before Augustine as I will now prove.

Clement of Rome was an early Christian secretary for the Church at Rome. He died around A.D. 101. At 7:13 minutes Morrell quotes him as uttering the following in support of free will and man’s natural ability: “For no other reason does God punish the sinner either in the present or in the future world, except because he knows that the sinner was able to conquer but neglected to gain the victory.” And the source Morrell gives for this quote is “Recognitions of Clement of Rome 111. 23. V. 8, IX. 30.” However, it is well known the Recognitions are part of the pseudo-Clementine literature. In other words it’s a late forgery not actually written by Clement.

As textual scholar Bart Ehrman notes: “Both the Recognitions and Homilies are forged in the name of Clement himself…. The Recognitions are dated to 360-380 but survive only in the Latin translation of Rufinus” (Bart Ehrman, Forgery and Counter-forgery: The Use of Literary Deceit in Early Christian Polemics, [Oxford University Press, 2013], p. 312, n. 63). What is more, in his work History of the Christian Church, vol. 2, chapter 13 in section 163 under the title “The Pseudo-Clementine Works” church historian Philip Schaff lists the Recognitions Morrell quoted from. This demonstrates Morrell has to use spurious writings to defend his revisionist arguments against the primitive doctrine of original sin. In reality Clement affirmed man’s fallen state and need for grace to obey God. In a work he actually wrote called Letter to the Corinthians he remarked: “All therefore are glorified and magnified, not by themselves or their own works of righteous actions, which they have wrought out, but by his will” (Clement, Letter to the Corinthians, 32. 3, quoted in John Gill, The Cause of God and Truth, [The Baptist Standard Bearer, Inc. 1999], p. 715).

Ignatius of Antioch was an early student of the Apostles such as John. From 7:38 to 8:08 minutes Morrell quotes from what is known as the “long version” of his letter to the Magnesians. It’s called the long version because there is also a short version of the letter. Interestingly what Morrell quotes in support of free will and man’s natural ability from chapter 5 of the long version is not contained in the short version at all. The Problem is that as Bryan M. Litfin notes in his work Getting to Know the Church Fathers: An Evangelical Introduction, “The editors of the Ante-Nicene Fathers series have chosen to print two different manuscript versions of the letters of Ignatius, which they call ‘longer’ and ‘shorter’ versions. As you read, simply ignore the ‘longer’ version, which has been determined by modern scholars not to be authentic. It is the product of a later theologian putting words into Ignatius’s mouth. The ‘shorter’ version printed in the left-hand column of the ANF is what Ignatius actually wrote” (Bryan M. Litfin, Getting to Know the Church Fathers: An Evangelical Introduction, [Brazos Press, 2007], p. 271. n. 11). Thus, again we see Morrell either knowingly or unknowingly misleading his viewers with spurious quotations. It’s interesting that the later dishonest forgers of these works and Morrell are in agreement on this doctrinal issue.

What Ignatius actually believed, according to his actual writings, was that: “They that are carnal cannot do the things that are spiritual, nor they that are spiritual do the things that are carnal, as neither faith the things of unbelief, nor unbelief the things of faith” (Ignatius, Epistle to the Ephesians, Ch. 8, quoted in John Gill, The Cause of God and Truth, p. 717). He also notes that God makes Christians and preserves them, we don’t make ourselves Christian through natural ability: “The Christian is not the work of persuasion but of greatness; that is, of the exceeding greatness of God’s power, which is wonderfully displayed in making the Christian, in continuing, preserving, and supporting him as such especially, as he observes, when he is hated by the world” (Ignatius, Epistle to the Romans, Ch. 3, quoted in John Gill, The Cause of God and Truth, [The Baptist Standard Bearer, Inc. 1999], p. 717).

