The doctrine of original sin, as expressed in the epistles of St. Paul and in St. Augustine's theology of grace, is perhaps among the most difficult and widely misinterpreted Christian beliefs. Modern discussions tend to exaggerate the differences on this matter between Western and Eastern Christianity, and between Christianity and Judaism, when in fact these perceived differences often result from misunderstanding and differences of language. We will review the early history of the doctrine, and in the process show the continuity of its exposition. We will find that the notion of original sin does indeed have precedent in Judaism, and that its exposition by St. Paul is consistent with the universally preached Christian doctrine of redemption. The heart of original sin is not to be found in the genius of St. Paul or St. Augustine, but rather in the Gospel message of salvation through the free gift of grace. Adam's defect becomes regarded as a sin in Christianity precisely because Christians do not view salvation in naturalistic terms. Natural virtue will not suffice to achieve union with God, and any desire for earthly over heavenly goods is incompatible with the holiness necessary for salvation. Original sin makes sense only when one develops a theology of desires, so it is only to be expected that St. Augustine, the doctor of grace and free will, should elevate this doctrine to its most perfect form. The Eastern Orthodox find difficulty with the notion that Adam's offense should be regarded as "sin" in his descendants, since that seems to imply moral culpability. We will deal with these issues in their turn; first, we examine the precedents of Judaism.
There is substantial evidence that the doctrine of original sin is not as foreign to ancient Judaism as is commonly believed. Two elements of the doctrine exist in traditional rabbinic Judaism: the idea that man has been in some sort of “fallen state” due to Adam's sin, and that man is born with an evil inclination. In medieval and modern Judaism, these two elements have never been explicitly causally connected in a way that would lead to the Christian concept of original sin. It remains to be seen, however, whether there is evidence that some first-century rabbis could have made such a connection, or whether Christians were unique in this regard.
It is always a difficult matter to try to determine the beliefs of rabbinic or “Pharisaic” Judaism before the destruction of the Second Temple in AD 70. The Talmudic records of the Second Temple period were compiled centuries after the fact, in foreign lands where Jews lived under very different social circumstances. After the destruction of Jerusalem and the failed messianism of the Bar Kochba revolt, there arose a need to define Judaism in a way that was independent of temple worship and rituals. This constituted a substantial shift of emphasis for Judaism, so the selection of Talmudic sources may be biased by this development, even if their content has not been corrupted. Notwithstanding this concern, our confidence in the reliability of these traditions is strengthened by the fact that the Dead Sea Scrolls have corroborated the Masoretic text of the Bible to a high degree of accuracy. This makes it eminently plausible that the rabbinic record has been recorded with a fair degree of accuracy, especially given that the Mishnah and its commentary, the Gemara, were as revered as the Torah itself. This reverence for rabbinic commentary is expressed in the Jewish proverb: the Torah is like water, the Mishnah like oil, and the Gemara like perfumed oil.
There are two strands of thought in Judaism from which something like a Christian doctrine of original sin might be synthesized. The first comes from the interpretations of the consequences of Adam's sin. These interpretations, of themselves, do not yield a Christian understanding of original sin, but when they are coupled with Jewish moral theology, the consequences are inescapable.
Jewish moral theology postulates the existence of a good inclination, yetzer hatov, and a bad inclination, yetzer hara. A yetzer is an instinct or desire. Usually this doctrine is formulated in a dualistic sense, with no suggestion that the yetzer hara predominates. However, when we read early rabbinic comments on the origin of these inclinations, we find a remarkable asymmetry between the two inclinations, not unlike the Christian view. The yetzer hara, we are told (from the third-century commentator Avot d'Rabbi Natan) is present from birth, but the yetzer hatov only develops around the age of thirteen, when children study the Torah and develop their moral conscience. We should clarify that the yetzer hara is not a positive inclination to commit evil as such, but rather an innate selfishness and brutishness that can easily lead to evil deeds. As the Bible teaches, “The desires (yetzer) of men are evil from his youth,” (Genesis 8:21); and, “Man is born a wild ass.” (Job 11:12) On this point, Jewish moral theology, much like Christian original sin, is on solid ground, as this reality is amply confirmed by human experience. Humans are born in a state of natural selfishness or brutishness, until they are educated to become otherwise. We have yet, of course, to determine the theological reason for this condition.
The yetzer hatov, on the other hand, is the distinctive feature of mature humanity that knows right from wrong and rebukes those who would do what is immoral. Since morality in Judaism is irrevocably tied up with the Law, the development of the yetzer hatov is usually seen as the obtaining of knowledge of God's Law. Gentiles might learn this law imperfectly through nature, but the Jews are obliged to follow the fully revealed divine law. Thus, the yetzer hatov will rebuke a Jew who would violate the Sabbath by reminding him of the Torah passages condemning it. The ignorant child will feel no such rebuke, and will violate the Sabbath without scruple. Older children may learn to obey the Law through fear of punishment, but it is only at adolescence that they truly learn to do right because it is right.
We may ask whether this innate yetzer hara might be called sin in Judaism. Since Judaism restricts its concept of sin to evil deeds, a mere inclination cannot be considered sinful. While not sinful in itself, it easily leads to sin and is closely associated with it. Ignorance of the divine law does not always excuse its violation in Judaism, and in fact foolishness and wickedness are often strongly identified with each other. This is evident from numerous Old Testament proverbs, as well as Rashi's comment on Ecclesiastes 4:13 that the yetzer hara is “old” because it comes with birth, as “sin lies at the opening” (Genesis 4:7) and “foolish,” for it leads to the way of evil. Rashi further attests that the struggle to control one's flesh is especially difficult for adolescents, as human experience confirms, despite having received the enlightenment of the Law represented by the passage of Bar Mitzvah. Even after the yetzer hatov is formed, it must struggle against the yetzer hara, which never dies, but can overthrow the judgment of even an older man.
While Judaism acknowledges the persistence of a natural inclination to evil among men, it also upholds a contrary principle that may protect us from doing evil with varying degrees of success. The form of this principle is the Law itself, so that knowing and doing what the Law enjoins enables us to overcome evil. Christianity departs from this belief radically, asserting both that no man save Christ could adequately fulfill the Law in a way that would fully overcome sin, and that the Law itself was insufficient to save man from sin. Judaism at least implicitly acknowledges the insufficiency of man's attempts to obey the Law, through its appeals to God's mercy or pardon in several of its rituals. We will deal with these points later, as they obviously constitute a basis of separation between Judaism and Christianity. For now, we will continue with the Jewish notion of original sin or its analogues.
