The New Christians

The New Christians


Comment of the Day

posted by Tony Jones

Dan H. brings up a point that raises a big question (which I’ve emboldened) in response to Original Sin: Jesus’ Ambivalence:

Hmm. I would agree that Jesus never articulates an Augustinian
understanding of ‘original sin’. But I would also agree with some other
commenters that the passage in John 9 does not really address the
question one way or the other. The question: ‘do bad things happen to
us because of our sin, or as a punishment inherited from our ancestors’
sins?’ is different from the question ‘do we have sin woven deeply into
our nature as a result of an initial Fall?’

I will also say, though, that there seems to be a persistent lack of
clarity (in myself as well as others) as to exactly what we mean by
“sin” as distinct from “original sin”. I did read the definition that
Tony posted from the BBC, and it does seem clear that Jesus did not
articulate that specific definition. But I wonder just how much that
specific definition of “original sin” is really crucial to other
aspects of evangelical theology?



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K E Alexander

posted February 10, 2009 at 9:18 am


The problem with a Reformation view of original sin is that it tends to free one from responsibility for one’s actions. That is not to say that our human faculties and/or affections have not been corrupted but it is to say that the emphasis should be shifted. We are corrupt because when are separate from God’s empowering Spirit or presence. This is the consequence of Adam’s sin, not a punishment or decree from a capricious God. It is not God’s will that we perish…therefore the Spirit continually offers empowerment and a way out! What is most important is our response to that grace. Like Wesley (and not Calvin!), I am optimistic about God’s grace!



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EricW

posted February 10, 2009 at 10:33 am


Why is that one has to search long and hard in the Old Testament to find any reference to Adam’s fall as being connected with man’s (e)state? If “original sin” and “the fall” were the seismic/cataclysmic covenant- and life-rupturing events they have come to be in Christian theology, why is the event not even a footnote, let alone a lengthy plaint, among the writings of Israel’s lawgivers and psalmists and prophets? (Maybe I missed them; please point them out to me.)
One lexical problem in searching for references in the OT to “Adam” is that his name is a generic term for “man,” and hence one would have to read each Scripture that mention “adam” or “ha-adam” to see if it means the man who sinned in Eden, or just man in general.
Any thoughts?



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Ethan

posted February 10, 2009 at 10:38 am


K E Alexander,
That’s a classic misunderstanding of Reformed theology. No human responsibility? As the Apostle Paul would say, “May it never be!” We have a responsibility to turn from our sin in repentance and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.
Tony,
Do you ever post “comments of the day” that disagree with you?



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Joel

posted February 10, 2009 at 10:50 am


The irony is everyone is taking a Hellenistic, modernistic view of the issue of Original Sin. The reason the OT never speaks of Original Sin (in one of its various forms) it because it’s assumed. David says that he was conceived in iniquity. The reason it is assumed is because in Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) cultures, the sins of a father, great-grandfather, or further on would have affects on the later generations. It was believed that we were all in the loins of Adam and consequently sinned with him.
We’re attempting to take an individualistic approach to a culture that didn’t believe in individualism. We’re trying to separate ourselves from the grand story of the Fall when the various cultures writing the Bible all taught that we were responsible for each other’s actions (hence the severe punishments in the OT).
We may or may not be guilty of the sin Adam committed, but one thing is true – we suffer the consequences. This means that we do have a sin nature, we are born with a desire to sin. It doesn’t have to be programmed into us. We don’t have to teach our children how to lie. We don’t have to teach our children how to be selfish. They come with built-in knowledge of how to sin because of Adam and Eve.
When we take away the view of inherent sin within human nature, we take away the purpose of the cross. Christ might as well have been nothing more than a moral example, someone who brought about a social Gospel and not actual redemption. His death isn’t as important and the belief in his resurrection unnecessary if we don’t have a sin nature from which we are to be saved.



