Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


Original Sin Returns 4 (RJS)

posted by Jesus Creed Admin

On the Jesus Creed we have been engaged in a brief discussion of original sin using Henri Blocher’s book Original Sin: Illuminating the Riddle (New Studies in Biblical Theology) as a guide. This series is part of an ongoing attempt to wrestle with key doctrines of the Christian faith and the implication that our modern scientific understanding of the world may have on our articulation and understanding of these doctrines.  The first installment in this series considered the science and why Adam, Eve, and the Fall may be topics of some contention, the second installment considered Blocher’s approach to the Genesis account of creation and the Fall, and the third installment looked at Romans 5 and considered the intent of Paul in this passage.  In this last installment we wish to look in a little more detail at Blocher’s proposal on original sin. Blocher considers Adam as a historical individual and the Fall as an important event - but suggests that the teaching of Paul in Romans 5 is not emphasizing the imputation of Adam’s guilt on mankind but the role of Adam in making the judicial treatment of sin possible for all mankind - that Romans 5:13-14 are key in understanding Paul’s argument.


I am a scientist and a professor, not a theologian, nor an expert in the history of Christian theology and doctrine.  There are elements to Blocher’s proposal and argument that are over my head – although it is clear that key elements are important and worth discussion. Fortunately Daniel J. Treier published a review of Blocher’s book in the Fall 2000 issue of Trinity Journal (published by Trinity Evangelical Divinity School).  As Treier claims that Blocher’s book is sufficiently complicated that, as he puts it: “competent theological associates and this reviewer took hours of verbal and written discussion to ferret out Blocher’s claims and their exact significance compared to the tradition,” I don’t feel too bad about finding the book less than transparent in places.  In this last post I will use Treier’s review and insight as a reference to look at Blocher’s proposal. For those who are interested the review can be found relatively easily by googling “Daniel J. Treier” “Original Sin”.

 

Blocher counters interpretations of Romans 5 that suggest that mankind is intrinsically untainted by the fall and capable of moral obedience (Pelagianism) – and affirms Original Sin as universal, natural, and inherited.  Blocher also maintains that it is Adamic in a literal historical sense – although Genesis 2-3 may not be literal history. While I question Blocher’s insistence on Adam as a unique individual – the fall as a historical rebellion against God leading to universal, natural, and inherited Original Sin remains. Genesis is not the symbol-laden story of everyman, but a symbol-laden story relating the rebellion of mankind created in the image of God (a position in good company with CS Lewis I believe).  This rebellion taints all of mankind.

 

But the real subject of Blocher’s hypothesis is the relationship between sin – “Adam’s sin” - and universal human condemnation and death.   In Romans 5 Paul is making an argument that all stand guilty before God – Jew and Gentile, under the law, before the law, and without the law – there is no exception. Blocher proposes that we stand guilty under the covenant – God’s covenant with Adam – broken by Adam. As members of the human race we stand guilty before God. Rather than realist (Augustinian) or representative imputation of guilt we have a judicial and covenantal imputation of guilt on all of mankind. 

 

In Blocher’s view we all have a sinful nature – as “cracked eikons” through the deliberate rebellion of mankind (or for Blocher, the transgression of Adam) but all sin is individual; death spread to all because all sinned and sin (Ro 5:12) not because Adam sinned. Blocher’s view of guilt as judicial in Paul’s argument doesn’t detract from justification by grace alone nor does it remove penal substitution as an important component of the atonement.  No one is able to attain life through obedience, but only through Christ.

 

Blocher’s views do lead to a loosening of the Adam – Christ link.  This link is not and is not intended to be a perfect symmetry in Paul’s argument.  Nor is the Adam – Christ typology an exact relation.  The emphasis here is on the guilt of all and the gift of God through the One so that grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

The loosening of the Adam-Christ linkage and the movement away from the hard realist view of Augustine in the interpretation of Romans 5 leaves some room to consider the doctrine of Original Sin and the atoning work of Christ in light of our 21st century understanding of the world and God’s creation. If Blocher is right and the essence of Paul’s rather convoluted argument is to establish a judicial and covenantal guilt rather than a personal guilt – then the point is Adam as covenant breaker rather than Adam as biological forbearer. The importance of the Fall in Genesis 3 is rebellion and broken covenant, not Adam as unique individual.  