Another, more obvious area to search for Jewish insights on original sin would be to turn to the story of Adam's sin and its interpretations. “Original sin” in Judaism means simply the sin that Adam committed in the Garden of Eden, which was the first, or original, sin of mankind. This is not the same as the Christian usage of the term “original sin” to refer to a spiritual stain or blemish that is inherited by Adam's descendants. In Judaism, “original sin” pertains to Adam alone. This difference in terminology does not preclude the reality that Judaism recognizes a “stain” among Adam's descendants that is the result of his sin; they simply do not use the term “original sin” for this stain, nor do they refer to it as a stain.
Judaism recognizes that there were certain consequences of Adam's sin that applied not only to himself, but to all of his posterity. This is obvious from the Scriptures:
Because thou hast hearkened to the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee, that thou shouldst not eat, cursed is the earth in thy work: with labour and toil shalt thou eat thereof all the days of thy life. Thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to thee, and thou shalt eat the herbs of the earth. In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread till thou return to the earth out of which thou wast taken: for dust thou art, and into dust thou shalt return. (Gen. 3:17-19)
Adam, and all his posterity, are condemned to lives of labor instead of the paradisical life in the Garden of Eden. The last verse, to “dust thou art, and into dust thou shalt return,” condemns man to natural death, which he would have been spared in the Garden by partaking of the tree of life. Rabbis generally agree that the loss of immortality is one of the consequence's of Adam's sin, as is the necessity of toil. The expulsion from paradise is explicitly linked to this new condition:
And the Lord God sent him out of the paradise of pleasure to till the earth from which he was taken. (3:22)
As a result of his disobedience, Adam was condemned to toil, and the implementation of this punishment necessitated his expulsion from that Garden where toil was unnecessary. He was also condemned to natural death, and the execution of this punishment also required expulsion from Eden, which contained the Tree of Life. Verse 22 gives the additional rationale that, apart from his disobedience, Adam's knowledge of good and evil made him unfit for eternal life. It would be difficult to see how knowledge of good would merit condemnation, so it must be knowledge of evil that was the cause of concern. The yetzer hara therefore did not exist in Adam before he partook of the fruit; this, too is corroborated by rabbinic authors who attest to Adam's original innocence.
The total effect of Adam's sin on mankind is hardly less devastating in Judaism than it is in Christianity. Through Adam's sin, death and suffering entered the world, as did an inclination toward evil and a loss of innocence. This inclination toward evil, however, did not entail the absence of a tendency toward good, as witnessed by our discussion of Jewish moral theology and the fact that fallen Adam had knowledge of both good and evil. Adam's fall materially resulted in the introduction of both physical evil and moral evil. Had he not sinned, man would be immune from death and suffering in the Garden of Eden, and man would not have an inclination to do evil, so sin would be practically impossible. Notwithstanding this implication, Jewish tradition has historically focused on the physical consequences of Adam's sin: the presence of death and suffering in this life. A Talmudic parable reflects this belief, while at the same time mitigating Adam's culpability for the human condition: “The righteous descendants of Adam upon whom death has been decreed...approach Adam and say, 'You are the cause of our death.' Adam replies: 'I was guilty of one sin, but there is not a single one among you who is not guilty of many sins.'” While the Talmud acknowledges that Adam is materially responsible for death entering the world, there is no Talmudic tradition that Adam is responsible in any sense for the yetzer hara, though we have seen that is a natural implication of the loss of innocence that followed his fall to temptation.
The yetzer hara is simply accepted as a brute fact, and each man is regarded as culpable for his own sins without reference to the sin of Adam. This is not much different from the Christian position, which assumes no inheritance of culpability from Adam, but regards only personal sin as culpable. The Jews and Christians also agree that all men, after the Fall, are subject to death, regardless of personal virtue. We could hardly believe otherwise, as the physical reality of death for all men is plain.
Still, death and sin are lamentable conditions from which mankind is in need of deliverance. In the case of sin, deliverance comes through divine mercy. In Judaism, the ritual of Yom Kippur obtains pardon for all sins committed by Israel throughout the year, assuming the conditions of penitence are met. Although an act of ritual sacrifice completes the symbolic form of redemption, the divine pardon obtained at Yom Kippur is really an act of mercy, above and beyond what the petitioners merit by their offerings. In this sense the ritual sacrifice is really only a symbol; the victim offered does not merit the redemption of Israel's sins, but God grants pardon anyway in His mercy.
The ritual pardoning of sin does not free man from the inclination to sin, nor does it remove the curse of death. The early history of Jewish belief in the resurrection of the dead is murky, but we may discern several phases. In the patriarchal era, there was little expectation of personal immortality, though there was a presumption that the existence of the soul persists in some shadowy underworld called Sheol. Much like the Greek Hades in certain respects, Sheol was a place where souls, though existing, were truly dead, lamenting the loss of their earthly life, unable to perform any deed or enjoy any passion. By the time of the Israelite monarchies, there appears to have arisen a belief that the just would someday live again, if the book of Job can be invoked as evidence from that period. Contemplation of God and devotion to the Law gave rise to an increasing desire for eternity with God, so that it was no longer satisfactory to receive earthly promises. There had always been a tradition that exceptional men such as Enoch could be taken into heaven, much as in other ancient religions some heros could ascend to live with the gods. Still, the majority of the patriarchs, including Abraham, remained in Sheol, though it was believed that God so loved Abraham that he was spared from any torment there, and all who died as a faithful son of Abraham might be similarly protected in his “bosom.”
Early depictions of Sheol make no distinction among the fates of those who exist there, neither affirming nor denying that all share the same fate. God rewarded the just and punished the wicked in this life, either directly or through their posterity. If He delayed in the punishment of the wicked, it was out of mercy, to give an opportunity for repentance. As it became appreciated that God's justice should prevail even over Sheol, a distinction in post-mortem fates between the just and the unjust began to be articulated, adopting the metaphor of fire from Persian mythology to describe the torments of the wicked. The bosom of Abraham offered protection from these pains, but still death remained death.
The inspired author of Ecclesiastes, among others, recognized that the mortality of all men implied a degree of futility and unjustness to the world, as all the rewards of this life were “vanities” when contrasted with the eternity of Sheol. Nothing less than an eternal reward could satisfy the yearnings of the spiritual man.
