Today, people live within the context of the postmodern world where everything is placed into the hands of subjectivity. The modern world, which postmodernity is a reaction to, “thought it could know things objectively about the world [and] postmodernity has reminded us that there is no such thing as neutral knowledge.” The current mindset across the postmodern landscape is comprised of individual constructions of relative truth, which is the consequence of everyone having developed their own point of view. Subsequently, objective truth suffers in the postmodern world. Christian philosopher, Douglas Groothuis states, “God and all other concepts having to do with values, morality, spirituality and supernatural/immaterial realities became only concepts.” A good example of this revolves around the topic of sin. Sin is the one crucial element that an unbeliever must confront before arriving at a genuine profession of faith in Jesus Christ, which, evidently, has been the consensus for Christian orthodoxy throughout all of church history. However, in the era of postmodernity, some are entertaining the notion that sin is simply a human construction that was birthed out of a human need for an existential response that addresses their fallen nature. Ben du Toit and Anton van Niekerk published books in which they argued that “postmodern believers can no longer subscribe to the doctrines of original sin and the virgin birth. According to them both these doctrines reflect a premodern world-view which should be regarded as outdated.” In response, even a basic biblical understanding of sin and its origins should extinguish any notions that it is merely a human construction created for the purpose of satisfying the human curiosity to better understand their nature. Admittedly, this topic can prove to be quite broad so it is necessary to limit the focus down to only the essential fundamentals. The focus will be set on: sin as part of the Christian foundation; a biblical definition of sin; the origins of sin and lastly, the importance of sin in presenting the Gospel message of Jesus Christ to the postmodern world. Throughout this brief journey, it will be revealed that sin is not a construction of humankind.
Sin and the Christian Foundation
All belief systems must have a foundation of which they are built upon and Christianity is no exception. Paul stated to the saints in Ephesus that Christ Jesus is the cornerstone of which believers build their faith upon (Eph. 2:20). Paul wrote this under the assumption that his audience already understood that the sole reason Christians can build upon the cornerstone of Christ is because He alone has defeated sin, thus, opening the door to salvation for all who believe in His name (Acts 4:12). This means that sin is an essential part of the Christian foundation because it is the primary reason for God’s redemptive work through his Son, Jesus Christ. Simply put, without sin there is no need for salvation, which means the need for a savior is futile. However, regardless of where one thinks sin originated from, both sides agree that sin does exist. Therefore, it demands an explanation. Richard Taylor rightfully claims, “As Christians, if our conception of sin is faulty, our whole superstructure will be one error built on another, each one more absurd than the last . . . [and] to reason from a false premise is to start an endless chain of false conclusions.” Taylor is addressing the importance of having a proper foundation for the Christian to build upon, which involves a correct understanding of sin. For this reason, then, Christians must ask, what is the Biblical definition of sin?
A Biblical Definition
The wider Biblical perspective is that “sin is not only an act of wrongdoing but a state of alienation from God.” This definition implies that there is a moral law established by God and therefore, when human beings choose to be disobedient to God’s divine law they are severed from Him. Sin is best exemplified within the Ten Commandments, which not only addresses individual acts of sin but also, “attitudes that are contrary to the attitudes God requires of us.” Consequently, this definition is applicable to all of humanity, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” In addition to the Ten Commandments, the incalculable transgressions that have separated all of humanity from God are exemplified throughout Scripture beginning with the Fall of humanity in Genesis chapter three. It is true that the Fall account does leave the burden of sin on the backs of humankind; however, closer inspection will reveal that sin originates elsewhere.
The Origins of Sin
With the Holy Trinity as the one exception, all things have a beginning of which everything can be sourced back to. Simply put, Christians believe that all things were created by God (Acts 17:24). However, one must take extreme caution and avoid the false assumption that sin was created by God. Certainly, God, in all His omniscience, foreknew that sin would be brought into fruition but this does not mean that sin originated from God. Everything God created prior to Genesis chapter three, in its original form, was very good (Gen 1:31) and sin is not mentioned anywhere as one of God’s creations. Furthermore, Scripture clarifies exactly where God stands in relation to sin. Isaiah 6:1-5, Proverbs 6:16 and 8:13 reveals that God is infinitely holy and hates sin. Therefore, sin must have its origin elsewhere.
