Original Sin: The Genesis of a Doctrine

The Original Sin Series

Let me start with some throat-clearing.  At least one friend and not a few commenters were bothered by the fact that I wrote about my own intuition before I started reflection on the biblical passages at play.  One friend told me that, as a self-proclaimed Protestant, I should begin with the Bible, where Protestants always begin.

Firstly, don’t read too much into my decision to write about my intuition first. It has something to do with the fact that I was pressed for time on Monday.  Further, I was trying to be a bit autobiographical, in both the introduction and intuition posts. This blog is not particularly a place for forensic arguments, like, say, my dissertation will be. Instead, it’s a place for more personal, impassioned writing.

Secondly, and I’ve been very clear on this point here and elsewhere, I do not think it possible to “begin with the Bible.” We always begin with our own hermeneutical assumptions.  Always.  No exceptions. A human being cannot escape her/his own hermeneutical horizon.  You are encased in it, just as you are encased in your own skin.  There’s no escape.

Does this mean that I reject the Lutheran formula of sola scriptura? Well, insofar as sola scriptura is naive to everyone’s interpretive biases, yes.  I don’t think I can actually rely on scripture alone. I am always also reliant upon my own reason to interpret and apply scriptural truth (this just in, Tony Jones believes in scriptural truth!). (Just a side question here: Doesn’t sola mean “alone”?  As in, all-by-itself-with-nothing-else? How, then, can there be five solas? Is that not logically incoherent?)

So, I might approach the Bible differently than you do.  So be it.

Now, on to Genesis!

Let’s begin by looking at what the text really says:

Read Genesis 3:1-24

Now, it probably won’t surprise many for me to confess that I don’t think the creation of the cosmos really happened in quite the way it is described in either this creation narrative, or the one preceding it in Genesis 1:1 – 2:3.  But my belief that the cosmos is 12-16 billion years old does not mean that I don’t consider the Genesis account true.  Quite to the contrary, I do consider it true.  (Truth and factuality are not the same.) So, let’s deal with it’s truth.

Adam and Eve are forbidden to eat the fruit of the Tree of Life by God, and bidden to eat it by the serpent. Eve listens to the latter and passes the fruit to her partner. He partakes as well. God discovers their disobedience, and they must pay the consequences.

First, let us note that there are a couple catching phrases in the narrative.  One is that the serpent tells Eve that fruit will allow her to know “good and evil,” and Eve decides to eat the fruit, in part, because it was “desirable for gaining wisdom.” 

“Then the eyes of both of them were opened,” they became ashames of their nakedness, sewed themselves fig-leaf garments, and thus there choise was discovered by God.

There are all sorts of interesting interpretive points to be made, but since we’re focusing on the doctrine of Original Sin, let’s focus on the consequences of their actions.  Because of their fruity indulgence, A&E become aware and ashamed of their nakedness. And God, in turn, lays the smack down on them: the woman will have pain in childbirth and be subservient to the man; the man will toil to bring food from the earth; they are cast out of the garden; and they will both die.

In the biblical account, this is surely the orginal sin.  And I think it’s clear that it is meant to be paradigmatic of the human condition. Given the choice, the passage seems to teach, each of us would choose the fruit that opens our eyes rather than trusting God who tells us we don’t need our eyes opened.

But is this Original Sin?  That is, is there anything in the passage that says that A&E might have not chosen to eat the fruit?  Or, more to the point of the Western theological notion of Original Sin, that the consequences of their sin has been passed down to every subsequent human via the act of intercourse (thus exempting only Jesus if Nazareth from this inheritence)?  Is there something in the passage that would lead us to believe that, as we learned yesterday, this is an “inherited spiritual disease or defect in human nature”?

Based on 1) My own hermeneutical position that this story is truthful in that it is paradigmatic as opposed to factual, and 2) Nothing in the biblical narrative indicates that A&E were changed at the genetic level that would infect subsequent generations, I’ll conclude this: The account of the original sin in Genesis 3 teaches us a lot about the state of human nature, our freedom to know right from wrong, and our proclivity to not necessarily trust God. But it does not teach that the sin of Adam and Eve is responsible for the sins of subsequent generations.

Your thoughts?

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  • Tony, for the most part I agree with you. But we both know what is coming. The real clincher here is Romans, and what St. Paul thinks Genesis is saying.
    Of course I am sure you are intimately aware of this. And I shall anticipate the imminent tide of Romans 5 quotes by simply saying – let’s wait to see what you have to say about Romans, before pushing this thing any further.
    As an aside, RJS will be doing a similar study on Romans & interpretation of Geneis over at Scott McKnight’s blog soon.
    There’s also some material at asa3.org from george Murphy on the subject too, for those that have time to start browsing.

  • Rob

    Good thoughts Tony. The question I would ask is how does source theory affect this, if at all? Meaning, if we subscribe to the theory that Genesis 1 creation account is from one source, and Genesis 2-3 is from another, what does that show us about the purpose of these narratives, if anything?

  • Chris Rosebrough

    I will be giving a thorough response to this post on my radio program today.
    For a long time I’ve been saying that the Emergent movement is nothing more than a Post-Modern version of Liberalism and I think you are doing a fine job of proving my point.
    Just to give you an idea of what I will be saying, let me point out that NEITHER JESUS nor the Apostles (the men who were taught by Jesus for three years) believed that the Torah (of which Genesis is only the first book) was “paradigmatic as opposed to factual”. Jesus and the Apostles believed the opening accounts recorded in Genesis to be factual NOT paradigmatic. Your view is at odds with Jesus’ view of the scriptures. BTW, HIS credentials are far better than yours. He was God in Human Flesh and proved His claims to being the one true Deity by raising Himself from the dead 3 days after He was crucified under Pontius Pilate.
    Secondly, you’ve overlooked an important fact about God’s Word. The narrative portions of scripture rarely lay out systematic theology and doctrine. However, there are books within the Bible that systematically reveal the doctrinal implications and underpinnings to many of the narratives (such as Paul’s Epistles). That being the case your point is weak. Because anyone with even a basic understanding of hermeneutics knows that “scripture interprets scripture.”
    But since you’ve started with Genesis, let me remind you that only three chapters later in the Genesis Narrative we run across this verse in the opening segments of the account of the flood:
    Gen. 6:5   The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
    This verse is a great verse that supports the Doctrine of Original sin and it’s kissing cousin “The Fall of Man”
    Thirdly you are arguing from the alleged ‘silence’ of the Genesis passage that you cite AS IF that actually proves something. But, it doesn’t. (Don’t they teach doctoral students like yourself basic logic and how to avoid logical fallacies?)
    Again your argument from silence collapses due to the fact that other passages of scripture clearly teach original sin and point their doctrinal fingers at the factual account of the fall of A&E in the Garden of Eden.
    Tony you’ve become a Post-Modern Liberal and a Pelagian.

