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William Lane Craig, Original Sin and Original Guilt

December 31st, 2010 by MandM

A lot of people are up in arms at the moment about a paragraph in William Lane Craig’s answer to Question 193 “Overweening Ignorance.” Facebook, blogs, twitter and message boards are abuzz with Christians angrily attacking Craig with the charge that this paragraph shows he either does not hold to the doctrine of original sin or that he thinks it is not essential to Christianity. Here is what some are saying about the offending paragraph:

“Craig denies that original sin is essential to the Christian faith.” Steve Hays

In “Bible-optional Christianity” Hays sets out the offending sentences from the offending paragraph then puts them alongside Romans 5:12 and Corinthians 15:21-22, 45-49 (passages which speak of man’s sinful nature and the need for Christ’s salvation). The conclusion we are supposed to draw is that Craig is denying the truth of these passages and views these as “optional.”

In “Hollywood Squares” Hays draws a ejusdem generis parallel between Craig’s paragraph and the writings of liberal scholars like Spong, Bultmann and The Archbishop of Canterbury.

In the comments section of his third post on the paragraph “Rabbit Ears“, where he accuses Craig of making “a V-sign behind God’s head when God is speaking (the rabbit-ear gesture),” Hays writes:

“Craig doesn’t seem to care what the Bible teaches about original sin. He simply absolves his correspondent of responsibility to believe what the Bible teaches on this subject, regardless.”

On Facebook Dominic Bnonn Tennant wrote:

“This is why, contrary to the objections of some, William Lane Craig not the world’s foremost apologist. The first duty of apologetics is to the truth. Not to unbelieving presuppositions. You can’t have good apologetics without good theology.”

On Hays’ blog Bnonn Tennant wrote:

“As I think someone has said already, the problem with Craig is that he starts with philosophy and only then worries about theology. That’s ass-backwards.”

James R White of Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog wrote:

“this is not the first time WLC has made this statement. I have said repeatedly that WLC’s theology is way too hobbled to support biblical Christian theism, which is why he has to produce a much smaller theism to defend. And this is one of the manifestations of starting with philosophy and then crafting a theology to match your philosophical opinions.”

Jonathan wrote:

“Some apologists are eager to get people into the “Kingdom” anyway they can.”

Saint and Sinner wrote:

“I am so sick of minimalist Christianity”

Peter Pike wrote:

“Without Original Sin, there is no basis by which Christ’s blood can be applied to any sinner whatsoever. Craig should know this. He has a responsibility to teach this. I don’t care if ignorant, non-biblical “Christians” don’t hold to it–Craig is held to a higher standard, and his outright ignoring of this doctrine instead of teaching it in a way that someone can understand it simply neuters Christianity.

You don’t defend Christianity by surrendering”

William Lane Craig

Apparently, Craig is not only affirming heresy but is a compromiser who is not committed to the truth, who denies that the existence of universal sinfulness and that the need for salvation is an essential Christian belief.

This own goal demonstrates not just an alarming inability for many Christians to read in context but also some overweening ignorance about theology (not to mention an alarming lack of charity for the man who is internationally renowned and respected for publicly defending the faith by lay people and the academy alike.)

Let us take a look at the offending paragraph, William Lane Craig wrote:

As for your two moral objections, the first is an objection to the doctrine of original sin. But once more, that doctrine is not universally affirmed by Christians and is not essential to the Christian faith.

At a glance, sitting by itself in a Facebook status update, in a tweet or out of context on a blog, it may well look like Craig is saying that the doctrine of original sin is not essential to the Christian faith. But now let’s look at it again in context:

As for your two moral objections, the first is an objection to the doctrine of original sin. [Emphasis added]

The “first” what? The first objection that the atheist Luke, who asked the question Craig is answering, set out at the top of the page:

4) God Determines that Adams sin is transmutable down to every single person that will ever exist. (Moral objection 1: The sins of the father are logically not related to the son in any way shape or form)

Right, now back to the paragraph:

As for your two moral objections, the first is an objection to the doctrine of original sin. But once more, that doctrine is not universally affirmed by Christians and is not essential to the Christian faith. So don’t let that be a stumbling block for you. What is essential to Christian faith is that all men are sinners and in need of God’s forgiveness and redemption. I’m sure you’d recognize your own moral shortcomings and failures, Luke. So don’t get hung up on Adam’s sin. It’s your own sin you need to deal with. (As for the doctrine, its viability will depend on the viability of imputation. We often know of cases where one person is held responsible for the actions of another because the one person represents the other or serves as a proxy acting on the other’s behalf. Maybe Adam was our representative before God.)

First Clue:
If Craig meant to convey that the idea that we are all innately sinful and as such need Christ’s salvation, is not essential to the Christian faith then why does he say in the very next line “What is essential to Christian faith is that all men are sinners and in need of God’s forgiveness and redemption”? [Emphasis original] He has just said that all of us are sinful and need Christ’s salvation!

In the line after this he writes, “I’m sure you’d recognize your own moral shortcomings and failures, Luke.” Where does Craig get this surety from that Luke has moral shortcomings and failures?

In case you need more evidence that this is not what Craig meant, then see the next line “So don’t get hung up on Adam’s sin. It’s your own sin you need to deal with.” Again, Craig seems pretty confident that Luke has sinned and needs a solution.

Second clue:
Having realised now that Craig cannot have meant to convey a denial of universal sinfulness or the need for salvation – he said in sentence 4 that this “is essential to Christian faith” – we need to look at what he did say, what he meant.

By employing some helpful techniques I use for analysing difficult legal passages and finding coherent solutions to prima facie statutory ambiguities we see that the vital words are “that doctrine.” What does the “that” in “that doctrine” in the second sentence refer to?

Obviously, many people are reading it as referring to the term “original sin” (and their understanding as to what that term means – more on that from Matt in clue three). Now this is one way of reading it – read only the bold font:

As for your two moral objections, the first is an objection to the doctrine of original sin. But once more, that doctrine is not universally affirmed by Christians and is not essential to the Christian faith. So don’t let that be a stumbling block for you. [Emphasis added]

On this reading, Craig is saying, “The doctrine of original sin [as understood by the outraged readers] is not universally affirmed by Christians.”

But as clue one showed us, this is a rather contradictory way of reading it.

