Jesus and Original Sin

Many Bible passages include the peculiar notions of inherited guilt and punishment. For example, one standard interpretation of the Garden of Eden story is that it resulted in “original sin.” Every human being has inherited the guilt of Adam and Eve for disobeying God in Eden.

The apostle Paul thought our inherited guilt was canceled out by a vicarious sacrifice. We became guilty by being children of Adam and Eve, but we could be forgiven because of the suffering and death of Jesus. Romans 5:18-19: “Then as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous.”

I don’t mean to oversimplify here. There are several major interpretations of the Christian doctrine of salvation through Jesus, and within each interpretation there are subtleties and sometimes profundities. My point is simply that in Biblical times many believed in inherited guilt, so for them this was a plausible interpretation of the Eden story. If we do not believe that guilt can be passed on to one’s offspring, that should influence our response to religious theories of sin and salvation.

So what do you think? Is the inherited-guilt concept entirely defunct? If not, how is it meaningful to you? And if we believe it is an obsolete idea, how should this opinion influence our assessment of Christian theology?

Roger Christan Schriner


New Year’s Resolutions for Jesus?

“For some, it may seem shocking to suggest that Jesus had room for self-improvement. But it’s hard to miss his sins if you read the New Testament gospels.” So writes blogger Jim Burklo in “The Resolutions of Jesus”


In reading Burklo’s essay I remembered my November 17 post, The Heartblink, in which I talked about the way we momentarily block out our own ethical responses. One very effective way to ignore data that disturbs us is to close our hearts for a moment, and then move on to thinking about something else. It is so convenient, sometimes, to temporarily disable our moral instincts.

I grew up believing that Jesus was perfect, and I suspended my ethical instincts whenever I read stories that seem to show his flaws. Here’s an example from Jim’s post:

Once when Jesus was preaching, “his mother and brothers sent someone inside to ask him to come out and speak with them (Matthew 12: 47-50). He brushed them off with an insult: ‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother, and sister, and mother.’”

It’s so easy to heartblink this passage, overlooking the verbal slap in the face that Jesus gave his family. It’s more comfortable to focus on the positive part of this scripture, its encouragement to do the will of God. But Burklo faces the whole story squarely, and suggests a New Year’s resolution for Jesus: “Be much nicer to my family.”

Another example: “A Canaanite woman asked Jesus to free her daughter of possession by a demon (Matthew 15: 22-28). He ignored her because she was a foreigner, … saying ‘It is not fair to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs’. Groveling, she said: ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’ Finally he relented and healed her daughter. He did a good thing, but the way he did it was pretty disgusting.”

Burklo then bluntly states the obvious but unsettling implication of this passage: “Jesus started out believing that anybody who was not a Jew was a dog.” But encountering “faithful gentile people like the Canaanite woman cured him of the antipathy toward foreigners that he had inherited from the culture surrounding him. He didn’t want to serve gentiles. But grudgingly he acquiesced, and was humbled. The Bible reveals that Jesus was a racist in recovery.”

Some of the most uplifting stories of the Bible show Jesus affirming the worth of all people, regardless of ethnicity. Think of the parable of the Good Samaritan. But evidently Jesus did not begin his ministry with such a broad-minded view.

Even if it’s disturbing to think Jesus had faults, it’s inspiring to see him as a flawed human being who learned from experience and honestly tried to be better. As Burklo puts it, “We can resolve to follow Jesus’ journey of self-improvement, working ever-greater miracles of kindness while deepening in humility. What makes us most Godlike is to recognize how far from God we are and always will be.”

I suspect Jesus himself would have agreed with that statement. The Gospels of Mark and Luke both quote him as saying: “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.”

Roger Christan Schriner

Jesus Rejected Biblical Literalism

According to the New Testament, Jesus rejected the idea that every verse of the Bible was “written” by God. Here’s the evidence:

As I mentioned in earlier postings, the Biblical penalty for doing any work on the Sabbath was execution: “… on the seventh day you shall have a holy sabbath of solemn rest to the Lord; whoever does any work on it shall be put to death …” (Exodus 35:2)

That seems a bit harsh, but the rule was sometimes enforced with deadly seriousness. Supposedly God even commanded Moses to have a man slain because he gathered sticks on the Lord’s day. (Numbers 15:32-36) But later Jesus was criticized for working on the Sabbath (picking grain to eat, and healing the sick). In an earlier time he could have been stoned to death for that crime. His response to his critics was, “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath.” (Mark 2:27. See also Matthew 12:9-14.)

So Jesus himself rejected Biblical literalism! He explicitly contradicted passages from the Hebrew Bible (which has become the Christian Old Testament). Since Jesus clearly rejected a passage which is part of Christian scripture, anyone who takes his statements as truth must conclude that Biblical inerrancy is in error. And of course, few Christians today think God wants us to kill those who work on Sunday.

The Gospel According to Matthew also says Jesus rejected Biblical rules about what should and should not be eaten. “And he called the people to him and said to them, ‘Hear and understand: not what goes into the mouth defiles a man, but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man.’ Then the disciples came and said to him, ‘Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?’” (Matthew 15:10-12)

The Hebrew Torah (and therefore the Christian Old Testament) bans lots of foods. Leviticus 11, for instance, forbids consumption of pigs, shellfish, ostriches, lizards, crocodiles, etc. But if Matthew 15 is correct, the Nazarene was rather relaxed about such matters.

Right now I’m mostly writing about Old Testament passages, but I am taking a detour into the New Testament to show that Jesus disagreed with at least one of the death penalty clauses of the Torah. So there’s a big problem here. If we assume that every word of the Bible is true, we have to believe that “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath.” But that obviously contradicts the passage mandating the death penalty for anyone who does even a tiny amount of work on that holy day.

Any comments?

Roger Christan Schriner