  • http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11312a.htm
    (2) Adam by his fault transmitted to us not only death but also sin, “for as by the disobedience of one man many [i.e., all men] were made sinners” (Romans 5:19). How then could the Pelagians, and at a later period Zwingli, say that St. Paul speaks only of the transmission of physical death? If according to them we must read death where the Apostle wrote sin, we should also read that the disobedience of Adam has made us mortal where the Apostle writes that it has made us sinners. But the word sinner has never meant mortal, nor has sin ever meant death. Also in verse 12, which corresponds to verse 19, we see that by one man two things have been brought on all men, sin and death, the one being the consequence of the other and therefore not identical with it.

  • Rob

    For goodness sakes, can’t we have one discussion without someone throwing the term liberal, or using reductionist terms like “nothing more than…”!! People, take a deep breath and let’s have a conversation about this. Tony is NOT denying the existence of sin in the world, so STOP accusing him of that.
    Chris – I’m amazed that you have absolute knowledge of how Jesus and Paul viewed Torah. They viewed it as “factual”? Seriously? Why would you say that with such authority?

  • Bobby

    I really do not want to do the battle for bible series so literally, figuratively, inerrantly, I will not go there. I find it tiresome. I would love to know when the impact crater in Germany took place. I am sure it took a long time for everything green to grow back. I like the freedom to play with truth and reality and figurative language.
    I will agree that it does not teach that the sin of Adam and Eve is responsible for the sins of subsequent generations. I can agree to that in that phrase. I have always had a problem with original sin. I was raised Catholic, but studied some theology in a Protestant University. I think we are each responsible for our own sins. The one sin (or original sin) whether we want to blame Adam or Eve called for one redemption. In figurative language, I believe the writer is speaking in truth of jesus going to the cross in this following line. Jesus going to the cross covers all of our sins whether that be Adam’s, Eve’s or mine.
    5 And I will put enmity
    between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring [a] and hers;
    he will crush [b] your head,
    and you will strike his heel.”
    “Is the knowing all? To know, and even happily, that we meet unblessed; not in some garden of wax fruit and painted trees, that lie of Eden, but after the fall, after many many deaths. Is the knowing all?” Arthur Miller
    My two cents . . .

  • @ Rob and others in agreement, What basis is there sin if someone continues to deny what the Bible calls sin? The issue of homosexuality seems the clearest attempt where man tells God what we will accept as sin. If homosexuality is no longer a sin, then we are hard pressed to figure out what sin is in any form. Plus to deny the inherent sinfulness and wickedness of man is not biblical. How else are you to explain the man that threw his 4 year old daughter off a bridge to her death, or the woman who microwaves her newborn daughter to death? This is because mankind is inherently wicked.

  • Rob,
    Rob I say that with such authority because the Scriptures Say That With Such Authority.
    Here’s some thing for you to consider.

  • I think a larger point that I struggle with is how I understand ‘theological truth’ and what level this operates on.
    Let’s grant for a moment the possibility that was not a real adam and eve, but rather that these two people were conjured up to tell a morality take about how to understand our current condition. I don’t think this is exceptionally far fetched, especially in so much as Adam and Eve were not writing an autobiography, so even if the actual event happened, the details may have been muddied over years of oral translation.
    But, granting for a moment the even stronger argument that there were not actually two people adam and eve who lived in a garden and talked around with God… how do we understand this story? A story meant to covey theological truths? Ok, I will grant that, but then what are ‘theological truths’ and how do those correspond to empirical truths? Is this a different level of analysis, something akin to the way Annie Dillard’s poetic account of nature is different than a Nature article explaining the phenomena? In this way, it is different (perhaps even more comprehensive), though of no less truth. Related to the original sin piece, if it is a ‘theological truth,’ what does this mean, and how does it related to the empirical truths unearthed by social science? If the garden story has an etiologial origin, how do we understand the message it conveys?

  • Scott M

    I suppose that, even though I’m not Orthodox, my perspective on this at least is more Orthodox than not. I think I have a problem with the idea that the consequences of sin — death, strife, a disordered creation, pain, etc. — was God laying “the smack down on them”, by which I think you mean God punishing them for their actions. I don’t see that at all. I see God telling them what will follow if they do not live as they were created to live and then describing in more detail what it means now that they have chosen, in effect, to be eikons of something other than God. As the extraordinarily sad words of Romans 1 articulate, God ‘gave them over’, that is he let them pursue their own will, even though it led to pain and destruction. In the text itself, the only one explicitly ‘cursed’ is the serpent.
    I would hesitate to call the story ‘paradigmatic’. It is that, of course. But I don’t think it is only that. In the same way, I suppose, I don’t believe the bread and wine are only bread and wine, though they are also that. Captured within the story is a reality that our self-will is not something that is contained wholly within ourselves. It has far-ranging effects that are not always visible or clearly causal. Sin and death require such a transcendent resolution because they in some way transcend the way we normally view such things. There is a real problem. And it does not require simply healed individuals or healed relationships. It requires a healed creation.
    Ah. Many tangents and threads running through my head, but way too much to try to reduce to a comment. I’ve probably already muddied the water too much. I will say, though, that I think the image of a punitive God dictating rules and punishing people for violating them, or an image of a God who doesn’t feel we need our eyes opened, are wrong images. They don’t describe the God we find revealed in Jesus and about whom we read in Holy Scripture (interpreted through the lens that Jesus provides, of course).

