August 13, 2007

This Post is Old!

The post you are reading is years old and may not represent my current views. I started blogging around the time I first began to study philosophy, age 17. In my view, the point of philosophy is to expose our beliefs to rational scrutiny so we can revise them and get better beliefs that are more likely to be true. That's what I've been up to all these years, and this blog has been part of that process. For my latest thoughts, please see the front page.

Original Sin-Original Guilt, Christ's Righteousness-Imputation of Righteousness

Peter Kirk has posted a discussion of the Latin text Augustine was familiar with and its effect on his doctrine of original sin. The claim is, effectively, this: Augustine believed in the doctrine of original guilt because of an ambiguity introduced by an excessively literal Latin Bible which persists in the Vulgate and later theologians have a propensity to read original guilt into the text of Scripture because Augustine did. The passage in question is the end of Romans 5:12. The English translations are pretty much all the same: "in this way death spread to all men, because all sinned." But Augustine's translation says "in whom all sinned." The English translations are certainly more accurate. It is true, however, that many theologians, following Augustine, have claimed that everyone sinned in Adam. For instance, Michael Rea's paper "The Metaphysics of Original Sin" (which I highly recommend, if for no other reason than because it's fun) discusses several Western accounts of original sin and finds it necessary to examine various accounts of personal identity, since some of these theories require that we actually each be identical with Adam at the time of his first sin, and not identical with him at his second sin, i.e. that in Adam's eating of the fruit we literally all sin in him.

Now, in the comments, Jeremy and others argue, and Peter concedes, that no contemporary Protestant theologian actually makes the argument Augustine makes and, in fact, have other arguments for this conclusion, but Peter nevertheless (plausibly) claims that we tend to be more inclined to accept this view because of Augustine's influence on the tradition.

Peter's claim is supported by the fact that in the Christian East, where Augustine's influence is considerably less (though he is still a canonized saint), theologians have generally accepted original sin while denying original guilt, which, if I read him correctly, is also Peter's view. I have been told that this view was also held by John Wesley who got it from the various Eastern Christian writers he read (he was particularly fond of the Macarian Homilies). The view is this: because of Adam's sin, human nature is corrupted so that none of us is able not to sin (Romans 3:23); however, contra Augustine, we are held guilty only for our own particular acts of sin (which we all necessarily commit due to the corruption of our natures) and not for Adam's sin.

Now, I see the doctrine of original sin as very strongly supported by Scripture, whereas I think the doctrine of original guilt is something that comes primarily out of systematic theology rather than the clear teaching of specific passages of Scripture. (Augustine, of course, had a specific passage teaching this view in his Bible, but that was due to a misleading translation.) In fact, Romans 5:12 seems rather supportive of the original-sin-without-original-guilt view under consideration as against the Augustinian view. For the record, I regard both views as plausible and orthodox, provided that those who deny original guilt make strong enough claims about depravity.

Throughout Romans 5, Paul sets up a parallel between Adam and Christ, the new Adam. "if by the one man's trespass the many died, how much more have the grace of God and the gift overflowed to the many by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ ... from one sin came the judgment, resulting in condemnation, but from the many trespasses came the gift, resulting in justification." (vv. 15 and 16) And the correspondance is real: indeed, there is a theological debate directly parallel to the debate about original guilt, and this is the debate about imputation of righteousness. "To impute" is a King James term for the Greek logizomai which can mean "to charge to one's account" (the word at Romans 5:13 is ellogeo, a cognate that means just exactly and only "to charge to one's account", whereas logizomai is a broader term and can also mean "to reckon," "to add up," "to consider," "to think," etc.). The doctrine of imputation of righteousness says that we are credited ("to credit" is a good translation of logizomai when used with a positive connotaton in some contexts) with Christ's righteousness; that is, in judging us, God considers Christ's righteous life as if it were ours and so acquits ("justifies" - Greek dikaioo) us, rather than condemning us for our sins.