These yearnings found form in a belief in the resurrection of the dead that became more clearly articulated in the last two pre-Christian centuries. Rudiments of this belief can be found in much earlier prophetic books, along with the messianic hopes that often accompanied this belief. There were two aspects to the Jewish belief in the resurrection of the dead: the resurrection of the body and the ascent of the souls of the saints to heaven. The author of Ecclesiastes affirms the existence of this belief, while expressing uncertainty toward it, since it has not been divinely revealed: “Who knoweth if the spirit of the children of Adam ascend upward, and if the spirit of the beasts descend downward?” (Eccl. 3:21) Yet this same author later affirms: “And the dust return into its earth, from whence it was, and the spirit return to God, who gave it,” (12:7) recognizing that the spiritual character of man ought to return to heaven, from whence it came, whereas his flesh returns to earth. Carnal death is a result of Adam's curse, but this does not extinguish the uncertain hope that man's spirit might be reunited with God.
As there was no public revelation to direct these spiritual yearnings, it was unclear how these hopes might be realized. In earlier Biblical terminology, “the day of the Lord” referred to one of God's judgment, in which He manifested His justice and righted all wrongs. This concept became invoked in apocalyptic revelations of a final “day of the Lord” which would not only administer justice for all earthly deeds, but establish for eternity the divine moral order. In these later prophecies, the earlier prophetic figure of God's anointed, or messiah, appeared in an increasingly concrete form, though there still remained uncertainty as to his role. Some prophecies indicated his anointment signified priesthood, whereas in others it suggested kingship.
By the time of Christ, expectations about the Messiah and the end times had been well developed, following some of the prophecies of Daniel and several minor prophets. The Messiah, a true son of David, would deliver Israel from her enemies, and establish God's Law throughout the entire world. The end times would be filled with calamity, including an unspeakable “abomination of desolation” (Daniel 9:27) in the holy place of the Temple, but ultimately, the Messiah would triumph and establish God's justice for all time, in a “kingdom that shall never be destroyed.” (Daniel 2:44) In order for all nations of all times to be judged, the dead would be resurrected. It was a matter of dispute whether this would be a bodily resurrection, and the Sadducees denied it would occur at all. The Pharisees, nonetheless, maintained belief in a bodily resurrection, as being true to the oral traditions of Judaism. On this matter, they were supported by written prophecy: “And many of those that sleep in the dust of the earth, shall awake: some unto life everlasting, and others unto reproach, to see it always.” (Daniel 12:2) The reference to “dust” implies carnal resurrection, and the rest of the verse carries the promise of eternal life in the flesh for those who are “found written in the book,” (12:1) while the rest are eternally punished.
Most Jews anticipated that the Messiah would be a great military leader who would secure an everlasting kingdom of Jerusalem and subdue the gentiles, establishing universal observance of the Torah. This literalist, temporal interpretation of messianic prophecy was in tension with the idea of eternity and the end of human history implied by the apocalyptic tones of such prophecies. This focus on the temporal made it ultimately difficult for most Jews to accept Jesus as Messiah, as he preached a very different kingdom from what they expected, and sought to establish God's law in men's hearts through a very different means than traditional observance of the Torah.
Starting with the preaching of John the Baptist, the Christian message opened with a call to repentance, as the kingdom of God was at hand. The teachings of Jesus repeatedly emphasized the inadequacy of observance of the Law, when sin remained in men's hearts. Jesus expanded the notion of sin beyond the Jewish sense of violations of the Law, emphasizing instead internal, spiritual holiness. The supreme virtue, in Christ's teaching, was not in external deeds, but in faith which came from God, rather than human volition. The kingdom of God would be sown in the hearts of men who had faith in His Son.
Jesus' apparent messianic claim was enough to arouse suspicion among the Pharisees and the priesthood, but he truly scandalized the religious elites with his claim to be able to forgive sins, a power hitherto reserved to God alone, and obtained through petitions and sacrifices such as the Yom Kippur ritual. Christ preached a new dispensation where divine pardon would be received directly through penitence and faith in the Messiah. More shockingly, the “Son of Man” (using Daniel's prophetic title for the Messiah) would hand himself over to be slain (evoking the “suffering servant” prophecy of Isaiah). The king of the Jews would not establish a kingdom through military conquest or lording over the nations; in fact, he rejected such prospects as demonic temptations. Instead, he came to serve, and to offer himself as a true sacrifice, unlike the symbolic sacrifices of Jewish ritual which were without intrinsic merit. Christ alone could serve as a sacrifice who truly redeemed the sins of all men. This did not mean simply excusing violations of the Law, but transforming sinful man through union with the Incarnate Word so he may live with God for eternity. Jesus promised a higher form of everlasting life, an intimacy with God that surpassed even Adam's paradisical state.
Naturally, many of these claims were completely scandalous to traditional Jews. The Messiah was supposed to exalt the religious practices of Israel and spread them throughout the world, not declare them inadequate and to be superseded. Jesus' increasingly plain claims to divinity were most scandalous of all, for the God of Israel was rightly held to be utterly transcendent and incommensurate with any creature, making divine incarnation a seeming impossibility and rank blasphemy. Blasphemy indeed was the charge with which Jesus was accused, punishable by death according to the Law. To defuse Christ's messianic claim, the Jews petitioned the Romans to subject Jesus to the shame of death by crucifixion, a disgrace incompatible with earthly kingship. On the contrary, this supposed disgrace further perfected Christ's act of submission and complete self-emptying, consistent with the humility he preached, having taught that in the kingdom of God it is those who seek to be last who will be first.
Not only did Christ merit the redemption of the sins of all men for all time, but he went further and redeemed mankind from death itself. This was not an act of mere judicial satisfaction, but an overthrow of death's power through divine agency, resurrecting Christ in his human flesh, and by extension, holding out the same prospect to those believers who are mystically united in his Body.
Needless to say, this was much to absorb, even for Christ's closest disciples who recalled his discourses at the Last Supper and his numerous predictions of his death and resurrection. Expounding the theological implications of Christ's teachings and actions was a challenge, as was the question of determining the status of traditional Jewish ritual and theology. The God of Israel remained the same in His unity, eternity, and transcendence, but this had to be harmonized with the truth of Christ's union with God, as known through faith and confirmed by miracles.
