Romans Jewish New Testament and comments of David H. Stern
1. So, since we have come to be considered righteous by God because of our trust, let us continue to have shalom with God through our Lord, Yeshua the Messiah.
2. Also through him and on the ground of our trust, we have gained access to this grace in which we stand; so let us boast about the hope of experiencing God’s glory.
3. But not only that, let us also boast in our troubles; because we know that trouble produces endurance,
4. endurance produces character, and character produces hope;
Chapter 5 develops the ideas of 4:25. Verses 1-2 speak of the past, present and future aspects of salvation. Let us continue to have shalom (peace, integrity, wholeness, health) with God. The textual evidence favors this reading, but some manuscripts read, "We have for: "We continue to have"] shalom with God." This descriptive statement is true, but the exhortation fits the context better; for v. 2 exhorts us to boast about the hope of experiencing God's glory (instead of coming short of it, 3:23&N) when we are resurrected, and v. 3 exhorts us to boast in our present troubles (see 8:18), because by a roundabout route (w. 3-4) they lead to the same hope as in v. 2. Boasting about oneself (1:22, 2:17-21) is excluded (3:27,4:2); the proper content of boasting is God's work through Yeshua the Messiah (1С 1:31&N).
5. and this hope does not let us down, because God’s love for us has already been poured out in our hearts through the Ruach HaKodesh who has been given to us.
This hope does not let us down, literally, "...make us ashamed" (compare Psalms 22:6(5), 25:21(20)), as we would be if we had a false hope; because God's love for us (v. 8) has already been poured out in our hearts through the Ruach HaKodesh (the Holy Spirit), who is fully God(2C 3:17—18&N) and has been given to us in fulfillment of a different promise (Ezekiel 36:27; Yn 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7, 13; Ac 1:8, 2:4), and thus guarantees that God will also keep this present promise to resurrect us. For additional assurance that God will keep his promises and not let our hope be disappointed, see 8:31-39&N, 9:1-11:36N. Chapter 8 discusses the role of the Holy Spirit.
6. For while we were still helpless, at the right time, the Messiah died on behalf of ungodly people.
At the right time (compare Ga 4:4) the Messiah died on behalf of ungodly people, as Isaiah 53 (especially vv. 6, 12) indicated he would, and as he himself said he would (Mk 10:45; Yn 10:12, 17-18; 1 Yn 3:16).
7. Now it is a rare event when someone gives up his life even for the sake of somebody righteous, although possibly for a truly good person one might have the courage to die.
8. But God demonstrates his own love for us in that the Messiah died on our behalf while we were still sinners.
9. Therefore, since we have now come to be considered righteous by means of his bloody sacrificial death, how much more will we be delivered through him from the anger of God’s judgment!
10. For if we were reconciled with God through his Son’s death when we were enemies, how much more will we be delivered by his life, now that we are reconciled!
By means of his bloody sacrificial death, literally, "by his blood"; see 3:25N.
The truths of 4:25 are restated in these two verses in a kal v 'chomer argument (see Mt 6:30N). If Yeshua's death accomplishes so much, how much more his life accomplishes! The same kind of argument is used in Romans at four other places: vv. 15, 17; 11:12, 24; also see 3:19N.
11. And not only will we be delivered in the future, but we are boasting about God right now, because he has acted through our Lord Yeshua the Messiah, through whom we have already received that reconciliation.
12. Here is how it works: it was through one individual that sin entered the world, and through sin, death; and in this way death passed through to the whole human race, inasmuch as everyone sinned.
13. Sin was indeed present in the world before Torah was given, but sin is not counted as such when there is no Torah.
14. Nevertheless death ruled from Adam until Moshe, even over those whose sinning was not exactly like Adam’s violation of a direct command. In this, Adam prefigured the one who was to come.
15. But the free gift is not like the offence. For if, because of one man’s offence, many died, then how much more has God’s grace, that is, the gracious gift of one man, Yeshua the Messiah, overflowed to many!
16. No, the free gift is not like what resulted from one man’s sinning; for from one sinner came judgment that brought condemnation; but the free gift came after many offences and brought acquittal.
17. For if, because of the offence of one man, death ruled through that one man; how much more will those receiving the overflowing grace, that is, the gift of being considered righteous, rule in life through the one man Yeshua the Messiah!
18. In other words, just as it was through one offence that all people came under condemnation, so also it is through one righteous act that all people come to be considered righteous.
19. For just as through the disobedience of the one man, many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the other man, many will be made righteous.
20. And the Torah came into the picture so that the offence would proliferate; but where sin proliferated, grace proliferated even more.
21. All this happened so that just as sin ruled by means of death, so also grace might rule through causing people to be considered righteous, so that they might have eternal life, through Yeshua the Messiah, our Lord.
This is one of the great theological passages in the Bible; but because upon it Christians have erected the doctrine of original sin, it is for Jewish people one of the most problematic. Pivotal in Chapters 1-8 of Romans, it looks backward to 3:21-5:11, where God's means of considering people righteous (first mentioned at 1:17) through Yeshua is proclaimed, and forward to 6:1-8:39, where Sha'ul elaborates the consequences for the individual believer of what Yeshua has accomplished.
The purpose of these ten verses in their context is not to teach about the origin of human sin but to give assurance that the Messiah has truly redeemed us human beings from bondage to sin by paying its full penalty on our behalf. Sha'ul makes his case by developing the parallel between the effects on mankind of Adam and of Yeshua (vv. 12, 14,18-19,21), while stressing that what Yeshua accomplished by his obedience to God was far greater and better than what Adam wreaked by his disobedience (vv. 15-17) and simultaneously dispelling any suspicion that focussing on these two men minimizes the importance of the Torah (13-14a, 20).