(A brief note on this word: "justified" is often glossed as "declared righteous," and that's not so bad, except that "righteous" is also a technical theological term, and is also originally a legal term in the Greek, and we don't necessarily know what it means. To be righteous is to be on the right side of the law. To be justified means to have a judicial declaration state that you owe no (further) civil or criminal penalty. This can mean one of two things: either you have been found innocent or the penalty has been paid in full and you can now be released. I've used the translation "acquitted," which is footnoted in the HCSB, because it is easy to understand in this context, but I think Paul plays on the broader semantic range of the Greek word: on the one hand, we are acquitted because of Christ's innocence, but on the other hand, we were guilty and Christ paid our penalty for us. I think these are two different metaphors that Paul intentionally merges in his overally view of "justification.")

While Paul speaks of God "imputing" (or, rather, not imputing) sin in several places, the only talk of "imputing" righteousness in the New Testament centers around Genesis 15:6, which uses that wording in the Septuagint. The longest such discussion is Romans 4, immediately before our passage. This verse, as quoted by Paul at Romans 4:3, reads "But Abraham trusted God, and it was counted toward his [being] on the right side of the law" (my translation - traditionally, "Abraham believed God and it was credited to him for righteousness"). At 4:24-25, Paul connects this back to us and to Christ: "[Our trust] is about to be counted in our [favor], since we place our trust in the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead. [Jesus] was betrayed on account of our violations [of God's law] and raised on account of the full payment of our penalty [or 'on account of our acquittal']." (With the traditional theological vocabulary: "[Our faith] is about to be imputed to us [as righteousness], since we have faith in the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead. [Jesus] was betrayed on account of our transgressions and raised on account of our justification.")

This, as I said, leads directly into Romans 5, the first verse of which says, "Therefore, since our penalty has been declared 'paid in full' because we have trusted him [lit. 'from trust' or 'because of trust'], we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." (Side note: I'm beginning to understand why translators use the traditional theological vocabulary - translating into plain English is hard work, and I'm not sure I'm even succeeding!) The traditional Protestant view can be seen as a pretty straightforward inference from this passage: because we trust in Christ's rigtheousness rather than our own, God judges us on the basis of Christ's righteousness, rather than on the basis of our own. There is a lot of Biblical support for this kind of idea, especially in the prophetic books, often with the metaphor of clothing (e.g. Isaiah 61:10, 64:6, Zechariah 3) - I have no intention of tracking down every passage to this effect, because there are a lot of them. In fact, I think this is strongly enough supported that the parallel to imputation of righteousness can be used as an argument in favor of original guilt! Nevertheless, it remains an inference from the text, rather than the immediate teaching of the text. The immediate teaching of the text is something more vague and general, as original sin is more vague and general than original guilt. The text teaches that Adam's sin brought sin and death into the world for everyone, and Christ's righteousness brings life, peace, and justification into the world for everyone who believes.

As this is an inference, there is room for a view parallel to the original-sin-without-original-guilt view: the Christ's-righteousness-without-imputation view which, if I understand this article correctly, may be the view of the Eastern Orthodox Church. The author says "For a Christian, the beginning of eternal-life is the beginning of his belief in Jesus Christ. For him a promise has been given, a reward for eternity because, 'Who soever liveth and believeth in Me, shall never die' (John 11:26)." Later he also says, "Repentance is the exercise of the free will of man, without which there is no salvation ... Repentance is ... the human reaction to the appeal of Jesus Christ." Christ, his righteous life and sacrificial death, his promise, and our trust in him are thus all seen as essential ingredients in salvation. Later, however, judgment is said to be according to "faith and deeds on earth" and reference is made to "the moral progress of the soul." Now, this is admittedly a little vague, and I'm going to interpret it charitably, keeping in mind that the Orthodox theologians who say these things intend them to be compatible with Scripture, including Romans. What could this possibly mean that would be compatible? Well, first we note that repentance and faith are seen as the beginning of this process - no good deed or "moral progress" occurring before this can please God in such a way as to acheive salvation - and that repentance is seen as a "reaction to the appeal of Jesus Christ." We further note that Pelagianism - the view that man is capable of initiating and/or accomplishing his own salvation - is regarded as a heresy in the East just as in the West. The story of salvation begins with "the appeal of Jesus Christ." Only after Christ makes his appeal to us can there be good deeds and "moral progress." We can then understand this Christ's-righteousness-without-imputation view by comparison with the original-sin-without-original-guilt view. Remember that because of Romans 5 we ought to say that we have Christ's righteousness in the same way we once had Adam's sin. As a result of Adam's sin, "death spread to all men because all sinned." We now claim that because of Christ's righteousness life can spread to all who believe, because all can live righteous lives. After repentance and the new birth, the believer can say "I have been crucified with Christ; and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me." (Galatians 2:19-20) Christ in the believer now does what the believer could not do for himself - lives the life pleasing to God. On account of this life, the believer is judged to be righteous and acquitted of his sin. (Everyone who has begun the process - who has repented and believed - counts as "saved" in the Evangelical sense of that term. The Orthodox writer combines the "Great White Throne" judgment by which one enters heaven [Revelation 20:11-15] with the bema judgment for the heavenly reward [2 Corinthians 5:10].)

