...are the ones that make the biggest difference

12.07.2005

Untrodden Portal: III

In lieu of any meaningful posting for the next few days - the bulk of my finals and projects will be done by next Tuesday - I'm bringing this post to the top of the stack. An interesting debate about Mary's sinlessness, original sin and a host of side issues has sprouted. Read, comment, enjoy.

Its been a while since I've had time to read any of Gabriel's Mary: The Untrodden Portal of God, but I got some time this afternoon so I figured I'd best keep up with my series on it. Chapter 4 focuses on a refutation of certain gnostic heresies that claimed Christ was not born according to the natural rules of childbirth. Chapter 5 discusses the Dormition and Chapter 6 details the differences between Orthodoxy's understanding of Mary's birth & death and that of Catholicism. I found that chapter most illuminating, primarily because I haven't really studied this subject matter before.

As I haven't heard of any modern commentators claiming that Jesus actually transpired out of Mary's side, I won't get too in depth with chapter 4. It was interesting to see how far the ancient heretics went to avoid the reality of the Incarnation for fear of contaminating divinity with materiality. It seems people will ever vacillate between a false asceticism that sees all matter as either evil or as completely void of all spiritual significance, and the hedonism that says matter is all there is so we might as well enjoy it. Christians have, for obvious reasons, tended towards the former and I see subtle strands of that in many Protestant thinkers. Not "all matter is evil" but that matter is empty, its meaningless and holds no import for spiritual matters. It is present in the pragmatic iconoclasm and austerity of our worship spaces, in the refusal to bless objects or regard any place as holy, to name but a few examples. It is a tired repetition and one I hope we will eventually be rid of.

Chapters 5 & 6 are closely linked in Gabriel's mind and he lays the groundwork in 5 to explore the key differences and their implications in 6. I knew Orthodoxy had special views about Mary's death and her role in heaven, but did not know the particulars. I found it particularly striking that Orthodoxy emphasizes her true humanity by acknowledging her death, whereas Catholicism is forced, by certain tenets of Augustinian theology, to deny it. As Gabriel rightly points out, the language of the Assumption can indeed lead to Mariolatry in one form or another. If no one is exempt from original sin except Christ and Mary, why, it makes perfect sense to begin elevating Mary above and beyond her proper role in relation to Christ. But Orthodoxy knows that this is not the case, that whatever she is, she is only that because of her relation to Christ. Though she was without the stain or blemish of sin, she still inherited the generational consequences of it, ie, death. She had to die because she was human but her theosis rendered her body incorruptible and as Gabriels says, "her bodily translation from Earth reflected the real mystery and awesome power of the Incarnation and the promise of the same incorruption for all."

Of course, the Protestant in me is going nuts about the thought of Mary being whisked away into heaven. Mother of God or no, it just seems wrong somehow. But then again, we know even less about Enoch (Gen 5:24) and we're told he was taken up into heaven. Elijah was a great prophet and he was taken up, so why do we have such a hard time acknowledging even the possibility that Mary received similar treatment? Yes, its not in the Bible and that is a key difference, but frankly, and this is becoming a similar refrain as I discuss Orthodoxy with people, quite a bit isn't in the Bible. We're told Jesus appeared to as many as 500 people at one time (1 Cor 15:6) after His resurrection and we don't receive a single piece of information about when this happened, who was there, or what Jesus said or did at this important event. We're not told what Jesus was writing in the sand in John 8, nor are we told what Jesus, Moses & Elijah talked about on Tabor. I think Protestants like to pretend that the Bible is just chock-full of all kinds of useful tidbits and that there aren't any blank spaces. There's nothing that needs to be filled in, nothing that can't be answered. But that's a load of crap! We're missing so much and so much of it is important stuff that I'm increasingly finding it hard to give a whole lot of credence to the argument that "its not in the Bible so it must be wrong."

So as I consider the Dormition, I have to say it makes a certain kind of sense. If you accept that grace redeems not just souls but physicality as well, then the unlimited font of grace we find in Christ that dwelt in Mary had to have an effect on her. It had to have changed her somehow, and if the Ark of the Covenant was treated with such absolute reverence that whatever place it entered became holy, how could we but view Mary's body as holy as well? And does it makes sense that God would toss something holy like that into the ground to rot?

21 comments:

Karl Thienes said...

"We're not told what Jesus was writing in the sand in John 8..."

By the way: one of the Church Fathers (can't remember who at the moment) speculated that Jesus was writing in the sand the sins of those who had brought the woman to Jesus in the first place. That would explain why, when he said, "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone", everyone was silenced!

basil said...

It's been a long time since I saw the texts for the Assumption, but the Catechism of the Catholic Church categorically denies that Mary's Assumption implies she never died. Roman Catholics focus on the Assumption, and Byzantine rite churches (such as the Orthodox Church) focus on her "falling asleep," while also holding that she was assumed. There may be some Roman Catholics who believe, wrongly, that she did not die, but that is not what the Roman Magisterium teaches.

Also, teaching about Mary (even when Augustinian) is always in relation to Christ. There's no other reason for it; without her son, she's just another Palestinian peasant girl.

Ignorance of actual Roman teaching is an unfortunate blindspot in much Orthodox writing on the subtle differences between them.

Nathan said...

Basil -

Thanks for the correction. I checked Newadvent.com and found that they do affirm that she died. I think Gabriel would argue, however, that this is a violation of Augustinian theology which (in his view anyways) makes death God's created punishment for sin. Mary, being sinless according to the Immaculate Conception, should not have to die since she would not be under any penalty due to sin. So either her conception violates Augustinian theology or her death does, or so I assume Gabriel would argue. What do you think?

The Scrivener said...

The difference in emphasis on this score is also reflected in sacred art. It's rare to come across an RC representation of Theotokos in death, as in the Orthodox icons for the feast of the Dormition. RC sacred art more often depicts Mary alive, being borne up into heaven. Over at Pontifications, Al Kimel once posted an older western image of the Dormition, with the Theotokos reposed. This was shortly after he opted to swim the Tiber rather than convert to Orthodoxy. Some of his readers jokingly accused him of having second thoughts, based on his choice of art.

Rhirhok said...

This is where Protestants get nervous concerning supposedly infallible tradition or sacred tradition. Mary herself says, “And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior” (Luke 1:47). If Mary was sinless, then why does she call God her “Savior”? She has no sin that she needs to be saved from. This seems to contradict the doctrine that Mary was sinless. The typical response that I have heard from Catholic apologists is that God is Mary’s Savior in the sense of saving her from the stain of original sin. This seems to be quite a stretch. Is there any textual reason to believe that this is what Mary was intending? Is this what Mary was really trying to communicate? Not to mention, if this is what Mary meant, then Jesus Himself could say the same thing because He too was kept from the stain of original sin. However, would Jesus ever say that God is His Savior from sin in any sense?

There does not seem to be any biblical reason to assume that Mary was sinless. The response is often that there is no reason to assume that she was a sinner. The problem with this is that the burden of proof is on the person that says Mary is sinless. Scripture is clear that all people are born in sin. Scripture is clear that Jesus is not affected by original sin; however, there is no evidence (that I know of) that this was the case with Mary. Thus the burden of proof is on the person claiming that she was also without the stain of original sin and thus lived a perfect life. I think the only real escape is appeal to tradition outside of the Scriptures.

Beyond this, Luke 1:47 does seem to teach that Mary was a sinner that needed a Savior. Also Mark 3:20-21 says that when Jesus came home, his kinsmen came “to take custody of Him; for they were saying, ‘He has lost His senses.’” When they arrive where Jesus was (v. 31), the group includes Mary and his brothers. This seems to be a big mistake, thinking that Jesus has lost His mind and needs to be taken into custody, for someone who is sinlessly perfect.

It is these kinds of considerations that seem to show that this aspect of sacred or infallible tradition contradicts the Scriptures. This would be the very same thing that the Pharisees were guilty of, namely, “And by this you invalidated the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far away from me, but in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men’” (Matt. 15:6-9) . The Pharisees also believed their oral traditions were infallible and handed down from Moses. Even if you ultimately think Protestants are wrong, we can at least understand why they are so hesitant when Rome or Eastern Orthodoxy claims infallible oral traditions that “seem” to contradict the Scriptures, especially in light of the Pharisees receiving such a harsh rebuke for contradicting the word of God for their supposedly infallible oral traditions handed down by Moses.

Nathan said...

Troy -

"Mary herself says, “And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior” (Luke 1:47). If Mary was sinless, then why does she call God her 'Savior'? She has no sin that she needs to be saved from. This seems to contradict the doctrine that Mary was sinless."

In a talk given by Fr Thomas Hopko I have on cd (sorry I can't link it), he talked about the difference between personal sin and generational sin. Generational sin is similar to original sin except that there is no imputed guilt. We are each guilty for our own sins and our own sins alone, however, we all live with the effects of Adam's sin - being separated from God. In Orthodoxy's view, Mary absolutely inherited the generational sin separating her from God and requiring Christ's sacrifice, but she was without personal sin. Orthodoxy tends to view Mary as the culmination of the moral development of the OT; the Law, the Prophets, all were aimed at producing the one person who could possibly say "may it be to me as you have said". Thus, she was "born in sin" but still sinless.

"Not to mention, if this is what Mary meant, then Jesus Himself could say the same thing because He too was kept from the stain of original sin. However, would Jesus ever say that God is His Savior from sin in any sense?"

I'm not sure what the Catholic response would be, but I assume it would be in line with Augustinian thought which says that sin is transmitted to children through sex. So since Jesus was not conceived through sex, there would not even be the possibility that He could have been infected by sin.

"I think the only real escape is appeal to tradition outside of the Scriptures."

Which, to an Orthodox or Catholic, is not really a problem. :)

"This seems to be a big mistake, thinking that Jesus has lost His mind and needs to be taken into custody, for someone who is sinlessly perfect."