To read the paragraph this way we would have to read Craig as denying that universal sinfulness and the need for salvation are an essential Christian doctrine in the second sentence but then spending sentences 4-7 affirming universal sinfulness and the need for salvation and their place as an essential doctrine within Christianity!

Craig hold two PhD’s and is a world class analytic philosopher known for many things but making overt contradictions in the same paragraph, side by side, is not one of them.

This should tell us something – especially in light of the other possible way of reading the “that doctrine” in context; again read only the bold font:

As for your two moral objections, the first is an objection to the doctrine of original sin.

4) God Determines that Adams sin is transmutable down to every single person that will ever exist. (Moral objection 1: The sins of the father are logically not related to the son in any way shape or form)

But once more, that doctrine is not universally affirmed by Christians and is not essential to the Christian faith. So don’t let that be a stumbling block for you. [Emphasis added]

On this reading Craig is saying “the doctrine of original sin … the sins of the father … is not universally affirmed by Christians.”

Craig starts his paragraph by stating “As for your two moral objections, the first is an objection to…” In doing this he makes it clear what the subject of his paragraph is: it is the first of Luke’s moral objections, Luke’s clause 4). Luke is asking specifically about “the sins of the father”, the idea that “God Determines that Adams sin is transmutable down to every single person that will ever exist.” Craig is answering this specific objection. This means that when Craig then writes, “But once more, that doctrine is not universally affirmed by Christians and is not essential to the Christian faith,” it is clear that by “that doctrine” he does not have in mind the idea that we are not all innately sinful and as such do not need Christ’s salvation – he is talking about something else, the specific doctrine that Luke raised.

Third Clue:
Are we really sure we know what the doctrine of original sin is as Craig is using the term? This was the first thing our 15 year old son, Christian, demanded to know, to be utterly clear on, as he read of this controversy on the web. Christian refused to formulate any conclusion as to what Craig was saying until he had double checked he understood the doctrine of original sin – if only other Christians were like Christian…

As Madeleine pointed out, Craig is not a layman, he holds two PhD’s and one of them is in Theology so you can be certain he knows his theological terminology; however, Craig also has a PhD in Philosophy and has worked in the field of contemporary analytic philosophy for most of his career. This is an important point to note because in Responsibility and Atonement, Richard Swinburne advanced one of the most important philosophical discussions of “original sin.” Swinburne analysed what he calls “the full doctrine of original sin” and identified it as having three distinguishable components.

1) Humans are prone to sin, there is a kind of “original sinfulness” in human beings.

2) This proneness is the result of Adam’s fall.

3) The third is the doctrine of “original guilt,” Adam’s descendants are guilty of Adam’s sin and can be held accountable for this sin.

Swinburne notes these three components are logically distinct. It is possible to accept some of them and not others. In fact, the Eastern Orthodox tradition has an understanding of original sin, which rejects the notion of original guilt.

Now when Craig, a philosopher, talks about the doctrine of original sin as being “unessential,” he is claiming that acceptance of all three of these doctrines is “unessential.” This is not the same thing as stating that none of them are essential. To claim that what is true of the whole is true of each individual part is a fallacy. It is true that the wall of my house is over two metres tall, it does not follow that each brick is this tall.

So when Craig states that the doctrine of original sin is unessential, the question we should be asking is which of the three components is he refering to? Well clearly not 1). As Madeleine has pointed out in clue one above, Craig is emphatic that “What is essential to Christian faith is that all men are sinners and in need of God’s forgiveness and redemption.” [Emphasis original]

As to 2), Craig does not even mention it. It is obvious from the context, per clue two, that Craig’s claims are about 3), the doctrine of original guilt. Note again the objection he is responding to, Luke wrote:

“4) God Determines that Adams sin is transmutable down to every single person that will ever exist. (Moral objection 1: The sins of the father are logically not related to the son in any way shape or form)”

Here Luke clearly gives a moral objection to the idea of original guilt, the third component of the doctrine of original sin. Craig responds to this with:

“As for the doctrine, its viability will depend on the viability of imputation. We often know of cases where one person is held responsible for the actions of another because the one person represents the other or serves as a proxy acting on the other’s behalf. Maybe Adam was our representative before God.” [Emphasis added]

Here Craig is clearly refering to the idea of original guilt. He does not deny original guilt, he appears agnostic on it; he suggests that a standard federal understanding “might” be true. What Craig said is that this doctrine “is not universally affirmed by Christians and is not essential to the Christian faith” and on this he is correct. As noted, the Eastern Orthodox Church accepts a version of the doctrine of original sin, which does not hold to the notion of original guilt. Interestingly, all the scriptures Craig’s detractors cite do not clearly or unequivocally teach 3), the doctrine of original guilt, they all focus on 1) and 2) which Craig never denied.

Craig’s point then is sound. When sceptics object to the doctrine of original guilt, as Luke did, they object to one particular component of one particular understanding of original sin. If their arguments are sound, it shows only that this particular component of original sin might be false. To get an objection to Christianity as a whole from this, one would need to show that this component is essential to Christianity so that denying it involves abandoning Christianity or that this understanding of original sin is the only defensible version of the doctrine. Such claims would be news to the Eastern Orthodox Church and the claim is not made by citing a pile of proof texts that speak to the doctrine in general and not this component.

Perhaps Craig could have been clearer. Not all his readers will draw the distinctions we have above, so given this, perhaps he should have used the term “original guilt” so as to be clearer to those less familiar with the literature as to which component of original sin he was speaking of. But really it is the duty of readers to read in context, to read charitably – where there are two possible readings, the one that does not entail blatant contradictions two lines later is probably the reading we should adopt… It is unfortunate that in this case it appears many Christians have failed to do so and are so quick to publicly jump to conclusions about one of their brothers.

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74 responses so far ↓

  • Wow, you had to insert a whole lot of stuff that Dr. Craig didn’t say just to get him to not say his direct quotes.

  • Well said, M & M. Further, to blast Craig here for poor theology is to make a category mistake: apologetic strategy is not the same thing as laying out a systematic theology. From the looks of it, Craig is here being apologetically strategic by putting first things first. There is no reason, for example, to defend the virgin birth in a debate with someone who denies the resurrection. This does not mean, however, that in doing so one rejects the virgin birth, but that one merely recognizes what the nonbeliever must accept first.

