Category Archives: Bible Study

An Objection to Original Sin – Ezekiel 18

 

Continuing our look at some of the common objections to the Doctrine of Original sin.  You can get caught up here:

In Adam and Original Sin

What About Eve

Innocent Babies and That’s Not Fair

Objection #4 – What about Ezekiel 18?

This passage is often used as a proof text not only for those who wish to deny original sin, but also for those who wish to deny the seminal headship of Adam, discussed in An Objection to Original Sin – What about Eve?

In short, Ezekiel 18 is not talking about the seminal transmission of sin, nor does it have Adam (centrally) in mind.  It’s focus is on an individual’s deeds (see Objection #6, forthcoming) and the judicial punishment associated with those.  The fault of the Israelite’s was to drift into fatalism by shifting the blame of their exile from their own sins, to the sins of their fathers and essentially throwing their hands up in hopelessness.

Let’s look at the passage in context and allow that to determine whether or not this undermines the doctrine of original sin.

The crux of interpreting Ezekiel 18 hinges on the proverb cited in verse 2, The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge”.  Admittedly, I have had a tough time with this proverb in the past, particularly because it is cited elsewhere, Jeremiah 31:29, where it is applied differently.  Clearly though, the intended meaning is that the action of the fathers has had consequences on the children.  As stated before, Israel seemed to place the blame of their pending exile at the feet of their fathers who had sinned and walked contrary to God.  In doing so, they had failed to recognize the sinfulness of their own sin, were guilty of blame-shifting, as Adam and Eve were in the Garden, and resigned themselves to a fatalistic view of the pending exile.

In our passage, God then commands that use of the proverb cease and makes a declaration of sovereignty that all souls are his, both father and son, and that the soul that sins will die (Ezekiel 18:3).  In other words, we are responsible for our own actions.  This does not have original sin in its cross hairs, rather we may add, the consequences of original sin’s corrupting influence, but let’s press home this point.

As the prophet unfolds an ethical case study (Ezekiel 18:5-18) against the erroneous belief of Israel, we find 3 scenarios: 1) The Grandfather 2) The Father 3) The Son, which are righteous, unrighteous, and righteous respectively.  The argument follows that the father is not credited with the righteousness of the grandfather, nor is the son credited with the sins of the father but each are responsible for their own actions.  Essentially this is a case study of the the law found in Deuteronomy 24:16, “Fathers shall not be put to death because of their children, nor shall children be put to death because of their fathers. Each one shall be put to death for his own sin.

After raising their own argument against them in vs. 19-20, we read, But if a wicked person turns away from all his sins that he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is just and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. 22 None of the transgressions that he has committed shall be remembered against him; for the righteousness that he has done he shall live.” Ezekiel 18:21-22

This point is critical towards understanding that the fatalism of the Israelite’s was a fallacious belief because the passage clearly states that repentance, i.e. turning away from sin, is a decision that rests on the individual.  In other words, their situation is not hopeless but they can be restored if they recognize and repent of their sins.  The individual is responsible for his/her actions and the decision to repent of those actions rests with them as well (humanly speaking).  The reality is, this is a gospel, hope-filled passage declaring the justice of God in holding people responsible for their own sins, yet also the mercy of God in granting forgiveness and restoration to the penitent heart.

That said, understanding this individualism, in isolation from the rest of Scripture, has caused many to use this passage as a proof text against original sin and Adam’s seminal headship, as noted earlier.  However, this application simply cannot be allowed to stand.

First, this view subconsciously implies that individual responsibility for sins would have been unthinkable in Israel prior to Ezekiel’s prophecy and he was charting new territory.  Additionally, the alternative view, “corporate solidarity” would have had to have been the view that this prophecy was correcting.  Neither of which is expressly true.

As previously mentioned, Deuteronomy 24:16 is in the background of Ezekiel’s prophecy and would have been a familiar passage to the prophet’s audience.  Again, the view that was being confronted was the fatalistic view of being punished for another’s actual sin, a view that is explicitly denied when attention is given to the possibility of individual repentance.

Now this is where the objection against original sin finds its headwaters.  As you can probably hear, the argument often made is that Ezekiel 18 is speaking against Adam’s posterity receiving the punishment that was due for his sin.  However, as previously mentioned, the “corporate solidarity” view must equally be considered.  Ezekiel 18 must be harmonized with other areas of Scripture that affirm this solidarity, i.e. that the one can represent the whole.

A classic case study for this is Achan.  Though it was his individual sin, the entire nation was punished for it.  Joshua 7:11 – Israel has sinned, Joshua 7:20 – Achan has sinned.  A second example is the wives and children of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram (Numbers 16), where the ground split under those who would presume the priesthood and swallowed up whole families.  A further example is that of David, after his sin in the murderours affair with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11) and his sin in conducting the census of Israel (2 Samuel 24 and 1 Chronicles 21).  In the first, we find the death of his newborn son and the promised division of the Israelite Kingdom, both as a result of his sin.  In the latter, we find that God declared judgment upon Israel for David’s unwise, ungodly decision to count his people, resulting in the death of 70,000 Israelites.  Each of these are individual sins, in a sense, the one represented the many and yet corporately they subsequently suffered the consequences.

