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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament
SIN.—Sin is personal hostility to the will of God. Christian teaching with regard to it is relative to the facts of the gospel, being necessarily implied by the death of Christ considered as a work of redemption. It is the Christian interpretation of facts of experience, which are independent of any explanation of life, whether offered by theology, philosophy, or scientific theory. Its value is irrespective of the view which historical criticism may suggest of the literature of the OT. Neither is it affected by theories of the organic development of the world or human life derived from modern biological thought. Philosophic systems, monistic or otherwise, cannot be allowed to govern or modify a doctrine which in the first instance can be tested only by relation to beliefs grounded not upon metaphysic, but experience. The Christian will rather hold that a philosophic theory inadequate to the facts of the gospel has been too hastily identified with reality.
1. The gospel never rises above the limits of its first publication as the Kingdom of God (Mark 1:14-15). No doubt the terms are deepened and spiritualized, as well by the subsequent teaching of Jesus (Luke 17:20; Luke 19:11, Acts 1:7-8) as by the accomplishment of His atoning work (Luke 24:44-49). But though what might have remained an external and almost physical conception became the manifestation of one eternal life (John 3:15-16, 1 John 1:1-3), nevertheless the Church of the living God (1 Timothy 3:15), the relation of a people of possession to their rightful Lord, King, and Father (Titus 2:14) is constant. Allegiance, faith, sonship are the marks of those who share the membership of this Kingdom. What Jesus the Messiah found was disobedience and disloyalty. Human life, as He was called upon to deal with it, involved subjection to another prince (John 14:30), bondage to another master (John 8:34), ‘sonship’ to another ‘father’ (John 8:44). To the consciousness of Jesus, Satan was present, not as a convenient personification of evil that became actual only in the individual wills of men, but as the author of sin, the person in whom evil has its spring, even as God is the fount of life. Jesus’ sense of dependence upon the Father did not carry with it a monism which saw God in all and all in God. For Him, as for St. John, the whole world lay in the Evil One (1 John 5:19, cf. Luke 4:5-6). His own conflict was with the prince of this world (John 14:30). To be delivered from the Evil One was the converse of being brought into temptation (Matthew 6:13 : the insertion of ἀλλά in Mt., and the absence of the clause in the best Manuscripts of Luke 11:4 suggest that it is correlative to the preceding clause, representing the same act differently). He had seen Satan fallen as lightning from heaven (Luke 10:18). Over against the Kingdom of God was the kingdom of Satan (Matthew 12:26-28; Matthew 16:27; Matthew 25:41, cf. Revelation 16:10). The drama of human life was accomplished in presence of this already existing dualism. Christ assumes the current Hebrew conception of a world of spiritual personalities under the leadership of Beelzebub (Luke 11:14-26). The stampede of the swine at Gerasa witnesses to their control, within the limits of Divine permission, over natural forces (Mark 5:13). Physical disease results from Satan’s bondage (Luke 13:16). Possession by demons is an abnormal case of its influence over human beings (e.g. Mark 9:20-22). And all opposition to the purpose of God is inspired by Satan (John 8:42-47). The Jews were of their father the devil, so that the works wrought by them were antithetic to the works of God manifested in Jesus (John 8:44). Even the chosen Twelve Satan had asked to have, that he might sift them as wheat (Luke 22:31). So the Passion was a continuation of the Temptation, a direct agony and death-struggle wherein the prince of this world was cast out (John 12:31; John 16:11), the strong man spoiled (Luke 11:21).
From the first the proclamation of the good news, accompanied as it was with the curing of diseases and the casting out of demons (Matthew 10:7-8, Luke 9:1-2), witnessed to the real character of Christ’s work asredemption, ransom, and salvation. For the true unification between the normal and universal purpose of the gospel—the forgiveness of sins—and the occasional and particular accessories of it—exorcism and healing—lay not so much in the analogy between bodily disease and spiritual wickedness, as in the fact that both are the exercise of the one Satanic power within the usurped kingdom of evil. No doubt there is a certain suggestiveness in the parallel between disease and sin, which Jesus Himself recognized. But there is nothing in His teaching to suggest the later ideas of taint, infection, vitiated nature. It is trespasses which the Heavenly Father must do away, and that by forgiveness (Matthew 6:15); salvation from sins (Matthew 1:21), i.e. actions involving guilt, is implied by the name Jesus (see art. Guilt). The bringing forth of the people from Pharaoh’s bondage to serve Jehovah is the ancient experience which is before the mind of devout men under the old covenant as the pattern of the deliverance which Messiah was to accomplish (Matthew 2:15, cf. Hosea 11:1). Salvation is therefore not the restoration of spiritual health, but the liberation of God’s people from an evil service. The ministry of the Son of Man consists in giving His life a ransom (Mark 10:45, Matthew 20:28; cf. 1 Timothy 2:6). And the Fourth Evangelist only interprets the mind of the Master when he speaks of Jesus as dying for the nation, and destined to gather together into one the scattered children of God (John 11:51-52). He was the shepherd bringing home the lost sheep dispersed upon the mountains (John 10:16); or, somewhat to vary the idea, the Redeemer coming into the world, not to judge it along with its prince, but to save it from the Evil One (John 3:17-18, John 12:31; John 12:47, John 17:15), and casting out the indwelling Satan by the finger or Spirit of God (Luke 11:20). The acceptable year of the Lord is a year of release (Luke 4:18-19).