During this struggle to understand the Incarnation, Redemption, and Resurrection, the Christian doctrine of original sin was developed. It may seem strange that the reason for the Redemption should be explained after the fact, as the masses who followed Jesus had little difficulty accepting that they were in need of divine pardon, notwithstanding Jewish ritual and law. Jesus' condemnation of the Pharisees may seem unduly harsh from what we know of them from other sources, but in fact he targeted them not because they were especially sinful, but because they were the holiest men according to the old dispensation. His admonition that, in order to enter the kingdom of heaven, one's holiness must exceed that of the Pharisees derives its force precisely from the assumption that the Pharisees were exceptionally holy. It would be an empty truism to say that your holiness must exceed that of the worst sinners, but to insist it must exceed that of the Pharisees implies that no man can make himself fit to enter God's kingdom by his own effort.
Christ revealed that the only way for the messianic prophecy of eternal life in heaven to be fulfilled was for God to bring man closer to Himself in an act of pure charity, for man could never make himself holy by scrupulous obedience to the Law. The Law was not without merit, of course, since it made man aware of his duties to God, and was a necessary basis for closer union with God. Thus Jesus first asked the rich man who wished to enter the Kingdom whether he knew the commandments. The next step was to strip oneself of all worldly attachments, going beyond what Jewish law required. In Judaism, there is nothing intrinsically sinful about worldly desires, since these are natural and consistent with the Law. However, the natural man dies a natural death, and if he should desire eternal life with God, he should prefer heavenly goods to earthly goods. This shift in orientation toward the heavenly life is one of the defining characteristics of Christianity.
Since the Christian aim is loftier than any worldly delight, including the paradise lost by Adam, the standard for attaining this aim is much higher than that of Judaism. Whereas in the Old Covenant, it sufficed to abstain from any act in violation of its precepts, in Christianity even one's preference for the earthly good over the heavenly is sinful. In fact, internal disposition becomes far more important than external deeds, since the value of the latter flows from the former. Defilement comes from within, not from without. Thus the yetzer hara, or concupiscence, as it later came to be known, is sinful by Christian standards, since it entails a desire to move away from God and deny us our eternal reward.
St. Paul, himself a student of the eminent Rabbi Gamaliel, skillfully applied Jewish theological concepts to the analysis of the Christian message, while recognizing the limitations of Jewish tradition in view of the radically new revelation that Christ presented. He took to heart Jesus' warnings about the inadequacy of the Law, and used even harsher language, implying that the Law led to death. This was not an assertion that the Law was evil, but a recognition that it had no power to lift man above his natural state, which ended in death. The mystery of the Incarnation, in which all men could participate by joining the Body of Christ, which was the Church, made possible a transcendence of the natural state and the creation of a new man, oriented toward heaven. Baptism, accompanied by a profession of faith in Christ, accomplished membership in the Church. Even after baptism, concupiscence persisted, but by Christ's virtue this evil inclination had no power of Christians, as the Savior had truly redeemed all their sins. Through faith in Christ, believers partook of this salvation and could look forward to purification and eternal life with God.
This newly revealed plan of salvation, essential to the Christian message, had powerful implications regarding the moral status of man's natural state, which St. Paul expounded at length, especially in his letter to the Romans, which merits detailed explanation if we are to understand how Pauline theology is derived from the Gospel.
Early in his discourse, St. Paul establishes that Christ's salvation is open to everyone who believes, Jew or Greek (Romans 1:16), making faith, rather than any law, the basis of sanctification. This is thoroughly consistent with Christ's message, which commended the humble for their faith and condemned the haughty for their unbelief, as evidenced repeatedly in the Gospels. The virtue of faith was not unknown in the Old Testament, but now it receives a central importance, owing to the inadequacy of human efforts at sanctification through obedience to the divine law.
St. Paul first faults the Gentiles for failing to recognize God in creation, or, when recognizing Him, failing to give Him proper worship and thanks. (1:20-21) Instead, they reduced God to the form of a creature, denying His incorruptible glory. God punished this sacrilege, a product of vain human reason, by allowing men to indulge the perverse desires of their hearts, thereby depriving themselves of glory. These desires lead to a litany of sinful behaviors, all meriting death under God's law, not only to those who do them, “but they also who consent to them that do them.” (1:32)
This is not a condemnation of all men, but only those who do or consent to the evil acts described. For St. Paul has not abandoned the Jewish conviction that men will be judged according to their works, with “tribulation and anguish” for those who do evil, and “glory and honor and peace” for those who do good, whether Jew or Gentile, “for there is no respect of persons with God.” (2:9-11) It is not the hearers, but the doers of God's law who are justified, whether Jew or Gentile. Gentiles may follow God's law by obeying it as it is inscribed in human nature. (2:14-15) The Jews, on the other hand, though possessing divine law in an explicit, written form, will not profit from this knowledge if they do not actually obey the Law. Jewish hypocrisy is no less an assault on God's glory than paganism, for it causes the God of Israel to be regarded with derision by Gentiles. St. Paul may have in mind here not only explicit transgressions, but the Pharisaic lawyering that was used to interpret away difficult precepts, leaving them with little practical force.
Since obedience to God's law is the important criterion for sanctification, the Jews should not take pride in their circumcision of the flesh. If they do not obey God's law, their circumcision will be nothing in the eyes of God, whereas a Gentile who obeys God's law will be counted as “circumcised,” that is, among His chosen people. This part of the discourse actually exalts the Law more than the non-Christian Jews did, for the latter often defined God's people as those descended from Abraham, rather than those of any race who obeyed the divine law. St. Paul condemns this racial pride, and reflects that circumcision is meaningful only if the Jews keep the divine law. He closes this passage by noting that the “circumcision of the heart,” devotion to God's law, is more important than that of the flesh.
St. Paul acknowledges that the Jews are indeed a privileged people, having been entrusted with God's law and prophecies. Even if many Jews have been unfaithful to the Old Covenant, God will remain faithful in His promises to Israel. Notwithstanding this acknowledgement of the chosen people, the Apostle departs from traditional Judaism by expounding a new doctrine, essential to Christianity: Jews and Greek alike are all under the bondage of sin. (3:9)
Though this doctrine that all labor under sin is certainly no invention of St. Paul, as it permeates Christ's teachings throughout the Gospels, the Apostle takes pains to show that there are precedents for this belief even in the Old Testament. He combines an array of Biblical verses into a short narrative, leading from the sinfulness of all men to their lying tongues to their lack of God's peace. The fourteenth and fifty-third psalms both open with the same verses:
The fool says in his heart, "There is no God."
Such are corrupt; they do abominable deeds;
there is not one who does good.
The Lord looks down from Heaven upon the sons of men,
to see if there be one who is wise and seeks God.
