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Ask the Pastor

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

16 November 2008

Our Evil Inheritance

From the Archives

I received a comment about the previous post. Our interpretation of sin effects our world-view, our Christian educational and baptismal practices, our reading of Scripture, our lives. The following rejections, coupled with my responses, show differences in interpretation that 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 KJV].”

Clement of AlexandriaWe follow the Bible and heed teachings from the Church’s history. Clement of Alexandria (b. 153 AD) 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. 254) used Psalms 51 and 58 to argue for “new-born infants ... not being free from sin.”

Methodius (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 emerged from the desecrated cast, hideously malformed from birth in the eyes of God. Thus Genesis 5:1, 3 — Adam, created “in the likeness of God” lost the perfect image of his Creator and “fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image [emphasis added]....”

Augustine (354-430) also said Scripture spoke of “original sin.” In fact, he coined the phrase! Saint Augustine also called our inborn hunger to have things our own way “concupiscence,” from concupiscentia, a Latin word meaning “a desire for worldly things.” He cited Job 14:1, 4 to make his point: “Man who is born of a woman is few of days and full of trouble.... Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? There is not one.” In other words, any person born of a sinner is a sinner.

Martin LutherJumping 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’ [Romans 6:23] and again: ‘The sting of death is sin’ [1 Corinthians 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 “he intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth (Genesis 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 (Genesis 3:5)” destroyed not only their relationship with the Creator, but ours.

Weimar AltarpieceWe aren’t lost because Jesus Christ destroyed sin’s power, overthrowing death. In Him, the perfect image of God was remade; now we are 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.

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

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

Citations from the fathers public domain from the Early Church Fathers series.

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.

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