Posts Tagged ‘Debating Original Sin’
I have been reading a bit from the early Church Fathers. What is interesting to read is, apart from Augustine, the early Church Fathers were not Calvinists. I knew this previously having heard a Calvinist theologian state once that Augustine was the first Calvinist and Calvin merely borrowed from Augustine. Reading the Church Fathers helps one to see their theology and I find it fascinating that they nearly all held to libertarian free will, conditional salvation, and required disciples of Christ to be obedient to Christ until the end (necessary perseverance).
However, this morning I was reading from Athanasius on the fall of mankind. There is no doubt that Athanasius would not agree with Pelagius and say that man is born innocent and perfect. Athanasius taught that mankind is wretched because of the direct link to Adam and Eve’s lapse into sin. While he taught that man fell in Adam and Eve, he did not hold to the Calvinist view of total depravity but instead taught that while man has lost immortality of his body, he retains that of the soul, and his will remains free. He taught that man inherits a sinful nature from Adam but he never hints that we participate in Adam’s actual guilt.
Ironically, Athanasius even hints at the possibility of being sinless. He even claims that Jeremiah and John the Baptist actually did this and were sinless. This is not to say that they were born sinless as Jesus was and remained His entire life but rather they overcame sin by the act of their own free will.
All this comes from Early Christian Doctrines by J.N.D. Kelly (pages 346-348).
I wanted to write a final post about 2012 as we move forward into 2013. The main posts that I focused in on in 2012 was on the subject of original sin and how various Christians approached the doctrine. I tried to balanced on the subject by allowing many sides to state their cases. Calvinists clearly affirm the doctrine of original sin and some go so far as to make it an issue of orthodoxy. Arminians have not been as clear on the doctrine. Arminius affirmed it along with others such as John Wesley (though he felt that each person would be condemned for their own sins) and men such as Adam Clarke and Richard Watson. Arminians have never taught though as strong a view of the doctrine as Calvinists have mainly because we believe in the free will of humanity and prevenient grace toward all wherever the gospel is preached.
I have mixed thoughts about the doctrine of original sin. I affirm that Scripture is clear that Adam’s transgression brought condemnation and destruction to the human race (Romans 5:12). I affirm that sin is universal (Romans 3:23). I affirm that the atonement of Christ is necessary because of the nature of Adam’s sin. Christ, the second Adam, came to die for our sins and to suffer in our place so that through faith in Him, we might be justified before God by grace through faith (Romans 5:12-21). None can be saved but through faith in Jesus (Romans 10:17). Jesus is the only way to salvation (John 14:6). We are not saved by merely belief in God (James 2:19) or affirming doctrinal truths but through personal saving faith in Jesus Christ (Matthew 13:23). The way is narrow to eternal life (Matthew 7:13-14). This is why we must preach the saving gospel to all of creation (Mark 16:15).
2012 was also a year of hardship for me. I lost my precious mother in August. I miss her still. The precious promises from God’s Word of His Presence with me has been of much comfort to me (Romans 8:31-39). I remember sitting by her bed while she was dying reading from John 11, 1 Corinthians 15, and Revelation 22 about the promises of God concerning death and heaven and life in Jesus’ name. I remember reading Psalm 27 and Psalm 116 over and over again while she lay dying from cancer knowing that God was faithful to the very end, that He is a Father to the fatherless. He would be my comfort (John 14:26) and He has been. I will always miss my mama.
Trial have a way of either being used by the enemy to try to push away from Christ or trials push us closer to God. James 1:2-7 speaks of the blessing of trials. The text reads:
My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord.
I like how the NKJV says that we are to count it all joy when we fall into various trials. Isn’t that the truth about trials? We don’t go looking for trials. We fall into them. Just like we don’t run into sin (James 1:14), we don’t go looking for trials. Trials do come. Our response to them is critical. We can either praise God through them or we fall into despair. I have learned that when we face trials, we should praise God despite them. Our focus should not be on the temporal but upon the eternal (2 Corinthians 4:16-18). Soon all trials will be past and we will spend eternity with Christ (John 14:1-3). He is a worthy reward (Hebrews 11:6, 13-16). I long to see Him. More than I long for heaven itself or to see my mama, I long for Christ. I long to behold the One who shed His blood for me. I long to worship at His throne, the One who alone is worthy to be praised. I long to see Him face to face (1 John 3:1-3).
I look forward to seeing what God will do in 2013 and what I can do to further His kingdom (Matthew 6:10).
F. Lagard Smith in his book Troubling Questions for Calvinists (and all the rest of us) asks 15 questions about the Fall in Genesis 3:1-7. I will post his questions here without comment.
1. What do you think? Were Adam and Eve free moral beings, fully able to decide between obeying and disobeying God without any predetermined secret eternal will of God preempting their freedom to choose right from wrong?
a) If not, is there any way that God Himself is not responsible for their sin and “the Fall”?
b) If so, were they simply exceptions to an otherwise universal rule of predestination and sovereign causation?