 

In the introduction to his book Blocher says “We treasure tradition not by servile adherence to it, but by, as it were, sitting on the shoulders of fathers and elder brothers who were giants indeed, and thus do we hope to be granted the grace of seeing even further and ever more clearly (p. 13).”  Perhaps we can say the same and stand on Blocher’s shoulders to see even a bit further.

 

What do you think?  Is it reasonable to consider the Paul’s argument to be directed toward judical imputation of guilt?

 

 



Advertisement
Comments read comments(27)
post a comment
Greg Laughery

posted November 11, 2008 at 3:01 am


Thanks RJS for this series and for getting us thinking about these important matters. Hope you’ll be raising more issues like this in the near future.
Yes, Blocher’s view seem plausible and if correct it releases us from some of the problems of a “hard realist view” – for example, that you see in Adam as biological “forbearer”.
The bigger issue at stake seems to me to be whether or not we’re willing to begin to understand that Scripture and nature are informers that need to be in dialogue. Monologue, be it from the side of Scripture or nature, will eventually lose credibility in the face of an unfolding and developing world that we know more and more about all the time. Dialogue will mean that some interpretations of nature or Scripture will have to modified, or even put to rest, for the sake of what’s true.



report abuse
 

Jeremiah Daniels

posted November 11, 2008 at 5:46 am


I love this running discussion though I do believe its going to be forever shelved in the ‘speculative’ category because of the reasons items that Greg Laughery gives.
But, hey, that does not mean its unprofitable.
I contend that there is really no new struggle here. Hermeneutically, we’ve been accustomed to altering our interpretations based on what we know about reality for quite some time (anybody want to try to put a date on that?)
RJS
“Genesis is not the symbol-laden story of everyman, but a symbol-laden story relating the rebellion of mankind created in the image of God (a position in good company with CS Lewis I believe). This rebellion taints all of mankind.”
I don’t think I have a problem agreeing that rebellion taints all of mankind — that’s empirical.
What I’m having a little trouble stretching my mind around the distinguishing the two different “symbol-laden” stories in the first sentence.
Are you saying that some human ancestor once was perfect then rebelled thus causing a cascading effect on all his descendants? Or, that humans have always been in rebellion?
Sorry, just want to make sure I’m understanding this :)



report abuse
 

phil_style

posted November 11, 2008 at 6:10 am


While I have nothing critical to add at the moment, it’s good to see this series back. I shall be following the discussion closely.



report abuse
 

RJS

posted November 11, 2008 at 11:10 am


Quiet Day – I thought I’d been more provocative than this. Oh Well.
Greg,
I think that there has always been a dialog between view of the world (science, although this is a modern concept in some ways) and scripture and theology. There has to be. And if Christianity is true (and I think that it is) then improved understanding of God’s creation (and the history of God’s people) will require some modification in our interpretation of scripture. A century from now our descendants will have the same bemused view of this discussion as we have of the controversies incited by Galileo and others – over the suggestion that the earth is not the center of the solar system.
In my view the question is not any longer Is Genesis 1-11 literal historical truth? This has been answered in the negative.
The question is How do we rearticulate Christian doctrine in light of our understanding of the world?.
And as a corollary How do we develop a robust doctrine of scripture as the word of God?
Pete Enns and others have made a good start in this direction – at least presenting a way to start the civil and Christ-centered discussion.



report abuse
 

RJS

posted November 11, 2008 at 11:28 am


Jeremiah,
More later – I just lost a long comment by typing the wrong verification text. Arghh…
Note to self – write comments in word and paste here!



