Sinlessness of Mary?

edited August 2015 in Faith Issues
Many Church Fathers posited this belief, but there is a significant minority view (including St. John Chrysostom) that believes she did sin and even go as far to list them. Many of our church hymns also seem to imply it.

God Bless

Comments

  • Aren't we all born in sin except Jesus through emaculate conception?
  • As Orthodox we do not believe in original sin but ancestral sin.

    I'm not asking about the immaculate conception by the way (how she was born), but whether she actually sinned.
  • The Father stress that she had stopped sinning after the dwelling of the Holy Spirit in her at the Annunciation. I can see hymns saying that she is sinless, not considering time.
  • Interesting point Mina,

    Can I just add or quote the Saturday Theotokia:

    "O you who is without sin, and pure,
    The Saintly in Everything
    The One who presented to us God,
    Carried Upon Her Arms"

    (Ti-atsolep ensemneh). 

    What does this mean? 

    Does it mean that the dogma of the Immaculate Conception has merit to it?? I thought that the Coptic Orthodox Church was against this.

    Now, let me add this:

    I can't find the Bible Verse, but if I'm not mistaken, isn't there a part where St Mary says: "my Son and my Saviour' when Her Son was on the Cross? 

    i.e by calling him :"My Saviour" means that she herself, needed salvation. Maybe I got the verse wrong, not sure, but I remember my priest telling me this. Can someone confirm this?
  • the 'immaculate conception' is the catholic (roman) belief that saint mary was conceived in a special way, 
    it is nothing to do with our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ being conceived / born from a virgin.

    we don't agree that: 1. humans inherited sin itself from adam so...
                                 2. every human was sinful from the moment of birth, therefore...
                                 3. saint mary needed to have some an exception from this rule of being sinful so...
                                 4. she could then give birth to a sinless Jesus.

    we believe: 1. humans inherited death and the tendency to sin from adam so...
                     2. humans start sining at some point after they are born so...
                     3. it is theoretically possible for a human to be sinless.

    so saint mary did need salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, but she was (relatively) sinless.
    some church fathers emphasize her pure life, while others emphasize the fact that she needed salvation by God. these 2 do not contradict each other.
  • Can I just add or quote the Saturday Theotokia:

    "O you who is without sin, and pure,
    The Saintly in Everything
    The One who presented to us God,
    Carried Upon Her Arms"

    (Ti-atsolep ensemneh). 

    That is a trouble translation from the coptic or even the arabic...it's simply incorrect and if you know who did it, please rebuke them and lead them to the translation on our text library :-)

    The correct translation:
    O chaste and undefiled, holy in everything, who brought God for us, carried in her arms.
    }at;wleb `[email protected] ouoh =e=;=u qen hwb [email protected] ;y`etac`ini nan `mV]@ eftalyout `ejen nec`jvoi.
    أيتها الغير دنسة العفيفة. القديسة في كل شئ. التى قدمت لنا. الله محمولا علي ذراعيها.
  • What an edifying topic.

    In my opinion, it takes away from the Holiness of St Mary to say that she never sinned. If we contemplate about it, it takes away from her hard work & effort in her spiritual life which allowed her to be worthy in carrying God

    If she simply could not sin or did not sin, it takes away that special characteristic which embodies a deeply humble soul struggling against sin and attaining purity, making her pure and holy out of struggle and synergy between her and her Creator. 

    Of course, we magnify her because she carried the Logos and that is the most important thing but her hard work and effort before that is what drew the benevolent eye of the Father toward her. 

    Could she have sinned? possibly
    Could she be sinless? possibly

    We have to leave it open. But I'm with St John Chrysostom on this one in that she could've sinned & most likely did.

    The point is, if we make it a dogma and say she never sinned, we take away many of the wonderful characteristics she was imbued with and the salvific nature of her life in synergy with Her creator which drew his desire to take flesh from her.

