Archive for the ‘Sin’ Category

Romanides on Original (Ancestral) Sin

November 6, 2008

Romanides’ thesis is that the Fathers of the second and third centuries believed (contra Augustine) that the effect of Adam’s sin was to introduce death (constituted in the loss of divine grace) into the race of man. Through death Satan rules mankind and causes them to sin. Important in this is that 1. God is not the author of sin or death 2. Satan is no instrument of divine wrath 3. Death is no punishment inflicted by God but rather the natural consequence of our sin which came at the deceptive prompting of Satan, thus it actually makes sense for God to want to save us from death.

This is how:

“In the first place, the deprivation of divine grace impairs the mental powers of the newborn infant; thus, the mind of man has a tendency toward evil from the beginning. This tendency grows strong when the ruling force of corruption becomes perceptible in the body. Through the power of death and the devil, sin that reigns in man gives rise to fear and anxiety and to the general instinct of self-preservation or survival. Thus, Satan manipulates man’s fear and his desire for self-satisfaction, raising up sin in him, in other words, transgression against the divine will regarding unselfish love, and provoking man to stray from his original destiny. Since weakness is caused in the flesh by death, Satan moves man to countless passions and leads him to devious thoughts, actions, and selfish relations with God as well as with his fellow man. Sin reigns both in death and in the mortal body because ‘the sting of death is sin'”

The Ancestral Sin pg. 162

Supererogatory Actions? Part 2

July 10, 2008

So a while back I posted a short speculative little bit questioning whether there is a place in a place for supererogation in a proper Christian ethical system. This little thought project eventually begat a short semester paper in my ethics class. I’ll be posting it in a few different pieces. This is the first part. As always constructive feedback is greatly appreciated. (more…)

Natural Consequences (3): Jeremiah on Suffering and Punishment

May 28, 2008

What is punishment, according to the teachings of the Old and New Testaments? Is it just God repaying us for our guilt in a way proportional to the evil we did by inflicting suffering on us? Or can punishment mean something else too?

Normally when we think of “punishment” it is something inflicted retributively by an authority who is responsible for moral censure. But if we find a wider range of punishment language in Scripture, then this should caution us against assuming that elsewhere, punishment must mean some suffering that is meant to repay us for our guilt. Indeed, the prophet Jeremiah uses punishment terminology to describe the effects of sin upon the person who sins and their social group and environment.
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Natural Consequences (2): Isaiah on the Fire we Light

May 8, 2008

Is hell just retributive punishment inflicted actively by God?  The language of “punishment” and the fact that God is a judge who casts people into the fires of hell seems to favor this understanding.  But is there any biblical evidence for the idea that the fires of hell (whatever they are) are self-lit?  Consider Isaiah 50:10-11: (more…)

St. Cyril of Alexandria on Justification as Deliverance

May 7, 2008

I remember me and Mark had a conversation at lunch back when he was still a Calvinist, but had rejected penal substitution. I asked him “hey, what do you think justification is, if not imputed righteousness?” and he responded with a puzzled look. He went on to say something like “I donno, but it had better be connected to Christus Victor atonement somehow.” At the time this seemed absurd. After all, justification is obviously a legal term, so how could it have anything to do with being freed from the devil’s power? Right? (more…)

Natural Consequences (1): Jeremiah on Word, Fire, and Wrath

May 5, 2008

It seems like I’m always starting series of posts that I never finish. Oh well.

Anyways, this series is going to be about the biblical data and theological implications of the idea of “natural consequences”. To say that something has natural consequences for you basically means “what goes around, comes around” or “you asked for it”. Natural consequences are the non-intentional results of actions we take. They are not inflicted by an exercise of will that is aimed at retributively punishing us for our guilt; they just sorta happen because of the way the world is. (more…)

Supererogatory Actions?

April 11, 2008

For those that don’t know, supererogatory actions are basically actions that go “above and beyond the call of duty,” actions that are good, but are not required deontologically.  A paradigm case for a supererogatory action would be self sacrifice.  Think of a soldier jumping on a grenade to save his comrade. 

