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Religious Illiteracy

I’ve been reading the book Religious Literacy by Stephen Prothero. It is truly an eye-opener. It has made me realize how much I don’t know about the world religions. I’m ignorant of even our closest neighbor, Judaism.

With a ministry such as mine, I should understand more about other world religions. It will help me deal with questions from people of other faiths.

So I thought I would start with Judaism. To this end, I have obtained two books, The Jewish Approach to God by Rabbi Neil Gillman and An Introduction to Judaism by Nicholas de Lange.

Gillman’s book, as well as other exchanges recently, have started me thinking about Reformed theology. In the introduction to The Jewish Approach to God, Gillman says:

In Christian thinking, that human failure is inherent in human nature, one of the results of human sin, Adam’s rebellion against God in the Garden of Eden as recorded in Genesis 3. That blemish is transmitted from one generation to another to all of humanity through the sexual act. Jesus’ vicarious death on the Cross then represents God’s gracious gift, which erases original sin and grants salvation to the believer who accepts Jesus’ saving act.

But in Jewish sources, the very fact that the prophets urge the people of Israel to unblock their hearts, to open their eyes, to remove the obstacles that get in the way of their relation to God suggests that this is more a matter of will, not at all inherent in human nature. The Jewish claim, then, is that their is no inherent epistemological obstacle to recognizing God’s presence in the world. [p. x]

Since Christianity originated from the Jewish religion, Jewish thought plays a prominent role in early Christian philosophy and theology. The very reason that I started with Judaism was that, as our forerunner, I thought that Jewish theology would help me understand where the New Testament writers were coming from. If Gillman is correct in his assertion here, then that means that the New Testament writers were never teaching original sin, and that my recent opponent was correct in stating original sin is false doctrine.

However, I already know the answer to this dilemma. Scripture contains progressive revelation, which means that the New supersedes the Old. Original sin is taught in the New Testament, especially in Romans 5. That, then, takes the place of the Jewish philosophy of sin in someone’s life being a matter of will rather than a matter of nature.

In any case, I pray that God use this book to bring me to a closer understanding of him. As I learn more, I’ll post some additional thoughts.

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About Cory Tucholski

I'm a born-again Christian, amateur apologist and philosopher, father of 3. Want to know more? Check the "About" page!

Posted on December 2, 2008, in Book Review, God, Theology and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. “But in Jewish sources, the very fact that the prophets urge the people of Israel to unblock their hearts, to open their eyes, to remove the obstacles that get in the way of their relation to God suggests that this is more a matter of will, not at all inherent in human nature.”

    And this is maintained in true Christianity. The notion of sin as a nature rather than an act came from Gnosticism. Augustine of Hippo was a Manichean (a Gnostic sect) for 9 years, from age 17 to 26, before converting to Catholicism. After his initial conversion to Catholicism he defended the standard teaching of the church which was the freedom of the human will and predestination based on foreseen faith. However, as he grew older he lapsed back into his Gnostic views and devised an elaborate misinterpretation of Scripture to trick the orthodox into accepting the basic Gnostic premise that sin is a nature rather than an act, that humans don’t commit sin but are sin. Thus sin ceased to be lying and killing and committing adultery and became merely being human and breathing. Whereas the Eastern Orthodox Church never accepted this teaching, and various Protestant denominations as well as many non-Protestant-non-Catholics and simple Christians returned to the Biblical truth long ago, both Roman Catholicism and mainline Protestantism are stuck on stupid in this regard.

    “Original sin is taught in the New Testament, especially in Romans 5.”

    Romans 5:12 is the only passage in the New Testament that can even remotely be misconstrued to teach this false doctrine, and it doesn’t work except by mistranslation and even then it fails when the whole context of the chapter is considered, because it is plain that only the resurrection is automatic in the Atonement as only physical death is automatic from Adam’s fall, whereas for spiritual salvation an individual must believe and obey the gospel just as one does not die spiritually until they personally fall (Rom 7:9). But let us return to the translational question:

    The NRSV says “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned” which is representative of all commonly accepted translations.

    The problem is that “because” is a mistranslation. The Greek phrase is EF W. EF is a contraction for EPI which means “on” or “upon” when referring to location and “because of” (or “for” in the sense of “because of”) when referring to causality. W is a word that means “which.” The only two possible translations, therefore, are “upon which” and “because of which.” To translate the phrase EF W (or EPI W) as simply “because” is wrong because the word EPI by itself would translate to “because of” but we also have the word W to deal with! So it must be “because of which.” “Upon which” is obviously disqualified because we aren’t taking location.

    (Also, the word Kai being translated “and” instead of “even” in the phrase “and so death spread” is grammatically odd and makes the sentence awkward.)

    So, the proper translation is “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, even so death spread to all because of which all have sinned”

    The meaning is not that Adam’s sin brought death into the world and that death only spread to us because we also sinned or somehow sinned in him when he ate the fruit even though we by no means could have literally existed as people back then. No, but what Paul means is that Adam’s sin brought death into the world and that that mortality passed on to all of us because it was encoded into Adam’s DNA, and that mortality is what results in our sinning because the fear of death holds us into bondage to sin. Compare with Hebrews 2:15.

    Heb 2:14-15 “Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he [Christ] also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; (15) and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.”

    What sort of bondage did the fear of death hold us into? The only bondage that Jesus’ Atonement is concerned with is bondage to sin. But how does the fear of death hold us in bondage to sin? Paul answers this question in 1st Corinthians 15:32 “If with merely human hopes I fought with wild animals at Ephesus, what would I have gained by it? If the dead are not raised, Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”

    It is precisely because Jesus brings the hope of the resurrection that we no longer must be in bondage to sin, for without such a hope we would take the attitude that Paul speaks of in 1st Corinthians 15:32. Why would the Christian fight the beasts in the Colosseum rather than blaspheme Christ, if the dead rise not? Rather they would blaspheme and deliver their physical life from the jaws of the lion and go on in sin.

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