    We aren't saying she fell in egregious sins, but perhaps she got angry, became frustrated, lost her temper at some point. She was a human being after all and while imbued with full grace, as we say "full of Grace", she retained her humanity and free will. We simply will never know, but it's important to take the side that won't nullify certain beautiful truths about her life.

    I'm open to be corrected
  • The links I provided was to show two things. 

    First, that Saint Mary was in need of salvation.
    Second, that biblically "He protected her and overshadowed her. She, with the power of the Holy Spirit, kept herself pure and holy. "And the angel answered and said to her, 'The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God'" (Luke 1:35)."

    Whether she sinned or not, no one knows, neither will anyone know :). What we know, and all we can know, is she was the favored one. ""Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!" (Luke 1:28)." Adding anything more than that, is mere speculation.
  • Salvation's role is not primarily in simply taking away sin. Salvation is being in union with God, for we cannot exist otherwise as humans. Humanity needs God to live and breathe. 

    As for not sinning taking away from her holiness, this argument doesn't make much sense. There is a difference between having your free will taken away from you, and from having it but choosing not to sin. Otherwise the same argument can work for Jesus, it somehow takes away from His Holiness because He did not sin.

    No one is arguing that Mary COULD not sin. I am simply asking whether she chose to sin or not. It is a common Eastern Orthodox understanding that she was indeed sinless and they call her "Panagia" the "All-Holy". Interestingly enough we call her that in Shere Maria as well, we also call the Trinity Panagios in the Liturgy.

    Let me say that to say because she was human she
    must've sinned is the same as saying that human nature is bound to sin regardless (and that makes free will meaningless).

    God Bless
  • edited August 2015
    I recommend for nice reading, St. Jacob of Serug's "On the Mother of God"; the sentiments in this short praise to the Theotokos is perhaps the best way of looking at it.  Once the incarnation of Christ occurred, she was like one of the baptized (the curse that occurred because of Eve was lifted in the incarnation, as he put it), the "first Christian" so to speak.  He also said that if there was any other woman better than Mary, that woman would have been chosen to be Theotokos.  So it gives you an idea that she is the most perfect human being ever in the history of the human race, which is why she was chosen to be Theotokos.
  • Wouldn't that be Christ technically?

    It seems that in a relative sense, there is no greater human after Christ than her, and so compared to us she is indeed sinless (as we call Enoch and St. Bishoy perfect and the Gospel refers to Zechariah and his wife as blameless along with Job). This is in a relative sense, since we also affirm that no one is without sin even if his life is a day on earth as we say in the Litany of the Departed. This means compared to Christ who has absolute sinlessness, she is in need of salvation.

    Does this make sense?

    God bless
  • I agree...yes to a relative sense.  
  • Can I just add or quote the Saturday Theotokia:

    "O you who is without sin, and pure,
    The Saintly in Everything
    The One who presented to us God,
    Carried Upon Her Arms"

    (Ti-atsolep ensemneh). 

    That is a trouble translation from the coptic or even the arabic...it's simply incorrect and if you know who did it, please rebuke them and lead them to the translation on our text library :-)

    The correct translation:
    O chaste and undefiled, holy in everything, who brought God for us, carried in her arms.
    }at;wleb `[email protected] ouoh =e=;=u qen hwb [email protected] ;y`etac`ini nan `mV]@ eftalyout `ejen nec`jvoi.
    أيتها الغير دنسة العفيفة. القديسة في كل شئ. التى قدمت لنا. الله محمولا علي ذراعيها.


    Mina!!
    Thank you for your translation!! You solved at least 1 problem. The translation I got is clearly wrong. If we use the term "undefiled", it is still in accordance with our Coptic Theology. 


  • It seems that in a relative sense, there is no greater human after Christ than her, and so compared to us she is indeed sinless (as we call Enoch and St. Bishoy perfect and the Gospel refers to Zechariah and his wife as blameless along with Job). This is in a relative sense, since we also affirm that no one is without sin even if his life is a day on earth as we say in the Litany of the Departed. This means compared to Christ who has absolute sinlessness, she is in need of salvation.


