God Forgiving Adam, A Saved God

2. Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Volume II: Ante-Nicene Christianity (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1910) 727.

Tatian of Assyria (110-172)…denied that Adam was saved, because Adam says: ‘We all die in Adam.'”

When I was at Harvard, I heard a lecture by Jon Levenson on “Did God Forgive Adam.” (My mom did too, since she was visiting me at the time.) Levenson said many of the same things when I took his Jewish Liturgical Year class. I don’t remember all of the sources Levenson used, but I remember him quoting rabbinic writings in which God forgives Adam’s transgression.

In Christianity, however, the answer to this question is mixed. In Romans 5:12ff., Paul says that there was death and condemnation before the coming of Christ. Since Christ, Paul says, there is grace and justification for many. For Levenson, Paul is saying here that there was no forgiveness of sin before Christ came. Levenson could understand why there are Christians who see the God of the Old Testament as angry and condemning, whereas the God of the New Testament is loving, gracious, and kind.

Levenson acknowledges that Paul is not entirely consistent on this issue. After all, Paul affirms in Romans 4 that Abraham was justified by faith, meaning he was not under God’s condemnation. And there are Christians who handle this issue by saying that the saints of the Old Testament believed in the Christ to come. Jesus says in John 8:56, after all, that Abraham rejoiced to see Christ’s day.

But were pre-Christ times the same as post-Christ times? Levenson once asked, “If God was merciful and kind and gracious, and you heard on the radio, ‘Today, God has decided to be merciful and kind and gracious, what would be the big deal?'” He has a point there. What exactly did Christ contribute that was new?

According to Paul, Israel in the Old Testament was under the tutelage of the law (Romans 3:24ff.)–either to convict her of sin, or to restrain her sin and keep her in line, or to foreshadow Christ. Now that Christ has come, Israel isn’t under a tutor. As Paul says in Romans 7:6, “we are slaves not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit” (NRSV). So that would be a difference between the Old and the New Testaments.

But Paul saw the law in terms of condemnation. He calls the law a ministry of condemnation (II Corinthians 3:9). He disputes in Romans 8 that carnal human beings are even able to obey the law of God, since their flesh is weak. Is that what the Old Testament presents? II Kings 22:2 states that “He did what was right in the sight of the LORD, and walked in all the way of his father David; he did not turn aside to the right or to the left.” Christians will say that Josiah kept the law because he had the Holy Spirit, since David asks God not to take God’s spirit from him (Psalm 51:11). If so, then my question stands: What was the difference between the Old and the New Testaments? What did Jesus bring that was new?

Another point: even after Jesus has come, the condemnation of the Fall continues to dog us. People still die. Women still have pain in childbirth. Women also bear somewhat of a second-class stigma on account of what Eve did, for I Timothy 2:11-14 states: “Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.”

But some of Jesus’ work is delayed, since he’ll make everything right once he comes back. But the Jews before Jesus believed God and the Messiah would eventually do this. Again, what did Christianity bring that was so different?

The answer is probably “Jesus.” He’s the key that unlocks all of God’s promises. Still, I wonder how Paul can portray the Old Testament as a time of condemnation, when it wasn’t entirely. God forgave in Old Testament times, too.

3. “The Nature and Character of God and His Relations with Man,” A Rabbinic Anthology, ed. C.G. Montefiore and H. Loewe (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1938) 61.

“‘My salvation is near to come’ (Isa. LVI, 1). ‘My salvation’, not ‘your salvation’: if the word had not been written, it would have been impossible to say it. But God says to Israel, ‘If you have no merit, I do it for my own sake’, as if He said, ‘All the days that you are in distress, I am with you’ [i.e. I too am in distress], even as it is said, ‘I am with him in distress’ (Ps. XCI, 15), and as it is said, ‘Behold, thy king comes to thee; he is righteous and ‘saved” (Zech. IX, 9), for the word is not ‘saving’, but ‘saved’. Even if there are no works in your hands, God does it for His own sake…(Exod. R., Mishpatim, XXX, 24.)”

According to this passage, God is “saved” in the sense that he suffers with Israel and benefits when he delivers her. After all, God delivers Israel for God’s sake, not sinful Israel’s sake.

