Within 5th century Celtic Spirituality, and the modern resurgence of Celtic Christianity the concept of knowing intent to sin is a constant thread. Even in monastic rules on penance, if intent was there, whether the sin was committed or not was irrelevant, one needed to ask forgiveness and seek penance. It is also noted that penance was not something given easily. Sin against another or nature carried with it strict punishments, especially for clergy. For example, a Bishop found guilty of fornication was to be degraded and in penance for 12 years. And even then asking forgiveness every hour.
Many believe that since the early Celts did not necessarily ascribe to original sin, that they had a low view of sin. Quite the contrary, The Celtic Christians saw sin as deeply troubling and not something easily taken away. The discussion of forgiveness is one thing that happened instantly when one asks. Penance required a person to learn, sometimes through extreme measures in the 5th century the consequences of a mind bent on sin. To the Celt, forgiveness like salvation was a journey to be experienced, not simply a destination.
Sin in the West Today
In the Evangelical and Reformed landscape of western Christianity, the idea of original and inherited sin is a major part of the doctrines of these churches. What I desire here is dialogue, to present the argument for inherited sin (Definition, Biblical Evidence, Penalty and Transmission). Next, we will present an argument against inherited sin in the same parts and finally we will look at where the early Celtic Church and the modern iterations of Celtic Christianity sit with this concept.
It is not the authors intent to “attack” the doctrine of inherited sin. It is the authors intent to present the evidence for inherited sin and simply explain an alternative to the doctrine. An alternative that is not new, but ancient and embedded in the history of Christs Church.
Although there are many ways to describe this concept, in its simplest form, Inherited Sin is a doctrine that states sin is a state into which all persons are born. It has been called Inherited Sin, Sin Nature and Original Sin. The doctrine states that all of humankind, since the fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden have inherited sin from that event. Sin is a transmittable deficiency, passed through our genetics the same as eye or hair color. It is inescapable and can only be healed through Jesus Christ.
The following scriptures are used when showing the reality of Inherited Sin in scripture:
- Ephesians 2:3- among whom also we all did walk once in the desires of our flesh, doing the wishes of the flesh and of the thoughts, and were by nature children of wrath — as also the others,
- Psalm 51:5- Lo, in iniquity I have been brought forth, And in sin doth my mother conceive me.
- Romans 5:12- because of this, even as through one man the sin did enter into the world, and through the sin the death; and thus to all men the death did pass through, for that all did sin;
- Romans 3:10-18– according as it hath been written — `There is none righteous, not even one; There is none who is understanding, there is none who is seeking after God. All did go out of the way, together they became unprofitable, there is none doing good, there is not even one. A sepulcher opened [is] their throat; with their tongues they used deceit; poison of asps [is] under their lips. Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness. Swift [are] their feet to shed blood. Ruin and misery [are] in their ways. And a way of peace they did not know. There is no fear of God before their eyes.’
It is argued these verses show that by our human nature we are of wrath and born of wrath. Psalm 51:5 it is said, makes it clear we are born as sinners.
Typically, the penalty afforded inherited sin is spiritual death. Spiritual death is defined by most churches who ascribe to this doctrine as a separation from the life of God while on earth. I left unchanged at death this will later result in the second death described in Revelation 20:11-15.
The concept of transmission is that all is that sin has been passed from one generation to the next. The crux of this argument is that after Adam and Eve sinned, it became part of their nature and all of their children were made after their kind, which is now considered fallen man. No one is born good, all humans are born sinful.
The argument against inherited sin is not a new doctrine, even amongst theologians. As discussed earlier, Pelagius an Irish (possibly) monk and Bishop argued as early as the 400’s that sin was not inherited. The argument against inherited sin is that if one inherits sin, there are really only four ways in which that could occur. First, God initially creates the soul in a sinful state at conception. Second, that sin is hereditary like genetics. Third, the soul of an unborn person is conditioned into sin by being in close proximity to another sinful soul (parents). And fourth, the soul is corrupted by coming into contact with a sinful body (birth).
