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Does the Old Testament have a remedy for sin? (Index thread)

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posted on Sep, 11 2015 @ 05:01 PM
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“But what exactly do you think sin is?”
I was disputing with a Jehovah’s Witness at the time.
I had just made some observation (borrowed from Athanasius, I think) about the magnitude of the sin of the world, and he responded with the awkward question which I’ve just quoted
Not having an immediate answer ready, I backed out of that line of argument.

This was a few decades ago, but I haven’t allowed myself to forget the importance of the question.
Clearly, any attempt to tackle the problem of sin has to begin by defining the problem of sin, trying to understand its nature.
So that’s the approach I’ve been adopting in my own threads on the subject.

Part 1; The problem

The tree of what knowledge?

Of course the Biblical explanation of sin is rooted in the story of the events in Eden.
The introduction of sin is dramatized as the act of taking the fruit of “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil”.
The key to understanding this episode is to grasp the real meaning of that label.
It is not about “knowing that good and evil exist”.
Adam and Eve already knew there was a difference between right and wrong, because they had been told that “eating from this tree” was something they should not do.
So I argued that “knowing good and evil”, taking good and evil side by side, means knowing the boundary line between them.
In principle, it is God’s place to define the difference between good and evil.
Therefore they “became like God”, usurping his place, when they took to making their own decisions on the subject, acting independently.
The act of “taking the fruit” illustrates the point.
When they assessed the fruit as “good for food, a delight to the eyes, and to be desired to make one wise”, they were already disregarding God’s judgement on the fruit as “not-to-be-touched”.
That makes the taking of the fruit a very fitting symbol of the act of claiming independent judgement.
Their judgement about the right thing to do was detached from God’s will.
With the inevitable result that it would be different from God’s will.
That’s what “sin” means.
The human will is out of alignment with the will of God.

Did they eat from the tree of life?

With knowledge comes death?

I also wrote two threads about the other tree, the Tree of Life, which was deliberately placed at the centre of the garden.
This implies, I believe, that Adam and Eve were intended to eat from that tree, and that they were, in fact, eating from that tree as long as they remained in the garden.
It represents direct access to the Life which comes from God.
The second thread was considering in what sense they died, in accordance with God’s warning, when they were expelled from the garden, and their access to the Tree of Life was interrupted.
The writer’s intention would have been to offer an explanation of the fact that people die, since that was the outcome of the story.
So the meaning of the statement has to be that outside the garden they became vulnerable to death.
The human race began to experience death, from that moment onwards.

Incidentally, my explanation of the story is not necessarily locked in to a literal interpretation of the Genesis account.
It can be accommodated to a more modern understanding of human origins, as a gradual process of development

Original Sin re-visited

The concept of Original Sin has become problematic in the modern world.
Yet there is no getting away from the fact that something has gone wrong with the human race.
The world we see around us tells us that something is not right, and the kind of things that are wrong have been wrong all through human history.
The current state of the world is clearly the result of a long succession of wrong human choices.
The story of Adam and Eve is one way of explaining why that happens.

I have suggested that the act of disobedience described in the story represents our disposition towards independent action.
This constitutes the “falling away” from God’s will, which takes us away from him and isolates us from him.
Then “Original Sin” would refer to the fact that all of us are born into that state of alienation from God’s will, prone to making wrong decisions based on our private understanding of the difference between good and evil.
In short, “human will out of alignment with the will of God”.

The story of Cain and Babel

This can be illustrated through later events; in the way that individuals, setting their own wills against the will of God, also set them against others (Cain), and in the way that corporate bodies set their wills not only against God (Babel) but against other corporate bodies and against individuals.
The lesson of our blood-stained human history seems to be that this clash of wills is at the heart of everything that has always been wrong with the human world.

The two floods of Genesis

So there now exists a problem which has two key elements.
On the one hand, the presence of “sin” in the world.
The human race has taken itself out of alignment with God’s will.
On the other hand, the premise which runs through the Bible is that God cannot be reconciled with sin. In the long-term, they are incompatible, and God’s will has to prevail.
Looking for a solution to that dilemma is the central theme of the rest of the Bible.