I see a few problems with this argument. First, there is a difference between being sinless and never making a mistake - is making a mistake on your math test really a sin? Of course not. If Mary wasn't sure what was happening and came to the wrong conclusion, that would not be a sin. Second, just because Mary was a part of that group does not mean she was in agreement with all the rest. Jesus' other kinsmen could have been of that opinion and Mary in staunch disagreement. The reality is that we can't definitively conclude that Mary believed Jesus had gone soft in the head.

"The Pharisees also believed their oral traditions were infallible and handed down from Moses. Even if you ultimately think Protestants are wrong, we can at least understand why they are so hesitant when Rome or Eastern Orthodoxy claims infallible oral traditions that 'seem' to contradict the Scriptures, especially in light of the Pharisees receiving such a harsh rebuke for contradicting the word of God for their supposedly infallible oral traditions handed down by Moses."

I understand perfectly well why Protestants are uncomfortable with Orthodoxy's claims to Tradition, particularly those that amplify or (allegedly) fill-in the gaps in Scripture. There are still several of those things that I struggle with as I explore Orthodoxy, my wife even more so. However, as I've pointed out before (on your blog, I believe) I think you may be generalizing a specific situation. There were many other Jewish groups who similarly believed their traditions were authoritative - the Saduccees, the Essenes, etc - and we have no record of Jesus rebuking them. We have no examples of Him saying their traditions were wrong, hence it is not safe to conclude that Jesus condemned all tradition, only those of the Pharisees.

Rhirhok said...

Nathan,

I am not sure I understand your reference to "generational sin". You say there is no transfer of guilt; though everyone lives with the effects of sin, which means separation from God. So, are you saying that Mary is separated from God, though she is not guilty of any personal sin? If so, at what point is Mary saved? How does she repent of this generational sin? Or is it even possible for her to repent for it? At what point is she no longer separated from God because of the generational sin? Lastly, does the Bible make this distinction of a generational sin, or is this a part of extra-biblical tradition?

When I say that Eastern Orthodoxy and the Roman Catholics may try to escape by appealing to tradition, I still do not think they are out of trouble. The early church Fathers believed that Mary had sinned. Even Ludwig Ott, a Catholic historian, says, “individual Greek Fathers (e.g., Origen, Basil, John Chrysostom, Cyril of Alexandria) taught that Mary suffered from venial personal faults, such as ambition and vanity…” He also says, “Neither the Greek nor the Latin Fathers explicitly teach the Immaculate Conception of Mary.” Other scholars include Irenaeus, Tertullian, Hilary, and seven different popes. Some say the idea was not really taught until the beginning of the twelfth century by the British monk Eadmer. How am I supposed to believe that this teaching goes back to the apostles when there is no evidence of it in Scripture (perhaps even contrary evidence) and the early church fathers teach against it?

In reference to Mary in Mark 3, I just assumed that the information that was given to her by the angel, the shepherds, and Simeon makes it a culpable mistake. Given the information she knew, could she ever honestly be mistaken about the sanity of her Son? Even if she thought His behavior was odd, she should not have thought He had actually lost His mind. It seems as if she is at least guilty of doubting the revelation of God. And there is no textual reason to think that Mary is not included in this. Only if someone is allowing something outside the Bible to influence their reading would they think that Mary may have not been included.

I do not think Jesus condemned all tradition either. However, in Matthew 15, He clearly condemns traditions that contradict the Word of God. Also, we are not to teach as doctrines the precepts of men. The fact that the Pharisees thought their traditions were infallible, and yet Jesus still held them up to the light of the Scriptures, seems to indicate that the Scriptures have a higher authority, to which all other traditions are subject to. Also, Jesus rebuked the Sadducees as well, especially in reference to their denial of the resurrection (Luke 20:27-47). Not to mention they only thought the Pentateuch was authoritative, they too rejected the oral law, they did not believe in angels and demons, etc. They were certainly not the picture of orthodoxy.

Nathan said...

Troy -

I am not sure I understand your reference to "generational sin". You say there is no transfer of guilt; though everyone lives with the effects of sin, which means separation from God.

"So, are you saying that Mary is separated from God, though she is not guilty of any personal sin? If so, at what point is Mary saved? How does she repent of this generational sin? Or is it even possible for her to repent for it? At what point is she no longer separated from God because of the generational sin?"

From what I've read & heard, Orthodoxy's position would be that yes, Mary was under the consequences of generational sin but did not personally sin (if any Orthodox out there want to take issue with that, please offer your comments or correction.) Orthodoxy tends to reject granular salvation, ie, at one moment your condemned to hell and the very next your destined for heaven, in favor of salvation as an ongoing process. The Eastern Church doesn't really use the same legal language you find in the West, so its hard to pin down an exact moment that Mary was saved. With that in mind, however, we can safely conclude that the beginning of her theosis, or deification, occurred when she consented to the Spirit impregnating her with the Son. I don't know if "repent" is really the right word to use in regards to the generational sin she was under, but God definitely needed to bridge the gap and that required something from her, some response or affirmation.

"Lastly, does the Bible make this distinction of a generational sin, or is this a part of extra-biblical tradition?"

I think it definitely has a biblical basis. Look at Romans 5:14 -

Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come. (emphasis mine)

Verse 13 says that this happened even though there was no law, and without the law no sin can be imputed to people - if there is nothing imputed to them, how can they still be under the reign of death? This death is the result of generational sin.

"The early church Fathers believed that Mary had sinned. Even Ludwig Ott, a Catholic historian, says, 'individual Greek Fathers (e.g., Origen, Basil, John Chrysostom, Cyril of Alexandria) taught that Mary suffered from venial personal faults, such as ambition and vanity…'"

I would have to see the specific references in the Fathers before I could adequately comment on this, but I will say Orthodoxy does not say she was without temptation or the normal passions common to humanity. She certainly felt the temptations of ambition, vanity, anger, pride, etc, but being subject to those temptations is certainly not the same as giving into them. Further, there are times when expressing those passions is perfectly holy and just - look at Jesus clearing the Temple. You can bet He was plenty angry, but we know that anger was not a sin.

"He also says, 'Neither the Greek nor the Latin Fathers explicitly teach the Immaculate Conception of Mary.'"

Orthodoxy does not believe in the Immaculate Conception of Mary, so I'm not sure why you're bringing it up. It can be difficult to recognize the distinctions between Orthodoxy and Catholicism, but its important to understand that there are some very significant differences even though some of the ideas and traditions are similar, if only superficially.


In reference to Mary in Mark 3, I just assumed that the information that was given to her by the angel, the shepherds, and Simeon makes it a culpable mistake. Given the information she knew, could she ever honestly be mistaken about the sanity of her Son? Even if she thought His behavior was odd, she should not have thought He had actually lost His mind. It seems as if she is at least guilty of doubting the revelation of God.

"And there is no textual reason to think that Mary is not included in this. Only if someone is allowing something outside the Bible to influence their reading would they think that Mary may have not been included."

Actually, that's not true. The KJV translates it as "his friends..." not family/kinsmen. This is because the Greek does not actually specify precisely who it is that's coming to take hold of Jesus. We don't get a brethren/adelphos, kinsmen/suggenes, family/patria or friends/philos. The passage is totally ambiguous as to who precisely this first party is. It is reasonable to conclude that it was His family, since they are mentioned as arriving a bit later, but there is actually nothing within the text that requires this.

"However, in Matthew 15, He clearly condemns traditions that contradict the Word of God."

And what of those traditions that don't contradict it? What of those traditions that fill in the missing pieces or speak of things that the Bible doesn't touch on at all? What are we to do with them?

Rhirhok said...

Nathan,

You wrote, “Orthodoxy tends to reject granular salvation, ie, at one moment your condemned to hell and the very next your destined for heaven, in favor of salvation as an ongoing process.”

I agree that some aspects of our salvation are yet future. We are not yet glorified. However, in John 5:24, Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me; has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.”

The person who believes “has eternal life,” not “will” have eternal life. They have passed from death to life. One moment you are condemned, and the next moment you are not. In John 3:36 we see that those who do not believe and obey the Son will not see life, and the wrath of God abides on them. And Paul tells us, “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Those who believe no longer have the wrath of God abiding on them, they “have been” (past tense) justified and therefore have peace with God. So the question is: Do you have peace with God, or does His wrath abide on you?

You gave as biblical basis for generational sin, Romans 5:13-14. The problem is that you have not really established generational sin. You showed how death reigned from Adam to Moses, and the supposed problem of no sin being imputed when there is no law. You then conclude that the reason death reigned is because of generational sin. However, this does not establish that this category of sin exists. You have simply tried to point out a problem with this text and then offered the category of generational sin in order to answer it. You have not showed us that generational sin is actually a biblical category; you have just showed that “if” it exists, it would help explain these passages. You are assuming what you have yet to prove. Not to mention, personal sins were judged before the Mosaic Law was given. Just look at Sodom and Gomorrah. They did not perish simply because of some generational sin that all people had outside of these cities. If you want, I can try to give my explanation of what Paul said; however, my main point is that you have not yet shown that your idea of generational sin is a biblical category.

Also, how is a person separated from God by generational sin and yet there is supposedly no guilt conferred? You seem to be saying that people (or at least Mary) are separated from God even though they have no sin they are guilty of, though they suffer the effects of sin (no fellowship with God). How is this just? Why would Mary be separated from God even though she is not guilty for any sin? Some people do not like the doctrine of original sin because it seems unjust; however, I do not see how you escape the charge. At least the doctrine of original sin says people suffer the effects of sin because they are "guilty" of sin in Adam.

You wrote, "The passage [Mark 3:21] is totally ambiguous as to who precisely this first party is. It is reasonable to conclude that it was His family, since they are mentioned as arriving a bit later, but there is actually nothing within the text that requires this."

