Sunday, August 12, 2007

Augustine's Misunderstanding and Original Sin

Okay, I admit it. I've been drawn back in.

Peter Kirk writes an excellent post discussing the ramifications of Augustine's use of an inadequate translation in developing doctrine. (He is following Doug Chaplin's discussion of the subject.) Essentially, Augustine understood Romans 5:12 as "in whom all sinned," with the implication that we are all guilty, not merely of our own sins, but of Adam's; that we are born guilty of Adam's sin. This is the foundation of the doctrine of original sin, which is foundational to the doctrine of total depravity. However, all modern translations recognize that the Greek of Romans 5:12 is better rendered, "because all sinned"--Augustine was following an inadequate Latin translation at this point. Paul's point is not that we all sinned with Adam in the Garden of Eden, but that we have all sinned just as Adam sinned, and therefore we all need the gift of God's grace through the sacrifice of Jesus.

It is thought by some that denial of the extent to which Augustine pushed the doctrine of original sin (and thus total depravity) implies Pelagianism: that it would be possible for a person to justify himself without appeal to the sacrifice of Jesus, that we can and must work to merit God's favor, that we become co-participants in our own salvation. But this is not a necessary conclusion. Other scriptures make it clear that in fact we all have sinned, and that we cannot come to Jesus merely of our own accord. Nonetheless, the corollary to total depravity--that not only can we not come to God on our own, but we cannot even respond to the Gospel without God enabling us, and then we will unfailingly do so--is not taught in Scripture.

Not only does this bespeak of the dangers of using an inadequate translation; it bespeaks of the dangers of building doctrine on so narrow a foundation as a single interpretation of a single phrase.

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