Now, what this theory needs, which is not mentioned in the article I linked, is an account of atonement. I don't necessarily mean penal substitution - I regard the doctrine of the atonement as an essential point of orthdoxy, but penal substitution as a probably correct but certainly incomplete account of the atonement. If this theory is to work, we cannot claim simply that the believer is "a new creation ... the new things have come;" we must also claim that "old things have passed away" (2 Corinthians 5:17), and the clear Biblical teaching is that, one way or another, it is the death of Christ that takes away our old sins (Romans 6:1-11, Ephesians 2:14-16, etc.).

By way of conclusion, let me say that I regard the traditional Protestant view as solidly Biblically and historically orthodox, whereas the view that I've been sketching here I say might be made to be both plausible and orthodox if sufficiently strong pictures of depravity and atonement can be annexed to it. This is far from an endorsement of this theory, but I present it for your consideration in the hope that it will cause you to reexamine your assumptions and think through the Biblical and rational grounds of your beliefs. Good luck!

Posted by Kenny at August 13, 2007 7:13 PM
TrackBack URL for this entry:


I looked into the question of Augustine on original guilt some time ago. It turns out that it's very difficult to find passages where Augustine actually affirms the doctrine of original guilt. There are a few passages where the term 'guilt' is often used in translation, but the Latin is always more ambiguous -- it's either obnoxia, which really means 'subjection' and not guilt at all, or reus/reatus, which can mean guilt but can also mean debt or liability without any implication of guilt. So what we find in Augustine is consistent with original guilt but does not seem to entail it. It's also interesting that in his arguments, Augustine places very little emphasis on Rm 5:12. He does make use of it, mostly to argue against the Pelagians that we are not sinners merely because we imitate Adam, but because we inherit his subjection; it comes up because he thinks the Pelagians are obviously running afoul of it, but it's hardly his only argument (passages showing that none are justified save through Christ arguably play a bigger role).

Posted by: Brandon at August 14, 2007 9:26 AM

That's interesting. I wonder, though, if the opponents of original guilt would think "original debt" was a form of that doctrine: this still says that we have "legal liability" or some such for Adam's sin.

Posted by: Kenny at August 14, 2007 9:30 AM

Judging from discussions I've had, I think that they will tend to do this. It's a harder sell, though; for one can link (as Augustine in fact does) this inherited liability with what Paul says about the 'reign of death'. And it's very difficult to read Genesis 3 in such a way that we haven't inherit some of the liability for the sin, whether we inherit the guilt for it or not. (Since one form of legal liability is punishment, and the punishments God doles out are certainly not restricted to Adam.)

Posted by: Brandon at August 14, 2007 9:45 AM

I agree. I think that an "original liability" model is an interesting middle ground, but it seems to be a middle ground rather than a rejection of original guilt.

Posted by: Kenny at August 14, 2007 9:48 AM

Be careful what you claim as being Orthodoxy. Not everything that you have said is Orthodox. You are very close, though. It needs more clarification such as:
Trusting that our sins have been washed away is not good enough. We must take up our cross and bear it, following Christ. On the day of the last judgement, Christ will return and will judge us according to OUR deeds, and those evil deeds (or our neglect of good deeds) which we have repented on will not be counted against us. On the flip side, those which we did NOT repent on WILL be counted against us. Having said this, it complies with the Book of James and the teachings in the Gospels. Faith is living, it cannot be dead.
Further note: Repentance is the turning away from sin, not just feeling guilty about it. In order to achieve this, we must learn to lean on God at all times. For all good things come from Him alone.

