"O L-RD, Who are my power and my strength and my refuge in the day of trouble, to You nations will come from the ends of the earth and say, 'Only lies have our fathers handed down to us, emptiness in which there is nothing of any avail! Can a man make gods for himself, and they are no gods? 'Therefore, behold I let them know; at this time I will let them know My power and My might, and they shall know that My Name is the L-RD".
Jeremiah 16:19-21

by Shmuel Silberman

A fundamental doctrine of Christianity is Original Sin.  This is the belief that all people inherit a condition of depravity from the sin of Adam and Eve.  Man is a slave to sin, cannot reach holiness by his actions, and must be “saved” from inherent damnation. 

Writes Dr. Michael Brown (a leading messianic Jew), “We believe that by nature, we are hopelessly prone to sin, and thoroughly entangled with sin (Answering Jewish Objections To Jesus, Volume Two, p.198).”

This contradicts the Jewish belief that man is born innocent and  can live a Godly life by fulfilling His commandments (mitzvot).   Brown’s task is to demonstrate that Original Sin is a Jewish idea from the start.

Brown is correct that (a) humanity has an internal tendency toward sin and that (b) this tendency is inherited from the sin of Adam and Eve.  He is also right that it is easier to follow the evil inclination than the good inclination. 

At issue is whether Jewish Scripture teaches the concept of Original Sin maintained by Christianity.  What are the supposed Biblical sources for Dr. Brown’s thesis?

Brown cites Psalms 51:5 which reads, “Behold, in iniquity I was fashioned, and in sin my mother conceived me.”  Psalms 51 is King David’s expression of remorse for his indiscretion with Bath-sheva.  He is not exonerating himself.  He is pleading for mercy on account of the impulse to sin that is passed on to each child at birth.  He does not say that his sin was inevitable or that he is consigned to sin generally.  The same King David said, “Be happy in God, and rejoice O righteous.  Cry out in joy, all upright of heart” (Psalms 32:11).” 

Clearly King David believes righteousness is within reach.

After the Flood in Noah’s time, God declares, “I will not continue to curse again the ground on account of man, since the inclination of the heart of man is evil from his youth” (Genesis 8:21).   Dr. Brown cites this as a proof text, but it is not.  

The reference to “youth” is because children are predominantly selfish until they mature.  Maturity coincides with the development of the good inclination, at which point Man is considered responsible and possessing free will.  Job 11:12 says, “man is born a wild mule” but adults can do better.

Proverbs 20:9, we are told, reflects Original Sin.  King Solomon says, “Who will say,’ I have cleansed my heart, I have purified myself from sin’.”   Brown ignores 20:7, which reads, “He who walks in innocence is righteous, fortunate are his sons after him.”  How do the two verses interrelate?  An honest person can find a misdeed in his past.  However, innocence and righteousness are not fictional.

Dr. Brown cites Jeremiah 5:1, which says, “Walk about in the streets of Jerusalem, see now and know, and seek in its squares; if you find a man, if there is one who practices justice and seeks truth, and I will forgive her [the city].”  No man is subsequently “found.”   Ignored by Brown is Psalms 79:2, which describes the siege of Jerusalem: “They have given corpses of Your servants as food for the birds of the sky, the flesh of your devout ones to the beasts of the earth.” 

Clearly there were righteous people in Jerusalem at that time, only they were not found in public places.

Another verse from Jeremiah (13:23) is cited as evidence of Original Sin:  “Can an Ethiopian change his skin, or a leopard his spots?  Can you who are accustomed to evil do good?”  This is clearly an exaggeration, meaning that change requires serious effort.  Anyone who believes there are no exaggerations in Scripture he will have great difficulty understanding it. 

In light of Jeremiah’s statements in every chapter that the people are to correct their behavior, a missionary reading of this verse is unjustified.

The genealogy of Adam’s offspring confirms Original Sin, in Dr. Brown’s view.  While Adam is created by God in His image, Adam (after his sin) begets Seth in Adam’s image (Genesis 5:1-2).   Supposedly,  the Divine image was negated, or at least overwhelmed, by Original Sin.  The implication of these two verses is ambiguous, and is hardly the basis for any doctrine.  It makes more sense to explain  5:1-2 to mean the opposite: Seth partakes of the same Divine image of his father.  This fits into the words and is consistent with the entire Biblical view of the dignity of mankind.

