Original Sin According to St. Paul (Page 5 of 7)

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By: Fr John S. Romanides
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Synthetic Observations

St. Paul does not say anywhere that the whole human race has been accounted guilty of the sin of Adam and is therefore punished by God with death. Death is an evil force which made its way into the world through sin, lodged itself in the world, and, in the person of Satan, is reigning both in man and creation. For this reason, although man can know the good through the law written in his heart and may wish to do what is good, he cannot because of the sin which is dwelling in his flesh. Therefore, it is not he who does the evil, but sin that dwelleth in him. Because of this sin, he cannot find the means to do good. He must be saved from “the body of this death.”[210] Only then can he do good. What can Paul mean by such statements? A proper answer is to be found only when St. Paul’s doctrine of human destiny is taken into account.

If man was created for a life of complete selfless love, whereby his actions would always be directed outward, toward God and neighbor, and never toward himself–whereby he would be the perfect image and likeness of God–then it is obvious that the power of death and corruption has now made it impossible to live such a life of perfection. The power of death in the universe has brought with it the will for self-preservation, fear, and anxiety,[211] which in turn are the root causes of self-assertion, egoism, hatred, envy and the like. Because man is afraid of becoming meaningless, he is constantly endeavoring to prove, to himself and others, that he is worth something. He thirsts after compliments and is afraid of insults. He seeks his own and is jealous of the successes of others. He likes those who like him, and hates those who hate him. He either seeks security and happiness in wealth, glory and bodily pleasures, or imagines that this destiny is to be happy in the possession of the presence of God by an introverted and individualistic and inclined to mistake his desires for self-satisfaction and happiness for his normal destiny. On the other hand, he can become zealous over vague ideological principles of love for humanity and yet hate his closest neighbors. These are the works of the flesh of which St. Paul speaks.[212] Underlying every movement of what the world has come to regard as normal man, is the quest for security and happiness. But such desires are not normal. They are the consequences of perversion by death and corruption, though which the devil pervades all of creation, dividing and destroying. This power is so great that even if man wishes to live according to his original destiny it is impossible because of the sin which is dwelling in the flesh[213]“Who will deliver me from the body of this death?”[214]

To share in the love of God, without any concern for one’s self, is also to share in the life and truth of God. Love, life and truth in God are one and can be found only in God. The turning away of love from God and neighbor toward the self is breaking of communion with the life and truth of God, which cannot be separated from His love. The breaking of this communion with God can be consummated only in death, because nothing created can continue indefinitely to exist of itself.[215] Thus, by the transgression of the first man, the principle of “sin (the devil) entered into the world and through sin death, and so death passed upon all men…”[216] Not only humanity, but all of creation has become subjected to death and corruption by the devil.[217] Because man is inseparably a part of, and in constant communion with, creation and is linked through procreation to the whole historical process of humanity, the fall of creation through on man automatically involves the fall and corruption of all men. It is through death and corruption that all of humanity and creation is held captive to the devil and involved in sin, because it is by death that man falls short of his original destiny, which was to love God and neighbor without concern for the self. Man does not die because he is guilty for the sin of Adam.[218] He becomes a sinner because he is yoked to the power of the devil through death and its consequences.[219]

St. Paul clearly says that “the sting of death is sin,”[220] that “sin reigned in death,”[221] and that death is “the last enemy that shall be destroyed.”[222] In his epistles, he is especially inspired when he is speaking about the victory of Christ over death and corruption. It would be highly   illogical to   try   to interpret   Pauline thought   with the presuppositions (1) that death is normal or (2) that at most, it is the outcome of a juridical decision of God to punish the whole human race for one sin, (3) that happiness is the ultimate destiny of man, and (4) that the soul is immaterial, naturally immortal and directly created by God at conception   and is   therefore   normal and   pure of   defects (Roman scholasticism). The Pauline doctrine of man’s inability to do the good which he is capable of acknowledging according to the “inner man” can be understood only if one takes seriously the power of death and corruption in the flesh, which makes it impossible for man to live according to his original destiny.

The moralistic problem raised by St. Augustine concerning the transmission of death to the descendants of Adam as punishment for the one original transgression is foreign to Paul’s thoughts. The death of each man cannot be considered the outcome of personal guilt. St. Paul is not thinking as a philosophical moralist looking for the cause of the fall of humanity and creation in the breaking of objective rules of good behavior, which demands punishment from a God whose justice is in the image of the justice of this world. Paul is clearly thinking of the fall in terms of a personalistic warfare between God and Satan, in which Satan is not obliged to follow any sort of moral rules if he can help it. It is for this reason that St. Paul can say that the serpent “deceived Eve”[223] and that “Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.”[224] Man was not punished by God, but taken captive by the devil.

this interpretation is further made clear by the fact that Paul is insisting that “until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless, death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over   them that   had not   sinned after   the similitude   of Adam’s transgression.”[225] It is clear that Paul here is denying anything like a general personal guilt for the sin of Adam. Sin was, however, in the world, since death reigned even over them who had not sinned as Adam sinned. Sin here is obviously the person of Satan, who ruled the world through death even before the coming of the law. This is the only possible interpretation of this statement, because it is clearly supported elsewhere by Paul’s teachings concerning the extraordinary powers of the devil, especially in Romans 8:19-21. St. Paul’s statements should be taken very literally when he says that the last enemy to be destroyed is death[226] and that “the sting of death is sin.”[227]