But the whole argument is built on a premise which Sha'ul assumes can be taken for granted, as axiomatic, namely, that it was the one man Adam who brought sin and death upon all humanity (on the role of the woman, Chavah [Eve|, see 1 Ti 2:13-15&N). After a paragraph on some points of the text itself I will examine what Judaism and Christianity have made of this proposition and see if I can discern where Messianic Judaism might take its stand.
Sin entered the world through one individual, Adam, who disobeyed God's command in the Garden of Eden not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:17,3:6); and through sin, death, because God decreed certain death as the punishment for sin (Genesis 2:17, 3:19,5:5). While death may have been possible before Adam sinned, had he chosen not to eat from the tree of life (Genesis 2:9, 3:22), it apparently was not a necessary consequence of being human. And thus death passed through to the whole human race, inasmuch as (or "because") everyone sinned. It can hardly be questioned that this says, on the one hand, that Adam's transgression caused death to come to everyone and also, on the other, that each person deserved death because each person sinned — that is, each person dies for his own sin, as Ezekiel 8:4 says, "The soul that sins, it shall die." But how these facts are related to each other and applied to understanding the existential condition of mankind forms the kernel of my inquiry in this note. Sha'ul himself is less concerned to explain the precise mechanism of how death passed through than to defend the justice of death's coming to those who did not consciously violate a God-given command (vv. 13-14a, based on the argument of 4:15). In this, in having direct contact with God, being directly responsible to him and having the consequences of his acts pass through to others in the future, Adam prefigured the one who was to come, Yeshua (v. 14b). But there are very significant differences between these two men (vv. 15-17) which are brought out through kal v'chomer arguments (see vv. 9-10N). In other words: vv. 18-19 repeat and elaborate the point of vv. 12, 14b. Will be made righteous (v. 19): while being declared righteous before God is still in view, the use of the future tense suggests the ongoing extension of that declared righteousness into actual righteousness (sanctification; see Ga 2:16aN). The future tense could refer to the fact that many people in years to come will be declared righteous as they come to faith, but it can also imply the future total sanctification of the saved. The Torah came into the picture so that the offense would proliferate (v. 20) — see 3:20, 4:15 and 7:7-25 on this function of the Torah, which non-Messianic Judaism tends to minimize. Where sin proliferated, grace proliferated even more — see 6:Iff. for prophylaxis against misusing this idea to justify sin. Verse 21 sums up not only this passage but all that has been said since 3:21.
Before assessing the doctrine of original sin, we must see what it actually says. Otherwise we will find ourselves dealing with oversimplified abstractions — "Judaism says man is a sinner because he sins, Christianity that man sins because he is a sinner," "Judaism is less concerned with where sin comes from than struggling against it," "Christianity alone regards sin as fatal; Judaism takes it for a minor illness." Slogans substitute both for thinking and for fair dealing.
A. Content of the Doctrine of Original Sin.
The analysis commences with a summary of the content of one version of the doctrine of original sin — I say one version because there are at least six; see A. H. Strong, Systematic Theology, on which I am relying for much of this portion of my note. Augustine (354—430 C.E.) was instrumental in developing this version; a modified modern form of it would make these points (objections to them can be found in Section С of this note):
(1) Terminology. Original sin involves two components: original pollution, which is the sinful state and condition into which people are born, in consequence of which they have a sinful nature that makes it impossible for them to do what God will regard as spiritual good; and original guilt, which makes everyone worthy of condemnation and death from the moment he comes into existence. These are "original" because they
(a) are derived from the original root of the human race. Adam;
(b) are present in the life of every individual from his origin (birth or before) and not merely the result of imitation; and
(c) are the origin, the inward root, of all the sinful inclinations and sinful deeds thai defile a person. However, they are not original in the sense of having been present when God created man in his image and pronounced him good (Genesis 1:26-31).
(2) Locus of responsibility for sin in the universe. Although God created the universe and everything in it, even evil (Isaiah 45:7), he is not to be considered the author of sin and is not to be held responsible for it. Sin originated in the angelic world, with Satan (the Adversary, represented in the Garden of Eden by the serpent); and in man it originated with Adam.
(3) What was "the " original sin? Although in a formal sense Adam's sin was eating the forbidden fruit, the essence of it was his apostatizing from God, opposing him.
rebelling against him personally, substituting his own will for God's will. This he did out of pride, unbelief, desire to be like God (self-exaltation) and unholy satisfaction in doing what had been prohibited. It is this apostasy which is "the" original sin that has been passed on from Adam to us and for which we are held accountable, not the act of eating forbidden fruit.
(4) Original pollution. The word "sin" means not only actual sinful deeds but also sinful inclinations and having a sinful nature. Having a sinful nature means that one's very nature is corrupted and polluted, so that one is bound to develop sinful inclinations and desires that will lead one to commit actual sinful deeds as soon as one reaches the age of moral responsibility. It means that one is in a condition of "total depravity" — which is not to say that the sinner has no innate knowledge of God's will, no ability in his conscience to discriminate between good and evil, no admiration for virtue, no capability to act for others' good, no capacity to do deeds that may produce some external good, or that his every deed is as bad as it can possibly be; rather, what total depravity means is that the corruption extends to all of man's nature, so that nothing the sinner does will be credited to his account by God as good, because it is not and cannot be motivated by true, unadulterated love of God and desire to do his will.
