And Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, so that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind.” Those of the Pharisees who were with Him heard these things and said to Him, “We are not blind too, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains. (Jn9:39-41)
What I believe I have been shown by the Spirit and set out in The Little Book of Providence** turns a good deal of my previous understanding on its head. I believe it to be the truth because, as I demonstrated in my recent posts regarding a positive role for natural law and the sacrificial nature of the Eucharist, my interpretations generally accord with that of the earliest Church Fathers. They had received the Faith directly from the apostles or their close successors so were not entirely reliant on biblical exegesis. That was where the problems started even before the full Canon of Scripture had been compiled, especially when interpreting Paul’s letters, just as his fellow apostle Peter had warned (2Peter3:15-16).
My other reason for confidence is the fact that the new interpretations enable Scripture to cohere as a whole in a way that it did not before. And whilst the Bible has been a catalyst for error, especially when isolated from the full deposit of Faith that was both written and oral in nature (2Thes2:15), it is undoubtedly the final arbiter for truth and should not be directly contradicted by any doctrine of the Church. So, should a biblical synopsis be provided that is truly coherent, I suggest it is worthy of serious examination, regardless of the apparent inconsequence of its intermediary.
The final verse of our featured passage concerning Jesus’ dialogue with the Pharisees is a seemingly simple statement, yet it has profound theological implications which shouldn’t be taken in isolation but compared with the rest of Scripture. Firstly, when Jesus says “If you were blind you would have no sin”, it suggests the principle that God does not condemn the ignorant, or in Paul’s language, “Where there is no law, sin is not imputed” (Rom4:15 & 5:13). Paul’s statement can be a problem for the many who reject natural law, for it implies for example that wicked Gentiles in the Old Testament should not be judged or punished, being ignorant of Torah. On the contrary, they may have been ignorant of the Law but not the law written in their hearts referenced by the conscience (Rom2:15). At the same time those genuinely ignorant of the true gospel (the vast majority who have ever lived) will not be condemned at final judgement for that ignorance. Yet neither can they have been “saved” or sanctified in preparation for marriage to the Lamb. That is why the Church rightly endeavours to preach the gospel to all, but as to who responds, that is a matter of elective grace (Jn6:44; Rom8:29).
The other principle which is linked to the fact that all who are of God (1Jn4:7-8) are to have a part in God’s eternal kingdom pertains to the nature of original sin. In Romans 5 Paul states that “death reigned from Adam to Moses even upon those who did not sin in the manner of our first parents” (v14). But as explained previously Paul’s “death” does not relate to damnation but the carnal body disrupting our fellowship with God whilst we inhabit it (except we encounter the Son who can make us free indeed to serve the living God). Adam’s degenerative body and brain we inherit, his guilt we do not. Sin is imputed to the degree that the law known to the transgressor has been transgressed. Hence, “if you (Pharisees) were blind you would have no sin”. So, what about Adam’s sin? – it is not so much as mentioned – if they had been ignorant of the truth they would have not been condemned.
The nature of original sin misrepresented in the West
The imputation of Adam’s guilt to all his descendants is an Augustinian derived heresy which has the foulest of implications for infants who die unbaptized and humanity as whole. Yet what is most serious and (dare I say it) indicative of its true origins is what it implies about God Himself. Unlike His methodology which is indeed inscrutable (Rom11:33), the Bible along with the testimony of the earliest Church Fathers affirm God’s character and nature to be both comprehensible and adorable from an enlightened human perspective. For the Christian already has the mind of Christ – he should not just fear but love and adore the Father for Who He is and the munificence of His providence. And so he might, once the sweetness of His providential purposes has been perceived and the bitter pangs of what had earlier been assimilated subside (cf. Rev10:10KJV).
The Eastern Church has long rejected the forensic (guilt-imputing) dimension to original sin, as does The Little Book of Providence. The latter also clarifies the fact that man’s sin is a terminal moral sickness that does not originate from the God-given soul but from the procreated “body of this death” – the intellectual tent/vessel man inhabits whilst in mortal flesh which the Christian alone is given the spiritual resources to master (1Thes4:4).
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