All alike have gone astray; they have become perverse;
there is not one who does good, not even one. (Ps 14:1-3; 53:1-3)
In the context of the entire psalm, these verses refer to the persecutors of God's people, who are the "just generation" and the "poor man" (14:6), so this is not a direct indictment of every individual. However, as St. Paul points out, these verses are addressed to Jews no less than Gentiles, as they were a lament over the corruption of Israel. The psalm concludes with a prayer for salvation, that God should restore Israel from the "captivity" of its corruption. Thus this psalm is an apt source for St. Paul's doctrine that Jews as well as Gentiles are under the "bondage" of sin.
Thus far we have spoken of Jews and Gentiles only in aggregate, but the author of Ecclesiastes, also cited in Romans, unambiguously affirms that every individual is subject to sin: "There is no man on earth so just as to do good and never sin." (Eccl. 7:20) This means everyone sins at one time or another, so every individual is to some extent subject to the bondage of sin. As everyone commits actual sins, it certainly follows that all have the capacity to sin, and, as we shall see, it is likely that the universality of sin is to be accounted for by an inclination to sin.
St. Paul moves closer to the origin of sin by speaking of the heart and tongues of the wicked, from which all sinful acts originate. The fifth psalm says of the wicked, "Their heart is filled with destruction; their throat is an open grave." (Ps 5:9) In light of what has been just expounded, it is clear that this describes all men, to the extent that all men sin. Christianity recognizes that the "good" and the "wicked" are not distinct classes of people, but each individual is wicked when he sins. We may similarly understand the universal applicability of other citations in Romans: "the venom of asps is under their lips" (Ps 140:3); "His mouth is full of cursing and bitterness" (Ps 10:7 [Vulg. 9:28]); "There is no fear of God before his eyes." (Ps. 36:1)
Isaiah says of the iniquitous Israelites, "Their feet run to evil; they are swift to shed innocent blood; their thoughts are evil thoughts." (Isa. 59:7) This shows that sinners have an inclination to sin, even in their thoughts. All men, insofar as they sin, possess sinful thoughts and inclinations. Indeed, were it not for these thoughts and inclinations, men could hardly be accounted culpable for their crimes. The prophet continues, "The way of peace they do not know; there is no judgment (judicium) in their paths." (Isa. 59:8) As long as men walk in sin, they can never know peace. Christ is the Prince of Peace because he leads men out of sin and into the way of peace. The way of peace is the way of judgment or rectitude; it does not directly imply non-violent pacifism, nor the non-confrontational irenicism favored by those who seek the world's approval.
The passage from Isaiah concludes in a similar fashion as the fourteenth and fifty-third psalms, with the promise of a redeemer who will save Israel from corruption and restore justice among men. "He [the Lord] put on justice as a breastplate, and the helmet of salvation upon his head." (Isa. 59:17) This imagery, also used in Wisdom 5:19, would be used by St. Paul most famously in Ephesians 6:13-17, exhorting Christians to armor themselves in God's justice, Word, and Spirit. In 1 Thessalonians 5:8, he explains the Christian's armor in terms of faith, hope and charity, rather than avenging wrath, "For God hath not appointed us unto wrath, but unto the purchasing of salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Thess. 5:9)
Isaiah foretells the messianic redemption in these words:
He [the Lord] shall come to Zion a redeemer to those of Jacob who turn from sin, says the Lord.
This is the covenant with them which I myself have made, says the Lord:
My spirit which is upon you, and my words that I have put into your mouth
shall never leave your mouth, nor the mouths of your children,
nor the mouths of your children's children,
from now on and forever, says the Lord. (Isa. 59:20-21)
A redeemer will come to Jerusalem (Zion), sent to those of Judea and Samaria (descendants of Jacob) who repent of their sins. The context established by earlier verses ("His own arm brought about the victory" (59:16); "He [or His glory] shall come as a violent stream." (59:19)) strongly suggests that the Lord Himself is the Redeemer. The new covenant God will make with Israel consists of a promise that His Spirit will never depart from them, and His Word will always be in their mouth. Evil thoughts and wicked speech are replaced with the Spirit and Word of God Himself. Most Jews, knowing only the Law and the Prophets as the Word of God, supposed that God, through his messianic redeemer, would establish the Law and the Prophets in men's hearts for all time. Christian revelation would teach that redemption was a more intimate act, in keeping with the strong language of Isaiah suggesting God's personal involvement. God would not impart His Spirit and Word merely through the existing intermediaries of the Law and the Prophets, but He would redeem man directly through His Incarnate Word, and preserve those who believed in His Son with the eternal gift of His Holy Spirit. Man is freed from sin not by external stricture or rule, but by the inflowing of the Holy Spirit, who purifies even thoughts and inclinations lying at the root of sin.
The Christian conviction that no one is justified under the Law is not a disparagement of the Old Covenant, for the Scriptures themselves testify to the fact that no man is fully righteous before the Law. Traditional Jews did understand that God alone was truly good, a fact that Jesus made use of when he taught, "Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone." (Luke 18:19) Likewise, in the parable of the Pharisee and the publican (Lk 18:10-14), Jesus showed that the one who humbly prayed, "O God, have mercy on me, the sinner," was more justified before God than the one who professed his righteousness. These teachings resonated with many Jews (who indeed became the first Christians) precisely because they were already latent in the Old Covenant, lacking only the Divine Teacher to expound them with authority.
St. Paul follows his discussion of the unrighteousness of all men with a second theme, that "the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the Law." (Romans 3:21) Clearly, if the Law does not completely purify men of unrighteousness, there is need for a further manifestation of divine righteousness. This is found "through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe." (3:22) Salvation through faith is not some restrictive rule, but rather an expansion of salvation, opening it to both Jews and Gentiles, and offering salvation as a free gift rather than as wages that must be earned.