After looking at the Greek, you are right that the passage does not use a specific Greek word for family or friends. Thus the NAS translates it as His "people." Only the context can determine who it is referring to. Verse 20 says He came home and a "crowd" gathered around Him. Thus whoever these people are, they are distinguished from the crowd. These "people" then heard of His coming home, which means they were in the same area. The "people" cannot be the scribes mentioned in verse 22 because they came down from Jerusalem. The only other people mentioned in the context are His mother and brothers who arrive in verse 31. At this point the "crowd" is distinguished from Jesus' mother and brothers (v. 31-32). The parallel between the crowd and His people and the crowd and His mother and brothers, and the fact that it cannot refer to anyone else in the context shows that this must be (requires) a reference to His mother and brothers. This is why many translations just say kinsmen or family in verse 21.

You wrote, "And what of those traditions that don't contradict it? What of those traditions that fill in the missing pieces or speak of things that the Bible doesn't touch on at all? What are we to do with them?"

Those traditions, such as how all the apostles died, may be accepted as historical information (which may be true or false); however, they cannot be imposed on others as if they were doctrines. That kind of information is not God-breathed and inerrant. This would be similar to the Pharisees who taught as doctrines the precepts of men. I know you reject this; however, you asked me what "I" do with them.

Nathan said...

Troy -

"The person who believes 'has eternal life,' not 'will' have eternal life. They have passed from death to life. One moment you are condemned, and the next moment you are not."

But Jesus also says "it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved." (Matt 10:22) In this verse, our eventual "being saved" is contingent upon our endurance. If its an on/off situation as you are describing, then this could not be the case. Indeed, Jesus' "abide" language in John 15 also reflects this reality - abiding is an ongoing condition, not a single-point event. The salvation-as-process can include the verses you listed without doing any violence to them by presupposing that Jesus knew that the people He was talking to would, in fact, endure or that they presuppose such endurance generally. The single-event view, however, cannot make sense of the "if" and "abide" verses without badly distorting them. How can there be an "if" if its a done deal? How can continual abiding be linked with salvation if its already accomplished?

"And Paul tells us, 'Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.'”

He also tells us a few verses later "...having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him." Shall be saved... If justification were equal to salvation, then Paul is talking nonsense in saying "shall" because we already are! Western Christianity tends to divide justification from regeneration; Eastern Christianity does not and it is verses like these that blur that line.

"If you want, I can try to give my explanation of what Paul said; however, my main point is that you have not yet shown that your idea of generational sin is a biblical category."

I would be interested in hearing your take on what Paul said and on "original sin" in general, if you have one. I will try to pull together some resources on generational sin to bolster the biblical case for it - I'm heading into a busy season of finals, so that might take a little time unfortunately - but the reality is that if its an ecclesial, historical doctrine, you still have to contend with it.

"Also, how is a person separated from God by generational sin and yet there is supposedly no guilt conferred? You seem to be saying that people (or at least Mary) are separated from God even though they have no sin they are guilty of, though they suffer the effects of sin (no fellowship with God). How is this just?"

How is it just to be guilty of someone else's sins?! The reality is that our human concepts of justice don't apply. By no person's definition of "just" should the actions of 2 people several thousand years ago cause us grief. However, generational sin at least does not say that you and I are guilty of those sins as if we had committed them, it says only that they introduced a defect into humanity. As their descendants, we share in that defect, but we are not guilty for it. We didn't cause it, so how can we be responsible for it? I don't see being charged with Adam's sin as a benefit for the doctrine of original sin - how can you repent for something you didn't even do? Can I apologize to God for your sins and can you apologize to him for mine?

Rhirhok said...

Nathan,

I have already agreed that some aspects of our salvation are yet future. Our salvation has been initiated, but not yet consummated. So, when you quote Romans 5:9 as saying that we shall be saved, it is not a problem for my view. It is your view that has yet to account for the past nature of our salvation. You wrote in response to justification being a past action that has already accomplished peace with God, “If justification were equal to salvation, then Paul is talking nonsense in saying "shall" because we already are!” If you are looking for passages that speak of salvation as a past action, I can give those to you.

2 Timothy 1:8-9, “But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, who has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time.” God “has saved us” (past tense).

Or Titus 3:5-7, “he saved us, not because of righteous things we have done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.” Salvation is spoken as past tense, and is linked to being justified, which is also past tense.

Or Ephesians 2:8-9, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” Once again, salvation is seen as past tense.

You wrote, “The salvation-as-process can include the verses you listed [John 5:24] without doing any violence to them by presupposing that Jesus knew that the people He was talking to would, in fact, endure or that they presuppose such endurance generally.”

If you look at the context of John 5, you will see that Jesus was talking to Jews who wanted to kill Him (John 5:18). John 5:24 is directed towards them (John 5:19). So, your idea that Jesus knew the people He was talking to would endure to the end is false. And saying that the passage presupposes such endurance is read into the text. Even if I granted that to you, it does not contradict my position. I think any truly regenerate believer will continue in faith to the end because Christ is a powerful Savior.

Of course your response is, “But why are their passages that say ‘if’ then?” There is no problem with those verses and my view. God uses warnings as means to bring about perseverance in us. This issue deals with the relationship of divine sovereignty and human responsibility, which does have an element of mystery to it. However, this kind of reasoning is in the Scriptures, especially in Paul’s journey to Rome by boat. Paul encourages the people on the ship by saying that not one person will be lost (Acts 27:22). How does he know this? An angel from heaven came to Paul and told him that all the men would survive (Acts 27:23-24). Paul says that he has faith in God that things will happen exactly as God has said (Acts 27:25). However, there were some sailors that were fearful and tried to escape from the ship in the lifeboat (Acts 27:30). Paul then tells the centurion, “Unless these men stay with the ship, you cannot be saved” (Acts 27:31). Notice how this statement is a condition on their being saved from the storm. Also, Paul says to the men who had not eaten anything for ten days, “Now I urge you to take some food. You need it to survive” (Acts 27:33-34). Once again, their survival has a condition on it. However, how can Paul offer conditions to something God had already promised would occur, namely, the salvation of all the men from the storm? Paul makes it clear in the beginning that no one would be lost, and Paul assured them that God would make sure of this. He then says, ‘if’ you do such and such, you will not be saved. Just because something has a condition upon it does not mean God will not see to it that those conditions are met so that His word or promise is not invalidated. However, man is still responsible. But what’s the point of the warning then? It is the means God uses to bring about His end, namely, the salvation of His people. We also know that there are people in the visible church that profess faith, and yet they are not truly saved. These warnings serve as reminders that when they turn from the faith they once professed, they have no reason to think they are saved. We may respond by saying, “It still does not make a lot of sense to me.” Well, that is the way the Scriptures speaks. God is not limited by our ability to sufficiently understanding everything He does.

The fact is, even in the passage you pointed to, Paul says, “Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him” (Romans 5:9)! If we have NOW been justified (past tense) by His blood, then ‘how much more’ will we finally be saved from God’s wrath through Him? In other words, if we have been justified we will also finally be saved. Or as Romans 8:30 says, “And those he predestined, he also called; and those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” Notice that God is the one acting here. He predestines, He calls, He justifies, He glorifies. Nevertheless, we must believe and we must persevere to the end. That is still a true statement. This may be mysterious, but it is not contradictory.

In reference to original sin, you have already said that human conceptions of justice cannot apply, so this would get your view of generational sin off the hook; however, it would also get original sin off the hook. I just want you to realize that your concept of generational sin is no more acceptable than the normal problems usually associated with original sin. Honestly, it still does not make much sense to say someone suffers the effects of sin as if they were guilty of a particular sin, yet they are not guilty of any real sin. If they are not guilty, then why are they separated from God? I would also be curious to know if you think Mary (or anyone) received a sinful nature because of Adam and Eve’s sin?

Your response to original sin is that it does not make sense to say someone is guilty of a sin they did not actually commit. Do you really believe this? So, if I hire someone to kill another person, am I guilty of murder? If you say yes, then couldn’t I just respond by saying, “I did not commit the murder; you cannot hold me accountable for someone else’s actions.” I think your response would be that in hiring that person, that person represented me, thus both parties are guilty. Likewise, this is the Protestant view. Adam was the representative of mankind, which means that when he sinned, we sinned. Both parties are guilty. Also, Christ, who is the second Adam, comes to represent His people in order to accomplish that which the first Adam did not do. Those who by faith are united to Christ are saved by what He accomplished in His life and death on the cross. To deny original sin would be to deny Christ’s ability to be our penal substitution.

In the end, this whole idea of generational sin seems to partially be the result of trying to maintain the view that Mary was sinless in spite of passages like Luke 1:47. To Protestants, this just illustrates the problem with trying to elevate extra-biblical traditions to the level of Scriptural doctrines. They ultimately seem to rise to a level beyond Scriptural truths, and even begin to contradict the Scriptures (Mark 3). The nature of salvation begins to be confused, original sin is denied, and not far behind it is Christ’s penal substitution. Thus the word of God is invalidated for the sake of our traditions, which we believe to be infallible just like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day. Jesus gave us a clear principle: you cannot serve two masters; you will love one and hate the other.

Nathan said...

Troy -

"If you look at the context of John 5, you will see that Jesus was talking to Jews who wanted to kill Him (John 5:18). John 5:24 is directed towards them (John 5:19). So, your idea that Jesus knew the people He was talking to would endure to the end is false."

I really don't see how John 5:24 says anything about "enduring to the end" so I'm not sure why you're making this point. I brought up John 15 with its 'abide' language and in that context, the people to whom Jesus is talking are the Apostles. It is clear that He would know who of them would and would not stay the course.

"I think any truly regenerate believer will continue in faith to the end because Christ is a powerful Savior."

And here is the standard qualification: those who TRULY believe will endure to the end. This is the statement used to explain away verses like Hebrews 6:4-6 - those who fall away were never really saved in the first place. But note the qualities listed in this passage - these "false believers" have been 'enlightened', 'tasted the heavenly gift', made 'partakers of the Holy Spirit', 'tasted the good word of God' and 'the powers of the age to come.' In any other context, these terms would all be used to describe tried & true believers, and in fact, the author of Hebrews uses some of them within the epistle to refer to that very state of faith - partakers as used in 1:9, 3:1, 14, 12:8. It is clear that the author is referring to actual, real believers who have fallen away. If salvation is an accomplished act, notwithstanding those future aspects which you allow, then this would be impossible. This only makes sense if one can lose their salvation and from that, it is clear that our "enduring to the end" is not just a baseless warning meant to frighten us into obedience like scary tales told to children to make them go to bed on time. And, more germane to this debate, it shows that salvation cannot be granular and absolutely must be viewed as taking place across an entire life-time.