  • Dan

    Two points. Tony wrote: ” I do not think it possible to “begin with the Bible.” We always begin with our own hermeneutical assumptions. Always. No exceptions.”
    That’s where Tony gets in trouble with conservatives. Not that there is no overlap. As a conservative, I do believe culture and assumptions influence our understanding. But that is not a new idea. That, in fact, is why conservative biblical students go to great lengths to learn Hebrew and Greek and to study the cultural situation of various biblical accounts as part of their hermeneutical approach. The question is, does culture merely influence our understanding of the text or does the text mean nothing at all outside of cultural interpretations? Conservatives believe the text has objective authority that transcends cultures and can be understood clearly enough to formulate universal principles.
    So point 2 is in response to the statement ” My own hermeneutical position that this story is truthful in that it is paradigmatic as opposed to factual, and 2) Nothing in the biblical narrative indicates that A&E were changed at the genetic level that would infect subsequent generations,”
    What militates against that is simply the New Testament passages that pretty plainly refer to Adam in the same breath as Christ and say that death came about as a result of sin and that Christ tasted death as a solution. Once you begin to “interpret” the word “death” in the New Testament to mean something divorced from physical death and the curse in Romans 8, the whole creation being subjected to decay and futility as something not related to physical suffering and decay, it is difficult to retain much of a solid consensus on much of anything else. The meaning of the text, at that point, is not found in the text to any meaningful extent.

  • Rob

    Those are interesting thoughts Chris, and well written.
    Is it at all possible though that truth can be communicated via “fiction”, or as I would call it, the genre of mythic literature? By Jesus referencing Abel, is He confirming the “factuality” of the narrative, or instead the history of it and it’s role as a truthful narrative in the history of Israel? I don’t think those two things have to be the same, do you? Jesus’ favorite way to portray truth was through fiction, the fictional genre of parable. Are we to say that the Good Samaritan story is less “truthful” because it’s not “factual”? I don’t think so. I would offer that the ancients viewed “truth” differently than we do. They could see truth in poetry (as in Genesis 1), in apocolyptic literature (Daniel), in parable (Jesus), in occasional letter (Paul), etc. I would argue that in some sense, a factual account of a Samaritan rescuing someone freezes that in history, but a parable about it invites us to see ourselves in that story. Of course, history can be factual, but I don’t know that history “must” be factual for it to be truthful…at least in the mind of the ancient writers/readers of the scriptures.
    So, on this topic, because Paul references Adam, to me, does not mean that Paul is affirming the “factuality” of it, but rather the historical narrative that shaped Jewish thought during his time. His hearers would have known exactly what narrative Paul was referring to, and “factuality” most likely would not have entered their mind as a litmus test for what Paul was saying. Our quest for factual certainty owes more to the Enlightenment than it does to faith, but I digress.

  • Your Name

    –Chris – I’m amazed that you have absolute knowledge of how Jesus and Paul viewed Torah. They viewed it as “factual”? Seriously? Why would you say that with such authority?–
    If you wish to question Rosebrough’s statement that Jesus and the apostles took the Torah factually, are you going to equally question Jones’ claim that they viewed it paradigmatically? If you’re going to accuse one of ‘absolute knowledge’, shouldn’t you accuse both? After all, Jones is equally as authoritative in his view as Rosebrough is.
    –The account of the original sin in Genesis 3 teaches us a lot about the state of human nature, our freedom to know right from wrong, and our proclivity to not necessarily trust God. But it does not teach that the sin of Adam and Eve is responsible for the sins of subsequent generations–
    “For as by one man sin entered the world, and death by sin…” How much plainer can it be?

  • Rob

    “For as by one man sin entered the world, and death by sin…” How much plainer can it be?
    It’s not at all plain to me. It says sin entered the world…that’s not the same as what Original Sin contends. No one is denying that sin is in the world.

  • Scott M

    Hmmm. Part of the problem may be that we have fixed names for these characters, ‘Adam’ and ‘Eve’. In truth, if it is used as a proper name, ‘Adam’ is not so used until Chapter 4. Before then, the references are to ‘ha-adam’. (Pardon me for any inaccuracies. I’m hardly a language expert.) The ‘little ground'(?) and elsewhere the man and the woman. We also totally miss in translation the play on words.
    I’ve never found it particularly important to the story whether or not there were two specific people involved. By the time we start getting a family narrative in Chapter 4, we see when Cain is exiled that there seem to be plenty of others outside his family for him to be worried about. Chapters two and three have a pretty different feel to them. And referencing ‘the man’ and ‘the woman’ fairly generically seems to me a good stand-in for referencing humanity. (In that sense, I do think it is paradigmatic, though probably not the word I would choose.)
    However, we are born into a world which has been damaged by eikons of the Creator reflecting other than that Creator into it and by eikons trying to become the eikon of something else. In that sense, we inherit the consequences of sin. However, just as the Resurrection is not merely some historical event (though it must be that), but indeed the center of reality — including time, so too I don’t see ‘sin’ as a purely linear, historical progression. We do not just affect ourselves with our ‘sin’ or those we directly touch. Rather, in ways we do not see we affect all reality, of necessity including time. So we are born ‘in Adam’ and indeed inevitably participate with Adam. In that sense, we are all Adam. Nothing less seems to make sense of either Scripture or Jesus to me. So to say that creation is affected by our sin does not to me imply a time when it was not so affected simply because we did not yet exist in a linear progression of time.
    I think there are many problems with the Western doctrine of original sin. But not least among those problems is the fact that it effectively trivializes the true problem. I think that’s why the Resurrection has, for the last thousand years in the West, become increasingly adjunct, often little more than a add-on, and from there a short step to unnecessary. I saw that very clearly a few years ago reading an SBC publication (the denomination to which I suppose I ‘belong’). There were a lot of articles talking about and defending the Resurrection. But when it came to describing the ‘why’ or what it meant, the most they could say was that it ‘proved the Father had accepted the payment of the Son.’ I was stunned. I suppose I still am.
    As I’ve tried to say, there’s a lot more at stake in how you view this question than is immediately evident. It sends shoots everywhere.

