More on original sin

 

 

Jack Poirier is a contributing writer to a website called Jerusalem Perspective which touches on the Hebraic roots of Christianity. He also has his take on the long cherished doctrine of Original Sin (at http://jerusalemperspective.org/default.aspx?&tabid=27&ArticleID=1778). I even printed out the article years back when it was freely available and sadly I accidentally threw it out.  Here is an excerpt of his introduction to the topic:

I sing not, but (in sighes abrupt),
Sob out the State of Man, corrupt
By th’ Old Serpent’s banefull breath:
Whose strong Contagion still extends
To every creature that descends
From the old Little World of Death.

These lines from Henry Smith represent for many, as for their author, what they consider to be a central tenet of biblical Christianity: the idea that humanity’s moral corruption springs from the sin in the Garden. It usually comes as a shock to learn that the Church did not always teach this, and in the wake of such an enlightenment, it is often supposed that Augustine, who formulated the doctrine in his fight against Pelagius (early 5th century), only made explicit what had already been implicit in the Church’s understanding.

This is not to say that everyone within theological academia regards the doctrine of original sin as a foreign body within the Church’s theology. Certainly, scholars who specialize in Paul’s theology often refer to the fact that the doctrine of original sin is not found in Paul’s letters, or, for that matter, anywhere in the Bible. But those who name theology (rather than biblical studies) as their specialty often disagree. (E.g., a recent article in Ephemerides Theologicae Lovaniense finds the idea of “a Christianity without original sin” hardly fathomable.) These diverging views on the doctrine of original sin represent a great chasm fixed between scholars and theologians today. To those who approach the history of doctrine from the perspective

Unfortunately, this is far as I can currently go on the splendid article, the rest of heading instructs:

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Never fear there is a message board connected with the website which discusses the article and again Jack Poirier gives his two cents there.  Go to http://forum.jerusalemperspective.com/viewtopic.php?t=128  to check it out!

My View on Original Sin

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I have mentioned on a blog before that of recent, my theology has embraced some (and the word must be stressed SOME) theological ideas which have it’s origins in Eastern Orthodoxy. Does this mean I will ever become Eastern Orthodox? No, it does not.  To burst a few people’s religious ideological bubbles, I will not be joining Roman Catholicism anytime soon (Sorry Jared and Darren!). My mind and philosphy is very much wired in the Protestant Reformation and proud of it. I don’t need any priest being a middle man or interpreting scripture for me personally.  Well anyway, those SOME doctrines that I have embraced from Eastern Orthodoxy would be the Christus Victor view of Atonement (I hope to have a book review about two books about the subject), it’s view of heaven and hell, it’s universal access to salvation and oh yes, the touchy one for some, the rejection of the western view of original sin. Yes, you heard it the Eastern Orthodox reject the concept of Original Sin—at least the western view. I believe, my friend Dennis Diehl has no use for it and said along the lines that it has done a lot of harm to a lot of people. I agree 100%.  Thanks to Augustine who introduced the concept back in the 4th century AD. The blogsite called TheoGeek explains in their post:

In the history of Christian theology there have been a number of major theological changes made in Western Christian theology over the course of time, often due to the use of inaccurate Latin bible translations.

The earliest of these changes chronologically was the doctrine of Original Sin. The Christian church in the second century AD had nothing remotely resembling the doctrine of original sin as we know it today. The universal view attested is that children are born innocent and that people are guilty only of their own sins. In some writers the concept that Adam’s sin damaged the likeness of God within humanity somewhat, and this is viewed as a kind of corruption of the natural order which is inherited – and this is generally taken to explain why humans die. But this is not taken to imply any inevitability to human sinfulness or any damage to free will. There is a dominating belief that through human effort and the assistance of the Holy Spirit and Christ’s example, humans can live godly lives that are upright and pleasing to God.

In the late second century, in North Africa, the writer Tertullian protested against the introduction of the practice of infant baptism there. He argued that baptism was supposed to be for the forgiveness of sins, but since infants had no sin the introduction of its use for them was wrong. The widespread thought however seemed to be that there might be some mysterious gracious blessing from God conveyed through baptism, and thus infant baptism quickly became a fairly universal custom.

