The Law and Sin –

The Doctrine of Original Sin

Romans 5:6-19
1 Corinthians 15:22; Psalms 51:5
Ezekiel 18:1-32
Deuteronomy 24:16; Jeremiah 31:29-35
Psalms 62:11-12; Matthew 16:24-27; Revelation 22:10-12

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Warning:  This week’s readings and study tips are long. Unless you are keenly interested in the topic of original sin, just read the scripture.  That’s what I’d do if I weren’t writing this stuff.

Romans 5:6-19 (6/27/11)

A Little History:   As near as anyone can tell, the doctrine of original sin was created out of whole cloth by St. Augustine in the fourth century.  (Here’s a discussion of
doctrine vs. scripture, theology, etc.) This doctrine holds that through the sin of Adam and Eve, the rest of us inherit sin.  We are born with the stain of sin upon our souls; hence the critical importance of infant baptism and our complete inability to choose good as opposed to evil, among other fallout.  St. Augustine’s doctrine was based on three verses:  The doctrine of original sin is summarized as “In Adam’s fall, we sinned all”; however, this statement is found nowhere in the Bible.  It comes from the first textbook printed in America, the New England Primer, originally published in Boston in 1690 by Benjamin Harris.

As I’ve said before, Augustine’s Greek and Hebrew weren’t as good as mine, which means they were very poor indeed, and he had to work entirely from translations.  Unfortunately, he didn’t have the advantage of the printing press and, so he worked from the Latin Vulgate, which incorrectly translates Romans 5:12. The words translated in whom in the Vulgate are the Greek eph hoEph means in and ho means whom, but “eph ho” together form an idiom meaning “because” or “on account of,” and this is how all English translations that I’ve seen have it – including the Roman-Catholic-sponsored Jerusalem Bible.

Nevertheless, St. Augustine and his writings were immensely influential in the Western Church, and his doctrine of original sin is almost universally taught in the Roman Catholic and Protestant denominations.

The Position of John Wesley.

1 Corinthians 15:22; Psalms 51:5

Today’s guest writer is John Wesley (died 1791), founder of all Methodist and several other Wesleyan denominations.  I have added bracketed scripture references for your convenience.  We read from Romans yesterday; today we are reading from 1 Corinthians and the Psalms; and the reading from Ephesians 2 will come next week.  Wesley's
Sermon 44 discusses his position on orginal sin in detail. Because his understanding of original sin informs his view of baptism, I’m giving you a briefer extract from his Treatise on Baptism. 

(Note that the “the ancient Church” Wesley refers to is actually only the post-4th-century Western Church.  Also note that the modern United Methodist Church has moved slightly away from Wesley’s original [ha!] position, as discussed previously.

From John Wesley, “Treatise on Baptism”; see p. 157.
As an eighth-generation Methodist, I feel a little out of focus whenever I disagree with John Wesley’s teachings.  Nevertheless, I’ve never found the doctrine of original sin particularly convincing. Therefore I am relieved to see that it's okay with Wesley if I don't agree with him on this point:
The Position of the Eastern Church.

Ezekiel 18:1-32 (6/29/11)

Today’s reading is somewhat long, but that’s the point.  It is not three verses.  It is not ambiguous.  Personally, I’d put this passage all by itself up against all the individual verses cited in support of the doctrine of original sin – even if the Vulgate had correctly translated Romans 5:12.  God says at least five times in this passage alone that each of us commits our own sins and dies for them, and that no one dies for anyone else’s sins.

Somewhat to my surprise, I recently learned that in spite of my Western-Church upbringing, my personal position on original sin is almost exactly that of the Eastern Church.  Because I don’t have the appropriate background or vocabulary to describe the Eastern Church’s position, for the rest of this week I’ll be quoting extensively, with permission, from an article by the V. Rev. Antony Hughes, M.Div., of St. Mary Antiochian Orthodox Church, Cambridge, Massachusetts. 

Fr. Antony writes: Please note that the scripture passages we read today and for the rest of the week are not necessarily ones that the Eastern Church would cite “in support of its position.”  They are passages from which I have drawn my personal position, which happens to coincide with that of the Eastern Church.

Deuteronomy 24:16; Jeremiah 31:29-35 (6/30/11)

Just in case you thought that Ezekiel had a bee in his bonnet, here are a couple of earlier passages from Deuteronomy and Jeremiah that say exactly the same thing.

Father Antony writes as follows:
Psalms 62:11-12; Matthew 16:24-27; Revelation 22:10-12 (7/1/11)

To say that I don’t accept the doctrine of original sin is not to say that I don’t think sin is important, or that I am not a sinner.  For the most part, what I think about the doctrine of original sin is twofold: Father Antony writes as follows: Now you may think that this is a fine distinction, but it’s not.  Let’s say a child has an alcoholic mother and a smoking father.  The chances are good that the child will grow up to be a smoker and a drinker, and if not it may still develop lung cancer or have fetal alcohol syndrome.  However, smoking, drinking, cancer, and fetal alcohol syndrome were not inherited.  They resulted from the conditions in which the child was born and raised. 

We commit some sins for the same reasons that Adam and Eve did, not because we inherit sin from them, but because we are just like them.  We commit other sins because of the conditions we live in, that is, because we live in a sinful world.  Thanks be to God, who gives us life for death!

More on The Law and Sin

The Law: Given by God
The Law: Civil and Criminal
The Law: Ethics, Morality, and Love
The Law: Written in Our Hearts
Sin: Breaking of the Law
Sin: Apostasy
Sin: Separation and Estrangement
Sin: Unfaithfulness to God is Adultery
The Doctrine of Original Sin
Dead in Sin

Copyright 2011, 2013 by Regina L. Hunter. All rights reserved.

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