    Does this make sense?

    God bless
    well put..
  • I'm going to throw a wrench into the discussion here to make everyone think a little deeper. I would like to hear from everyone. I hope someone can correct me if I am wrong or missing the mark (pun intended).

    The basic premise of my argument rests on what mabsoota said and others agreed nonchalantly. She wrote, "3. it is theoretically possible for a human to be sinless." I argue that it is impossible for a human to be sinless until the eschaton because we are in the state of fallen man. In fact, it is biblical and liturgical. From Job 14, we copy the Coptic text of the Litany of the Departed near verbatim that corroborates this claim.

    Litany of the Departed: 
    Je `mmon `hli efouab e;wleb oude kan ouehoou nouwt pe nefwnq hijen pikahi.
    For no one is pure and without blemish even though his life on earth be a single day.

    Job 14:3,4 Bohairic:
    Nim gar e;naswpi efouab ea[ni alla `mmon hli kan ou`ehoou `nouwt pe pefwnq hijen pikahi.
    My translation: Who can become/make pure/clean [that which is] blemished? There is none, even if his life on earth is one day.  
    As you can see, the Coptic text of the Litany of the Departed is clearly taken from Job 14:4. 
  • edited August 2015

    Now look at biblical translations of Job 14:4,5. This is from the NKJV: "Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? No one!  Since his days are determined," This translation, in my opinion, is rather loose. Nearly all other biblical translations say the same thing. Regardless of biblical translation, the premise is the same. No man is sinless even if his life on earth is one day. No one can bring a clean thing out of an unclean (thing)? This includes an immaculate birth of God since God cannot be born through sin or be subjected to sin. All mankind is unclean because of our fallen nature. It is foolish to think that any man, woman or creation that is unclean can become immaculate or hold God or give birth to the infinite, immaculate God by their own merits. If God had to purify Isaiah's mouth with a coal taken from the temple by a seraphim so he can simply speak about God, what do you think it will take for God to make a fallen creation give birth to God? 


    The answer is Luke 1:28: ke,aritwmeny (full of grace). Grace made St Mary ready to give birth to God. In other words, there is nothing St Mary could or could not do which would qualify her to give birth to God because she is a creation (specifically a human who shares the fallen nature). As one of the fathers once said, "God does not choose the qualified. God qualifies the chosen." He qualifies the chosen by the grace.


    The problem Catholics have is that when St Mary was called ke,aritwmeny, it was before she consented to the Incarnation. Thus, she was already filled with grace by some other means. The RC defined this other means as her own immaculate conception (as mabsoota pointed out). But dogmatically this is a problem because, as Minasoliman said quoting Fr Taros Malaty's definition of grace in a recent discussion, " 'Grace is the presence of God working in us.' This presence is not some sort of space created and consecrated by God, but God Himself dwelling in us to work in us. Otherwise, if this was just a mere imitation without God’s indwelling, there is no need for an incarnation." 


    As you can see, we have the chicken and the egg conundrum: The only way for a creation to give birth to God is to have God dwell in the creation. Thus, St Mary IS sinless. Not by nature but by grace. Not by superhuman works that qualified her to become the Theotokos but by grace she was chosen to be the Theotokos while God dwelt in her. (Notice the past tense of the verb. It's very important.)