Tertullian was an early African apologist born A.D. 160 died in A.D. 200. Morrell quotes him as denying the heretic Marcion’s idea that men are either born good or bad. And Tertullian believed if that were true then the one’s born bad by necessity ought to not be punished. Morrell quotes him at 10:42 minutes: “But the reward neither of good nor of evil could be paid to the man who should be found to have been either good or evil through necessity and not choice” (Tertullian, Against Marcion, Book II. Ch. 6). Thus what Tertullian combated was not that all men receive a fallen nature, nor did he address the Reformed view of predestination which says everyone is born sinful but some are elected to good (he doesn’t mention that). What he challenges is the idea that some are born good and some not. Those who hold to original sin or total depravity don’t believe that. We affirm everyone is born bad and in need of grace. So there is no parallel. Morrell also quotes Tertullian saying man is free to do obedience or disobedience in chapter 5 of the same work.

However, his idea of human freedom needs to be understood in light of his broader teaching on the natural condition of man due to Adam’s sin. He very clearly taught original sin so anyone who wishes to present him out of context as a Pelagian must interact with the following. Gregg Allison quotes him: “We have indeed borne the image of the earthly [the image of Adam], by our sharing in his transgression, by our participation in his death, and by our banishment from paradise” (Tertullian, On the Resurrection of the Flesh, 49, quoted in Gregg Allison, Historical Theology, [Zondervan, 2011], p. 344). Moreover, Tertullian said human sin is, “evil which arises from its [the soul’s] corrupt origin” (Tertullian, Treatise on the Soul, 41, quoted in Gregg Allison, Historical Theology, [Zondervan, 2011], p. 344). In sum church historian J. N. D. Kelly notes Tertullian’s view of both original sin and free will, contra Morrell’s picture which has Tertullian affirming free will and denying original sin: “Yet free-will is not the only source of our misdeeds, account must be taken of the bias towards sin in which Adam’s transgression has involved mankind” (J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, [Harper One, 1978], p. 175).

With numerous errors like this piling up already in the first eleven minutes of the film, it is clear that Morrell’s grasp of church history is inadequate and he should not be assuming the role of teacher on these important issues. For the rest of this section we will focus on refuting his central thesis by proving early orthodox Christian writers affirmed original sin (and hence denied man’s natural ability) thus disproving the false idea that Augustine brought this in from Gnosticism (a concept we will also address later in a fuller fashion).

Ambrose of Milan was an archbishop who lived from A.D. 330 – 397. Augustine quotes him explicitly affirming original sin and man inheriting sin nature thereby refuting any attempt to credit this teaching to Gnosticism. Ambrose stated: “In Adam we all die, because through one man sin entered into the world and through sin death, and thus it has passed unto all men; in whom all have sinned. His guilt, therefore, is the death of all” (Ambrose, Expositio evangelii secundum Lucam 4:58, quoted in Augustine, Against Julian, Book I). He also stated, “For every man is a liar and no one is without sin except God alone. It remains true, therefore, that from man and woman, that is, through that union of bodies, no one may be seen to be without sin” (Ambrose, Expositio Isaiae prophetae, quoted in Augustine, Against Julian, Book I).

Hilary of Poitiers was an early bishop who lived from A.D. 300 to 368. John Gill quotes him commenting on Psalm 51:5, “Who will boast that he has a pure heart before God? No, not an infant, though but of one day, the original and law of sin remaining in us” (Hilary, Euarr. in Psal. 58, quoted in John Gill, The Cause of God and Truth, [The Baptist Standard Bearer, Inc. 1999], p. 743). And: “He [David] knew that he was born, under original sin, and under the law of sin” (Hilary, Commentary on Psalm 118, 22, quoted in John Gill, The Cause of God and Truth, [The Baptist Standard Bearer, Inc. 1999], p. 743).

Cyprian was an early Christian writer. He died in A.D. 258. That he affirmed original sin and denied man’s natural ability is clear from the statement above where we quoted him. He also denied man’s natural ability stating: “Whatsoever is grateful, is to be ascribed not to man’s power, but to God’s gift” (Cyprian, Epistle 1, 4, quoted in John Gill, The Cause of God and Truth, [The Baptist Standard Bearer, Inc. 1999], p. 730). And concerning Cyprians overall view church historian Gregg Allison notes, “For Cyprian, baptism of infants is necessary not because newborn children have committed any personal sin, but because they have inherited sin and death from their first father, Adam” (Gregg Allison, Historical Theology, [Zondervan, 2011], p. 344).