On the positive side, we have the example of Abraham, and subsequently, Isaac and Jacob, through whom God promised to bless the nation of Israel.  Repeatedly we find God “remembering” the promises made to the Patriarchs as the foundation and basis for how He deals with Israel in an ultimate sense.  Certainly not least in our example of corporate solidarity is our Lord Jesus Christ, the one who represented the many in His death and resurrection on the cross and His subsequent imputation of righteousness to those who believe.

When held in isolation and taken from its context, it’s easy to see how Ezekiel 18 may be used as an argument against original sin and also against the idea of Adam’s seminal headship.  However, context is king, as they say.  The concept of individual responsibility as well as corporate solidarity must be held together.  As Walter Kaiser states in his book on Old Testament ethics, “Both individual responsibility or worth and group solidarity must be understood and carefully defined in approaching Old Testament ethics.” Additionally, the whole of Scripture is in harmony and is therefore does not contradict itself.

In the next post from this series, we’ll wrap up our look at some of the more common objections raised against the Doctrine of Original Sin before proceeding with two implications which arise from the foundation of this critical, yet oft-misunderstood biblical doctrine.

 

 

 

 

The Fabian Strategy of Satan

 

Awhile back, we looked at the petition from the “Lord’s Prayer” to deliver us from the evil [one] and briefly touched on the fact that Satan, like a roaring lion, is prowling around seeking whom he may devour.  In a very real sense, Satan is actively pursuing mankind in order to leave them blind or lead them from the light into darkness, even if this be temporary for the true child of God.

Thus we have come to consider a method that our enemy uses in assaulting the saints of God.  Keep in mind too, that when we say Satan, it may not mean a direct attack from the singular figure of evil, as in the Garden of Eden or the Wilderness of Christ, but may and most often does include some other demonic personage serving the will of his master.  Thanks be to God that the head of Satan was crushed at the cross of Christ, nevertheless our opponent is very real and very active.  In this particular post, we’ll look at the Fabian Strategy of Satan to see how that ancient serpent, the Devil, employs an old military strategy in one of his many attacks on the children of God.

The Fabian Strategy was a military idea implemented by Roman General Quintus Fabius Maximus Verrucosus (280 – 208 BC), or Fabius Maximus, sometimes simply Maximus for short.  He was arguably one of the greatest generals in the Roman Empire and is often credited with being the father of guerrilla warfare.  In perhaps the most famous war of all time, the Punic War, Rome, led by Fabius prepared to battle against the superior Carthaginians, led by Hannibal.

Recognizing his army was outpowered, Fabius employed his now famous Fabian strategy in which he wore down his enemy by avoiding any “pitched battles or frontal assaults” and instead relied on a war of attrition.  As this strategy unfolds, it calls on the proponent to harass his opposition through smaller skirmishes that cause attrition, disrupt supplies, and effect morale largely believing that time is on their side to wear down their opponent (see wikipedia article).  How then does Satan employ this strategy against the saints of God?

Before we start it’s important to note that we’re not inserting the Fabian Strategy into Scripture, simply observing the methods of our enemy and finding a fitting description of them to better help us to understand the war in which we are engaged.

First, this strategy of wearing us down is extremely dangerous and extremely effective because it avoids many of the frontal assaults that the believer may be more aware of in his or her battle against sin.  For example, if a person knows that a particular location, we’ll call it the sin store, however make the necessary application in your own case, causes him or her to sin, obviously they would stay out of that location, simple enough.

However, through means of the Fabian Strategy, the devil would not tempt a person towards that location, but would instead wear them down physically, mentally, and spiritually, over time, perhaps even to the point of cutting off all other avenues leaving the only opening that travels past the “sin store”,  inevitably leading to sin.  At this point, you are weakened and worn down, unable to avoid what would have normally been a very weak temptation had it occurred as a frontal assault.

As alluded to, primarily Satan wears us down physically, mentally, and spiritually and sometimes in that order.  Physically this may come by way of a variety of means, sometimes through illness, sometimes through lack of sleep, sometimes simply through the exhaustion of the day.  He need not bring these on directly, but may, as in the case of Job.  Or, he may simply take advantage of an opportunity of these weakness that is already preexisting.

Obviously, physical exhaustion lessens mental alertness, which in turn makes one more susceptible to temptations.  Consider the example of our Lord, who after 40 days of fasting in the wilderness was left no doubt, weak, tired, hungry, and physically exposed.  Satan sought opportunity in this weakness to strike.  Take also for instance the disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane with our Lord and His instruction upon finding them asleep to “watch and pray.  That you may not enter into temptation.  The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Matthew 26:40

Against this war of attrition in physical strength, a greater reliance on the strength of God will be necessary.  Consider our Lord’s response to Satan with the Word of God, the Sword of the Spirit, from our example cited above.  Too often, we become comfortable and self-reliant, either in our own gifts, strengths, even our material possessions.  Reconsider Job, who had his material possessions and physical strength taken away, yet Scripture affirms for us that Job did not sin with his lips (Job 1:22, 2:10).  When these comforts evaporate, we are left to return to the fountain’s source, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.”  Ephesians 6:10  In this alien strength, pray and grab one verse at a time to hold onto.  Volume of reading, either Scripture or godly books will not be as helpful here, but could  actually hinder progress in the battle if one is not careful.  Become a master of one verse and use it acutely, praying until you can’t.