    (By the way, a similar conundrum is found in the Magnifica praise of St Mary, "My soul magnifies the Lord". I won't elaborate unless someone wants me to because it is outside the topic)


    All other reasons explaining the sinlessness of Mary falls short. It doesn't matter if she called her son savior. (One can call God savior or ask God to save/deliver/pass temptation and still be sinless. Jesus did it in Gethsemane.) It doesn't matter if sinless negates free will. (If this were true, Jesus has no free will). It doesn't matter if there was someone else who better than St Mary, she would have been the Theotokos. (The absence of proof is not proof. You can't prove what someone is because no one else is the same or better). It doesn't matter if she chose not to sin after the annunciation (she can't choose not to commit sins she commits unwillingly or unknowingly). It doesn't matter if one is relatively sinless compared to the absolute sinlessness of God. (You can't have contradictory absolute truths, nor can you have an absolute truth contradict a relative truth. Truth is truth. Either man can be absolutely sinless in himself or not, regardless of his relative relationship with God's absolute sinlessness.) All of these are weak arguments because they do not address the nature of sin and how sin affected man and how God dealt with sin. (Sounds eerily familiar to St Athanasius' On the Incarnation). 

  • Remenkimi, the argument is not that she lived a perfect pure life WITHOUT God. That much is certain. Any life without God is sinful in its self. Its that she chose to fully live her life with God's grace. She emptied herself in humility before God to such an extent that she became full of grace. Sin is rejection of God, the opposite is life with God.
  • edited August 2015
    This whole issue being centered around sin or not seems to be 'missing the mark' as it doesnt seem like this was a particular patristic concern. I mean more or less the comments being made regarding Job 14.

    First, St. Athanasius says:









    "Who will not admire this? or who will not agree that such a thing is truly divine?
    for if the works of the Word’s Godhead had not taken place through the body, man had not
    been deified; and again, had not the properties of the flesh been ascribed to the Word, man
    had not been thoroughly delivered from them
    ; but though they had ceased for a little
    while, as I said before, still sin had remained in him and corruption, as was the case with
    mankind before Him; and for this reason:—Many for instance have been made holy and
    clean from all sin; nay, Jeremiah was hallowed
    even from the womb, and John, while
    yet in the womb, leapt for joy at the voice of Mary Bearer of God
    ; nevertheless ‘death
    reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those that had not sinned after the similitude of
    Adam’s transgression
    ;’ and thus man remained mortal and corruptible as before, liable
    to the affections proper to their nature.
    But now the Word having become man and having
    appropriated
    what pertains to the flesh, no longer do these things touch the body, because of the Word who has come in it, but they are destroyed by Him, and henceforth men
    no longer remain sinners and dead according to their proper affections, but having risen
    according to the Word’s power, they abide
    ever immortal and incorruptible. Whence
    also, whereas the flesh is born of Mary Bearer of God
    , He Himself is said to have been
    born, who furnishes to others an origin of being; in order that He may transfer our origin
    into Himself, and we may no longer, as mere earth, return to earth, but as being knit into
    the Word from heaven, may be carried to heaven by Him. Therefore in like manner not
    without reason has He transferred to Himself the other affections of the body also; that we,
    no longer as being men, but as proper to the Word, may have share in eternal life. For no
    longer according to our former origin in Adam do we die; but henceforward our origin and
    all infirmity of flesh being transferred to the Word, we rise from the earth, the curse from
    sin being removed, because of Him who is in us
    , and who has become a curse for us.
    And with reason; for as we are all from earth and die in Adam, so being regenerated from
    above of water and Spirit, in the Christ we are all quickened; the flesh being no longer earthly,
    but being henceforth made Word
    , by reason of God’s Word who for our sake ‘became
    flesh.'" Against the Arians 3. 33.

    It seems that for St. Athanasius, many have been wholly clean of sin, and then he proceeds to give two particular examples of those who were hallowed even from the womb, Jeremiah and John the Baptist. Being 'sinless' in an entirely legalistic sense seems to be quite possible to St. Athanasius. However these people were still in 'need of salvation' (a strange phrase to me for it seems that we are and will all always be radically in need of God) due to our own condition of mortality and corruptibility made real in us by our departure from Him Who Is Giver of Life and He Who Abides Forever.