2. From the implications of the Gospel narrative we pass to the theology of the Epistles. In order togain a clear view of St. Paul’s doctrine of sin in its completeness, it is necessary to go behind the Epistle to the Romans. We must bear in mind, first of all, the essentially Jewish basis of his thought. To him salvation, or redemption, carried all the associations which had gathered round it in Hebrew history. The Kingdom of Messiah was a vivid reality, and the earlier Epistles show that at first he was not without the common anticipation of its immediate establishment in manifested power. Satan was a concrete fact. If at one time it was the Spirit of Jesus that suffered him not (Acts 16:7), at another Satan hindered him (1 Thessalonians 2:18). The thorn in the flesh was a messenger of Satan (2 Corinthians 12:7). The Christian is armed in order to ward off the fiery darts of the Evil One (Ephesians 6:16). Principalities and powers were the unseen antagonists of Christ’s servants (Ephesians 6:12, cf. Luke 22:53), the enemies over whom Christ triumphed in the Cross (Colossians 2:15). If Messiah was to be manifested at the Parousia, Satan was also destined to be manifested in the Man of Sin (2 Thessalonians 2:3-11). A remarkable parallel to the conception of ‘the Evil One,’ which appears both in the Synoptics and in the Fourth Gospel, is found in ‘the prince of the power of the air’ (Ephesians 2:2). The same passage describes those who become sons of God as by nature children of wrath (Ephesians 2:3), dead not in sin but through trespasses (Ephesians 2:5), sons of disobedience because inwrought by this evil spirit (Ephesians 2:2). Demons are as much part of St. Paul’s world as of that which appears in the Synoptists. He identifies them with the heathen gods (1 Corinthians 10:20-21). Belial is the antithesis of Christ (2 Corinthians 6:15). To lapse from Christian conduct is to turn aside after Satan (1 Timothy 5:15); to be separated from Christian fellowship is to be delivered to Satan (1 Corinthians 5:5, 1 Timothy 1:20). And that redemption meant primarily for St. Paul translation from the kingdom of Satan to the Kingdom of God (Colossians 1:13), is attested by the form in which he narrates before Agrippa the story of his commission as Apostle of the Gentiles (Acts 26:18). All this is in close correspondence with the mind of Jesus, and must be brought with us to a closer examination of the Pauline doctrine of sin.
That sin is essentially disloyalty to God is the substance of the locus classicus on the nature of sin, Romans 1:18-32 ‘Knowing God, they glorified him not as God, neither gave thanks’ (Romans 1:21). It will be observed, first, that the Apostle here speaks of sin in its widest signification, including such distinctions as are involved in the theological conceptions of original and actual. We have here, therefore, a definition of sin which must govern all subsequent uses of the term. All the elements which enter into particular sins, or transgressions of known law, are represented—knowledge of God and dependence upon Him (Romans 1:20), wilful and therefore inexcusable refusal of due homage (Romans 1:21), the incurring of guilt and consequently of God’s wrath (Romans 1:18). Further, it is noticeable that the plural ‘men,’ not the collective ‘man,’ is used throughout the passage. There is nothing abstract in this general view of sin, even though it be universal (cf. ‘all sinned,’ Romans 5:12; ‘all died,’ 2 Corinthians 5:14). Another point is, that St. Paul is led to disclose this ‘vision of sin’ as the necessary postulate of the gospel (Romans 1:16-18), in which is revealed a righteousness of God’ (Romans 1:17, Romans 3:21). Lastly, there is no confusion, as in the popular mind, between those physical excesses which are called vice, and the inward refusal ‘to have God in their knowledge’ (Romans 3:28), whether it applies to the sensuous or the spiritual nature of men, which alone is sin. ‘God gave them up unto a reprobate mind’ (Romans 3:28), with all its consequences to the complex personality of man. This is of great significance. St. Paul’s appeal is not to the equivocal testimony of external facts, which considered in themselves are non-moral, but to facts as interpreted by conscience. Fundamentally this is the appeal to personal experience, and it is clear from the Epistle to the Romans, as from the whole Pauline theology, that the Apostle is universalizing his own experience, as he saw himself in the light of the vision of Jesus of Nazareth (Galatians 1:11-17, Romans 7:7-25).