"Just because something has a condition upon it does not mean God will not see to it that those conditions are met so that His word or promise is not invalidated. However, man is still responsible."

I agree that God will provide opportunities for those conditions to be fulfilled, but it is clear that he does not force that on anyone. In your example, you'll note it was the other sailors that pulled the fleeing men back aboard, not God. Further, when Moses came down from the mountain with the Commandments the first time, didn't he destroy them because of the people's infidelity? God did not force the people into obedience and he still does not do that, no matter what promises he has made. He did not force Adam into obedience even though the consequences were dire. It is only in this way that God's warnings become more than just empty gestures to those who never really believed in the first place; they become very meaningful because they are warnings of true & real possibilities.

"Nevertheless, we must believe and we must persevere to the end. That is still a true statement. This may be mysterious, but it is not contradictory."

And what happens if we do not, in fact, believe and persevere until the end? A real, true believer falls away - what's his/her fate?

"I just want you to realize that your concept of generational sin is no more acceptable than the normal problems usually associated with original sin. Honestly, it still does not make much sense to say someone suffers the effects of sin as if they were guilty of a particular sin, yet they are not guilty of any real sin. If they are not guilty, then why are they separated from God?"

Actually, the concept of generational sin (its also called 'ancestral sin' by many Orthodox writers, just in case you were doing any looking on your own until I can get some resources together) is much more acceptable than original sin precisely because it doesn't render us guilty. Augustinian original sin means every aborted fetus is going straight to hell because they are "guilty" of what someone else did. From what I understand, ancestral sin does not sentence them to an eternity of torture. Why are we separate from God if we're not personally guilty? Because that is the defect that Adam's sin fused into the human race; its practically genetic. It became part of our DNA, just like having hair and 2 legs. If you introduce a bad set of genes, through inbreeding for instance, those flaws will carry through to successive generations. If all the animals in a population carry this bad gene set, there will be no getting rid of it. Sin is that bad gene set and we've all got it in our spiritual DNA - we can never "breed" it out. Now, if you're a hemophiliac, are you rightly suffering the penalty for your ancestor's genetic failings or were you just dealt a crappy hand? Original says the former, whereas generational sin says the latter. [Of course, I have to add the caveat that what I'm saying may not be the Orthodox view at all. I'm not nearly as well studied up on this aspect of Orthodox theology as I'd like to be.]

"I would also be curious to know if you think Mary (or anyone) received a sinful nature because of Adam and Eve’s sin?"

Of course, see above. However, I suspect we may have very different understandings of what "sinful nature" actually means.

"So, if I hire someone to kill another person, am I guilty of murder? If you say yes, then couldn’t I just respond by saying, 'I did not commit the murder; you cannot hold me accountable for someone else’s actions.' I think your response would be that in hiring that person, that person represented me, thus both parties are guilty."

Yes, both would be guilty of murder and conspiring to commit murder, which is a crime unto itself. That is why merely attempting to hire a hitman is a crime, even if nothing ever comes of it. The concept of agency is inextricably linked to this situation.

"Adam was the representative of mankind, which means that when he sinned, we sinned. Both parties are guilty."

So Adam hired us to kill someone? How much did he pay us? I'm joking, of course, but I do so to highlight the key difference between your analogy about the hitman and this statement about Adam; agreement. The hitman, will full knowledge of the possible the immorality and illegality of the act, agrees to participate in the conspiracy in exchange for something. When did the rest of humanity ever agree, with full knowledge of the consequences, to Adam's sin? Clearly we never did, thus Adam is not the agent of humanity nor is humanity the agent of Adam. It is a different relationship all together.

"In the end, this whole idea of generational sin seems to partially be the result of trying to maintain the view that Mary was sinless in spite of passages like Luke 1:47."

Its not. You will find the Church Fathers talk about this view of sin quite apart from any discussion of Mary. Further, Luke 1:47 doesn't quite do the damage to this position you think it does; Orthodoxy absolutely affirms that Mary need a savior to reunite her to God. Being innocent of personal sin does not obviate that need.

"The nature of salvation begins to be confused, original sin is denied, and not far behind it is Christ’s penal substitution."

I'm not even sure where to begin. First, Orthodoxy has a far more robust understanding of salvation than any Protestant body - it is a redemption that covers all of creation, not just individuals. Second, that salvation is seen as something far deeper than merely a ticke to heaven. Protestantism has nothing that can hold a candle to the depth and beauty of theosis. Third, you're going to have to prove that "original sin" is a biblical category and not an "extra-biblical tradition." Original sin is not just a given - prove it. Neither is the penal substitutionary atonement model of salvation. There are many biblical views of Christ's work on the cross - why is PSA the right one?

"Jesus gave us a clear principle: you cannot serve two masters; you will love one and hate the other."

Indeed. Please explain to me precisely how the Protestants bibliolatry does not violate this principle?

Nathan said...

Troy -

Here are a few links I was able to find explaining the Orthodox view of ancestral sin more fully.

http://www.orthodox.clara.net/ancestral_sin.htm

http://oca.org/QA.asp?ID=3&SID=3
http://www.stmaryorthodoxchurch.org/orthodoxy/articles/2004-hughes-sin.php - this one is a bit longer, so I'll pull out a couple of quotes:

Ancestral sin has a specific meaning. The Greek word for sin in this case, amartema, refers to an individual act indicating that the Eastern Fathers assigned full responsibility for the sin in the Garden to Adam and Eve alone. The word amartia, the more familiar term for sin which literally means “missing the mark”, is used to refer to the condition common to all humanity (Romanides, 2002). The Eastern Church, unlike its Western counterpart, never speaks of guilt being passed from Adam and Eve to their progeny, as did Augustine. Instead, it is posited that each person bears the guilt of his or her own sin. The question becomes, “What then is the inheritance of humanity from Adam and Eve if it is not guilt?” The Orthodox Fathers answer as one: death. (I Corinthians 15:21) “Man is born with the parasitic power of death within him,” writes Fr. Romanides (2002, p. 161). Our nature, teaches Cyril of Alexandria, became “diseased…through the sin of one” (Migne, 1857-1866a). It is not guilt that is passed on, for the Orthodox fathers; it is a condition, a disease.
....
Adam and Eve failed to obey the commandment not to eat from the forbidden tree thus rejecting God and their vocation to manifest the fullness of human existence (Yannaras, 1984). Death and corruption began to reign over the creation. “Sin reigned through death.” (Romans 5:21) In this view death and corruption do not originate with God; he neither created nor intended them. God cannot be the Author of evil. Death is the natural result of turning aside from God.
...
Adam and Eve were overcome with the same temptation that afflicts all humanity: to be autonomous, to go their own way, to realize the fullness of human existence without God. According to the Orthodox fathers sin is not a violation of an impersonal law or code of behavior, but a rejection of the life offered by God (Yannaras, 1984). This is the mark, to which the word amartia refers. Fallen human life is above all else the failure to realize the God-given potential of human existence, which is, as St. Peter writes, to “become partakers of the divine nature” (II Peter 1:4). St. Basil writes: “Humanity is an animal who has received the vocation to become God” (Clement, 1993, p. 76).


http://www.antiochian.org/ancestral-versus-original-sin

Here you can download a .pdf of the above text.

Rhirhok said...

Nathan,

I wrote, "If you look at the context of John 5, you will see that Jesus was talking to Jews who wanted to kill Him (John 5:18). John 5:24 is directed towards them (John 5:19). So, your idea that Jesus knew the people He was talking to would endure to the end is false."

You responded, “I really don't see how John 5:24 says anything about "enduring to the end" so I'm not sure why you're making this point.” I think you may get in a hurry when responding and forget what you wrote. Go back and read the last few comments. You wrote, "The salvation-as-process can include the verses you listed without doing any violence to them by presupposing that Jesus knew that the people He was talking to would, in fact, endure or that they presuppose such endurance generally." The verses “I” listed included John 5:24.

You wrote, “I agree that God will provide opportunities for those conditions to be fulfilled, but it is clear that he does not force that on anyone. In your example, you'll note it was the other sailors that pulled the fleeing men back aboard, not God.”

I do think it was God the Father that pulled the fleeing men back aboard because God is sovereign over the free choices of the men fleeing and those who pulled them back. If He wasn’t, then what if the men did not pull back the fleeing men and some perished? God’s word that no one would be lost would have been invalidated. God is then a liar and unfaithful to His word. God should not have said no one would be lost if He was not really in control of the situation. Your response will probably be that God said no one would be lost, but that would only happen if the men did all the right things. If this is your answer, then there is no purpose in giving the men encouragement about no one perishing, since it is entirely up to them and not God. Of course we know this cannot be the case, since Paul intended it to be encouraging words to the men. It seems like you are trying to minimize God’s sovereignty in this instance and men’s salvation, which leaves us with an impotent God that only reacts and it not in control.

When you say that God does not force anyone, it depends on what you mean by this. I do not think God treats men like robots, so that He forces them to do things they do not want to do. However, I do believe God sovereignly determines men’s free choices. Concerning the final perseverance of His people, we know that Jesus prayed for Peter that his faith would not fail (Luke 22:31-32). This means that Jesus believed that God the Father could sustain Peter’s faith so that he would not finally fall away. If someone responds by saying that God cannot “force” people to remain believers, then they need to explain this text. Or Jude 24 says, “To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy.” God is “able” to keep us from falling. Now, is God for us or against us? Obviously, God is for us, which means we need to ask ourselves why God would ever let one of His children ever fall away? Some people would say that God cannot be in control of our salvation; however, they have not allowed all the biblical texts to speak. God is able to sustain our faith and His able to keep us from falling. So, when you quote Hebrews 6:4-6 that talks about falling away, you have not refuted the opposing view (that all true believers will persevere to the end). All the biblical texts must be accounted for. And there are just as many texts that say that those who are truly regenerate will never fall away. Let me give a few examples. Jesus says in John 10:27-29, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.” Jesus gives eternal life to His sheep, and they will “never” perish. Notice that He bases this in the Father’s power; none can snatch them from His hand. Jesus says, “And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day” (John 6:39). Jesus' mission involved saving completely all those given to him by the Father. If some perish, then Christ has failed His mission. This can never happen, which means God is able to save people and guarantee that they will never perish. In Jeremiah 32:39-40, we read,

“and I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear Me always, for their own good and for the good of their children after them. I will make an everlasting covenant with them that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; and I will put the fear of Me in their hearts so that they will not turn away from Me.”

