June 15, 2008

Original Sin, Judaism and Augustine

My VBS post from the other day generated a response from Anonymous . The response put forth by Anonymous got me thinking back to some of my studies on Judaism. A very high percentage of Christian Churches adhere to the belief Original Sin these days. But has this doctrine historically been a part of our Christian roots within Judaism?

As Christians we must always remember that our faith and doctrine is based upon the foundation of Judaism. If we deny this then we deny the very basis of our faith. Given that Jesus was a Jew and all of the apostles were Jews, understanding a little about some of the tenets of Judaism would be beneficial to understanding our own faith. For example, if one studies an ancient Jewish wedding ceremony that God gave to the Jewish people, it can teach us a tremendous amount about the Messiah and His church. Understand the different elements of the Temple and you will begin to see a picture of the Messiah.

Therefore, much of the foundations of Christianity are built upon the Jewish faith. I realize not every aspect of Judaism will line up with that of Christianity, but basics such as the nature and charcater of God, sin, faith, repentance and obedience should parallel that of Christianity.

This brings me to my first point. Many churches have accepted the doctrine of Original Sin or Total Depravity. The first logical question that needs to be addressed is "Has Judaism ever believed or embraced the doctrine of Original Sin?" Many Calvinist will claim Old Testament verses such as Psalms 51:5 or Psalms 58:3 as being proof text that Judaism held to the belief that the doctrine of Original Sin or Total Depravity to be true. But if you look into the Jewish faith one of the first things you will realize is that Judaism has never adhere to this doctrine. Historically speaking, Judaism has never believed in many of the so called "tenets" of Christianity such as Predestination or Original Sin. As a matter of fact it may surprise many Christians that Jews believe in Freewill, moral accountability, and that mankind is born morally neutral - and not "totally depraved" as put forth by many Christian churches.

I would encourage anyone to go and search the teachings of Judaism regarding this matter. To date I have found no sects within Judaism that believe in Original Sin or Total Depravity. Of course many will argue that Jews could have changed their position after Christ death and resurrection, but I feel this is somewhat of a "Conspiracy Theory" like attitude on the matter ands there is nothing historically that would support such a notion.

So where did Original Sin theology come from? The simple answer is gnosticism - Greek-Roman Pagan Philosophy. It stems primarily from Platonism. The false concepts of Predestination and Original Sin first appeared on the canvas of Christianity around the 2nd century with Augustine (AD 354-430). Augustine was a former Platonist and pagan high priest, of a gnostic sect known as the Manichean's. It is historically noted that Augustine was heavily influenced by Plato and therefore much of his philosophy and theology was also. Many Christian historians believe with the influence and heresies Constantine brought into Christianity, the stage was set for former pagan priest such as Augustine to offload much of their pagan philosophies onto Christianity. Clearly the amount of Platonic thought that Augustine brought to Christianity is proof that this theory is very plausible. Again, we must remember it is Judaism that is the foundation of Christianity, and not Greek philosophy!

To better understand what Platonism teaches regarding the matter of good and evil it is essential for Christians to understand that Platonism and Judaism stand in antithesis to one another. Plato believed in the general assumption that sin and evil are ontological, that is they are an actual "essence" or is a physical "thing". This essentially means evil and good are a "thing" rather than a moral action or choice. Gnostic's and Platonist literally believed that good and evil could be passed along physically or even "divinely" from the gods above. Whereas Jews have historically for thousands of years have believed that evil and good where not an "essence" or "a thing",it is believed it was the result of a moral choice or action. The ontological view of sin was a major if not the central factor that contributed to the basic premise of the doctrine of original sin - that is because it holds to the belief that evil or sin is an essence and therefore it can be inherently passed along to ones children. To be inherited, sin must have essence, real being; it must consist in some "thing" that causes evil choice and action, instead of being the moral character of the choice itself. With this mind set it is common to regard sin in the heart as an essence instead of a voluntary choice; hence the term "sinful nature." This evil essence is regarded as a part of human nature. Although Augustine did not originate the concept, he passed it on to subsequent generations. Calvin and Luther both built heavily upon it - as both were followers of Augustine's writings and teachings. Sadly it is still with us today and its effects can still be felt throughout the Christian faith.

If you would like to learn more of how Greek and Pagan philosophy influenced Christian theology here is a great article.

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