  • [...] and Matt (whose blog I’ve just recently discovered) lay the smackdown on a bunch of folks who got up in arms about a non-controversial statement William Lane Craig made [...]

  • @bob – that’s a real smooth way to interact with this post… by completely blowing it off.

    @MandM – Thanks for the post. Thought the original one on triablogue was quite obnoxious and straining to create heresy and scandal for no good reason. I thought the mark of Christians was that they love the brethren?

    @sarah – agreed

  • Like what Bob? Care to copy and paste an example?

  • So where is the TWEET button so this can be shared with others?

  • “On this reading, Craig is saying, “The doctrine of original sin [as understood by the outraged readers] is not universally affirmed by Christians.” ”

    Actually I’m quite certain this is what Craig is saying, and I don’t think that “this is a rather contradictory way of reading it.”

    This doesn’t conflict with his statements about human sinfulness and need of redemption. He’s only pointing out that the idea of transmission of sin and guilt from Adam (which is what the correspondent refers to) isn’t what all Christians affirm as the correct explanation of why we are all sinful. And this is true (as Matt later says). The idea of transmitted sin and guilt from Adam isn’t affirmed by all Christians.

    Craig does this to point out that the correspondent should resolve the central issues first (e.g. does God exist?) before working down to the details.

    However, after pointing this out Craig then offers some explanation to resolve concerns that people might have over the idea of original sin. After having pointed out that it might not be something that all Christians affirm, it is nonetheless defensible (via the concept of imputation) and therefore shouldn’t be a problem.

    The fact that some Christians got outraged by this just shows how ignorant and insular they are. “How could there even BE a different doctrine of the origin of human sin from mine???” I see it all the time.

  • The Catholic doctrine on original sin is identical to the Orthodox doctrine. So that’s most of Christianity denying original guilt.

  • Madeliene, Bob apparently means pointing out the characterisation of original sin that Craig is refering to, (which was actually quoted in his post) or explaining how the doctrine of original sin is understood in philosophical circumstances.

    In otherwords he reads direct quotes out of context with no concern for what the author probably mean’t by the words.

    Lets apply this logic to Bobs comment. I take it that we should not read Bob as refering to Bill Craig, after all he does not mention Bill Craig, he directly says Dr Craig and to see this as a reference to Bill Craig you have to look at the post he is responding too, which is to insert something he did not say in to his comment

    . I also take it that the direct quote Bob refers to is not the one about original sin, after all to understand this you would have to know the background to the controversy and hence read things Bob did not say…

    So by Bobs own logic he is not saying anything about Bill Craigs comments on original sin. Perhaps we should take Bob to be refering to a quote by this guy http://www.hss.edu/physicians_craig-edward.

    .

  • Anthony, does the Catholic church reject Augustine’s doctrine?

    (As you may know, Ausgustine taught that all humans inherit Adam’s guilt.)

  • That’s a creative explanation; how does that explain his similar response to Shabir Ally in their debate, which Dr. White went over exhaustively in his webcast, and which he is quoted regarding above?

  • Razorskiss – If his reponse in another discussion was similar, then surely the explanation would be similar.

  • Weirdly enough, many of the Christians in Rome evidently had not heard as complete an exposition of the doctrine of sin until Paul’s letter was read out loud there. Yet, Paul was certain that they were Christian brothers and sisters, so Paul did not think the Augustinian doctrine was the standard by which people are to be judged as Christians either. Paul’s standard was in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 or more succinctly, Romans 10:9.

  • [...] will admit to jumping on a bandwagon with this one. A good recent post over at MandM alerted me to just how far and wide the phenomenon of apparently ignorant evangelicals bashing [...]

  • You wrote: “Perhaps Craig could have been clearer.”

    I’m not sure Craig could have been clearer. He quite clearly said, “that doctrine is not universally affirmed by Christians and is not essential to the Christian faith.” And he goes on to explain: “Maybe Adam was our representative before God” in contrast to the things he views as essential, such as the universal sinfulness of mankind (something denied by Roman Catholics, at least with respect to Mary). He does not think that the imputation of Adam’s sin to all mankind descending from him by ordinary generation is an essential Christian doctrine.

    It seems crystal clear to me that Craig knew what he was denying and denied in unequivocal terms.

    – TurretinFan

  • I also posted this question on Glenn’s site:

    My understanding is that the concept of original sin becomes theologically incomprehensible unless one accepts that there actually was an Adam and Eve who sinned in the Garden of Eden. How do Christians who accept the theory of evolution understand the concept of the Fall? In other words, how can any sense be made of the terms “sin of Adam” and “pre-fall humanity” if there was no Adam and no Fall?

  • Flotsam and jetsam (12/31)…

    Matt and Madeleine Flannagan discuss William Lane Craig, Original Sin and Original Guilt. In the process they provide an excellent example of reading someone charitably and carefully before assuming they’re an idiot. A good lesson for us all….

  • @TurretinFan

    “that doctrine is not universally affirmed by Christians and is not essential to the Christian faith.”

    This comment is not necessarily a statement of WLC’s personal beliefs, neither is it taking a doctrinal position, it is simply a statement of fact.
    Very simply..
    1, not all Christians affirm this doctrine
    2, its not an essential doctrine, ie it is possible to be a Christian without understanding or even having heard of this doctrine.

    He then goes on to state
    “What is essential to Christian faith is that all men are sinners and in need of God’s forgiveness and redemption.”

    ie the individual needs to confess their sin and turn to God for forgiveness to find redemption.

    One thing we as christians hate is atheists etc taking scripture out of context and misapplying it, or deliberately twisting our words, it is particularly distressing to find Christians doing the same to each other

  • Rob the social networking buttons got disabled by the last update, they are back now so tweet away!

  • Is it any surprise that the people who are so harsh in their criticism of what WLC said are the hard core Calvinist crowd? The same ones who always make it their mission to be the dogma watchdogs all over the internet. Our own little internet magisterium.

  • Boss – interesting that those who are coming to WLC’s defense are Calvinists then!

  • Glenn – I wasn’t saying all Calvinists are the hard core type who make it their lot to hunt for heresy, but this lot is involved in almost every controversy of this type. Didn’t mean to implicate all Calvinists.

