Adam, Eve, and original sin (Augustine’s heresy)

Most western Christians don’t realize that our understanding of man’s state of sinfulness — sometimes using terms like “total depravity” and “original sin” — is largely the invention of Augustine of Hippo, and that the majority of the Church at that time rejected his ideas.  The Eastern churches still do.

The doctrine of Original Sin, by the way, is more than just believing that man is born with a tendency toward sin. It is also that man inherited the guilt of Adam — something the Bible doesn’t teach. This is why some believe that babies are born guilty, so if they die before they are baptized, they won’t make it into Heaven.

Personally, I think it’s enough to be guilty of my own sin.

Those of you who have followed this blog for any period of time might recall that I have in the past discussed various issues with what is known as the Penal Theory of the Atonement, which also arises from Augustine’s thinking. I’ve never claimed to be an expert on the subject, and I haven’t come to any final conclusions, except that the concept of the Father taking his anger out on Jesus because he needed someone to punish seems quite out of character. Also, I’ve raised issues with the Augustinian / Calvinist notion of Total Depravity, which also seems contrary to Jesus’ attitudes toward people.

Other Issues

Augustinian theology causes other problems, too, as discussed in the following video by an Orthodox Priest out of Canada. He brings out a number of very interesting points that I think Protestants should at least consider, such as the impact on the Church’s response to science and how Augustinian theology relates to violence.   In fact, the Orthodox view seems to resolve a number of the issues often raised by atheists.

I think the video is worth 15 minutes of your time.

If you do watch it, I’d really be interested in your responses.

Bart Ehrman on the certainty of Jesus

I have picked on Bart Ehrman, the atheist’s favorite Bible scholar, a few times on this blog (and even more elsewhere). If you aren’t familiar with him, he has written a handful of books in the last few years talking about all of the errors in the New Testament and claiming some of the books are forgeries.

However, it turns out that Ehrman actually does believe a few things. I ran across an interesting post today discussing a book by Mike Licona, in he what he calls the “historical bedrock”—three facts about Jesus and early Christianity which are accepted by virtually all liberal and conservative scholars alike.

As it turns out, Ehrman believes these things too.

They are:

1. Jesus’ death by crucifixion

2. Very Shortly after Jesus’ death, the disciples had experiences that led them to believe and proclaim that Jesus had been resurrected and had appeared to them.

3. Within a few years after Jesus death, Paul converted after a personal experience that he interpreted as a post resurrection appearance of Jesus to him.

The article goes on to give supporting quotes from Ehrman on these three points.

These aren’t a bad start—he could turn into a preacher yet.


The Importance of the External Word

Steve Martin (not the banjo-playing comedian) published a thought-provoking blog post today, discussing how important the external Word of God is to faith, as opposed to placing our faith in our own emotions and thoughts. An excerpt:

Lot’s of Christians speak of the grace of God. “He is our all in all.” He has done it all.” “There is nothing we can add.” That is a good thing.  But there is nothing for many of these Christians to grab hold of. Their beliefs inhabit the nebulous territories of heart and mind. Yes, we believe them. But now what? How can we be SURE that they are true, and real, IN OUR LIVES, at this moment?

It seems that because of the kind of creature that we are, a tactile, tangible, experiential being, our faith must land somewhere. The rubber must meet the road,  somewhere, somehow.

If there’s nothing to grab a hold of that is tangible, that comes to us from outside of ourselves, then we will internalize this desire for solid proof. We will rely on our emotions, our deeds, our thoughts, our knowledge, even our own faith. Welcome to ‘religion’ in the 21st century. Look familiar? It ought to. It’s no different than the religion that humans have practiced for as long as they have been around. It hides behind the pious words and works of those who have no assurance of their salvation, other than what they are able to muster up of their own volition. Then you end up with holiness churches where people are movin’ on up.

But the external Word, which includes the Sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion, are different. They do not eminate from inside of ourselves and are not dependent on anything that comes from our side of the equation. They are real events that happen in real places with real earthly elements in real time. And the action in these events is not our action, but God’s. His Word is attached to them. Otherwise they just remain earthly elements. And these actions of God are apprehended by the very gift of faith that God also gives to us, in these Sacraments and in the hearing of His Word.

Now we have something that we can HOLD onto. Something that has been given to us with NO strings attached. Something that is REAL…and NOT subject to the winds that blow in and out of our often weak frames, hearts and minds.

We often forget that Christianity is an incarnational faith; that is, it relies on the belief that the “word became flesh” and that Jesus turned real water into real wine and used real mud to heal real eyes. He was baptized with real water, told the disciples to remember him through drinking real wine and eating real bread, and had his real body executed and resurrected.

With regard to his teaching, he said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear,” not “look into your heart to find the truth.” And, yet we want to spiritualize our faith today, making it dependent upon our own understanding and feelings. No wonder so many fall into doubt and despair.

As Proverbs 3:5 says, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.”

How positively archaic.

Bart Ehrman forges on in Forged

Bart Ehrman intrigues me. Here’s a guy who apparently could do real research and perhaps even add something to the discussion of Biblical and extra-Biblical writings, but he doesn’t.

It seems to me that he is being purposefully deceptive (i.e. he lies). An alternate theory is that he is really quite clueless, but is able to market himself to publishers and others who are similarly clueless. Or, … well, I can’t really think of any other options at the moment. I don’t want to presume that he’s being intentionally deceptive, but he does seem smart enough to know what he’s saying isn’t correct.

Forged is Ehrman’s latest offering, continuing on in the tradition of really bad scholarship that he’s shown in Jesus, Interrupted and other books.

I haven’t read Forged, however, and I’m not planning to. I’ve read enough of his stuff to know how he writes, so when I read in-depth reviews by people like Ben Witherington, who is a real Biblical scholar, I know enough about the book. So, this post isn’t a review by me, but rather a recommendation to check out Witherington’s series on the book.

In the post linked to above, Witherington comments on Ehrman’s “scholarship:”

Bart, is actually swimming against the tide of the scholarship, even on the Pastorals.   And here I must register a big complaint.   Look at the footnotes to Chapter Three.   Do we find any evidence at all that Bart has even read a broad and representative sampling of commentaries on Paul’s letters, or even on the Pastorals?   No, we do not.  Maybe he has,  but his views only match up with a sort of cherry-picking approach to the scholarship, highly selective in character, and tendentiously favoring only the more radical or controversial commentators on Paul.   It is also worth noting that he relies heavily on the older scholarship  of A.N. Harrison or N. Brox or the eccentric work of  D. MacDonald.   But this older scholarship has long since been critiqued, and largely discarded as inadequate.   Bart however trots it out as if: 1) it was news, and 2) such conclusions would go unchallenged today by the majority of scholars.   Wrong, and wrong.

Witherington agrees with him on many points, as he discusses forgeries that everyone believes are forgeries. It is when he moves into Canonical documents that the problems arise.

Ehrman seems to approach his writing along the lines of a hack journalist, who is more interested in selling his position (and his books) than actually reporting the truth (of course, these days this description could apply to the majority of what passes for journalism). He is, perhaps, the Rush Limbaugh of liberal Biblical scholarship. He tells a good story; the problem comes in when you start fact-checking.

You can read parts 1 and 2 of Witherington’s analysis here and here.