Posts Tagged ‘original sin’

Greetings. My name is Lee (aka Disciple) and I’ll be representing the Catholic view on our new site, Christian Diversity. Our first topic is Original Sin. Key to understanding the Catholic doctrine on Original Sin is the teaching of St. Paul in his Epistle to the Romans (especially Chapter 5) in which he gives us a profound meditation on Original Sin and its effect on all of creation, and in which he also presents us with a view of Adam as the father from which all humankind is descended and by whose sin all were wounded; and Christ as the Second Adam Who came to give us new life and by Whose obedience all were redeemed.

A common objection to the doctrine on Original Sin is that no one should have to pay for the sins of another, for being condemned through no fault of one’s own. On the other hand, I have rarely heard anyone object to being redeemed by Christ through no effort of one’s own. The problem seems to be one of viewing Original Sin as punishment and as unjust punishment, at that. Let us realize that Original Sin is not so much an act as a state, the state which we inherit when we are born into the world as descendants of Adam. All of us are born into this state of Original Sin; all of us humans are born as infants; therefore, all human infants are born into this state of Original Sin. We are not talking here of personal sins of infants. No infant has the ability or opportunity to commit a personal sin of any kind. But all infants inherit human nature from their parents, who inherited it from their parents, and so on, all the way back to the beginning.

Now the following is a very imperfect analogy and it wouldn’t do to take it too far, but consider this. Suppose I have the misfortune to live near a site filled with harmful radiation. And suppose that this radiation is capable of damaging my genes and that it does so. Suppose that I marry a man who also lives in this neighborhood and that he is similarly damaged by the same radiation. Now suppose that we have children. Our offspring will be born with the same damage in their genes. That’s not so much fair or unfair but, rather, the way nature works.

In the case of Original Sin, human nature itself was changed, not merely Adam and Eve experiencing change on a personal level. Human nature itself was changed, and all humankind would be born ever after in that changed state. This is not fair or unfair but simply is, and also is just. But even then, while God’s Justice was at work, so was His Mercy. For already God was preparing to mend the rift between Himself and His creation, preparing to send His Son into the world. Preparing to give us greater gifts than those our father Adam had lost.

14 And the Lord God said to the serpent: Because thou hast done this thing, thou art cursed among all cattle, and the beasts of the earth: upon thy breast shalt thou go, and earth shalt thou eat all the days of thy life.

15 I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel.

16 To the woman also he said: I will multiply thy sorrows, and thy conceptions: in sorrow shalt thou bring forth children, and thou shalt be under thy husband’s power, and he shall have dominion over thee.

17 And to Adam he said: Because thou hast hearkened to the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldst not eat, cursed is the earth in thy work; with labour and toil shalt thou eat thereof all the days of thy life.

18 Thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou eat the herbs of the earth.

19 In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread till thou return to the earth, out of which thou wast taken: for dust thou art, and into dust thou shalt return.

20 And Adam called the name of his wife Eve: because she was the mother of all the living. 21 And the Lord God made for Adam and his wife, garments of skins, and clothed them.

(Genesis 3:14-24, Douay Rheims version.)

Sentinel posted about original sin and how it extends even to infants a few days ago, and the general topic as of late has been original sin. I’d like to offer a quick summary of the Scriptures on original sin, and then discuss how an infant is saved. Just as infants are not automatically saved because they have not reached an age where they can reason, they also do not become believers outside of the normal means – namely that they come to faith in Jesus Christ through the Word.

What the Bible Says About Original Sin
The Bible teaches that no one is righteous (Rom. 3:10). “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). The human heart is “deceitful above all things, and desperately sick” (Jer. 17:9). The natural man is dead in trespasses and sin (Eph 2:1). By nature, we pass “our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another” (Titus 3:3). We are inclined toward evil (Gen 6:5), conceived in sin, and “brought forth in iniquity” (Psalm 51:5). All of us “like sheep have gone astray” (Isa. 53:6). Even “our righteous acts are like filthy rags” before the Lord (Isa. 64:6). We are by nature not just morally tainted, but “children of wrath,” deserving of God’s punishment, even before we actually sin in our flesh (Eph. 2:3). Even on the best of days, we are divided, doing what we don’t want to do and failing to do what we know is right (Rom. 7:18-19). Because of the Fall, we are hardwired toward evil. We sinned in Adam and died through his trespass, inheriting his guilt and a corrupt nature (see Rom. 5:12-21). In other words, we all deserve hell from the moment of our conception. We are morally stillborn, including infants.

What God Has Done About Our Moral Stillbirth
But God has provided a means for salvation, For “all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death[.] We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Rom 6:3-4). Baptism is a way that infants can come to saving faith in Jesus.