Now St. Paul expresses his relation to sin in the phrase ‘sin dwelleth in me’ (Romans 7:17). He is describing the common experience of an inward struggle, when neither good nor evil is finally in the ascendant. The complete sinful condition would be one of consent (Romans 1:32, 2 Thessalonians 2:12), in which ‘the law of sin’ was unchecked by ‘the law of the mind’ (Romans 7:23, Galatians 5:17). The terms must not be misunderstood in view of the modern conception of scientific law, ‘Law’ in St. Paul’s theology involves the personality of the lawgiver, so that to find this ‘law in the members’ (Romans 7:23), to be inwrought by sin, seems to point to an indwelling spiritual presence. Is this a mere figure? St. Paul reverts to it in a still more significant form. Christians are not to let sin reign in their mortal bodies (Romans 6:12). Compliance with evil involves an obedience (Romans 6:16), a slavery (Romans 6:17). There is a close parallel between those who, as alive in Christ Jesus, are servants of God, and those who being dead in trespasses serve sin (Romans 6:15-23). Two hostile kingdoms, two rival loyalties, make their claim upon a man’s allegiance. So, when under the form of ‘Adam’s transgression,’ sin is considered in its universal aspect (Romans 5:14), a personal sovereignty is again suggested—‘death,’ i.e. sin in its consequent development, ‘reigned through the one’ (Romans 5:17). The effect of Adam’s transgression is represented as the establishment of an authority (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:24, Ephesians 2:2; Ephesians 6:12, Colossians 1:13) over his descendants rather than as a corruption of their nature, carrying with it therefore condemnation (Romans 5:16; see art. Guilt) as the due sentence of God upon those who reject His law. This personal embodiment of hostility to the Divine law and government, in view of St. Paul’s general outlook on the spiritual world, can be none other than Satan, exercising, as captain of ‘spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places’ (Ephesians 6:12), not an external compulsion but an inward influence, not therefore impairing the responsible personalities that are indwelt. Thus St. Paul can say, ‘Death passed unto all men, for that all sinned (Romans 5:12). Sin is always a personal attitude, never a pathological condition. Death is its consequence (Romans 5:12), but the physical analogy of St. James (Romans 1:15) has no parallel in St. Paul. It is always the sentence, punishment, or wages (Romans 6:23; see art. Guilt), the sequel to the righteous judgment of God (Romans 2:5). So, too, salvation is not a remedy for mortal disease, but a personal act of kindness and mercy on the part of an offended but loving God (Ephesians 1:5-10; Ephesians 2:7, Titus 3:4-8). Looking to the state from which men are rescued, it is redemption (Galatians 3:13; Galatians 4:5); looking to that into which they are brought, it is reconciliation (Romans 5:10-11; Romans 11:15, 2 Corinthians 5:18-19). Both involve the personal action of the Father’s loving will, whereby He chooses to forgive the past and bring back His children into fellowship with Himself (Romans 5:3-8, Colossians 1:19-22; cf. 1 Peter 3:18). As applied to the individual, this is justification (Romans 3:24; Romans 4:25; Romans 5:9 al.), which represents not a process of renewal, but an amnesty extended to the sinner. What Christ slew by the Cross was the enmity (Ephesians 2:15-16). Its effect, therefore, is not an infused righteousness, but a free pardon whereby sins are no longer reckoned (Romans 4:7-8, 2 Corinthians 5:19).
3. The rest of the NT is in general agreement with St. Paul. St. James, though he speaks of sin as the intermediate stage between lust and death (James 1:15), yet by the very figure used to describe their relationship, clearly recognizes that all three are essentially the same in kind. Lust is not animal impulse but undeveloped sin. The sinner is one who has committed sins (James 5:15), which may be covered by repentance (James 5:20) and forgiven in answer to prayer (James 5:15). Sins, therefore, are personal transgressions against God, which, if unremitted, involve judgment (James 5:12), a personal condemnation and sentence on the part of the Judge (James 4:12, James 5:9). Lust is not even a pathological condition of the will. It has the nature of sin, being not a result of ignorance, but essentially a personal determination of will. This is more clearly brought out by the assertion that lust, not God, is the tempter (James 1:13-14), which suggests the presence of an evil will, the source of that friendship of the world which is enmity against God (James 4:4), taking occasion of the natural passions and desires of men to influence spiritually the human personality. The wisdom which cometh down from above is set over against a wisdom which is devilish (James 3:15; James 3:18; James 3:17).