  • I tend to agree with your assessment. I’ve viewed this passage as very powerful allegory for quite a while now. It defines the human condition to me and is layered with meaning. In addition to what you’ve briefly derived from it, I see the insatiable curiosity of free creatures that know no boundaries; a sort of nihilistic tendency to turn toward evil for no reason. I also recognize a human tendency to sabotage the good. The passage offers wisdom in capturing what we are capable of and what many of us often resort to (I think of it as an admonition).
    So I haven’t had trouble with original sin because it always seemed so descriptive of humanity and my own experience. As Chesterton wrote in Orthodoxy “Certain new theologians dispute original sin, which is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved.”
    It seems to me you are reacting to some formulations of original sin that deny human freedom and tend toward total depravity. And formulations that teach of inherited behavioral deformation caused by the actions of Adam and Eve rather than symbolic of the capacity in all of us toward distrust of God, selfishness, and aimlessness. You seem hardly a Pelagian, though complete rejection of original sin would seem to be a step in that direction. I’m no expert on original sin or pelagianism, but reading a little on pelagiansim at wikipedia just now, it seems too extreme to describe what you’ve advanced thus far. I myself am Pelagian in my understanding only in as much as I think the original sin was descriptive or representative of the ramifications of human freedom instead of causative of some disposition toward sin that previously didn’t exist.

  • Scott M

    I will add to Rob’s comment the observation that that scriptural text actually identifies death as the ultimate problem. Part of the problem, of course, lies in translation. The NT especially talks about death a lot. Any time the text refers to ‘hades’ or ‘sheol’ it can pretty accurately be taken to read as ‘death’. The abode of the eikon in death (whether in the outer darkness or in the bosom of Abraham) is the abode of the eikon in a state in which the eikon of Life itself should never have been. We were enslaved by death and needed Life.

  • Chris, I hate to be the one to break it to you, but most evangelical biblical scholars share my opinion that the creation is far more than 6000 years old. Only the most extreme, conservative scholars hold to a young Earth.
    And that you would claim to know how the Savior viewed Torah is possibly the most arrogant thing I’ve ever read.

  • Dan H

    Well, I’m pretty much on board with this, so far. I agree with your language that this is ‘paradigmatic’, and that Genesis makes huge statements about ‘our proclivity not to trust God’.
    I think where many of my knee-jerk reactions to positions against Original Sin come from, is a sense that it is really moving toward an anthropology where we are just so intrinsically good, and why would God have any tension or quarrel at all with such good people, and other people may do bad things because ‘they are not really listening to themselves’ but you and I, we’re pretty much OK, etc. etc.
    But. You aren’t saying any of that, as far as I can tell. So far, so good

  • Korey

    ScottM: In that sense, we are all Adam. Nothing less seems to make sense of either Scripture or Jesus to me.
    Rob: It’s not at all plain to me. It says sin entered the world…that’s not the same as what Original Sin contends. No one is denying that sin is in the world.
    To add to both comments, I don’t see Romans 5 as clearly declaring that A&E were the cause of sin, but that they were the first sinners. And if I had been in Adam’s place so would I.
    Btw, have enjoyed the comments of Rob, ScottM, and Dan.

  • Mike L.

    I agree with most of what you’ve said, Tony. We should resist individualizing this story (as much as we western modern thinkers would like to do). It ain’t about us! It is always about Israel. Why would we expect their stories to be about anything else?
    Neither is it about the creation of the world or the first humans. It seem more likely to be about the promised land of Israel (the garden of paradise) and its loss. I suspect that this story developed as a post-Exile poem/parable/myth about Israel’s loss of its promised land and removal to Babylon.
    Seen as a metaphor for Israel’s loss of paradise, it makes perfect sense. The act of eating the fruit is the acquisition of the knowledge and culture of the surrounding pagan societies and the intermingling of cultures. Our best clue is the villain. Snake symbols were commonly gods in the period (the fertility snake god in Babylon for example). The story represents the loss of Israel’s innocence and the end of its era as separate and untangled from other cultures. The authors of this story literally lived “east of Eden/paradise” (in Babylon/modern Iraq) and removed from their home. The story echoes the experiences written about in Daniel where these Jewish people were tempted to conform to the ways of “wicked” babylon (eating the foods of king Nebuchadnezzar for example).
    This story is the story of the exile, but told through a different poetic metaphor. Viewing the story this way allows the story to be authoritative, yet not literally true. This reading allows us to completely uphold sola Scriptura while holding our current understanding of the universe, biology, and evolution.

  • Larry

    Here’s some thing for you to consider.

    Where you first of all read your view of scripture into the passages you study, then used those passages to validate your view scripture. The worst part is that I don’t even think you realize you are doing it.

  • Before more of your readers come away from your post believing that Lutherans practice a non-nuanced, “The Bible says it; I believe it; that settles it” interpretative style (which was not even my experience as a born-and-bred Missouri Synodian, on the theological right of the Lutheran continuum), can I point out that for Lutherans, or for most Lutherans, “sola scriptura” means that when Church tradition conflicts with the discerned witness of Scripture, Scripture trumps tradition. It doesn’t mean that Lutherans reject Church tradition or reject the idea that “God is still speaking” through a constant process of discernment/struggle with Scripture as it speaks to new generations and situations. We are DEFINITELY not in the same “sola scriptura” camp as reductio ad absurdum fundamentalists who say, “Doesn’t say anything in the Bible about candles in worship services, so that means they’re FORBIDDEN!”