Lactantius A.D. 240 – 320 affirmed the biblical truth of the impossibility of sinless perfection in this life due to original sin – a truth the Pelagians deny and scoff at. He stated, “No man can be without sin as long as he is burdened with the clothing of the flesh, whose infirmity is subject three ways to the dominion of sin, by deeds, words, and thoughts; therefore just men, who can restrain themselves from every unjust work, yet sometimes are overcome through frailty itself, that either they say that which is evil in anger, or upon sight of things delightful, lust after them in secret thought” (Lactantius, Divin. Institut. 1. 6, c. 13, quoted in John Gill, The Cause of God and Truth, [The Baptist Standard Bearer, Inc. 1999], p. 734). He teaches the necessity of God enabling fallen blind man who can not come to truth apart from God’s hand: “We who before as blind men, and as shut up in the prison of folly, sat in darkness, ignorant of God and truth, are enlightened by God, who hath adopted us in his covenant, and being delivered from evil bonds, and brought into the light of wisdom, he hath took into the inheritance of the heavenly kingdom” (Lactantius, Divin. Institut. 1. 4, c. 20, quoted in John Gill, The Cause of God and Truth, [The Baptist Standard Bearer, Inc. 1999], p. 734). On this same note he also said, “…man cannot himself come to this knowledge, unless he is taught of God” (Lactantius, Divin. Institut. 1. 2, c. 3, John Gill, The Cause of God and Truth, [The Baptist Standard Bearer, Inc. 1999], p. 734).

All of these early Christians before Augustine affirmed what Morrell claims Augustine introduced into the church from Gnosticism. With respect to certain early fathers of the east affirming free will, which is what Morrell focuses on quite a bit, J. N. D. Kelly notes that although they affirmed a sense of free will, that does not mean they denied original sin or man inheriting sin nature and guilt from Adam thereby being in need of grace. He notes that the eastern fathers’ “tendency is to view original sin as a wound inflicted on our nature” (J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, [Harper One, 1978], p. 350) and he quotes various eastern fathers to establish that such as Basil, Gregory of Nyssa, and Gregory of Nazianzus. Morrell rejects the biblical teaching that original sin is a wound inflicted on our nature. He doesn’t believe Adam’s sin inflicts our nature at all. His error is not taking into account these same fathers’ teaching on original sin since he assumes their understanding of free will negates any notion of original sin. That’s wrong, however. So his exposition of the few fathers he selected is folly (we will focus on Irenaeus and Justin Martyr later).

I could quote many more early orthodox Christian writers which Augustine, Gill, Allison, and Kelly quote, affirming man’s sinful nature and inability due to the fall, but that should be sufficient to demonstrate that Augustine did not introduce this doctrine into the church from Gnosticism.

Augustine stated the following to the heretic Julian after refuting him historically:

“Have Pelagius and Celestius such power over you that you dare not only to desert, but even to call Manichaeans, so many great doctors and defenders of the Catholic [universal] faith, ancient and contemporary, from the rising of the sun to its setting, some fallen asleep and others still with us? I wonder how this can ever come from your mouth which the perverseness of your error yet compels you to proclaim” (Augustine, Against Julian, Book I, Ch. 5).

And:

“I have shown how many great and worthy men, defenders and teachers of the Catholic [universal] faith, you falsely make Manichaean’s” (Augustine, Against Julian, Book I, Ch. 8).

Now, to briefly answer the tone of the film which has Augustine as some conspirator trying to infect the alleged synergistic free will church with the doctrine of original sin and God’s sovereignty over salvation, Philip Schaff explains why Augustine, the ancient Latin Church (many in the east also did), and every modern Christian affirm original sin and our need for God’s grace:

“…the Latin church, under the influence of Augustine, advanced to the system divine monergism, which gives God all the glory, and makes freedom itself a result of grace; while Pelagianism [Morrell’s heresy], on the contrary, represented the principle of a human monergism, which ascribes chief merit of conversion to man, and reduces grace to a mere external auxiliary” (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol. 3, [Hendrickson Publishers, 2011], p. 786).