Omitted by Dr. Brown is Genesis 6:5, which says (after the Flood!) that the image of God is the reason for the prohibition of murder.  Dr. Brown admits there are saints, but they are exceptions that prove the rule: “Of course it is possible to point to outstanding moral individuals, such as the Chafetz Chaim… [but] Why do men like this stand out in their generation? (p. 205).

The example of the Chafetz Chaim actually works against Dr. Brown.  Surely he would maintain that the Chafetz Chaim also inherited Original Sin.  How, then, does even one individual become saintly?  The question becomes stronger considering that the Chafetz Chaim never accepted Jesus, the only one believed to be capable of redeeming a person from sinfulness.

Missionaries will never accept one Chafetz Chaim, or even billions like him, as evidence against Original Sin.  They would insist that as great as the Chafetz Chaim was, he must have had one slight flaw. 

Brown quotes from King Solomon, ” There is no righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins (Ecclesiastes 7:20).”   The missionary assumption is that unless one attains absolute perfection (which he cannot), all is lost.  Brown should read the verse again.  It says, “There is no RIGHTEOUS person..who never sins.”  The person who does a sin is still righteous!  One of the verses most devastating to Original Sin is Genesis 4:7, where God tells Cain that he can overcome temptation. Cain is envious of Abel because God accepts only Abel’s sacrifice. Cain is tempted to murder Abel.  God says, “if you do not do good, sin crouches at the entrance.  Its desire is for you, but you can rule over it.”

God’s majestic statement of man’s ability to overcome evil is brushed aside by Dr. Brown, and his answer is terrible: “But it is one thing to overcome a particular sin.  It is another to be free from the grip of sin in general (p. 193).”  If Cain can free himself from this sin, why can’t he free himself from any sin?  Also, what is meant by “the grip of sin in general”?  If he means that no one is 51% righteous, this is manifestly not true.  Must one be 70% righteous (or 80%, or 90%) to transcend “the grip.” 

Perhaps Dr. Brown believes that a 99% righteous person is under “the grip of sin”, but would he justify a teacher who failed a student with a 99 average?

This belief that absolute perfection is required is the real backbone of Original Sin, as Dr. Brown admits that people can do much good.  What is the Scriptural proof that only perfection earns God’s favor?  There is none whatsoever.  It can be asserted only by a faulty reading of Deuteronomy 27:26.  It says, “Cursed is one who does not uphold (yakeem) the words of this Torah to do them.”  Since no one fulfills Torah with total perfection, all are damned and require “salvation.”  This missionary interpretation cannot make sense of the eleven curses (applied to eleven specific sins) that appear before this verse. If 27:26 sets a curse for any single violation of Torah, the eleven prior curses are totally superfluous (Samuel Levine).

Missionaries also make a subtle but devastating grammatical error. While y’kayaim means to fulfill, yakeem is a different construct meaning “cause to stand up”, “confirm”, “uphold”.  This verse is not saying that unless one fulfills Torah flawlessly, he is cursed.  One who does not ACCEPT the mitzvot fails to “uphold” the Torah, but the commission of a specific sin is not the subject here.  This reading is faithful to the grammar and is totally consistent with Torah’s frequent injunctions to choose good and make amends for wrong behavior.  The missionary viewpoint paints God as an anti-Semite who curses Israel with commandments they cannot obey  (Samuel Levine).

At no point does Dr. Brown attempt to integrate the verses he cites with the many hundreds of verses that stress free will, the opportunity to do good and amend wrongs, and descriptions of righteous people who earned God’s favor.  Let us cite only one of them: “It is not in heaven,  to say ‘Who will go up for us to heaven, and acquire it for us, and teach it to us, and we will do it?’ Nor is it across the sea, to say ‘Who will cross the sea, and acquire it for us and teach it to us, and we will do it?’ For the matter is very near to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to do it (Deuteronomy 30:11).”

Dr. Brown provides not a single verse to support Original Sin.  There is also no support that one must be a perfect individual to earn God’s favor.  Original Sin was unknown before Christianity, not because ancient Jews did not read carefully but because Original Sin is not in the Hebrew Bible at all.

Want to share or print this? Choose how below:
  • Print
  • email
  • Add to favorites
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: