Saturday, January 16, 2010

Penal Original Sin and Ezekiel 18

I was walking home from a bar last night (first time I had gone out to shoot pool in a long time!) and I had an imaginary theological conversation in my head. I do this pretty often, envisioning discussions that could occur after someone cites a prooftext taken out of context that has nothing to do with the point being discussed. I don't get to have these in real life often because I don't hang around proselytizing evangelicals very often any more.

Anyways, the verse I had in mind was Ezekiel 18:4 or Ezekiel 18:20. A snippet of the first says "The soul who sins will die." The other says "The person who sins will die." They could each be used (and have been used) to suggest that death is the appropriate punishment for any sin.

But that isn't what Ezekiel 18 is saying at all. Ezekiel 18 is laying out that the punishment for sin will lay on the sinner rather than his offspring. Furthermore, it is indicating that righteous conduct done in the past does not insulate someone from the danger of death as punishment for sin in the present. It is most definitely not saying "Once someone has sinned one time, that person is subject to death." Indeed, Ezekiel 18:21-22 (among other places) indicates the exact opposite:

But if the wicked man turns from all his sins which he has committed and observes all My statutes and practices justice and righteousness, he shall surely live; he shall not die. All his transgressions which he has committed will not be remembered against him; because of his righteousness which he has practiced, he will live.

The realization I made last night is that this whole chapter argues against one interpretation of Original Sin. Some people believe that we are actually liable for the sin of Adam because Adam is the father of humanity. The whole point of Ezekiel 18 is that one generation is not punished for the sin of its ancestors.


Bev said...

Ezekiel 18 may be my favorite chapter of the whole Bible. It lays out very plainly the whole concept of repentance and that sin=death and righteousness=life. Not only does it contradict the idea of original sin, but it also contradicts once saved, always saved.

sweetdreams said...

I think you are right. I was taught that I inherited Adam's sin, but Ezek makes it clear that we did not.

Unfortunately Adam opened the door to sin and death and that is what Jesus freed us from not some original sin.

David Rudel said...

Sweet Dreams,
I would actually disagree with that final line as well.

Ezekiel only argues against the _Penal_ interpretation of original sin, the idea that we are punished externally by God for the sin of Adam.

However, the internal damage of that original sin is something completely different. Paul describes it as a spiritual death that allows our selfishness/flesh/ego to dominate us. Since Christ gives us both a renewed heart and [later] a renewed body, this is the blight that is removed through just does not have anything to do with external punishment ladled out by a God intent on balancing justice ledgers.

Dan Martin said...

I don't get to have these in real life often because I don't hang around proselytizing evangelicals very often any more.

LOL, that one got my funny bone, Dave!

But you are absolutely right in your interpretation here. Ezekiel's point was a repudiation of the notion of collective and/or inherited culpability. To lift out that one verse to beat people over the head, while it's a time-tested Evangelical tactic, is flat-out wrong.

elhart said...

In books I've read by Jews, there's no mention of concepts like "original sin" and the "devil." Are they made up by early Christians? I think it's very possible to fit their theology. Thus, verses have to be taken here and there to support their belief system. My problem is: What do we do in a world that needs Jesus, but doesn't have original sin and a devil?

David Rudel said...

The notion of Satan exists in Jewish literature, though he appears to have a different character or purpose in different times. Jesus was a Jew and referred to Satan, so I don't think one can say that Satan has no part in Jewish tradition.

Original sin, on the other hand, was more or less created as a doctrine by the church. The only notion of "original sin" one sees in the Bible is that of the basic mortality of man based on Adam's sin. This mortality of man is not the same as being guilty before God, though.