report abuse
 

RJS

posted November 11, 2008 at 1:57 pm


Jeremiah,
I see two ways to look at Genesis 3 as potentially true myth.
In the first Genesis 3 is a symbol-laden story explaining and attaching reason to empirical observation – that mankind is broken – life can be hard, evil exists, and relationships are often less than ideal. This brokenness just is – it could be an unavoidable result of evolutionary development of the species. Adam is simply everyman in all his imperfection.
In the second Genesis 3 is a symbol-laden story describing the breaking of the relationship between God and mankind. This break originated in the deliberate disobedience of mankind created in the image of God. Deliberate disobedience destroyed communion with God and relationship with fellow humans.
Does it matter which view we take? I think that it does.
In the first view the problem solved in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus is simply a natural consequence of the way God created the world. It suggests that guilt need not be universal, and that one might just possibly be good enough to attain life through obedience. The act of Jesus may just be an insertion into human history a seed of grace, truth, and hope that can never be defeated (as for example Brian McLaren suggests in Everything Must Change).
In the second view the problem solved in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is restoration of a broken relationship. Jesus came to do for us what we could not do for ourselves and restore us to union with God for the good of self, others, and the world. Wrath of God comes in here, but much more as well. Now we follow and participate in his redemption.
If we don’t get Genesis 3 right, we won’t get the story right, and we won’t read the Bible correctly.



report abuse
 

RJS

posted November 11, 2008 at 2:00 pm


This is annoying, As a real person, typing a real comment, it took three attempts to get comment and verification text right…



report abuse
 

Darren King

posted November 11, 2008 at 2:03 pm


RJS wrote: “Blocher considers Adam as a historical individual and the Fall as an important event – but suggests that the teaching of Paul in Romans 5 is not emphasizing the imputation of Adam’s guilt on mankind but the role of Adam in making the judicial treatment of sin possible for all mankind…”
Ah, layers and layers of interpretation, linguistic and otherwise… The onion unravels.
I guess my immediate question here RJS, is how are you using the term “judicial”?
As I mentioned a week or so ago, how the Eastern Orthodox and a Western Christian approach this term/category varies quite a bit. So please clarify. Thanks.



report abuse
 

Darren King

posted November 11, 2008 at 2:09 pm


Also, RJS, I’m just curious, is there a reason you use the abbreviation as your indentifier? Are there professional reasons why you don’t want to use your first name?



report abuse
 

undefined

posted November 11, 2008 at 2:42 pm


Darren,
No professional reason – I could use my first name and did in fact when I first started commenting on Scot’s blog.
I switched to initials in order to avoid gender and other stereotypes, especially on first impression.
You can all laugh, and claim I am mistaken – but my experience suggests that when I comment in forums like this I am taken much more seriously and given a hearing when I use neutral initials instead of my first name, particularly by certain segments of the audience. And I won’t get into deeper water by being more specific, you can all assume that I mean someone else.



report abuse
 

RJS

posted November 11, 2008 at 2:44 pm


Oops, “undefined” was me.



report abuse
 

Mike L.

posted November 11, 2008 at 2:58 pm


I think the difficulty melts away when the entire story is seen as a myth. If we can get past the modern distaste for myth, then the concept of Original sin is very simple to see and very “true”.
For me, I see original sin as a metaphor for our physical drive to survive in tension with our desire to live in harmony with others (i.e. self vs. community/covenant). In other words, it’s our survival instinct which is complete with a complex system of evolutionary psychological reactions. The problem is that selfishness is what often keeps us alive as it is the root of self survival (i.e. fight or flight). So we have a problem. We live in tension of those desires. Life in a world of selves seeking individual survival is a tricky place to navigate. I think that is exactly what the ancient authors of the Genesis myths are trying to suggest. I think they are trying to critique their own struggle to survive in a competitive selfish world (living east of Eden). I think they are dreaming poetically of what life might be like without this tension (Eden). There are some interesting Jewish Midrash stories about life after the fall.
The idea of a perfect Garden of Eden is a symbolic story of something that never was and never will be, but is always something we want to strive for. We all dream of a time and place where survival of one person does not in any way depend on us harming or killing another. The old covenant was one solution. Provide strict laws to curb selfishness and promote community. The new covenant is the recognition that those ancient laws keep failing us, so we need to go right to the heart of the problem. We need to eliminate selfishness. We need to “die to self”. Jesus is our example. He is our new metaphor (the new Adam). Paul seemed to figure this out. I’m not sure why spend so much time stumbling over “if” it really happened.



