Friday, February 09, 2018

4.4 Sin in the Old Testament

See the bottom for previous posts.

4.4 Sin in the Old Testament

4.4.1 Unintentional Sin
Numbers 14:22-31 immediately shows us the distance between our Western worldview and that of the Ancient Near East with regard to sin and the need for atonement. The Hebrew word here is ḥaṭa’ (chata’) – do wrong, sin.
  • This passage begins with atonement for corporate sins. We tend to see sin only in individualistic terms.
  • This passage really only focuses on unintentional sin, while we focus overwhelmingly on intentional sin. There is no atonement in this passage for intentional sin.
I will argue in the next section that the trajectory of Scripture is toward intentional sin and away from the category of unintentional sin. The New Testament has almost nothing to say about unintentional sin. It operates almost entirely from a sense of intentional wrongdoing. Wesley is a fine starting point: "A willful transgression against a known law of God."

I will define sin in terms of the standard of loving God and loving neighbor. Unintentional sin is a valid theological category, but should be understood in terms of unintentionally wronging others or unintentionally dishonoring God. God's concern is with our intentional sins, not our unintentional ones, except insofar as they have adverse consequences toward others.

We should note that while the Law does not provide much room for atonement for intentional sin, the narratives indicate that it is possible. David is forgiven for his affair with Bathsheba and the death of Uriah.

4.4.2 Corporate Sin and Guilt
Corporate sin is not a natural category for Western individualists, although more recent discussions of corporate guilt in terms of things like racism and sexism have revived the older category. Christian confessions often incorporate a corporate confession of sin that goes beyond the individuals or the sum of individuals.

Nevertheless, here even in the Old Testament we see some progression from the collective guilt and punishment of Deuteronomy 5:9-10 to the individual punishment and guilt of Ezekiel 18:2-4 and Jeremiah 31). We tend to modernize these passages, "de- and re-culturize" them so to speak. Corporate guilt is intrinsic to deuteronomistic theology and thus to the Deuteronomistic history of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings.

I perhaps will want to have an excursus here on deuteronomistic theology and the idea of the Deuterononistic History.

So we see Deuteronomy 5:9-10 in terms of consequences (genetics and environment). I think there was more going on in the OT context. Explain the context of Ezekiel 18.

4.4.3 Sin and Uncleanness
a. Although sin and uncleanness are distinct categories in the Pentateuch, there is a certain blurring of the two. Both require cleansing rituals in the OT. (cf. Lev 12-15; Num 19)

I have found Mary Douglas incredibly helpful in getting out of my Western categories and at least in a more likely direction for the categories of the Ancient Near East. Jonathan Haidt has also been very helpful in identifying the "sanctity" category of much human moral thinking (see material on holiness in the chapter on God).

"Dirt is matter out of place." A terd is okay outside. Not so much in the living room. It makes my living room unclean. See food laws (Lev. 11, 17; Deut. 14)
  • Fish without fins and scales aren't right. Unclean
  • Birds that can't fly aren't right. Unclean
  • Blood belongs in and has magical life properties. Unclean if in the wrong place but full of life-giving power if properly channeled.
  • Pigs go with Philistines and their gods--defiling. Sheep go with Israel and YHWH, good and scrumptious.
  • Male with male doesn't fit. Unclean... abomination (to'evah)
b. I need to do more research on whether Leviticus thinks of the sexual prohibitions in terms of uncleanness rather than sin (Lev. 18). Certainly Numbers has no sacrifice for sexual sins since it has no category for intentional sins at all. In David's case, God caused the baby to die.

Previous "chapters"
Chapter 1: What is Biblical Theology?
Chapter 2: Theology of God
Chapter 3: Creation and Consummation

4.1-3 Sin and the Fall

1 comment:

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks for this post, and the Hebrews series.