  • Tony,
    Nice Ad Hominem (yet another logical fallacy).
    Yes I know that my statement offended Post-Modern sensibilities and that confidently asserting a propositional truth claim as being true is considered arrogant by those in your circles. I don’t subscribe to the Humble Hermeneutic theory nor do I believe that doubt = faith. Nor do I believe that telling someone the truth is unloving.
    I stand by what I said. Jesus’ view of the Torah was that the stories that it contained were factual. This is a fact. It’s true. The evidence is there to support what I’ve said. I’ve written on this and invite you to look at the evidence.
    As for your appeal to the scholars that agree with you… we all “know” that scholars can never be wrong and that if 51% of them agree with you then that automatically means your position is true. (But wait, wasn’t there a time when the majority of scholars believed that the world was flat?)
    Again I stand by Jesus’ view of the scriptures and Jesus’ credentials trump every single scholar that you can quote that contradicts Jesus’ position on the scriptures.
    Jesus claimed to be God in human flesh. He proved His claim by raising Himself from the Dead and it is clear by what Jesus said and taught that He believed the Old Testament including the Genesis stories in the Torah to be FACTUAL. That is not my opinion, that is what the Eyewitnesses to Jesus’ life and teaching tell us.
    Can the scholars that you would quote say that they spent three years with Jesus and that they were eyewitnesses to the events and teachings that are recorded for us in the Gospel Biographies? Of course not! Modern and Post-Modern scholars will never have the credentials of the Apostles. They were not there when Jesus delivered the sermon on the mount, they were not there when Jesus gave vision to the blind and speech to the mute. They did not witness Jesus walking on the water, nor were they there when He fed the 5000. They were not there when Jesus raised Jarius’ daughter and called Lazarus forth from the grave. Can any of your scholars claim that they’ve had a meal with Jesus? Are any of your scholars eyewitnesses to Jesus’ crucifixion or His bodily resurrection?
    You see, the Apostles WERE eyewitnesses to all of these events and they’ve told us that Jesus believed the stories in the Torah to not only be factual but to be the actual Word of God. Unless you can produce eye-witness testimony that shows that Jesus’ view of the stories in the Torah was less than factual then I have no reason to believe your theory.
    As for me, I will stand by Jesus’ view of the scriptures and I dare not deviate from it.

  • Larry,
    You’ve made an unsubstantiated assertion that I am issogeting and reading my view of the scriptures into the scriptures.
    Since, I don’t believe that unsubstantiated assertions = evidence… could you please substantiate your assertion?
    In other words… prove your assertion!

  • Larry

    You’ve made an unsubstantiated assertion that I am issogeting and reading my view of the scriptures into the scriptures.
    No, I didn’t, I said what you wrote doesn’t prove your case, since it is hopelessly circular. Ask yourself this, how would those passages differ if Jesus didn’t share your view of scripture and instead had something more like Tony’s?

  • Liz

    Am I way off in left field to think that “sola scriptura” was originally supposed to give authority to each person to interpret scripture for themselves and take away authority from the institution to impose a particular interpretation? If so, doesn’t it seem that many Christians abuse the concept by ranting on about
    “sola scriptura” when what they are really up in arms about is someone (in this case, you, Tony) disagreeing with their interpretation? Or maybe I am wrong and the purpose was to make tradition subordinate to scripture. Either way it still seems to me that “sola scriptura” gets thrown around in a way that is supposed to be intimidating and I don’t think that is what Martin Luther had in mind.

  • Liz

    Mike L – thank you for your comment. Having grown up in a conservative evangelical environment I still have trouble breaking free to look at scripture in a fresh way. thanks for reminding me to look at the OT through the lense of Israel.

  • isaac

    My take is that I would not want to finalize my ideas on the Genesis narrative, for quantizing it to some rationality will only make complacency. What is important to me is how wrestling with the story continually will change me, every time I am revisited by the story it does something different. I am forced to rethink my notions of human history, human behavior, and myself. My feelings at this moment are the doctrine of original sin is a math equation and I am bad at math. The Adam and Eve story has changed my life many times and it pains me to see people reduce it to something so cold and unliving.

  • Chris Rosebrough

    If Jesus had Tony’s view of scripture then I would have to change my view of scripture because I would be wrong.
    And no I am not guilty of circular reasoning. That is nothing more than ANOTHER unsubstantiated assertion on your part.
    If you want to know my presuppositions I would be happy to share them with you.
    1. The New Testament gospels are biographies written about Jesus by the eyewitnesses to the events recorded in them, or in the case of the Gospel of Luke compiled by interviewing the eyewitnesses to the events they record.
    2. In these New Testament biographies we are introduced to a man named Jesus of Nazareth. He is a historical personage and the biographers of the New Testament accurately documented His teachings and his actions.
    3. According to the eyewitnesses, Jesus of Nazareth claimed to be none other than the God of the Jews in human flesh.
    4. Jesus proved His claim to being YHWH by raising himself from the dead three days after He was crucified under Pontius Pilate.
    5. The eyewitness biographers of Jesus’ were also eyewitnesses to Jesus bodily resurrection from the dead.
    6. The eyewitness biographers also recorded the fact that Jesus claimed that the Jewish scriptures the Torah, Prophets and Writings were God’s Word and the stories contained in them were factual.
    7. The eyewitness biographers also recorded the fact that Jesus blessed their words and writings about Him, thus elevating their books and letters to the status of God’s Word.
    I don’t see a circle here.
    Since, you are making an unfounded assertion that I am guilty of circular logic, could you please provide the evidence that shows the ‘circle’ in my logic?
    In the future, if you continue making assertions about me, please back up your assertions with evidence and proof.

  • Larry

    I don’t see a circle here.
    Look at number 6 again. Where did Jesus claim that the all of the OT was factual (as opposed to authoritative, one does not imply the other)? You are reading that into the text, assuming that no other basis can explain the way Jesus handled scripture.