(5) Transmission of original pollution. Original pollution is transmitted from Adam to his descendants by propagation. At the risk of introducing anachronistic imagery, I will compare Adam's sin with a cosmic ray that penetrates the genetic material of one person and brings about a fatal mutation which is completely dominant, so that all his descendants receive the "defective gene" that "causes sinful nature" and eventually die of this "congenital disease."
(6) Original guilt. Adam's original sin of apostasy from God resulted not only in our having his pollution (sinful nature) transmitted to us, but also in our having his guilt imputed to us, so that we are born guilty and worthy of death as the penalty for our own sin. We are guilty on three accounts. First, we are guilty of Adam's sin of apostasy itself, even though we did not exercise individual moral choice in the matter. Second, we are guilty of having a sinful nature, even though we were born with it and did not choose it; because this is a nature inherently in a state of apostasy from God, and such apostasy is condemnable. And third, of course, we are guilty of all the actual sinful deeds we commit as individuals.
(7) Imputation of original guilt. Original guilt is not transmitted by propagation but justly imputed to us on the ground that we are organically one with Adam. That is, even though we did not exercise individual moral choice when he sinned, we were present "in him" (compare MJ 7:9-10, where L'vi "in Avraham" paid tithes to Malki-Tzedek). Responsibility for someone else's sin conflicts with the individualistic philosophy of Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau and the American founding fathers; but in biblical times the notion that one individual's guilt could involve his whole family or even his entire people was more current; for example, Achan's sin (Joshua 7). Even today Americans traveling abroad find themselves held accountable for decisions made by leaders they may actually have voted against; "Yankee, go home!" proclaims the perceived "organic unity" of the American people, of which most Americans are part not by choice but by birth. Our oneness with Adam, our natural head and first father, means that his punishment is justly ours.
(8) Death is the penalty for sin. The penalty for sin is death: death is not merely the natural end of human life, but a punishment. This death is threefold: physical, spiritual and eternal. Physical death comes at the end of the physical lifespan. Spiritual death means lack of" communion with God, separation from him — as Isaiah 59:2 puts it, "Your sins have made a separation between you and your God." Finally, if one remains in spiritual death throughout one's physical lifespan, this condition is, upon physical death, confirmed by God and becomes eternal death in Gey-Hinnom (hell), that is, eternal and irremediable separation from God and all goodness.
(9) The remedy for original sin. There is only one remedy for the pollution and guilt of original sin, and that is to trust in God, to turn away from sin and self-pleasing to God and his will, to accept that the sacrificial death of Yeshua, who never sinned but paid by his death the penalty we owe for our sin, reconciles us with God and removes the separation. No amount or kind of striving in our own strength, apart from trusting God through Yeshua, can remove original sin.
B. Other Versions of the Doctrine of Original Sin.
We can gain some insight into the "competition" with the Augustinian version of the doctrine of original sin by seeing how it and the other five versions listed by Strong interpret the seminal statement of v. 12, "Death passed through to the whole human race, inasmuch as everyone sinned."
(1) Augustinian, which says we are born with both original pollution (for which we are guilty) and original guilt connected with Adam's sin of apostasy: "Death physical, spiritual and eternal passed through to the whole human race, because all sinned in Adam their natural head."
(2) Mediate imputation (Placeus (1596-1665)), which says that the original pollution we are born with is a ground for our guilt, but that we are not guilty of Adam's sinful act of apostasy: "Death physical, spiritual and eternal passed through to the whole human race, because all sinned by possessing a depraved nature."
(3) Federal (Cocceius (1603-1669)), which says the opposite of the above, namely, that the original pollution we are bom with is not a ground for our guilt, but that Adam's apostasy is imputed to us because he was our "representative" in Eden, our "federal head": "Death physical, spiritual and eternal passed through to the whole human race, because all were regarded and treated as sinners."
(4) Uncondemnable vitiosity (the "New School," 18th-century New England), which says that the original pollution we are born with is not a ground for guilt, and also that we are not guilty of Adam's act of apostasy, but become guilty only when we commit sinful acts, and that physical death is a natural phenomenon: "Spiritual and eternal death passed to all, because all have actually and personally sinned."
(5) Arminian-Methodist (Arminiusf 1560-1609) and John Wesley (1703-1791)), which says that although man is born physically and intellectually depraved, his will can cooperate with the Holy Spirit, so that he becomes guilty only when he "ratifies" his sinful nature by committing sinful acts: "Physical and spiritual death is inflicted upon all, not as the penalty of a common sin in Adam, but because, by divine decree, all suffer the consequences of that sin, and because all personally consent to their inborn sinfulness by acts of transgression."
(6) Pelagian (Pelagius, с. 410), which says man is born innocent and able to obey God but sins by following the bad examples around him: "All incurred spiritual and eternal death by sinning after Adam's example."
As a rough approximation, we may say that the farther down the above list we move, the closer we come to what traditional Judaism can accept as a satisfactory theology of sin.
C. Objections to "Augustinian" Original Sin, and Answers.
But before turning to closer examination of the positive assertions about sin found in Jewish materials, I wish to look at some of the objections made to the Augustinian version, the most "extreme" version, of the doctrine of original sin; and it will be clear from even the above minimal presentation of the alternatives that many Christians as well as Jews find aspects of it unpalatable. The list of objections, with possible answers, is organized according to the nine paragraphs summarizing the doctrine itself in Section A above.
(1) Objections to terminology. In this brief summary I present none. However, Judaism, following biblical and Middle Eastern thought patterns, prefers to build inductively from particular examples to more general principles; whereas Christian theology, heavily influenced by Greek ways of thinking, tends to start with general principles and work deductively to implications for particular situations. For this reason, Jewish thinkers find themselves uncomfortable not so much with particular terminology as with the whole theologizing enterprise.
