Original Sin Returns 4

We have been engaged in a brief discussion of original sin using Henri Blocher’s book Original Sin: Illuminating the Riddle (New Studies in Biblical Theology) as a guide. This series is part of an ongoing attempt to wrestle with key doctrines of the Christian faith and the implication that our modern scientific understanding of the world may have on our articulation and understanding of these doctrines. The first installment in this series considered the science and why Adam, Eve, and the Fall may be topics of some contention, the second installment considered Blocher’s approach to the Genesis account of creation and the Fall, and the third installment looked at Romans 5 and considered the intent of Paul in this passage.In this last installment we wish to look in a little more detail at Blocher’s proposal on original sin. Blocher considers Adam as a historical individual and the Fall as an important event – but suggests that the teaching of Paul in Romans 5 is not emphasizing the imputation of Adam’s guilt on mankind but the role of Adam in making the judicial treatment of sin possible for all mankind – that Romans 5:13-14 are key in understanding Paul’s argument.

I am a scientist and a professor, not a theologian, nor an expert in the history of Christian theology and doctrine. There are elements to Blocher’s proposal and argument that are over my head – although it is clear that key elements are important and worth discussion. Fortunately Daniel J. Treier published a review of Blocher’s book in the Fall 2000 issue of Trinity Journal (published by Trinity Evangelical Divinity School). As Treier claims that Blocher’s book is sufficiently complicated that, as he puts it: “competent theological associates and this reviewer took hours of verbal and written discussion to ferret out Blocher’s claims and their exact significance compared to the tradition,” I don’t feel too bad about finding the book less than transparent in places. In this last post I will use Treier’s review and insight as a reference to look at Blocher’s proposal. For those who are interested the review can be found relatively easily by googling “Daniel J. Treier” “Original Sin”.

Blocher counters interpretations of Romans 5 that suggest that mankind is intrinsically untainted by the fall and capable of moral obedience (Pelagianism) – and affirms Original Sin as universal, natural, and inherited. Blocher also maintains that it is Adamic in a literal historical sense – although Genesis 2-3 may not be literal history. While I question Blocher’s insistence on Adam as a unique individual – the fall as a historical rebellion against God leading to universal, natural, and inherited Original Sin remains. Genesis is not the symbol-laden story of everyman, but a symbol-laden story relating the rebellion of mankind created in the image of God (a position in good company with CS Lewis I believe).This rebellion taints all of mankind.

But the real subject of Blocher’s hypothesis is the relationship between sin – “Adam’s sin” – and universal human condemnation and death. In Romans 5 Paul is making an argument that all stand guilty before God – Jew and Gentile, under the law, before the law, and without the law – there is no exception. Blocher proposes that we stand guilty under the covenant – God’s covenant with Adam – broken by Adam. As members of the human race we stand guilty before God. Rather than realist (Augustinian) or representative imputation of guilt we have a judicial and covenantal imputation of guilt on all of mankind.

In Blocher’s view we all have a sinful nature – as “cracked eikons” through the deliberate rebellion of mankind (or for Blocher, the transgression of Adam) but all sin is individual; death spread to all because all sinned and sin (Ro 5:12) not because Adam sinned. Blocher’s view of guilt as judicial in Paul’s argument doesn’t detract from justification by grace alone nor does it remove penal substitution as an important component of the atonement. No one is able to attain life through obedience, but only through Christ.

Blocher’s views do lead to a loosening of the Adam – Christ link. This link is not and is not intended to be a perfect symmetry in Paul’s argument. Nor is the Adam – Christ typology an exact relation. The emphasis here is on the guilt of all and the gift of God through the One so that grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ.

The loosening of the Adam-Christ linkage and the movement away from the hard realist view of Augustine in the interpretation of Romans 5 leaves some room to consider the doctrine of Original Sin and the atoning work of Christ in light of our 21st century understanding of the world and God’s creation. If Blocher is right and the essence of Paul’s rather convoluted argument is to establish a judicial and covenantal guilt rather than a personal guilt – then the point is Adam as covenant breaker rather than Adam as biological forbearer. The importance of the Fall in Genesis 3 is rebellion and broken covenant, not Adam as unique individual.

In the introduction to his book Blocher says “We treasure tradition not by servile adherence to it, but by, as it were, sitting on the shoulders of fathers and elder brothers who were giants indeed, and thus do we hope to be granted the grace of seeing even further and ever more clearly (p. 13).” Perhaps we can say the same and stand on Blocher’s shoulders to see even a bit further.

What do you think? Is it reasonable to consider the Paul’s argument to be directed toward judical imputation of guilt?

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