The Christian doctrine of redemption is succinctly expressed by the Apostle:
They are justified freely by His grace through the redemption in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as an expiation, through faith, by his blood, to prove His righteousness because of the forgiveness of sins previously committed... (Romans 4:24-25)
The idea that Christ died in expiation of our sins, as a sin-offering, is not unique to St. Paul, but can be found in the epistles of Peter and John as well as the Gospels themselves. Jesus taught at the Last Supper that his blood is the "blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many," (Mark 14:24) "for the forgiveness of sins." (Matthew 26:28) Earlier, he had proclaimed that "the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins on earth" (Mark 2:10), proving this through miracles, and his repeated foretelling of the Passion depicted the death of the Messiah as a cosmic necessity, which would become clear only after the Resurrection. "Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. And he said to them, 'Thus it is written that the Messiah would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.'" (Luke 24:45-47)
The doctrine of blood redemption is explicitly professed by other Apostles who have left us epistles. St. Peter says “you were ransomed for your futile conduct... with the precious blood of Christ” (1 Peter 1:18), and, “He bore our sins in his body upon the cross, so, free from sin, we might live for righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” (2:24) St. John likewise says, "the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. if we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and 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 iniquity." (1 John 1:7-9) Christ forgives sins of those who repent and confess, and cleanses souls by the shedding of His Blood. While it is not germane to our subject to explore thoroughly the mystery of the Redemption, it suffices to observe that this doctrine was professed by Christ and the Apostles. Moreover, we have already seen that the unrighteousness of men under the Law requires that God should be able to manifest his righteousness outside the Law, if men are to be saved and their souls are to be cleansed. Salvation must come as a gift unmerited by those who receive it. Only the Son of Man has the power and authority to forgive sins, and he has done so through the shedding of his blood for those who repent.
A Christian who repents of his sins receives forgiveness through faith in Christ whose blood was shed in expiation of sin. The centrality of faith in Christianity is a departure from Jewish emphasis, though there are certainly some Old Testament precedents for justification by faith. We should observe that faith is important not as contrasted with reason, as many unbelievers suppose, but as contrasted with works of the Law. The doctrine of justification by faith makes salvation an unmerited gift, as neither works nor faith merit justification. It also opens salvation to the Gentiles who do not have the Law, but may have faith.
Although the central importance of faith to Christianity is well established throughout the Gospel, St. Paul wishes to show examples of justification by faith in the Old Testament. The archetypal example of faith is that of Abraham. "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness" (Romans 4:3, Gen. 15:6), though he did not have the Law, nor was he yet even circumcised. St. Paul notes the accounting term "credited," explaining that this was not merited as wages due, but received as a gift. A worker receives wages, but the one who does not work receives as a gift. (Rom. 4:4-5)
Since the promise to Abraham was made prior to circumcision and the Law, it was not received through circumcision or the Law, but through faith. The promise that Abraham's descendants will inherit the earth is a gift received through his faith, so it suffices to share in Abraham's faith to partake of the promise, even if one has no share in the Law or circumcision. Abraham's faith consisted simply of believing that God would keep His promise; in other words, He trusted God. This is the most essential aspect of religious faith, modern discussion of which often gets distracted by secondary epistemic issues, such as "believing in the unseen," or, erroneously, "believing without evidence." Biblical discussions of faith are not primarily concerned with epistemological questions, so it is a mistake to contrast faith with rationalism or empiricism. Faith is principally distinguished not from reason, but from works; it consists of trusting in God, in the sense of fidelity, and accepting whatever God wills, including His unmerited gift of salvation.
Trusting in God is eminently reasonable, as God is Truth and cannot speak falsehood, but more concretely, God has proven His love by sending His Son to die for our sins. If God was willing to show such love for us by sending Christ when we were sinners, St. Paul reasons, "How much more then, since we are now justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath." (Rom. 5:9) There is good reason, then, for Christians to believe that God will keep His promises of the Holy Spirit and eternal life just as he kept His covenant with Abraham.
The epistle of St. James expands upon the Christian doctrine of justification by faith, observing that faith does not render works unnecessary, but on the contrary faith is completed by works. Using the example of Abraham, St. James notes that the patriarch proved his faith by offering his son Isaac; without the work, his faith would have been a dead letter. Living faith does not mean mere intellectual assent to theological truths, as even the demons believe that God is one. (James 2:19) Faith without works is dead, since it would be a mockery to tell a brother, "Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well," without providing him food and clothing. (2:15-17) St. James is not denying that we are justified through faith, but asserting that faith itself is incomplete without the works that prove its presence. Some Protestants have suggested that works are but external evidence of faith, but this does not do justice to the Apostle, who clearly says that faith is "completed by the works." (2:22) Without works, faith is not truly faith. Notwithstanding the necessity of works, St. James regards salvation as a gift of God "who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly" (1:5), "gives grace to the humble" (4:6), and forgives sins. (5:15-16)
St. James, in agreement with St. Paul, notes that all are guilty under the Law, since whoever violates one commandment has broken the entire Law. Since being judged by the Law leads to certain condemnation, Christians should instead should judge according to the "law of freedom" or mercy if they wish to be judged similarly. "For the judgment is merciless to one who has not shown mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment." (2:13)
Having established that all men labor under sin, yet they may find justification through faith in Christ the Redeemer, we may now turn to the first expression of St. Paul's doctrine of original sin:
Through one man sin entered the world, and through sin, death.
Death came to all, inasmuch as all sinned. (Romans 5:12)
The first half of this statement should be uncontroversial in traditional Judaism, which identifies death as the consequence of Adam's sin. Through Adam, sin entered the world, and because of his sin, man became subject to death. Yet St. Paul continues with the teaching that the descendants of Adam are all under death because of their sins. This concept has admitted of varying interpretations over the centuries, but we will try to grasp the Apostle's meaning from the surrounding context.
This teaching has followed an extended discourse establishing the sinfulness of all men, so it would be a startling departure for the Apostle to suddenly impute all personal sin to Adam. On the contrary, we should suppose that "inasmuch as all sinned" refers to the real personal sins of each man who has ever lived. St. Paul has already shown that sin existed under the Law, and now he further observes that "up to the time of the Law, sin was in the world, though sin is not accounted when there is no law." (5:13) Before the covenant with Moses, sin was certainly in the world, even if people could not know to regard it as such, lacking the explicit divine law. Since death comes to men through sin (the Apostle never explains the exact means, but we assume it as a sort of penalty as in Genesis), all men from Adam to Moses are subject to death as a result of their sins, which were made possible by the sin of Adam.
But death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who did not sin after the pattern of the trespass of Adam, who is the type of the one who was to come. (5:14)
St. Paul observes that not everyone sinned as Adam did, yet all were subject to the penalty of death. This penalty should not be blamed entirely on Adam, since Adam's descendants sinned in their own right, as the Apostle and Jewish tradition agree, yet these sins would not have been possible were it not for the first sin committed by Adam. St. Paul also notes that Adam is a type of Christ, as he will expound in his elaboration of original sin.
But the gift is not like the transgression. For if by that one person's transgression the many died, how much more did the grace of God and the gracious gift of the one person Jesus Christ overflow for the many. And the gift is not like the result of the one person sinning. For after one sin there was the judgment that brought condemnation; but the gift, after many transgressions, brought acquittal. For if by the transgression of one person, death came to reign through that one, how much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of justification come to reign in life through the one person Jesus Christ.
