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:
- Romans 5:12, which he thought says that we all sinned “in Adam” – but see below;
- 1 Corinthians 15:22, which says that death comes to all in Adam; and
- Psalms 51:5, in which David says that he was formed in evil, and in sin his mother gave him birth.
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 e-sword.com, so he worked from the Latin Vulgate, which incorrectly translates Romans 5:12.
- Vulgate: “and so death spread to all men, through one man, in whom all men sinned.”
- 27+ English translations, including the King James Version: Some variation on “and so death passed upon all men, because all have sinned:”
The words translated in whom
in the Vulgate are the Greek eph ho
, 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.
1. What are the benefits we receive by baptism, is the next point to be considered. And the first of these is, the washing away the guilt of original sin, by the application of the merits of Christ’s death. That we are all born under the guilt of Adam’s sin, and that all sin deserves eternal misery, was the unanimous sense of the ancient Church, as it is expressed in the Ninth Article of our own. And the Scripture plainly asserts, that we were “shapen in iniquity, and in sin did our mother conceive us; [Psalms 51:5]” that “we were all by nature children of wrath [Ephesians 2:3], and dead in trespasses and sins [Ephesians 2:1];” that “in Adam all die [1 Corinthians 15:22];” that “by one man’s disobedience all were made sinners [Romans 5:19];” that “by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; which came upon all men, because all had sinned [Romans 5:12].” This plainly includes infants; for they too die; therefore they have sinned: But not by actual sin; therefore, by original; else what need have they of the death of Christ? Yea, “death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned [Romans 5:14a]” actually “according to the similitude of Adam’s transgression [Romans 5:14b].” This, which can relate to infants only, is a clear proof that the whole race of mankind are obnoxious both to the guilt and punishment of Adam’s transgression. But; “as by the offense of one, judgment came upon all men to condemnation; so by the righteousness of one, the free gift came upon all men, to justification of life [Romans 5:18].” And the virtue of this free gift, the merits of Christ’s life and death, are applied to us in baptism. “He gave himself for the Church, that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word [Ephesians 5:25b-26];” namely, in baptism, the ordinary instrument of our justification.
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)
- “The Scripture does not, that I remember, anywhere say, in express words, that the sin of Adam is imputed to his children ... Yet since these express words and phrases, of the imputation of Adam's sin to us ... are not plainly written in Scripture, we should not impose it on every Christian, to use these very expressions.” (The works of the Rev. John Wesley, p. 397.)
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.
- As pervasive as the term original sin has become, it may come as a surprise to some that it was unknown in both the Eastern and Western Church until Augustine (c. 354-430). ... Prior to this … The phrase the Greek Fathers used to describe the tragedy in the Garden was ancestral sin.
- Ancestral sin has a specific meaning. The Greek word for sin in this case, amartema, refers to an individual act indicating that the Eastern Fathers assigned full responsibility for the sin in the Garden to Adam and Eve alone. The word amartia, the more familiar term for sin which literally means “missing the mark”, is used to refer to the condition common to all humanity…. The Eastern Church, unlike its Western counterpart, never speaks of guilt being passed from Adam and Eve to their progeny, as did Augustine. Instead, it is posited that each person bears the guilt of his or her own sin. The question becomes, “What then is the inheritance of humanity from Adam and Eve if it is not guilt?” The Orthodox Fathers answer as one: death. (I Corinthians 15:21) … It is not guilt that is passed on, for the Orthodox fathers; it is a condition, a disease.
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:
- Adam and Eve failed to obey the commandment not to eat from the forbidden tree thus rejecting God and their vocation to manifest the fullness of human existence…. Death and corruption began to reign over the creation. “Sin reigned through death.” (Romans 5:21) In this view death and corruption do not originate with God; he neither created nor intended them. God cannot be the Author of evil. Death is the natural result of turning aside from God.
- According to the Orthodox fathers sin is not a violation of an impersonal law or code of behavior, but a rejection of the life offered by God…. This is the mark, to which the word amartia refers. Fallen human life is above all else the failure to realize the God-given potential of human existence, which is, as St. Peter writes, to “become partakers of the divine nature” (II Peter 1:4). …
- In Orthodox thought God did not threaten Adam and Eve with punishment nor was He angered or offended by their sin; He was moved to compassion. … The expulsion from the Garden and from the Tree of Life was an act of love and not vengeance so that humanity would not “become immortal in sin” … Thus began the preparation for the Incarnation of the Son of God and the solution that alone could rectify the situation: the destruction of the enemies of humanity and God, death (I Corinthians 15:26, 56), sin, corruption and the devil ….
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:
- The scriptural basis for original sin is pretty thin, consisting as it does of about three verses, and
- Any possible inherited sin is immaterial, because I have committed so many sins of my very own.
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.
- The piety and devotion of Augustine is largely unquestioned by Orthodox theologians, but his conclusions on the Atonement are. … Augustine, by his own admission, did not properly learn to read Greek and this was a liability for him. He seems to have relied mostly on Latin translations of Greek texts …. His misinterpretation of a key scriptural reference, Romans 5:12, is a case in point …. In Latin the Greek idiom eph ho which means because of was translated as in whom. Saying that all have sinned in Adam is quite different than saying that all sinned because of him. Augustine believed and taught that all humanity has sinned in Adam…. The result is that guilt replaces death as the ancestral inheritance…. Therefore the term original sin conveys the belief that Adam and Eve’s sin is the first and universal transgression in which all humanity participates.
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
will be coming soon.
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: 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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