Saturday, January 23, 2010

Moral Guilt: Original or Ancestral?

Alice C. Linsley

The term “original sin” was unknown in both the Eastern and Western Church until Augustine (c. 354-430). Prior to this, theologians used different terminology when speaking of the fall and its effects. The phrase the Greek Fathers used to describe the tragedy in the Garden was “ancestral sin”- from the biblical term amartema – which refers to an individual sin for which the individual is morally responsible. Original sin, on the other hand, holds all humans morally responsible for the sin of Adam and Eve.

The word amartia (also a biblical term) means “missing the mark” and refers to the common condition of all humans. The Eastern Greek-speaking Church, unlike Western Latin-speaking, never speaks of guilt as being passed from Adam and Eve to their offspring. It regards this idea as contrary to God’s justice. Each individual is responsible for their own actions and can't be made to bear moral responsibility for another's intentional sin. 

The early Church Fathers also recognized the possibility that Adam and Eve may be archetypes (in the Platonic sense) rather than historical persons. They are symbols of how men and women succumb to temptation when they desire the things of creation more than fellowship with the Creator. (The book of Genesis does permit the interpretation of Adam and Eve as archetypes. See this essay.)

Within Christianity the earliest idea of moral guilt involves the individual person, not the whole human race. God’s just nature means that each bears the guilt of his or her own sin. So what has humanity inherited from our ancestors? According to the early Church Fathers and 1 Corinthians 15:21: we inherited mortality or death, because our nature has become diseased and disease leads to death. So it is not that moral guilt or sin is passed on; it is that a condition or disease is passed on.

What do you think?

17 comments:

Lottie Boyd said...

I like the way this post explains original sin versus ancestral sin. While I've always believed that humans are born sinners and with accepting Jesus Christ we are saved from an eternal life of sin, I like looking at sin as more of a passed on disease than inheriting the mistake of someone else.

I also believe that Adam and Eve were actual people and not archetypes because the Bible talks about them more than just during their fall, but it goes on to talk about their children and the lives of their children.

ssexton62 said...

I think the comparison of original sin with ancestral sin is very interesting. I have always thought of original sin as being the sin which Adam and Eve created with their disobeidence in the garden. I had never thought of them as archetypes either, but I can see this. I believe death is the penalty we have received from the ancestral falling of Adam and Eve.

Kim said...

I'm like ssexton62. I have never known that there was an Original or Ancestral Sin. I have always thought that each of us were held morally responsible for our sins and it is up to us to confess our sins to God and ask him for his mercy to forgive us and guide us into his direction.

I also believe that death and diseases comes from our sins we made in life. That would be the tragedy in the Garden in my opinion.

Ryan Barnes said...

Without trying to look at things to black and white, who's to say that Adam and Eve were not actual historic figures, but the story of the serpent, fruit, and original sin is more symbolic for the weakness of the human race. Both could be true. I believe that sinful nature is passed on and losing immortality is the price we must pay. Stressing, the loss of immortality, rather than the cause death itself, I believe is the ultimate consequence for our sinful nature.

Rachel Duggins said...

I have never known of there being an original way of sin and ancestral sin but it is interesting to know. I also believed that we are born sinners and then accept Jesus and are saved but we are our own person and Adam and Eve showed us that we all shall have temptation and to not go for it because no good will come from it. I do believe that death and disease comes from the sins that we make, but we will all have the chance of eternal life and that is what we are waiting for and as long as we accept Jesus into our hearts we will have that eternal life.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Leslie asked me to post this comment for her:

"This is a very interesting topic. I have never thought of "sin" in the terms of ancestoral sin or original sin. I believe that Adam and Eve were two real historical people. The "first people". I look at them as an example that we are to learn from. I don't believe that we are to carry their sins with us as individuals but to understand that we have to believe in God and do right by him or there are consequences for not having trust and faith. I believe each person is responsible for the sins that they commit and in the end what happens to each of us is our own individual doing."

Alice C. Linsley said...