How is this possible? Does baptism in and of itself have the power to save? No, God alone saves through His Word working in and through baptism to create saving faith in the heart of the infant. The Bible records several instances of infants expressing saving faith. Think of John the Baptist, who leapt for joy while in his mother’s womb (Luke 1:44). Remember also that Jesus said that “if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea” (Matthew 18:6; Mark 9:42). Notice that He said little ones “who believe in me,” indicating that these little ones possessed genuine faith in Christ. The Greek for little ones in both of these passages is μικρων (mikron), which implies children under the age of three. Psalm 22:9-10 says, “Yet you brought me out of the womb; you made me trust in you even at my mother’s breast. From birth I was cast upon you; from my mother’s womb you have been my God” (some argue that since this passage is prophetic it only applies to Christ, but it is still an instance of infant faith nonetheless). 2 Timothy 3:15 points out “how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” The word used for infancy in this passage is βρέφος (brephos), which means an unborn child, embryo, baby, or infant! God can clearly create faith in anyone’s hearts — even infants, mentally handicapped, and Alzheimer’s patients — because salvation does not depend on our own reasoning abilities. This might even offend our reason and sensibilities, but the Scriptures are clear that infants and children can and do have faith. A child is upheld in the Bible as the ultimate model for how to receive Christ as Lord, for Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3).

The Bible is careful to show how faith is a gift of God. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8). The gift of God is precisely the faith through which salvation comes. “For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake” (Philippians 1:29). “You were raised with Him through faith in the working of God” (Colossians 2:12).

Faith is a gift, created by God’s Word. “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17). Of course, God does not do the believing for us. It is we, infants and adults, who believe, just as it is we who live, and yet just as God gives and sustains our life, so God gives and sustains our faith.

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To be sure an accurate view of our human nature is important because the Gospel is important. As J. I. Packer wrote “it is only as we acknowledge the tragedy and feel the misery of our personal ruination through original sin that we shall properly value the Good News of the Savior.” And, G. K. Chesterton noted in his Orthodoxy that original sin is the only philosophy that can be empirically verified. Just pick up the daily newspapers, says Chesterton! I’m repeatedly amazed that from the earliest age children need no training in selfishness or pride or discontent or rebellion. Every human comes fully stocked with these “qualities;” they are not accessories. Every parent labors to reverse these traits in our children while working ourselves to learn what it means to be compassionate, humble, content, and obedient.

The doctrine of peccatum originale (original sin) rightly assumes that the entire human race is an organic unity. We find that our origin or source is from the same common stock, namely the first human, Adam. Just as C. S. Lewis once pointed out that “like begets like,” so too Paul says “sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). It is not insignificant that “all” stands first in the clause of Paul’s declaration “death came to all men.” Moreover, although Adam’s sin was in the past, Paul insists that “all sinned.” The context is not so much referring to individual activity (though this is implicit), but to corporate responsibility as conferred on us by the first human who sinned.

Thus, we inherit far more than just the biological nature of our parentage; we inherit their spiritual nature as well. There is a solidarity to the human race such that the original humans stand as the moral, physical, social, intellectual, psychological, and spiritual representatives of all people everywhere and at all times (Acts 17:26a). Just as our genetic makeup or biological DNA is derived from our parentage, so too is our spiritual makeup or spiritual DNA. (The concept of “generational sin” unlikely applies to believers. See my essay “Not My Father’s Keeper or What’s All the Fuss about Generational Sin?”.)

But there’s more. Rom. 5:18-19 claims: “the result of one trespass was condemnation for all [because] through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners.” As the representative for all humanity, God counted everyone born of and from Adam morally guilty. In some sense peccatum originale could be viewed as culpa originale (original guilt, not original sin). You see it is not only true all have sinned actually (Rom. 3:23), but it is equally true that all have sinned originally in Adam.

Consequently, God judges all on the basis of one man’s sin because all are conceived with a natural inclination to do only what is contrary to God (Rom. 8:5-9; 1 Cor. 15:21-22; Gal. 5:16-17). Indeed, we have no other choice but to live predominantly from our sinful bent. The Bible calls this slavery to sin (Rom. 6:6, 16-17, 19; 7:14). Though it may not appear fair that God would judge all on the basis of one man’s sin, it is the disposition of Adam’s guilt rather than his sin per se that is inherited – just as Christ assumed our guilty status instead of our particular sinful acts (Is. 53:6; 2 Cor. 5:14, 21; 1 Pt. 2:24; 3:18).

But some may say, “It’s not fair to be represented by someone else’s guilt! Why should I be blamed for what Adam did?” Of course, if we want to play the fairness game, then in the name of fairness it is also unfair that Christ would die in my place and do for me what I should have done for myself. “Fairness” cuts both ways and it’s doubtful that any born from above would appreciate the sword slicing in that direction!

