original sin: what paul could of meant vs what we think it means

His name was Adam

Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned — Romans 5:12

Some Vocabulary

Wherefore (dia touto) — within a specific amount of time; a measure of time

One (heis) — one; as opposed to many; singular

Man (anthropos) — man; people (plural); of God and Christ

Enter (eiserchomai) — going to and from (temporal and aspectual); food that enters the mouth; (defined by action)

World (kosmos) — the world affairs; government; the human family

The idea of original sin isn’t one that shows up in the bible. what i mean to say, is those words don’t appear anywhere. In fact the phrase came from Augustine of Hippo.

I kind wanted to talk about the phrasing of the word-choice that Paul used. Especially the word ‘dia’. Which is the first part of the first word in the verse. Imagine a circle, now put a line coming from the outside of the circle and draw it through the middle of the circle going out the otherside. Now, cap both sides off with some sort of indication of a start and a finish. This is the idea behind Paul starting his conversation. The traditional argument of the word therefore tends to say that Paul is summarizing his words thus far (which I agree with entirely). But, what if there is more to it? What if Paul was also making a point that Adam’s contribution to humanity was temporal. That it wasn’t active. He goes only later to talk about how Christ came to die to show us how to be different than Adam*. And that the act of Christ was enough to re-render the sin of humanity as something that was temporal not infinite. Even the word sin is singular in nature, not comprehensive. And so Paul might be saying that rather than focusing all our energy and time focusing on what Adam did, let’s learn from Christ. Also, maybe Paul is offering a different view here. Because the  next verse basically talks about how sin without the law wasn’t sin. That if we don’t have the law, than there is nothing to rule sin by. Which is a reference to those who lived in the Old Testament and how the law was being formed. And so, Paul is almost working backwards here. He is essentially saying Christ abolished the need for the law, so why focus on Adam? And also that sin is personal, not that it doesn’t/can’t effect a community, but that the process to join in on ‘not being who were are meant to be’ (a better definition for sin) is a choice we make ourselves. And so going back over the verses where most people get the idea of ‘Original Sin’, a better idea might be something like this: Adam made some bad choices, and we can choose to learn to make those destructive decisions as he did, or we can look to Christ and learn from Him. Paul is turning the idea of original sin (wherever that came from) on its head. He is turning the journey into following Christ back onto his listeners and giving them a choice to make (something i think the orthodox church could learn). In fact, Paul’s worldview might not even be on par with what he is writing here, in verse 17, he goes back to using the word ‘if’ in a comparison. An example. Not a theological statement of authority. He is using example here to make an underlying point that we all can choose to be a part of the reality of Adam or Christ, not that we are moving from one to the other. It’s a daily choice not something internally hardwired within us. Paul is inviting, not forcing, I think that is important to see here. This whole verse is wrapped up in the moment. That we live moment by moment. Decision by decision. That we can choose. This is so freeing, some might think this is condemning. But what I see Paul asking is, ‘who is your hero?’ the guy who got it wrong? or the guy who got it right? Paul is assuming they could get it right, otherwise he wouldn’t give them the option. Also, when you look in the mirror, who are you seeing ‘Christ’ or ‘Adam’, Paul is asserting we should being Christ rather than Adam.

*(I personally might disagree with some of Pauls theological assumptions here on ‘atonement theology’)

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4 comments

  1. Josh · March 15, 2010

    It’s an interesting thought, but I’m not sure I agree. Don’t you think experience itself confirms the fact that humans have a natural inclination toward sin?

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  2. theloverevolution · March 15, 2010

    i would say that we all have natural inclination toward the good. and sometimes we get it wrong. i think it might come down to whether you might consider yourself a ‘glass if half-full person or you glass is half-empty person’. the deeper i go into the hebraic worldview of god, creation, mankind…there is hope. not just in jesus, but a hope that god had in mankind. a high hope. it doesn’t mean we don’t get it wrong. but if we have good in us, why focus on that. it would almost be like saying the bad deserves more of our attention rather than the good. and its also interesting to see that sin in the hebraic mind isn’t epidemic, but also is about us learning to live out our potential. the process and progress of discovering who we are meant to be rather than what is wrong with us. i wrote an article over at scribd on how sin isn’t the reason why we are frail. feel free to search there or google. it explains more the origin and idea of a lot of what is being shared here. i think the link is also in my blogs here as well….thanks for stopping by and sharing the thoughts too!

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  3. Josh · March 16, 2010

    I’ll check out that article when I get the chance.

    Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a fan of all the unhealthy focus on sin either. I’m just saying…. what I said, I guess. I would even agree that humans have an inherent pull toward good as well. My point, though, is that “good” comes from the same tree as “evil”, and both, devoid of the “Life” of God, are equally death.

    Nice to meet you, by the way. 🙂

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  4. theloverevolution · March 17, 2010

    ancient palestinian metaphor asserts that the ‘tree of good and evil’ was a library. brian mclaren in his new book goes so far to assume the story is about two jewish teenagers (the jewish age of adulthood was 13) learning. some rabbis also say it wasn’t a tree of good and evil but a tree of all knowledge that was accessible.

    to me, i wouldn’t make the distinction between good or evil being from the same tree. i would say good is distinctly good. and bad is distinctly bad. and that both are choices we purposefully choose on a daily basis, if that makes sense.

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