From what has been observed, the famous expression, eph’ho pantes hemarton,[228] can be safely interpreted as modifying the word, thanatos, which preceeds it, and which grammatically is the only word which fits the context. Eph’ho as a reference to Adam is both grammatically and exegetically impossible. Such an interpretation was first introduced by Origen, who obviously used it with a purpose in mind, because he believed in the pre-existence of all souls whereby he could easily say that all sinned in Adam. The interpretation of eph’ho as “because” was first introduced into the East by Photius,[229] who claims that there are two interpretations prevalent–Adam and thanatos–but he would interpret it dioti (because). He bases his argument on a false interpretation of II Corinthians 5:4 by interpreting eph’ho, here again, as dioti. But here it is quite clear that eph’ho refers to skensi (eph’ho skenei ou thelomen ekdysasthai). Photius is interpreting Paul within the framework of natural moral law and is seeking to justify the death of all men by personal guilt. He claims that all men die because they sin by following in the footsteps of Adam.[230] However, neither he nor any of the Eastern Fathers accepts the teaching that all men are made guilty for the sin of Adam.

From purely grammatical considerations it is impossible to interpret eph’ho as a reference to any word other than thanatos . Each time the grammatical construction of the preposition epi with the dative is used by Paul, it is always used as a relative pronoun which modifies a preceding noun[231] or phrase.[232] To make an exception in Romans 5:12 by making St. Paul use the wrong Greek expression to express the idea, “because,” is to beg the issue. The correct interpretation of   this passage, both grammatically and exegetically, can be supplied only when eph’ho is understood to modify thanatos –kai houtos eis pantas anthropous ho thanatos dielthen eph’ho (thanato) pantes hemarton–“because of which” (death), or “on the basis of which” (death), or “for which (death) all have sinned.” Satan, being himself the principle of sin, through death and corruption involves all of humanity and creation in sin and death. Thus, to be under the power of death according to Paul is to be a slave to the devil and a sinner, because of the inability of the flesh to live according to the law of God, which is selfless love.

The theory of the transmission of original sin and guilt is certainly not found in St. Paul, who can be interpreted neither in terms of juridicism nor in terms of any dualism which distinguishes between the material and the allegedly pure, spiritual, and intellectual parts of man. It is no wonder that some Biblical scholars are at a loss when they cannot find in the Old testament any clear-cut support for what they take to be the Pauline doctrine   of original   sin in terms   of moral guilt   and punishment.[233] The same perplexity is met by many moralistic Western scholars when they study the Eastern Fathers.[234] Consequently, St. Augustine is popularly supposed to be the first and only of the early Fathers who understood the theology of St. Paul. This is clearly a myth, from which both Protestants and Romans need liberation.

It is only when one understands the meaning of death and its consequences that one can understand the life of the ancient Church, and especially its attitude toward martyrdom. Being already dead to the world in baptism, and having their life hidden with Christ in God,[235] Christians could not falter in the face of death. They were already dead, and yet living in Christ. To be afraid of death was to be still under the power of the devil–II Timothy 1:7: “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of sound mind.” In trying to convince the Roman Christians not to hinder his martyrdom, St. Ignatius wrote: “The prince of this world would fain carry me away, and corrupt my disposition toward God. Let none of you therefore, who are in Rome, help him.”[236] The Cyprianic controversy over the fallen during times of persecution was violent, because the Church understood that it was a contradiction to die in baptism and then to deny Christ for fear of death and torture. The canons of the Church, although today generally ignored as an aid to understanding the inner faith of the ancient Church, still remain very severe for those who would reject their faith for fear of death.[237] Such an attitude towards death is not the product of eschatological frenzy and enthusiasm, but rather of a clear recognition of who the devil is, what his thoughts are,[238] what his powers over humanity and creation are, how he is destroyed through baptism and the mystagogical life within the body of Christ, which is the Church. Oscar Cullman is seriously mistaken in trying to make the New Testament writers say that Satan and the evil demons have been deprived of their   power, and that now   leur puissance n’est qu’apparente.[239] The greatest power of the devil is death, which is destroyed only within the   body of Christ, where the faithful are continuously engaged in the struggle against Satan by striving for selfless love. This combat against the devil and striving for selfless love is centered in the corporate Eucharistic life of the local community–“For when you assemble frequently epi to auto (in the same place) the powers of Satan are destroyed and the destruction at which he aims is prevented by the unity of your faith.”[240] Anyone, therefore, who does not hear the Spirit within him calling him tothe Eucharistic assembly for the corporate life of selfless love is obviously under the sway of the devil. “He, therefore, who does not assemble with the Church, has even by this manifested his pride and condemned himself…”[241] The world outside of the corporate life of love, in the sacraments, is still under the power of the consequences of death and therefore a slave to the devil. The devil is already defeated only because his power has been destroyed by the birth, life, death and resurrection of Christ; and this defeat is perpetuated only in the remnant of those saved before Christ and after Christ. Both those saved before Christ and after Him are saved by His death and resurrection, and make up the New Jerusalem. Against this Church the devil cannot prevail, and by this fact he is already defeated. But his power outside of those who are saved remains the same.[242] Satan is still “the god of this world,”[243] and it is for this reason that Christians must live as if not living in this world.[244]

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