Craig asked me to post this comment for him. Here it is:

"I find religion very interesting because it appears everyone is searching for the truth. They want to find the path that leads them to God. I personally believe in original sin. I was raised and still practice the Catholic religion, so as a Catholic I don’t ever remember hearing anything about Ancestral sin. That does not mean that it’s not real and I can appreciate anyone who believes or knows that it actually exist. My thought is, if you believe in anything that has to do with God and it makes you second guess any decision you make because you are concerned how it will make you appear to God then in my mind that is great. I feel the truth lies within each of us and as long as you believe God is real, there is a heaven, and you strive to be there after death then does it really matter what type of sin it really is."

Alice C. Linsley said...

Ther are many things about the Adam and Eve story that sugget it is symbolic.

We note that there are two trees mentioned in Genesis 2-3 and the one that Adam was commanded not to eat of was "in the middle of the garden" (Gen. 3:3).

St. John Chrysostom (347-407 A.D.) held that the first humans were created midway between corruption and incorruption and were free to choose. It is like the story (Deut. 27:11-26) of the Israelites gathered in the valley between Mount Gerizim (of blessing) and the Mount Ebal (of cursing) and God telling them to "Choose life!"

The Church Fathers speak of the tree in the middle of the garden as having both a material presence (literal existence) and as representing a state of being (symbolic of being created "midway"). Adam stretched out his hand and took of the fruit of that tree. Christ stretched out his arms on the Tree (Cross) and broke the curse of Adam. The Cross, like the tree in Paradise, literally existed but is also a state of being. Christians often speak of "walking the way of the Cross" or of "taking up the Cross." When by faith and God's grace we lift up the Cross we are actually choosing life.

Sara Sutherland said...

Im like Lottie. I believe that everyone is born and will sin in some way through out their life. However, accepting Jesus Christ saves us from an eternal life of sin. Comparing sin to a passed on disease is interesting because it tells us that everyone has sinned in some way.

I had never considered Adam and Eve as archetypes, but i can see this. But i also assume what the bible says when it talks about Adam and Eve and their lives.

AshleyC said...

The article makes sense in a way that separates ourselves from human-kind as a whole. None-the-less though, it makes sense. I agree with it, but only partially. I have always understood original sin to be a type of inevitable hurtle we will all eventually jump or fall into. Humans will sin. It is not something we can prevent. Even as children, we have a conscience and we know right from wrong. We are not born with the sin, we are born with a soul that will sin. I have always interpreted the story of Adam and Eve as the emphasis not being on the sin, but what follows the sin. If God made us not to sin, then there would be no need for temptation. I believe the temptation was offered and accepted because it is part of how we earn our goodness through our choices in redeeming our sins. We are not born with sin, we are born with the inevitable fact we will sin. God places us in a position to redeem ourselves, EARNING our place in heaven. The devil will bring us to it, and God will bring us out. We will suffer, and if we choose, we will be rewarded in heaven for choosing the right way out of our suffering.
As for the words used between different cultures, there will always be interpretations different than the one before. My own personal revelation involves both explanations of the meaning of Adam and Eve. Both the original sin passed down from ancestors, because we are all human, and it being our own, because WE are the ones who sin. We all sin, but we do it individually.

Brittany Gregory said...

After reading this and reading everyones comments I believe that I agree with Mrs. Linsley. We are not born sinners and we do not become sinners until we know right from wrong. I also think it makes a lot of sense that temptation is laid before us so that we can earn our way into Heaven. If God had not visioned his creations to sin then why did he create this earth for us to live on and offer eternal life to those who followed his word.
So I do not believe that sin is passed down as a disease, I see it as inevitable. When the day comes that we all stand before God on judgement day we will not stand as a group. We will stand as individuals being held accountable for our OWN sins.

Sweeney's said...

Adam and Eve were in the Garden and were tempted by the fruit therefore they decided to bear in the fruit. Since they did that and were told not to they sinned. Every person is going to sin sometime in their lives. We aren't born sinners like some believe we are. I think we are born innocent and then we learn what is right and what is wrong and make our own choices whether they be right or wrong!