(2) Objections to the doctrine that Adam originated human sin:
(a) God originated human sin; if he made man able to sin, God is the ultimate origin. Answer. The logic may seem reasonable, but we are dealing with what Judaism, Christianity and secular philosophy acknowledge as a paradox or antinomy. Scripture is clear that God does not do wickedness, is perfectly holy, has no unrighteousness in him, cannot be tempted by evil and tempts no one to do evil, created man good, hates sin, and provided (in the Messiah) for deliverance from sin (Deuteronomy 25:16,32:4; Isaiah 6:3; Zechariah 8:17; Psalm 5:4,11:5,92:16; Job 34:10; Lk 16:15; Ya 1:13). Furthermore, our consciences witness that we are responsible for sin, not God.
(b) Satan originated human sin; he is responsible, the ultimate origin. Answer. Christianity does not accept this either as a means of removing responsibility from man or as a setting-up of an independent creator in the universe. Christianity has been accused of being dualistic, of setting up two gods, one (God) being holy and the other (Satan) being evil. But Christianity accepts the clear teaching of Job 1-2 that Satan's activities are thoroughly under God's control, and that Satan has already been defeated by Yeshua.
(c) Man is not responsible for sin because sin is only man's creaturely limitation. Answer: No; Adam could have chosen not to sin, but he willed otherwise. We too choose to sin, and we are responsible for our choice.
(3) Objection that turns on a wrong understanding of what "the" original sin was: Adam's sin was minor; thus death is a disproportionate punishment. Answer. Had Adam's sin been merely eating some fruit, itself a morally neutral act, this objection would hold. But, as explained, Adam's sin was disobeying God's single express command and thus rejecting God's authority, his will, his very person, apostatizing from God and rebelling against him, wilfully creating the very separation that is death. (4) Objections to the notions of original pollution and total depravity:
(a) There is no such thing as original pollution, because sin is not a state or a collection of inclinations but actual sinful deeds. Answer: Both experience and Scripture contradict this limited notion of what sin is. Our conscience convicts us, so that we feel guilty when we contemplate our sinful desires and our great distance from the holiness of God; and Scripture speaks of God's looking at mankind in the days before the Flood and seeing not only "that the wickedness of man was great in the earth," but also "that all the inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all day long" (Genesis 6:5).
(b) There is no such thing as original pollution, because there can be no sin prior to conscious intent. Therefore Adam's act of apostasy, which surely was not his conscious intent, is not condemnable; and also our own having a sinful nature and sinful inclinations, also not consciously intended, is not condemnable. Answer: Common sense and conscience tell us that violating a command implies rebellion against the one who commanded. Furthermore, we feel guilt for things we have done even unintentionally — and Scripture provides for sacrifices in such cases (Leviticus 5:17). Also Psalm 19 indicates that people properly feel remorse for unintended sins — "Who can discern errors? Cleanse me from secret faults," contrasted with the following verse, "Also keep your servant back from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me" (Psalm 19:13-14(12-13); also Psalm 51:8(6)). The objection rests on the false premise that the law must be published or recognized; but if law is identical with the constituent principles of existence and binds human nature to conformity with God's nature (since man is created in his image), then right volitions are demanded not arbitrarily but properly as manifestations of a right state of being. Verses 13-14a confirm this understanding.
(c) There is original pollution, but it is not total; it affects only man's mind, emotions and body, but not his will, so that he can conquer his sinful inclinations by himself. (This is the Arminian position; see Section B(5) above.)
Answer: Man is not compartmentalized; the rot affects all of him. Though he can do some things of moral value, in the sense of things which prove beneficial in some measure to some, these have no spiritual value for him and do not constitute spiritual good to be credited to his account.
(d) A more specifically Jewish form of the previous objection: there is indeed an evil inclination (yetzer ra') in man, but it can be conquered and even turned to good use by following the Torah.
Answer: Apart from God man can do nothing good; he cannot even obey the Torah properly, although he may be able to perform certain specific commands, because apart from God he cannot love God. Following the Torah today implies accepting Yeshua as the Messiah and as the kapparah (covering, atonement, expiation; see 3:25aN) for one's sin.
(e) The doctrine of original pollution and total depravity leads to unacceptable consequences, including these:
1) It denies free will — if one has a sinful nature that compels one to sin, one is no longer free to choose not to sin. Answer: Even the sinner remains free to choose better rather than worse courses of action; further, and more importantly, he is free to turn to God in repentance from sin and accept God's remedy for his condition — "Everyone who calls on the name of Adonai will be saved" (10:33 and Ac 2:21, quoting Joel 3:5(2:32)).
2) It neutralizes appeals to conscience, making ethical conduct unimportant. Answer: Ethical conduct is critically important for saved people, as Chapters 12-15 make clear. But for the individuaJ himself, salvation is more important than ethical behavior because it makes communion with God possible and enables him to will God's will. Moreover, salvation is not in conflict with ethical behavior — it is not as if a person could help others by sacrificing his own salvation (see 9:2-4a&N). Quite the contrary, it is only God's grace that makes the deeds of an unsaved person of value to anyone; God deserves all the credit, the rebellious unsaved person none.
3) It makes a blasphemous charade of God's command to "turn from evil and do good" (Psalm 34:15( 14), quoted at 1 Ke 3:11). Answer: It is true that God commands sinners, who can do no good, to do good. But this means that they should turn from evil to God in repentance and acknowledge that God considers them righteous only because of what Yeshua has done for them. OnJy then, believing God, they will be able to do the good he has commanded them to do.
4) It makes God's grace more important than man's conduct.