St. Peter, while he speaks of fleshly lusts that war against the soul (1 Peter 2:11), is even more emphatic than St. James in his recognition of the personality of evil. Sin is part of a man’s activity, a vain manner of life from which we are redeemed by the blood of Him who bore our sins, i.e. our actual transgressions, that He might bring us to God (1 Peter 1:18-19, 1 Peter 2:24, 1 Peter 3:18). For the redeemed Christian it still exists in the person of God’s enemy, who is now the adversary of God’s people also, seeking once more to draw them away from their allegiance (1 Peter 5:8).
St. John, with his profounder insight, gives to the doctrine of sin what is perhaps the widest and most comprehensive sweep in the NT. ‘Sin is lawlessness’ (1 John 3:4). This sentence, with its coextensive subject and predicate, is all but a definition. It recognizes no distinction in kind between ‘sin’ and ‘sins,’ which are practically interchangeable in the Johannine writings. If the Lamb of God ‘taketh away the sin of the world’ (John 1:29, Vulgate peccata mundi), the Son is manifested ‘to take away sins’ (1 John 3:5). If the blood cleanseth from all sin (1 John 1:7), Jesus Christ is the propitiation for our sins (1 John 2:2). The cleansing is sacrificial (ἱλασμός), implying personal dealings with God. It is therefore forgiveness of sins which those for whom it is prevalent receive (1 John 1:9, 1 John 2:12). St John does not speak of sin as a state. Doing sin is opposed to doing righteousness (1 John 3:4; 1 John 3:7-8). ‘In him is no sin’ (1 John 3:5) is equivalent to ‘Which of you convicteth me of sin?’ (John 8:46, cf. 1 Peter 2:22),—a clear record rather than a perfect state. That which abides in him who believes in the name of Jesus (1 John 3:23) is the love of the Father, a personal relation having been established which is opposed to the love of the world (1 John 2:15-16). Here, however, is no condemnation of the natural impulses or of matter. That Jesus Christ is come in the flesh to save the world is St. John’s cardinal doctrine (1 John 4:2, 2 John 1:7). But, as with St. James and St. Peter, it is lust, and the corruption that is in the world through lust, which constitute the bondage from which men need deliverance (1 John 2:16; 1 John 5:4-5). What then is lust? That is the point at which St John’s whole view opens out before us. The Fourth Gospel has recorded the prayer of Christ for His disciples, not that they should be taken from the world, but that they might be kept from the Evil One (John 17:15); and also His condemnation of the Jews because, continuing in the bondage of sin, it was their will to do the lusts not of their body, but of their father the devil (John 8:44). And the Apocalypse unfolds the mystery of iniquity in language fully accordant with the view of sin implied in the Gospel. The old serpent the devil (Revelation 12:9; Revelation 20:2) deceives the whole world (Revelation 12:9, Revelation 20:2; Revelation 20:10), having power (δύναμις, Revelation 13:2) and even authority (ἐξουσία, Revelation 13:4; cf. Luke 4:6) over the nations, manifesting his rule in the mystic Babylon (Revelation 16:19; Revelation 17:1-6), and the kingdom of the beast (13 passim), until He who is the Alpha and Omega, having by His angel sealed the servants of God (Revelation 7:2-3), brings in the final salvation, the Kingdom of God and the authority of His Christ (Revelation 12:10). St. John’s last word is written in the First Epistle. Behind human history is the devil, ‘who sinneth from the beginning’ (1 John 3:8). The explanation of human sin, therefore, is the relation of the world to this spirit. ‘The whole world lieth in the evil one’ (1 John 5:19). To be begotten of God (1 John 3:9), who is light (1 John 1:5), truth (1 John 5:20), and love (1 John 4:8), is a reversal of those relations described as being ‘of the devil’ (1 John 3:8), who is a murderer and liar (John 8:44), and the power of darkness (1 John 2:11; cf. Luke 22:53, Acts 26:18). Philosophically, there can be little doubt that St. John is content with a dualism, which he is not concerned to resolve, starting as he does from the facts of experience (1 John 1:1; 1 John 4:14; cf. John 19:35). Though evil is antithetic to good, it is not in a Platonic sense as non-being (τὸ μὴ ὄν). The problem is approached from the positive and concrete standpoint of personality. Though God is indeed the beginning and the end (Revelation 1:8; Revelation 21:6; Revelation 22:13), yet a similar phrase is used in speaking of the author of evil as in describing the Word (1 John 3:8; 1 John 1:1): both are ‘from the beginning.’ The final triumph, though complete, is represented symbolically as the imprisonment (Revelation 20:2-3; Revelation 20:7; Revelation 20:10), not the annihilation, of Satan. The Hebrew mind, which, in spite of mystical affinities with Platonism and, possibly, of direct influence from Greek sources, is dominant in St. John, did not feel the necessity of a metaphysical monism, being content to respond to the revelation of a supreme spiritual Person, the fear of whom was the beginning of wisdom and man’s chief end (Job 28:28, Psalms 111:10, Ecclesiastes 12:13). It is enough to know that they who ‘abide in him that is true’ have by a transference of allegiance overcome the Evil One (1 John 2:13).