  • To be a Christian, one must repent by accepting Jesus Christ as atoning for one’s sins.

    A debate on the nature of those sins – where they came from, what they are, who is responsible for them – is not necessary for Christian faith. It is necessary for understanding. It is necessary to seek truth. It is necessary to debate so that our faith can continue to expand and deepen. But it is not necessary for faith itself.

    I don’t care if this fellow doesn’t believe in “original sin”. A lot of Christians believe a lot of silly things, but it does not seem to me that the “original sin” doctrine is fundamental to Christ’s sacrifice for my own personal sins. The gospel is not about what Adam did, but about what Christ did.

  • How can a just and loving and good God punish someone for what their ancestor did? If I sin then I deserve punishment. But if my great grandmother steals a gold ring, then it would be wrong to punish me personally for this years later. I was not even born when she committed the crime! This is what Luke was asking (which I think the Beretta link misses) and this is what Bill Craig was answering as MandM amply demonstrate.

    While some Christians adhere to this understanding of original guilt many others like myself do not.

    Not only is it not necessary to hold to to be a Christian, I think this understanding of original guilt conflicts with scriptures like do not punish to son for the sins of the fathers and the idea that we must give an account for what we have done, we will be judged for our personal actions, for how we have responded to events and for our own choices – the actions of our forefathers do not make up part of this.

    A far too literal interpretation of references to punishments for generational sin miss the other understanding that perhaps particular sinful behaviours run in families and each person is being punished for picking up the mantle of this behaviour and acting on it instead of resisting it rather than their being punished for their great grandmother’s actions.

  • So you are not swayed by Molinism then Glenn?

  • Blair wrote: A debate on the nature of those sins – where they came from, what they are, who is responsible for them – is not necessary for Christian faith

    Whoah … hold your horses friend. The concept of original sin is very important when it comes to considerig what happens to the souls of babies and children who die before they reach the age of being able to held morally responsible.

  • That was how I saw Luke’s question also Sacha. Like you, I do not hold to that understanding of original guilt.

    You wrote: “particular sinful behaviours run in families and each person is being punished for picking up the mantle of this behaviour and acting on it instead of resisting it rather than their being punished for their great grandmother’s actions.”

    Scripture backs your comment up:

    “Fathers shall not be put to death for their sons, nor shall sons be put to death for their fathers; everyone shall be put to death for his own sin.” (Deuteronomy 24:16)

    “The person who sins will die. The son will not bear the punishment for the father’s iniquity, nor will the father bear the punishment for the son’s iniquity; the righteousness of the righteous will be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked will be upon himself.” (Ezekiel 18:20)

    Craig was right to say that that understanding of original guilt is not an essential Christian doctrine.

  • C’mon Madeleine. Scripture tells us no such thing. Can we be punished for the sins of others?

    The Bible says “yes” a multitude of times:

    Genesis 9:21-25
    And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father …. And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done unto him. And he said, Cursed be Canaan [Ham's son]; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren.

    Genesis 20:18
    The LORD had fast closed up all the wombs of the house of Abimelech, because of Sarah Abraham’s wife.

    Exodus 20:5 , Deuteronomy 5:9
    I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation.

    Exodus 34:7
    Visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children unto the third and to the fourth generation.

    Numbers 14:18
    Visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation.

    Deuteronomy 23:2
    A bastard shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD; even to his tenth generation shall he not enter into the congregation of the LORD.

    Deuteronomy 28:18
    Cursed shall be the fruit of thy body.

    1 Samuel 3:12-13
    I will perform against Eli all things which I have spoken concerning his house … I will judge his house for ever … because his sons made themselves vile, and he restrained them not.

    2 Samuel 12:14
    The child also that is born unto thee shall surely die.

    2 Samuel 21:6-9
    Let seven men of his sons be delivered unto us, and we will hang them up unto the LORD …. And he delivered them into the hands of the Gibeonites, and they hanged them in the hill before the LORD.

    1 Kings 2:33
    Their blood shall therefore return upon the head of Joab, and upon the head of his seed for ever.

    1 Kings 11:11-12
    Wherefore the LORD said unto Solomon, Forasmuch as this is done of thee, and thou hast not kept my covenant and my statutes, which I have commanded thee, I will surely rend the kingdom from thee, and will give it to thy servant. Notwithstanding in thy days I will not do it for David thy father’s sake: but I will rend it out of the hand of thy son.

    1 Kings 21:29
    Seest thou how Ahab humbleth himself before me? because he humbleth himself before me, I will not bring the evil in his days: but in his son’s days will I bring the evil upon his house.

    2 Kings 5:27
    The leprosy therefore of Naaman shall cleave unto thee, and unto thy seed for ever.

    Isaiah 14:21
    Prepare slaughter for his children for the iniquity of their fathers.

    Jeremiah 16:10-11
    Wherefore hath the Lord pronounced all this great evil against us? … Because your fathers have forsaken me, saith the Lord.

    Jeremiah 29:32
    Therefore thus saith the LORD; Behold, I will punish Shemaiah the Nehelamite, and his seed.

    Jeremiah 32:18
    Thou … recompensest the iniquity of the fathers into the bosom of their children after them.

    Zephaniah 1:8
    I will punish the princes, and the king’s children, and all such as are clothed with strange apparel.

  • Whoah … hold your horses friend. The concept of original sin is very important when it comes to considerig what happens to the souls of babies and children who die before they reach the age of being able to held morally responsible.

    Well that is a matter of debate. My view is that when Jesus said that one must become like a little child to enter the Kingdom of God, then he was clearly saying that little children are not subject to judgement. That appears to put that particular debate outside the bounds of arguments surrounding “original sin”. Which, I might add, I have not entirely made up my mind about.

  • TAM before I take the time to look up each of those passages , examine the context, Genre and so on, I’ll just put one basic question to you.

    Give Madeliene’s reference to Ezekiel, and given what this passage says. Why don’t you take this into account as the bibles teaching?

    Given Ezekiel is in the Canon and is presented as a word from God, then either the other passages you cite are to be understood in some other way or the canon two separate pictures of God both which cannot be true.

    If the former, your exegesis is mistaken. If the latter why do you identify claim the ones you do as the authentic word of God and not Ezekiel?