2. Were Adam and Eve either totally or partially depraved before “the Fall”?
3. What about immediately after “the Fall”?
4. By virtue of their created nature as human beings, were Adam and Eve:
a) innately inclined more toward evil than good; or
b) innately inclined more toward good than evil; or
c) simply given a neutral capacity for moral choice between good and evil?
5. Were Cain and Abel (and, more crucially, are we ourselves) “constitutionally different” from Adam and Eve in respect to any innate inclination to sin? If so, in what way?
6. Is there anything in the Genesis account or in the whole of Scripture specifically stating that some “constitutional change” in human nature took place between the first created generation and the first procreated generation? (We’re not talking here about any imputed sin, but a fundamental difference in human nature itself).
7. Is there any passage suggesting Adam and Eve, themselves, were “constitutionally different” once expelled from the Garden?
8. If you believe they were inclined toward good before “the Fall,” or created morally neutral, do you believe that as they left the Garden they were from then on inclined toward evil?
9. If the so-called “Fall” (replete with its assumed implications regarding original sin, depravity, and the lack of free will) is the supposed cause of our sins, what explains Adam and Eve’s sin prior to “the Fall” when (presumably) they had free will unfettered by either original sin or depravity?
10. Was “the Fall” predestined by God’s eternal secret will in order that mankind would be innately depraved and sinful for whatever purpose God intends? Or did “the Fall” occur without God’s foreknowledge and foreordination?
11. In the “penalty clause” of Genesis 3:16-19, we are given the specific consequences of Adam and Eve’s sin, including the woman’s pain in childbirth and the man’s having to earn his living by the sweat of his brow. Why do you suppose there is no mention in this passage that everyone born from that point forward would be condemned from the moment of conception?
12. Accepting that by the “curse of Adam” mankind was reduced to struggle and pain in a way never experienced in the Garden, is there anything in Scripture necessarily implying that mankind thereafter was innately more inclined toward evil or sin?
13. Even granting that ejection from the Garden put distance between God and man as compared with the close communion Adam and Eve had shared with Him, is there anything in Scripture suggesting that a fundamental change in human constitution also resulted?
14. Acknowledging the obvious, that Adam’s sin introduced condemnation for sin into the world for the first time, is there anything in this fact which necessarily implies that each and every person in Adam’s loins would thereafter be born innately condemned? Is there any reason that sin’s condemnation could not apply, instead, to each person’s sins, just as with Adam?
15. In Genesis 4:6-7, God says to Cain: “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.” Was Cain’s ability to do right and to master sin limited in any way either by God’s eternal secret will or by some effect of “the Fall”? If you believe that Cain’s ability to do right would have required a prior act of regeneration, what biblical passage indicates this?
In contrast to Dr. Jack Cottrell’s comments on Psalm 51:5, I wanted to post what the great Arminian commentator Adam Clarke had to say about the same passage of Scripture. Here are Clarke’s comments on the text:
Behold, I was shapen in iniquity – A genuine penitent will hide nothing of his state; he sees and bewails, not only the acts of sin which he has committed, but the disposition that led to those acts. He deplores, not only the transgression, but the carnal mind which is enmity against God. The light that shines into his soul shows him the very source whence transgression proceeds; he sees his fallen nature, as well as his sinful life; he asks pardon for his transgressions, and he asks washing and cleansing for his inward defilement. Notwithstanding all that Grotius and others have said to the contrary, I believe David to speak here of what is commonly called original sin; the propensity to evil which every man brings into the world with him, and which is the fruitful source whence all transgression proceeds. The word חוללתי cholalti, which we translate shaped, means more properly, I was brought forth from the womb; and יחמתני yechemathni rather signifies made me warm, alluding to the whole process of the formation of the fetus in utero, the formative heat which is necessary to develop the parts of all embryo animals; to incubate the ova in the female, after having been impregnated by the male; and to bring the whole into such a state of maturity and perfection as to render it capable of subsisting and growing up by aliment received from without. “As my parts were developed in the womb, the sinful principle diffused itself through the whole, so that body and mind grew up in a state of corruption and moral imperfection.”
Getting back to the series of posts on original sin, today we will examine what Dr. Jack Cottrell has to say about biblical passages used to teach original sin. Agree with him or not, I am thankful that Dr. Cottrell wrestles with the Scriptures and doesn’t just hold to a doctrine merely because others before him have held to it or because both Arminians and Calvinists believe in the doctrine of original sin. I will allow Dr. Cottrell to examine the biblical passages for original sin as he has them in his book, The Faith Once for All.
Psalm 51:5 says, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” Here are Dr. Cottrell’s comments about the passage.
