Original Sin


“Original Sin: A Cultural History” (Alan Jacobs)

I just finished Original Sin, an excellent book by Wheaton English professor Alan Jacobs (heretofore of Books and Culture and First Things fame).

It’s obviously appropriate to argue for the doctrine of original sin via direct scriptural exegesis. But Jacobs’ book, though it does a (helpful!) bit of that, builds up a supplementary, inductive case. He tells many stories that demonstrate the truth of the doctrine. Many of those stories involve thinkers or activists who directly denied original sin—and then suffered the sad but fascinating consequences.

I was particularly taken by the story of Robert Owen (1771-1858), a poor Welshman with a genius for organization who by sheer force of will transformed a mill in New Lanark, Scotland, into a model community. He thought that he was merely providing man an environment in which his natural goodness would shine forth, but when he tried to expand the scale of his work by starting a utopian community in Indiana (the city he founded still exists), his faith in human goodness led to drastic failure.

Another gripping story was that of Rebecca West, a left-wing intellectual whose infatuation with Yugoslavia in the 1930s led her to research and write voluminously on that country and the Europe it typified. She had just written a biography of Augustine, of all people, and came to see with utter clarity that only that saint’s doctrine of original sin could explain Yugoslavia and Europe as a whole. But she could not accept, as Jacobs puts it, “the faith within which that doctrine is articulated and makes sense.” (227). Original sin, but no grace. West’s was a despairing position indeed.

Jacobs finds multiple obscure—and for that all the more interesting—stories to tell in this book. I highly recommend it.

The Edwards Center at Yale

Background reading for my dissertation has focused much upon Jonathan Edwards and his Religious Affections. Yale has placed the entire work—the second volume in its own august series—online, including the lengthy introduction by John E. Smith.

The Banner of Truth edition follows a slightly (?) emended text, the Worcester edition. The Yale edition follows the first edition of Edwards’ work.

The Books of the Bible For Sale

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I just bought another case of The Books of the Bible, a special Bible edition which I’ve discussed here on the blog before. My first case sold out fast, and I didn’t even want it to. I wanted to keep a few of the Bibles!

You can buy one from IBS for about $15.

You can buy one from me on Amazon for about $15.

Or you can buy (a sage green) one directly from me for $10.

You’ll have to pick it up at my place in Greenville, I’m afraid, unless you go to my church or work at my office.

Let me know in the comments if you want one or know someone who does.

Click here to read all my posts about this edition.

Here’s a sample page (look closely!):

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Poythress Summarizes James Barr

Vern Poythress’s book “Symphonic Theology” is available free at his site. Today I was searching my hard drive for a summary of James Barr’s list of common exegetical fallacies in his famous and deservedly influential book, The Semantics of Biblical Language. I regularly employ the third and fifth concepts below. I consider them very important. Take a look at Poythress’ summary:

James Barr has published a long catalog of mistakes made by biblical scholars. Without going into detail, I list six of the most common errors that he cites.

Attempts to deduce theological conclusions directly from the grammatical structure of a language. For example, Thorlief Boman tries to deduce a philosophical concept of time from the Hebrew tense system (pp. 79-81).

Attempts to deduce theological conclusions directly from the number and relation of vocabulary synonyms. For example, Edmond Jacob attempts to deduce the fluidity of the concept of miracles from the fact that several different terms are used (p. 147).

Attempts to use etymology instead of the current meaning of a word, even when the current meaning is well known. For example, “holy” and “healthy” are etymologically related, but they do not now mean the same thing, and it is just confusing to say that they do (p. 111).

Attempts to deduce a particular world view on the basis of combining the various senses of a single word. The Hebrew word dabar sometimes means “word,” sometimes “matter” or “thing,” depending on the context. But Thomas F. Torrance wrongly draws the conclusion that often it means both at the same time (p. 133).

“Illegitimate totality transfer.” The various meanings that a word has in all its contexts in the Bible are all read into a single passage (p. 218). For example, because the Bible teaches in various places that the church is the bride of Christ, the body of Christ, and a manifestation of the kingdom of God, people may think that ekklesia (“church”) means all of these things together whenever it occurs.

“Illegitimate identity transfer.” Because two words refer to the same thing, the two words must mean the same thing (pp. 217-218). For example, the Hebrew word dabar (“thing”) is sometimes used to refer to a historical event, and the word “history” can also be used to refer to the same event, but it is wrong to conclude that dabar means “history.” As a parallel illustration, note that we can designate the same person both as “the brightest student in the class” and as “the only redhead in my family.” Although the two descriptions refer to the same person, they do not have the same meaning. “Student” does not mean the same as “redhead,” or “class” the same as “family.”

—from Twelve Maxims of Symphonic Theology