Hamartiology: The Doctrine of Sin – Part 1
by Jonathan Hamilton
This series will be in the same vein as our earlier Knowing and Loving God set. The content is not original to me, but is the notes from my November 2014 seminary class “Hamartiology and Soteriology” (Sin and Salvation) at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. The course was taught by Dr. Kevin Bauder. Any errors or omissions are mine, and despite my best efforts, I’m sure there will be several of them.
Even though I will be covering the doctrine of sin in this first series, I hope to move right into the doctrine of salvation next. Though two different areas of systematic theology, they are so closely related that you could view them as one series. They are not typically the first areas of systematic theology covered, but me being a modular student and taking courses in a wacky order, you get them in the same order I am getting them.
As always, I will try to keep the personal interjections to a minimum, but some things will need to be explained. Unlike in the Knowing and Loving God series, in these posts I am going to take the more sensible route of having course material (that is, my class notes…the material not original to me) in normal font, and my interjections in italics. This system will start beneath the line below. Without further delay, let’s begin working through the doctrine of sin. We will start with a visual roadmap of what the larger trek through both sin and salvation will look like (please click on image for a better view):
The week long discussion started broad, then narrowed down to the topic of divine foreknowledge, and finally broadened back out to a discussion of the various doctrines of salvation. This will make more sense as we work through this study.
Sin begins in Genesis 3, with the fall of man. [NOTE: We don’t know when Satan fell. It could have pre-dated Creation week, or it could have been between Creation week and the Fall of Man in Genesis 3]
Let’s discuss the nature of the Fall, what was going on there? What’s the point of the temptation? To understand, you have to understand the thing to which Adam and Eve were being tempted, i.e. the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.
Why do we have this tree, and why are they forbidden to eat its fruit?
Many take this as a purely symbolic tree. On the other hand, some over-mystify the tree (“over-magic” the tree). The tree is more than a symbol, but it is a symbol. It is a very literal tree, with literal fruit. The problem with eating the fruit of the tree was not that the fruit was intrinsically harmful, but in what the tree stood for.
God declares things good throughout Genesis 1 as He creates them. “Good” (Heb. “tov”) is not so much morally upright, but useful or beneficial. For whom are these things useful or beneficial? They are useful for humans.
All the way through Genesis 1 it is God Who decides what is good. By the time he creates the tree, who has known what is good and bad? God. Not Adam. For God to create this tree of the knowledge of good and bad and to use it as a test for Adam is exactly to test Adam’s willingness to depend on the Creator for the good.
In other words Adam has a choice to make: trust the Creator to provide what is good, or seize the initiative in defining for himself what he sees to be good and try to gain it for himself. The crucial issue in the temptation is the issue of trust. Which means that the issue of trust, or faith, is not something that comes in with the fall of man. It is intrinsic in the creation of humanity. If there had never been a fall, the way we would have lived would still have been the life of faith, trusting the Creator to provide what is good and never seeking it on our own or for ourselves.
This is Adam seizing the initiative, no longer trusting God. Implicitly, Adam is declaring the Creator to be untrustworthy. “I cannot trust you for the good, therefore I must seize the good for myself.” This is in tune with the final lines of William Ernest Henley’s famous poem, Invictus: “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.”
In short, this would be not just a rejection of the Creator’s law, but the Creator’s character. Which is worse? To attack God’s person is worse. So to eat of this fruit would be quite literally the worst thing Adam could do. It would be to declare independence from God.
This also helps to explain the penalty that comes from eating the fruit, to come under the sentence of death. It is a Hebrew idiom (“dying you will die”), which simply explains why Adam didn’t die that day. Rather, this was the day the sentence was passed. The moment you are attempting to seize the good for yourself, you are rejecting the Source of life. You are embracing death. It couldn’t be otherwise! Adam is separating from God, and immediately comes under the sentence of death.
Interestingly, God doesn’t leave it at the prohibition. He sees something in the creation that is “not good,” that is, that man should be alone. This does not mean it was bad, or evil, it just wasn’t good. A higher level of order was needed. But Adam doesn’t see this. He doesn’t know what he’s missing. So God gives him a task: group the animals (an exercise in taxonomy, not merely naming). Adam realizes that there’s no one like him. He is a single image bearer. And an image bearer of God needs someone else to image God to, and to image God to Him.
So God causes a deep sleep to fall on Adam and takes a rib, from which He creates woman. The good that He provided was well beyond anything that Adam could have invented or come up with on his own. God is infinitely trustworthy to provide the good.