Answer: In a sense it is true that God's grace is above man's conduct — nothing man can do apart from God can force God to consider man righteous; in fact, the very idea is a contradiction. And apart from the great grace he has shown through Yeshua he never considers anyone righteous. Thus God's grace is indeed more important than man's conduct. Nevertheless, the conduct man should display is that of first turning to God and trusting him and his son Yeshua, and then doing what he has commanded. God's grace and man's conduct are not alternatives or opposites; the proper relationship between them is this: man's conduct should emerge from gratitude to God for his grace (see Ep 2:8-10).
5) It is static and depressing, encouraging lethargy and discouraging struggle against sin.
Answer: The struggle against sin, apart from trusting God through Yeshua, is doomed to failure, because it is actually a struggle against God. The battle against sin will ultimately succeed, but only when it is carried out in God's way, with the resources he provides. Life apart from God is indeed static and depressing, and a certain amount of self-motivated struggle ought to make one tired and lethargic after a while, since no amount or intensity of such struggle can lead to victory. But once one acknowledges God's remedy, the desire to do his will is more than sufficient motivation to lead to both enthusiasm and effectiveness in the struggle against sin.
(5) Objections to the transmission of original pollution by propagation:
(a) Genetic transmission of sin is too materialistic a notion. Answer: Modern heredity theory explains transmission of physical traits and psychological dispositions from generation to generation, but the concept of propagation is broader than this. My example using scientific language was meant metaphorically, not literally.
(b) If Adam's descendants inherit a sinful nature, then either the Messiah inherited from his mother Miryam a sinful nature and is not sinless as claimed; or his human nature was specially created, so that he is not truly one with us, and therefore his atonement is ineffective. Answer: While not an objection that would be raised by Judaism, this is a serious objection within Christianity. It arises out of the assumption within the Augustinian version that human souls are not individually created by God for each person but are somehow passed on from the "original soul-stuff' God created at the beginning. The objection does not arise in connection with some of the other versions of the original sin doctrine.
(6-7) Objections to the notion of original guilt and its imputation to Adam's posterity:
(a) If God counts me guilty for a sin I did not commit, he is neither fair nor just. Answer: This is Ihe immediate gut-reaction of most people who object to the doctrine of original sin in any of its forms except Pelagianism. The objection has several components which can be separated from each other; paragraphs (b)-(e) deal with some of them. Here 1 make these points: (1) Could there have been a fairer test of the common human nature we share with Adam than what is reported of him in the Garden of Eden? He was created sinless, was fully aware of God's single command, and was not subjected to a dependent childhood immersed in evil examples. Could we, with inborn depravity and examples of sin all around us, have done better? (2) An alternative is to attribute the imputing of original guilt to God's sovereignty rather than his justice. But this pits his sovereignty against his justice. (3) There is a spiritual union with the Messiah that assures our salvation, and this is considered just (3:26); so, by analogy, the physical and natural union that causes our guilt is also just. (See more on this in paragraph (b) and at the end of (his Section C.)
(b) Organic unity with Adam is at best a theoretical construct, certainly not a proven fact, and hence no ground for imputing guilt. Answer: This was dealt with in paragraph (7) of the presentation of the doctrine itself; here we add that sin has a self-isolating character which closes us off to the bonds uniting us with others. People feel united with their families, professional colleagues, nation or the unfortunate in proportion to the breadth of their sympathies; and if their sympathies are broad enough they feel united with all mankind — which would include Adam and his apostasy. The self-isolated and self-contained see themselves as responsible only for their own personal acts, but those with broad sympathies identify with the human race. Most Jewish prayers, for instance, are composed in the first-person plural; a notable example in the Tanakh is Daniel 9:1-19.
(c) A person should not be considered responsible for a sinful nature he did not personally originate.
Answer: Conscience and experience say we are responsible for what we are, even if we did not originate it. Being responsible for having a sinful nature is not like being told one is guilty of some external wrong done by someone else one never heard about; the sinful nature is not external to us — it is our own inmost selves.
(d) Given that one cannot repent of someone else's sin, Adam's sin cannot be imputed to us, because we cannot repent of it.
Answer: This should be included with paragraph (3) above, because it misunderstands what Adam's sin was. True, we cannot repent of his eating forbidden fruit; but we can repent of apostasy from God, both as an act he committed and as a state that we are in. In fact, people who have turned to God in faith are continually finding in themselves unsuspected evil pockets of apostasy and rebellion which call forth the deepest repentance.
(e) If we are held responsible for Adam's first sin, then we should be held responsible for aU his later sins — and for those of our immediate ancestors as well. But the Bible clearly repudiates such a notion: "Fathers shall not be put to death for children, nor shall children be put to death for fathers; everyone shall be put to death for his own sin" (Deuteronomy 24:16; see also Ezekiel 18:1-4). Answer: The first sin of Adam, the apostasy, was unlike his later sins or anyone else's sins. This first apostasy of human nature occurred but once, and for this we are responsible, because it is our apostasy. However, the passages from Deuteronomy and Ezekiel apply to all later sins, since these are personal acts.
(8) Objections to death as the penalty for sin:
(a) Death is not a penalty but a natural phenomenon.
Answer: It can be debated whether death was a natural phenomenon for animals in Eden (where neither men nor animals were carnivorous); but Genesis 3:22 implies that Adam had the potential to be immortal, and Genesis 2:17 states that God decreed death as the penalty for human sin. The fact that we find it hard to imagine life on earth if everyone lived forever does not mean that God would be unable to control overpopulation or rule other aspects of such an ecology.
(b) The death penalty is inappropriately large for Adam's sin.
Answer: If based on the idea that Adam's sin was minor, see my answers at (3)(a) and (7)(d); if on the idea that unconscious sins are uncondemnable, see my answer at (4)(b).
(9) Objections to accepting Yeshua's sacrificial death as the only remedy for original sin: (a) The Torah specifies many different kinds of sin offerings, guilt offerings and other sacrifices for various kinds of sins, but none was ever commanded for original sin, original pollution or original guilt. Therefore there is no need to atone for such sin or remedy it.
Answer: The whole sacrificial system itself can only hint at the seriousness with which God regards sin. By his mercy he did not require Adam's immediate physical death, but God did cause a death, the first sacrifice, that of the animal with whose skin he clothed Adam and Chavah, immediately following Adam's transgression (Genesis 3:21). The unceasingness of the sacrifices is also suggestive (MJ 10:1), as are the stories of Avraham's offering Yitzchak (Genesis 22) and God's preferring Abel's animal sacrifice over Cain's offering of grain and/or vegetables (Genesis 4:1-8). To see only sins and be blind to sin is to miss the forest for the trees.
(b) How can believing this or that fact about someone who died two thousand years ago change the inner core of a person's being? Answer: It is not intellectually accepting facts which saves (Ya 2:14-26&NN), but putting one's complete trust in God and in his having solved man's basic problem already. As Sha'ul puts it, what saves is being "immersed into the Messiah Yeshua" and "into his death" (6:3). Also, as he explains in Chapters 6 and 8, it is not that our sinful inner nature is changed but that we receive a new nature that loves God and is able to do spiritual good.
(c) Trusting in Yeshua is unnecessary; it is enough to trust in God.
Answer: "The God who is there" (to use a book title by Francis Schaeffer), the God who really exists, is the God who in fact sent Yeshua. Trusting in God necessarily implies trusting in Yeshua his Son. To suppose that one can trust in God without trusting in Yeshua and his atoning death is to trust only in the god of one's imagination and not in the God of Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya'akov. "Everyone who denies the Son is also without the Father, but the person who acknowledges the Son has the Father as well" (1 Yn 2:23&N).
(d) We can conquer sin by obeying the Torah.
Answer: At this point in history, obeying the Torah implies trusting in Yeshua and his sacrificial death for us. See IO:4&N, MJ 8:6&N.
(e) We can conquer sin by doing good deeds.
Answer: Even though our acts can have external benefits to others and to ourselves, God will not regard these acts as good in regard to our own spiritual well-being if they are not based on our trust in God through Yeshua.
(f) If Adam's sin is ours by propagation, then so can Yeshua's righteousness and faith be ours by propagation.
Answer. Propagation does not transmit personal guilt, only the guilt of the species. Since grace, righteousness and faith are personal, these are not transmitted. Finally, to the entire undertaking of producing such a thing as the doctrine of original sin there is the objection that it goes beyond what Scripture actually and clearly says into realms of vague, unnecessary and misleading speculations that serve no useful purpose but divert energy into searching for the origins and causes of sin that ought to be used in the struggle against it. Closely related is the question of why Christianity has devoted such effort to this matter, while traditional Judaism has not. Answer: The reason Christianity has developed the thought-structure of original sin may be found in the passage under discussion, Romans 5:12-21, and also in 1С 15:21-22, 45-50; for in these places Sha'ul develops the parallel between the Messiah and Adam, thus elevating Adam's role in human history above what was clear to writers who had only the Tanakh to rely on. In answering the question, "How can the Messiah's death save us?" with "The same way Adam's sin killed us," Sha'ul inevitably opened up the question. "How did Adam's sin kill us?" Christian theology's varied answers to this lasl question necessarily "go beyond Scripture," because Scripture, though it gives true information, gives limited information. And the answers are varied because even though the best minds have wrestled with the problem there is left a remainder of uncertainty, since all of us still "see through a glass, darkly" (1С 13:12, KJV). To be sure, it is possible to misuse theology, just as one can misuse anything else; but the proper use of the doctrine of original sin is to make one ever more aware of how filthy and unholy sin is and how vital it is to pursue the struggle against it, with the help of the Holy Spirit given to us because we have trusted in Yeshua. D. The Tanakh, Judaism and Original Sin. But is it true that the notion of original sin "goes beyond Scripture"? See what the Tanakh itself says, quite apart from anything added by the New Testament. Numbers 15:28 speaks of sinning unwittingly; Leviticus 5:5-6 of the trespass offering for sins of omission; Leviticus 4:14, 20, 31 of the sin offering for sins of ignorance; and Leviticus 1:3 of the burnt offering for general sinfulness, "that he may be accepted before AdonaC — no other reason is given. In Psalm 19:13( 12) the writer begs God, "Cleanse me from secret faults," which not only shows that sin may be a state as well as an act (for faults are not acts), but also suggests that sin is pollution, defilement, impurity, uncleanness. This is confirmed in Psalm 51:4(2). "Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin," and in Leviticus 16:16, 19, where on Yom-Kippur the cohen hagadol must make atonement for the Holy Place and cleanse the altar because of "the uncleannesses of the children of Israel" — with the word "uncleannesses" being used together with the words "transgressions" and "sins." The idea of the defiling force of sin is brought out in A. Buechler's indispensable Studies in Sin and Atonement in the Rabbinic Literature of the First Century (New York: Ktav, 1967).