One of the promises of the New Covenant is that God will give His people a heart to fear Him always. He will the put the fear of the Lord in their hearts so that they will not turn away from Him. God will see to it that His people do not turn away from Him; they will persevere to the end. In the end, I have tried to account for all the biblical data in saying that the warning passages have a purpose in that they are means to bring about perseverance in the elect, and they serve as reminders to those in the church who are not regenerate that when they turn from the faith, they have no reason to think they are saved.

I just do not think you have fully wrestled with the issue of divine sovereignty and human responsibility. Acts 2:23 says, “this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.” The death of Christ was according to the predetermined plan of God; however, the men that did it were guilty. And Acts 4:27-28 says, “For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur.” Our natural response is to say, if God sovereignly determined what men would do, then they cannot be held responsible. I would agree if God forced them against their will to do these things; however, this is not what happened. These men freely did what they wanted to do, and yet it was also sovereignly determined by God that these men would do these things. There is certainly an element of mystery here; however, this is how Scripture speaks. Though we should not be surprised that God’s ways are beyond us.

You wrote, “Actually, the concept of generational sin (its also called 'ancestral sin' by many Orthodox writers, just in case you were doing any looking on your own until I can get some resources together) is much more acceptable than original sin precisely because it doesn't render us guilty.”

Simply reasserting your position does not change anything. You still have a view that says that mankind is not guilty of sinning in Adam, though they suffer the effects of sin as if they were guilty. That is like saying to a man on trial, “You are not guilty; however, you are still going to prison.” You might as well call this original sin. Of course the reason you do not want to go this far is because Mary would be guilty of sin, which means she could no longer be considered sinlessly perfect. However, you do admit that Mary and all people receive a sinful nature from Adam and Eve, though you think we may disagree what this includes. Ephesians 2:1-3 gives a good explanation of what it means to have a sinful nature,

“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.”

Notice that Paul says this description of the sinful nature fit everybody at one time, except Christ, who was kept from having a sinful nature. Since you admit that Mary had a sinful nature, are you willing to say that she was an “object of wrath” and she was “dead in sin” and “Satan was at work within her” and that this is a faithful description of her? Was Mary spiritual dead at one time, in need of being spiritual resurrected as this text goes on to assert? In John 8:42-47, Jesus makes clear that you are either a child of the devil or a child of God. Those who have not been spiritual born again or spiritually resurrected are children of the devil, as Cain was (1 John 3:7-12). So, was Mary ever a child of the devil, since she had a sinful nature? Was she ever held captive by him to do his will (2 Timothy 2:26)? Genesis 8:21 says of mankind, “even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood.” Was Mary’s heart evil from her childhood? Was her every inclination evil? Was Mary’s heart, “deceitful above all things and beyond cure” (Jer. 17:9)? If so, and out of the heart “come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slanders, arrogance and folly” (Mark 7:21-22), how did Mary avoid sinning? Romans 8:5-8 says, “Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires..the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.” Because Mary had a sinful nature, was she ever hostile towards God? How was she able to be pleasing to God in everything she did if at one time she had a sinful nature? And even if you say all these things are an accurate representation of Mary, except personal sin, then wouldn’t it be possible for others to live a perfect life (no personal sin, yet effected by generational sin)? If no, why not? I understand why Roman Catholics maintain that Mary was unaffected by original sin or even generational sin. This is because once you say Mary had a sinful nature, it is impossible to say she did not sin. Of course once they do this, they contradict Luke 1:47.

You wrote, “So Adam hired us to kill someone? How much did he pay us? I'm joking, of course, but I do so to highlight the key difference between your analogy about the hitman and this statement about Adam; agreement. The hitman, will full knowledge of the possible the immorality and illegality of the act, agrees to participate in the conspiracy in exchange for something. When did the rest of humanity ever agree, with full knowledge of the consequences, to Adam's sin? Clearly we never did, thus Adam is not the agent of humanity nor is humanity the agent of Adam. It is a different relationship all together.”

You have misunderstood the nature of an analogy. Every analogy breaks down at some point or it would no longer really be an analogy. The point of the analogy is to show that when someone represents someone else, they are held responsible for the actions of their representative. Of course mankind did not choose their representative like the person hiring a hitman. Clearly God is the one who chooses our representative, so unless someone is willing to charge God with choosing a bad representative, there is no problem. I realize that I still need to prove this idea of Adam being our representative and original sin; however, there is nothing inherently wrong with it.

You wrote, “I'm not even sure where to begin. First, Orthodoxy has a far more robust understanding of salvation than any Protestant body - it is a redemption that covers all of creation, not just individuals. Second, that salvation is seen as something far deeper than merely a ticke to heaven. Protestantism has nothing that can hold a candle to the depth and beauty of theosis. Third, you're going to have to prove that "original sin" is a biblical category and not an "extra-biblical tradition." Original sin is not just a given - prove it. Neither is the penal substitutionary atonement model of salvation. There are many biblical views of Christ's work on the cross - why is PSA the right one?”

I will respond in accordance with your three points. First, I am not sure if you were once a Protestant that has converted to Eastern Orthodoxy or is thinking about converting to Eastern Orthodoxy. Either way, you do not fully understand the best of what Protestant theology has to offer, or you would not make statements like this. For example, in a book I was reading (by a Protestant) the other day, this statement was made,

“It is perfectly faithful to the Scriptures to assert that the New Covenant is as broad as the creation. The whole creation is under the aegis of redemption through the eschatological Son of Man, the perfect fulfillment of Psalm 8. We have to say firmly and unequivocally, because Scripture demands it of us, that the baptist conception of redemptive history is unfaithful to God and His Christ. We would even say it is thoroughly unfaithful because Christianity and paganism cannot be mixed. Baptist eschatology stresses that the New Covenant deals with individuals, subjective, invisible, heavenly, spiritual, eternal, and internal realities. It surely does. But just as clearly it embraces external, temporal, fleshly, earthly, visible, objective, and corporate realities.”

Second, unless your idea of theosis is like the Mormons view of men becoming gods or is an extra-biblical teaching not found in the Scriptures, I doubt there is much Protestants would disagree with besides the terminology used. Third, considering the length of this comment, I will not try to prove original sin and penal substitution, especially considering how many ideas are already being discussed.

1. You have not answered Mark 3.

2. You have not proven generational sin from the Scriptures.

3. You have not dealt with the past nature of salvation and justification.

4. You have not shown the early church even believed Mary was sinless (in fact, the opposite seems to be the case).

5. On the basis of this comment, you will need to show how it is possible for Mary to have sinful nature and yet not sin personally.

Nathan said...

Troy -

[I worked on this over the course of a few days as I had time, so there may be some things I forgot to comment on or incomplete thoughts. My apologies in advance.]

"You responded, 'I really don't see how John 5:24 says anything about "enduring to the end" so I'm not sure why you're making this point.' I think you may get in a hurry when responding and forget what you wrote. Go back and read the last few comments. You wrote, 'The salvation-as-process can include the verses you listed without doing any violence to them by presupposing that Jesus knew that the people He was talking to would, in fact, endure or that they presuppose such endurance generally.' The verses 'I' listed included John 5:24."

No, I realized that it was you who gave the verse. My point was that Jesus (1) didn't say anything to these people about endurance, so your point about Jesus talking to Jews isn't germane and (2) He clearly wasn't referring to them specifically, but to those third parties what would believe in Him, so as far as this verse is concerned my point still stands.

"When you say that God does not force anyone, it depends on what you mean by this. I do not think God treats men like robots, so that He forces them to do things they do not want to do. However, I do believe God sovereignly determines men's free choices."

I am loathe to get into a debate about Calvinism, particularly as I'm heading into a busy season of finals & projects and I've got to finish unpacking from moving. So for now, I'll be side-stepping this issue somewhat - not for a lack of desire to talk about it, but simply for a want of time. I will comment briefly on this statement of yours, though. This so-called "compatibilistic freedom" just doesn't wash, logically speaking. There are 3 possibilities regarding "God sovereignly determining men's free choices." #1: God actually chooses and man is under the illusion that he himself is actually choosing. #2 God sovereignly chooses to let man choose freely. #3 God and man actually co-determine choices, such that both must agree before a choice can be made. #1 and #2 are obviously mutually exclusive. If God is choosing, man is not and if man is choosing, God is not. If man is under the functional illusion that he is freely choosing things, but they are actually being determined by God, what is the point of that illusion? Let me play out a little thought experiment for you: A man discovers that his wife is cheating on him and desperately wants to kill her but doesn't do it right away. Unbeknownst to him, the government has developed a secret mind-control device that leaves the subject completely unaware that they are being controlled. As a test, the government decides they are going to make this man kill his wife. The government's plan and the man's plan coincide exactly and the woman is killed. Who actually killed her? Per #1, the government is - the man was simply under the illusion that he maintained control of his actions & choices. Per #2, the man alone would be responsible, but this option doesn't apply unless the government pulled the plug on their device at the last minute. Per #3, both are responsible. Which brings me to the primary problem with the Calvinist conception of the exhaustive sovereignty of God: #1 and #3 inevitably and irrevocably make God the author (or co-author) of sin! If God chooses for me and I sin, then God chose for me to sin. If both God and I choose to sin, then God still chose for me to sin. Do you really want to worship a God that makes you commit acts that anger him and that separate you from him?