We know from the Genesis account that the soul of a human only comes from God. Therefore, by definition it must be good at least initially. God cannot create something inherently evil. God can, however, create something that can become evil through its own choices, like Satan. Verses explaining Gods creation of the soul are:
And the dust returneth to the earth as it was, And the spirit returneth to God who gave it. -Ecclesiastes 12:7
Thus said God, Jehovah, preparing The heavens, and stretching them out, Spreading out the earth and its productions, Giving breath to the people on it, And spirit to those walking in it. -Isaiah 42:5
The burden of a word of Jehovah on Israel. An affirmation of Jehovah, Stretching out heaven, and founding earth, And forming the spirit of man in his midst. -Zechariah 12:1
Then, indeed, fathers of our flesh we have had, chastising [us], and we were reverencing [them]; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of the spirits, and live? -Hebrews 12:9
Can God create something inherently evil at its beginning? Consider Psalm 5:4:
for not a God desiring wickedness [art] Thou, Evil inhabiteth Thee not.
The Soul is Not Physically Created
So, there is scriptural evidence that any soul created, since it is not created by sexual contact, only from God, must be good at its start. This brings us to a second possibility, that we inherit sin from genetics, or heredity. The issue with this argument is that the soul does not possess DNA. We do not inherit our soul or spirit from Adam or any genetic material. Genesis 2 makes it clear the soul is in breathed by God. It is not from the dust of the ground (genetic makeup). The third option could be sin is like COVID-19 and is spread by proximity to our parents, who have had plenty of time to sin in their lives. The issue with this argument would be that the soul is autonomous, and not controlled by other souls. Consider James 1:14-15:
and each one is tempted, by his own desires being led away and enticed, afterward the desire having conceived, doth give birth to sin, and the sin having been perfected, doth bring forth death.
Other passages also affirm the autonomy of the soul:
Lo, all the souls are Mine, As the soul of the father, So also the soul of the son — they are Mine, The soul that is sinning — it doth die. -Ezekiel 18:4
`Fathers are not put to death for sons, and sons are not put to death for fathers — each for his own sin, they are put to death. -Deuteronomy 24:16
But — each for his own iniquity doth die, Every man who is eating the unripe fruit, Blunted are his teeth. -Jeremiah 31:30
Be not led astray; God is not mocked; for what a man may sow — that also he shall reap, -Galatians 6:7
Location, a Sinner DOES NOT Make
These verses appear to make clear the concept that proximity to sin doesn’t make a sinner. Sinning makes a sinner. This means the only option left for the idea of original sin is the physical body as the transmitter. And most who agree with original sin would argue with me to this point. That the flesh is the transmitter. They consider the body totally depraved. The problem here is that there is no genetic marker to point to. Sin is an issue of the soul. Sin doesn’t appear to be a physical quality, but an issue of the soul. Consider Isaiah 59:2:
But your iniquities have been separating Between you and your God, And your sins have hidden The Presence from you — from hearing.
Finally, the Gospel of Mark makes it clear that even though the human body may be the actor of the sin, the intent and desire come from the soul.
And having called near all the multitude, he said to them, `Hearken to me, ye all, and understand;
there is nothing from without the man entering into him that is able to defile him, but the things coming out from him, those are the things defiling the man. If any hath ears to hear — let him hear. And when he entered into a house from the multitude, his disciples were questioning him about the simile, and he saith to them, `So also ye are without understanding!
Do ye not perceive that nothing from without entering into the man is able to defile him? because it doth not enter into his heart, but into the belly, and into the drain it doth go out, purifying all the meats. And he said — `That which is coming out from the man, that doth defile the man; for from within, out of the heart of men, the evil reasonings do come forth, adulteries, whoredoms, murders, thefts, covetous desires, wickedness, deceit, arrogance, an evil eye, evil speaking, pride, foolishness; all these evils do come forth from within, and they defile the man. -Mark 7:14-23
The argument against Pelagian concepts of against inherited sin is that the theologian now believes that a person has the ability to be perfect on earth. Or that somehow the merit of works make a human somehow impervious to sin. Scripture as well as reality show us this is not true. Humans do not need original sin to be sinners. No one is perfect and that is shown in the authors own life daily. The major consequences of accepting inherited sin is that the believer focuses on death and can absolve themselves of sin. As Fox stated, we are a people focused on death and not life.
That focus will seep into every part of our life and culture creating toxic doctrines and philosophies. Also, if I can blame the way I act on some genetic defect, I am not accountable for my actions. I was simply born this way. To be sure, those who do not believe in original sin having affect on us absolutely still concede that our own sins and the sins of others effect us in this life. It just seems like a weak argument to state we sin because we were born that way. In truth, we sin because we choose to sin and do harm to ourselves and others. There is definitely still room for the need of a savior in this world.
Adam and Eves sin absolutely affected every human on earth. But God is not holding us in 2021 accountable for the sin of Adam. We have our own sin to be accountable for.
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