One simple and clear-cut answer is to remove sin from the world by removing humanity from the world.
That was supposed to be the effect of the great Flood in Genesis.
“The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually…
So the Lord said; I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the earth” (Genesis ch6 vv5-7).
But this operation stumbled over the fact that God did not ultimately want to remove humanity from the world.
For that reason, he allowed Noah to save himself and his family.
In a pattern which becomes familiar in the Old Testament, he threatens the ultimate recourse and then draws back.

So the logic of the situation forces the adoption of a different approach.
If sin is to be removed from the world without removing humanity from the world, then humanity must, in some way, be detached from sin.
That brings in the second “flood” of Genesis.
I refer to the “flood” of Abraham’s children, which establishes God’s people in the world.
The function of God’s people is to prepare the ground for detaching the human race from their involvement with sin, re-aligning them with God’s will, and making it possible to restore the broken relationship between God and man.

[Continuing in second post]




posted on Sep, 11 2015 @ 05:03 PM
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Part 2; Looking for a remedy

God’s Law

I believe the Jewish understanding of the part played by God’s people would be that they learn
the will of God as expressed in the Law.
Their function has been to receive the Law, to preserve the Law, and to present an example of obedience to the Law.
That is how the human will gets re-aligned with God’s will.
But I see two major flaws in the answer proposed.

For one thing, we may question how far the Law of Moses genuinely reflects the will of God.
Even Jesus could find a difference (on the subject of marriage) between what God really wanted and the provisions which had been inserted into the Law “because of the hardness of your hearts”.
In my own studies of the laws of the Pentateuch, I treated them as products of human culture modified by the effects of God’s influence, and set about attempting to disentangle the two elements.

The other flaw is disobedience, which frustrates the intent of the Law and allows the human will to continue on its independent path.
The Law does offer remedies for the problem of continuing sin, in the form of ritual procedures.
The removal of sin is carried out in a symbolic way.

Send it away

Sin is notionally carried off into the desert by the “scapegoat” animal.
That offers the image of sin as “a burden”.

Wash it away

Washing, as a way of dealing with uncleanliness and disease, is extended to ritual uncleanliness,
The psalms and the prophets make references to “washing away” sin or the guilt of sin.
So that offers the image of sin as removable dirt or as disease (the two are not clearly distinguished).
The Old Testament does not speak directly of the possibility of “healing” sin, but we do find promises that the Lord will heal the “faithlessness” of his people- that is, their tendency to fall away from him (Jeremiah ch3 v22, Hosea ch14 v4).

Cover it up

The Law declares that the blood of sacrificed animals is reserved for “atonement”, because the blood represents the life of the animal.
“Atonement” is the normal translation of KAPHORETH- “a covering”.
So that offers the image of sin as a blot or stain, difficult to remove, which needs to be “concealed” from God’s eyes.
My proposed explanation was that the animal’s life, in turn, represents the lives of the worshippers.
While nothing can be genuinely concealed from God, he is willing to accept the symbolic self-offering as a reason for “not seeing” their sinful condition.
The Psalmist asks God to “hide your face” from sin (Psalm 51 v9), and Isaiah promises that God will “not remember it” (Isaiah ch43 v25). These expressions are using the same idea, but admitting more frankly that the “not seeing” sin is at God’s own discretion.


The weak point of all the ritual procedures of this kind is that they do not tackle the reality of sin.
They deal with it metaphorically.
Their value lies in reminding the people that the state of sin needs to be remedied, and in acting out the assurance that it can be remedied.
They do not achieve it objectively.

Turn away from it

In the teaching of the prophets, the people are urged to turn away from sin, or to turn back to God (which comes to the same thing).
In other words, a re-alignment of the will to the will of God.
This comes closer to dealing with the reality of sin, by the most effectual means, than any other solution which the Old Testament puts forward.
It is not a coincidence that the New Testament opens with the same demand for “repentance”.

