Sunday, August 22, 2010

Adam cont.

... Later Christians would take these brief comments of Paul and develop them according to their own understandings of psychology and the world. Augustine in particular (354-430) developed Paul's thoughts into a highly developed system. For example, Augustine read Paul to teach the total depravity of humanity, the idea that human beings cannot do anything good at all in their own power. Paul never makes such an absolute statement, so if Augustine was right, it would be a God-inspired development of Christian understanding. The Western church would follow Augustine's lead, but the Eastern church to this day comes closer to Paul's understanding.

Paul told the Romans that all had sinned, by which he meant both Jew and Gentile, and he also seems to imply that every individual has sinned as well (e.g., Rom. 3:19). He also told the Romans that the world was under the power of Sin, a power that made it impossible for us mortals in our default condition not to sin (e.g., 7:19). But Augustine lifted statements like these out of a specific argument Paul was making with a specific audience and even then made them to say more than they actually said.

When Paul said that no good dwelt in his flesh (8:18), he also spoke of having a will to do good (8:19), which means he believed there could be good in your spirit. [1] He said that the power of Sin in us made us "utterly sinful" (7:13), but Paul was talking about how many sin acts the power of Sin causes in a person, not about whether any good is left in you at all. Even Paul's pastiche of quotes in Romans 3:10-18 is poetic, meant to paint a picture of the sinfulness of humanity. None of these verses from the Old Testament originally meant even that every person had sinned, let alone that no good at all existed in humanity.

In short, you will not find in Paul any statement to the effect that God has left no good in humanity at all. It was Augustine who took Paul's teaching just one step further, with Calvin and Wesley following. Perhaps they were inspired to read Paul this way. But the Eastern church is a little closer to Paul in its sense of the thoroughness of human sinfulness, stopping short of absolute statements about whether there might be any goodness in humanity at all.

[1] Paul's thinking here is thus quite different from Augustine, Calvin, and Wesley, who understood depravity precisely to mean that no one was able to want to do good in their own power...


Marc said...

Ken, could you tell me if you think it is good exegesis to apply the all-time favourite Romans 3:23 (all have sinned) to every person under the sun but not v24 (and are justified)?

It seems to me that the plain (albeit universalist) interpretation is rejected purely on theological grounds and not exegetical ones. Why allow "all" to mean "everyone" in v23 and then limit it to "believers" in v24. It's the same "all" isn't it?

The same problem occurs in 5:18 as well.

Anonymous said...

Well, it has been awhile since this was posted but I will take a crack at answering Marc's question:
In Rom 5:17 by one man's (Adam's)offense death passed to all men and only those that receive the gift of righteousness will reign with Jesus. In v. 18, the free gift comes to all those that receive Jesus.
In Rom 3:22, the atonement is unto all but is only upon all those that believe. So all have sinned in v 23, but only those that receive Christ in v 22 are justified in v24.

Regarding Total Depravity:
Calvin: "What is free-will? when the Scripture everywhere declares, that man, being the captive, the servant, and the slave of the devil, is carried away into wickedness of every kind, which his whole mind and inclination; being utterly incapable of understanding the things of God, much less of doing them"

Albert Mohler (president southern baptist theological seminary): "We don't know what good is"

Any definition short of man being totally unable / utterly incapable of understanding God is to redefine the traditional theological term of total depravity.