  • Personally I think we all drastically overestimate how much theology one has to have right in order to be saved (otherwise it’d be salvation by works). How much theology did the thief on the cross have right? How much did the Christians who still believed in idols? We better all be grateful that our salvation doesn’t depend on us getting an A on a systematic theology exam.

  • what scientia et sapientia said!

  • Charity for me, but not for thee!…

    the problem with your approach here Madeleine (and Matt and others) is that I didn’t start with my “erroneous” theological assumptions. I didn’t introduce my own view of original sin into the discussion. Sorry if you’re too dim to see that….

  • Matt, the Biblical references on this point are contradictory. In addition to the Ezekial reference cited by Madeleine, these also support her position:

    Deuteronomy 24:16
    The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers: every man shall be put to death for his own sin.

    2 Kings 14:6
    But the children of the murderers he slew not: according unto that which is written in the book of the law of Moses, wherein the LORD commanded, saying, The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, nor the children be put to death for the fathers; but every man shall be put to death for his own sin.

    Jeremiah 31:29-30
    In those days they shall say no more, The fathers have eaten a sour grape, and the children’s teeth are set on edge. But every one shall die for his own iniquity.

    My intent was simply to point out that contradictory passages can be found. I don’t claim any of these passages to be the “authentic word of God”. However, if there is a god, I would think that he could do a much better job of passing his message along to the world than he has done thus far. That is unless his intention was to provide employment to those who endeavour to explain what he really meant by 1 Samuel 15:3 and the like …

  • “We better all be grateful that our salvation doesn’t depend on us getting an A on a systematic theology exam.”

    Exactly right. A lot of modern theologians/Christians do however seem to think that unless you have the right knowledge you can not hope for salvation. There is a name for this :

    G**********m

  • TAM , I am less convinced, but then again I am not in the habit of reading out of context or reading everything in a hyperliteralistic fashion.

  • TAM,

    Most of those passages can easily be reconciled by realizing that there’s a difference between the consequences of some individual’s sin on other people, and the direct punishment someone faces for their sin. Consequences that flow from someone else’s sin can be punishing, and could actually be a direct punishment for your own sin, but it’s not hard to see the distinction and apply it to a charitable reading of the Bible.

  • Two motivations drive such jumping to conclusions: jealousy and the lust to judge someone. Granted, Craig equivocated and should have been clearer. But to have the doctrine popes coming out and issuing condemnations without any detailed argumentation is just silly. These are the same people who lose most of the youth in their churches after high school. Is it any wonder?

  • TAM

    I have a question for you,

    In the list of passages you cite you state the following

    Exodus 20:5 , Deuteronomy 5:9
    I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation.

    You cut the text off half way through. What the text says is

    Thou shalt not bow down thyself unto them, nor serve them, for I Jehovah thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, upon the third and upon the fourth generation of them that hate me, 6 and showing lovingkindness unto thousands of them that love me and keep my commandments.

    My question is this why did you omit the last part?

    I have my own suspicions, but perhaps you can be clear with us why you choose to cut the passage half way through?

  • Because the apparent meaning is quite different compared to quoting the whole passage.
    Wouldnt want to let the context get in the way , now would we?

  • Jeremy, I wonder if your observations explain this example as well. TAM stated

    Zephaniah 1:8
    I will punish the princes, and the king’s children, and all such as are clothed with strange apparel.

    Again it appears snipped short,

    “On the day of the LORD’s sacrifice
    I will punish the officials
    and the king’s sons
    and all those clad
    in foreign clothes.
    9 On that day I will punish
    all who avoid stepping on the threshold,[c]
    who fill the temple of their gods
    with violence and deceit. “
    .

    One could also look at who the kings sons were, v 1 states

    “The word of the LORD that came to Zephaniah son of Cushi, the son of Gedaliah, the son of Amariah, the son of Hezekiah, during the reign of Josiah

    So TAM is saying this passage states that Josiah’s sons are being punished for his sins.

    Josiah king of Judah
    2 Kings 22:1 “Josiah was eight years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem thirty-one years. His mother’s name was Jedidah daughter of Adaiah; she was from Bozkath. 2 He did what was right in the eyes of the LORD and followed completely the ways of his father David, not turning aside to the right or to the left….

    Josiah’s son
    23: 30Josiah’s servants brought his body in a chariot from Megiddo to Jerusalem and buried him in his own tomb. And the people of the land took Jehoahaz son of Josiah and anointed him and made him king in place of his father. “2 Kings 23:31 Jehoahaz was twenty-three years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem three months. His mother’s name was Hamutal daughter of Jeremiah; she was from Libnah. 32 He did evil in the eyes of the LORD, just as his predecessors had done.

    Perhaps TAM will explain why he suggested that Zephaniah was punishing Jehoahaz for the sins of Josiah? and why again he omitted the context?

  • Matt, the reason for the omission is because I copied the whole mess from here: http://skepticsannotatedbible.com/contra/iniquity.html

    I am not a Biblical scholar and have never pretended to be one. I have read it a couple of times (KJV and NIV) and encourage everyone to do so, non-believers and believers alike.

    The Bible is full of some of the best and worst of what humanity has to offer. However, whenever anyone suggests that we should rely on Bible as the word of their god, I am reminded of this priceless quote by John Shelby Spong:

    The Bible has been used for centuries by Christians as a weapon of control. To read it literally is to believe in a three-tiered universe, to condone slavery, to treat women as inferior creatures, to believe that sickness is caused by God’s punishment and that mental disease and epilepsy are caused by demonic possession. When someone tells me that they believe the Bible is the ‘literal and inerrant word of God,’ I always ask, ‘Have you ever read it’?”

  • TF,

    “He does not think that the imputation of Adam’s sin to all mankind descending from him by ordinary generation is an essential Christian doctrine.”

    If there’s a lack of clarity here, it’s not that WLC denied this is essential. Rather it’s, did he deny something more than this is essential.

    God be with you,
    Dan

  • Bravo for your defense of William Lane Craig. Though I myself differ with him on many points, on the point of God’s revelation of Himself through Jesus Christ, Craig is a great champion of the truth in our day.

    To those of you who criticize him: Just because you think his slingshot (philosophy) is unworthy of the battle, doesn’t mean that God frowns on him. Take up whatever weapon with which you are familiar (even if it’s only the jawbone of an ass) and fight the good fight. That is, fight the enemies of truth – not its champions.