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Dan H

posted February 10, 2009 at 1:26 pm


Joel,
I am fundamentally in agreement with what you are saying here. I may quibble a tiny bit on a detail of phrasing here or there, but I’ve maintained throughout my comments on this topic that I do believe in a sense of sin being within our nature in some way. But that’s not exactly the same thing as the specific, classic ‘original sin’ notion: that we directly inherent a sinful nature from Adam’s first sin.
As far as talking about ‘other aspects of evangelical theology’, as I did in the first comment, I have in mind things like atonement, how much faith in certain doctrine is required for salvation, etc. Now I actually still lean fairly conservative on those issues (though I try to keep an open mind). For example, I still believe that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross deals with our sin problem (among other things: I agree that the work on the cross cannot *only* be understood in the substitutionary model). That all the suffering and ‘badness’ caused by our sin, and our sin itself, was ‘put to death’ on the cross, that Christ was ‘crushed for our transgressions.’ But I think this is still just as true whether the classical doctrine of original sin is the best way of talking about our sin, or not.
So in a way, what I am saying is: So maybe Original Sin in it’s reformed expression is not exactly what the Bible teaches. So what? We’re still pretty sinful. This is not the most important thing about us, but it needs to be acknowledge, owned up to. As Tony put it in his post on Genesis (and I’m paraphrasing here), that story shows a tendency, or proclivity in us, not to trust God. I would argue that this proclivity not to trust God is the root of our sin ‘nature’–all the other ways in which we hurt others and ourselves stem from this.
In this disucssion, are we really talking about different ways of conceptualizing the same thing? or do we have fundamentally different understandings of ‘how sinful we are’? This is still the open question for me, and why this is an interesting discussion.



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Joel

posted February 10, 2009 at 1:59 pm


Dan,
I do agree with you about trusting God. I have always said that the root of all sin is the desire to be autonomous from God (that actually comes from Francis Schaeffer…and the Bible). We develop the attitude that we know better than Him and this overflows into how we treat others.
However, this lack of trust in God that is universal in us all has to come from somewhere. Paul does state (and I’m getting ahead of Tony on this one) that it came through Adam. Whether or not it did, we know that the Fall put some fundamental flaws in humanity (spiritual death, physical death, increased labor, etc).
If sin is inherent within us, then we need someone to rescue us from this nature. That is why – like you – though I believe a belief in the substitutionary atonement is essential to understanding the atonement, it is not sufficient for understand the atonement. This was more than a legal transaction. It was God rescuing us and ransoming us as well. The point still stands though – if humans are not inherently sinful, then all we need is a moral guide and not a Divine Sacrifice.



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Gary Lee Parker

posted February 10, 2009 at 2:55 pm


What happens if what we learn from people like Jean Vanier that all people give to the building of the church whether the people are intellectual-cognitive impaired or looking at their disability rather than their ability?



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Dan H

posted February 10, 2009 at 3:01 pm


Joel,
Wish I had more time to give a more thoughtful response. One of my big wonderings is, if part of the reaction against Original Sin (and on Tony’s first posts, I started out defending the doctrine) has to do more with the way it is specifically formulated: as an entity, a kind of malevolent personality trait that is passed on biologically in our genetic code. I see it more as an absence, a kind of separation from complete intimacy and trust in God, which was a consequence of Adam and Eve asserting autonomy (which I take to be at the core of what eating from the tree was about). Without an intimate relationshp and trust in God, and ‘left to our own devices’ to an extent (and only to an extent, because some aspect of the imago dei is in all of us–jeez, sometimes I think theological conversation is 50% nuancing and qualifying!), we grasp for physical and emotional security ourselves, with all the catastrophic consequences.
I agree with you that sin, in some way, ‘has to come from somewhere’. But I’m also comfortable with slightly different ways of formulating the work on the cross–that our sin, and suffering from sin, had to be ‘taken on’ to God in Christ and ‘killed’ in some way so that it is not a barrier between us and the intimacy with God which the Holy Spirit provides. But I don’t know if this is a strong disagreement with you or not :)
I do think, that the whole issue of the specific language that we choose to use, and more to the point how we react to specific language, cognitively and emotionally, is a Huge part of all of this theological discussion. For example, what kind of thoughts and images do the words “Total Depravity” evoke? And are those evokings really what the original user of those words meant to evoke? And since we are now so far away, culturally and temporally, do certain verbal formulations push us farther away from the truth, or lead us closer? We juggle loaded words all the time in these discussions, and being aware of the difference between how other people hear them and how we may mean them is important.