This is an example of God showing Israel grace when Israel doesn’t deserve it. Felix said under my post, Study, Martyrdom, Humble God, that Judaism believes in a God of grace, and this is an example of that. But I wonder if Judaism’s God shows grace to everyone. Rabbinic writings act as if God bends over backwards for Israel. There’s a passage that says all of Israel has a place in the world to come, except for a few very bad people (e.g., heretics). I remember reading a passage in Levenson’s class affirming that all Israelites need each other, both the ones who do good works, and the ones who do not. But I’m not so sure if the God of Judaism is this way towards Gentiles. Rather, he expects them to repent and do good. God is willing to show undeserved favor to his chosen people, but others are not so lucky.

At the same time, I read a passage today that said God doesn’t treat the world with strict justice, and that means all of the world, Jews and Gentiles. And that’s true, since this world is not total hell.

Another point: I noticed in my post, Zechariah 9:9, Part I, that the king is “saved.” There was an interesting discussion there! I’m glad to see that the rabbis also did something with this feature of the verse.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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2 Responses to God Forgiving Adam, A Saved God

  1. Yirmeyahu says:

    You wrote:
    "But I wonder if Judaism's God shows grace to everyone. Rabbinic writings act as if God bends over backwards for Israel. There's a passage that says all of Israel has a place in the world to come, except for a few very bad people (e.g., heretics). I remember reading a passage in Levenson's class affirming that all Israelites need each other, both the ones who do good works, and the ones who do not. But I'm not so sure if the God of Judaism is this way towards Gentiles. Rather, he expects them to repent and do good. God is willing to show undeserved favor to his chosen people, but others are not so lucky."

    I don't know to which passage you allude. However, if it was faithful to Torah then the Elohim of Torah (note, please, the proper terminology), being perfectly Just, can neither be racist nor a blameshifter. The subtlety you're not seeing is that Torah commands that each person do their sincerest (all of your heart, etc., in the Shema) to keep all of Torah non-selectively combined with the human element that each person has a unique capacity of sincerity of practice.

    ha-Sheim (the Name) requires EVERYONE to repent of transgressions of Torah and do their sincerest to keep Torah non-selectively! His gracious provision of kipur (expiation) is conditional upon, and reward for, that repentence and turning to Torah–whether Jew or gentile.

    Some do more good works than others. Some keep Torah better than others. But each person who does their sincerest remains (if a Jew) or may enter (if a gentile) in(to) the fold.

    That's what brought Avraham and Israel into the fold in the first place! Fact is, you're NOT treated differently at all!!!

    Gentiles are different not racially–I'm an Orthodox Jew in good standing in an Israeli Orthodox synagogue who was a former Baptist preacher of Dutch ancestry–but by their refusal to do their sincerest to keep Torah non-selectively. If you turn to do your sincerest to keep Torah then you will identify with Israel / the Jewish people–the only genuine Torah keepers, either as a convert or, if that's not possible, as a geir (non-Jew practicing Torah non-selectively)… in which case ha-Sheim (the Name) will treat you IDENTICALLY with every other Jew or geir, without distinction.

    You wrote:
    "At the same time, I read a passage today that said God doesn't treat the world with strict justice, and that means all of the world, Jews and Gentiles. And that's true, since this world is not total hell."

    Here, you are mistaken. Consider the origin of the universe. Until someone can provide an explanation for the existence of the universe ex nihilo (!) logic dictates that we must accept a Prime Cause, i.e., a Creator. The orderliness of the universe reflects that Prime Cause, implying an orderly, Intelligent Designer (NOT the plagiarism of the creationists). Thus, logic strongly suggests that there is more than this life to the meting of justice.

    Paqid Yirmeyahu
    Paqid 16, The Netzarim, Ra'anana, Israel
    Israeli Orthodox Jew (Teimani Baladi Dardai)
    Advancing Logic as Halakhic Authority
    Welcoming Jews & non-Jews
    http://www.netzarim.co.il

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  2. James Pate says:

    Thanks for your comments, Yirmeyahu. Your first point is good because it talks about God wanting each Israelite to obey the commandments, and, as I said to Felix under that one post that I link to, there are rabbis who seek some meritorious act that Abraham did to deserve election. But there are also passages about grace, or the existence of Israelites of greater or lesser degrees of righteousness. I can probably dig up the first passage for you–the one on all Israel having a place in the world to come–if you want. I’m not sure where to find the second one, but I remember it relates to the different plants of Sukkot.

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