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Q&A #151 - Original sin and the fall of man
by Robert Nguyen Cramer (version 220.127.116.11)
This BibleTexts website administrator has very much enjoyed questions and insights that have been emailed to him ever since this site was launched in September of 1996. On this page I share with BibleTexts browsers a few of the questions, insights, and responses, so that we all can further learn from and with each other.
Since the fall of man, none of us are perfect in our physical being. We are all fallen and predisposed to sin. We all struggle with sin in our very nature, even as Paul called himself the chief of sinners.
Regarding original sin and the fall of man, it is important to begin by recognizing that there are actually two different accounts of creation in Genesis:
- Gen 1:1-Gen 2:4a, where God is known in the Hebrew text as Elohim, which in English is simply translated "God."
- Gen 2:4b-Gen 3:24, where God is known in the Hebrew text as Yahweh Elohim, which in English is typically translated "Jehovah God" or "Lord God."
The Adam and Eve story provides us with great object lessons but not with a historical record of our actual ancestry. The Adam and Eve story, which is told in the second account of creation, is an ancient allegory. Bible scholars at the best seminaries have recognized this for well over 100 years. (See http://www.bibletexts.com/glossary/gen.htm.)
A major part of Paul's 15th chapter of 1 Corinthians serves as an excellent commentary on the Genesis' two accounts of creations. (See http://www.bibletexts.com/terms/soul.htm for an explanation of Paul's commentary of Gen 1 & 2.)
The first biblical account of account of creation in Gen 1 had already made both man and woman as complete and wholely good.
Genesis 1:26-28,31 - 26 Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth." 27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. 28 And God blessed them... 31 And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.
Genesis 2:1-2 - 1 Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. 2 And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done,...
As illustrated in the excerpt below, the dogma that we have inherited "the fall" from Adam is not shared by all biblical scholars and Christian theologians. In his article on the "Doctrine of Man," William Hordern (A Dictionary of Christian Theology, edited by Alan Richardson, Philadelphia: Westminster, 1969) wrote:
Original Sin and the Fall... In the early history of the Church, the story of Adam and Eve was taken as a historical account of the first man and woman. Because they disobeyed God's command, they were driven from the garden. In their disobedience all men fell into 'original sin'. One line of thought, represented by Augustine, saw this original sin as being biologically transmitted to later generations through the sexual procreation of the human race. This inherited sin meant that man is born both guilty and with a corrupted nature that is prone to sin. Another line of thought, represented by the Westminster Confession of Faith, has seen Adam as the federal representative of the human race who acted on behalf of the future generations of man. Thus a man's sinful state consists in his sharing of the guilt for Adam's sin, the corruption of his own nature and the actual transgressions which he commits as a result of his corruption.
Nineteenth-century biblical criticism discredited the historical nature of the Adam and Eve story. At the same time the wide acceptance of the evolutionary hypthesis led to the view that man had progressed from his primeval state instead of falling from a higher one. Ninteenth-century theology tended to see man, not as a sinner, but as an essentially good creature who was destined to become better. The doctrines of the fall and original sin have been revived in the twentieth century. Few theolgians today accept the view that guilt can be inherited. But theologians are widely agreed that the state in which we find man is out of harmony with God's will and purpose for him. The universality of sin remains a fact even if we no longer think in terms of Adam's fall. Today theologians point out that 'Adam' is the Hebrew word for a human being or mankind collectively. There seems to be a legitimate reason to interpret the Genesis account as a teaching about man as such and not as the history of the first man. [page 204]
1 The LORD spoke to me 2 and said, "What is this proverb people keep repeating in the land of Israel? "The parents ate the sour grapes, But the children got the sour taste.' 3 "As surely as I am the living God," says the Sovereign LORD, "you will not repeat this proverb in Israel any more. 4 The life of every person belongs to me, the life of the parent as well as that of the child. The person who sins is the one who will die.
5 "Suppose there is a truly good man, righteous and honest. 6 He doesn't worship the idols of the Israelites or eat the sacrifices offered at forbidden shrines. He doesn't seduce another man's wife or have intercourse with a woman during her period. 7 He doesn't cheat or rob anyone. He returns what a borrower gives him as security; he feeds the hungry and gives clothing to the naked. 8 He doesn't lend money for profit. He refuses to do evil and gives an honest decision in any dispute. 9 Such a man obeys my commands and carefully keeps my laws. He is righteous, and he will live," says the Sovereign LORD.
All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Rom 3:23)
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (1Jo 1:8-10)
But they also were correct when they wrote of "the new man:"
2Co 3:17,18 (NRSV) - 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.
Rom 8:1 (ESV) - 1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.
1Jo 5:18 (ESV) - 18 We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him.
Other New Testament writers declare the authentic Good News of Jesus Christ in proclaiming that "the new man" is the image of God, as described in Gen 1:26-27:
Eph 4:22-24 (TEV) - 22 Get rid of your old self, which made you live as you used to--the old self that was being destroyed by its deceitful desires. 23 Your hearts and minds must be made completely new, 24 and you must put on the new self, which is created in God's likeness and reveals itself in the true life that is upright and holy.
Col 3:9-11 (NRSV) - 9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices 10 and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. 11 In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!
This all is quite consistent with a pronouncement of the Good News by Jesus, as not only recorded in Luk 17:20-21 but also as echoed in other early non-canonical gospels, including Thomas 3:1-3, Thomas 113, Thomas 51:2, Gospel of Mary 4:4-5, Dialog of the Savior 9:3:
Luk 17:20-21 (TEV) - 20 Some Pharisees asked Jesus when the Kingdom of God would come. His answer was, The Kingdom of God does not come in such a way as to be seen. 21No one will say, Look, here it is! or, There it is!; because the Kingdom of God is within you.
See also Bible dictionary explanations of "the fall" at http://www.bibletexts.com/glossary/fall.htm.
Copyright 1996-2004 Robert Nguyen Cramer