4 min 24 sec reading time
I'm not, as you know, one who always says in every point Judaism is right and Christianity is wrong, far from it. Historic Judaism is an error in what it's taught about Jesus of Nazareth, and what could be more important than that? But there is so much we can glean from first century Judaism that illuminates and edifies our own faith because our Messiah was Jewish. His apostles, the authors of the New Testament, were all Jews.
I want to take an honest and balanced look at the subject of original sin, carefully considering it in the light of Scripture. I want to take you on a journey, the destination I think you'll find to be quite exhilarating and satisfying.
It's like taking pieces of a well-known puzzle, scrambling them and then beginning to put them back into place. But the picture that's going to emerge is one quite different than you find in most of Christendom.
In this first lesson, we're going to focus on the foundational arguments and some of the problems. In the subsequent lectures, we'll begin putting the pieces back together and I will offer you a solution that honors our heritage, honors the Scripture, honors God, and more importantly, edifies you in your relationship with him.
What is Original Sin?
In the simplest of terms, it refers to the first sin of Adam and Eve. They were placed in the garden and received from God everything necessary for holiness, godliness, and immortality. Contrary to a lot of Christian tradition influenced by Greek philosophy, they were not created immortal. They were created with a potential for immortality.
Instead, because of their rebellion, the lust of their eyes so to speak—seeing that the fruit was tasty—they disobeyed God and the consequence was mortality and the corruption of that which God had created good. "If you eat of this fruit you shall die." Original sin as a dogma or doctrine states that humankind, humanity as a whole, is born into a state of sin inherited from Adam and Eve and the fall, as we call it.
All humans have inherited the guilt of the sin of Adam and Eve from the moment of their conception. They're born sinners and die sinners. A favorite text, for example, comes from Psalms when David said, "I was conceived in sin." What is clear is that as the consequence of Adam's sin, there has come into the world corruptibility mortality, ruin, misery, futility, and man's seeming inability to set things right.
Original sin was theologically formulated by a brilliant man named Augustine. We'll look at that in a moment. Most Protestant denominations hold to this teaching, but it may surprise you to know that not all do.
The Jewish View from Torah
Based upon the Torah account of creation, historic Judaism radically affirms that God has sovereignly chosen to give humanity free will. God is sovereign over the life of man, but never to the point that he will infringe upon their free choice. Why? Because that is part of the image he put in them, and God is good, his creation is good. From a Jewish point of view, an infant is born innocent, pure, with a potential for good or evil, but not inherently sinful and certainly not under condemnation from a judicial God who is putting the guilt of Adam's sin upon them.
Judaism rejects this notion of Augustine because it is nowhere to be found in the Jewish scriptures. The idea that man cannot choose violates the very spirit of the Torah. God continually says, "I set choices before you. This is the reason I have given you my Torah, for guidance and instruction. I want you to choose life."
At the end of Moses' life recorded in Deuteronomy 30, he urges Israel to choose the Lord by reminding them in verse 11-14, “For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. [...] But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it." This is a text the Apostle Paul loved (see Romans 10).
To the Jewish mind, if the Augustinian notion of original sin is correct, then God is cruel, deceptive, and capricious. He continually states and acts as if Israel can choose and yet all the time, he secretly knows their freedom of choice was obliterated in the fall of Adam. What kind of a God is this? From a Hebraic perspective, the dogma of original sin blasphemes the God of Israel.
Our Way Forward
Do you see the tension between the Augustinian worldview and that of the Torah? Judaism is emphatic that like Adam and Eve, a person is born innocent. Augustine believed, based upon his heavily platonic philosophical background, that Adam and Eve were created perfect. Biblically speaking, they were not created perfect. If they were created perfect in the very presence of the Lord God, why would they then choose evil, making it impossible for the rest of us to choose good?
This is the conundrum that has never been resolved within Western theology. The way of understanding begins with this truth—they were not created perfect, they were created innocent with the potential for immortality or mortality depending upon their choice. Why you may ask, would God even put a tree in the garden that was evil if he's a loving God?" I'll let you think about that one and I'll address it in our next lecture.
God created them innocent, but he wanted them—like later with his son Jesus—to grow in wisdom and stature. He wanted them to become more and more perfect, i.e spiritually mature in relationship with him. Why? Because the LORD is a God who desires covenant partners.
For those of you concerned whether this borders on heresy, let me say for the record that original sin is not stated as a dogma in any one of the classic seven church creeds. It is not at the core of historical Christianity and the doctrinal truths that we affirm in creedal confession. Indeed, there are evangelical congregations and traditions that do not hold to the Augustinian notion.
In my next session, we'll continue to focus on some of the developments, implications, and ramifications of the original Augustinian doctrine. In part three, we’re going to start putting the pieces together again and see if it doesn't, in fact, fit better with the whole witness of Scripture. I know this is challenging but hang in there, I think you'll be pleased.