report abuse
 

Mike L.

posted November 11, 2008 at 3:04 pm


FYI… I wasn’t trying to pimp my own blog. This is the first time I posted on beliefnet.com and didn’t realize it was going to stick my site address inside the post. live and learn… or maybe it was that nasty original sin ;)



report abuse
 

Matt S.

posted November 11, 2008 at 4:13 pm


Mike,
While I admire the elegance of the way you described the solution you see, it leaves me with a few questions that don’t seem to fit the solution. For example, if the new metaphor is death and resurrection, and this metaphor provides us with the example of selflessness we need to defeat selfishness, then nothing other than example is accomplished by death and resurrection. This doesn’t seem to fit the big picture nor does it seem to be in alignment with Paul’s view that the resurrection is the final answer, not just selflessness.
So I think your view and RJS’s first view are roughly aligned.
While the second view (in my words/understanding) holds that a special interaction occurred which endowed a man or group of mankind with the image of God and another special interaction occurred in which a man or group of mankind broke the relationship with God requiring yet another series of special interactions that eventually result in a new special creation (already begun, but not yet finished).
I think this has a huge impact on how we articulate and live out Christian faith in that in the first view, progress is the word. But in the second view we hold fast to a hope that the God that has acted in history is now acting (progress) and will yet act in ways that will bring humanity into that new “eden” the city of god.
I’m not an expert but this is how the question seems to play out to me.
Matt
PS this is my 2nd attempt at submitting – it must time out while typing the post.



report abuse
 

Darren King

posted November 11, 2008 at 4:42 pm


RJS,
Thanks for clarifying about your insignia/name. To even things out I’m going to start going by Darlene King.
Just kidding. I get your point.
Now, on the “judicial” term, how were you using it?
And on Mike L’s point, I get what he’s saying, and its intriguing. But like others pointed out, if we go with that construct, then other things start unraveling pretty quickly.



report abuse
 

RJS

posted November 11, 2008 at 4:46 pm


Matt S,
I think you are right about the time-out. If one spends too much time reading the post and comments and composing a comment, the verification text times out and all is lost.
Reminder to self – compose in word processor, paste into browser. At least then you won’t have to recompose and rewrite – only repaste.



report abuse
 

Mike L.

posted November 11, 2008 at 5:18 pm


Matt,
“…then nothing other than example is accomplished by death and resurrection
I’d say that is partially correct. But a defining metaphor that moves people to self sacrificial transformation and a unwavering devotion to changing our community, society, nation, and world is more than “nothing other”. I don’t think that the resurrection story was a literal event, but I do think it is much more than a “nothing other”. That story changed my life and continues to define my narrative for living. Modern people tend to devalue myth, but that is a big mistake. Myths may be the most powerful force on earth. They give meaning to life. A healthy post-modern approach to sacred stories can value both the modern view of the universe AND the ability of ancient narratives to change us, connect us, and empower us.
The resurrection (either as historical event or myth) doesn’t in itself “do anything”. I mean, you still sin, right? You’re still selfish and plagued with fight or flight reactions to fear and anger, right? Just having an event happen or just hearing a story doesn’t change anybody, right? The story has to be lived in each of us for it to bring resurrection to our lives.



report abuse
 

Mike L.

posted November 11, 2008 at 5:20 pm


I’m not sure this site is acting right. Good thing I typed my response in an editor first. Let me try again…
Matt,
“…then nothing other than example is accomplished by death and resurrection
I’d say that is partially correct. But a defining metaphor that moves people to self sacrificial transformation and a unwavering devotion to changing our community, society, nation, and world is more than “nothing other”. I don’t think that the resurrection story was a literal event, but I do think it is much more than a “nothing other”. That story changed my life and continues to define my narrative for living. Modern people tend to devalue myth, but that is a big mistake. Myths may be the most powerful force on earth. They give meaning to life. A healthy post-modern approach to sacred stories can value both the modern view of the universe AND the ability of ancient narratives to change us, connect us, and empower us.
The resurrection (either as historical event or myth) doesn’t in itself “do anything”. I mean, you still sin, right? You’re still selfish and plagued with fight or flight reactions to fear and anger, right? Just having an event happen or just hearing a story doesn’t change anybody, right? The story has to be lived in each of us for it to bring resurrection to our lives.



report abuse
 

Jeremiah Daniels

posted November 11, 2008 at 6:59 pm


grrr I lost my response too. Ok. Later today.
RJS — fantastic.
Matt L — man, we got stuff to bring up there!



report abuse
 

Jeremiah Daniels

posted November 11, 2008 at 7:04 pm


Guys & Gals, I believe the problem with posting is that the code at the bottom expires if you leave the page idle for a while. The maintainers need to either extend the time, add a button to refresh the text, or we just need to click the refresh button before we paste our response into the box :(



report abuse
 

Jeremiah Daniels

posted November 11, 2008 at 7:55 pm


RJS — thanks for clearing that up. Let me make sure I got this straight …
Since you are taking Genesis 3 as a myth (moral story?), you have to reconcile it with the rest of the salvational story in the Bible.
You feel that to keep the integrity of the whole story you have to have a real ancestor who was originally sinless but went into rebellion against God. The actual story of the Garden didn’t happen but something like it happened.
Am I getting that straight?
Matt L — I have thought about similar things.
Those are conclusions that (at least in my opinion) have to be discussed in this topic. I know that we probably are going to get some flaming posts over them, but, hey, such is this sort of thing.
So, is there such a thing as a totally regenerated human? Or, is that akin to asking if there is a Big Foot?
Also, if I understand the substitutionary nature of Christ’s sacrifice as presented in the New Testament, it basically said that Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross substituted for the sacrifice of animals — but in a perfect manner (book of Hebrews). Since none of us believe that God needs actual blood, why did he need the sacrifice of Jesus at all?
Hoping I’m making sense in that last paragraph. Caveat: for all your people out there ready to jump on that this is a point of discussion and not necessarily reflecting any personal belief or conviction on my part. So, don’t shoot the messenger!



report abuse
 

RJS

posted November 11, 2008 at 8:03 pm


Mike L.,
We’ve been over this before – as you know.
And you know that I maintain that the crucifixion and resurrection as historical events did in themselves “do something”. They did not instantly create perfect people living in the established kingdom of God. They did not abolish bodily pain, suffering, evil, or death. The church has never claimed that they did. They did create a community of God’s people on earth in walking or attempting to walk in union with God. They did inaugurate the coming of the kingdom of God. They did restore communion between God and man – but this communion is still predicated on the choice of individuals to follow God.



report abuse
 

RJS

posted November 11, 2008 at 8:23 pm


Jeremiah,
I think that we need to read scripture in light of the whole story – in company with the church, on our knees before God. The power of the Holy Spirit is and has been at work within the church. So I do think that Genesis as story must mesh with the rest of the salvation story in scripture. And this means that I opt for the second view of Genesis 3 (see 1:57 pm).
This doesn’t necessarily mean one individual as Adam – it does mean real rebellion. Perhaps along the line expressed by CS Lewis in The Problem of Pain Ch. 5 The Fall of Man:

For long centuries, God perfected the animal form which was to become the vehicle of humanity and the image of Himself. He gave it hands whose thumbs could be applied to each of the fingers, and jaws and teeth and throat capable of articulation, and a brain sufficiently complex to execute all of the material motions whereby rational thought is incarnated. The creature may have existed in this stage for ages before it became man: it may have even been clever enough to make things which a clever archaeologist would accept as proof of its humanity. But it was only an animal because all its physical and psychical processes where directed to purely material and natural ends. Then in fullness of time, God caused to descend upon this organism, both on its psychology and physiology, a new kind of consciousness which could say “I” and “me,” which could look upon itself as an object, which knew God, which could make judgments of truth, beauty, and goodness, and which was so far above time that is could perceive time flowing past. … We do not know how many of these creatures God made, nor how long they continued in the Paradisal state. But sooner or later they fell. Someone or something whispered that they could become as gods. … They wanted some corner in the universe in which they could say to God, “This is our business, not yours.” But there is no such corner. They wanted to be nouns, but they were and must eternally be, mere adjectives. We have no idea what particular act, or series of acts, the self-contradictory, impossible wish found expression. For all I can see, it might have concerned the literal eating of a fruit, but the question is of no consequence.



report abuse
 

RJS

posted November 11, 2008 at 10:02 pm


Darren, (2:03 pm and 4:42 pm),
Judicial is Blocher’s term. I think that he means that Paul’s argument in this passage is emphasizing the fact that Adam in his disobedience broke the covenant between God and mankind created in the image of God. We all stand guilty before God because of this broken covenant. This makes sense of Romans 5:13-14 for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.
Death reigned even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam – this is a tough passage for those who consider a tighter interpretation, especially for an Augustinian view. Blocher claims that death reigned from Adam over all because of the broken covenant. This is a judicial imputation of guilt, not a personal guilt (real or representative).



report abuse
 

Jeremiah Daniels

posted November 11, 2008 at 10:08 pm


RJS Thanks I got it now!



report abuse
 

Eric Judge

posted November 12, 2008 at 1:13 am


Blochers view of original sin as covenant unfaithfulness makes sense in Paul’s argument if we assume the Paul is writing an defense of the covenant righteousness (i.e. faithfulness)of God. If the problem was Adam’s/mankind’s unfaithfulness then the solution is the (perpetually debated) faithfulness of Jesus Christ. Blocher’s reading of the text makes sense if we read it this way.



report abuse
 

Mariam

posted November 12, 2008 at 5:35 am


RJS,
Just to let you know that I continue to follow this series with interest and I would like to post something but I’ve just lost my post, because I foolishly did not save it before submitting. It’s late now. I should think about it more anyway. Tomorrow.



report abuse
 

Post a Comment

By submitting these comments, I agree to the beliefnet.com terms of service, rules of conduct and privacy policy (the "agreements"). I understand and agree that any content I post is licensed to beliefnet.com and may be used by beliefnet.com in accordance with the agreements.



Previous Posts

More Blogs To Enjoy!!!
Thank you for visiting Jesus Creed. This blog is no longer being updated. Please enjoy the archives. Here are some other blogs you may also enjoy: Red Letters with Tom Davis Recent prayer post on Prayables Most Recent Inspiration blog post Happy Reading!  

posted 11:15:58am Aug. 16, 2012 | read full post »

Our Common Prayerbook 30 - 3
Psalm 30 thanks God (vv. 1-3, 11-12) and exhorts others to thank God (vv. 4-5). Both emerge from the concrete reality of David's own experience. Here is what that experience looks like:Step one: David was set on high and was flourishing at the hand of God's bounty (v. 7a).Step two: David became too

posted 12:15:30pm Aug. 31, 2010 | read full post »

Theology After Darwin 1 (RJS)
One of the more important and more difficult pieces of the puzzle as we feel our way forward at the interface of science and faith is the theological implications of discoveries in modern science. A comment on my post Evolution in the Key of D: Deity or Deism noted: ...this reminds me of why I get a

posted 6:01:52am Aug. 31, 2010 | read full post »

Almost Christian 4
Who does well when it comes to passing on the faith to the youth? Studies show two groups do really well: conservative Protestants and Mormons; two groups that don't do well are mainline Protestants and Roman Catholics. Kenda Dean's new book is called Almost Christian: What the Faith of Ou

posted 12:01:53am Aug. 31, 2010 | read full post »

Let's Get Neanderthal!
The Cave Man Diet, or Paleo Diet, is getting attention. (Nothing is said about Culver's at all.) The big omission, I have to admit, is that those folks were hunters -- using spears or smacking some rabbit upside the conk or grabbing a fish or two with their hands ... but that's what makes this diet

posted 2:05:48pm Aug. 30, 2010 | read full post »




Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.