The main reason why original guilt gets messy is in the Incarnation of Jesus. He had to be clothed in human flesh, without the stain of sin, in order to fulfill the work that He set out to do: dying physically and resurrecting physically so that we may live in and with Him. If original guilt is there, then He could not be of the same type of flesh as us, therefore, unable to free us. Also, in order for His flesh to be without the original guilt, the flesh He took on from Mary had to be without that guilt and therefore she would have to be without that guilt and already freed from the original sin/guilt (Roman Catholic viewpoint of Immaculate Birth).

I am not an expert, so I will not go any further in depth. However, everything that I have read in Orthodoxy has pointed toward what I have said. Jesus was born of the same flesh as us, subject to the corruptibility that we are all subject to, so that He could free us from the bondage of Death and the Devil.

With this Romans 5 makes sense. We trust in Him, so we follow Him and His doctrine, and are washed clean of the sins that we have repented on so that we may live with Him, always in communion with Him and all the others who are in communion with Him.

Posted by: Ken Wells at March 12, 2008 11:34 AM

Ken - thanks for your comments. I periodically think about Orthodox theology, and I don't know much about it, so I need people like you around to straighten me out!

I'm puzzled by some of what you say, and it puzzles me in the same way that some other Orthodox writings puzzle me. You say "Trusting that our sins have been washed away is not good enough. We must take up our cross and bear it, following Christ." Even the most ardent Calvinist might assent to this statement in some contexts. The question is, "not good enough for what?" The Orthodox page I linked to takes more or less the same tack you do, but doesn't answer that question either. Please don't say "not good enough for salvation" - that doesn't answer the question. Salvation is used many different ways in the NT, and it is sometimes used in such a way that what you have said is true trivially: if you are still sinning, then you have not been saved from your sin in the fullest possible sense.

If, however, you say that it is "not good enough" for justification then it will be difficult, if not impossible, to avoid semi-Pelagianism. On the other hand, you may not care, since semi-Pelagianism was never condemned by any major Church council. However, what you should care about is not running afoul of Romans 3:28, Galatians 2:16, and similar passages throughout Paul. (On James 2:24, see my recent post "'Trust' without action is dead".)

You next say that "On the day of the last judgement, Christ will return and will judge us according to OUR deeds, and those evil deeds (or our neglect of good deeds) which we have repented on will not be counted against us. On the flip side, those which we did NOT repent on WILL be counted against us." Most Protestant theologians (though perhaps not most rank-and-file Protestants) suppose that the bema judgment of 2 Corinthians 5:10 is distinct from the "Great White Throne" judgment of Revelation 20:11-15 and Joel 3. The first is for dispensing the heavenly reward among those who will enter the Kingdom; the second is for determining who will and will not enter the Kingdom at all. The page I linked talked about being judged by our "progress in virtue." I assumed that, for consistency with Scripture, this would refer to the bema judgment, but I don't actually know. Does the Orthodox Church hold a doctrine of two judgments? If so, are our works relevant to both?

The big question I guess is, according to Orthodoxy, who goes to heaven?

Posted by: Kenny at March 12, 2008 8:02 PM

First, the "not good enough..." Sadly, first response I must give is that it is not good enough for salvation, but I will clarify (though, again, I am not a theologian, so not everything that I say is necessarily Orthodox... talking to a priest would be best). I was referring to the Protestant viewpoint of being saved, the once saved always saved. Our putting faith and trust in God does not obligate Him to allow us into paradise or heaven (they are actually two separate ideas... paradise is pre-final-judgement and heaven is post-final-judgement). Ultimately we are subjects to God's great mercy and loving-kindness. When one dies, as in the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man, a man is either guided by angels to God's bosom, or their soul is demanded from them by demons. We will be tempted by the demons to stay with them, and those who have removed any attachments to the passions will pass by without lingering, but those who still fall victim to their passions (lust, pride, etc) and are unrepentant of them will not be able to pull themselves away from their passions. So, we are not judged upon our death, but rather we stay with those who are like unto us, angels who are with God or demons who tempt us with the passions.

Now, there will only be one judgement, as implied above. God will judge us, both the living and the dead, upon His Second Coming. The best foreshadowing that we men can understand during this life is that of the parable of the Sheep and the Goats. Sheep on the right who unwittingly were doing God's will and were doing great deeds just by subjecting themselves to God's will and not their own. Goats on the left side who unwittingly rejected God's will by rejecting the needs of those around them and did only what they themselves thought to be good.

