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Origin of Sin

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Senior Pastor Oakwood Presbyterian Church

QUESTION: In John 1:3 it says that through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.  Does this mean that God also created sin?

ANSWER: You're not alone in being troubled by the question of where sin and evil came from.  Theologians have even coined a term for the age-old debate – "theodicy".  Part of that study addresses your question:  If God is holy and just, and, as you say, cannot even look upon sin, and if He is the only true God who created all things, then how did evil, temptation, and sin ever enter His good creation?   

     I'll start by saying that there is a great mystery here.  We can't (in this life, at least) know a full and satisfactory answer to this question, because God has not revealed the answer.  His Word simply doesn't address it directly.  But there are a few things that we do know about the origin of evil and sin based upon Scripture. 

     First, we know that sin existed before the fall of Adam and Eve.  God created the angels, and they were all "very good".  However, somehow they were tempted and some of them chose to sin by rebelling against God, resulting in their being cast out of heaven.  Therefore sin originated with Satan and the demons (fallen angels), not with the rebellion of Adam and Eve.  Satan tempted Eve to sin, God didn't.  But the Bible tells us very little about that original rebellion among the angels, and nothing about how the angels were tempted to rebel or how it was possible. 

     When John says in the verse that you quote, "All things were made through Him...", he is referring to the creation, the material world.  Sin isn't a "thing" in the same sense that trees, animals, stars, and human beings are created "things".  Sin is an action, a choice, an attitude, a desire.  God created Adam to be "very good", and by giving Adam an opportunity to choose to obey or disobey, God allowed for the possibility of sin entering His creation.  But He didn't tempt Adam to sin or in any way cause him to sin.  The desire to rebel came from within Adam, and it wasn't placed there by God. 

     We can know that for us, as fallen human beings, temptation and sin aren't things that God created, because James clearly tells us, "Let no one say when he is tempted, 'I am being tempted by God,' for God cannot be tempted with evil, and He himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death." (James 1:13).  Since the fall of Adam and Eve, the real origin of sin is in our hearts.

     While the Bible teaches that God doesn't cause us to sin or tempt us to sin, it does teach that He is sovereign over our sins.  In a mysterious way, He is able to incorporate our sinful choices into His great plan for the world, and particularly for our redemption.  Joseph said to his abusive brothers, "As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today." (Genesis 50:20).  Peter showed this relationship between God's sovereignty and our sins in the way he spoke about the events of the cross:  "...this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men." (Acts 2:23).  Somehow God incorporated the sinful choices and actions of the Jewish leaders into His sovereign plan to send His Son to the cross to die for our sins.  We don’t know how it works, but it is comforting to know that God is in total control of the sinful activities going on around us. 

     That also means that God not only knew about the sins of Adam and Eve, but He also incorporated them into His plan for the history of the world and for our redemption even before He began to create the world.  Ephesians 1:4 says that "He chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him."  Again, there are mysteries here that we are not able to understand, probably both because the truth is really beyond our puny comprehension, and because God has not chosen to reveal the answers in His Word.

Posted by Rev. Dan Kiehl with
in Bible

Bible Translation

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BY DAN KIEHL, Senior Pastor of Oakwood Presbyterian Church

            I read an article once about the meticulous process by which the experts at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. have preserved the most precious documents from our country’s history, such as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.  Over a five-year period, they worked to extract them from the deteriorating encasements that had protected them for the past fifty years, and then placed them in high-tech, state-of-the-art encasements that will hopefully protect these crucial documents for centuries to come.

             As I read with fascination about the extreme care and honor with which these parchments were handled, I was reminded of Paul’s instruction to Timothy:  “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.”  There is no more solemn and awesome responsibility in the world than that of “rightly handling the word of truth.”  I’m not talking about physical manipulation of the document; instead I’m referring to the duty that every generation in the Church has to ensure that God’s Word is faithfully and completely transmitted to two generations – its own and the one that follows.

             God revealed His word between 1,400 BC and 100 AD, using over 40 different authors to produce the inerrant and infallible book that explains that which the wonders of God’s creation cannot explain – who He is, for what purpose He created us, what went wrong, and how we can be delivered from our misery.  Every word that God revealed through the prophets and apostles – even every “jot and tittle”, as Jesus put it – is “God breathed” (II Timothy 3:16), and nothing is to be added to or taken away from what He has revealed (Proverbs 30:5,6; Revelation 22:18,19).  Therefore, this word of truth must be handled rightly and with extreme care.

             Alongside of the responsibility of each generation to guard and protect the content of the revealed word of God is the equally important responsibility of translating it into the common languages of the people.  It is the difficult task of Biblical scholars in every age and place to translate God’s word into the vernacular without distorting it.  We in the English-speaking world are deeply indebted to those “approved workers” who were willing to give up their lives in order to translate the Bible into English, beginning with John Wycliffe in England in the late 1300’s and later William Tyndale and others.

             In the 1600’s the King James Version became the dominant English translation of the Bible, and it remained so for the next 300 years.  However, since 1950 there has been a virtual explosion of new English translations of the Bible.  While the new translations have, in many cases, led to improvements in accuracy and readability, there also has been a troubling trend in the approach to translation that they reflect.  Whereas, until 1950, the concern was to translate the Bible word-for-word from the original languages into English, the move recently has been to translate the Bible “thought-for-thought”.  In other words, in an attempt to make the Bible more easily understood by modern readers, the concern is not so much to translate the words of the original texts as it is to translate the Biblical author’s meaning behind his words. 

             Some of the modern translations are known as “paraphrases” (e.g., The Living Bible, The Message), and the “translators” are very up front about the fact that words and phrases in the original text are changed and / or supplemented in an effort to make the meaning of the text more clear to even the most uneducated readers.  These “translations” are really more commentaries on the Scripture than Scripture itself.  More difficult to classify are translations like the New International Version, which employs a “word-for-word” method of translation for the most part, but uses a “thought-for-thought” approach where the translators felt that the text wouldn’t be easily read or understood by a modern reader with an eighth grade education.  For example, when the Bible uses the title  “the Lord of Hosts” for God, the New International Version of the Bible translates it as “the Lord Almighty”.  While this would be a limited but accurate interpretation of the title, it is not a translation of the original words.  Unfortunately, the imagery of spiritual warfare and the heavenly armies inherent in “Lord of Hosts” is obscured by the NIV’s “translation”.

             The danger of mixing translation and interpretation has become apparent in the controversy over a “gender neutral” version of the NIV several years ago.  In response to sexism and chauvinism in our culture, a version of the NIV has been produced that attempts to change references in the Bible to “man” or “men”, along with masculine pronouns, when it is believed that the original intent of the author was to include all humans of both genders.  In many cases this is legitimate, but in some cases it has changed or obscured the meaning of the original.  It clearly raises the question of what affect the translators’ agenda can have on the translation itself.

             As a preacher of the Bible, I am expected to have some knowledge of the original Hebrew and Greek and to be able to know exactly what the original authors wrote by the Holy Spirit’s guidance.  Then it is my responsibility to interpret what they wrote and communicate that meaning to others and to help them apply it to their lives.  But my interpretation and application of the words of Scripture can be wrong, and should always be measured by and held accountable to God’s word itself.  The translation and interpretation processes shouldn’t be combined or confused. 

 Therefore, I believe that the job of the translators of Scripture should be to translate the exact words of the original text, and – as far as possible – to not add their interpretation of the meaning of those words.  This is why Oakwood has chosen to use the English Standard Version (ESV) in our worship services.  It is very readable, but its translators were driven by a desire to come as close as possible to a “word-for-word” rendering of the original languages.