As Iron Sharpens Iron

An ongoing and online discussion between: an Orthodox informed Ecumaniac without a denominational home, an ordained Baptist youth pastor with an open mind, a Calvinist worship leader/seminarian with a staggering vocabulary and ability to make a point, and a cradle Catholic with a love/hate relationship to Rome.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Importance of Romans

Luther called it "purest Gospel" (as opposed to the book of James which he called an "epistle of straw"). The Epistles to the Romans has also contributed significantly to the history of Christian doctrine. Almost every influential Christian thinker has dealt with Romans. Origen, Thomas Aquinas, and Philip Melanchthon, to mention only a few, wrote noteworthy commentaries on Romans. And numerous theological notions have been derived solely or in part from Romans. Augustine acquired his idea of original sin from Romans 5, Luther gained his understanding of justification by faith alone from Romans 3-4, John Calvin obtained his doctrine of double predestination from Romans 9-11, John Wesley got his distinctive teaching on sanctification from Romans 6 and 8, and Karl Barth learned of the importance of the righteousness of God from Romans 1 and 2. In short, this epistle has exerted a powerful influence on all branches of the Christian Church, and its impact on the lives and thought of prominent Christian thinkers through the years has been second, perhaps, only to the canonical gospels. Here is some ancient commentary on Romans 5.

But it is on Romans 5 I want to speak, specifically verses 12 through the end of the chapter. My father asked me to read it and give the Orthodox perspective on it. He is coming from a traditional, Protestant and, to some extent, Roman Catholic position. We have all sinned through Adam, even if we have lived perfect lives otherwise, and all need the "New Adam," Jesus, to save us. What do the Orthodox believe about Original Sin?

To place the term Original sin in context: God created man perfect with free will and gave man a direction to follow. Man (Adam) and Woman (Eve) chose rather to disobey God by eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, thus changing the "perfect" mode of existence of man to the "flawed" mode of existence of man. This flawed nature and all that has come from it is a result of that Original Sin. Because we participate in humanity, we share in the sin of Adam because like him, we are human. The union of humanity with divinity in Jesus Christ (Incarnation) restored, in the Person of Christ, the mode of existence of humanity, so that those who are incorporated in him may participate in this mode of existence, be saved from sin and death, and be united to God in deification (theosis, which does NOT mean joining the Trinity). Original sin is cleansed in humans through baptism or, in the case of the Theotokos (God-bearer or Mary), the moment Christ took form within her.

However, this view differs from the Roman Catholic (Augustinian) doctrine of Original Sin in that man is not seen as inherently guilty of the sin of Adam. According to the Orthodox, we inherit the consequences of that sin, not the guilt. The difference came about because Augustine interpreted a Latin translation of Romans 5:12 as meaning that through Adam all men sinned, whereas the Orthodox reading in Greek interpret it as meaning that we all sin as part of the inheritance of flawed nature from Adam. Therefore, the Orthodox Church does not teach that we are born deserving to go to hell and Protestant doctrines such as Predeterminism that result from the Augustinian understanding of Original Sin are not a part of Orthodox belief.


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