Romans 5:12-13 Adam: A Type of All Humans

Romans 5:12 Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned– 13 sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.

 Romans 5:12 is common fare in Orthodox analysis of St. Augustine and why Orthodoxy tends to emphasize the mortality rather than sin as being what has become part of the human condition since the time of the Fall.  Orthodox will sometimes phrase this as a discussion on the differences between original sin and ancestral sin.  It is clear in the Romans 5 text that it is death which spreads to all humans as a result of the sin of Eve and Adam.  Salvation is thus focused on overcoming the power of death; the Orthodox sing “Christ is risen from the dead trampling down death by death and upon those in the tombs bestowing life” (no mention of sin in this theme setting hymn of Pascha, the Resurrection of Christ).  Death is the final enemy not sin; it is death which reigns over humans after the first sin.   Orthodoxy tends to emphasize the overcoming of death in its liturgical and Eucharistic life more than the juridical settling the score for sin as is sometimes emphasized by those in the Augustine-Anselm tradition.  We baptize all in order to participate in the death and resurrection of Christ which defeats the power of death in our lives.   “Death where is your sting?  For Christ is risen and you are overthrown” says Chrysostom on Pascha night.  Rather than viewing the death of Christ as the re-establishment of justice in the universe, the Orthodox tend to view his death and resurrection as the plan of salvation and liberation for all who were enslaved by death.  When the Tubingen theological successors to Martin Luther first made contact with Orthodox Patriarch Jeremiah II in the 16th Century , they were savvy enough to change in their letters all references of “justification” to the word “salvation” knowing that this would make greater sense to the Greek Christians.

Romans 5:13, I see commented on less often.  However it makes a significant claim – sin was in the world before the law (Torah).  Sin is not merely disobedience of commandments.  Sin is a struggle within humans regarding choosing good as versus choosing evil.  That choice was there from the time God first created humans with free will.   But, St. Paul says, where there is no law, there is no accounting of sin.  Sin was not all that significant where there was no law; death however reigned over humans throughout human history even before there was the law.   Sin is given the status of some kind of power in the world which existed even without any law being given.  Adam’s sin was unique in Paul’s thinking, but death found its way into every human life, no matter what kind of sin they committed – and in fact everyone did sin.  Adam’s sin was unique because Adam was a type (Greek: typos) of the Savior.  Adam’s one sin is significant not because the guilt of it is spread to all of us, but because it set the pattern for how the Savior would save us.  Adam’s sin spread mortality to all humans, Christ’s death will give life to all.  Adam’s sin is thus not more deadly than any other sin, all sin leads to death, Adam and his sin are significant only because they are “types” – the pattern of what is wrong with all humans.  The Adam and Eve story are thus not so significant because of their literal details, but because they represent all of us.  They are the story of us.  Their story is your and my story.  An over literal reading of Genesis 3 misses the very point and claim which St. Paul is making.  We all sin in Adam because they are typical of every human being.  The story of Adam and Eve is thus not so much the story of the first human beings, but the story of each and every human being.  It is a story that helps us focus on what is wrong with humanity, so that we can understand the significance of Christ, and to know how to unite ourselves to Him in the salvation which He accomplished for the world through His death and resurrection. 


Romans 7:4-13 The Limits of Keeping Torah, The Value of Keeping Christ

Romans 7:4 Likewise, my brethren, you have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead in order that we may bear fruit for God. 5 While we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. 6 But now we are discharged from the law, dead to that which held us captive, so that we serve not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit. 7 What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet, if it had not been for the law, I should not have known sin. I should not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” 8 But sin, finding opportunity in the commandment, wrought in me all kinds of covetousness. Apart from the law sin lies dead. 9 I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died; 10 the very commandment which promised life proved to be death to me. 11 For sin, finding opportunity in the commandment, deceived me and by it killed me. 12 So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good. 13 Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, working death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure.   

I think in this passage St. Paul is making a particular use of the notion of free will to make his argument.  Basically the issue is this:  for free will to be real, there must exist real choices between good and evil.  This means good and evil must both have some attraction to us – evil cannot be purely repulsive, nor can good be irresistible.  For if good is irresistible and evil purely repulsive we would never choose the evil or forsake the good, and we would not truly have free will but rather would only follow the pre-ordained patterns that had already been wired in us.   We however are not predestined beings, but have been gifted by God to make choices, including to love.

Paul makes that case that without the law, one does not know the difference between good and evil, nor even that there is a good or evil.  Without the law all things and all behaviors are equally attractive or valued or indifferent.  There is no good and evil in such a world where law does not make that distinction.  In such a world “choice” means little because it has no value and no consequences since all things and all behaviors are equally acceptable and permissible.

Adam and Eve however were created as beings with free will, which means they could choose, and their choices have meaning and consequence because they are choosing between things/behaviors that are good/evil as measured on some scale.  The law was given to help them recognize things/behaviors that were bad/evil. 

But in the moment that the law was given, it gave value to their choices and also established the basis for consequence to follow.  It is the law which says, “do not covet.”  That very same law has now presented to me a choice – coveting or not, and it has put a value (good or evil) on the choices before me, and assigns consequences to me for the choice I make.  My choices are thus real, and hard, and even if I know something is evil/wrong, it might still be attractive to me, and then I have to choose to suppress my self/my wants in order to choose what someone else – God – has determined is good.

Thus in Paul’s logic, though the law is good and sets before me ways to know what is good and evil, it becomes death for me because I do not always want to choose the good.  Sometimes I prefer to choose that which this other – God – has said is bad for me.  But the law does not make/compel/force me to choose the good, it only points out what God says is good.  The law does not make this “good” choice automatically appealing to me nor does it compel me to choose the good, but it does set consequences for the choice I make.

So though the law is good (it helps me know right from wrong, good from evil), the laws does not force me to choose the good, nor even empower me to do it.  And thus “sin” gains its foothold in me.  I see the sin, but still desire it, and perhaps cannot understand why it should be sin, or why I should deny myself this thing which I desire just because someone – God – says it is not good.

If there was no law, sin would mean nothing, and would never have power over me.  But the law is necessary for me to exercise my free will – to be able to know what is good and what is bad.  This very knowledge however is detrimental to me because I cannot always master my wants – sometimes I prefer what is “bad” and sometimes I cannot make myself exert enough energy to overcome my desire for what it bad because the “bad” is attractive.

And in Christ, I realize how sin works and how sin uses the law by creating in me desire for things that are not good.  And I come to realize that it is only by union with Christ, which I must freely choose, that I can render sin powerless.  In Christ I realize the power of sin to twist and distort my thinking and my life and my choices.  In Christ, I realize it is not just up to me to make the right choices.  I have an ally and a friend and a support when I am in Christ and in His Body.  It is not adherence to the law which will change and transfigure me.  It is Christ Himself who will change my desires, to realize the power of love to overcome sinful desire and sin itself.  My spiritual goal is not then stricter adherence to the law, but an ever deeper relationship with Christ.

And though I might be tempted to rely on the law – at least it tells me what is good and what is evil and gives me a chance to know what is right and to choose it – the law cannot change desire in me – my passions.  Without Christ they remain unhealed, and I remain unredeemed, trying to save myself by following rules and regulations which can never do more than point out to me what is sin and how sinful I am.

The Year of St. Paul: Resources

Travel Agent Burak Sansal has put together an interesting web page about St. Paul.  Of course he is trying to entice us all to travel to Turkey for the newly declared  YEAR OF ST. PAUL.   He does remind us that St. Paul was a traveling man himself as his web page’s map shows!

One event scheduled during the year which might be worth considering:  Holy Assumption Orthodox Church in Canton, OH,  is sponsoring a “Called and Gifted Workshop,” the weekend of November 21/22.  Fr. Gregory Jensen of Holy Assumption Church says, “The tie in to the Year of St Paul is with Paul’s teaching that in Christ we have all received unique gifts for the building up of the Body.  …  Paul teaches that these gifts aren’t simply instrumental or functional.  The gift we received are essential aspect of our being incorporated into the Body.”

You can read the address of Patriarch Bartholomew to Pope Benedict on the inauguration of the Year of St. Paul.

Prayer for the Synaxis of the Twelve Apostles

For today’s (June 30) Feast of the Synaxis of the Holy, Glorious and Illustrious Twelve Apostles,  the following prayer  is listed in the New Skete Monastery  service book, SIGHS OF THE SPIRIT:

Almighty, everlasting Lord and God,

From whom we receive the gift of life:

On this beautiful morning, we give thanks to you,

Once again, for calling us to the holy, catholic, and apostolic faith

Through the ministry of the twelve apostles.

As we reflect on the power and meaning of their lives,

Let us clearly understand that we are also called to nothing less than martyrdom

If we are to be faithful to your Son and to each other.

By the prayers of his chosen friends,

Enable us to face up to the challenges of the Gospel

As they confront us daily,

That we may share in their glory in the life to come.

For you are indeed our God, and we give you glory

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: now and forever, and unto ages of ages.  Amen.


St. Paul the Apostle to the Nations

Sermon for Sts. Peter and Paul  2008

I heard this morning that the Pope of Rome and the Patriarch of Constantinople declared the next 12 months to be “the year of St. Paul.”   This will mark the 2000th Anniversary of the birth of St. Paul the Apostle to the Nations.

I think as a parish we should find out if there are ways we can participate in the Year of St. Paul.    

St. Paul is thought to have been born in the year 10AD in the city of Tarsus.  A sobering thought for all of us, both as members of St. Paul Parish and as Orthodox Christians, is that today, there are no (0 – zero) Christians living in Tarsus.  Though St. Paul became the Apostle to the Nations and made it possible for hundreds of millions of people worldwide and throughout history to be disciples of Christ, not one Christian remains in his hometown.   And the ancient church building in Tarsus is now a museum.

St. Paul was a special apostle.   He was not among the original 12 disciples that Jesus picked.  In fact St. Paul as far as we know never met Jesus during Jesus’ life time.  St. Paul was specially picked by Christ to become an apostle, sometime after the Resurrection of Christ.  Paul was not present with the disciples on the day of Pentecost.  He also was not evangelized or catechized by the apostles, but received a special direct revelation from Christ which changed him from persecutor of the church to evangelist for the Church. 

St. Paul is therefore in the second generation of Christians.  He was recruited by Christ to evangelize the Gentiles.  And in this sense he represents a new kind of leadership in the church – not one in the direct descent of the apostles, but one called out especially by Christ.   And because of this St. Paul was not at first warmly received by the original apostle’s of Christ.  But eventually they do offer him the right hand of fellowship and do appointment him to be the Apostle to the Gentiles. 

But St. Paul remained a challenge to the authority of the original apostles.  Remember they were the ones who argued which one of them was the greatest when Christ talked to them about his upcoming crucifixion, and they jostled to see which one of them would be sitting at Christ’s right hand in the kingdom, and they tried to forbid others from doing miracles in Jesus’ name because these others didn’t follow the disciples.   So they were not men who took kindly to threats to their sacred position in the Christian hierarchy.

But God had His own plan, and He chose from outside the original group of apostles to really push evangelism among the Gentiles.  Perhaps Christ did this to help prevent a despotic hierarchy from trying to control His church!

And Paul had a pugnacious personality, and go into several serious fights with other Church leaders.  One of the most famous Paul himself describes in his Letter to the Galatians.  There St. Paul confronted St. Peter to his face about Peter’s hypocrisy.   Paul says “I opposed him to his face!”   Them’s fighten’ words! (Look at the icon of Sts. Peter & Paul – are they embracing, or wrestling, or both?)

St. Paul argued adamantly with the original apostles that the mission to the Gentiles means for all Christians including Jews that the following of the Torah laws is no longer mandatory and that Christian Jews must no longer separate themselves from Gentile Christians when it comes to meals and other functions in which Jews generally would not participate with Gentiles.  St. Paul argued the dividing wall (=The Torah) has been torn down and now the righteousness of everyone comes from Christ, not from one’s diligently keeping Torah.  It made St. Paul angry to see the hypocrisy of St. Peter who  was sometimes tempted to please his fellow Jewish Christians by excluding the Gentile ones.

St. Paul argued that it is not necessary for Gentiles to become Jews in order to become Christian.   And St. Paul’s teaching is affirmed by all of the apostles at the Council in Jerusalem described in Acts 15.

The decision of that Council had broad precedence for all Orthodox mission work.  In the same way that it is not necessary for converts to become Jews in order to become Christian, it is not necessary for converts to become Greek, or Russian or American in order to be Christian.  It is not the language, customs, dress, food, or rituals of these people that can make them or us Christian.   In Christ means that Torah and legalistic traditions are of limited value.  This is a lesson we Orthodox have not always embraced even though we often like to give lip service to allowing every Orthodox people to worship God in their own language.  I believe St. Paul would embrace and bless the vision and design of the Orthodox Church in America as the Church to embrace Americans into the Orthodox Tradition and Faith.

St. Paul has shown us that sometimes it is good, necessary and right to have to argue and fight for what is right within the Church.   He shows us that the established hierarchy sometimes has to be challenged in order for the Church to remain faithful to Christ’s command to teach the Gospel to all nations.  He shows us that controversy and disagreement and debate are not always wrong in the Church, and sometimes really do help Christians to discern God’s will.

And through the Council at Jerusalem which St. Paul attended and gave witness to his work, we have learned of the importance for assemblies or councils to take up the hard task of discerning God’s will.   Everyone of our meetings in this parish, whether it is Parish Council or the Outreach Committee or the Annual Parish Meeting, and every Church meeting – Diocesan Council, Diocesan Assembly, Metropolitan Council or All American Council all exist for the purpose of discerning God’s will.   And to make that discernment we do need to have debate and sometimes harsh disagreement among the Saints of the Church, and among Church leaders, and even challenging the established leaders at times.

May we embrace this spirit of St. Paul to discern God’s will in every meeting we hold or attend as Church.  And may God bless each of you with the determination of St. Paul to see God’s will accomplished in the Church.

The Year of St. Paul

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Pope Benedict of Rome have declared 29 June 2008 to 29 June 2009 to be THE YEAR OF ST. PAUL.   St. Paul the Apostle Church, Dayton, Ohio, will be also honoring this year.  2010 marks the 25th Anniversary of our parish.  God willing we will have installed by then some special icons revealing the life of St. Paul.  These icons will offer a history from St. Paul to St. Paul’s (Dayton).  

Coloring Inside the Lines of Space and Time

The notion that both space and time came into existence at the Big Bang has always intrigued me and simultaneously escaped my grasp.   For as the universe both expanded and cooled, I cannot take away from my mind the sense of being able to somehow look from the outside of this phenomenon of the universe’s creation, existence and expansion, and to observe it from a “God’s eye” point of view.  But the impossibility of such a viewpoint for a mortal is found precisely in the event being “observed” from the outside; for there is nothing outside of the expanding universe and therefore no vantage point from which to view it.   This “nothing” beyond the universe is what defies my thinking, because I tend to think of the universe expanding into something, yet there is nothing to expand into because space and time exist only within the universe.   Like an inflating balloon, the universe is creating and filling its own space, except in the universe there is nothing beyond the latex limit of the balloon for the universe is creating its limits. Part of the trouble is I am still looking at the balloon from the outside and so have this distorted view that there is something beyond the limits of the balloon and thus the universe.  There are many graphics portraying the current scientific idea of how the universe has been expanding since the Big Bang, but they too take the perspective from outside what exists – an impossible view point for us.  Here is one from the New York Times:


It dawned on me the other day that the universe also has to be understood in terms of time, not just space.   And in this thinking, I can accept the sense that the future does not exist (even if I want to qualify it with a “yet”).  Time is expanding out, but there is nothing beyond the current moment.  The universe is creating its own time, beyond which there is nothing.  Accepting the sense of nothing as the future helps me to understand how the universe can be expanding but not moving into something.  Rather it is actually growing all that is just like time does ever making the future (nothing) into the present and past.  Time is not pushing into the future (the future isn’t there!), time is claiming more for itself as the universe expands.  The future doesn’t exist anymore than something existing beyond the expanding universe.  We can abstractly talk about the future as we can talk about negative or irrational numbers or imaginary numbers.   They don’t have to exist in reality to be meaningful and helpful.   The whole history of algebra is humanity’s push into increasingly abstract thinking and ever more imaginary numbers which allow new equations to be solved.

And the universe expands at an accelerating rate – not into something but rather creating the space and the time which it fills.  From the human point of view, there is no “outside” the universe, and graphics which look at the Big Bang from an external point of view are misleading.  We can only see and understand the universe from within it, and we need to come up with graphics that are true to this reality. 

Finally, we need to remember that science is that study of the universe from within, and so science is limited by the universe itself.   Those who believe in God believe God, who in no way is limited by the universe and who is its Creator, does intervene in and reveal Himself within the universe and in and through that which exists.  We believe in and accept this other dimension – divinity – which is beyond the competency of science which can only study the universe itself.  Science truly has to color within the lines of space and time.   God does not.

See also my Why Is it Creation Versus Evolution? and The Dark Side of the Universe

“Let there be light”

Every once in a while, one hears or reads something which causes one to make new connections between ideas and images giving new insight into the interrelation between things in the world and thereby illuminating so many other things.

Such was my experience when I heard Makoto Fujimura  being interviewed on Mars Hill Audio.  As I listened to Fujimura I realized that what I never appreciated or understood about so much art is that art – painting, sculpture, music, poem – is about communicating.  The artist has created a language in which to communicate his/her thoughts, ideas, emotions, feelings, worldview.  To appreciate artistry, one has to think about the art, to decipher the language in order to be able to understand what is being communicated.  Each artistic creation can be a new language created just to convey a particular thought or emotion, or a whole array of ideas and feelings.  I can’t appreciate art because, quite literally, I don’t know what I am looking at; I don’t understand the language, so it remains foreign to me.   It is not only I who need to think and understand the art, for the truly great artist is also communicating, even if in a unique language; which means great art is capable of communicating to others.  It is meant to illuminate. 

Fujimura wrote many of these same ideas in his blog,  Refractions 26:  The Epistle of van Gogh.   In his own reflecting upon the writings and paintings of van Gogh, he came to appreciate the Christian spirituality van Gogh expresses through his visual thinking.     One insight he offers: 

“… there is an “unwholesome split” between reason and visual thinking today. The post-Enlightenment split between reason and intuition, or emotion, casts a shadow into our assumptions today. Theologically speaking, it is precisely this split that caused the gospel to be communicated as information only, a check list of do’s and don’ts, and not as a cohesive life force full of mysteries and multi-sensory stories. Vincent brings them together. The Gospel as preached by St. Francis, would have meant full engagement of the senses, too. The Word becoming Flesh would not make sense otherwise.”

And all of Fujimura’s discussion of art as language, communication, thinking, and seeing and revealing reminded me very profoundly of the Great Creator Artist and Poet God, who used language to communicate and reveal His thoughts and Himself, when He spoke, “Let there be light.”   And there was light. Vocalizing what He envisioned visualized His vocabulary.   Art was born in that very nanosecond of creation.  Not only was there never a time when the Word was not, there was never a time when art (visual thinking) was not.

Beauty will save the world,” opined Dostoyevsky.  And artists and poets will save the Church from being reduced down to rationalism, literalism and moralism, and will help lift our minds and hearts up to God and to escape the restricting constraints they would place on the human spirit and on our aspirations.

Jesus answered, “Is it not written in your law, ‘I have said you are gods.’”  (John 10:34)

We Cannot Control the Truth but We Can Tell the Truth

In a release dated 26 June 2008 the Interfax Religious News Agency reported that the Russian Orthodox bishop’s council was opposed to clergy discussing inner church problems on the Internet.   The release, Bishops’ Council against Internet discussion of inner church problems, claims the open discussion of inner church problems “not only contradicts moral setup and Church canons but should be considered unacceptable and subjected to condemnation.”  The Council did not condemn all discussion of church problems but questions those discussions taking place in the open forum of the Internet where anyone can read about them and where comments can be made anonymously.   It noted that in fact there was a “lack of lively communication in the Church,” but then suggested the discussions should take place in diocesan meetings where people are gathered face to face.    And of course it is precisely in such small and personal settings where the discussion can be closely monitored and controlled by those in power.

In the Internet/Information age, the Church can no longer control the truth, but it can tell the truth.   And as long as that is the only thing the Church is telling, then there is no need to try to control it.

Unfortunately, though Jesus said we were to be in the world but not of the world, the Church has often entangled itself in worldly issues and lost sight of the fact that its only message is the Gospel of truth – it is not power, it is not control, it is not fund raising, it is not domination over others, nor taking anything from others. 

I’ll repeat a quote from my blog Your Brain Can Give You a Headache:

“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”  (Joseph Goebbels,  Nazi Germany’s Minister for Propaganda ) 

Church leadership would do well to remember in dealing with dissent or with opinions not of the “party line,” that in vying to maintain their positions of authority they often do not appear to those under their authority to be any different than Goebbels even if their intentions are to protect the Church from negative press. 

Think about the humility of Christ – the only time in His life that anyone ever told Him to come down from His higher position was when He was hanging on the cross.    Otherwise in extreme humility he considered others greater than Himself.   See Philippians 2:5-11.

See also my The Gospel According to John Wayne

The Tragedy of the Orthodox Churches in Kosovo

Though the destruction of the churches in Kosovo is old news, it certainly is worth our remembering. 

Our Lord Jesus Christ said, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.  Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you…. It is to fulfil the word that is written in their law, ‘They hated me without a cause.’ ”  (John 15:18-25)

Some of the destruction inflicted on these churches was the mindless destruction of those who do not know Jesus Christ and yet hate Him without reason.  

Some of the destruction was understood by the destoryers to be a revenge on Christians for their sins and for being of the world and too tied in to the powers of this world.   May the God of mercy forgive us all.

We pray for those who love us and those who hate us, and all who ask for our prayers unworthy though we be. 

“But I say to you that hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. … But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful”  (Luke 6:27-28, 35-36)