Second, the Fabian Strategy, having plundered our physical resources shifts to the attack of morale, sometimes via the form of lacking mental alertness.  This may come in the form of discouragement from the physical weakness, mental fogginess, or simply resorting to vegging out.  In our society, we are perhaps more prone to this than any other time in history and we have a lot of devices and opportunity to do so.  After running the daily rat-race, we can be given to extended periods of vegging, be it in our consumption of social media, binging on-demand videos, video games, shopping, etc. all to make us feel better in a flesh-led effort to recharge our physically weak batteries as it were.  This simply opens up further opportunity for the devices of Satan.

The key opposition against this is to reengage the mind upon the word of God.  Meditation can functionally serve the same purpose that many hope to gain by turning to vegging out by essentially calming and refocusing the mind.  Here of course, we are talking about biblical meditation and not that which accompanies yoga, transcendental meditation, or other ungodly forms of mind emptying.

Finally, if both physical and mental strength be lacking in any substantial quantity, the spirit is essentially left exposed in the battle against the flesh, the world, and the devil.  Think again on Matthew 26:40 cited above, “the spirit is indeed willing, but the flesh is weak.”  The two are diametrically opposed and without diligence, the flesh can sometimes gain the upper-hand on the spirit quite easily, Galatians 5:17.  Here then the Fabian Strategy of Satan often employs the temptation to lesser sins over those of more scandalous or outlandish nature all in an effort to subvert the spirit’s resistance against the flesh.

Beaten down physically, sapped of mental alertness, and blind to the peccadillos of life, the Fabian Strategy has subtlety given Satan the upper-hand often without us being none the wiser.  This of course may happen over a long period of time to further heighten our drowsiness until he makes an attempt to strike a mortal blow.

Very rarely to believers fall into sin upon the first hints of a frontal assault.  Little by little the enemy pecks away much like water dripping on a mighty granite boulder until finally a crack appears, when heat is applied the entire rock is in danger of exploding.  Be alert and sober, dear Christians.  Our enemy, the devil often has more success in lulling us to sleep, via the Fabian strategy, than an all out, in your face assault.  Resist him and he will flee from you. James 4:7

Objections to Original Sin – Innocent Babies and That’s Not Fair

 

In the last few posts, we’ve continued working through a series on 1 Corinthians 15, which I find to be one of the more challenging chapters in Scripture, and have arrived at the passages on the Doctrine of Original Sin.  We’ve since turned our attention towards common objections of this foundational teaching from Scripture, beginning first with the Objection of Eve. Here we’ll explore two more objections that are frequently brought up, What about innocent babies and That’s Not Fair.

Objection #2 – Doesn’t this concept of original sin condemn all mankind, even “innocent” babies?

Answer – The doctrine of original sin does condemn all mankind, even babies.  Scripture knows no such thing as the doctrine of accountability, which loosely states that children reach an “age of accountability” around 12-13 years of age (which similarly is the age for the Jewish Bar mitzvah).  Additionally, Scripture knows nothing of a state of innocence  based on age.

If this teaching were true, and if original sin was not inherited even by babies, then there wouldn’t be any death among those under a certain age.  In other words, the Scriptural teaching “in Adam all die” would be wrong, and it’s not.  Death touches us all, even those in the womb, and it is the direct product of original sin upon the world in which we live.  The wages of sin is death and we must all pay, regardless of age.

As a side note, the effects of original sin, namely guilt and pollution, applied to “innocent babies” does not necessarily mean that should infants or young children die that they are automatically condemned to hell.  We must allow room in our thinking for the truth that the Judge of all the earth will do what’s right.  Admittedly, this is a difficult subject deserving of its own post, but in the meantime, I would lean towards agreeing with Charles Spurgeon’s understanding of infants who die, which you can read for yourself here: Infant Salvation

Objection 3 – Isn’t it unfair that God would punish us as a result of another person’s sin?

Answer – This is perhaps the strongest emotional argument against the doctrine of original sin, particularly in light of objection 2.  However, calling God’s own character, namely His holy justice, into question is a wrong starting point.  We must be like Job and place our hands over our mouths and confess that not a day has gone by that we have not sinned on our own.

If the argument of fairness is allowed to stand, then it must also be allowed that it is unfair for Christ to have the sin of those who would believe imputed to Himself and likewise suffer the punishment that they deserved.  Additionally, it would be “unfair” that Christ’s righteousness should be imputed to all those “in Him” who did nothing to earn that.  This objection of equity cannot consistently stand, despite its emotion appeal.

The “That’s not fair” card was played repeatedly in the Old Testament, particularly in Ezekiel 18 which we will look at next time. Instead of stomping our feet and screaming that’s not fair, ought we not to be petitioning the Lord for Mercy.  Assuredly we do not want fairness.  Thankfully, both justice and mercy kiss at the cross of Jesus Christ.