I want to do a three-part series on original sin, but before I do, I’d like to thank both of the guys who pointed out the problems with the blog comment feature, and Jess Rezac (who, incidentally, helped design the header) for fixing it so quickly. So… thanks! Feel free to check out her blog for museums, pop culture, and history, and if you feel like commenting on the blog, today’s a great day to do it, so I can find out if the new comment thing works.
Alright, today I want to discuss the possibility of inheriting sin, since that’s sort of a weird concept for a lot of people. Tomorrow, I want to look at the effects that this sin inherited from Adam, original sin, has – particularly on infants.
I. The Possibility of Inheriting Sin
My younger brother had a friend who balked at the idea that we can inherit sin, and particularly punishable sin. The idea seemed to him, and to a number of people I know, indefensible and if not laughable, at least strangely cruel. I was reminded of this recently when, during the same lunch I mentioned yesterday, my priest friend mentioned that our relationship with the Eastern Orthodox is pretty one-way: we love them, and they’re still pretty mad at us. He suggested that this was pretty defensible in both directions. We’re Westerners, and this fascination with the Eastern Orthodox is particularly acute amongst Americans, who have no problem being friendly with the British (who tried to crush our fledgling nation), or even the Germans and Japanese, who fought against Americans still alive today. As a nation, we’re quick to forgive and forget in foreign policy. Other cultures don’t share this. To them, suggested Fr. Andrew, the sacking of Constantinople is a recent memory, and he told me of a family outcast from a Mediterranean village he’d visited. Apparently, the man was generations descended from a town thief, and was regarded as a thief himself by the townsfolk. This Mediterranean view seems, more or less, to be the view held through most of the world. Even high-tech cultures with a sense of tradition, like Japan, often think of a family’s honor or disgrace.
Their perspective seems practical, given the culture: the family and the clan were for eons, and still very much today, the most important level of society. If your family turned against you, you were toast: you had to stick together, through thick and through thin. Perhaps we identify today more with the nation-state: we can understand someone hating us because of something the American Government has done to their country, even if we were opponents of the idea. Other than being more familiar, it’s hard to make a case that this view is more logical or reasonable.
In a bizarre way, punishing the son for the sins of the father is a sign of respect: you acknowledge that since he’s a loyal son, he’s going to stick with his dad no matter how crummy he is, since he’s family. It’s why we see so many lineages in the Bible. It’s also why Luke 14:26 is so radical: Jesus suggests that you need to view Him as more important than family. He’s asking His followers to leave behind how they defined themselves before (as James, Son of Zebedee), and replace it with something new (St. James, Disciple of Christ).
II. Spiritual and Biological Families
Just as there is Bios (biological life) and Zoë (spiritual life), there are biological and spiritual families. Zebedee is St. James’ biological father; God is his Spiritual Father. Just as in the biological order, you were known by your lineage (Simon Barjona, for example, means “Simon, son of John/Jonah” – Matthew 16:17), through the laying on of hands, the old familial and physical lineage was replaced with an episcopal and spiritual one. (As I understand it, this is part of the reason some priests opt not to be known by last name, and why many religious take on a new name).
This is also why we call priests “Father”: the New Testament teaches that this spiritual connection creates fatherhood (1 Corinthians 4:14–15) as well as sonship (1 Timothy 1:2), even between humans. The role of the spiritual family can hardly be overstated in the Bible. In fact, Jesus’ point in some of His discourses with the Jews: for example, in John 8:34-44, is that while they are biological descendants of Abraham (cf. John 8:37), they are not his (spiritual) children (cf. John 8:39). He also cautions, “And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.” (Matthew 3:9). Paul underscores this point through his epistle to the Romans, where he emphasized that you aren’t born into the covenant, you’re a member through faith.
But that doesn’t mean that biological family suddenly became unimportant (or even that Christ wanted it to). Rather, the biological family proceeds from the Fatherhood of God (Ephesians 3:15). So, since the family is one, it’s often treated as one, for better or for worse.
Tomorrow, I want to look at the problems with both the American view and what I’ve been loosely calling the Mediterranean view. After that, I plan to give what I think is the Scriptural view.