Well, this is all well and good for most systems of ethics, but does this category fit within the Christian paradigm?  I may be controversial in my position, but I think there is good reason to think that there are no supererogatory actions for the Christian.  Here are a few simple arguments to try to motivate my intuitions on this:

1) In James 4:7 we are told that “to him who knows to do good, and does not do it, to him it is sin.”  This seems to me to be saying that anytime there’s a good thing that could be done, you ought to do it.  To not do it is sin.  Thus, if self-sacrifice is good, you ought to do it. 

2) Ethics by example:  The primary way ethics is taught in Scripture is by pointing to examples.  Philippians is a paradigm case of this.   Paul presents the Philippian believers with the example of Christ’s completely self-sacrificial/self-empting life and says that they ought to think and act this way as well.  The dialogue form would be something like:  Paul:  Be humble.  Philippian:  What’s humility?  Paul:  Look at Jesus.  That’s humility.  Be that.  In the same letter, Paul also provides the Godly examples of humility and self-sacrificial love in Epaphroditus and Timothy to teach them as well.  He tells the Philippians to honor men like Epaphroditus because he suffered for the sake of the gospel.  Finally, Paul describes his own journey to salvation, his own self-emptying; acknowledges that he’s not perfect yet, but must keep striving; and tells the Philippians to imitate him. 

If our paradigm cases for what constitutes proper Christian behavior are Christ and the saints (who are all martyrs in one way or another), what actions could possibly be considered supererogatory? 

3) Think about the deontological commands that are given in Scripture.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.  Love your neighbor as yourself.  We’re to love God with complete and total abandon; we’re to give everything of ourselves to him.  We’re also to love our neighbor as our very self because we are all members of one another.  So again, what would qualify as supererogatory actions under this deontological system?

4) In another place, Christ says that if anyone is to be His disciple, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Him.  This is not some weak acknowledgment the troubles we’ll all face in life or some pithy nonsense like that.  Christ is calling us to recapitulate all His suffering unto death, even death on a cross, and nothing less.  We’re called to total and complete self-denial.  So, again, what could be a supererogatory action in this system of ethics?

 

These are only a couple of arguments running through my head right now.  I’m going to be writing a paper on this topic for my ethics class so I would appreciate any thoughts or feedback.  I will be posting more of my thoughts on this topic in the weeks to come.  Specifically, I will post some thoughts on virtue ethics, deification, ontological views of salvation vs. legal views, etc., and the effect these things have on the possibility of supererogatory actions. 

Saint Isaac the Syrian on Love and Hell

December 22, 2007

Few arguments against Christianity are stronger and more troubling than the problem of hell. The problem is familiar to anyone who is familiar with Christianity. But not all understandings of hell are equally problemmatic. As Swinburne notes in Responsibility and Atonement for every “hard” position about salvation, sin, hell, justice, or human agency, there is a “soft” or more “liberal” view. Ironically, the more “liberal” view is hardly “liberal”, if by that we mean “new, innovative, rebelling against conservative consensus”. I think we sometimes assume for some reason that the harshest, most morally-repugnant view of Christianity is the most faithful to text and tradition. To help start correcting that tendency, I offer some words from Saint Isaac the Syrian:

What is a merciful heart? It is a heart on fire for the whole of creation, for humanity, for the birds, for the animals, for demons, and for all that exists. By the recollection of them the eyes of a merciful person pour forth tears in abundance. By the strong and vehement mercy that grips such a person’s heart, and by such great compassion, the heart is humbled and one cannot bear to hear or to see any injury or slight sorrow in any in creation. For this reason, such a person offers up tearful prayer continually even for irrational beasts, for the enemies of the truth, and for those who harm her or him, that they be protected and receive mercy. And in like manner such a person prays for the family of reptiles because of the great compassion that burns with without measure in a heart that is in the likeness of God.

The person who is genuinely charitable not only gives charity out of his own possessions, but gladly tolerates injustice from others and forgives them. Whoever lays down his soul for his brother acts generously, rather than the person who demonstrates his generosity by his gifts.

