Sin is something which is widely applicable in all time periods. We have to realise that sin is something which occupies not just one person but rather encompasses the whole human race, as Paul asserts in Romans 3 v 10; “No one is righteous, not even one.” This verse strikes us as poignant as we see everyone is flawed. However sin is not something we escape from on our own as “the wages for sin are death” and alienation from God. In order to comprehend the outcome of sin we must look at the effects sin has in both the bible and the early church.
Sin was not always in existence but rather its presence is felt in Genesis in the Garden of Eden when Eve was tempted to eat the fruit from the tree of knowledge (Genesis 3).It was then the concept of right and wrong occurred, this was notably named “The Fall” as man’s stance with God was ruined and a distinct alienation between man and God occurred. It was this incident which gave rise to the comprehension that there is original sin and no one enters the world righteous, but rather we are all held as sinners. It is our free will which enables us to choose whether to give into the temptation of sin or follow God; it is not decided for us.
Lukan sources serve to highlight that sin has a consequence thus we should be wary of this. One of the most notable acts of sin which occurs in the bible is the betrayal of Jesus by Judas, Judas gave Jesus to the authorities for thirty pieces of silver and upon receiving the reward killed himself thus inferring that from his sin he experienced an alienation from God thus saw life as worthless. In Acts chapter 5, the reader is introduced to Ananias and Sapphira, who withheld money from the church, however whilst they would have been allowed to withhold some money, it was their lying which condemned them, it could be interpreted that their deaths confirm the fact the wages for sin is death.
Paul in Galatians assumes the position that Christians should restore their Christians brothers to faith; “…if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently”; “Carry eachothers burdens…” This highlights that our role as Christians is to ensure that we do not sin as well as helping others to remain sinless as well. Are the apostles free from sin? We could perhaps construe Peter’s actions in Galatians 2 as being sinful as he was to a large extent denying the gospel of grace in his actions of reverting to no longer eating with the Gentiles, the consequences of Peter’s sin was admonishment. This helps to affirm that no one is free from sin except Jesus thus enabling Him alone to have the capacity to render us just and to prevent us from having eternal alienation from God.
In 1 Corinthians from the offset we are confronted with sin, this comes in the form of divisions in the church which were severing the unity of the church. This was a case of defiling Christ’s and thus being sinful, Paul probes the Corinthians; “Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul?” This is to highlight it was as though they were idolising humans rather than God, thus this could also be conceived as being a breaking of the commandments, thus condemning themselves. In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul alludes to the fact that the Corinthians were desecrating the act of the Lord’s Supper, some were getting drunk and some were gluttonous rather than remembering it was symbolic of Christ’s body and blood. Paul reprimands the sins of Corinthians; “27Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.
28A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. 29For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. “(1 Corinthians v 27 – 30) In the Corinthians’ sin they were alienating themselves from God whilst still continuing to heap damnation upon themselves. Was there a cure for this sin and alienation? Paul asks them to check their motives prior to partaking of the bread and wine thus ensuring that they are worthy.
The New Testament employs the word ‘Hamartia’ which is a Greek word which means missing the target, due to our fallibility as humans we all miss the mark at some point and give into to sin However there is an alternative to these actions and that comes from reconciliation with Christ; “23For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23) The solution for sin is Jesus, and He took upon our sin and experienced death for us to relieve us of the punishment we warrant.
The poison of sin was also prevalent in the early church, it was regarded as infectious thus it was viewed as a necessity to deal with it. Whilst in the bible we can see evident that Peter amongst the other apostles had the authority to loosen or retain the sins of the people, in the early church, the church as a whole seemed to assume this position.
At the beginning it was evident that the penance for sin was public humiliation so much so that many opted to go away from the church as opposed to endured the time of penance, thus the treatment was detrimental to the faith as it was turning away rather than them turning to the church as there was harsh judgement. However Chadwick notes that as time progressed penance was more therapeutic and aimed to restore the penitents to God’s favour. Some such Callistus adapted a more lenient view because it was not our right as humans to judge them and if we did so surely they would revert to paganism.
In the church there was a set penance in accordance to the sin. There were different stages of penance such as wailers who had to wait in the porch calling out for people’s forgiveness, hearers who were not allowed to be with the congregation but were able to hear ceremony, kneelers who were at the back and standers who could partake in all liturgy save that of the Eucharist ceremony. The various stages of penance show the church assigned different importance to sins thus denying the bible’s assertion that all sins were equal save that of the unforgiveable sin. Surely this church teaching was problematic as it served to alienate many from the grace of God.
The issue of penance escalated post the Decian persecution in which many became lapsed due to the circumstances of the persecution. During the persecution many fell prey to committing idolatry by worshipping the state gods, fraud by purchasing libellius, apostasy, and the giving up of sacred scriptures. It was hard to comprehend how to deal with this as there were many involved, and who had the authority to decide whether those who fell in this persecution should be restored.
The writings of Apostolic Fathers also featured teaching on sin and the appropriate way to deal with it. The Shepherd of Hermas refers to sin as “an evil desire within the heart” and that a person seeking restoration to the church could do so by putting the double mindedness from their heart. Origen asserts that Christ’s death paid the price to Satan for our souls in order to enable our salvation. Irenaeus made emphasis on the part of Christ being a substitute for Adam, thus prompting the idea of recapitulation, Adams disobedience on the tree of knowledge was declared gone by Jesus act of perfect obedience on the tree (the cross), the sin of man is cancelled by Christ. Athanasisus puts forth that Christ act to achieve redemption was done in order to remake humanity in God’s image like were supposed to be.
This helps to highlight that sin was an issue for Christians not just in a particular time period but rather throughout time. However there is a solution to the act of sinning – this is the salvation power of Christ Jesus who took upon our sins in order to restore us and enable us to be capable of having eternal life. Sin can no longer hold us down but rather it has been defeated. The emphasis in the twenty first century is that we too can achieve forgiveness for sin in the same way as in the early church; however we ascribe to a more personal penance in which we confess through the direct line to God.