Monday, May 30, 2011

One Error, One Righteous Deed

Following on my translation of Romans 5:18, about two posts back, I am intrigued by the possibilities suggested by the implied verbs and thus the lack of tense. It is, as far as I can tell in my limited experience, quite common for verbs to be left out in Greek and for the movement to be implied by prepositions (in this case εἰς). But it is almost impossible to translate these into English without having to make some assumptions.
The idea of one sin (Adam's) leading to death and also one righteous act (Jesus's) leading to life, existing perpetually (rather than one preceding the other or the other superceding the one) really sets things up for the conflict of Romans 7. It could be understood that we have both the sin of Adam in us (original sin) and the righteousness of Jesus (prevenient grace) in our souls or psyches - and thus we have also both judgement and life within us. Something must tip the balance one way or another . . . but what is it?

6 comments:

Thomas Scarborough said...

Works. :-)

Jenny Hillebrand said...

Yes, it could be works, or choice (which is a special 'work'), or election, or chance. All depending on your theological world view. I wonder what I haven't thought of?

avowofconversation said...

I'm having a hard time relating to this! I'm not sure whether that's because I've never been much good at textual analysis, or whether it's because of Protestant categories that I'm clueless about. But it has struck me, because a very central theme in our Orthodox liturgical texts for Lent and Easter was that of the relationship between the old and the new Adam. But that is ultimately not a relationship of contrast, but of identification. Adam is cast out of Paradise on the first Sunday of Great Lent, but the point is not his condemnation but rather that the fast is given to us in order to return to Paradise. And that is accomplished by nothing other than the identification of Christ with Adam, who descends into hell in search of him, and draws him up into life, conquering death and restoring life to "Adam".

Of course none of that relates specifically to this verse. But when faced with a lack of clarity, I would ask: how were such texts received by the early Fathers? I can't answer that precisely (I wish I had the Ancient Christian Commentaries volume for Romans, but I don't!) but thinking of the Adam-Christ relationship, the work of Saint Irenaeus on recapitulation comes immediately to mind. For him, Christ "commenced afresh the long line of human beings, and furnished us, in a brief, comprehensive manner, with salvation; so that what we had lost in Adam—namely, to be according to the image and likeness of God—that we might recover in Christ Jesus." ( AH, 3,18).

Macrina

Jenny Hillebrand said...

Hi Macrina - I think that what is making it unclear is my very narrow focus on just the one verse. The verse can easily be translated to imply that the life and death of Jesus automatically counteracts the original sin of Adam - and that is regardless of whether we choose to accept Jesus or not. In the same way that Adam caused me to carry original sin, Jesus caused me to carry grace and so Adam's sin is no longer present. Other verses in scripture say that we need to repent and submit to Jesus before his saving work becomes effective. These other verses affect our understanding of this verse - but they shouldn't affect our translation of it! If this verse is actually saying that Jesus brought universal salvation, then it must be allowed to have that force, even if we decide that other passages of scripture overcome it. Allowing our theology to be a 'preconceived idea' means that we may never really find truth in scripture, but only what we expect to find. So my journey was to say that while this verse does seem to say universal salvation, it may actually rather describe a balance in the soul of people (which as it happens, suits my theology better as well). I don't know how to relate that to Orthodox theology! And I am not sure that my explanation is any clearer than before ..., but I hope it makes some sense!

avowofconversation said...

Thanks for your reply, Jenny. Now I think I see where you are coming from - and I feel a bit more silly as I hadn't seen it in the context of discussions of universal salvation (although such debates are also something I don't relate to that easily, as they too-often seem to present a false choice!).

I see your point about translation, but then there is only so far one can go with translation before it becomes interpretation! And that raises the issue of one's hermeneutical criteria.

Macrina

Jenny Hillebrand said...

Hi Macrina - yes I agree that there is only so far that one can go. Interpretation inevitably becomes part of it. Thanks for the thoughts!