  • As far as I know all systematic thelogy has been created to make sense of the world surrounding the theologian. Augustine “Original Sin”, Calvin “predestination”, Luther “sola scriptura” Not that each of these guys came up with those ideas but they are closely connected to them. None of us have it right but we can try to make sense of it in our own context just like all the great theologians before us.

  • Chris Rosebrough

    I am not reading that into the text. I am reading it OUT of the eyewitness biographies of Jesus’ life.
    Again the eyewitnesses very clearly recorded Jesus’ handling of and commentary on and view of the scriptures. According to the eyewitnesses, Jesus believed and taught that the stories recorded in Genesis and the rest of the Torah, the Writings and the Prophets are historical and factual and that these books are the Very Word of God.
    If you think that Jesus held a different view of scripture than what I claim can be read OUT of the eyewitness biographies then marshall your texts. Bring your evidence. Show us from an authoritative eyewitness source that Jesus didn’t believe the historical factuality of the Old Testament histories.
    Jesus may have in fact believed that the Old Testament was a mythology written by the Lord Zenu of scientology fame. But, I’d have a hard time proving it from the eyewitnesses testimonies of Jesus’ life and teaching.

  • Re: Sola Scriptura
    Yes, sola scriptura is useful for correcting doctrine that is biblically unfounded. The early church fathers used this method to prevent heresy (obviously). Doctrine was thoroughly researched FIRST by making sure it aligned with everything the Scriptures teach. If it didn’t, it was thrown out.
    My question is this: Where in Scripture do we find anything about the Creation account in Genesis being a paradigm or metaphor or figurative or whatever you want to call it?
    Who came up with this assumption and why? There is a BIG difference between the parables Jesus taught and these so-called “paradigms” (creation, Job, Jonah, etc.).
    Why does anybody think it’s so unlikely to have a FACTUAL creation account? And where do they get that from?
    Going back to sola scriptura, if this doctrine (the paradigmatic creation account) isn’t actually taught anywhere in Scripture, why are we to believe it as correct doctrine?

  • Larry

    If you think that Jesus held a different view of scripture than what I claim can be read OUT of the eyewitness biographies then marshall your texts.
    You are the one making the positive claim. Show me where Jesus unambiguously said that all of the OT is factual. If you cannot do that, then you are indeed reading your biases into His words. This is not a big deal, I’m not “accusing” you of anything, we all bring our presuppositions and worldviews to the text, it is nothing to be ashamed of, it just means you are human.

  • Tim

    On my radio show tomorrow, I will be talking about the secret reason why so many men don’t come to church. Deuteronomy 23:1
    Stay tuned…

  • Jay

    You’re right…nothing in this passage suggests this. But what about Romans 5:12-21? It’s Paul’s commentary and explanation of “original sin”, though I’ll grant that he doesn’t use that term.
    Of course, Tony, you’ll say that Augustine twisted what Paul meant here or that Paul is not a real authority on the subject at all and that this was only his best guess at what happened.
    I’m curious to see how you’ll deal with this passage…

  • Chris,
    I know you don’t believe that you are, but what if you are wrong? Can you allow for that possibility? I mean, Christians have been wrong in the past when they were convinced otherwise and I’m sure many of us will do the same in the future.
    Could it be possible that you are wrong now? Wouldn’t it be best to at least acknowledge that being wrong is a possibility?

  • Chris Rosebrough

    Sure… it is within the realm of possibility that I am wrong. But then again it is also within the realm of possibility that Jesus Christ was actually an extra-terrestrial who beamed down to earth from the mother ship by the command of Elvis Presley.
    It is also possible that Jesus didn’t physically rise from the dead but that the disciples were smoking Peyote and had a collective vision of seeing Jesus in the flesh that felt so real that they mistakenly believed that Jesus rose from the dead.
    It’s also possible that the entire New Testament was written in the 5th Century by drunken Monks who had too much time on their hands.
    It is also possible that you don’t really exist and that this life that you think you are experiencing is just and individualized collection of self-actualizing thoughts that have spun out of the collective consciousness.
    Sure ANYTHING is possible. But not all things are equally probable and we don’t make decisions based on possibilities we always play the odds of probability.
    The probability that I am wrong is extremely small. The evidence that Jesus taught and believed that the Old Testament stories were factual historical events is undeniably recorded by the very people who witnessed his life and teaching in person. I think that the probability that they were lying about what Jesus said and did and taught is very small indeed. I trust their credentials and I trust Jesus’ credentials as well.
    If you believe that the another scenario has a greater probability of being the truth, then bring your evidence and make your case.
    I’ve demonstrated from the eyewitnesses to Jesus’ life that Jesus over and over and over and over and over again affirmed the factualness and historicity of the Old Testament stories. From Abel, to Noah and the Flood, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to the Mosaic authorship of the Torah, and to Jonah spending three days in the belly of a large fish… Jesus affirmed the factualness of these accounts. Furthermore, His disciples (the eyewitnesses and his actual students) did as well. Furthermore, there is not one instance where Jesus held a lesser view of the scriptures. If you call yourself a Christ-Follower then you would be well served to not have a lesser view of the scriptures than Jesus and his disciples had.
    Sure, its possible that I am wrong about this but it is highly improbable that I am.

  • Ok. Fair enough.
    Let’s not get too carried away with the “anything is possible” stick. Sure, anything is possible. But that’s not really my point. My point is humility. I think approaching these sort of things humbly, understanding that our understanding as humans is finite and limited is worth considering.
    Frankly, I don’t really find the argument as to whether Jesus took the Hebrew text literally, or factually, or whatever to be a worthwhile conversation. I don’t see anything in the New Testament to suggest that he took everything to be purely factual, but the bottom line is we simply don’t know. Claiming to know exactly what Jesus thought about the text and how he might have interacted with in his context seems at least a little presumptuous to me. I’d probably feel more comfortable asking an Orthodox Jew that question than I would a reformed Christian. Still, I don’t really think it’s the best question to be asking. But that’s just me.
    Again, humility, and understanding of our past history of erring, is key here I think. When I have that in mind it suddenly becomes much harder for me to monopolize truth. And that’s a good thing.
    Anyway, I just wanted to get your thought on that. Thanks.