In conclusion, just as through one transgression condemnation came upon all, so through one righteous act acquittal and life came to all. For just as through the disobedience of one person the many were made sinners, so through the obedience of one the many will be made righteous. The law entered in so that transgression might increase but, where sin increased, grace overflowed all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through justification for eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (5:15-21)
The doctrine of original sin is articulated by parallelism and contrast with Christ's act of redemption. Adam's single sin resulted in the death and condemnation of many, but Christ's gift of redemption brought acquittal for countless transgressions. St. Paul most explicitly links Adam's sin to the sinfulness of man when he says, "through the disobedience of one person many were made sinners." (5:19) He does not explain exactly how the original sin made sinners of the many, but somehow it opened the door to sin for all of Adam's posterity.
St. Paul elaborates the correlations between sin and death, and between obedience and righteousness. Sin leads to death, while justification was obtained through Christ's obedience. The reign of sin is manifested by death, while the reign of grace is manifested through justification for eternal life. (5:21) The transition between the reign of sin and the reign of grace is accomplished by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, over whom death has no power. Those who are baptized in Christ partake of his death, and become dead to sin. (6:3-11) Thus a Christian ought not to sin, even though he is not under the Law, since he is no longer a "slave of sin", but a "slave of righteousness." Sin leads to death, but obedience leads to righteousness. Christians "have become obedient from the heart to the pattern of teaching to which you were entrusted." It is through obedience to the Christian life revealed by the Holy Spirit that man receives eternal life. This benefit is an unmerited gift, as shown by the contrast, "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." (6:23) Wages are received as something due, so people die because of their own sins, though Adam made it possible for sin to enter the world. The gift of salvation is received through faith, which is manifested by obedience according to St. Paul, showing agreement with St. James that faith is completed by works. Significantly, St. Paul identifies the receipt of this gift with baptism, which is in agreement with Gospel teaching (Mk 16:16), as is his identification of baptism with participation in Christ's death. (Mk 10:39) Baptism thus is the means by which one is freed from slavery to sin and becomes obedient in faith to God.
The Apostle proceeds to explain sin and righteousness in terms of law. Here St. Paul displays what is perhaps his strongest indictment of the Mosaic Law, finding it to be an occasion for sin or transgression, which in turn leads to death. While the last half of this formula has already been solidly established, it is less obvious that the Law is an occasion for sin.
What then can we say? That the law is sin? Of course not! Yet I did not know sin except through the law, and I did not know what it is to covet except that the law said, "You shall not covet." But sin, finding an opportunity in the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetousness.
Apart from the law sin is dead. I once lived outside the law, but when the commandment came, sin became alive; then I died, and the commandment that was for life turned out to be death for me. For sin, seizing an opportunity in the commandment, deceived me and through it put me to death.
So then the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. Is the good, then, become death for me? Of course not! Sin, in order that it might be shown to be sin, worked death in me through the good, so that sin might become sinful beyond measure through the commandment. (Romans 7:7-13)
Even in this most strenuous assertion of the powerlessness of the Law, St. Paul affirms that the Law is indeed holy, and sin is not to be found in it. Rather, sinful inclination seizes its opportunities through the commandment. There can be no sin without the Law. The Apostle in this passage begins to speak of sin as though it is a definite inclination, rather than the mere fact of transgression. Sin in this sense is the yetzev hara, or evil inclination in man. The good and evil inclinations of Jewish moral theology are described in terms of a "law of sin" dwelling in man's flesh, and the "law of God" in man's soul:
For I know that good does not dwell in me, that is, in my flesh. The willing is ready at hand, but doing the good is not. For I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want. Now if (I) do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. So, then, I discover the principle that when I want to do right, evil is at hand. For I take delight in the law of God, in my inner self, but I see in my members another principle at war with the law of my mind, taking me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. (7:18-23)
The Apostle appeals to direct human experience, showing that we often do evil or omit to do good, not because of any lack of will to do good, but because we are opposed by inclinations of "the flesh," which includes the carnal nature of our mind, filled with appetites and desires that may oppose or at least be indifferent to what we judge to be right. The "law of the flesh" closely matches the yetzer hara, as it is what makes us bestial or indifferent to the Law, sometimes even opposing it. St. Paul is also consistent with Jewish moral theology when he identifies the inclination to do good, or yetzer hatov, with the mind discovering the law of God.
Miserable one that I am! Who will deliver me from this mortal body? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Therefore, I myself, with my mind, serve the law of God but, with my flesh, the law of sin. (7:24-25)
This state of moral tension is resolved only be the saving grace of Jesus Christ, which delivers man from the flesh and its law of sin through baptism. This frees the soul to serve God, unencumbered by the law of sin. The Apostle deviates from Judaism in the insistence (expounded at length earlier) that man cannot deliver himself from sinful inclination by his own effort at following the law, but instead he must receive this deliverance as an unmerited divine favor.
With this understanding, we can now see that in the eighth chapter of Romans, St. Paul is not condemning the Mosaic law as a "law of sin and death," but rather the "law of the flesh."
For the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus has freed you from the law of sin and death[the law of the flesh, or yetzer hara]. For what the [Mosaic] law, weakened by the flesh, was powerless to do, this God has done: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for the sake of sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the righteous decree of the [divine] law might be fulfilled in us, who live not according to the flesh but according to the spirit. (8:2-4)
I have parenthetically inserted the different senses of "law" that the Apostle uses. The Mosaic Law, which is a declarative form of the divine law, is powerless to free man from the law of sin and death, which is the law of the flesh. God Himself has freed man from this law by sending the Son in human flesh and condemning sin in the flesh, so that the divine law may be directly fulfilled in Christians who live according to the spirit.
The concern of the flesh is death, but the concern of the spirit is life and peace. For the concern of the flesh is hostility toward God; it does not submit to the law of God, nor can it; and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
But you are not in the flesh; on the contrary, you are in the spirit, if only the Spirit of God dwells in you. Whoever does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the spirit is alive because of righteousness.