Now, who goes to heaven? The ones whose debt has been forgiven them or have never had debt (babies that never had a chance to sin -- no original guilt). So in Orthodoxy, we live our lives in repentance and trust and hope of God's great loving-kindness. We repent for sins known and unknown, whether from youth or despondency, by deed or by word, and of all the passions. Orthodoxy is a way of life, not just a set of beliefs.

Again, I am not an expert, so I gave the simplest explanation that I could in fear of leading you and others astray from the real teachings. I hope that this helped.

By the way, the Trust without action article was pretty good from my meager eyes. I would say that you are on the right track, just keep reading and asking questions from people.

Posted by: Ken Wells at March 15, 2008 4:41 PM

"the Protestant viewpoint of being saved, the once saved always saved" - you mean the Calvinist viewpoint; I don't believe in the "perseverance of the saints."

I think it would be closer to the language of Scripture to distinguish "heaven" and "the new heavens and new earth" (or "the Kingdom" if you prefer) but this is purely a linguistic issue, and the term "paradise" is used at least once for this concept. At any rate, I accept your distinction.

Your line about the demons in Hades is interesting, but the paper on the web-site for the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North America disagrees with you:

The moral progress of the soul, either for better or for worse, ends at the very moment of the separation of the body and soul; at that very moment the definite destiny of the soul in the everlasting life is decided. (see Androutsos Dogmatics p. 409). It will be judged not according to its deeds one by one, but according to the entire total results of its deeds and thoughts. The Orthodox Church believes that at this moment the soul of the dead person begins to enjoy the consequences of its deeds and thoughts on earth - that is, to enjoy the life in Paradise or to undergo the life in Hell. There is no way of repentance, no way of escape, no reincarnation and no help from the outside world. Its place is decided forever by its Creator and judge.

The Orthodox Church does not believe in purgatory (a place of purging), that is, the inter-mediate state after death in which the souls of the saved (those who have not received temporal punishment for their sins) are purified of all taint preparatory to entering into Heaven, where every soul is perfect and fit to see God. Also, the Orthodox Church does not believe in indulgences as remissions from purgatoral [sic] punishment. Both purgatory and indulgences are inter-corrolated [sic] theories, unwitnessed in the Bible or in the Ancient Church, and when they were enforced and applied they brought about evil practices at the expense of the prevailing Truths of the Church. If Almighty God in His merciful loving-kindness changes the dreadful situation of the sinner, it is unknown to the Church of Christ. The Church lived for fifteen hundred years without such a theory.

Again, thank you for your comments. My study of Orthodoxy, though limited, tends to lead me to the view that it is dangerous to say what "the Orthodox view" is when there is no major council on the subject, as there is almost always internal disagreement (they don't have the level of detail in dogmatic definitions the Catholic Church does - thank God!). However, there certainly are distinctively Eastern interpretive traditions on almost every question, so perhaps some theologians believe what you have said, and others hold what the article says, but you understand if I am inclined to trust the article, as it is on the official web-site of the archdiocese. Perhaps I am mistaken in supposing that there is a disagreement?

Posted by: Kenny at March 15, 2008 5:18 PM

Well, the issue of tollhouses is a new debate in the Orthodox Church. Many Church Fathers used it in their illustration. In America, the idea is generally rejected, which confuses me as it is mostly a parable of the temptation and struggle after death. I never meant the thing as literally toll-houses as a such that you pass through, its more, the demons will tempt you and you will either stay with them or be guided by the angels to God.

I never meant a purgatory, I simply meant foretaste of what is to come after judgment.

The source that I was using is "Life after Death" by Metropolitan of Nafpaktos Hierotheos. The main thing is that we should acknowledge that when we die, we will have to confront both angels and demons. There really is no "This is exactly how it will happen," and I am thankful for that.

Also, again, this is why I kept saying that I am not a theologian and you should consult a priest.

Posted by: Ken Wells at March 16, 2008 8:59 AM

Well, thank you for your thoughtful reflections, anyway. I will consider reading the book you are talking about, since I have never heard of this idea before and it sounds rather interesting. Can you tell me which Fathers are cited?