Indeed, if Scripture is wrong and Morrell’s Pelagianism is right and man is not born with a sin nature in need of grace to come to, and obey, God, then that means man deserves credit or glory for coming to God. He can logically have that credit or glory in the Pelagian system. In Pelagianism man can come to God and obey on his own because he has no sinful nature. What happens in this system is that the glory God deserves for granting man grace and taking him out of his fallen sinful state is given to man.

Christians seek to glorify God and give Him all glory for salvation. They make sure their system honours God’s glory because the Bible tells us to. As Ephesians 2:8-9 states: “by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Suffice it to say, in answer to the question posed in Morrell’s video subtitle on youtube, “Did Augustine Corrupt The Church With Gnostic Doctrine?” the answer much surely be answered in the negative in light of the historical evidence.

A Few Early Christians Influenced by Paganism Retained Free Will in Spite of the Biblical Teaching (Justin Martyr et al)

The question must now be asked: why were a few early eastern Christian writers so adamant about man being free or having a libertarian free will when clearly this teaching is unbiblical since Holy Scripture presents man as dead in sin and in need of grace? From 9:30 to 10:26 minutes of the film Morrell quotes Justin Martyr (A. D. 100 – 165) as affirming free will and man’s natural ability. He does this in the hopes of convincing his viewers that the early church as a whole denied man’s sinful nature and affirmed his natural ability or free will (though we already refuted that position concerning the early church).

However, firstly, it’s well known Justin Martyr came to Christianity from Paganism. Schaff and Walker both note that Justin Martyr was an uncircumcised heathen or pagan before his conversion, ignorant of Moses and the prophets, was into pagan philosophy and was part of the pagan Platonist tradition (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol. 2, [Hendrickson, 2011], p. 712; Williston Walker, A History of the Christian Church, [Scribner, 1985], p. 54).

Well what is the relevance of noting Justin was a pagan before converting to Christianity in regards to free will? Robert A. Morey explains:

“The pagan worldview taught that man was autonomous in an absolute sense. He was totally and absolutely ‘free’ and even the gods could not violate this freedom. The Greek philosophers were the first to articulate the idea that man had a ‘free will’ and that no one, not even a god, could violate it. The Greek philosopher Epictetus wrote,

Not even Zeus himself can get the better of my free will.216

Who can any longer restrain or compel me, contrary to my own opinion? No more than Zeus.217

In a contingent (i.e., chance-driven) universe in which no one was in control, not even the gods, man was totally free to be or do whatever he wanted….

The pagan philosophers claimed that man had to be ‘free’ in order for man to be responsible because they assumed that man was the measure of all things including his responsibility . . . Man’s responsibility was thus limited by two things: ignorance and inability. . . .

There was no concept in the pagan worldview that man’s responsibility meant accountability to his Creator who would one day judge him. Thus the pagan concept of man’s autonomous ‘free will’ was possible only in the context of that pagan polytheistic worldview.

When pagans first professed to be ‘Christians,’ some of them retained much of their pagan worldview” (Robert A. Morey, The Bible, Natural Theology and Natural Law: Conflict or Compromise?, [Christian Scholars Press, e2010], pp. 192-193).

This is precisely the case with Morrell’s quotation of Justin Martyr where Justin claims in order to be blamed man must be free. This is pagan philosophy. The Bible never makes that argument or gives that condition. It must be understood that the early Christians were surrounded by paganism which taught the absolute free will of man. So it’s no surprise that some early Christian writers influenced by dominant pagan thought in their society assumed this heathen concept taking it for granted. So although Morrell unsuccessfully tried to show that the biblical teaching of original sin is a Gnostic teaching, the reality is that his libertarian free will idea is a pagan teaching resulting from the minds of lost men in false religions who never knew the true God.