    The comments of Orthodox Scholar Jaroslav Pelikan (Memory eternal!) are of immense value here in commenting on the human condition for the fathers (particularly St. Athanasius):

    Despite all this strong language about sin, however, the fundamental problem of man was not his sin, but his corruptibility. The reason the incarnation was necessary was that man had not merely done wrong-for this, repentance would have sufficed- but had fallen into a corruption, a transiency that threatened him     with annihilation. As the agent of creation who had called man out of nothing, the Logos was also the one to rescue him from annihilation. This the Logos did by taking flesh. For this theology, it was the universality of death, not the inevitability of sin, that was fundamental. The statement of Romans 5:14, that ‘Death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam,’ was taken to prove that there were many who had been ‘pure of every sin,’ such as Jeremiah and John the Baptist (cf.Against the Arians 3.33). It was death and corruption that stood in the way of man’s participation in the divine nature, and these had to be overcome in the incarnation of the Logos." Pg 285 of The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine, Vol 1: The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600).

  • As for the discussion of Job 14, I believe that is a much maligned text that is horrendously misunderstood. Italian scholar Pier Franco Beatrice writes,
    "In the course of the fourth century, Athanasius gets irked with certain unspecified heretics, because in their ignorance of the true sense of the Scriptures they would take the sordes of Job 14:4 to be a sin in the proper sense. In the view of Athanasius, the inspired author is simply referring to the physical filth that soils the baby when it is born, as may be inferred from Lev 12:2-5." he then quotes Athanasius,
    "But the heretics do not know that this sentence refers to the natural filth that the baby carries with it when it is born from the womb of its mother. For this reason Moses the legislator (Lev 12:2-5) declares that the woman who has given birth is impure, for forty days in the case of a male child, and for eighty days in the case of a female child, on account of the greater humidity in its composition. But even if the law of Moses did not provide this evidence, the very nature of things provides a sufficient argument to refute [sc. the heretics]. For what sin can a child that is one day old commit? Adultery? Not at all, because it has not reached the age to have [sexual] pleasure. Fornication? Not that either, because it does not yet have desire. Murder? But it is unable even to carry a murder weapon. Perjury? No, for it cannot yet make an articulate sound. Greed? It does not yet have awareness of the money of another, or even its own. The truth is that babies are long-suffering and endure: until they grow to be adults, if they are struck, they cry out, if they are pursued, they do not defend themselves... No since newborns are completely without a share in these misdeeds, what sin can a one day old baby have, save only, as we said, bodily filth? Indeed Scripture does not say, 'No one is pure from sin,' but 'from filth.'" St. Athanasius Fr. in Matth 9. (PG 27.1368-1369) as quoted in The Transmission of Sin: Augustine and the Pre-Augustinian Sources (AAR Religions in Translation), pg 197-198.
    It seems that this notion of being pure from sin or the filth of sin began with the interpretation of Augustine of this verse. Again from Beatrice,
    "However, the Old Testament testimonia that have by far the greatest importance for Augustine are, without question, Job 14:4 and verse 7 of Psalm 50, the so-called miserere. The former verse, according to the original Hebrew, reads: ‘Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean thing? No one.’ As all of modern biblical scholarship has recognized, the notion of original sin that the Christian tradition has wanted to find in this verse is simply not there. The context of the verse has no connection with the story of the fall of Adam and Eve in Genesis, and contains no characteristic elements of the theology of original sin as we find it developed in the writings of Augustine. Rather, the passage simply laments the miserable and ephemeral condition of human beings, and the utter fragility of their existential situation. However the Greek version of the Seventy contains a significant variation. It reads as follows: ‘Who shall be pure of filth? No one, not even if his life on earth is of one day!’... For he [Augustine] saw in the filth of the newborn, whose life on earth may be as short as a day, the obvious manifestation of the sin contracted at birth. Indeed, he identified that filth with original sin itself. This is easily proved by the way Augustine cites the text in question. He may substitute, in the Latin version he uses, the word ‘peccatum’ [sin] for the word ‘sordes’ [filth], or sometimes he may simply speak indiscriminately of ‘sordes peccati,’ ‘Filth of sin,’ in reference to Job 14:4." Pg 96,97 of Transmission
    Another thing I would like to bring to witness here is the overly literally and dogmatic way in which we interpret texts that we simply fit into our doctrinal folds. Take Psalm 58 (LXX) for example, "If ye do indeed speak righteousness, then do ye judge rightly, ye sons of men. 2 For ye work iniquities in your hearts in the earth: your hands plot unrighteousness. 3 Sinners have gone astray from the womb: they go astray from the belly: they speak lies. 4 Their venom is like that of a serpent; as that of a deaf asp, and that stops her ears; 5 which will not hear the voice of charmers, nor heed the charm prepared skillfully by the wise.6 God has crushed their teeth in their mouth: God has broken the cheek-teeth of the lions. 7 They shall utterly pass away like water running through: he shall bend his bow till they shall fail."
    We can either interpret that as 1) saying that the Psalmist is making a dogmatic statement that people are sinners from the womb itself (which might end up resulting in some weird doctrine of pre-destination perhaps) or we can interpret it 2) as stating that the sinners have taken their entire being astray, they have never had the love of God. The righteous indignation of the Psalmist leads to his use of poetic license to state that those sinners have never been on the true path. If we chose to interpret this saying literally as in number one, then what stops us from understanding the Psalmist's words regarding their venom, maybe these people really produce venom? Or the Psalmist's words later about God crushing their teeth in their mouth, perhaps we might understand that to mean that literally God will destroy their teeth and they will have a huge dentist's bill to come.
    My point, in being facetious like this, is to state that the Psalmist here (as I believe is the case for Job as well) is stating nothing about the condition of humankind, humanity's status with God, anything of the life. Indeed both cases seem to be accomplishing different ends whether through poetic license or through pointing to other realities of their day. In understanding the phrase from the morning service "No one is without sin even if his life on earth is a single day", it could be due to western Augustinian influence (but I dont think thats the only reason its stated in its form) or it could have a real meaning to us. This is part of the morning service where (obviously) only adults will be the hearers, prayers, interpreters, the active elements of the liturgical gathering. If this is of a pedagogical nature then surely its not trying to point to all the infants that they too are sinful. For me it rather points that each person, no matter their circumstance, no matter how much worse off we think we are than the other fellow, no matter what place we are, we cannot shift the blame of our sin onto that. EVEN if we were here for a single day, we would have left God and gone astray. This is a pious and not a dogmatic statement, one for reflection not for dogmatic exegesis.

