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Writing of the doctrine of sin during the early period of the Christian Church in the New Dispensation, and specifically on this doctrine of sin in general, we concluded our preceding article with a quotation from Clement of Alexandria. We now continue with this in this present article. 

Justin Martyr ascribes the origin of evil to the sensuous nature, as in his first Apology, chapter 10, “How God is to be served,”

For as in the beginning He created us when we were not, so do we consider that, in like manner, those who choose what is pleasing to Him are, on account of their choice, deemed worthy of incorruption and of fellowship with Him. For the coming into being at first was not in our own power; and in order that we may follow those things which please Him, choosing them by means of the rational faculties He has Himself endowed us with, He both persuades us and leads us to faith. And we think it for the advantage of all men that they are not restrained from learning these things, but are even urged thereto. For the restraint which human laws could not effect, the Word, inasmuch as He is divine, would have effected, had not the wicked demons, taking as their ally the lust of wickedness which is in every man, and draws variously to all manner of vice, scattered many false and profane accusations, none of which attach to us.

In this quotation, Justin Martyr speaks of the lust of wickedness which the demons take as their ally, and which lust of wickedness is in every man. With this lust of wickedness the demons draw men to all manner of vice.

Origin speaks of sin his De Principiis, Book II, 9, 2, and he writes as follows: 

For the Creator gave, as an indulgence to the understandings created by Him, the power of free and voluntary action, by which the good that was in them might become their own, being preserved by the exertion of their own will; but slothfulness, and a dislike of labor in preserving what is good, and an aversion to and a neglect of better things, furnished the beginning of a departure from goodness. But to depart from good is nothing else than to be made bad. For it is certain that to want goodness (be in want of ─ H.V.) is to be wicked. Whence it happens that, in proportion as one falls away from goodness, in the same proportion does he become involved in wickedness. In which condition, according to its actions, each understanding, neglecting goodness either to a greater or more limited extent, was dragged into the opposite of good, which undoubtedly is evil.

It is evident in this quotation that Origin writes that moral evil is something negative, that wickedness is the absence of good. In his writings against Celsus, Book VI, 55, Origin clears God of all responsibility with respect to sin:

Passages, indeed, might be found where corporeal and external (benefits) are improperly called “good,” ─ those things, viz., which contribute to the natural life, while those which do the reverse are termed “evil.” It is in this sense that Job says to his wife: “If we have received good at the hand of the Lord, shall we not also receive evil.” Since, then, there is found in the sacred Scriptures, in a certain passage, this statement put into the mouth of God, “I make peace, and create evil:” and again another, where it is said of Him that “evil came down from the Lord to the gate of Jerusalem, the noise of chariots and horsemen,” ─ passages which have disturbed many readers of Scripture, who are unable to see what Scripture means by “good” and “evil,” ─ it is probable that Celsus, being perplexed thereby, gave utterance to the question, “How is it that God created evil?” or, perhaps, having heard someone discussing the matters relating to it in an ignorant manner, he made this statement which we have noticed. We, on the other hand, maintain that “evil,” or “wickedness,” and the actions which proceed from it, were not created by God. For if God created that which is really evil, how was it possible that the proclamation regarding (the last) judgment should be confidently announced, which informs us that the wicked are to be punished for their evil deeds in proportion to the amount of their wickedness, while those who have lived a virtuous life, or performed virtuous actions, will be in the enjoyment of blessedness, and will receive rewards from God? I am well aware that those who would daringly assert that these evils were created by God will quote certain expressions of Scripture (in their support), because we are not able to show one consistent series of passages; for although Scripture (generally) blames the wicked and approves of the righteous, it nevertheless contains some statements which, although comparatively few in number, seem to disturb the minds of ignorant readers of holy Scripture. I have not, however, deemed it appropriate to my present treatise to quote on the present occasion those discordant statements, which are many in number, and their explanations, which would require a long array of proofs. Evils, then, if those be meant which are properly so called, were not created by God; but some, although few in comparison with the order of the whole world, have resulted from His principal works, as there follow from the chief works of the carpenter such things as spiral shavings and sawdust, or as architects might appear to be the cause of the rubbish which lies around their buildings in the form of the filth which drops from the stones and the plaster.