So you see, your contention that I have not wrestled with the issue of divine sovereignty and human responsibility is wrong. I have wrestled with it and debated it extensively and Calvinism consistently comes up wanting. Toss in the fact that its precepts did not exist prior to the Reformation and we can see that there is no "Re" in "Reformed"; its a brand new thing alien to the theology and belief of the early Church.

"Simply reasserting your position does not change anything. You still have a view that says that mankind is not guilty of sinning in Adam, though they suffer the effects of sin as if they were guilty. That is like saying to a man on trial, 'You are not guilty; however, you are still going to prison.' You might as well call this original sin. Of course the reason you do not want to go this far is because Mary would be guilty of sin, which means she could no longer be considered sinlessly perfect. However, you do admit that Mary and all people receive a sinful nature from Adam and Eve, though you think we may disagree what this includes."

Once again, your analogy has failed. Having a sinful nature is NOT A PUNISHMENT! We may be punished because of our sinful nature and what it does to us (or causes us to do) but it, in and of itself, is not a punishment - it is a state of being. Take the child of this convicted person - have they done anything wrong? No, but they still suffer the effects of his/her parent's actions, don't they? They may become foster children, suffer the stigma of being the child of a convicted criminal, not go to college, etc, etc. It is actually original sin that would not only put the father in jail for the crime he committed, but would toss the innocent kid in there for good measure. Ancestral sin simply recognizes that the father's crimes will unavoidably affect the child's life but that the child alone is responsible for his own crimes. That is the key difference. And no, that is not why I "don't want to go that far". At this point, I really have no stake in whether Mary was sinless or not - I'm simply exploring Orthodoxy's position.

"As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath."

Where to begin? To start with, this is not a definition of sinful nature. You'll note the Paul starts with stating his readers were once dead in their concrete actions, not their natures. Their actions followed the ruler of this world and the cravings of the flesh (watch those translations!). Here cravings is the same word used to describe God's will in the Lord's prayer, God's will in Mat 26:42, Luke 12:47, 23:25 - the list goes on and the word is predominantly used to simply talk about desires or inclinations, not "lusts" or "sinful cravings" and not ones that are impossible to resist. So we see that the first 2 sentences do not mean what you think they mean. Of course, as disobedient imbeciles, we are by nature objects of wrath! We follow the will of our sinful nature rather than the will of God - we are stupid, disobedient creatures that forever fall short of what we were made to be. Besides, "nature" here is somewhat ambiguous - it is the same word used in Rom 1:26, 2:14&27, 11:21&24, 1 Cor 11:14, Gal 2:15, 4:8, Jam 3:7 and 2 Pet 2:14. It is more commonly used to refer to the origin of something or the force of natural laws. As our origin is in Adam's rejection of God, it is perfectly reasonable to say that we are, "by our origin" objects of the wrath directed towards that rebellion without that saying anything about our individual natures. It is also perfectly reasonable to say that it is by the force of God's natural laws that as disobedient children, we should be the object of wrath. Again, no need to speculate that this refers to our individual natures but rather, that it focuses on the conequences of our concrete actions. As I'm sure you can tell, you will have to do a lot more legwork to prove your point.

"You have misunderstood the nature of an analogy. Every analogy breaks down at some point or it would no longer really be an analogy. The point of the analogy is to show that when someone represents someone else, they are held responsible for the actions of their representative. Of course mankind did not choose their representative like the person hiring a hitman. Clearly God is the one who chooses our representative, so unless someone is willing to charge God with choosing a bad representative, there is no problem. I realize that I still need to prove this idea of Adam being our representative and original sin; however, there is nothing inherently wrong with it."

I understand the nature of an analogy perfectly well. I understand, unlike you, that an analogy is only as accurate as the relationship or connection it attempts to demonstrate. Your analogy of us being guilty for the actions of our hired gun do not even come close to demonstrating the proper relationship between Adam and the rest of humanity. In your analogy, the employer and the employee come to a full and considered agreement - where is that full and considered agreement between Adam and humanity? In your analogy, the employee agrees to do something that is obviously illegal - where did humanity agree with Adam to perform an illegal act? In your analogy, the employer and employee are obviously contemporary with each other - how are we contemporary with Adam? So you see, no matter what point you were trying to make with your analogy, you have utterly failed to make it. The relationships between principal/agent and Adam/humanity do not even come close to lining up, thus your analogy fails before it even starts. Humanity is not Adam's agent; Adam is not humanity's agent. It has nothing to do with "our choosing" or "God choosing" - it fails at inception.

"I will respond in accordance with your three points. First, I am not sure if you were once a Protestant that has converted to Eastern Orthodoxy or is thinking about converting to Eastern Orthodoxy. Either way, you do not fully understand the best of what Protestant theology has to offer, or you would not make statements like this. For example, in a book I was reading (by a Protestant) the other day, this statement was made"

I am a Protestant thinking about converting to Orthodoxy. And I am extremely well and widely read, so I'm quite aware of Protestant theology and its failings. Your example actually proves my point; your author has to begin with saying "it is perfectly faithful to...". This statement obviously shows that there are those, perhaps the majority or perhaps only a vocal minority, that rejects this proposition as unfaithful and therefore wrong. And even a cursory review of the major works of Protestant theology on salvation routinely fail to give much, if any, regard to the salvation & redemption of all creation and not just individuals.

"Second, unless your idea of theosis is like the Mormons view of men becoming gods or is an extra-biblical teaching not found in the Scriptures, I doubt there is much Protestants would disagree with besides the terminology used."

Not disagreeing with something is not the same thing as actually believing in something, nor is it the same as thinking with the same level of depth and sophistication.

"Third, considering the length of this comment, I will not try to prove original sin and penal substitution, especially considering how many ideas are already being discussed."

I would highly encourage you offer your proof in subsequent comments because they are not the default positions in either the history of Christian thought or this blog.

"1. You have not answered Mark 3."

You have not proven Mark 3 to be anything to which I need respond. First, the text does not absolutely state Mary believed Jesus had lost His senses. Second, why would the author not have specifically said "his family came out to take custody of Him" rather than the generic "His people" if he actually meant Jesus' family? It is entirely reasonable to conclude that "His people" could have referred to His followers, especially given the immediately preceding context of the appointment of the 12. Third, it is not clear from this verse, or any other, that being confused about Jesus is a sin. So, no, I haven't answered Mark 3 - I've only shown that there is a whole heck of a lot more work for you to do to make it an actual challenge to Orthodoxy's understanding of Mary.

"2. You have not proven generational sin from the Scriptures."

This will have to wait for future comments or perhaps become a post in and of itself on my blog - I simply don't have the time right now. I have, I believe, proved it to be a more morally tenable doctrine than original sin.

"3. You have not dealt with the past nature of salvation and justification."

I have, actually. Stating that the process of our salvation has a beginning and that this beginning inevitably leads to salvation for those who endure and that it is wholly based on Christ's life, death and resurrection is dealing with the past nature of salvation and justification. For those who endure to the end, it is perfectly reasonable to discuss their salvation as an accomplished act at the time of their repentance and conversion - God certainly knows that they have (or will) endure, so from his perspective its a done deal.

"4. You have not shown the early church even believed Mary was sinless (in fact, the opposite seems to be the case)."

I did not set out to prove this, nor did I say I would. I am examining what one book tells me about Orthodoxy's position. And like most Protestants, you make the mistake of thinking the biblical texts completely sum up what the early church believed. In fact, the opposite IS the case.

"5. On the basis of this comment, you will need to show how it is possible for Mary to have sinful nature and yet not sin personally."

I will wait to see what Gabriel has to say about this once finals are over and I can get back to the book.

Rhirhok said...

Nathan,

It seems like our discussions become so convoluted, tiresome, and repetitive. Thus I will be brief, and this will probably be my last post.

You wrote, "Do you really want to worship a God that makes you commit acts that anger him and that separate you from him?"

You did not respond to the biblical evidence I gave; you just gave your ideas and what you think is possible.

You wrote, "In your analogy, the employee agrees to do something that is obviously illegal - where did humanity agree with Adam to perform an illegal act?"

Is this really a serious critique of my analogy? If Adam is the representative of mankind, then it makes sense why mankind falls when he falls. You need to argue against the idea of representation.

Your answer to question 1 has not refuted my previous argumentation. Go back and look at my specific points.

Your answer to question 3 seems to be a giving in to my position.

Your answer to question 4 forgets that I gave evidence for early church fathers outside of biblical revelation that believed Mary committed sins.

Nathan said...

Troy -

"It seems like our discussions become so convoluted, tiresome, and repetitive. Thus I will be brief, and this will probably be my last post."

Suit yourself. But when debating such matters, protracted discussion are inevitable - if you're not up for it, why start?

"You did not respond to the biblical evidence I gave; you just gave your ideas and what you think is possible."

You're right and the reason I didn't respond to it is the time factor - I just don't have it. Further, merely claiming that my argument is "just what you think" doesn't contradict it in any way. Its a dodge, a cop-out and a pathetic one at that. I'll respond in kind for the verses you posted - "that's just your interpretation."

"Is this really a serious critique of my analogy? If Adam is the representative of mankind, then it makes sense why mankind falls when he falls. You need to argue against the idea of representation."

Oh my. You're right, this is getting quite tiresome. I already have pointed out that your analogy fails - that is my argument against representation as you are presenting it. If you want to try to pull something else together, something that borders on cogent, then by all means do so. Until then, your idea of representation as you presented in your analogy utterly fails. I have demonstrated this more than once.

"Your answer to question 1 has not refuted my previous argumentation. Go back and look at my specific points."

We'll have to agree to disagree. There is nothing in the verse that "requires" the reference to be to Mary and the rest of Jesus' family for the reasons I gave. That reading makes sense, but it is not the only possible reading available.

"Your answer to question 3 seems to be a giving in to my position."

