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Original Sin?


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#1 Fortigurn

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Posted 13 June 2003 - 06:40 AM

Ephesians 2:
1 And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins;
2  Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience:
3  Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.


This is one of the common texts dragged out to support the idea of 'Original Sin' - that all people are born morally guilty of transgression, and are the immediate subjects of God's wrath from birth.

Let's have a discussion with someone who believes this, and see what we make of the passage.

#2 Fortigurn

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Posted 13 June 2003 - 06:40 AM

Firstly, let's establsh what we agree on:

1) These were the children of wrath - they are no longer

2) These were by phusis the children of wrath

3) Their status as children of wrath is determined by their phusis

4) this status has changed

5) Therefore, this phusis must have been changed

The conclusion we reach therefore is that the key issue is this phusis.

What is this phusis? Clearly it must be capable of change in this life - it is not speaking of the change of nature from mortality to immortality. This alone suggests to us that it is not speaking of our physical nature. We can determine this from the context itself.

#3 Fortigurn

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Posted 13 June 2003 - 06:41 AM

But what of this word 'phusis'? What does it mean?

It can mean:

- By birth (as in Galatians 2:15, 'We who are Jews by birth')

- The natural order (as in Romans 1:25, 'even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature')

- The essential substance (as in 2 Peter 1:4, 'that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature')

- An established pattern of habitual behaviour or way of life (as in Romans 2:14, 'For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by habit the things contained in the law')

Clearly the first of these does not apply, and neither does the second.

The third cannot apply because as you have yourself identified, this passage cannot possibly speak of a change in nature as regarding essential substance (flesh nature as opposed to Divine nature, for example). The only legitimate interpretation is the fourth - an established pattern of habitual behaviour or way of life.

#4 Fortigurn

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Posted 13 June 2003 - 06:41 AM

Of course, you may well object to this interpretation, since it was your intention to use this verse to speak of the essential substance of humans being itself the target of God's wrath, in order to claim that Christ could not possibly have had this nature (since he was obviously never under the wrath of God), and thus must have possessed a nature other than our own.

So let's suspend my interpretation for the moment, and examine the passage under question.
Why is it that these individuals are 'children of wrath', and what change must they undergo in order for them to be children of wrath no longer?

Ephesians 2:
1And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins;


Ah. They were 'dead in trespasses and sins'. For what reason?

2Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience:


Because they walked according to the course of this world, according to the spirit that works in the children of disobedience. This sounds like a way of life, the result of a particular mental disposition.

3Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind...


So in times past, their way of life (as the word 'conversation' should be translated), was a way of life which fulfilled the desires of the flesh and the mind.
This agrees perfectly with what we've just read in the previous verse, that this was a disobedient way of life, the result of a particular mental disposition.

3...and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.


So now we find that the context of this 'nature' is:

- Those dead in trespasses and sins (moral transgression)

- Who walked according to the course of this world

- Who had a particular way of life which was the result of a disobedient mind

- Who therefore had a way of life which fulfilled the desires of the flesh and mind

In other words, we cannot interpret this 'nature' in verse 3 as anything other than established pattern of habitual behaviour or way of life, which is exactly what the verses preceding have been telling us

#5 Fortigurn

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Posted 13 June 2003 - 06:42 AM

So, what changed? Let's continue:

4But God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us,
5Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)


So whilst we were 'dead in sins', God Himself provided us with hope in Christ, by His grace.
Ok, so what happened next? Did this involve a change of physical nature, or a change of our way of life?

6And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus:
7That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.


That doesn't tell us, although it does speak of the change in terms which are deliberately symbolic of our eventual glorification and change of nature - which proves even more that this is not a change of physical nature of which Paul is speaking...

8For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
9Not of works, lest any man should boast.


Again, this speaks of the process of our salvation, but says nothing of a change of physical nature prior to our glorification.

10For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.


So this tells us that we have been ordained to walk in good works.

Perhaps this is the reason for us no longer being children of wrath? I believe so.

#6 Fortigurn

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Posted 13 June 2003 - 06:42 AM

What we have seen from this passage, therefore, is the following:

- That we are 'children of wrath' by virtue of moral transgression

- That we were 'children of wrath', but we are now 'children of wrath' no longer - we are saved

- That we are no longer 'children of wrath' when we are in Christ and walking in good works

#7 Guest_Alethia_*

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Posted 30 July 2003 - 12:38 PM

This is a good analysis of Ephesians 2:3, which clearly must be wrested from meaning and context in order to be misused to support the idea of “original sin” or “sinful nature” (as evangelicals are likely to call what is essentially the same unscriptural concept).

I would quibble with one of your defining examples in your third post. You cite 2 Peter 1:4 as an example of the use of Phusis to mean “essential substance.” There may be other cases, in Scripture or more likely out of Scripture, that exemplify the meaning of “essential substance,” but 2 Peter 1:4 does not seem to me to fit that definition. I also think that “essential substance” is a phrase liable to being misunderstood.

Here is a bit more context of 2 Peter 1:

2 Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord,
3 According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue:
4 Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.
5 And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge;
6 And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness;
7 And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.
8 For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Now I am not exactly sure what one might understand by the phrase “essential substance.” The normal Trinitarian usage of that phrase is to refer to the “substance” supposedly shared by the three “persons” of the Trinity (i.e.”of one substance”). For that reason, I would try not to even use the phrase. It is not as far as I can tell a phrase or concept that is referred to very directly in Scripture. In a more human context, I would say that “essential substance” means to me that classification of matter that is inherent, unchangeable, and fundamental to the definition of what makes a thing or a being that thing or being. The “essential substance” of man would imply that which makes a man a man. If it were to change, a man would no longer be a man.