Repentance fails in the Old Testament, as a mode of dealing with sin, only because the people are not repenting thoroughly and with perseverance.
They keep falling back into the old ways.

So the original problem still remains.
The Old Testament histories themselves show sin persisting in the lives of God’s people, sometimes resulting in acts of judgement.
The existence of the Law has not prevented the sin, and the availability of atonement sacrifice has not prevented the judgement.
We’re obliged to conclude that the Old Testament has not, in practice, provided an effective remedy for sin.



posted on Sep, 11 2015 @ 05:04 PM
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What would be the conditions of an effective remedy for sin?

Considering the nature of the problem;
I have described sin as humanity taking itself out of alignment with God’s will, a misalignment which interferes with their relationship with the God who made them.
Therefore there would have to be a re-alignment of humanity with God’s will, which would restore the relationship.

In other words, there is a need for obedience.

I have described obedience as a kind of self-offering.
The disobedient are holding back something of themselves.
Therefore the demand for obedience could only be met by a more genuine and more complete self-offering.

I have suggested, also, that the roots of our disobedience and self-will lie in our distrust, constraining us, and disposing us to hold something back.
Therefore a more perfect and more complete self-offering would also involve a full commitment in faith, offering ourselves to God in trust.

However, the history of repeated failure, in the Old Testament, appears to demonstrate that men are unable to make that commitment in their own strength.
The situation could only be changed by some combination of “heal us from our sins” and “turn your face away from them”; that is, transformation and forgiveness.
Which means there would be a need for additional intervention from God himself.
Though there might still be a way to bring God’s people into the process.

These would be things to look for in any successful remedy for sin, which would restore the broken relationship between God and man.



posted on Sep, 11 2015 @ 05:05 PM
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Your patient teacher

I am the son of two schoolteachers and the grandson of a third.
I may have mentioned this before.
This provides me with a very accessible analogy for the way God approaches the question of giving laws to the people of Israel.
He behaves like a teacher.

A good teacher is always conscious of the capabilities and limitations of his pupils, and he tries to give them teaching at the appropriate level.
He talks to them in terms which they will be able to understand, and sets out to improve their understanding in gradual ways.
If their reading abilities have taken them to the end of the first of the “Janet and John” books, then he offers them the second book.
If their mathematical skills have taken them as far as adding up and “taking away”, then he might begin showing them how to multiply and divide.
What he’s not going to do is start scribbling Einstein’s equations on the blackboard.
Teaching is not about “zapping” people with instantaneous advanced knowledge (except in science fiction stories).
It is the slow and patient work of gradual training.

We find a similar patience in the way the God of Israel deals with his people.
Thus his intention for marriage was that “a man leaves his father and mother and cleaves to his wife and they become one flesh” (Genesis ch2 v23).
Yet in the Old Testament laws he accepts, for the time being, the practice of divorce, which Jesus blames on “the hardness of their hearts” (Matthew ch19 v8).
And why does God allow them to fall short of the intended standard?
Because their minds are not yet ready for the intended standard.
They are still in training.

He finds this people living in a very patriarchal society, like all the other societies of the time.
Whatever he thinks about this, he does not try to change it at a stroke.
He modifies their behaviour gradually, beginning with some mild restraints on the husband’s power.
He finds them owning slaves, like all the other societies of the time.
Whatever he thinks about this, he does not try to abolish the custom at a stroke.
He modifies their behaviour gradually, providing slaves with some legal protection, and trying to discourage them from enslaving their own people.
He finds them loving their brothers and other kinsmen and encourages them to treat the rest of the nation in the same way.
However, they are not yet ready to extend the concept of “brothers” to the world at large, so that part of the training is postponed for a later stage.
He finds them offering animal sacrifices, like all the other societies of the time.
Whatever he thinks about this, he does not try to abolish the practice at a stroke.
Instead, he gradually changes the meaning of the word “sacrifice”, giving it a more and more metaphorical interpretation, and waiting until the more literal sacrifices can be brought to an end by the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.
And he finds them engaging in war, just like all the other societies around them.
But in this case, too, it takes time to wean them out of it.