William Harrison states that “although the entrance of sin into the ‘good’ creation (Gen. 1:31) was necessarily pursuant to God’s intent it must have been so as an expression of His permissive and passive will rather than by His active causation . . . sin was actively caused by something in the personal nature of the creatures who sinned.” To clarify, Harrison is claiming that something God created was the source of sin. This means that the creature created by God can be sourced back to God (by having its beginning in God) but the thing that the creature brought about (sin) cannot be traced back to God. Moreover, this creature who brought about sin was once good, since all things created by God are initially good (1 Tim. 4:4). This keeps God separate from sin but not separate from that which He created. The identity of this creature will eventually be revealed but not before sin’s origin is discovered.
Genesis 2:9 mentions a “tree of knowledge of good and evil,” which is commonly known throughout Christianity, Judaism and even within non-religious groups around the world. Although the name of this tree is widely known, many neglect to inquire what the name implies. The descriptive name of the tree signifies that evil was already in existence before Adam was created, which is simply revealed in the wording “knowledge of.” Now, depending on how the text is interpreted, one could debate that this is arguing from a metaphorical position, which can be highly subjective; however, that doesn’t change the fact that God was communicating a pre-existent distinction between good and evil after one ate of the tree’s fruit. When Adam and Eve took the fruit from the tree they did not create evil rather they became aware of the pre-existent distinction between good and evil. This is significant because immediately, the Biblical account removes humankind from being the primary source of sin, which means that sin did not begin with human kind rather it was introduced to human kind through Adam and Eve. Therefore, “the Fall account in Genesis informs us of the entrance of sin into the human race, not of the origin of sin itself.”
Perhaps a stronger argument for the existence of sin before humanity is found in the serpent’s introduction in Genesis 3:1. Larry Hart claims that the serpent signifies that “there must have been a transcendent fall in the heavenlies prior to the fall of Adam and Eve.” Wayne Grudem has also concluded that sin preceded Adam and Eve and that it existed in the spiritual realm. However, of greater significance, both claims are validated by Jesus Christ where he said, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” The very fact that Jesus was speaking in the past-tense provides further evidence. Other portions of Scripture also validate the claim of a fall in the heavenly realms. This proves two things. First, it shows that sin is not just an idea constructed by man. One would have to deny these solid examples given in Scripture in order to make that argument. Secondly, it reveals that the origin of sin is found in one of God’s creations, who now has a name, that is, Satan. Therefore, it is none other than Satan of which sin must be terminated on, not man, and most certainly not God.
Sin and the Gospel message of Jesus Christ
What difference does it make if one decides to believe that sin is merely a construct of man over the Biblical view that has just been presented? The difference is crucial. To say that sin was created by man is basically stating that Jesus Christ came to save mankind from something that a group of people just dreamed up one day long ago, which is an absurd statement. However, understanding that sin is not a human construction and that it was introduced to all of humanity through Adam and Eve by Satan puts Christ in his proper exalted place because it correctly understands him to be the savior. In the end, one view adheres to a low view of Jesus Christ and the Scriptures while the other embraces a high view. Consequently, this means that the Gospel message of Christ must not only begin with sin but it must also support a correct understanding of sin in order to be effective. The principle and practical matter here is that Christians must take sin seriously.
Darlene Weaver writes that “losing our ability to speak of the world’s pathologies in relation to God represents a serious, concrete form of the loss of God that is a general character of contemporary, Western culture.” The solution to Weaver’s statement is that Evangelical Christians must promote a full undiluted Gospel message that involves both the issue of sin as well as the remedy who is no other than Christ Jesus; otherwise, a genuine profession of faith is at risk. To further validate the point, Groothuis states that “one great danger of postmodernity is false conversions and the consequently hollow praise offered to God for saved souls that, in fact, are not saved . . . [and] unless one knows Jesus Christ and his Gospel to be true, one cannot be a Christian at all.” Within its literary context, Groothuis was discussing the consequences of a Gospel message that excludes sin, which brings this paper to its final summarizing point, that is, “if we are to end right we must begin right.” The conclusive statement is that the Gospel of Christ should begin with sin and end with Christ.