Isaiah 1:5 proves that sin affects a person's entire being: 'The whole head is sick and the whole heart faint." Jeremiah 17:9 makes the same point: "The heart is deceitful above all things and is exceedingly wicked; who can fathom it?" In addition this verse suggests that sin has power beyond man's capacity to understand, let alone conquer, without God's help. Psalm 51:7(5), "Behold, 1 was shaped in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me," together with Job 14:4, "Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? No one," strongly suggest transmission of original pollution through the generations, so that each person is bom with it. The verses quoted by Sha'ul at 3:10-18, together with 1 Kings 8:46 and Ecclesiastes 7:20 (both quoted in 3:23N), establish at the very least that sin is universal.
With such broad support in the Tanakh for the doctrine of original sin, how has Judaism avoided accepting it? By giving greater weight to passages that stress human free will and the efficacy of ethical behavior, such as Genesis 4:6-7 ("And Adonai said to Kayin, 'Why are you angry? Why your downcast face? If you do well, won't you be accepted? And if you don't do well, sin is crouching at the door; it lusts after you, but you can rule over it.'") and Deuteronomy 30:15, 19 ("See, I have today set before you life and good, death and evil. Therefore choose life, so that you may live"). But ruling over sin and choosing life begin and end with Irusting in God and relying on his strength (1:17, quoting Habakkuk 2:4); such victory is unattainable apart from God, which means apart from God and Yeshua.
Judaism, in its effort to avoid the conclusion that it is essential to trust in Yeshua's atoning sacrificial death, sometimes produces a picture of man as self-reliant to the point of caricature. For example, Trade Weiss-Rosmarin's Judaism and Christianity: The Differences, which frequently becomes a polemic against Christianity, says,
"The Jew rejoices when he can prove his ethical mettle in the unaided battle against the temptations of sin.... The Jew is taught to regard himself always and ever as stronger than sin and the power that draws him to it. He is bidden to glory in that strength." (Pp. 50-51, all emphases hers)
She says the Jew regards sin as a challenge to be exhilaratingly overcome by ethical effort, whereas the Christian regards sin as an inescapable fate from which the only deliverance is the passive receipt of grace through a savior, and concludes,
"There is no bridge that could span the gulf separating the Jewish doctrines of free will and freedom of ethical choice from the Christian dogmas of 'original sin' and 'grace.'"(P. 52)
I hope my note demonstrates how wrong she is, that the "unaided battle" will certainly be lost by the individual who chooses to attempt establishing his own righteousness apart from God (see 9:30-10:10) and refuses the helping hands which God holds out to him (10:21, quoting Isaiah 65:2).
For I do not see an unspannable gulf between traditional Jewish and Christian doctrines, but a difference in emphasis, encouraged and exaggerated by the prolonged conflict between the Synagogue and the Church. This becomes clearer if we turn to Jewish writings outside the Tanakh, such as the Apocrypha:
"Do not say, 'It is through the Lord that I fell away,'
for you are not to do the things he hates.
Do not say, 'It was he who made me go astray,'
for he has no need for a sinful person.
The Lord hates all abomination,
and those who fear him do not love it either.
He made mankind at the beginning
and left him in the hand of his own decision.
If you will, you can keep the commandments;
and to act with faithfulness is a matter of intention.
He has set before you fire and water:
stretch forth your hand to whichever one you want.
Before man are life and death,
and whichever he likes will be given to him...
He has not commanded anyone to do wickedly,
and he has not given anyone license to sin."
(Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 15:11-17,20)
A Messianic Jew can agree with all of this, provided it is understood that the "decision," "will" and "intention" which lead to "water" and "life" commence with trusting in Yeshua the Messiah.
These ideas also find expression in the Talmud:
"Everything is in the hands of God except the fear of God." (B'rakhot 33b)
"Whoever desires to defile himself will find all the gates open, and whoever wants to purify himself will be able to do so." (Shabbat 104a; compare Rv 22:11) and in the Rambam's Mishneh-Torah:
"Every human being can become as righteous as Moses or as wicked as Jeroboam." (On Repentance 5:2)
Thus the traditional Jewish view is that man, created in the image of God, is good. "My God, the soul which you have given me is pure" (B'rakhot 60b). He has free will and can choose to sin or be righteous: he is not compelled by a "sin nature" to sin. Instead the rabbis postulated that in each individual is the yetzer ra' ("evil inclination"). The biblical basis for such an idea is Genesis 6:5, "And Adonai saw that... all the inclination (yetzer) of the thoughts of his heart was only evil (ra') all day long," and Genesis 8:21. "...for the inclination (yetzer) of man's heart is evil (ra') from his youth." But they did not consider the yetzer ra' to be an unmitigated woe. The Midrash Rabbah presents it as providing motivation for necessary life activities:
"Nachman said in the name of Rabbi Shmu'el: 'And behold it was very good' (Genesis 1:31) refers to the yetzer ra'. But can the yetzer ra' be 'very good'? Amazingly enough, yes — were it not for the yetzer ra' no man would build a house, take a wife and father children, or engage in business; as Solomon said, '1 considered all labor and excellence in work and concluded that it comes from a man's rivalry with his neighbor' (Ecclesiastes 4:4)." (Genesis Rabbah 9:7) Far from considering it essentially Satanic and able to produce only evil results, they concluded it could even be turned to God's service. Sifre to Deuteronomy 6:5 ("You shall love Adonai your God with all your heart....") says that loving with "all" one's heart includes with the yetzer ra' (see more on this in Chapter 7). But the yetzer ra' so understood is not as irredeemably evil as the Bible makes clear sin is.