  • I have only read some of the comments here, but I’d like to throw in my two cents regarding what looks like a typical defense of WLC’s remark.

    Jeremy provides the example at one point: “This comment is not necessarily a statement of WLC’s personal beliefs, neither is it taking a doctrinal position, it is simply a statement of fact.
    Very simply..
    1, not all Christians affirm this doctrine
    2, its not an essential doctrine, ie it is possible to be a Christian without understanding or even having heard of this doctrine.”

    In fact we can say the same about many more doctrines than perhaps the defenders of WLC are realizing here.

    For instance, we might say the same thing regarding the Trinity (we could use numerous other examples too, such as the nature of justification).

    So let us pretend that someone, call him Average Joe Christian, is out witnessing to some atheist. The atheist objects “Christians believe in that nonsensical and contradictory doctrine of the Trinity. I don’t want to have to become an idiot and believe such nonsense.”

    Average Joe Christian responds “Don’t get hung up on that. Not all Christians believe in the Trinity and it’s possible to be a Christian without understanding or even having heard the doctrine. What’s important is that you realize you’re a sinner and you need to rely on Jesus to save you.”

    Call me cynical, but I doubt anyone here would have a hard time finding out what is wrong with Average Joe Christian’s response, even though it is technically true as Jeremy tries to tease it out in regard to WLC. I could defend it using the same exact method as Jeremy. Yet my cynical side tells me that Jeremy wouldn’t be happy with this and if Average Joe Christian becomes Dr. Celebrity Apologist, many of us have a harder time spotting the error and all the detractors look a lot more like uncharitable bastards (that’s supposed to be ironic).

  • I’ll add two more.

    Matt responds to The Atheist Missionary:

    “TAM before I take the time to look up each of those passages , examine the context, Genre and so on, I’ll just put one basic question to you.”

    I don’t want to start a fire, but this looks like side-stepping. Surely this isn’t the first time you’ve heard of the books of Genesis, Exodus, Deuteronomy, Kings etc… and have heard of these verses. So surely you already have a good idea of the genre, context, and so on.

    Matt: “Give Madeliene’s reference to Ezekiel, and given what this passage says. Why don’t you take this into account as the bibles teaching?

    Given Ezekiel is in the Canon and is presented as a word from God, then either the other passages you cite are to be understood in some other way or the canon two separate pictures of God both which cannot be true.”

    Why couldn’t TAM just turn this around on you? Given that Genesis is in the canon and is presented as a word from God, then either the Ezekiel passage Madeliene cites is to be understood in some other way or…”?

    Matt: “If the former, your exegesis is mistaken. If the latter why do you identify claim the ones you do as the authentic word of God and not Ezekiel?”

    Again, given that TAM *seems* to have the weight of Scripture on his side here, why not start off assuming you and Madeliene have mistakenly exegeted Ezekiel?

  • I feel like splurging today :)

    Max: “Exactly right. A lot of modern theologians/Christians do however seem to think that unless you have the right knowledge you can not hope for salvation. There is a name for this :

    G**********m”

    I think WLC would agree that some knowledge (right knowledge looks a little redundant) is necessary to salvation. Knowledge such as “I am a sinner” and “God exists.”

    And unless you are a Universalist I think you’d agree too and be forced to scale back your remark.

  • @Jonathon

    I agree with you that “In fact we can say the same about many more doctrines than perhaps the defenders of WLC are realizing here.”

    However i think you misapply the issue. People faced with the challenge of God and their response to Him so typically come up with excuses for not responding. Excuses like other peoples sin, doctrine they dont understand and dislike, non-belief in their own sinfulness. These are excuses or diversionary tactics in the face of the challenge to respond to God.
    As such WLC is quite right not to be diverted buy Luke the Atheist’s complaints about the doctrine of original sin.
    How is a detailed account of such a doctrine going to help Luke? its not, what Luke needs to to be shown is his own state before God and the need to come to repentance and accept the gift that is Jesus Christ and His sacrifice on our behalf, ie the essentials of salvation..Luke needs to be led to new life, then fed milk, then fed meat.
    Not much point in offering meat to a spiritually dead person who cannot even feed yet.

    The same applies to the Trinity and your Average Joe Christian, and you are right I wouldnt be happy if it was left there. But we are talking about beginnings not the end of things.
    As some one has already said we do not need a PhD in theology to become a Christian, we need a broken and contrite spirit, a heart that is seeking God in humility.

    I think all the fuss about WLC’s comments are a case of Christians being guilty of taking comments out of context [ something they truly hate when being done to them].
    WLC correctly recognised Lukes questions as diversionary and directed Luke back to what was important [essential], Lukes own sinfulness and the need to get into right relation with God.

  • @TAM

    “The Bible is full of some of the best and worst of what humanity has to offer.”

    Speaking for myself, i regard this as one of the bible’s greatest strengths, it doesnt hide from the true nature of man, it exposes our weaknesses and failings. Even the “heroes” of the Bible are shown in all their fallibility eg Abraham, David, Sampson, even the NT doesnt hide from the disagreements that Paul, Peter , Barnabas had with each other.

    As for Spongs comments, he may have read the bible, i would have to question his understanding. He relates to the Bible as an Atheist ie in disbelief.
    I’m reasonably sure most of his objections have already been adressed and discussed on this blog and i’m also reasonably sure you have been party to those discussions.

  • William Lane Craig Accused of Heresy, Oh My!…

    This will not be the undoing of Craig. He’s an Arminian. Link. I just wish Christians could come to an agreement about their inerrant Bible. ;-) Who is a Christian anyway? In a prior generation he would have been burned at the stake….

  • Jonathan, Im inclined to think your trinity counter example does not work because its plausible to contend the trinity is an essential doctrine and denials of it are pretty paradigmatic examples of unorthodoxy. While I agree version of the doctrine of original sin, is probably essential, in the same way a doctrine which includes the notion of “original guilt is not” and certainly a reformed federal understanding is not. In this instance a closer analogy was if Craig said that it was not essential to Christianity to hold to a western as opposed to eastern version of the trinity .
    A sceptic objected to some feature of a the western trinity concept of the trinity and Craig pointed out this was not an objection to Christianity per se but rather an objection to a specific . Your example is made plausible because you define an essential doctrine as one : it is possible to be a Christian without understanding or even having heard of this doctrine. This seems to me to be an implausible definition of essential an essential doctrine, and the fact that the trinity, incarnation, virgin birth or even the resurrection could count as an inessential on this definition suggests its mistaken.
    More importantly I see no evidence that Craig is working with this definition of essential. So your comments are not obviously a counter example to his method.

