Monday, May 14, 2012

Ezekiel 18 and Original Sin

Summary of the Passage

The passage comes at a time when Judah has lost it's freedom and possession of the promised land; Ezekiel himself being among the Babylonian exiles1.  This presents a new question for God's people; why don't we have the land?   2 Kings 23:25-26 and 2 Kings 24:3-4 attribute Judah's suffering at the hands of the Babylonians several generations back to the heinous sins of King Manasseh.

God's judgement should have lead the Jews to look to their own sins but instead, they blamed their parents using the saying "The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge".2  This complains of sons suffering for their fathers sins and may even refer back to Adam and Eve's eating the forbidden fruit, with it's consequences on mankind. God rejects the notion that blame can be shifted to parents, claiming His rule (all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine)  and individual responsibility (the soul who sins shall die).  (Ezekiel 18:1-4)3

God then describes three generations: 1) a righteous grandfather who will live (Ezekiel 18:5-9), 2) an unrighteous father who will die (Ezekiel 18:10-13), and 3) an righteous son who will live (Ezekiel 18:14-19).  Oddly, on hearing that sons will not die for the sins of their fathers, the Jews press the matter further by asking: why should not the son suffer for the iniquity of the father? (Ezekiel 18:19) This question exposes the Jew's blame-shifting to their parents.  It's always easier to blame someone else, rather than ask "what do I bring to the situation?"  God responds to the question by again focusing on individual responsibility: "The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son." (Ezekiel 18:20)

God then provides two more cases: the repentant sinner who will live and the apostate saint who will die. (Ezekiel  18:21-24) In discussing these cases, God discloses the underlying reason He does not hold the past sins of the repentant against them: Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?

This principle of individual responsibility turns the tables on Israel.  God proves his equity by holding people individually responsible, but the Jews are hiding from their individual responsibility by blaming their parents. (Ezekiel 18:25) God again emphasizes personal responsibility by again recounting the cases of the repentant sinner and apostate saint.  (Ezekiel 18:26-29)

The chapter closes with God's calling for the Jews to repent, turn from their sin and make themselves a new heart; all in light of God's desire for them to repent and live (Ezekiel 18:32)
Does the Passage Teach Works Salvation?

The question of original sin becomes easier to answer once we understand just what this passage is teaching on salvation.  The case of the righteous grandfather, viewed in isolation, looks like works righteousness, since there is no mention of past sins.  The case of the righteous son is about the same, though it does mention he considers his father's sins and does not copy them.  

Other passages of scripture make it crystal clear that we cannot earn forgiveness (Romans 4:1-5, Ephesians 2:8-9).  So up until verse 20, the passage could be taken one of two ways.  It could be describing someone living a perfect, sinless life and therefore not needing forgiveness or it could be describing someone living a relatively good (but not perfect) life, who's sins are being forgiven.  However, if both of these options seem open up to verse 20, the case of the repentant sinner in verses 21-29 makes it clear that God is talking about mercifully giving life rather than awarding life to those who earn it.

Does the Passage Contradict Original Sin?
Only by mistakenly taking Ezekiel 18 to teach sinless perfection, can we get it to conflict with original sin.  Original sin does not imply that God damns all who die in infancy,  though it does imply that any infants in heaven are their due to God's mercy and not because they do not require mercy.

We must be careful not to confuse the way God could deal with us in strictness of justice, to what He chooses to actually deal with us in His mercy.  The passage says God will not hold the repentant and those who live holy lives responsible for their parents sins.  It does not say if they don't repent; God still will not punish them both for their own sins as well as their parents.

Corporate responsibly comes from a corporate covenant.  The blessings for Adam were not just for him, but for his prosperity, so when he fell it impacted us all.  The national blessing of the land of Israel   benefited all Israelites and it's loss impacted all as Ezekiel just described in chapter 16.  Imagine if one of Akin's family members had turned him in.  Do you think that person would still have been stoned?  No way!  In the same way, Josiah's righteousness postponed the exile of Judah for the sins of Josiah's grandfather  Manasseh.  (2 Kings 23:25-26).  In the same way, Ezekiel here teaches the Isrealites in Babylonian captivity who turned from their sins, would not die for their parent's sins.  Likewise, those who repent, will not suffer the eternal death Adam's sin brings.

1  See 2 Kings 24:8-17, Ezekiel 1:1-3 and Flavius /Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews Book X, 6.3.98, who states "Now, a little time afterwards, the king of Babylon made an expedition against Jehoiakim, .... king Jehoiakim, whom he commanded to be thrown before the walls, without any burial; and made his son Jehoiachin king of the country, and of the city: he also took the principal persons in dignity for captives, three thousand in number, and led them away to Babylon; among which was the prophet Ezekiel, who was then but young.  (link)

2 Quoted also in Jeremiah 31:29-30

3 Probably building on an allusion to Deut 24:16.  


Russ said...

What are your thoughts on how this passage deals with the various views of Original Sin? Are we guilty for Adam's sin? Will believers stand at the judgement and have to plead guilt to Adam's sin in the garden?


Godismyjudge said...

Hi Russ,

I don't think the topic of the passage is dealing with various views of original sin; rather it's about how God dispenses mercy.

We did not eat the fruit, nor does God think of us as if we did. Rather, all of mankind was punished for what Adam did. As Paul said, in Adam all die and again, "Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned according to the likeness of the transgression of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come".

God be with you,

credulo said...

Hello, Dan Chapa!

I am a Brazilian blogger and I am translating some posts from foreign bloggers about Arminianism (Arminianism is not so widespread here in Brazil, and there are very few Brazilian web resources - by other side there are many Calvinistic and sometimes anti-Arminian resources...).

Can I translate some material from your Website? The posts about Molinism are very insightful.

Thanks in advance, Credulo (

Godismyjudge said...

Hi Credulo,

Yes, you are more than welcome to use the materials on this website and I wish you the best in your ministry in Brazil. If I can help, please let me know.

God be with you,