When Morrell shows a few early church writers who were influenced by paganism to affirm libertarian free will in their writings, he does not establish that the church as a whole adopted this pagan teaching he so boldly embraces. Those early writers were not truly influenced by the biblical texts to affirm their idea of free will. Their pagan past resulted in them teaching it, and reading Scripture through that pagan lens, in spite of the biblical teaching of man’s deadness in sin and subordination to God’s control.

Although positive things can be said about Justin Martyr, and I in no way wish to take away from the good which is contained in his works, the fact is that he was wrong about the idea of free will which he retained from his pagan past. In light of Justin being a former Platonist pagan, it’s interesting to note the scholar Leslie William Barnard’s words:

“Justin is very close to both popular Judaism and Middle Platonism in his conviction that personal responsibility lies solely in one’s power of choice and that all persons are endowed with ability to choose the good if they so wish” (Leslie William Barnard, The First and Second Apologies, [Paulist Press, 1997], p. 156).

Significant and Substantial Differences Between Orthodox Original Sin and Predestination vs. Gnostic Views Contra Morrell

From 21:04 to 21:25 minutes Morrell quotes a person named David Bercot as an authority. Bercot claims the early church believed free will and didn’t believe that man was fallen and in need of grace to obey (an error we already addressed earlier). He also claims the group which did affirm man was depraved were the Gnostics, allegedly.

However, first, Bercot is the same careless person who, in the same book Morrell quotes, namely Will the Real Heretics Please Stand Up?, falsely claims that Martin Luther taught Scripture is the only authority. He also denies the Bible and early church teach justification by faith and that works are evidence of salvation. This means he is a heretic who includes works in salvation (David W. Bercot, Will the Real Heretics Please Stand Up: A New Look at Today's Evangelical Church in the Light of Early Christianity, [Scroll Publishing Co., 1989], pp. 57-68, 147). However, those are easily documentable errors. Luther believed Scripture was the ultimate authority, not the only authority (“Among the sixteenth-century reformers the principle of sola scriptura…meant that scripture was the supreme authority over all other authorities” John A. Maxfield, Luther's Lectures on Genesis and the Formation of Evangelical Identity, [Truman State University Press, 2008], p. 43).

Moreover, the Bible and a strong strand of patristic thought make it clear that we’re justified by faith alone on the basis on Christ’s perfect work and that good works follow as evidence of salvation. For proof of this teaching in the early church fathers see Thomas Oden’s The Justification Reader and Nick Needham’s essay in the book Justification in Perspective. These are basic level errors serious writers don’t make. So I question Morrell’s decision to cite Bercot as an authority.

Second, when one responsibly compares the Christian ideas of original sin and predestination with the various Gnostic views, the alleged connection between the two evaporates. We’ve already proven the Christian tradition of original sin is not dependent on Augustine or Manichaeism but can be found in early strands of patristic thought (one could also go back further to the Bible and strands of pre-Christian Judaism but that is for another paper). However, it’s still important to prove that the Christian and Gnostic views are not at all the same contra Morrell.

Irenaeus is quoted from 8:24 to 9:22 minutes of the film saying man has free will, is free from any compulsion of God, and that the alleged Gnostic idea that some are good and some are bad due to the nature they’re born with is wrong (keep in mind paganism’s surrounding cultural influence on Christianity and Irenaeus being educated at Greek pagan institutions cf. Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol. 2, [Hendrickson, 2011], p. 747). Irenaeus’ writings against the Gnostics have led older generations of scholars to understand Gnosticism as teaching that some people are born with the material nature, others with psychic nature, and still others with pneumatic nature. And because all material is evil in Gnosticism the man with the material nature is corrupt and without hope. The psychic man possessed a soul and free will, and the pneumatic or spiritual man possessed spirit and was therefore saved by virtue of his nature since, again, in Gnosticism spiritual is good and matter is evil (Michael Allen Williams, Rethinking "Gnosticism": An Argument for Dismantling a Dubious Category, [Princeton University Press, 1999], p. 190).