  • Jonathan, you seem to think me not immediately exegeting half a dozen passages on the spot is a cop out. I put to you this is implausible.

    But to your comments, I think it would be very difficult to plausibly suggest Ezekeil could be read another way. On the other hand, language drawn from highly rhetorical and figurative curse literature, imprecations. Language which is qualified by contexts which TAM’s source omits. Language which is predicative and not didatic ( as Ezekiel is) and isolated passages about fates of kings removed from there context, and without clarification of the historical situation, are all passages which could quite plausibly be understood in a way different to TAM.

  • TAM,
    I suspected that it was a cut and paste from a skeptic website.

    So basically what you did was grab a series of passages without regard to there context of a sceptics site and pasted them in here, you made no effort to check the site was being accurate.

    When its pointed out your response to do the same thing again with Bishop Spong. Which I note again there is no attempt to substantiate with primary sources, and there is ( as is common in Spong) no attempt to even dialogue with evangelical discussions of the very issues he raises.

    I have read the bible more than once, and parts of it I have studied in a fair bit of depth, and cheery picking quotes out of context from popular internet sites is not really a sensible way to study anything, nor is simply getting quotes which much unarged assertions that you happen to agree with.

  • Jeremy,

    I don’t see how I’ve misapplied the issue. In a sense all the objections that an unbeliever raises are a diversion tactic. I think the teaching of Scripture is that man’s problem is not intellectual (not enough evidence for God) but moral.

    So does this mean all attempts to answer objections should be sidestepped and we should just keep telling the person he is a sinner who needs to repent (assuming those words are sufficient)? Of course not. Thus I don’t think the simple fact that the objection may be an excuse is significant.

    The Trinity objection may be an excuse too, but notice that WLC didn’t simply sidestep that with your response.

    The idea of telling the person not to worry about having to accep doctrines that he finds hard to swallow is misguided because it sets the pattern of his (currently unregenerate) mind being the measure and because the gospel itself will appear foolish.

  • Matt, now that the sideshow is over am I to presume that you wish to ignore the question which I posed on Jan 1, 2011 at 4:02 am? That question directly related to the subject of this post.

  • Matt,

    The trinity is not essential as Jeremy was defining it in support of WLC.

    There are Christians who don’t affirm it (perhaps simply out of ignorance for instance). I’m thinking of a quote from Mullers PRRD, but I’m on an iPod T right now and don’t have access to it.

    (On T-blog a distinction has been made between chistian and saved. That’s fine, I think the distinction can be helpful, but here I’m using it in a simple sense of saved.)

  • “It is in different measures of clarity, completeness and efficacy that divine revelation, the means of grace, and the communications of the Spirit are enjoyed; and a corresponding diversity takes place in the degrees of knowledge attained by the saints. In some, it is clear, distinct, steady, and accompanied by a very firm and decided assent; in others, it is more confused, more implicit, subject to occasional wavering, and attended with an assent that is yielded with difficulty. The command of God, indeed, lays an indispensable obligation upon all men, to make every possible effort to attain a most clear, distinct and assured knowledge of divine truth. It cannot, however, be questioned that the Deity, in his unbounded goodness, receives many into blessedness, whose knowledge even of the principal articles is very indistinct, and such as they are hardly capable of expressing in their own words. The smallest measure of the requisite knowledge appears to be this, that when an article of faith is explained, the mind so far at least apprehends it, as to recognize and embrace it as true.” (qtd. in Muller, Richard. Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics vol 1. 411-412).

  • TAM, thats a good question, I guess my intial response is to get clarification, why do you think that the doctrine depends on taking Genesis 1-3 literally?

    (BTW I think Glenn did a post cast on this question)

  • Matt,
    ”The trinity is not essential as Jeremy was defining it in support of WLC.”
    Maybe that’s how Jeremy defined it, but that’s really not relevant. The issue is what was WLC commited to when he said that the doctrine of original sin ( by which he mean’t I believe the doctrine of original guilt) was inessential.
    “There are Christians who don’t affirm it (perhaps simply out of ignorance for instance). I’m thinking of a quote from Mullers PRRD, but I’m on an iPod T right now and don’t have access to it.”
    Again I don’t think essential means, no Christian body denies it. This is to confuse a sociological definition of Christian with a doctrinal one.
    ”(On T-blog a distinction has been made between chistian and saved. That’s fine, I think the distinction can be helpful, but here I’m using it in a simple sense of saved.)” Well that is I think a different question, the question of what one needs to believe to be saved and what is essential for Christianity are different issues. Certainly they are for WLC and its what he said, not what T blog said that’s at issue.

  • Matt, the concept of original, ancestral sin requires an ancestor making a choice for which their descendant inherits responsibility. Of course, I think the concept is complete rubbish but I want to understand how the concept can survive scrutiny outside a literal reading of Genesis.

    Don’t get me wrong – I understand the “we’re all miserable sinners” line of thought but that is not original sin. I would describe that as uninherited, “I’ll make my own decisions” sin. I want to understand your theological view of how babes in arms can be born with original sin if you accept that there was no literal Adam and Eve.

    Surely this is not the first time you have reflected on this question. Without reviewing all of the previous posts on this blog, I am proceeding on the assumption that you do not accept a literal reading of Genesis as it relates to the formation of the universe or the evolution of mankind. I can understand that is not something that you would want to shout from the rafters of your evangelical conferences but it is true nonetheless, is it not?