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The doctrine of Original Sin is very challenging to our sensibilities. The idea that every human is “born sinful” seems so judgmental and negative that we shy away from it. Sure, we can agree that “Everyone makes mistakes”, but Christianity maintains that every human being is inherently sinful and separated from God.

But babies? Surely someone who has spent their life crying, sleeping and occasionally soiling the odd nappy (ok, more than occasionally) cannot be considered sinful? What can they possibly have done to merit such a charge?

Augustine of Hippo wrote his Confessions when he was in his 40s, and in it he reflected on the entirety of his life thus far – including his very earliest years. Of course, like any of us, he didn’t remember his time spent as a mewling babe, but he did use keen observation of other infants to draw some general assumptions about his own behaviour. He considers the actions of a baby through the understanding of an adult, and in doing so, he raises some profound challenges to the “innocence” of children.

“Nor was it good, even in that time, to strive to get by crying what, if it had been given me, would have been hurtful; or to be bitterly indignant at those who, because they were older… and wiser than I, would not indulge my capricious desires. Was it a good thing for me to try, by struggling as hard as I could, to harm them for not obeying me, even when it would have done me harm to have been obeyed?”

God is not concerned purely with our actions, but also with our intents, and the desires of our heart. The desires of an infant’s heart are selfish and often self-destructive, and is this entirely absolved by its lack of power to act? Watching a baby flailing his arms petulantly – but ineffectually – against his mother, Augustine wryly notes:

“…the infant’s innocence lies in the weakness of his body and not in the infant mind.”

Satirist and social critic P. J. O’Rourke, reflecting on his own experiences as a father, writes:

“When Saint Augustine was formulating his doctrine of Original Sin, all he had to do was look at people as they are originally. Originally, they’re children… But it’s wrong to use infantile as a pejorative… What children display is adultishness. Children are, for example, perfectly adultish in their self-absorption. Tiny tots look so wise, staring at their stuffed animals. You wonder what they’re thinking. Then they learn to talk. What they’re thinking is, My Beanie Baby!”

Of course we should treat children differently and make allowances for behaviour that we would find unbearable in an adult. Augustine makes exactly this point, in fact:

“In what ways, in that time, did I sin? Was it that I cried for the breast? If I should now so cry – not indeed for the breast, but for food suitable to my condition – I should be most justly laughed at and rebuked. What I did then deserved rebuke but, since I could not understand those who rebuked me, neither custom nor common sense permitted me to be rebuked. As we grow we root out and cast away from us such childish habits.

“…Yet we look leniently on such things, not because they are not faults… but because they will vanish as the years pass. For, although we allow for such things in an infant, the same things could not be tolerated patiently in an adult.”

But children aren’t actually little angels – they’re human.

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In a comment to a blog post, one person summed up the most typical opposition to the doctrine of original sin:

Adam’s sin only brings physical death and the inclination towards sin. We do not inherit its guilt so as to be born or conceived damned, nor can we be damned for his sin since God explicitly states “The soul who sins is the one who will die. The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son.” (source)

It’s not really about the fact that Genesis 3 records the first time that creation disobeyed God and that God must now redeem this creation back to himself in order that justice may be served. No, people hate the idea that we’re being held responsible for the sin of this Adam dude who lived thousands of years ago, we never met, and we didn’t have a say-so in what he did.

The commenter covers two important effects of the original sin, but physical death and the inclination toward sin aren’t the only two effects of the Fall. The other effect, the effect that many deny, is imputed sin. Another commenter points out the consequences of such a belief system:

If you want to reject our Fall in Adam, you must also reject our Salvation through the Second Adam. Denying federal representation cuts both ways…you reject original sin, you reject Christ’s atonement. (source)

Let’s take a moment to look at imputed sin, then we’ll see why it is so important for the Atonement. First, we need to understand that we live in an individualist society and that the Bible was written by and to a collectivist society. Collectivist societies have a strong sense of identity with
the family unit, and the head of the family (the father) gave the entire family its reputation.

In this sort of society, the son would expect to suffer for the sins of his father.
By blood, all of us are descended from Adam. We take our ultimate family identification from him. Therefore, in a collectivist sense, we should expect to suffer the consequences of his sin. In a collectivist society, this would be the norm and no one would have the problem that some critics have today.

Adam’s sin is therefore imputed to us.

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. (Rom 5:12-14, emphasis added)

Sin and death have entered the world through Adam, and have spread to all men. By both nature and choice, men are sinners. “For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many” (Rom 5:15, emphasis added). Through that one sin, many died. But there is good news:

Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. (Rom 5:18-19, emphasis added)

Here the apostle is contrasting Adam’s act of disobedience with Christ’s act of obedience. Because of Adam’s disobedience, many were made sinners. But because of one act of obedience by Jesus Christ, many are justified before God and considered righteous. If you reject the first premise, then you are left with no basis for the second premise.