Its not. With Orthodoxy and the biblical witness, I affirm the possibility of losing one's salvation. You do not. Salvation is a life-long process requiring endurance, not a divine legal maneuver requiring us to remind those who God predestined to hell that they are, in fact, going to hell and there's nothing they can do about it.

"Your answer to question 4 forgets that I gave evidence for early church fathers outside of biblical revelation that believed Mary committed sins."

And this answer forgets that I pointed out that there is a difference between being subject to certain human passions & temptations and actually giving into them. Further, you have a secondary source, which is an interpretation of the primary sources. Until you provide the primary references, your point is moot - I cannot argue for a different reading of texts that are not presented. And frankly, its bad scholarship on your part to rely on someone else's work when the primary texts are so readily available.

Rhirhok said...

Nathan,

I have noticed in your last post that you are relying more and more on rhetorical excess in your responses. Statements such as, “Its a dodge, a cop-out and a pathetic one at that.” And, “If you want to try to pull something else together, something that borders on cogent, then by all means do so.” Are you doing this to bolster what I perceive to be insufficient argumentation from your side?

You wrote, “You're right and the reason I didn't respond to it is the time factor - I just don't have it. Further, merely claiming that my argument is "just what you think" doesn't contradict it in any way. Its a dodge, a cop-out and a pathetic one at that. I'll respond in kind for the verses you posted - "that's just your interpretation."”

The difference between us is that I gave verses and you have not. That is my point. You did not respond to my biblical evidence, but you attempted to show that my view is not possible by your own reasonings, not biblically. Your understanding of the issue is interesting; however, it does not really refute the biblical evidence I gave.

“Oh my. You're right, this is getting quite tiresome. I already have pointed out that your analogy fails - that is my argument against representation as you are presenting it. If you want to try to pull something else together, something that borders on cogent, then by all means do so. Until then, your idea of representation as you presented in your analogy utterly fails. I have demonstrated this more than once.”

Well I am glad that we can agree on one thing, this is getting tiresome. My analogy showed that people can be held responsible for the actions of someone representing them. Your supposed refutation of my analogy has tried to show that the way in which the hitman becomes a representative and the way Adam becomes mankind’s representative is different. The problem is that no analogy will have a one-to-one correspondence at every point. I have already agreed that the way in which the people in these two cases become representatives is different. That is not my point. If you really want to refute my point, you need to show that when someone is a representative for someone else, it is wrong or impossible to hold those being represented accountable for the actions of their representative.

You wrote concerning Mark 3, “We'll have to agree to disagree. There is nothing in the verse that "requires" the reference to be to Mary and the rest of Jesus' family for the reasons I gave. That reading makes sense, but it is not the only possible reading available.”

You think the people could be His disciples. This does not work. They were most likely sitting around Him. When the crowd says that His mothers and brothers are looking for him, the text reads, “Looking about at those who were sitting around him, He said, ‘Behold My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is My brother and sister and mother’” (Mark 3:34-35). This option also does not account for the fact that it was when He came home (v. 20), this is when His people heard (v. 21). These people were already in that area, which means they could not be His disciples. The text goes on to mention Mary and His brother arriving and they are looking for Him (v. 32). These are the people that went to take custody of Jesus because they thought He had lost His mind (v. 21). It is the only thing in the context that is allowable. Honestly, if the tables were turned, there is no way you would let me get away with the kind of argumentation you are offering.

Your response that says being confused about Jesus is not a sin. Well, that depends. Given the direct divine revelation Mary received about her Son, and the fact that at one point she thought He was crazy, must at least be taken as doubting the revelation of God. And to doubt God’s word is certainly a sin. And if she doubted, how can we say she was perfectly FAITHful at all times?

You wrote, “Its not. With Orthodoxy and the biblical witness, I affirm the possibility of losing one's salvation. You do not. Salvation is a life-long process requiring endurance, not a divine legal maneuver requiring us to remind those who God predestined to hell that they are, in fact, going to hell and there's nothing they can do about it.”

The reason I think you are now giving in to my position is because the comments you first made about this issue. Let me demonstrate.

You wrote, “Orthodoxy tends to reject granular salvation, ie, at one moment your condemned to hell and the very next your destined for heaven, in favor of salvation as an ongoing process.”

You rejected the notion that one moment you are saved and the next moment you are not. Later on you wrote concerning the past nature of salvation and justification,

“I have, actually. Stating that the process of our salvation has a beginning and that this beginning inevitably leads to salvation for those who endure and that it is wholly based on Christ's life, death and resurrection is dealing with the past nature of salvation and justification.”

Now salvation has a beginning, which means at one time people were unsaved and the next moment they are saved. I thought you rejected this idea? And above you said that people can lose their salvation. Doesn’t this mean that when someone loses their salvation, this means they were saved at one moment and no longer saved the moment they lost it? This all seems like a changing of your position from your initial comment. Perhaps you over stated your position, but then why did you disagree with me that at one moment people are saved and pass from death to life (John 5:24)?

Of course, all this is not all that relevant to the issue at hand, which is whether or not Mary was sinless. It is very easy for everyone to forget the points of argumentation that are missing from your case. First, the Scriptures assume that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). It is qualified with Jesus. Where is the biblical evidence that is qualified with Mary? You have given no biblical or early church witness to the sinlessness of Mary. Second, you have only tried to show that generational sin inherited from Adam does not render anyone guilty making it possible for Mary and many thousands of other Christians to be sinless. The problem is that you have given no biblical evidence of generational sin. Your response is, “This will have to wait for future comments or perhaps become a post in and of itself on my blog - I simply don't have the time right now.” Third, even if you did prove generational sin, you still have the problem that possibilities do not tell us anything. For example, it is possible that someone is depositing a million dollars in my bank account right now; however, just because this is possible tells us nothing about whether it actually happened or will happen. Likewise, the Scriptures assume that all men are sinners that have fallen short of the glory of God. Where is the biblical or early church evidence that Mary does not fall into this category? You have given none. Fourth, you have also not dealt with contrary evidence that it is impossible for someone to have a sinful nature and avoid sinning, to which you responded, “I will wait to see what Gabriel has to say about this once finals are over and I can get back to the book.” At all these key points, your argumentation is insufficient.

Nathan said...

Troy -

"Are you doing this to bolster what I perceive to be insufficient argumentation from your side?"

No, I was doing it out of frustration with your response which did not meaningfully rebutt any of my points. You have previously accused me of avoiding your arguments and "simply repeating" my points - you did both in your previous comment. And quite frankly, after being away from the debate for over a week going through some rather tedious studying, I was hoping for a good response from you to get my mind off of anatomy/chemistry/psychology and onto something interesting. When that response failed to materialize, I became frustrated.

"The difference between us is that I gave verses and you have not. That is my point. You did not respond to my biblical evidence, but you attempted to show that my view is not possible by your own reasonings, not biblically. Your understanding of the issue is interesting; however, it does not really refute the biblical evidence I gave."

I told you that I really don't have time to get into a full-fledged debate about Calvinism, which is why I instead chose to focus on a single aspect of it, ie, the impossibility of your statement that God sovereignly determines men's choices and that those choices are also somehow free particularly as it concerns men's allegedly free choice to sin. I am not trying to refute the biblical evidence you gave at this point due to the time constraints of school - I understand why you find this frustrating, but it simply is the way it is for the time being. In about a week and a half, I will happily engage you on that topic. In the meantime, you can actually respond to my "interesting" thinking on the issue by demonstrating how God is not then the author of sin if he sovereignly determines an individual's free choice to sin. If you wish to wait until I can fully enter into the debate, then by all means do so.

"My analogy showed that people can be held responsible for the actions of someone representing them."

Your analogy showed that people can be held responsible for the actions of their agents. What if, in your analogy, the hit-man had acted without the knowledge or consent of the principal party? Would that party still be responsible for the actions of the hit-man? Let me give you a real world example taken from my extended family. My wife's cousin is currently serving a life sentence for killing the biological father of his 2 step-children. The father was molesting them but the police could not prove it, so the step-father killed the biological father in order to protect them. In this case, the step-father was acting as the children's representative, stepping in to defend them when both they and the system could not, and yet the children have not been charged with any crime. Why? Not only are they not of the age of majority/responsibility, they had no prior knowledge of their step-father's plan, did not request his protection and did not consent to his activity. Thus I have demonstrated that people can also NOT be held responsible for the actions of someone representing them.

"Your supposed refutation of my analogy has tried to show that the way in which the hitman becomes a representative and the way Adam becomes mankind's representative is different. The problem is that no analogy will have a one-to-one correspondence at every point."

The problem is not that analogies eventually break down, it is that your analogy does not even approximate the relationship you are claiming exists between Adam and the rest of humanity. You proffered the hit-man analogy as a representation of that relationship; I have repeatedly demonstrated that this does not pass muster. Simply repeating that Adam represents humanity in no way proves that we are guilty for his activity. And I must remind you that suffering the consequences of living in a fallen world is not at all the same as being considered guilty. I find it interesting that you haven't provided much in the way of scriptural support for this argument that we are all guilty in Adam.

"If you really want to refute my point, you need to show that when someone is a representative for someone else, it is wrong or impossible to hold those being represented accountable for the actions of their representative."

I did so above and I will do so again. You and I are citizens of the United States (or so I assume on your part), meaning we are entrusted with the privilege of exercising our right to vote. Living as we do in a republic, we vote for men & women to represent us and our fellow citizens at the local and state level - House of Representatives and Senate, respectively. Those individuals are our representatives in our government. If the Representative from your district engages in illegal or immoral activity, are you and the rest of your community responsible for his/her behavior? Assume this illegal behavior is not personal, but involves the abuse of their authority & office in their official role as your elected representative. Are you guilty for their crimes? After all, you voted for them, perhaps helped this person to campaign or donated money to their party or campaign fund, why shouldn't you go to jail, too? My point is simply this; just because someone represents us does not mean we are guilty for their actions. You will have to go much further to explain why we are guilty of Adam's sin when we had no knowledge of his activity and did not consent to it, which are actually the logical requirements for someone to be held responsible for the activity of their agent.