In third and fourth century North African Latin Christianity, there is a clear trend present towards taking a darker view of the human condition. In the course of these centuries the theologians in this area began to take the view that humanity had been very seriously damaged by the fall, that humanity was bad, that the human will is not capable of becoming good, and that all humans are born guilty of Adam’s sin. It appears that a couple of generations after Tertullian, people had started using his same logic backwards: “We baptise infants, baptism is for forgiveness of sin, therefore infants must have sin.” Such doctrinal changes were geographically fairly confined. Greek Christian writings from during and after this period reflect an unchanged stance on the subject – eg John Chrysostom (d. 407), states explicitly that infants have no sin and that forgiveness of sin is not the motive for infant baptism.

Nor, it seems, had these innovations reached too far to the west. When a monk from England named Pelagius journeyed to Rome he was shocked by the theology he encountered there. He felt that the teachings of the North African bishop Augustine effectively denied the possibility of good moral conduct and human moral reform which Pelagius (in line with typical Christianity of earlier centuries) saw as the foundations of Christianity. Augustine had gone further than his North African predecessors and actually advocated Predestination, a doctrine that had always previously been strongly opposed by Christians. This led to an extended controversy between Pelagius and Augustine. Scholars are generally agreed that Pelagius’ viewpoints by and large were typical of previous Christian orthodoxy (especially the Greek-speaking church at the time, who couldn’t read Augustine’s writings) and Augustine’s were radically new. Nonetheless Augustine managed to use his influence to get Pelagius condemned as a heretic: “it was an injustice that made history” writes the renowned Lutheran patristics scholar Jaroslav Pelikan in his The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (pg 313).

One passage that Augustine drew heavily on in his arguments with Pelagius was Romans 5:12, which in the Latin translation (he couldn’t read Greek) said that everyone had sinned “in” Adam. Augustine used this to argue that all humanity was present “in” Adam when he sinned, and thus all are born guilty of sin. His Latin translation was extremely faulty here however, and it actually reads in the Greek that everyone dies “because” they sin or that everyone dies “because of which” they sin.

Thus the doctrine of Original Sin became standard within Latin Christianity. The Greek Christians however (who were at that time a large majority of Christendom), never read Augustine’s writings and continued to hold their traditional doctrines. To this day the Eastern Orthodox Christians continue to totally reject the Latin innovations of the doctrine of Original Sin. Unsurprisingly when we turn from history to the Bible, there isn’t much in the bible that could lend itself in support to the Latin doctrine of Original Sin. Nor did the Jewish Rabbis teach such a doctrine, and Judaism today rejects any such doctrine.

And that’s how the standard Protestant doctrine of Original Sin resulted from the introduction of infant baptism, a bad Latin translation, a conflict where influence beat orthodoxy, and a couple of centuries of doctrinal change.

Another website Sullivan-County.com continues on the topic of how the Eastern Orthodox understood Original Sin:

Augustine wrote in Latin in the fourth century, but his writings were not translated into Greek until the fourteenth century. Consequently, Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Christianity never held that guilt is inherited, and began repudiating this idea once they learned of it. They teach that we inherit a corrupted or damaged human nature in which the tendency to do bad is greater, but that each person is only guilty of their own sins. By participating in the life of the church, each person’s human nature is healed and it becomes easier to do good; at the same time, the Christian becomes more acutely aware of his or her shortcomings. Eastern Orthodox theologians believe that Adam and Eve began to choose separation from God when they chose independence and took fruit for themselves, rather than allow God to continue to feed them and remain dependent on Him. The expulsion from the Garden was not a legal consequence, but to prevent them from eating of the Tree of Life and immortalizing their sin. As Christians partake of the Eucharist and eat and drink the Body and Blood of Christ, they return to dependence on God and experience a gradual healing of the relationship between God and humanity. The ultimate goal is theosis or divinization, an even closer union with God and closer likeness to God than existed in the Garden of Eden.

To sum it up: It was a biblical interpretation of scripture by a repressed man called Augustine who was no dummy but in spite of that fact caused a lot problems than solutions and his doctrines paved the way for a mean-spirited misanthrope in the 16th century, John Calvin who came up with the doctrine of total depravity and I don’t need to tell you what other problems that were created after that.  It is time for Protestants to learn something from the Eastern Orthodox in the 21st century but I  guess I am going to have to wait for some decades for that to see that actually materialized in it’s fullness.