However first, even if this was the early Gnostic view (which it wasn’t since, as I will argue, Irenaeus misunderstood the Gnostic position according to many scholars) that concept is nothing like the doctrine of original sin held by Christians. We don’t affirm there are three possible natures one can be born with and, depending on which one you receive, you are either damned, free or saved. No, we affirm every human without exception is born fallen and corrupt, not because matter is evil, but because Scripture overwhelmingly teaches we receive a sinful nature or constitution from Adam at birth as well as his guilt. As Romans 5:19 says, “as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners…” (Romans 5:19). And we affirm that people are saved in spite of their nature, not because of it as is the case in this Gnostic paradigm. So there is no real similarity between the Gnostic ideas and the biblical and historical doctrine of original sin.

In this idea you’re destined based on what nature you were born with. In biblical predestination you’re predestined despite your future fallen nature based on the pleasure of God’s unchanging eternal good will or choice (Ephesians 1:3-5). The only real similarity is both believe a form of destiny. But then again, all traditions alleging to be Christian have to have a form of destiny or predestination since those words and concepts are found in Scripture (Acts 13:48; Romans 8:29-30; 1 Thessalonians 5:19; Ephesians 1:5, 11). So if biblical Christianity is in error because both Gnosticism and it believe in some different forms of destiny and predestination, then all Christian traditions are in error because they also have forms of destiny and predestination in their systems – if they wish to base their teaching on Scripture, that is. But as is clear the concepts are not at all the same in Christianity and Gnosticism despite Morrell’s claims.

I don’t have the space to go into fine detail but as I mentioned before, many scholars are moving toward the idea that Irenaeus misunderstood Gnosticism since Gnosticism didn’t hold to the idea that your nature determined your destiny. In a groundbreaking work published by Princeton University Press the scholar Michael Allen Williams in the book Rethinking ‘Gnosticism’ has argued that older generations of scholars (i.e., like the few Morrell appealed to) are guilty of misrepresenting Gnosticism based on Irenaeus’ misunderstanding of it. On page 190 Williams explains the understanding I spoke about earlier regarding your destiny being based on which nature you’re born with. Then he remarks:

“However, an increasing number of voices in scholarship these days are expressing dissatisfaction with the above-mentioned inherited caricature and its rigidly deterministic understanding of humankind in terms of unalterable natures. For careful reading of both newly available texts such as the Nag Hammadi writings and older sources such as the heresiological reports brings into relief factors pertaining to social practice, religious doctrine, and mythological symbol that raise doubts about the caricature’s general validity and show that in some cases it most certainly is incorrect” (Michael Allen Williams, Rethinking "Gnosticism": An Argument for Dismantling a Dubious Category, [Princeton University Press, 1999], p. 190).

He then goes through the early sources and argues Irenaeus and older scholarship were incorrect about identifying Gnostics as destinarians based on nature or those who believed people not born with the pneumatic nature were predisposed to immorality. Williams challenges all of that with early source material.

So the point is even though the parallel Morrell tries to push concerning the Christian idea of predestination and original sin nature vs. the Gnostics views are not at all the same, there is a growing number of scholars who don’t even believe the evidence shows the Gnostics were destinarians based on nature etc.

This calls into question Morrell’s reconstruction of history where at 24:40 to 25:39 minutes he claims that Augustine defended free will against the Gnostic Manicheans he was once apart of, but then rejected free will adopting their non-free will views when debating the Pelagians later on. However, this is wrong.

First of all Manichaean’s did not believe in total depravity or that every human is born corrupt due to their fallen nature from Adam and thus not free. They believed, as Schaff notes, “Every individual man is at once a son of light and of darkness, has a good soul, and a body substantially evil, with an evil soul corresponding to it” (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol. 2, [Hendrickson Publishers], p. 504). Christians believe all men are born corrupt: body, soul, mind etc., based on Adam’s sin passed down. Manicheans believed the souls of all men were good but the flesh was evil since matter is evil in their system. The Christian view is not derived from the Manichaean view since, as I showed: 1.) they’re not even the same thing; and 2.) you can find early Christians affirming original sin nature before Manichaeism’s founder Mani was even born in A.D. 215.