"You think the people could be His disciples. This does not work. They were most likely sitting around Him. When the crowd says that His mothers and brothers are looking for him, the text reads, Looking about at those who were sitting around him, He said, 'Behold My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is My brother and sister and mother' (Mark 3:34-35)."

It is possible that His disciples were around Him, but as you so clearly argue elsewhere, possibilities don't prove anything. We are told in verse 14 that he appointed the Apostles so "he could send them out to preach", which is followed in verse 20 with "and he came home." It is also possible that His disciples were out preaching, perhaps in that region, perhaps elsewhere. We are not given any specific information on their whereabouts, so your assumption that they sat next to Him is only an assumption and cannot be proven. Further, are we given to understand that Jesus referred to His disciples as "mother" in this instance? No, He is clearly referring to women in the crowd, which clearly indicates that non-disciples, or at least non-Apostles, were present. We are also given no information on the content of that preaching or the activity of the crowd, which could imply that none of the Apostles were around to witness and eventually record this information.

"This option also does not account for the fact that it was when He came home (v. 20), this is when His people heard (v. 21). These people were already in that area, which means they could not be His disciples."

If He was at home, why would His family have to "set out" to take hold of Him? And if Jesus had sent His disciples out to preach in the area, then the verse could clearly be referring either to them or to secondary followers who had not been appointed as disciples. You'll recall that at some point Jesus sends out 72 people to preach in His name - why are these people automatically eliminated from your thinking? Further, verse 21 does not have to mean that they were already present in the area when Jesus arrived, only that they were not with Him when they heard of this. Would 12 other people all have fit in Jesus' home? We don't know, but it seems unlikely. Thus His disciples could have been staying elsewhere and been at their lodgings when all of this went down.

"The text goes on to mention Mary and His brother arriving and they are looking for Him (v. 32)."

No, the text mentions Mary and His brothers arriving outside and sending in word and calling to Him. You read into the text when you assume their intent upon arriving. All we know is that they arrived and tried to communicate with Jesus - we don't know where they were coming from, why specifically they were coming home at that time or what they were trying to say to Jesus. We certainly don't know if they were the ones who thought Jesus was out of His senses.

"These are the people that went to take custody of Jesus because they thought He had lost His mind (v. 21). It is the only thing in the context that is allowable. Honestly, if the tables were turned, there is no way you would let me get away with the kind of argumentation you are offering."

I would argue against your understanding if I disagreed with it but I would not claim, as you do, that there is no other possible reading of the text. I have already allowed that your reading is plausible but that I do not agree that it is the only reading. This is why the KJV translates the phrase in verse 21 as "his friends" - those translators clearly disagree with you on exactly who thought Jesus had lost his senses. Given these discrepancies, it is obvious to me why the NASB simply says "His people" and leaves it at that. You are certainly allowed to think this verse is talking about Mary, as I've already stated, I think that is a plausible reading, but you cannot argue that this is the only permissible reading - there is far too much ambiguity in the text for that. Further, in a previous comment you claimed that I have to reject original sin because I "want" to keep Mary sinless. I can just as easily surmise that you are so desperate to require this verse to refer to Mary because this is the only biblical opportunity you have to even come close to pointing to a sin on her part.

"And to doubt God's word is certainly a sin. And if she doubted, how can we say she was perfectly FAITHful at all times?"

Without allowing that she did doubt, I would point you to James 1:5. Lacking wisdom, or being confused, is not considered sinful so long as one takes it to God with the full belief that God will answer. If Mary was confused and she trusted that God would remove that confusion, then she still did not sin.

"Now salvation has a beginning, which means at one time people were unsaved and the next moment they are saved. I thought you rejected this idea? And above you said that people can lose their salvation. Doesn't this mean that when someone loses their salvation, this means they were saved at one moment and no longer saved the moment they lost it? This all seems like a changing of your position from your initial comment. Perhaps you over stated your position, but then why did you disagree with me that at one moment people are saved and pass from death to life (John 5:24)?"

To say salvation has a beginning is not to say that its end is a foregone conclusion, nor does it mean that people undergo some kind of instant, juridicial change in the eyes of God. It does mean that people have repented and turned towards God. If they persist (endure) in this mode of faith and reliance on God's mercy through their life, then they will achieve salvation. Clearly God knows who will so endure and who will fall away and in line with the parable of the sower, some will grow quickly in faith and then fail when trials come while others will become abundant. As the seedlings in the fertile ground and the bad soil both break the surface of the ground, neither really knows which it will be - so, too the believer, who cannot say one way or another if they actually will endure through the trials and tribulations of life. In light of Hebrews 6, we really can't say they didn't truly experience the things of God, as I explained above. Rather, we must accept that they tasted of the heavenly gift and then fell away; they were on the path to salvation and then made a hard left at some point. And since salvation isn't something we really possess, it doesn't make sense to say "this means they were saved at one moment and no longer saved the moment they lost it", because salvation is largely a future thing. It is what will happen to us if we endure, if we remain faithful, if we become abundant and are not choked by the worries and cares of this world.

"Of course, all this is not all that relevant to the issue at hand, which is whether or not Mary was sinless."

Actually, it is entirely relevant as it goes directly to the issue of our status in God's eyes the moment we are born and the nature of salvation. The Calvinist view would have us guilty and birth with instantaneous salvation not of our choosing, whereas Orthodoxy has us living with the consequences at birth and working out our salvation with fear and trembling throughout our lives. They speak to secondary aspects and dimensions of the debate.

"Second, you have only tried to show that generational sin inherited from Adam does not render anyone guilty making it possible for Mary and many thousands of other Christians to be sinless. The problem is that you have given no biblical evidence of generational sin."

I have given biblical evidence. Perhaps I have not proof-texted as much as you would like, but it is wrong to say I have given "no" evidence. Besides that, I have offered ample interpretive argumentation that you have failed to respond to. Since this is not really a matter of proof-texts and is instead one of interpretation of relevant passages, you will have to augment your argument well beyond mere citations.

"Likewise, the Scriptures assume that all men are sinners that have fallen short of the glory of God. Where is the biblical or early church evidence that Mary does not fall into this category? You have given none."

I will attempt to provide evidence from the early church as soon as I can. I would encourage you to provide the contrary references you claim exist as well. As for biblical evidence, it is clear there is no proof-text in the NT that says Mary was sinless. But then again, there is no proof-text for the Trinity, either. If you accept one Tradition, why not the other? Of course, there is biblical evidence for Mary's status, which I will present later - this post is already quite long.

"Fourth, you have also not dealt with contrary evidence that it is impossible for someone to have a sinful nature and avoid sinning, to which you responded, 'I will wait to see what Gabriel has to say about this once finals are over and I can get back to the book.' At all these key points, your argumentation is insufficient."

Since I haven't finished reading the book, one would assume they would be incomplete at this point. However, you have not proven that that it is impossible for someone to have a sinful nature and to avoid sinning. In way of laying the basis for my argument, let me ask you this - where did Jesus get his human nature from? Human nature is common to all of humanity; we do not have individual nature's absolutely unique from the rest of humanity. If Jesus had a human nature, it was either created anew at His conception or it was inherited from Mary. Which do you think happened and why?

The Scrivener said...

Is it possible to have a sinful nature and yet to avoid sinning?

There’s so much going on in your debate here that it’s hard to know where or how to jump in, but I guess I’ll take this particular issue and offer some thoughts. First, there’s the question of what, exactly, it means to have a sinful nature. Second, there’s the issue of whether one can resist sin.

I would submit that there is no such thing as “sinful nature” in the sense in which the term is commonly used in Protestant rhetoric and by Troy. Rather, there is only human nature. But human nature operates under different conditions or restraints before and after the fall. In the fall we lost the union with God for which we were created, a union with the God who calls us out of nothingness into being and who sustains us in being by His will and love alone. He is our only life and we have no principle of existence in ourselves. And so in sin Adam brought death into the world because he broke the union in which he was created and began to fall back into the nothingness from which he was called.

Now we are born under the conditions of the fall: subject to dissolution, disease and death and a collapse into the abyss of non-being, alienated from God who is our very Life (though, thank God, He does not abandon us). But we do not have a totally different nature than Adam. We are born with the same human nature; it is burdened, diseased, damaged, but not effaced. Our nature is sinful inasmuch as we are born as inheritors of the consequences of sin and because in our state we are inclined to sin and passions, but our nature itself is not sinful and we are not born guilty for the sins of others.

Another way of approaching or illustrating this: What kind of human nature did Christ have? A fallen or a pre-fallen nature? A sinful or a sinless nature? We must affirm that Christ shared the identical human nature that we possess, or else we are not saved. As we read in Hebrews, we have a high priest who was in every way like us, tempted as we are tempted, knowing our infirmities, but without sin. That is to say, he submitted himself to the consequences of the fall, infirmity, hunger, cold, sorrow, even death, but He did not sin. As St Gregory of Nazianzen’s axiom runs, “That which He has not assumed, He has not healed, but that is healed which He has united to His Godhead.” If Christ was not man in his human nature in the same way that we are man, then we are not healed. But we know that Christ did not take on guilt or sin simply by taking on our nature. Sin cannot therefore be intrinsic to our nature.

As God says to Cain in Genesis 3 (or 5, I can’t recall): “Sin is crouching at your door. It’s desire is to have, but you must master it.” We have the freedom and the capacity, through the fact that we are creatures of God’s and not abandoned by Him (or else we would cease to exist at all), to choose not to sin, just as Christ did not sin. This freedom is necessary for the accomplishment of God’s creative design for us, that we come into a fully realized and perfect union of Love with Him who is Love, and love is not love if not free. And if we can choose not to sin and incur guilt in one case, we can do so in all cases. These things are impossible for men but they are possible with God.

You'll have to forgive me if this isn't as well expressed as it could be, since I'm running late and have to head home from work now. Adios.

SpiritScout said...

Nathan,

I think you provided a good argument against representative guilt. I was getting ready to jump in and make the same argument. I listened to the Hopka tape on Generational Sin and left scratching my head about some of my presuppositions.