Turning to the role Judaism gives to Adam, one can find in rabbinic materials passages that recognize his seminal role in bringing sin and death to humanity. "Rabbi Yose said, 'If you want to know about the reward of the righteous in the world to come, consider Adam. He was given one single negative command. He violated it, and see how many deaths have been decreed for him and for all his generations forever. Now which is greater, the attribute of reward [literally, of goodness] or that of punishment? Surely the attribute of reward is greater. So if the attribute of punishment, which is less, caused so many deaths, then think how much more the person who repents from sin and fasts on Yom-Kippur will cause z'khut [being declared innocent] to himself and to all his generations forever.'"(Sifra 27a)
If "Yeshua the Messiah" is substituted for "the person who repents from sin and fasts on Yom-Kippur" we have virtually a reproduction of Sha'ul's argument in 5:14-19. Also see the Talmud, Shabbat 55a-55b.
If we move beyond rabbinic Judaism to the apocalyptic Judaism of the Pseude-pigrapha, which was not expunged from the accepted tradition of Judaism until many decades after Sha'ul, we find ideas even closer to the doctrine of original sin. Consider 2 Baruch 54:14-15, 19, which says, in the context of Baruch's praying for the meaning of a vision,
"It is just that those who do not love your Torah perish;
the torment of judgment awaits those who have not submitted themselves to your power.
For although Adam first sinned and brought untimely death upon all, yet of those bom from him each has prepared future torment for his own soul;
also each of them has chosen for himself future glories.... Adam is therefore not the cause, except for his own soul, but each of us has been the Adam of his own soul."
Responsibility for sins is on each individual, yet Adam is the original cause of death. These ideas are spelled out further in 4 Ezra, from which I quote only a small selection of relevant passages:
"| You gave the] Torah to Jacob's seed and the Commandment to the generation of Israel. And yet you did not take away from them the evil heart, that your Torah might bring forth fruit in them. For the first Adam, clothing himself with the evil heart, transgressed and was overcome; and likewise also all who were born of him. Thus the infirmity became inveterate; the Torah indeed was in the heart of the people, but in conjunction with the evil seed; so what was good departed, and the evil remained." (4 Ezra 3:19-22)
This says much the same thing as Sha'ul does below (7:7-25) but contrasts with rabbinic theology, which emphasizes the power of the Torah to keep the yetzer ra' in check and overcome it — "The Torah wears away the yetzer ra' as water wears away stone" (Talmud, Sukkah 52b), which is true if it be understood that the Torah today requires faith in Yeshua the Messiah.
"A grain of evil seed was sown in the heart of Adam from the beginning; how much ungodly fruit it has produced until now and will yet produce until the threshing-floor comes! Calculate it in your own mind: if a grain of evil seed has produced this much ungodly fruit, then when once the innumerable ears of good seed have been sown, how large a floor will they fill?" (4 Ezra 4:30-32)
This resembles the Sifra passage quoted above. Compare also Mt 13:39.
"Who of those who have come into the world has not sinned? Or who among the earth-born has not transgressed your covenant? Now I see that the coming age will bring delight to the few but torment to many. For the evil heart has grown up in us which has estranged us from God, brought us to destruction, made known to us the ways of death, showed us the paths of perdition and removed us far from life! And this is true of not merely a few, but of virtually all who have been created!" (4 Ezra 7:46-48)
This again expresses the universality of sin; see also Mt 7:13-14, 20:16,22:14.
"And I replied, "This is my first and last word: It would have been better if the earth had not produced Adam, or, alternatively, having once produced him, for you to have kept him from sinning. For how does it profit any of us that in the present age we must live in grief and after death look for punishment? Adam, what have you done! For although it was you who sinned, the fall was not yours alone but ours also who are your descendants! How does it profit us that we have been promised the eternal age, when we have done the works that bring death?'"(4 Ezra 7:116-119)
The word "fall" here translates Latin casus, which may also be rendered "fate, destruction." In any case, of all Jewish writings, 4 Ezra comes closest to expressing the idea that the whole human race shares in Adam's sin. Finally, the Midrash on Psalm 51:
"Healing comes from you [God]. Because the wound is large, put a large poultice on it for me, as it is said, 'Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity' (Psalm 51:4(2)). From this you learn that everyone who commits a transgression is as unclean as though he had touched a dead body and must be purified with hyssop. So too, David said. 'Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean' (Psalm 51:9(7)). Did David actually fall into uncleanness and thus require purging with hyssop? No, but into an iniquity whereby his soul was wounded unto death. Thus also in another Psalm, he said, 'My heart is wounded unto death within me' (Psalm 109:22)."
Contamination by a dead body is the severest form of ritual impurity; here sin is spoken of as equally defiling. Compare the passages from the Tanakh on defilement quoted above.
E. Messianic Jewish Theology of Sin.
I do not propose to construct a Messianic Jewish theology of sin in this note. My purposes in this survey have been to show that there is not a single monolithic, fixed and settled Christian theology of sin; that Jewish objections to the doctrine of original sin have often been more against a slogan than against the content of the doctrine properly understood; and that there are many Jewish sources that dovetail well with New Testament approaches to the subject, even if mainstream Judaism ignores them today. If Judaism stresses man's effort while Christianity focuses on God's grace, are these not two aspects of one truth? Man's effort apart from God's grace is ineffective, but the New Testament urges those who are saved by grace to continue struggling against sin by the power of the Holy Spirit and to do the good works God has prepared for him to do. There is room for a Messianic Jewish expression of the theology of sin that does justice to traditional Jewish emphases without departing from the truths of Scripture as set forth in both the Tanakh and the New Testament.
- chapter 1
- chapter 2
- chapter 3
- chapter 4
- chapter 5
- chapter 6
- chapter 7
- chapter 8
- chapter 9
- chapter 10
- chapter 11
- chapter 12
- chapter 13
- chapter 14
- chapter 15
- chapter 16