  • Scott M

    Ethan, that’s actually not really correct. In fact, the reverse is true. Let’s take the first, big, thoroughly documented heresy, Arianism, for an example. Arius was extremely well spoken and highly intelligent. As the bishops questioned him with Holy Scripture, he had an alternative (and internally consistent) interpretation for every text on which he was tested. His heresy (essentially that there was a time when the Son was not) was finally reject because, as Athanasius famously put it, what he taught was not the interpretation the Church had always believed.
    Virtually all of the early heretics were very ‘sola scriptura’ sorts.
    The actual dogma of ‘sola scriptura’ was the means by which the Reformers supplanted the authority of a corrupt late medieval Roman Catholic magisterium and asserted their right to interpret Scripture. They sought to replace the authority of the magisterium with something else. I would say the past 500 years of Protestantism have demonstrated how well that worked out. I’m not really sure what they could have done differently or what I would have done had I been in their shoes. It’s not about judging them. But it clearly did not have the effect they desired at the time. Scripture as the sole interpretive authority has proven to be essentially the same thing as no authoritative interpretation at all. To steal a catchphrase, instead of the ‘Army of One’, we’ve perfected the ‘Church of One’.

  • Rev Dave

    I’m late to this party so most of my thoughts have already been better expressed by others, but still want to chime in on a couple things.
    @Chris R: Clearly you find it self-evident that “Jesus claimed that the Jewish scriptures the Torah, Prophets and Writings were God’s Word and the stories contained in them were factual”, but, I’m sorry, many of us, myself included, just don’t see it. As you’ve said to others, you can’t just declare that Jesus claims the scriptures are factual, you have to show us where this claim is. Can you?
    I also think some of the apostolic fathers you seem to care so much about would take issue with your repeated statement that Jesus “raised himself” from the dead. If I recall correctly (which I very well might not), it was a pretty big deal to affirm that Jesus “was raised” – that is, by action outside of himself.
    As for Gen. 3: I agree with Tony’s conclusions. To me the story doesn’t pass the reasonable test in order to be factual. But certainly it contains much truth. With a nod to Richard Foster, reading Gen. 3 today specifically in terms of OS, it struck me that in response to A&E’s disobedience, God did not abandon A&E nor did God sever God’s relationship with them. Which is the opposite of the common understanding of OS and its companion, substitutionary atonement – that because of our sinful nature we are separated from God. Interesting too that right away God makes better clothes for A&E (3:21). I don’t think I ever noticed that before.

  • Sola Scriptura, Postmodernism, and Relativism, are all buddies. The Church needed renewal not the Reformation. It has done nobody any good. 500 years on, Anglican has spun apart, and now Sola Scriptura is under attack not so much from “errant Protestants” as some Reformed theologians have been sputtering of late, but rather it is under attack from its own internal essence. Sola Scriptura is a contradiction in terms that when pressed, destroys itself. It got 500 years of momentum at the hands of upset European heads of state in Luther’s day. We just may be witnessing the final sputtering out of this ill-conceived notion…
    So, you can’t preach for Sola Scriptura and against Relative Truth at the same time without your head exploding, or maybe just exploding slowly over 500 years.

  • @Scott M
    “The actual dogma of ‘sola scriptura’ was the means by which the Reformers supplanted the authority of a corrupt late medieval Roman Catholic magisterium and asserted their right to interpret Scripture.”
    Sorry, but just because the term ‘sola scriptura’ was not used until the Reformation, it does not mean it was not understood to be true.
    And if it wasn’t understood to be true, then what did Cyril mean when he said:
    “This seal have thou ever on thy mind; which now by way of summary has been touched on in its heads, and if the Lord grant, shall hereafter be set forth according to our power, with Scripture proofs. For concerning the divine and sacred Mysteries of the Faith, we ought not to deliver even the most casual remark without the Holy Scriptures: nor be drawn aside by mere probabilities and the artifices of argument. Do not then believe me because I tell thee these things, unless thou receive from the Holy Scriptures the proof of what is set forth: for this salvation, which is of our faith, is not by ingenious reasonings, but by proof from the Holy Scriptures.”
    Or Gregory of Nyssa:
    “The generality of men still fluctuate in their opinions about this, which are as erroneous as they are numerous. As for ourselves, if the Gentile philosophy, which deals methodically with all these points, were really adequate for a demonstration, it would certainly be superfluous to add a discussion on the soul to those speculations. But while the latter proceeded, on the subject of the soul, as far in the direction of supposed consequences as the thinker pleased, we are not entitled to such license, I mean that of affirming what we please; we make the Holy Scriptures the rule and the measure of every tenet; we necessarily fix our eyes upon that, and approve that alone which may be made to harmonize with the intention of those writings.”
    Also, see Tertullian and Irenaeus.

  • Also, @Scott M
    There is a huge difference between what Arius did (use Scripture) and what many of the Emergents are doing (using experience and reason and merely rejecting what they were taught as a child) in their arguments.
    By the way, Arianism was the first major doctrinal dispute AFTER CHRISTIANITY BECAME LEGALIZED, but as we see in the NT, there were already doctrinal disputes (See “The Galatian Church”, among others).

  • Scott M

    Ethan, I said the first big thoroughly documented encountered with a major heresy, not the first heresy. It was thoroughly documented because Christianity had been legalized. I’ve never said that Holy Scripture wasn’t authoritative, but that it had to be interpreted in accordance with the way the Church had always interpreted it. The Fathers were quite consistent on that point and quite averse to novel interpretations. Your prooftexts (which don’t actually say what you seem to want them to say even in and of themselves) from the Fathers simply does to them the same thing many seem to do to Scripture.
    As an aside, I am curious why so many people (here and elsewhere in discussions) point to Tertullian. He was a fairly prolific writer and one of the first in latin. I’ve read a lot of his writing and it gives some insights to the time. But he’s hardly a Father of the Church. He had some pretty bizarre beliefs, like people should be baptized as late in life as possible because sins committed after baptism could not be forgiven. Notably, he ended his life as a schismatic, which pretty precludes him from being considered a ‘Father’.