By the way, my blockquotes didn't work in my last comment; the second paragraph is also part of the quote. I'm going to try to fix that now. I look forward to further discussions on this and other discussions, and will keep in mind that we are both more or less novices in the study of Orthodoxy.

Also, do you read the blog Energetic Procession? Those guys know what they are talking about. Recently, it's been mostly historical quotes with only limited commentary, but it's still very interesting. I recommend it.

Posted by: Kenny at March 16, 2008 10:43 PM

The following Church Fathers were quoted on the Taxing of Souls:

St. Macarius of Egypt - "Like the tax collectors who sit in the narrow roads and seize the passers-by and the oppressed, so also the demons watch carefully and grab hold of souls. And when they pass out of the body, if they are not completely purified, they are not permitted to go up into the mansions of Heaven there to meet their Master. For they are driven down by the demons of the air" - Homily 43

Another supporting thing is John 14:30 - "for the ruler of this world is coming, and he has nothing in me"... which the author then goes on to say "He is surely referring here to the devil and death"

St. Basil the Great - while interpretting Psalm 7:2-3 "save me from all those who persecute me; and deliver me, lest they tear my soul like a lion" says that the brave men who struggled throughout their lives against the invisible enemy, towards the end of their lives "will be searched by the ruler of the age" in order to hold them captive if they are found to have wounds or stigmata or imprints of sins. But if they are found uninjured and unstained, then "as they are invincible and free, Christ will give them rest." Therefore he who is under the power of death since he knows that "One is He who saves, One is He who redeems," cries out to Christ the Saviour: "Deliver me in that time of searching lest they tear my soul like a lion." And Christ, since He was free of sin, said: "now the ruler of this world is coming and he will have nothing in me"; for man, however, it is enough to say that the ruler of the world is coming and he will have "few and small things" in me - Homily on Psalm 7, 2. PG 29

St. John Chrysostom - if we are frightened by the sight of terrible men, how much more frightened we will be when at the departure of the soul from the body we see "angels threatening us and stern powers..." The soul which is parted from the body wails uselessly, in vain. - Homily 44 on Matthew

St Symeon the New Theologian is also quoted

Abba Isaiah also is quoted

The Sayings of the Desert Fathers is also quoted

Sts Hesychios and Theognostos are quoted from their sections of the Philokalia

Antony the Great is also quoted

St John of the Ladder -- *Note - St John of the Ladder is the MOST prominent teacher of the Taxing of Souls... Do not read his book unless you have guidance from a spiritual father... I am not going to be reading his book for a while... and when I do... I will want to consult my spiritual father after each chapter... "The Ladder of Divine Ascent"*

St Gregory of Nyssa is also quoted

Abba Dorotheos is also quoted

Metropolitan of Nafpaktos Hierotheos did not imagine this stuff up... but again... the point of the teachings is clear: this is not literal because we cannot comprehend what happens to the soul after its seperation from the body, but we must be sure to have purified our souls by fervently repenting our sins and calling upon the Lord at all times... it is not God who passes these judgements... there will be ONE Judgement... the Taxing of Souls is the demons trying one last attempt to subject us before we "ascend to God's bosom".

Posted by: Ken Wells at March 17, 2008 10:36 PM


I have not read that blog, but will now.. thanks for the link

Posted by: Ken Wells at March 17, 2008 10:37 PM

Thanks for providing the references. This is very interesting. I am indeed aware that Orthodox Metropolitans are not generally in the business of "imagining stuff up" - they (to their credit) rarely, if ever, say anything not grounded in earlier tradition. It is interesting to me that some of these figures are not all that obscure either, though you must admit that many of the quotes are rather ambiguous.

This seems to be related to the doctrine of "infernal voluntarism" which holds that souls that are condemned to hell choose to be so condemned. C.S. Lewis embraced a form of what might be called "counterfactual infernal voluntarism" - the view that the souls that are condemned to hell would so choose if given the choice, though they never in fact have such a choice after death. His novella "The Great Divorce" examines why they might choose this way, but the introduction makes it clear that this is intended to be counterfactual. Is this the sort of idea under consideration?

What's so scary about this "Ladder" book?

Posted by: Kenny at March 18, 2008 5:43 PM

Post a comment

Return to