INTERPRETATION of the NARRATIVE of the FALL 

The documents contained in the five books of Moses, Genesis through Deuteronomy, were to the early church the historical foundation, not only of the doctrine of the creation of the world, and of man, but also of the doctrine of the origin of sin, which appears as a fact in the history of Adam. However, some writers rejected the literal interpretation of this narrative. Thus Origin (after the example of Philo) regarded it as a type, historically clothed, of what takes place in free moral agents everywhere, and at all times. It is difficult to ascertain how far Irenaeus adhered to the letter of the narrative. Tertullian unhesitatingly pronounced in favor of its strict historical interpretation. Both the Gnostics and the author of the Clementine Homilies rejected this view on dogmatic grounds. 

Origin appears to regard the Scriptural narrative of the fall as purely allegorical. This is evident from what he writes in his De Principiis, IV, 16:

It was not only, however, with the (Scriptures composed) before the advent (of Christ) that the Spirit thus dealt; but as being the same Spirit, and (proceeding) from the one God, He did the same thing both with the evangelists and the apostles, ─ as even these do not contain throughout a pure history of events, which are interwoven indeed according to the letter, but which did not actually occur. Nor even to the law and the commandments wholly convey what is agreeable to reason. For who that has understanding will suppose that the first, and second, and third day, and the evening and the morning, existed without a sun, and moon, and stars? and that the first day was, as it were, also without a sky? And who is so foolish as to suppose that God, after the manner of a husbandman, planted a paradise in Eden, towards the east, and placed in it a tree of life, visible and palpable, so that one tasting of the fruit by the bodily teeth obtained life? and again, that one was a partaker of good and evil by masticating what was taken from the tree? And if God is said to walk in the paradise in the evening, and Adam to hide himself under a tree, I do not suppose that any one doubts that these things ‘figuratively indicate certain mysteries, the history having taken place in appearance, and not literally. Cain also, when going forth from the presence of God, certainly appears to thoughtful men as likely to lead the reader to inquire what is the presence of God, and what is the meaning of going out from Him. And what need is there to say more, since those who are not altogether blind can collect countless instances of a similar kind recorded as having occurred, but which did not literally take place? Nay, the Gospels themselves are filled with the same kind of narratives; e.g., the devil leading Jesus up into a high mountain, in order to show him from thence the kingdoms of the whole world, and the glory of them. For who is there among those who do not read such accounts carelessly, that would not condemn those who think that with the eye of the body ─which requires a lofty height in order that the parts lying (immediately) under the adjacent may be seen-the kingdoms of the Persians, the Scythians, and Indians, and Parthians, were beheld, and the manner in which their princes are glorified among men? And the attentive reader may notice in the Gospels innumerable other passages like these, so that he will be convinced that in the histories that are literally recorded, circumstances that did not occur are inserted.

It appears from the above quotation that Origin follows the allegorical interpretation of the narrative of the fall of man. He also applies this allegorical interpretation to the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. But, of course, we may well ask: if the allegorical interpretation of the Scriptures must be applied to the Word of God, what, then, are we to believe? If things are not as recorded in the Scriptures, how, then, are they? If there were no serpent who spoke to Eve, no tree of life and no tree of knowledge of good and evil, what right do we have to assume that there was a real Eve that was tempted by the devil, and a real Adam who ate of the forbidden fruit. If we may say of this or that part of the Word of God that it is not real, of what part of the Scriptures may we say that it is real? Why were not the wilderness, the temple pinnacle and the mountain in the Scriptural account of Jesus’ temptation by the devil in the wilderness real? If the account of this temptation be not real as recorded in the Word of God, who will prevent me from concluding that no temptation ever took place? And the same applies to the fall of Adam and Eve in Paradise. We certainly do not go along with this allegorical interterpretation of Holy Writ, although we must bear in mind that the early Church Fathers did delight in the mystical interpretation of the Word of God. 

According to some, Irenaeus must be understood as having explained the fall of man spiritually, although Hagenback writes that this Church Father speaks elsewhere plainly enough of the fall of Adam as an historical fact. However, we were not able to locate these quotations of Irenaeus, and are therefore unable to quote them. Irenaeus, however, is known as very fundamental in his views. The Lord willing, we will continue with this in our following article.