    I have blabbered alot, sorry.
    Asking your prayers
  • Sorry about the big space in the first post, I cant seem to edit it!

    Prayers
  • This is too confusing :)

    If Saint Mary, or any other person (such as Saint John the Baptist, as Saint Athanasius claims) is sinless, then where is the separation from God? Is not sin = separation from God, and separation from God, sin (as referred in James). Then if mankind, or any human can be sinless, why the need for 'reconciliation'? This whole idea of corruptible nature, at least in my eyes, is impossible to be viewed without sin. They are highly dependently related. Viewing one, without the other, has major dogmatic implications - in my opinion. I'm quite confused on the propositions laid in this thread...
  • Thanks for sharing that mrpete. That was really interesting to read!

    I have struggled with that as well ShareTheLord. Is it not however theoretically possible for one to live a life without sin? If our nature does not make us automatically sin, but only our free will, is it not imaginable that there were indeed saints of this sort, most of all, the Theotokos?
  • I have heard certain people say that, willingly/knowingly it is possible to have lived life without sin - but we we all sin unknowingly due to our corruptible nature - if even unknowingly we do not sin, then, what higher perfection is there? And no one is perfect but God. A life of no sin, none whatsoever, can only be attained by a holy/divine nature - Christ. I wish I had references to fathers that could support that, but ultimately this is what makes most sense to me. 
  • My problem with that is that knowledge precedes choice. You cannot choose to sin, that is separate yourself from God, without knowing that you are sinning. Otherwise what are you choosing? You cannot sin without choosing to sin, and you cannot choose to sin without knowing what it is you are choosing. Imagine someone choosing sin without knowing (I'm not speaking about factual information) that they are choosing to sin.