In short, what we see in the laws of the Old Testament, and in the overall history of the Old Testament, is the slow and patient work of gradual training.
God does not “zap”. He teaches.

When modern critics are assailing the laws and the culture of the Old Testament, this is precisely what they are complaining about.
They don’t think God should have been giving his people this patient teaching.
They think he should have “zapped” them , instantly, to a state of spiritual maturity comparable to their own.
If they had been in God’s place (and they would certainly have done the job better) they would have “zapped”.

The God of the Old Testament is much more patient than they are.
He finds his people at the “cuh-ah-tuh-CAT” level of spiritual education, and he lifts them gradually.
A lot of work will be required before they can reach the kind of spiritual heights from which these critics can look down haughtily at the junior versions of themselves.
The fact that God is willing to undertake this slow and patient work is very revealing.
It shows us that God is a teacher.



posted on Sep, 11 2015 @ 05:36 PM
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no, freedom of choice will always breed a few rotten apples. No matter what the bible says. I am happy with freedom of choice



posted on Sep, 11 2015 @ 05:39 PM
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a reply to: DISRAELI

Your entire premise is flawed from the get go, as it requires a God whose plan was foiled by creatures of his own creation.

There is no such thing as original sin that dwells within. When Adam and Eve left the Garden, they already knew, and were endowed, with the knowledge of "Good and Evil".

"If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it." Genesis 4:7

That's why rituals that represent a people trying to "send sin away", wash sin away" or wait for God to send in a "Messiah", to bear your sin for you, will never work! We were meant to master "sin", however we perceive it, according to the basics of the Genesis story. The rest is merely imaginary justification for ancient people's bad behavior and contrived control mechanisms created by man to control man.



posted on Sep, 11 2015 @ 05:39 PM
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a reply to: DOCHOLIDAZE1
Welcome to ATS, all the same. I see that this was your first post.
I guess that's going to be your reaction to all my other threads, as well.



posted on Sep, 11 2015 @ 05:43 PM
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a reply to: windword
But the whole of the rest of the Bible also sees a problem in the existence of sin.
That's why there are laws, that's why there are calls to repentance.

If you're going to assume that the whole book is man-made, why bother to draw any conclusions from your personal slant on Genesis?


edit on 11-9-2015 by DISRAELI because: (no reason given)



posted on Sep, 11 2015 @ 06:09 PM
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a reply to: DISRAELI I don't study the bible, I just read it. Thank you for sharing your perspective on the old testament. I'm wondering if you could tell me which book and what passage talks about the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. I was taught that the old and new testament aren't separate and that the last sacrifice would be Jesus on the cross.
Thanks for the thoughtful reading.



posted on Sep, 11 2015 @ 06:15 PM
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a reply to: peppycat
If you mean in the Old Testament, the destruction of the original Temple is described as history (2 Kings ch24).
Apart from that, Matthew ch24 and the parallel passages are responding to questions about the destruction of the later Temple.
Yes, the Old and New Testaments are a single story, about the relationship between God and his people, and coming to a climax in the death of Christ.



posted on Sep, 11 2015 @ 06:20 PM
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a reply to: DISRAELI Thank you for answering my question. I have just one more. What is the word, "cuh-at-tuh-CAT" ?



posted on Sep, 11 2015 @ 06:24 PM
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a reply to: peppycat
Hah! I picked that up from my father. Phonetic pronunciation of the letters C-A-T, showing how they combine together to make the word "cat". An expression he often used to illustrate the business of teaching children to read.



posted on Sep, 11 2015 @ 06:26 PM
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a reply to: DISRAELI




If you're going to assume that the whole book is man-made, why bother to draw any conclusions from your personal slant on Genesis?


