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Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology


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(Heb. mesubaa [ Matthew 12:31-32; Hebrews 6:4-6; 10:26-29; 1 John 5:16-17 ). G. C. Berkouwer comments: "We must underscore the deep seriousness of the biblical warning against apostasy after enlightenment' and after the knowledge of the truth.' This is the apostasy which reviles the Spirit of grace and despises the Son of God and crucifies the Man of Sorrows anew" (p. 343). Berkouwer is correct to refute the idea that this sin against the Holy Spirit is a mysterium iniquitatis ("a mystery of sin"), a sin difficult, if at all possible, to define precisely in the Bible.

Apostatizing from God's redemptive covenant is an act of unpardonable transgression and rebellion. All other sins are forgiven on true repentance and faith. Those who fall out of fellowship with the saints are restored to full communion through confession of sin and reaffirmation of faith in Jesus Christ. Excommunication, as a final step in the process of ecclesiastical discipline, is undertaken in the hope of restoring the wayward sinner who has fallen into grievous sin (1 Corinthians 5:1-5 ).

Israel of old repeatedly broke covenant with God. By impugning the name and works of Yahweh, Israel despised her calling and proved to be a stubborn and disobedient nation. Pentateuchal law identifies covenantal faithlessness as apostasy (see, e.g., the curses of the covenant pronounced on Mount Ebal by the Israelites in Deuteronomy 27:9-26 ). With respect to temporal blessing in the land of promise, restoration of Israel to divine favor after covenant breaking was always a consequence of divine grace and mercy, not because of meritorious works on Israel's part.

In biblical prophecy apostasy is an eschatological sign of the impending day of the Lord, a precursor of the final day of judgment. Ancient Israel's experience of divine wrath and displeasure served as typological foreshadowings of that latter day. The increase in apostasy in these last days of the church's wilderness experience is associated with the appearance of the "man of lawlessness" (2 Thessalonians 2:1-3 ).

Mark W. Karlberg

See also Backsliding; Blasphemy Against the Holy Spirit; Denial

Bibliography . G. C. Berkouwer, Sin; idem, The Return of Christ; A. A. Hoekema, The Bible and the Future; H. Ridderbos, Paul: An Outline of His Theology .

Copyright Statement
Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Edited by Walter A. Elwell
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of Baker Book House Company, PO Box 6287, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49516-6287.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.
For usage information, please read the Baker Book House Copyright Statement.

Bibliography Information
Elwell, Walter A. Entry for 'Apostasy'. Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. 1996.

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