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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.






12 July 2005

The Curse of Original Sin


We have a comment about the previous column. The following letter and my response show that differences in interpretation occur even among people who agree that the Bible is the infallible Word of God. I quote:

I believe you misused the Scripture .... The Bible does NOT teach sinfulness ... nor the inclination to sin from birth.

Regarding Psalm 58:3, since babies are not born speaking, we should not attribute an inclination to sin to them from the time they are born. Rather, they soon learn to speak, and they also learn to lie!

Regarding Psalm 51:5, the sin is evidently something his mother had done, not him! If we attribute this iniquity and sin to David, we have a contradiction in the Bible! “I was cast upon thee from the womb: thou (art) my God from my mother’s belly [Psalm 22:10].”

Our interpretation of sin effects our world-view, our Christian education and baptismal practices, our reading of Scripture, our lives.

We follow the Bible and heed teachings from the Church’s history. Clement of Alexandria (b. AD 153) said, “Since ... the first man sinned ... it is said, ‘And man became like to the beasts:’ (Ps 49:12, 20) being rightly regarded as irrational, he is likened to the beasts.” Origen (d. AD 254) used Psalms 51 and 58 to argue for “new-born infants ... not being free from sin.” Methodius (AD 260-312) likened the “image of God” held by Adam and Eve to a perfect mold in which succeeding generations would be cast like perfect golden statues. Sin “mutilated” the mold; Adam’s descendants have emerged from the desecrated cast, hideously malformed from birth in the eyes of God. Thus we note Genesis 5:1, 3 — Adam, created in God’s image, lost it and “fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image.... [emphasis added]”

Augustine (AD 354-430) also said Scripture spoke of “original sin.” In fact, he coined the phrase — based upon Scriptural evidence! He quoted Job 14:1, 4: “Man who is born of woman is of few days and full of trouble.... Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?” Any person born of a sinner is a sinner.

Jumping over a thousand years of similar thought, we come to Martin Luther, the great reformer. In 1530 he wrote: “I ... condemn [those] who are unwilling to let original sin be sin but teach that it is to be considered only an infirmity or a flaw. But since death has come upon all men, original sin cannot be a mere infirmity. Rather it must be an enormously great sin, as St. Paul says: ‘The wages of sin is death’ (Rom 6:23) and again: ‘The sting of death is sin’ (1 Cor 15:56).” Consider the implications — life eternal is only for those who are perfectly holy. All sinners die. Babies die. Unborn children die. Only their own sinfulness can condemn them. I found dozens of other passages from the Bible and Biblical scholars. Commentaries ancient and modern illumine the doctrine of original sin. On it goes.

This doesn’t mean that every baby is constantly sinning, any more than anyone else is always actively involved in sin. But “the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth (Gen 8:21).” Even if a person is relatively nice, good, kind, or such, God judges anyone evil who is not His own child. He is Lord of all, and wants everyone to recognize His rule. Adam and Eve’s choice to “be like God” destroyed not only their relationship with the Creator, but ours.

Yet we aren’t lost: Jesus Christ destroyed sin’s power, overthrowing death. In Him, the perfect image of God was remade; now we are being remade in that image. We have what David prayed for elsewhere in Psalm 51. Our hearts, sinful from conception and birth, have not been adjusted or cleaned. They have been created new — down payment, as it were, for the entire new creation we will be in heaven.

Note: Topic was continued in the next post.

Luther quote from What Luther Says, Volume 3, Entry 4436, © 1959 by Concordia Publishing House.

All other quotes public domain from the Early Church Fathers series.

Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.

Send email to Ask the Pastor.

Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.

1 Comments:

Blogger Webcritter said...

Your questioner said:

Regarding Psalm 51:5, the sin is evidently something his mother had done, not him! If we attribute this iniquity and sin to David, we have a contradiction in the Bible! “I was cast upon thee from the womb: thou (art) my God from my mother’s belly [Psalm 22:10].”


This would only be a contradiction in the Bible if sinners have no God. That's the reverse of the Gospel:

Rom 5:8 (NIV)

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.


- Webcritter

13 July, 2005 17:55  

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