That why we go to church to ask God for his forgiveness and save us from our sins.

Amanda

Alice C. Linsley said...

Chantelle asked me to post this comment for her. Here it is:

"I believe although sin originated with Eve. Eve was not to blame for his eating of the fruit. Eve and Adam each made their own choice to eat of the forbidden fruit. There is original sin but we are individually to blame for our own sin, but it also talks of the sins of the father passing on to his children. This applies to the sins we commit often are passed on to our children by the choices we make. If it is a bad choice, our children often pay the price for our mistakes. I often pray to God to release my children from the mistakes I have made."

Nakeysha said...

I enjoyed reading everyones posts on here. It is astonishing the different view points on sin and believing that Adam and Eve could possibly be archetypes. I am a strong Christian and believe in the bible as my road map to life. It is our ultimate goal to make it to Heaven someday. However, we as humans are in the flesh and we fail daily by being tempted and falling into that temptation. It is our place as Christians to repent for our sins, in my opionion. I do not feel that we are born sinners. WE are born innocent and when we come to the age of accountability ( knowing right from wrong) it is then we need to ask forgiveness for the sins we have learned to commit. Think about it... in our society our children learn from telivision to lie, cheat, lust, and fall into violence at points in our lives. It is our human nature to sin. It is our soul and our conscious to allow ourselves to repent so we can strive to be Christ-like.

When we die our body goes back to the dust of the earth, just as we where created. Our souls go on to live forever more eternally.

Hannah said...

I believe that Adam and Eve were in the first people that God created. I believe that they were the originators of sin, and that men and women are born as sinners. Adam and Eve are not symbols of the Bible. I do not think that there is anyway around men/women sinning. No one is perfect. I believe that when God created man, He knew we would fall short of his glory, therefore sending Jesus to save us from our sins.
Every person does 'bear the guilt' and weight of our sins. However, asking for forgiveness is a way to ease the guilt. If one accepts Jesus as their personal Savior, then there will be life after one dies here on earth. I believe 1st Corinthians 15, as I do with the entire Bible.

shandra irwin said...

This is a wonderful stand point to look at "sin" from. Why? Basically, it works for the strong religious believers, as well as the weak and wondering. If you believe in the Biblical text as true translation and literal, then Original Sin would work for you, not making you right, but not making you wrong. However, if someone is to look at the Biblical text as a Historical account, used as a reference to, "not repeat history", then Ancestral Sin would be a clear-cut way to look at sin itself. Now, clearly, I have no answer for that this does for the non-christian types, but overall this gives answer(s), not just "answer".

Jenny Adkins said...

I could never dismiss this doctrine because I heartily see support for it in the Scriptures, and without it I might be deceived into thinking that I can attain righteousness on my own, by living a sin-free life, as Palagianism would assert (which was condemned as a heresy). As it is, I cannot live a sin-free life; even after and with the Sacraments. This is because even though the guilt of sin (inherited and willful acts) is removed, the acts remain in my flesh. I can still choose to sin, yet through God’s grace I will not be condemned to death because of this. Only by death will I be freed fully from the bonds of sin, my sinful flesh.

Consider Christ who was born “in the likeness of sinful flesh” yet was without sin, be it inherited or by actual. How is this possible? It is because Christ was not only the Son of Man but also the Son of God. The seed which impregnated Mary was not a sinful human seed, but was through the Holy Spirit. This is how Christ was able to come in the flesh without the stain of inherited sin. No man born of man can live a sinful life, only the God-Man could do this.

The absence of righteousness must be unrighteousness. If sin is all that is unrighteousness before God, then in my absence of righteousness even as a baby, I am condemned. We baptize our babies before they can commit “sinful acts,” but the capacity to commit sin is still present. Why? because of inherited sin.

It is very important to also read Romans 5: 12-20 http://www.esvbible.org/search/Romans+5/, especially verses 18-19 “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous.”