The Epistle of Jude, with which 2 Peter must be closely associated, clearly exhibits that apocalyptic view of the spiritual issues behind the facts of human life and experience of which there are abundant traces in the NT outside the Book of Revelation, and which indicate a ‘war in heaven’ (Revelation 12:7) as the ultimate explanation of sin (Judges 1:6; Judges 1:9; Judges 1:14, 2 Peter 2:4; 2 Peter 3:7; 2 Peter 3:12). To the Jewish mind this language is not what Western thought would understand by mere symbol. It is rather the symbolic representation of real existence, the Hebrew equivalent of Greek mysteries. It is a mistake, therefore, to neglect either the Apocalypse or the apocalyptic passages of other writings in the interpretation of the NT, or to fail to perceive that their characteristic ideas underlie the theology of the Apostolic age, as the Platonic mould of thought governs the religious philosophy of the 4th cent., the biological that of the 19th. The contempt of millenarianism, while it banished much that was fantastic in Christian teaching, had the correspondingly unfortunate result of obliging interpreters of the NT to arrange its statements against a background not contemplated by the writers themselves. The result in the case of sin has been the assigning of inadequate and shifting values to the term, and the misapplication of physical or other analogies. For Apostolic Christianity the background is always God with His Kingdom of angels and men on the one hand, and on the other the devil with his angels, extending his usurped authority over those human servants whom he holds captive. Sin is active hostility to God.
4. The whole question of original sin is removed from the atmosphere in which it is usually discussed, when it is realized that the difference between sin and righteousness is not one of infused or implanted characters, but of relationship to God. It need not be either affirmed or denied that moral and spiritual tendencies are, like the physical organism, capable of transmission. Still more irrelevant is the discussion whether acquired characters descend by inheritance. These are questions for psychological research, and may be left for decision upon scientific grounds. No doubt theories of transmission, from the crudest Augustinian notions of sexual propagation to the subtlest doctrine of heredity, have been advanced by religions philosophers to account for the universal need of salvation. So inveterate has this type of thought become, that it adheres to the phrases, e.g. ‘depravity,’ ‘corruption of nature,’ and the like, in which theology has endeavoured to express the Scripture teaching. Though the confessional formulas that employ such phrases are not committed to interpretations of the NT which imply a theory, opponents of what is supposed to be the traditional doctrine have in consequence been allowed to attack it in the interests of a more scientific psychology, on the assumption that original sin is held to be a predisposing cause of actual sin. Mr. F. R. Tennant, for example, in his Hulsean Lectures, starting from the premiss that ethical attributes are not rightly applied to anything but the activities of a will that knows the moral law, has no difficulty in proving that appetites and passions are the raw material of morality, belonging to the environment of the will, not an ‘universal and hereditarily transmitted disturbance of man’s nature.’ The consequence follows that sin, which must involve guilt, applies properly only to the individual, while ‘original sin is little more than a name for the solidarity in nature and environment of the race of actual sinners. Whatever may be said of the background of Augustinian thought or the atmosphere in which the confessions of the 16th cent. were drawn, there can be no doubt that they only reasserted the language of the NT in ascribing the wrath of God to the race no less than to the individual. Terms like ‘abnormal humanity,’ ‘taint of nature,’ ‘infirmity of will,’ may be useful practical analogies, but, like all analogies, they defeat their end if rigorously pressed. For what Scripture means is, not that individual responsibility is conditioned by racial defect, but that the guilt attaching to individuals belongs, in the first instance, to the community (see art. Guilt).
5. The controversies that have arisen about the question whether sin is a privation or a depravation of nature, would have lost much of their force if theological thought had adhered more closely to the Scripture mode of regarding sin. The later mediaeval view, stereotyped by the standards of Trent, represented man as deprived of a gift which raised him above nature (supernaturale donum). The unsophisticated experience of human nature leads us to regard it as not in its chief outlines evil, and so far as it denies an inherent corruption in the actual content of manhood the Tridentine position is sufficiently justified. But the Reformers were right in their main contention, which was that sin involved a positive departure from the Divine purpose. If sin in its essence is neither the loss nor the disturbance of personal endowments, but simply disloyalty to God, then to be outside the Kingdom and to own allegiance to the Evil One means that positive hostility to the law of God which is to be ‘very far gone from original righteousness.’ For sin disturbs nature only in the sense in which all personal action disturbs, by directing towards spiritual ends the material which nature supplies. Again, we have to emphasize the truth that sin enters only when spiritual relations have been established.