At its very core, the research presented in this paper has addressed the need for Christians to develop a correct Biblical understanding of sin in order to fully know and understand the significance of Jesus Christ in relation to humanity. Throughout the process, it was revealed that the origin of sin is found in Satan, not man and certainly not God. The Scriptures are quite clear on this from the very start. However, only the essential fundamentals were presented in this research and there exists a wealth of information still to be discovered. At the very least, then, it is my hope that the reader understands that the Gospel message begins with sin and ends with Christ.
. N.T. Wright, The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, ©2015), 151.
. Douglas Groothuis, Truth Decay: Defending Christianity Against the Challenges of Postmodernism (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, ©2000), 41.
. Roger E. Olson, The Mosaic of Christian Belief: Twenty Centuries of Unity and Diversity (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, ©2002), 251.
. I. J. J. Spangenberg, “The Doctrines of Original Sin and the Virgin Birth: Divine Revelation or Human Construct?” Verbum et Ecclesia 30, no. 1 (July 2009): 221. Accessed February 21, 2017, http://verbumetecclesia.org.za/index.php/VE/article/view/71
. Richard S. Taylor, A Right Conception of Sin: Its Relation to Right Thinking and Right Living. (Kansas City, MO: Nazerene Publishing House, ©1945), 9-10. Accessed January 25,2017. http://0-search.ebscohost.com.library.regent.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=561505&site=ehost-live
. R.L. Thomas, “Sin,” Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. 2nd ed. Edited by Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, ©2001), 1103.
. Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, ©1994), 490.
. Romans 3:23 (English Standard Version)
. William K. Harrison, “Origin of Sin,” Bibliotheca Sacra 130, no. 517 (1973): 58-61, ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost, accessed January 31, 2017, http://0-search.ebscohost.com.library.regent.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=rfh&AN=ATLA0000739113&site=ehost-live
. Larry D. Hart, Truth Aflame: Theology for the Church in Renewal. Rev. ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005), 254.
. Ibid., 253
. Grudem, 493.
. Luke 10:18 (New International Version)
. Isaiah 14:12-15; Revelation 12:9; 2 Peter 2:4
. Groothuis, 275.
. Taylor, 9.
Groothuis, Douglas. Truth Decay: Defending Christianity Against the Challenges of Postmodernism. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, ©2000.
Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, ©1994.
Harrison, William K. “Origin of Sin.” Bibliotheca Sacra 130, no. 517 (1973): 58-61, ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost, accessed January 31, 2017, http://0-search.ebscohost.com.library.regent.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=rfh&AN=ATLA0000739113&site=ehost-live
Hart, Larry Truth Aflame: Theology for the Church in Renewal. Rev. ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, ©2005.
Olson, Roger E. The Mosaic of Christian Belief: Twenty Centuries of Unity and Diversity. Downers Grove, Il: InterVarsity Press, ©2002.
Spangenberg, I. J. J. “The Doctrines of Original Sin and the Virgin Birth: Divine Revelation or Human Construct?” Verbum et Ecclesia 30, no. 1 (July 2009): 221-242. Accessed February 21, 2017. http://verbumetecclesia.org.za/index.php/VE/article/view/71
Taylor, Richard S. A Right Conception of Sin: Its Relation to Right Thinking and Right Living. Kansas City, Mo: Nazarene Publishing House. ©1945. Accessed January 25, 2017. http://0-search.ebscohost.com.library.regent.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=561505&site=ehost-live
Weaver, Darlene F. “Taking Sin Seriously.” The Journal of Religious Ethics 31, no. 1 (2003): 45-74. Accessed January 27, 2017 http://0-www.jstor.org.library.regent.edu/stable/40018202.
Wright, N.T. The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, ©2015.