God is not One who requites evil, but who sets evil right.

Paradise is the love of God, wherein is the enjoyment of all blessedness.
The person who lives in love reaps the fruit of life from God, and while yet in this world, even now breathes the air of the resurrection.

In love did God bring the world into existence; in love is God going to bring it to that wondrous transformed state, and in love will the world be swallowed up in the great mystery of the One who has performed all these things; in love will the whole course of the governance of creation be finally comprised..

As for me I say that those who are tormented in hell are tormented by the invasion of love. What is there more bitter and violent than the pains of love? Those who feel they have sinned against love bear in themselves a damnation much heavier than the most dreaded punishments. The suffering with which sinning against love afflicts the heart is more keenly felt than any other torment. It is absurd to assume that the sinners in hell are deprived of God’s love. Love is offered impartially. But by its very power it acts in two ways. It torments sinners, as happens here on earth when we are tormented by the presence of a friend to whom we have been unfaithful. And it gives joy to those who have been faithful. That is what the torment of hell is in my opinion: remorse. But love inebriates the souls of the sons and daughters of heaven by its delectability.

If zeal had been appropriate for putting humanity right, why did God the Word clothe himself in the body, using gentleness and humility in order to bring the world back to his Father?

(Taken from here)

Inclusivism (3): A false implication of Romans 10:8-17

December 13, 2007

A common argument for religious exclusivism comes from Paul’s statements about hearing and believing in Romans 10. Here I will examine one argument for exclusivism in Romans 10:8-17 and the inclusivist response. The verses read as follows:

…But what does it say?
“The word is near you,
on your lips and in your heart”
(that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. The Scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” But not all have obeyed the good news; for Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?” So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ.

A standard argument given is as follows:

1. Paul says “If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
2. Saying that confession and belief are a necessary precondition for salvation imply that lack of confession and belief rules out salvation.
C. Therefore Paul rules out salvation for those who lack confession and belief.

Is this right? No. As the moderate Evangelical theologian John Sanders points out in his book “No Other Name”,

Some believe that Paul asserted the necessity of knowing about Christ for salvation when he said that “if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved” (10:9). But logically this means nothing more than that confession of Christ is one sure way to experience salvation: Paul does not say anything about what will happen to those who do not confess Christ because they have never heard of Christ. The text is logically similar to the condition statement “If it rains, then the sidewalk will be wet.” If the condition is fulfilled (if it rains), then the consequent will follow (the sidewalk will be wet). But we cannot with certainty say, “If it is not raining, the sidewalk will not be wet.” Someone may turn on a sprinkler, or there may be a pile of melting snow nearby–any number of thigns besides rain might make the sidewalk wet. It is sometimes argued that since all those who accept Christ are saved, it must follow that only those who know about and accept Christ are saved. But this is like arguing that since all Collies are dogs, all dogs must be collies. The argument is simply fallacious. We can be certain the text is telling us that hearing about and coming to know Jesus is one sure way to experience salvation, but we can be just as certain that the text is not explicitly telling us that all the unevangelized are damned.(p 67-8)

This is precisely the fallacy called “affirming the consequent”; Sanders illustrates it well when he gives the sidewalk/rain example. Saying “If p then q” and then affirming “q” does not imply “p”.

Sanders admits in a footnote that applying strict standards of linguistic precision to this text may be inappropriate, as some critics of this response have suggested. Paul might be saying that one can only be saved by believing in Christ explicitly. But the question he raises is one worth pondering: why think that Paul is saying that? We would have to assume that something more is going on behind the text than what the grammar indicates and requires. But is there any good reason to do that here?

There are other arguments for exclusivism from Romans 10, but they will have to wait for future posts. It seems that this one, though, is relatively unpersuasive.