See also:

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I’m going to take a slightly different approach than J.W. on this one. One thing I’ve been learning/thinking about while going through a Systematic Theology class at our church is that everything must be viewed through the lens of its relevance to the truth of Christianity. There are three levels of this, and they are as follows:

1)   Primary issues – essential beliefs to Christianity (e.g. Jesus is God, any issue dealing with salvation)
2)   Secondary issues – not essential to the truth of Christianity, but still very important (e.g. inerrancy of Scripture)
3)   Tertiary issues – more dogmatic things (e.g. views on the Rapture, Calvinism vs. Arminianism)

Where does original sin fall? I would consider it a primary issue, because if salvation is a primary issue, it doesn’t become an issue at all unless there is something that we need salvation from.

Now Christians generally agree that man is born inherently sinful. No arguments there. Paul further refers to original sin as “the sin of Adam.” (Romans 5:12). This of course begs the question why sin entered the world with Adam, since it was Eve that ate the fruit first. Part of me likes to think that Adam first sinned by not assuming the responsibility that God had entrusted to him by giving him Eve. He was falling down on the job; he wasn’t being the king, warrior, mentor or friend that God had called him to be (see Stu Weber’s Four Pillars of a Man’s Heart for this reference).

So Adam gave us a sin nature, it seems. J.W. appears to be on the right track here. We can’t have been given our sin nature from God, because God doesn’t have sin in His nature to give. It is something that makes man different from God; Norm Geisler calls this distinction “potentiality.” God has pure Actuality, and it is this He can give us and does give us in things like morality, love, wisdom, etc. But He cannot give what He does not have in His nature, which is sin.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that we all possess a piece of Adam’s soul. But we do inherit the nature of his potentiality, and it is this that makes us sinful, and therefore finite in nature and also in understanding. It’s this sin that blocks our view of God’s Actuality, because we are separate beings from God due to this sin. We can understand what God is like, but not who He is in a perfect sense. I can dive more deeply into this in the comments section if anyone would like, but it seems to me that this would be a good stopping point for digestion and reflection.

Ultimately it all points to the need for a Savior, and thankfully our Father loves us enough to send us His Son to die once for all original sin we possess. Amen!

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[Editor’s note: this post has been thoroughly reworked due to some invigorating discussion in the comment section. Check out the refined version here.]

Original Sin Defined

The writers of the Augsburg Confession (found in the Book of Concord) defined Original Sin as the belief that “…since the fall of Adam all human beings who are propagated according to nature are born with sin, that is, without fear of God… [we] teach that this disease or original fault is truly sin, which even now damns and brings eternal death to those who are not born again through baptism and the Holy Spirit” (BOC, 39).

One Objection

Ezekiel 18:20a states, “The soul who sins is the one who will die. The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son.”

The word used for “soul” in this passage is the Hebrew word, nephesh. This passage leads to the objection that original sin cannot be true as I have outlined it, because it involves the son inheriting the guilt of the father.

The Question of the Soul: A Metaphysic of Original Sin

Three views of the soul are prevalent in Christianity. All of them presuppose metaphysical dualism. They are:

1) Our soul is constructed just as our physical body: Our soul is a half-and-half combination of the souls of our mother and father. One problem with this view is that it seems to treat the soul as a physical object. How exactly does a non-physical entity get combined half-and-half into a new non-physical entity. It certainly isn’t impossible, however. This view is quite popular.

2)  God specially creates each soul for each person when he/she is conceived/born/etc. Alternatively, God has already created every soul for everyone who will ever live, and puts them in a body when one is needed. The main problem with this view is that it would seem that if original sin is true (in the sense I have outlined it above), then God creates sinful souls for us.

3) Our soul is from Adam. There are no new souls for mankind, rather, we all share, in some sense, Adam’s soul.

I shall focus on 3) because it is the view I am forwarding. In Genesis 2:7, we are told that God breathed the breath (nephesh) of life into Adam. I contend that this (nephesh), which is in all humanity (and has been alternatively explained as our reason, soul, life, ethical awareness, etc.) is indeed our soul. Furthermore, because this nephesh is the same as that breathed into Adam, original sin is passed on, not through the inheritance simply of our parents’ genes, but through the fact that we share one and the same nephesh with Adam.

So how does this answer the objection from Ezekiel 18:20? Initially, one may argue it seems to purge the passage of all meaning. This is not the case, however. What Ezekiel is referring to is the sin of commission. That is, it refers to a sin which requires an action. Ezekiel is telling us that the actions of the father do not condemn the actions of the son. This does not, however, preclude the original sin, through which all are condemned equally.

Source:

The Book of Concord. Augsburg Fortress. 2000.

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