  • TAM,
    1.as I pointed out in the post above its not clear that the concept of original sin involves contemporary people being guilty for adams sin, that’s the notion of original guilt which is part of the Augustinian understanding of original sin, the Eastern orthodox church holds a view of original sin which does not include this. There view is not obviously self contradictory, so it follows the concept of original sin does not require the idea “original guilt”
    2. As noted above in addition to original guilt, the doctrine of original sin has two other components (a) the idea that human beings have a strong propensity for evil and (b) that humans inherit the effects of adams fall, corruption and death. I don’t see why these two components require a literal reading of Genesis 1-3 at all.
    3. Your correct that I do not accept a literal reading of Gen 1-3. I don’t think for example the text teaches that snakes talk, or that God walked in a garden in the cool of the day or that he could not find Adam when he hid. I am inclined to think this text uses the medium of story or myth to express and teach thinks which are true.
    In this case, I would see it as saying something like this: our original human ancestors had been offered immortality if we choose to obey Gods commands, however out of a desire to be like God, our ancestors disobeyed and so we are born into a broken world where there is mortality work, child bearing, relationships between men and women have been transformed into power struggles, brothers murder each other out of envy, humans build whole civilisations to achieve hubris.
    I also see the story as teaching us that adams choice is the choice we continue to make and appropriate in our own lives. All of us can attain immortality if we choose Paul states “To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life” But in reality if we are honest we would rather be like God and “know good and evil” for ourselves, as such we cannot obtain it without grace and forgiveness. There is obviously more to it than this but those are my thoughts at the moment.

  • Matt, thanks for your comment and thank-you for referring me back to Glenn’s podcast on this issue which, for the benefit of others, can be accessed here: http://www.beretta-online.com/wordpress/2010/episode-034-on-original-sin/

    My point remains that the concept of original sin becomes theologically incomprehensible if one rejects the suggestion that Adam and Eve existed. As Glenn outlined what he described as the reformed view of original sin on his podcast, we are talking about “sin that comes to us from Adam” and “Adam’s act affects us all”. Once again, I still think this is all crazy talk but my interest is in how Christians who accept the theory of evolution (like you) can do anything but scoff at the notion of original sin.

    I presume you are familiar with Mark Noll who has described himself as an evangelical Christian who does not have trouble reconciling evolution with a traditional belief in a creator God. However, check out his response when this very issue was raised in a panel discussion: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/evolution/religion/faith/discuss_03.html

  • TAM
    I have never found the kind of argument Noll’s makes convincing. The claim appears to be that because in Romans 5, Paul draws a parallel between Adam and Christ, and the contention is that if one accepts that Christ is a real historical person Adam must be and therefore the whole Genesis story must be literal.
    There are a couple of problems I see with this, first even if it requires a historical Adam that does not mean that we should take Genesis 1-3 literally it just means that one has to include the historicity of Adam as part of whatever one takes Genesis to teach. One can use non literal Genre’s even mythic Genre’s to teach about historical persons and events.
    Second, I don’t see the force of the argument that one can’t draw a parallel between a real historical person and a non historical person. Consider the following, I say Arnold Swarzenegger is as strong as Hercules. Here I compare the strength of a real person with the strength a fictional person has in his own world of fiction. I think one can make true comparisions and draw true analogies in this way. For example people might say that a particular politician has a Rambo attitude or has the resilence of rocky and so on.

  • Two things

    1, i made no attempt to define the Trinity or the doctrine thereof,.
    I did make the point that understanding a complex theological doctrine is not a prerequisite to confession, repentance and salvation. If it were few if any of us would be saved. Whatever happened to sola fide and sola gratia?

    2, ” I think the teaching of Scripture is that man’s problem is not intellectual (not enough evidence for God) but moral.”

    Well i’m glad you got that right, so please tell me how having an indepth discussion of a difficult to understand, multi faceted doctrine is going to help. I really dont see how telling someone they are facing damnation because of Adam’s sin [ however far back he was or wasnt] would ever explain to them their own need for grace and forgiveness,

    Correct doctrine is important, i will never disagree, but all the correct doctrine in the world is meaningless without first having met and reconciled with God

  • “because the gospel itself will appear foolish.”

    That in fact is exactly what the Bible itself has to say about what the Gospel looks like to unregenerate man.

  • TAM you might want to look at Edward Oakes article on original sin

    http://www.leaderu.com/ftissues/ft9811/articles/oakes.html

  • It seems to me that whatever the doctrine of original sin entails there is only one original sin and we are all guilty of it.

    Everyone of us sooner or later [though typically sooner and younger] comes to a point where we choose what we want in preference to what we know to be right. Making this choice is so habitually inground in all humans that we cannot in our own strength break free from doing so.
    Each time we are confronted with this choice no one and no thing obliges us to choose self before right, hence we are all guilty because we are all responsible for choosing self before right.

  • If scientists one day created a half chimpanze half human, would it be guilty of original sin?

  • Question 193 “Overweening Ignorance”…

    In response to all of the criticism surrounding Bill Craig over original sin, here is a great blog post to read by Matt and Madeleine Flannagan: http://www.mandm.org.nz/2010/12/william-lane-craig-original-sin-and-original-guilt.html Excerpt: Apparently…

  • In my opinion, this only proves the pschitzophrenic nature of Christianity at its core. Christians are taught nearly every day to “be on your guard” and to watch for any signs of wolves in sheeps clothing.

    This attitude will breed these responses. I am not surprised at all.

    As an atheist now, this reaction from Christians to WLC just confirms in my mind why Christianities core teachings about being afraid of spiritual darkness are dangerous and unhealthy because they turn your mind onto high alert and make you fear where there is nothing to be afraid of.

  • [...] & Maddy: William Lane Craig, Original Sin and Original Guilt (Dec [...]

  • Seem like the same could be said for being afraid of what is dangerous and unhealthy. Claiming only to avoid the two doesn’t really change the high alert/groundless fear potentials either.

  • [...] & Maddy: William Lane Craig, Original Sin and Original Guilt (Dec [...]

  • Joshua, I think you are actually being quite disengenious here. As I have pointed out before, one can get even more hysterical reactions by calling into question core elements of the secular liberal philosophies. In my 13 years at University, I have seen vitrol, slander, lies, harassment and so on dished out in a far worse fashion to people who call into question the view that homosexual conduct is permissible, or that abortion is a women’s choice. Or for considering evolutionary theory questionable and so on. By your logic I guess this proves that “pschitzophrenic nature of secularism at its core” or that secular ideologies are ” dangerous and unhealthy because they turn your mind onto high alert and make you fear where there is nothing to be afraid of.”