If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit that dwells in you. Consequently, brothers, we are not debtors to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die, but if by the spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. (8:6-13)
St. Paul makes clear that the law of the flesh is hostile to God, and therefore opposed to eternal life and peace which is to be found only in God. Those who are "in the flesh," subject to the yetzer hara, cannot please God, because they are to some extent opposed to him. Only those who live "in the spirit" can please God, and living in the spirit means nothing less than having the Holy Spirit of God indwelling within. St. Paul uses the expressions "Spirit of God," "Spirit of Christ," and "Christ" equivalently, as though the indwelling of one implied the indwelling of the others, reflecting a strongly trinitarian theology. For our present concerns, we need only note that freedom from the law of sin is achieved by God manifesting his "law" in a new way, by directly dwelling within the human soul.
For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, "Abba, Father!" The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him. (8:15-17)
Christians are slaves of God in a new way, not in the fearful manner under the Mosaic Law, but adopted as children of the God who dwells within. Christians are as truly sons of God as Christ, and will therefore share in his glory. Since Christians are adopted sons of God and no longer slaves, they are free from the Mosaic Law, but this is not to say that the Law was not holy, nor that Christians are "free to sin," for such freedom is actually a slavery to the law of the flesh. Rather, Christians obey the divine law in a new way, receiving it directly from the Holy Spirit as a gift.
This freedom from the law of the flesh comes in stages; baptized Christians have the "firstfruits of the Spirit," yet "groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies." (8:23) In this hope Christians are saved, and hope requires faith in the unseen, "For who hopes for what one sees?" (8:24) Yet human weakness finds faith and hope difficult, so "the Spirit intercedes with inexpressible groanings," teaching us how to pray. (8:26) Those who have faith, hope, and the love of God are so because they have been called by God, who foreknew that they would be "conformed to the image of His Son." (8:29) This doctrine of predestination follows inevitably from the omniscience of God and the fact that salvation is an unmerited divine gift.
St. Paul sees the transformation of Christians as impacting all creation.
For creation awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God; for creation was made subject to futility, not of its own accord but because of the one who subjected it, in hope that creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God. (8:19-21)
All of creation is subject to corruption, yet it may "hope" (following the Apostle's anthropomorphic metaphor) to share in the glory promised to the children of God, who will inhabit a new heaven and earth that will be free from corruption and decay. Historically, most Christian commentators have inferred that the corruptibility of the inanimate world is a result of Adam's sin, but this is not explicitly stated by St. Paul. He merely says the created world was made subject to futility (literally, "vanity"), "not of its own accord but because of the one who subjected it." One possible interpretation is that Adam subjected all creation to corruptibility through his sin, but there is no other strong Biblical indication of this view, nor does St. Paul himself ever establish such a thesis in his earlier discussion. The Apostle's primary point is not about how the natural world came to be corruptible, but how it will share in supernatural glory thanks to the glorification of the children of God at the end of time.
The "one who subjected" creation to "vanity" might indeed be Adam, not because his sin is the cause of natural corruptibility, but because it prevented the glorification of man that would result in the supernatural perfection of the natural world. Alternatively, we might see God, in His inscrutable providence, making the world corruptible in anticipation of the fall of Adam, so that all creatures may share in suffering and redemption. Lastly, though highly speculative and theologically unlikely, it is conceivable that corruptibility in nature is the result of demonic action long before the creation of man. Such a thesis would be difficult to reconcile with the clear statement in Genesis that God found the creation to be good, and indeed, there is nothing in natural corruptibility that is incompatible with the metaphysical goodness of the universe.
St. Paul expounds the doctrine of the unrighteousness of all men contained in the Old Testament and combines it with the Christian revelation of redemption through Christ's Passion and Resurrection, yielding the conclusion that men can only be justified by the grace of God received through faith, not through the Mosaic Law. He shows Abraham as the supreme example of justification by faith (which is true faith only when matched with works), where salvation is received as a gift of God and not as the wages of human merit.
On the contrary, all men deserve death, insofar as they share in Adam's sinfulness, committing their own personal sins. Nonetheless, these sins would not have been possible were it not for Adam's sin, which somehow opened the door for sin to enter the world. The twin theses that Adam's sin was the cause of death for all men and the occasion for all subsequent sin was already common in Judaism (most strenuously asserted by the School of Shammai, and found in the fourth book of Ezra); indeed, the first is unequivocally stated in Genesis, while the second is strongly implied. St. Paul only adds the Christian revelation, taught by the other Apostles, that Jesus has redeemed man from death and sin, offering the free gift of justification for eternal life.
The Apostle distinguishes the divine law known to the spirit from a "law of the flesh" (yetzer hara), which can incline man to sin, the wages of which is death. Observance of the written Mosaic Law is powerless to free man from the "law of the flesh," since the Law can only identify sin, but does not abolish sinful inclination. Men can be freed from sin only when the divine law is received directly through the Holy Spirit. This direct indwelling of God makes Christians dead to the sinful flesh so they may live according to the spirit. Though free from the Law, they are not free to sin, which would be to return to slavery, but freely obey God as His children rather than as slaves.
The Spirit of God is first received in baptism, but even Christians must continually labor against the flesh until the final redemption of their bodies at the Last Judgment. Belief in this final redemption requires faith, hope, and love of God, virtues that are provided by the Spirit Himself. Those who receive these virtues were called by God, who foreknew from eternity who would be conformed to His Son's image.
Just as Christians expect the redemption of their bodies like a woman in travail, so does all creation expect to be freed from its state of corruptibility, to share in the glory of the children of God. This participation of inanimate creation in the Christian redemption does not imply that natural corruptibility is a direct consequence of Adam's sin, a point on which St. Paul does not elaborate.
Although St. Paul does more than any other Apostle to elaborate the doctrine of original sin, he does little more than synthesize Jewish moral theology with the Christian revelation of redemption received through faith in Christ Jesus. He holds that Adam's sin is the cause of death in all men and the occasion of all subsequent sin, and that the "law of the flesh" cannot be overcome by the Mosaic Law. Man is freed from his bondage to sin only by the indwelling Holy Spirit first received in baptism, and through faith in the completion of our redemption at the Last Judgment.
There are several subtleties not explicitly discussed by the Apostle that would become of concern to later Christians. First, it is not clear exactly how Adam's sin opened the door to sin for all his posterity. Second, it is not clear exactly in what sense the "law of the flesh" (yetzer hara) or concupiscence may be said to be sinful, if indeed the "law of the flesh" and concupiscence are identical. Third, it is not clear what the exact effect of baptism is with regard to the law of the flesh or concupiscence. These difficulties would be explored by the Fathers of the Church, most famously by St. Augustine.
Continue to Part II
© 2008 Daniel J. Castellano. All rights reserved. http://www.arcaneknowledge.org