Saturday, March 19, 2011

Answering a Muslim objection to Christianity: Original Sin

I came across a question posted by a member of the Catholic Forum who was in discussion with a friend of theirs studying to become a sheikh (let's call him "Jude" for all intensive purposes). Muslims do not believe in Original Sin (i.e. that man cannot "inherit" sins); they believe that all men are born in a pure "sin free" state. Theirs is a misunderstanding of what Original Sin actually is but this sheikh-in-training found an apparent contradiction in the Christian belief of Original Sin and what is written in the Bible. "Jude" cites a verse from Ezekiel and then asks his question:

"The son will not bear the iniquity of the father, nor will the father bear the iniquity of the son." - Ezekiel 18:20
"... And yet the crux of Christianity is that we all bear the sin of Adam. Is that not why Jesus had to die? How do these two contradicting concepts fit?"
If you're familiar with scripture you'll immediately notice Jude's first error: he has cherry-picked a verse of scripture, and not even a full one at that. Furthermore Jude has read this verse out of context (and what's that motto about context I like so much? "A text without a context is a pretext", remember that). Here's Ezekiel 18:20 in its entirety (and just for the record I'm reading from the RSV):

"The soul that sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son; the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself."

Ezekiel 18 addresses personal sin/disobedience and exhorts holiness/righteousness, i.e. "a son will not inherit the sins of a father" (paraphrased) means that a son will not be punished/held accountable because of what is father did. We are responsible for our own faults/sins and of course responsible for the good we do. It would appear that Jude is attempting to make a connection to Original Sin from the extract he cited; he is taking Ezekiel 18:20 out of context. Just a bit further along in Ezekiel 18 we read this:

"But if a wicked man turns away from all his sins which he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is lawful and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of the transgressions which he has committed shall be remembered against him; for the righteousness which he has done he shall live. " - Ezekiel 18:21-22

"When a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity, he shall die for it; for the iniquity which he has committed he shall die. Again, when a wicked man turns away from the wickedness he has committed and does what is lawful and right, he shall save his life." - Ezekiel 18:26-27

... And at the end of the chapter (emphasis added):

"'Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, says the Lord GOD. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions which you have committed against me, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of any one, says the Lord GOD; so turn, and live.'" - Ezekiel 18:30-32

Original Sin is not the same as personal sin, i.e. it is not the same as an act made with full knowledge and consent that offends God. Original Sin, the sin of Adam and Eve, is man's inclination to disobey God (an inclination to evil); it is sometimes referred to as "concupiscence". Original Sin is only called "sin" in an analogical sense because it refers to the sin of our first parents, Adam and Eve. Theirs was a personal/committed sin, but as children of these parents we inherit this fallen nature; the inclination to do evil.
 How did the sin of Adam become the sin of all his descendants? The whole human race is in Adam "as one body of one man".By this "unity of the human race" all men are implicated in Adam's sin, as all are implicated in Christ's justice. Still, the transmission of original sin is a mystery that we cannot fully understand. But we do know by Revelation that Adam had received original holiness and justice not for himself alone, but for all human nature. By yielding to the tempter, Adam and Eve committed a personal sin, but this sin affected the human nature that they would then transmit in a fallen state. It is a sin which will be transmitted by propagation to all mankind, that is, by the transmission of a human nature deprived of original holiness and justice. And that is why original sin is called "sin" only in an analogical sense: it is a sin "contracted" and not "committed" - a state and not an act. - Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 404

Jesus died for the remission of ALL sins so that we may be saved (e.g. John 3:16; 1 Timothy 2:4-6), and we read in our Catechism of the Catholic Church:
619 "Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures" (I Cor 15:3).

620 Our salvation flows from God's initiative of love for us, because "he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins" (I Jn 4:10). "God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself" (2 Cor 5:19).

621 Jesus freely offered himself for our salvation. Beforehand, during the Last Supper, he both symbolized this offering and made it really present: "This is my body which is given for you" (Lk 22:19).

622 The redemption won by Christ consists in this, that he came "to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mt 20:28), that is, he "loved [his own] to the end" (Jn 13:1), so that they might be "ransomed from the futile ways inherited from [their] fathers" (I Pt 1:18).

623 By his loving obedience to the Father, "unto death, even death on a cross" (Phil 2:8), Jesus fulfills the atoning mission (cf. Is 53:10) of the suffering Servant, who will "make many righteous; and he shall bear their iniquities" (Is 53:11; cf. Rom 5:19).

... And this correlation between Original Sin and Christ's death on the cross for us, we also believe that Baptism remits the sin of Adam and Eve (Original Sin), as we read in St. Peter's letters (emphasis added):

"For Christ also died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit; in which he went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly did not obey, when God's patience waited in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers subject to him." - 1 Peter 3:18-22

To summarise:

- all men (sic.) are born with Original Sin and all human beings have an inclination to sin (Romans 5:12; Psalms 51:5; 1 Corinthians 15:22);
- Ezekiel 18 addresses personal sin (not Original Sin) and exhorts holiness/righteousness; and
- Christ died for all sins (1 Peter 3:18; 2 Corinthians 5:14-15) and participation in the Sacraments (Baptism initially) gives us the grace to live in righteousness and seek God.

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