Several comments are in order. First, there are other ways to under the grammar of the verse. Strictly speaking, David does not apply the sin and iniquity to himself, contrary to the NIV. David does not say, “I was sinful.” The prepositional phrases, “in iniquity” and “in sin” are used to modify the act of being conceived and the act of being born. It is possible that the sin belongs to the mother. It has been pointed out that “in sin did my mother conceive me” is grammatically parallel to “in drunkenness my husband beat me.” Another possibility is that the phrases “in iniquity” and “in sin” are meant to describe the pervasiveness of sin in the world into which David was born.
It must be granted, though, that the major theme of the Psalm is David’s repentance for his own sins, specifically sins connected with his lust for Bathsheba. But if the focus is on David’s personal sins (vv. 1-4) and not on some kind of inherited sin, why does he refer to iniquity connected with his birth (v.5)? Basically he does so in order to express and confess his awareness of the depth of sin in his heart and the seriousness of his own sin with Bathsheba. He is humbling himself before God in figurative language, in the same way that biblical writers sometimes refer to man as a worm (Psalm 22:6; Job 17:14; 25:6; Isaiah 41:14). This is hyperbole, or exaggeration for emphasis. The same device is used in Psalm 58:3. This is not an affirmation of original sin since it is not applied to all human beings; it is an exaggeration intended to insult the wicked and emphasize the depth of their perversity. So with Psalm 51:5, which is meant to apply to the repentant David alone.
Even if we should grant Psalm 51:5 is meant to teach some form of universal original sin, it could not be used to support the Augustinian and Catholic versions of this doctrine. The most that could be drawn from it is partial depravity, as in semi-Pelagianism; it neither affirms nor implies total depravity and inherited guilt.
Dr. Jack Cottrell is one of my favorite Arminian writers. His books include The Faith Once For All, What the Bible Says About God the Creator, What the Bible Says About God the Ruler, What the Bible Says About God the Redeemer, Romans, and Baptism: A Biblical Study. Dr. Cottrell teaches theology at Cincinnati Christian University which is part of the Restoration movement and the Christian Churches. I do recommend his books.
To open up our look at Dr. Cottrell’s views regarding original sin, I first will allow Dr. Cottrell to briefly give the major views regarding original sin.
1. Pelagian View of Original Sin
This view holds that all humans are born in a state of spiritual purity, without any depravity or corruption and with free will intact. All babies are born in a state of natural innocence,without bearing any guilt from the sin of Adam. Adam’s sin only affects us indirectly, in that our sin-filled environment influences us to imitate his sin. Thus Pelagianism really teaches that there is no such thing as “original sin.” Many in the Restoration movement have held to this view including Moses Lard who wrote, “there is no proof that Adam’s sin ever touched or in any affected the spirit of one of his posterity. The spirit is as free from its influence as though the sin had never been committed.”
This view is still too mild to be called “original sin” in any complete sense. This view says that the only hereditary spiritual effect of Adam’s sin is a state of partial depravity. Every baby is born partially depraved, having a soul that is corrupted with spiritual sickness or weakness with a bent or inclination toward sinning. Still, it is not a “total” depravity; free will is not lost. Also, as in the previous view, the child is born innocent, and thus free from guilt and condemnation.
This view was the view that prevailed in the early Church from Irenaeus to Augustine though of course it was not called semi-Pelagianism until after the theological conflict of Augustine and Pelagius. During the Reformation, the Anabaptists held to this view and where greatly persecuted because of it and their view of adult immersion baptism. This was also the view held by Restoration leaders such as Alexander Campbell. Campbell wrote, “We are all greatly fallen and depraved in our whole moral constitution in consequence of the sin of Adam. However, this does not involve an invincible necessity to sin; thus there is still freedom of the will nor does anyone suffer guilt and everlasting punishment as the result of Adam’s sin.”
3. Roman Catholic Church View
This view agrees in part with the above view but also adds that we all inherit a state of guilt and condemnation from Adam. An infant who thus dies in infancy remains in a state of limbo. (Note that the RCC recently rejected the teaching of limbo and instead now places the infant in purgatory instead). While the infant is in limbo, they are neither in a state of bliss nor pain.
4. Classical Doctrine of Original Sin
This view was first proposed by St. Augustine and carried over into Protestantism by Martin Luther and John Calvin. This view holds that all humans are born 1) in a state of total depravity or bondage of the will. All infants are born with a corrupt spiritual nature and his free will is gone. He is totally unable to come to faith and repentance apart from the sovereign intervention of God. 2) All are born guilty and condemned to hell because of Adam’s sin apart from the grace of God intervening.
Thus this view holds that all people are born without exception guilty sinners, lost, judicially under the wrath and curse of God. As one Calvinist writer noted, “I became a wicked guilty sinner in the Garden of Eden.”
Up next Dr. Cottrell will take on the biblical basis for original sin as held mainly by those above.