Because, the Bible is applicable allegory when describing the struggles of mankind, to overcome/master its animal nature through the "holy spirit". Only when mankind thrives is it able to enjoy altruism. Mankind only thrives when the individual achieves inner/outer balance. Thus, the threshing floor.



That's why there are laws, that's why there are calls to repentance.


Nonsense. Laws don't exist because of sin. They exist because cooperation is good for survival. Repentance in a natural response to the realization of an error, whether on purpose or by mistake. It arises through empathy and a desire to master something, whether it be a trade or a vice.





edit on 11-9-2015 by windword because: (no reason given)



posted on Sep, 11 2015 @ 06:31 PM
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a reply to: windword
So it becomes "applicable allegory" if you can find a way to make it fit the theories you have worked out on your own account.
But why bother? Why not just allow your own theories to stand on their own ground as your own theories? You don't need to base them on any aspect of a book you don't believe in.



posted on Sep, 11 2015 @ 06:32 PM
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A question. Why was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the garden at all, if it was something God did not want his new creation to eat from?

Seems like a set up, to me.
Holy Entrapment?

More questions. Is God, then, not the Tempter, placing it there and saying, "do not eat of this." The Devil was just pointing out the obvious, really. And shouldn't Adam and Eve have been told the consequences of eating from the fruit? God was good and loving in their eyes, why would they suspect that their disobedience would get them kicked out of the Garden? Adam and Eve have the emotional range of children, and they are treated like children, but was God being a good Parent, being so abusive and condemning?

I know its a symbolic myth (or rather, that is my interpretation), but it always seems that God was made out to be really mean when I learned the story as a child...

Thanks for the lengthy discussion, it is a very interesting thread.

peace,
AB

ETA - I have my own answers to the above questions... full disclosure - they are for discussion on the topic if you are interested...
edit on 11-9-2015 by AboveBoard because: (no reason given)



posted on Sep, 11 2015 @ 06:34 PM
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a reply to: DISRAELIokay

I laughed. I was not sure what I was sounding out, some ancient word or something! Thank you for clarifying



posted on Sep, 11 2015 @ 06:39 PM
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a reply to: AboveBoard
Perhaps you ought to look through my "The tree of what knowledge?" thread, linked in the first post.
A brief summary would be that the tree represents "deciding for themselves", as against accepting the decisions of God.
Deciding for themselves leads to the behavioural problems that follow.
And he did tell them what the consequence would be, as Eve reports- "Lest you die" or "You shall surely die".



posted on Sep, 11 2015 @ 06:44 PM
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a reply to: DISRAELI




Why not just allow your own theories to stand on their own ground as your own theories? You don't need to base them on any aspect of a book you don't believe in.



Yeah, er, thanks for politely showing me the door for not using the book the way you see fit! You should actually watch this video, I've posted for you before. He has hundreds, but this one expresses the point that I've been trying to make to you to in so many threads on this subject.





So it becomes "applicable allegory" if you can find a way to make it fit the theories you have worked out on your own account.


Strangely enough, your theory seems to me to have been awkwardly shoe horned to fit your contrived theory of justifying a divine "scape goat" that washes away original sin.



posted on Sep, 11 2015 @ 06:45 PM
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originally posted by: peppycat
a reply to: DISRAELI I don't study the bible, I just read it. Thank you for sharing your perspective on the old testament. I'm wondering if you could tell me which book and what passage talks about the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. I was taught that the old and new testament aren't separate and that the last sacrifice would be Jesus on the cross.
Thanks for the thoughtful reading.



A few references to the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem:

2 Kings 25:8, 9.
2 Chronicles 36: 19
Jeremiah 25:12, 13
Psalm 74:7
Matthew 24: 1, 2
Matthew 26: 61
Mark 15: 29
John 2: 19
Acts 6: 14
Matthew 23:38
Luke 13: 35



posted on Sep, 11 2015 @ 06:54 PM
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a reply to: chr0naut Thank you chr0naut, much appreciated. I can write these down and read them later.




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