Inclusivism (2): Responsibility and Knowledge in the New Testament

December 9, 2007

A standard ethical principle is that we are can only be held fully responsible for the actions we do if we are sufficiently aware of their wrongness. This directly relates to the inclusivism/exclusivism debate. If knowledge of a certain kind is necessary to be fully responsible for your relation to God, then if this principle holds, people who lack this knowledge should (plausibly) be treated differently. The following is an exegetical argument for the conclusion that degrees of moral knowledge correlate to degrees of responsibility in the New Testament.

Acts 17:30 While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent.

The action of “overlooking” seems to indicate a lesser degree of judgment. The overlooking is in response to human ignorance–specifically ingnorance about salvation through the specific God of Israel and his Messiah. This past fact is now to some degree and in some sense being reversed; God expects an appropriate response because of Jesus’ appearing. The scope of this reversal is not, however, evident.

Luke 23:34 Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”

Jesus here intercedes on behalf of the ignorant. He seems to imply, in his prayer, that because of the ignorance of those who are harming him, they are not to be held fully responsible for their actions.

Luke 9:62 Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Though it is not directly stated here that there is a decreased degree of responsibility for those who are previously ignorant, it is interesting to note the range of people to whom Jesus’ statement applies. Not being fit for the kingdom is an issue for those who *look back*. The punishment of the unworthy only applies (here at least) to those that reject what they have already been given.

Luke 12:47-8 That slave who knew what his master wanted, but did not prepare himself or do what was wanted, will receive a greater beating. But the one who did not know and did what deserved a beating will receive a light beating. For everyone to whom much has been given, mcuh will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.

Here Jesus teaches the lesser punishment of those who are ignorant of the wrongness of their actions.

Matthew 11:20-24 Then he began to reproach the cities in which most of his deeds of power had been done, because they did not repent. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, on the day of judgment it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernum, will you be exalted to heaven? No, you will be brought down to Hades. For if the deeds fo power done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that on the day of judgment it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom than for you.”

The fact that judgment will be more tolerable for those who did not witness the “deeds of power” implies the principle that a lesser degree of knowledge they had decreased their culpability.

James 1:22-5 But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they look like. But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act–they will be blessed in their doing.

Though this passage does not touch on those who are not “hearers”, there is a distinctive emphasis on awareness of the law as what divides people into two categories–hearers who do and hearers who do not obey. If other categories exist they are not explicitly mentioned.

James 4:17 Anyone, then, who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin.

Similarly to above, there is an emphasis on defining moral wrongdoing with relation to knowledge.

Romans 2:12 All who have sinned apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law.

Though Saint Paul does not say that existing apart from the Mosaic law makes one *not* a sinner in any sense, there does seem to be something special about sinning “under” the law (presumably meaning “with awareness of it due to membership in Israel”). Paul talks later about how the Gentiles who exist apart from the law still have awareness of the law in their hearts. This could be taken to imply that everyone has equal consciousness of the law and are thus equally guilty; but it seems that if we go this route, verse 12 doesn’t make as much sense.

Romans 3:30 For “no human being will be justified in his sight” by deeds prescribed by the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin.

Again, this doesn’t say that there’s no knowledge of sin at all apart from the law. Yet this does seem to be making a distinction of some kind between those who have the law and those who don’t.

Romans 7:7 What then should we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet, if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.”

Similarly to Romans 3:30 there is not a denial that one can know sin *in any sense* apart from the law (and Romans 2:14 seems to suggest this, as well as Romans 7:22 if you read it as Witherington suggests–see here for a summary of Witherington’s exegesis). But there does seem to be a lesser degree of awareness, perhaps, or something like that as a result of not having the law. One could also interpret “know” in a sort of “acquaintance” sense, such that one could not be acquainted with sin apart from the law; but I am not sure if this is as plausible of a reading as understanding “know” in a sense of “being aware that I am doing”. And even if we grant that it means “know” in an acquaintance sense, doesn’t this still imply that lacking knowledge of sin would mean that we are obstructed from sinning?

A plausible conclusion to draw from the above verses is that there is some kind of direct relationship between the amount of knowledge we have about right and wrong and the guilt that comes from sinning.