Sin Nature – or lack of training in righteousness?

The idea of some kind of sin nature – along with many other ideas – was developed throughout the latter part of the early centuries. Spare me from digging out the “when”, you can find plenty of info on Google if you dig hard enough.

The JewFAQ has a very good article about what Jews think about human nature. Here is the link, read “The Dual Nature” portion:

The idea of “sin nature” leads to such damaging ideas held by some Christian groups that babies who die will go to hell because they don’t believe in Jesus. Other groups claim God will do it right, but cannot give specific answers in what way. Perhaps God will be gracious with those who are incapable to believe. This theology also cannot account for the righteous before Jesus, or even Moses or well before him. Before Abraham the idea of the Messianic Kingdom wasn’t even revealed, and Abraham’s hope was only that God will one day gives him and his descendants the land of Canaan. No Messiah, the son of David mentioned, such idea was a later development.

Or what about Noah and his sons who were just too happy to survive the flood, and their only hope was that God would never again destroy the world by water. Perhaps we shall even go back to before the flood and see the righteous there without any hope about some kind of promised land with a davidic king ruling it forever.

One can only argue that the hope that some kind of “seed” of a woman will crash the head of the serpent was present in those days, but we forget that we read NT theology back into the text which does injustice to it. Developing theology should work the other way around. Interpret the text first, then explain the NT usage. Arguing that the ancient people had the understanding of Christians is very weak.
However, if there is no such a thing as “sin nature”, then our whole theology needs to be reviewed, but at the end we will end up with a theology much simpler and cleaner than what we inherited from our spiritual forefathers.

So here is an alternative view on the subject. Every child born to this world needs training. He needs to learn to speak, to walk, to eat independently, to do what is right – oh, yes, it is the duty of the parents to teach their kids about that. Just give into the hand of a few months old baby a spoon of food and see what a mess he will do on his face.

So the child is not born with some kind of sin nature, he simply doesn’t know how to do right. He needs to be trained. In Jewish culture children were taught the Torah from age six, and during their training they were not required to observe it, though they were encouraged to observe as many commands as they could. However, until they became the “sons/daughters of the commandment” (bar mitzvah – age 13 for boys and age 12 for girls), they were not responsible for their own sins. The righteousness of their parents covered their sins. Once they reached that age they were responsible for fully keeping the law and their own sins.

We may call into mind the example of Job – though the book is probably the earliest, predating even Abraham. There we see Job offering up sacrifices for his own children:

Job 1:4 His sons used to go and hold a feast in the house of each on his day; and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. 5 And when the days of the feast had run their course, Job would send and sanctify them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all; for Job said, “It may be that my sons have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.” Thus Job did continually.

It was the father who covered for the sins of his own children. Up to a certain age they were not responsible for their own sins. They were not yet properly trained to do right.

Another example I may bring is from Isaiah:

Isa. 14:10 Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz, 11 “Ask a sign of the LORD your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” 12 But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to the test.” 13 And he said, “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, a young woman is with child and shall bear a son {taken from the NRSV, the best scholarly translation}, and shall call his name Imman’u-el. 15 He shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. 16 For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted.

This is a sign given to Ahab. The sign is not about the virgin birth of a child, but that a child will be born to a woman who was already pregnant, and before the child learned to reject evil and choose good the two kings Ahab feared would desert the land.

Too bad, this is not a prophecy about a virgin-born Messiah, the only way Matthew can apply this passage in his gospel is by taking the Drash meaning of the text (taking an idea from a text and applying it in a different, unrelated context): the birth of the child means God has not abandoned his people. Indeed, under Roman occupation (which to the Jews meant God’s displeasure) the birth of the Deliverer meant God was still with His people.

See the fulfillment of this sign in the chapters that follow, for example:

Isa. 8:3 And I went to the prophetess, and she conceived and bore a son.

Even though her son was named differently (so was Jesus), we see Imman’u-el in Chapter 8:

Isa. 8:7 … behold, the Lord is bringing up against them the waters of the River, mighty and many, the king of Assyria and all his glory; and it will rise over all its channels and go over all its banks; 8 and it will sweep on into Judah, it will overflow and pass on, reaching even to the neck; and its outspread wings will fill the breadth of your land, O Imman’u-el….”

Isa. 8:9 Be broken, you peoples, and be dismayed; give ear, all you far countries; gird yourselves and be dismayed; gird yourselves and be dismayed. 10 Take counsel together, but it will come to nought; speak a word, but it will not stand, for God is with us.

Here we find the comforting words in a desparate situation: God is with us = Imman’u-el. The child served as a sign that God was with His people.

However, the point I wish to make is that the child had to be trained:

Isa. 14:16 …before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good…

The untrained person is left to his own devices to work out his own moral code. Obviously, he will get some things right, others wrong. The person without the light of the law of God is like living in darkness. Righteousness requires training – and the desire to learn:

Deut. 6:4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD; 5 and you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. 6 And these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart; 7 and you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8 And you shall bind them as a sign upon your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Give an unskilled person full access to the bank’s database and by his best efforts he will make a mess of it. Such a complex job requires proper training before a person can do such a work.

So the one who want to live righteously must learn the ways of righteousness, “how to refuse the evil and choose the good”.

If there is “sin nature”, one is not responsible for his sins, for he could not do any better. The fish can only live under water, and the elephant must live on dry land. They have such a nature. Shall we blame the fish for living under water? Shall we blame the elephant for being too heavy or for having large ears?

However, if there is no such a thing, then suddenly we are all responsible for what we do. Of course, then we need to rework our theology and return to the Jewish teaching of Jesus and the apostles.

Not even Paul supports such an idea:

Rom 3:23 since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…

Notice he doesn’t say, “all were born with a sin nature”, but that all committed sinful acts, and that is the very reason they fall short of the glory of God, which is God’s unspoiled image in man (when he created Adam). The “all” is again an exaggeration, but you can clearly see that to Paul sin is a choice, not the acting out of some kind of “sin nature”. If there was such a nature, we would all fall short of the glory of God from birth, and not as a result of committing sinful acts.


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  1. […] In the above Paul refers to sinful acts, not to some kind of “sin nature”. I have dealt with the idea in another post. […]

    Gentiles Doing The Deeds Of The Law - what does Paul mean? » ZWorld - The World to Come

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