Moreover, concerning free will, it is erroneous to say that Augustine’s later view of grace being required to choose right and do right is based on Manichaeism, since 1.) Christians long before Augustine affirmed grace is necessary and thus man is not absolutely free; and 2.) Manichaeans did not hold to the view of grace which Augustine did – a view which led him to reject free will. So it makes no sense to credit Manichaeism with his rejection of free will and affirmation of necessary grace. 

Augustine’s mature later view of grace he held when refuting Pelagians like Morrell was that, “everything which man receives, including faith, is the unmerited and gracious gift of God” (Carol Harrison, Augustine: Christian Truth and Fractured Humanity, [Oxford University Press, 2000], pp. 27-28). If Augustine got this biblical teaching from Manichaeanism, as alleged by Morrell, why is it that Manichaeism believed man’s nature was divine and that men do not need grace at all? (Lenka Karfíková, Grace and the Will According to Augustine, [BRILL, 2012], p. 311). The Manicheans denied evil was a result of free choice, but instead a result of the evil body (Lenka Karfíková, Grace and the Will According to Augustine, [BRILL, 2012], p. 311), though they affirmed man’s nature or soul was good. Christians who believe in original sin don’t believe that. Augustine never believed that when refuting the Pelagians. We affirm evil is a result of the will which is inclined to sin due to fallen nature. So to say Augustine got his teaching from Manichaeism when in reality they’re not the same and Manichaeism didn’t even teach grace was necessary to obey like we do, it so distort history to suit one’s agenda.

Glaring Biblical Errors in Morrell’s Film

From 28:04 to 30:06 Morrell argues that there are certain texts which allegedly presuppose man has a libertarian free will since, as he says, “after the fall of Adam and Eve God continued to speak to men as if they were free moral agents.”  In other words because God says “do X and Y will result” Morrell thinks that proves men do X freely (i.e., free from God’s determinations and control, and free from any constraints of nature). He lists imperative or prescriptive texts where God commands people to do things such as Genesis 4:6-7, Deuteronomy 11:26-28, Joshua 24:15, Jeremiah 21:18, and Ezekiel 18:30-31.

The problem with this approach is that although Morrell claims these texts prove man is free, they don’t actually say or prove that. These texts simply have God commanding people to obey and do things. They don’t explain if man’s choices or wills in these situations are free from God or free from any constraint of nature. Christians who affirm original sin believe men make choices and have wills so we agree with God commanding people to do things. We have no problem with that. When, however, we actually go to texts which address if our choices and wills are free from God and any constraint of nature in connection with man being commanded to obey God, we see that humans are not free as Morrell alleges.

As an example Morrell cites Ezekiel 18:30-31, and brother Chris Gautreau (fivepointbaptist) has already explained this text long ago in his two hour defense of determinism (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XYCU6iivVWY), so I don’t know why Morrell made this argument; the text states:

"9walks in my statutes, and keeps my rules by acting faithfully--he is righteous; he shall surely live, declares the Lord GOD…. 21 "But if a wicked person turns away from all his sins that he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is just and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. . . . 30Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, declares the Lord GOD. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin. 31Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? (Ezekiel 18:9, 21, 30-31).

Synergists like Morrell see texts like this and they assume man is free from God and free from constraint of nature to be able to carry out God’s command. However, elsewhere in the same book of Ezekiel, it is explained for us whether or not we carry out these commands freely and why we are able to carry them out. Ezekiel 11:19-20 and 36:26-27 explain the reason we’re able to carry out these commands is because God controls us and enables us to, not because we do it freely:

“19And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh: 20That they may walk in my statutes, and keep mine ordinances, and do them: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God . . . . 26A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. 27And I will put my spirit within you, and CAUSE you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them” (Ezekiel 11:19-20; 36:26-27).

Thus every command Morrell says we do freely are actually, according to the same author, things we do not do freely. Those are things we do because of God’s hand on us and because of His enabling power. This is because we can’t carry these things out freely – we’re too corrupt. Thus, appealing to texts that command us to do things and then assuming we do them freely is a false hermeneutic.