So how is “divine nature” used in 2 Peter 1:4? We are to be “partakers of the divine nature.” Does that mean we will become God? If either of my above definitions were implied, then that is how we would be understanding the verse, and I do not think many people would take it that way.

It seems to me that the verse implies that we are to take on the moral characteristics of God, and perhaps it also implies that we are take on the immortality that He will impart. While both God’s moral character and immortality are major attributes of his “divine nature,” I think that the phrase “essential substance” would imply more to most people than should be understood from that verse. I admit to having a hard time expressing in other words how to define this usage. I would suggest perhaps; “moral character,” "moral attributes," or “way of life” or something like that. Perhaps you can think of a better way of expressing it.

I would also like to raise an old point by pointing out that in ALL Scriptural cases, phusis is something that can be either changed or overcome. It is never used to imply something that is beyond any ability to alter. It may require God’s assistance to change it, but in the examples cited, and all others at which I have looked, phusis implies something that can be either changed or overcome by some means. In fact, that is the essential point of both Ephesians 2:3 and of 2 Peter 1:4. We are to change our phusis. It is alterable. Perhaps in some non-Biblical Greek usages the word phusis may imply something which cannot be changed, but Scripture seems more to tell us that “with God, all things are possible,” so anything, including our phusis, can and must be changed. Scripture's emphasis is on changing and overcoming what we were born into, and stopping "doing what comes naturally."

#8 Fortigurn

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Posted 02 August 2003 - 12:00 AM

Hi Alethia,

Thanks for the comments. ^_^

I would quibble with one of your defining examples in your third post.  You cite 2 Peter 1:4 as an example of the use of Phusis to mean “essential substance.”  There may be other cases, in Scripture or more likely out of Scripture, that exemplify the meaning of “essential substance,” but 2 Peter 1:4 does not seem to me to fit that definition.


Peter is talking about the promise of our salvation which takes place when we are changed from mortal to immortal nature. That, to me, is not merely a change of our way of life.

I also think that “essential substance” is a phrase liable to being misunderstood.


Any phrase which deals with the stuff of which we are made, is liable to being understood.

Now I am not exactly sure what one might understand by the phrase “essential substance.”  The normal Trinitarian usage of that phrase is to refer to the “substance” supposedly shared by the three “persons” of the Trinity (i.e.”of one substance”).  For that reason, I would try not to even use the phrase.  It is not as far as I can tell a phrase or concept that is referred to very directly in Scripture.


Perhaps I should have said the change from flesh to spirit nature? Our bodies will be changed to bodies like Christ's glorious body. What is that body of his?

In a more human context, I would say that “essential substance” means to me that classification of matter that is inherent, unchangeable, and fundamental to the definition of what makes a thing or a being that thing or being.  The “essential substance” of man would imply that which makes a man a man.  If it were to change, a man would no longer be a man.


Perhaps I should have said the change from flesh to spirit nature?

So how is “divine nature” used in 2 Peter 1:4?  We are to be “partakers of the divine nature.”  Does that mean we will become God? If either of my above definitions were implied, then that is how we would be understanding the verse, and I do not think many people would take it that way.


I think it means the change from flesh to spirit nature.

It seems to me that the verse implies that we are to take on the moral characteristics of God, and perhaps it also implies that we are take on the immortality that He will impart.


But it's talking about the fulfilment of the great and precious promises. We aren't promised that one day we will take on the moral characteristics of God - we're asked to do that now.

I think it's talking about immortality.

I would also like to raise an old point by pointing out that in ALL Scriptural cases, phusis is something that can be either changed or overcome.  It is never used to imply something that is beyond any ability to alter.  It may require God’s assistance to change it, but in the examples cited, and all others at which I have looked, phusis implies something that can be either changed or overcome by some means.


I agree, but I don't think this changes my interpretation of Peter's words.

#9 Guest_Alethia_*

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Posted 02 August 2003 - 11:20 PM

My comments did not have to do particularly with the meaning of II Peter 1:4 per se, but with the phrase “essential substance” and whether that phrase would be likely to convey the meaning of phusis as used there or elsewhere.

You suggested using instead: “change from flesh to spirit nature.” That is probably better, and may express the meaning of II Peter 1:4, but it doesn’t really fit syntactically into your initial list of four definitions of phusis, as it would end up simply saying rather vaguely or circularly “nature” as a definition of phusis. Maybe we could think of another way of defining phusis more specifically that would more clearly express how it is used in II Peter 1:4.

Thayer’s puts II Peter 1:4 under this definition of phusis:

“d. the sum of innate properties and powers by which one person differs from another, distinctive native peculiarities, natural characteristics.”

Thayer then says specifically of II Peter 1:4:

“the holiness distinctive of the divine nature is specially referred to”

Well, maybe, maybe not. I would say that Peter may have meant the holiness that leads to immortality, or he may have meant the immortality that results from holiness, or he may have meant the combination of the two (the last would be my guess). But regardless, he refers to a subset of attributes that is native to God, but not native to men. So I suppose that Thayer’s phrase: “distinctive native peculiarities, natural characteristics” would be a good definition that you could use in your list of four, which might be a bit less liable to misunderstanding than “essential substance.” In the verse in question then, Peter would be saying that we are to take on certain of the distinctive peculiarities and natural characteristics of the divine (immortality and the accompanying righteousness). That sounds OK. What do you think?




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