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EricW

posted February 11, 2009 at 8:54 am


My Question: EricW February 10, 2009 10:33 AM Why is that one has to search long and hard in the Old Testament to find any reference to Adam’s fall as being connected with man’s (e)state? If “original sin” and “the fall” were the seismic/cataclysmic covenant- and life-rupturing events they have come to be in Christian theology, why is the event not even a footnote, let alone a lengthy plaint, among the writings of Israel’s lawgivers and psalmists and prophets? (Maybe I missed them; please point them out to me.)
Joel’s Reply: Joel February 10, 2009 10:50 AM The irony is everyone is taking a Hellenistic, modernistic view of the issue of Original Sin. The reason the OT never speaks of Original Sin (in one of its various forms) it because it’s assumed. David says that he was conceived in iniquity. The reason it is assumed is because in Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) cultures, the sins of a father, great-grandfather, or further on would have affects on the later generations. It was believed that we were all in the loins of Adam and consequently sinned with him.
But … If the OT assumes Original Sin, and they (i.e., the writers of the Torah, the Prophets and the Writings, as well as their people(s)) believed that they were all in the loins of Adam and consequently sinned with him, why does the Tanach (except, perhaps, for Genesis 3) hardly, if ever, mention this as a fact or cause of the human condition, nor regularly, if ever, connect the Messianic age or the age to come with the explicit undoing of Adam’s sin and the specifics of the Fall? (Or if it does, please show me the passages.)



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Brian

posted February 11, 2009 at 10:02 am


There is no such thing as original sin in the book of Genesis. Judaism has no such doctrine. Christian theologians, however, read that theology back into Genesis via the work of Augustine. Original sin simply isn’t original to the original text.



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Joel

posted February 11, 2009 at 4:33 pm


EricW – Again, no one writes about what is already assumed. This is why belief in God is never defended – the audience, it was assumed, already believed God existed. Likewise, the audience would have already believed in some sort of sin passed down from Adam (again, David said he was conceived in iniquity). We could also look to Psalm 58:3, which shows that at least the wicked are sinful from the womb. Proverbs 22:15 states that foolishness is bound up in a child. Genesis 8:21 says that we’re evil from our youth (which, to Jews, youth is younger than 13). Job 15:14 implies that we are born unrighteous and impure. If anything, what it shows is that humans are born wicked and with a desire to rebel against God. This may not line up with the traditional doctrine of Original Sin – which is fine – but the Old Testament does teach a version of Original Sin, in that we are sinful from conception.
However, it’s all a bit superfluous. What does it matter if the OT mentions it or not? All books being equally inspired (sorry Barth), wherever it is mentioned it is true.
Brian –
I wouldn’t put too much stock in modern Jewish beliefs. Trust me, there’s not much there we can draw from. When dealing with Reform and Conservative (who, ironically, aren’t actually conservative), you’re talking to Jews that rely on some Judaism, but mostly Enlightenment thinking drawn from German higher criticism. When dealing with Hasidic and Orthodox Jews, you’re dealing with Pharisees, literally. The Pharisees, after the Roman persecution, were the only sect that really made it out. Modern Judaism is based on the Pharisees – and we know how Jesus dealt with them and how often He disagreed with their doctrines and traditions. So turning to modern Jewish beliefs as justification doesn’t make much sense considering modern Jews don’t follow Old Testament Judaism.



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Joel

posted February 11, 2009 at 7:51 pm


Dan –
I like how you explained the absence of something rather than the presence of something. That actually makes more sense. If sin is the absence of God or goodness (if we go by the Augustinian definition) and not an actual entity, then someone having a sin nature doesn’t make logical sense. Rather, their “sin nature” would instead be the absence of God, that is, a distorted image of God. Though crippled and maimed, the image is still there, pressing toward good, but the mangled part keeps us choosing to rebel against Him.
Whether you realize it or not, you proposed quite the theory that I’m going to have to sit down and think about. It’s quite interesting.
In short, my view is that someone has to believe in some form of inherent sinfulness in humans – that’s just plain biblical. I believe, however, that this issue (along with the atonement) is far too complex to nail down to a single definition.



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