    It's not that only the divine nature cannot sin, its that God is the ultimate Good and we cannot function except through Him. So as humans we are made to live in His Image and Likeness but remaining in union with Him. It's not that we are all scum as humans and only God can come and do what's right. I'm not saying that's what you are saying, but this is the extreme version of this view, known as Total Depravity among Protestants.

    I don't know if I'm making any sense. Please let me know. 

    God Bless
  • My problem with that is that knowledge precedes choice. You cannot choose to sin, that is separate yourself from God, without knowing that you are sinning. Otherwise what are you choosing? You cannot sin without choosing to sin, and you cannot choose to sin without knowing what it is you are choosing. Imagine someone choosing sin without knowing (I'm not speaking about factual information) that they are choosing to sin.


    I'm not sure knowledge has to precede choice. I also don't think one has to willingly choose sin. As a business owner, I see how my staff interacts with each other and how sin gets in the way. I once observed two of my staff angry at each other to the point where it brought animosity to the whole office. When I confronted each one, they told me that Staff A did something to Staff B that Staff A didn't even know she did. And Staff B did something to Staff A that Staff B didn't know she did (it was not vindictive or retaliatory). Neither staff knew what they did at the time they were committing their sin. Neither staff choose to offend or anger the other. Neither staff believed they sinned. By your definition, neither staff sinned since they did not know they chose sin, nor that their choice would end up causing more sin for the whole office. 

    In Romans 7, St Paul talks about how he wants to do what is right but he continues to choose what is wrong. If one only sins when he chooses the sin, then what did St Paul mean when he said in verse 19, "For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice"? He clearly said he chooses to do good but he doesn't. He clearly said he choose not do evil but he practices evil.  Thus, knowledge and choice have a limiting factor on the definition of sin. 

    He also said something interesting about knowledge which corroborates (I think) that knowledge does not precede choice (or choosing to sin). Adam and Eve were given a commandment not to eat the from the tree of "the knowledge of good and evil." It logically follows that they did not have knowledge of good and evil. Thus, they had to choose not to sin without knowledge of sin. Sin only has power in the commandment, which as St Paul says, is ironic. The commandment gives life, yet death was the fruit. "But sin, that it might appear sin, was producing death in me through what is good, so that sin through the commandment might become exceedingly sinful." In other words, the commandment, which is good, gave sin the power to produce death in me so that sin might become clearly and exceedingly sinful. Only by the law, do we know how sinful sin is. The law telling us not to sin came before we knew sin (just like Adam and Eve). If knowledge (of sin) precedes choice, then how can we be given a law forbidding sin without knowing what sin is? It must mean that we sin without knowledge. We sin without understanding. We sin without choosing sin. St Paul actually writes in verse 15, "For what I am doing (i.e., practicing sin), I do not understand." It's not that we don't know or understand sin because we now have a law that defines sin. But we don't know why we choose sin even though we know the law is good, the commandment is good and God is good. St Paul clearly shows that he follows a spiritual law through his mind but he also follows a carnal law that brings sin through his body, even when he chooses not to do sin: "So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin." Romans 7:25. Thus, it is logical by St Paul's words that sin can occur without knowledge and without will. Thus, we say, "Loose, remit and forgive our trespasses which we have committed willingly and unwillingly, knowingly and unknowingly." Why would say this otherwise?

  • Now of course we can not hold to a Total Depravity theology. For if we were totally depraved with a flesh that always sins, then we could not be judged for any sins we do....unless Christ condemned sin in the flesh. Thus, in Romans 8, St Paul makes the point we have chosen to walk in the spirit and not in the flesh. We are freed from the carnal mind and sin, even though the body is dead and we sin unwillingly and unknowingly through the body.   "And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you." 

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