6. This consideration will also show the irrelevance of inquiring into the origin of sin, in so far as this means an empirical investigation of human history. For if sin postulates responsibility, we are no nearer a solution of the problem by a knowledge of the rudimentary forms of what, in its final development, we call conscience. Only if emotions and passions be regarded as sinful, can it be of use to note that impulses, the ultimate restraint of which becomes imperative, are at certain stages necessary for the preservation of the individual or the propagation of the race. There need be no desire on the part of any Christian theologian to question the premisses on which the scientific evolutionist pursues his investigations into the origin of the human species. We may grant, for example, that no chasm separates the appearance of man upon the earth from the development of other and lower forms of life. It is hazardous, and quite unnecessary, to contend for organic and moral life as new departures. Taking a merely external view of man, we may say that the conditions under which sin not only becomes possible but actually takes place, are ‘the perfectly normal result of a process of development through which the race has passed previously to the acquisition of full moral personality’ (F. R. Tennant, Hulsean Lect. p. 81). But then sin is a determination of the ‘full moral personality.’ Even if we accept the story of man’s first disobedience as historically a fact, it is no more explicable as a necessary stage in human evolution than the latest instance of wrong done by one man against another. That all men are the enemies of God until reconciled by the mediation of Christ, is a question of personal relationship unaffected by scientific research. The observer can do no more than register, so far as he can discover them, the conditions under which activities have resulted which, in view of the will of God, assumed to be known, are recognized as disloyalty and therefore as sin. No doctrine of sin is possible except on the assumption of a personal experience involving the recognition of God. The universality of the need which it expresses is attested, not by any demonstrative proof, but by the conviction of sin through which each individual has passed to the freedom of the Christian life. Of such Christian experience the witness of the Church is the summary, and its missionary labours are the measure of its faith that redemption is applicable to all. With this alone is Christianity as such concerned. It does not go behind the activity of a self-determining being, judged by conscience. Its doctrine of the ‘Fall,’ therefore, is not a pseudo-scientific account of the strength of passion or of the ‘survival of habits and tendencies incidental to an earlier stage in development,’ which is refuted by the discovery that the story of mankind is that of a continuous progression. It has nothing to do with the material of actual sin, which, though environment may have been vastly modified by corrupt action, cannot rightly be spoken of as ‘polluted.’ But it is the expression, in the only manner of which language admits, of the postulate of guilt and slavery involved in preaching the gospel, God’s message of free salvation, to every creature.
The story of the Fall, recorded in Genesis 3, though it shaped the form in which St. Paul stated the universality of sin, does not vitally affect a teaching which, in its absence, would have sought another method of expression. Indeed, its essential features are all present in the Epistle to the Romans before it is stated in terms of Adam’s transgression. To say that the doctrine is merely illustrated by the story, would be to attribute to the Hebrew Christian mind of the 1st cent, an attitude towards the OT possible only in a critical age. Nor will the use of ‘Adam’ as a category for summing up the human race in 1 Corinthians 15:21 f. warrant us in believing that St. Paul was led to his characteristic idea of human solidarity otherwise than along the lines natural to a Jewish interpreter of the OT in Apostolic times (see Sanday-Headlam, Romans, p. 136, ‘Effects of Adam’s Fall,’ etc.). But it is equally certain that St. Paul’s use of the OT is far removed from a hard Western literalism, its narratives being the authoritative forms under which spiritual truths are apprehended rather than the material of historical science (see Sanday-Headlam, ib. p. 302, ‘St. Paul’s use of the OT’). The canons of interpretation applied to the early narratives of Genesis cannot affect their doctrinal use in the NT. If the first truth which concerns the moral life of man be the Divine origin, and therefore the essential goodness, i.e. conformity to the Divine intention, of the material world and of his own personality, the second is that nevertheless he is an alien from God. This interpretation of the facts of life, which escapes the negation of a true morality involved alike in Oriental dualism and philosophic monism, is entirely independent of the Genesis stories, and separable from them in the NT. It is, however. remarkable that even in these early narratives the religious truth is presented with a completeness conspicuously absent from many later theologies. The three personalities of God, Man, and the Evil One,—disobedience, guilt, exclusion from the Kingdom, the need of liberation from an external tyranny typified in the promised bruising of the serpent’s head,—all are essential to the reality of sin. It is difficult to understand how this could be better represented than by attributing an act of disobedience against God and of compliance with ‘the voice of a stranger’ to a common ancestor of all living. The situation thus expressed is briefly summarized by St. Paul, ‘All have sinned, and (therefore) fall short of the glory of God’ (Romans 3:23).
Confusion is often caused by the tendency to revert to a materialistic conception of sin on the part of those who would explain its presence in terms of the evolution hypothesis. It is sufficient, so the argument runs, to observe the difficulty that each must encounter ‘of enforcing his inherited organic nature to obey a moral law’ (Tennant, Hulsean Lectures, p. 81). But, apart from the fact that what needs explanation is the self-arraignment which the process entails, it is contrary to experience, no less than to Scripture, thus to place the ‘organic nature’ in an essential relation to sin, which is made to consist in the failure to ‘moralize’ it. The publicans and harlots go into the Kingdom of heaven before those with whose wilful rejection of God the physical and emotional nature has least to do. Even popular Christianity places ‘the devil’ at the climax of temptation; nor are ‘youthful lusts,’ though they may constitute the earliest and most obvious material of transgression, the deadliest and most intimate occasion of sin. The impulse to make stones bread, or appropriate the kingdoms of the world, masks a temptation to independence of Divine authority which is the essential element in guilt. St. Paul’s doctrine of the Flesh with its passions and lusts (Romans 7:5; Romans 8:8, Galatians 5:24 etc.) cannot be set against this. It has been abundantly shown that the Pauline anthropology, to use the words of Lipsius, ‘rests entirely on an OT base.’ The ‘old man’ (ὁ παλαιὸς ἡμῶν ἄνθρωπος, Romans 6:6 etc.) is, therefore, the body, not as uncontrolled by spirit, but as inwrought by the Evil One (see above). According to Christian teaching, sin ‘takes occasion’ by any commandment or recognized purpose of God, whether related to the physical nature or not; nor would the theologian of any age be a whit less emphatic than the modern theorist in placing it, not in the impulse, but in the ‘deliberate refusal to reject the impulse.’ All men are born in sin, not as inheriting insatiable and abnormal appetites, which, however strong, are still outside their personal responsibility, but as subject to influences which, ‘felt within us as ourselves’ (Tennyson, Locksley Hall Sixty Years After), well up in personalities hostile to the Kingdom of God.
It will be urged that influences such as these are still external to the individual, of whom, therefore, sin cannot be predicated anterior to positive acts of transgression. But, in the first place, this separation between actions and character does not correspond with experience. The man as distinct from his activities is an abstraction. The ‘psychological infant’ is an ideal construction (see Martineau, Types of Ethical Theory, bk. ii. c. 2). No one has any knowledge of himself except in action. It is empirically true that ‘concupiscence hath of itself the nature of sin’ (Thirty-nine Articles, 9), because in experience the line between suggestion and acquiescence is imaginary, and ‘he that looketh on a woman to lust’ knows that he has already committed adultery. And this is not inconsistent with the complementary truth that temptation is not sin. But, secondly, while it may be admitted that sin on this view is metaphysically not free from difficulty, it must be observed that no peculiar problem is created by it. It is not exposed to the objection which naturally arises if it is explained in terms of a theory of heredity. Such theories are necessarily tentative and provisional, and it is the vice of all explanations based upon the current hypotheses of scientific investigation, that they tend to outrun assured results, and to involve religious truth in the imperfections of systems always in process of becoming antiquated. As soon, however, as it is perceived that the supposed analogy of an ‘acquired character’ transmitted by propagation to descendants does not accurately represent the teaching of Scripture, objections raised on this score from the point of view of advancing science lose their force. The problem involved in the exercise of personal influence acting through the self-determining will of another personality, remains just where it is, whether sin be a reality or not; St. Paul’s ‘I, yet not I’ stands for an experience which is constant, whether the inspiring influence be ‘the grace of God’ or ‘sin that dwelleth in me.’ Whatever may be true of hypnotic suggestion or of abnormal conditions like demoniacal possession, the normal course of personal influence, even of one man upon another, is not to paralyze the individual, so that the resultant action is not his but another’s. That sharp separation of personalities which makes one human being wholly external to another may to some extent be due to the illusion of physical limitations. But at any rate, in dealing with ‘spiritual wickedness,’ we reach a sphere where these conditions are left behind, and the distinctions which they involve are inapplicable. That spirit should thus act upon spirit involves no new difficulty, because its possibility is involved in the creation of free, responsible personalities, capable of love and therefore of enmity, of responding to a spirit of evil no less than to the Spirit of God. This may involve a race, just as the Holy Spirit indwells the Kingdom of heaven and each member of it. Sin is the antithesis, not of freewill, but of grace. The true analogy of redemption is rather the exorcism which leaves the subject ‘clothed and in his right mind,’ than the remedy which repairs the ravages of disease. Salvation is not the process by which the sinner is gradually transformed into the saint, but the justifying act whereby the unrighteous is transferred to the Kingdom of grace. No doubt the evil spirit may return to the house from which it went out, and we are not, therefore, compelled to reject facts of experience, and deny the gradual nature of self-conquest. But to think of sin as an inherited or acquired character which is being gradually reduced, is to introduce a distinction between original and actual sin which removes the former altogether from the category of guilt. Satan ‘entered into Judas’ (Luke 22:3, John 13:27); and our Lord’s statement—‘He that is bathed needeth not save to wash his feet’ (John 13:10)—seems to imply liability to incur fresh guilt rather than a redemption as yet incomplete. That sin remains even in the regenerate is sufficiently accurate as an expression of the observed fact of the imperfect lives of Christians. But the deeper view of St. John is that disciples, being still in the world, have constant need to be kept from the Evil One in whom it lies, and to receive afresh propitiation and forgiveness for sins actually committed in consequence of this spiritual contact.
7. The Biblical doctrine of sin, as here outlined, enables us to interpret the Incarnation in harmony with the best modern psychology. It is no longer possible to think of human nature apart from personality as a bundle of facilities, among which, as we have experience of it, is the faculty of sin. Sin therefore is not an ingredient in ordinary humanity, which must be regarded as absent from the pure humanity assumed by the Son of God. To inquire whether the manhood in Christ was capable of sin is irrelevant, when it is perceived that impersonal natures are abstractions of thought with no existence in fact. Sin is hostility to what Jesus Christ is, the living God. The house of a personality, human or Divine, or, as in the case of Christ, both, cannot be divided against itself. The truth expressed in the old theological conception of the impersonal humanity of our Lord is simply this, that He received by inheritance from the human race whatsoever is capable of transmission, the structural fabric with which biology is concerned, the material within which conscious personality expresses itself. Thus He is in all points like to His brethren, who inherit from their ancestry what in itself is morally neither good nor bad. He was identified with human sin, not only representatively but vitally (Romans 5:12-20, Psalms 2:2-4)—a truth which so far eludes statement as almost inevitably to involve in heresy those who, like Edward Irving, seek to express it. But the Word became flesh, and that without sin, not because the virus was omitted in the act of conception, but because, being God, He cannot deny Himself, the terms ‘sin’ and ‘God’ being mutually exclusive. God became man under those conditions which sin had created, viz. the environment of Satan’s kingdom together with the guilt and penalty of death. He did not therefore redeem by becoming man, but by surrendering Himself to the entire consequences, reversing the sentence of condemnation, by death overcoming death, and opening the new environment of the Kingdom of heaven to all believers. The fact of the Atonement witnesses against the view that the Incarnation was the destruction of an evil heredity through union with the Divine nature. Its principle is the indwelling of the Personal Spirit or holiness first in Jesus Christ (Romans 1:4) and thereafter in the free personalities of the children of God (Romans 8:11), expelling by His presence and power ‘the spirit that now worketh in the sons of disobedience’ (Ephesians 2:2).
Literature.—J. Müller, The Christian Doctrine of Sin, English translation 2 vols.; J. Tulloch, The Christian Doctrine of Sin; A. Moore, Some Aspects of Sin; C. Gore, Appendix ii. on ‘Sin’ in Lux Mundi10 [Note: 0 designates the particular edition of the work referred] ; O. Pfleiderer, Philosophy of Religion, § ‘Sin’; Clemen, Die Christl. Lehre v. der Sünde; F. R. Tennant, The Origin and Propagation of Sin (Hulsean Lectures), also Sources of the Doctrine of the Fall and Original Sin (valuable on account of its historical survey of the development of Christian theory); Professor James Orr, God’s Image in Man, etc.; The Child and Religion (a volume of essays by various authors; Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible , artt. ‘Sin,’ ‘Fall, and ‘Heredity.’ In addition to these, most of the standard works on Systematic Theology may be usefully consulted; also Sanday-Headlam’s Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans. For science, G. Romanes, Exam, of Weismannism; Haeckel, The Last Link; P. N. Waggett, Religion and Science. For the Ritschlian theory see A. Ritschl, Justification and Reconciliation, English translation ch. 5; also A. E. Garvie, The Ritschlian Theology, ch. 10.
J. G. Simpson.
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Hastings, James. Entry for 'Sin (2)'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdn/​s/sin-2.html. 1906-1918.