  • Scott M

    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. 😉

  • Larry

    It seems to me that those who think they can get behind the text of the NT to discover the doctrine of the Bible that Jesus held are making the same mistake as those who search for an historical Jesus distinct from the Jesus of faith. But there is no getting behind the text, the text is all we have and thinking you can derive a Systematic Theologian Jesus from it is just as mistaken as thinking that you can find a Historical Jesus. It is not surprising that those who discover both a Historical Jesus and a Systematic Theologian Jesus end up looking at the Bible and seeing their own reflection, both Jesuses are the result of reading your own presuppositions and biases into the text.

  • chad

    “Yes, Adam’s one sin brings condemnation for everyone, but Christ’s one act of righteousness brings a right relationship with God and a new life for everyone.”
    Romans 6:18 (NLT)

  • Ethan

    @Scott M
    Thanks for your explanation. I guess it would be better if we listed all the beliefs of “original sin” and what Scripture said (if anything) about each of them.
    You meant Rom. 5:18.

  • Scott M

    Most likely nobody is still reading this thread. However, on the off-chance someone is, I wanted to share the following document. It explores the patristic distinctions between the ideas of ancestral and original sin and how that plays out in pastoral care.
    Particularly germane to this thread, though, is an exploration of the story of Adam and Eve. The patristic understanding was not that man was created in some sort of perfect state from which he fell. (When you think about it, that doesn’t even make sense. If man had been ‘perfect’ how could he have fallen?) Rather they were created with the potential for either mortality or immortality, to embrace their vocation or to turn from it.
    Anyway, it’s a good essay and well worth the time to read if you are interested in this subject.

  • Your Name

    Chris, let me just say that it is surprising that they have allowed this many of your posts to clear. I have found that when you post things on here that bring Tony’s “logic” into question that they often disappear.
    Secondly allow me to say keep up the good work. These guys are so caught up in worshipping themselves that their Bible study is done solely to build themselves up. Their piety is disgusting and it is good to see someone show it to them. I pray that Tony’s goats (er, congregation) read these posts and break free from the brainwash that he has washed them in.
    This is all about them. Chris, you attempted to discuss Jesus’ views and they made it about you. They attempt to discuss Jesus and they make it about them. IDOLS everywhere but be careful not to allow them to make you into one as well. We dwell with the money-changers, Pharisees, and pagans on this blog. Tony, I find it more than revealing that of Chris’ points, you found it more important to tell us what you believe Jesus said and not to defend yourself from being known as a post-modern liberal and pelegian. At least you know what you are. I shake the dust from my feet Tony.

  • aarti

    but isn’t adam and eve’s sin (ie. original sin) borne out in the actions of their children, chiefly Cain? and then, isn’t Cain’s sin passed on eventually to Lamech… and all who died in the flood (save Noah..)… doesn’t Jacob inherit Isaac’s sin?

  • “your name” i have to say that i find it telling that you’re more concerned with labeling someone a post-modern liberal pelegian [sic] than you are with listening to what they believe about Jesus and addressing that.
    our salvation comes from our belief in Jesus. our faith is rooted in the teachings of Jesus.
    if my understanding of the teachings of Jesus result in my becoming a post-modern liberal, who on this earth can tell me that i am wrong? and yet inevitably someone involved in a discussion of theology will start quoting Luther or Calvin or Augustine (or whomever) as the perfect, definitive interpreter of Genesis, or Paul or whatever else and so insist one cannot be a Christian and be either post-modern or liberal. you complain loudly about the idolatry of the self that Tony supposedly displays and yet those who insist that all questions of theology have long since been definitively answered are themselves caught up in the idol worship of these long dead theologians of a bygone era. Luther was not perfect. Calvin was far from perfect. no theologian is perfect. if you want to avoid idol worship you -must- be willing to consider the possibility that -they got it wrong-. there is a -reason- that we do not include any of these later texts in our canon. they are not inspired, they are not perfect, they are not inerrant. if you are unwilling to consider that possibility, then you are the one worshiping idols, not Tony, nor any other post-modern liberal. post-modernism, at its core, is deeply concerned with destroying the idolatry of the self. it is all about the realization that our own intelligence, wisdom and insight is completely trapped inside our limited, personal, isolated point of view. we cannot escape from the confines of our five senses or the walls of our cultural context. enlightenment and modernity were all about the worship of the individual and the rationality of man. we are fleeing from the horrors wrought by that thinking with all speed back to a place of questioning humility. Luther had the hubris to stand up to a thousand years of church tradition and say “i think we’ve gotten a bit off track here, people”. at the time he was treated as a heretic and an outcast. today, many risk making him into a god. how can we laud Luther’s efforts against the church of his day as right and just and condemn those who raise the same objection today as being idolatrous self-aggrandizers? can you honestly look at the past 500 years of church history and see no reason why it might not be long past time to be double certain sure that we really have it right? there’s an awful lot of fruit growing out there in the world with our name on it that doesn’t look, smell or taste like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness or self-control. you are the one who turned your entire response into being about Tony, instead of being about Genesis and the topic at hand. hating an idol can be just as much of a form of worship to it as loving it.
    why not forget about Tony and engage the question? is it really so threatening to you to consider the possibility that this idea of inherited sin is flawed that you have to resort to ad hominem, slander and insult? is our faith about painting the whole world out to be evil, with -us- as the witness to it as its only salvation? or is our faith about how Jesus taught us to live humbly, with charity in our hearts for all, so that through our faith in him, the good in the world might increase?