Another example of this can be seen in the fact that although in 2 Chronicles 30:5-10 Israel is commanded to return to and obey God, vv. 11-12 explain that only a few obeyed and the reason they were able to was that God’s hand was on them to give them a heart to obey, unlike the rest of the people who God didn’t enable:

“5So they decreed to make a proclamation throughout all Israel, from Beersheba to Dan, that the people should come and keep the Passover to the LORD, the God of Israel, at Jerusalem, for they had not kept it as often as prescribed. 6So couriers went throughout all Israel and Judah with letters from the king and his princes, as the king had commanded, saying, "O people of Israel, return to the LORD, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, that he may turn again to the remnant of you who have escaped from the hand of the kings of Assyria.  7Do not be like your fathers and your brothers, who were faithless to the LORD God of their fathers, so that he made them a desolation, as you see. 8Do not now be stiff-necked as your fathers were, but yield yourselves to the LORD and come to his sanctuary, which he has consecrated forever, and serve the LORD your God, that his fierce anger may turn away from you.  9For if you return to the LORD, your brothers and your children will find compassion with their captors and return to this land. For the LORD your God is gracious and merciful and will not turn away his face from you, if you return to him." 10So the couriers went from city to city through the country of Ephraim and Manasseh, and as far as Zebulun, but they laughed them to scorn and mocked them. 11However, some men of Asher, of Manasseh, and of Zebulun humbled themselves and came to Jerusalem. 12The hand of God was also on Judah to give them one heart to do what the king and the princes commanded by the word of the LORD” (2 Chronicles 30:5-12).

Conclusion

In conclusion I will have to give the film 2 out of 10 stars. I would give it one star but the production value was quite good. The content of the film was probably the worst in terms of theological documentary films, however. The number of factual/historical errors, misrepresentations, citing of forged texts, faulty biblical arguments etc., were so numerous that a two star rating is all the film really deserves.

I pray that those under the heretical influence of Morrell and his Pelagian system will be granted repentance which leads to life (Acts 11:18; 2 Timothy 2:25) and flee his man-glorifying teachings with an open heart towards biblical God-glorifying doctrines of grace.

“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day" (John 6:44).


For a biblical defense of original sin and human depravity see:



A. W. Pink, The Doctrine of Human Depravity (book)

James R. White, The Potter’s Freedom (book)

Michael Horton, For Calvinism (book)

John Gill, The Cause of God and Truth (book)

Loraine Boettner, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination (book)



4 comments:

  1. "Morrell acknowledges that the early historic councils of the Christian church condemned his Pelagian beliefs...For example in A.D. 411"

    411 is really not "early" for a religion that began in 33 AD. Up until Augustine nobody believed in original sin, and nobody but Gnosics denied freewill. So the fact is, Augustinianism is a heresy started as late as 380 AD, and you and all the rest of its adherents are damned to hell, heretic.

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  2. Jose, you didn't read the paper then since I have a whole section quoting pre-Augustine orthodox Christians affirming orignal sin. I also provided you with the names of academic books you can buy to see all the other pre-Augustine fathers who affirmed original sin/inability so youhave no excuse for your errors. I quote serious historians in this paper agreeing with me that before Augustine original sin was in the church.

    You missed the reasons I mentioned the councils starting in A.D. 411. I mention them because they prove God's church 9which Christ said heresy would not overcome), comprised of people with the Spirit who leads to truth, codified this teaching. Also, it was to show in 411 before Augustine entered the debate, Pelagius' teachings and his student were being condemned by the African Christians for denying the historical doctrine of original sin.

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  3. Thank you, Keith. A fellow Sunday School student of mine has fallen for Morrell and Skelly's deception. Finding your blog has been a real blessing. Thanks.

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  4. Hey Keith,
    Thanks for clearing this issue up, if not aware of these historical facts, false claims can be made, which can lead man astray.
    Blessings from Belgium.

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