The New Christians

The New Christians


Comment of the Weekend

posted by Tony Jones

Scott M drops some historical and biblical context on Original Sin:

For that matter, Ethan, I could have pointed to the very first
controversy that resulted in the council of Jerusalem in Acts 15. I
didn’t do so because the Scripture was not yet in the canonized state
(or indeed even existant) at that time. But it does have some
illustrative use in this discussion even so.

You see, in that dispute, using Scripture as the sole authority, the
judaizers actually had the stronger point. You only have to read
Genesis 17 to realize that, especially 17:14. The apostles and early
bishops (James seems to have headed the council) on this point and
elsewhere radically reinterpreted Scripture to mean something other
than what it sometimes seemed to plainly say in light of who Jesus was,
what he had done, and what he had taught them. Sola Scriptura was
certainly not their criteria. Their criteria, their lens if you will,
was the revelation of God in Jesus of Nazareth.

Now, while I feel we must read all Scripture through that same lens,
I don’t feel and have never felt free to develop and promulgate novel
interpretations of my own. And you see that consistently beginning with
the apostolic fathers. That’s why, though I have pretty much always
rejected the Western notion of original sin, I largely kept my mouth
shut until years later when I discovered the Eastern Church had
essentially the same understanding I did.

What we have seen for the past 500 years are people promoting all
sorts of novel interpretations (or in some cases ancient heresies
rehashed) under the banner of the ‘sole’ authority of Scripture. Many
of these are so radically different from each other that they don’t
even seem to be describing the same person. I don’t see any way to
resolve the God Jonathan Edwards described, for one example, with the
God described by St. Isaac the Syrian.

What does this have to do with ‘original sin’ in my mind? I realize
that may not be obvious. Developing a theory about the nature of the
human being purely from a novel interpretation of Scripture is
dangerous. Attempting to interpret or reinterpret Scripture simply
through textual or historical analysis is at best a mixed bag. In order
to understand what it means to be human, we need to understand what
Jesus of Nazareth not only revealed about God, but about humanity. He
was not an idea about which we can have varying opinions. He was a
person. As such, though we may all only understand him or know him in
part, there is an underlying reality. I would not be willing to concede
that any conception another had of me was equally valid. I am who I am,
even if I don’t always know for sure who I am.

This Western notion of original sin is more platonic in nature than
anything that can be strongly identified with the historic Christian
interpretation of Scripture. It’s not even particularly scriptural. The
problems it raises certainly can’t be addressed by anything in
Scripture. Rather it was a fairly novel and largely ignored idea for
the first thousand years of Christianity. It only found real traction
in the West over the past thousand years. It seems to be the sort of
problem that quickly manifests when we abandon the idea that we need to
interpret Scripture in a way that is consistent with the past
interpretation of the Church.

I feel like I’ve blathered and babbled enough, which probably means I’ve gone on too long. Sorry about that. ;)



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